Irena Brignull’s debut novel The Hawkweed Prophecy tells the story of Poppy and Ember, two girls born at exactly the same time. Bound by a love of the same boy and by their friendship, they struggle to understand their place in a world that tied them together long ago. With a twisting plot filled with surprises, The Hawkweed Prophecy is also a great exploration of family dynamics.
Ember’s upbringing in a coven gives new meaning to family, and the big twist of the novel plays on the nightmare of most teens: “a pushy, over-ambitious parent going too far. Raven is the ultimate ‘tiger mum.’”
But to Brignull, the focus of The Hawkweed Prophecy is not family, but the friendship formed between Poppy and Ember.
“I think friendships at that age can be really intense and and have a huge impact on a teen’s life. They certainly did for me. With Poppy and Ember, I wanted to explore the isolation that teenage years can sometimes bring – when you don’t feel like you really fit in. So I pushed this idea to the point where these characters are genuinely excluded from their peers. When Poppy and Ember meet each other, it is their first experience of friendship ever, much like first love.”
The depth of the girls’ connection goes further than that, serving as the main undercurrent for the plot. Brignull’s use of a prophecy as motivation and main plot point came from her study of Macbeth in school. She was intrigued by the idea of might happen if you know your fate, and how corrosive that might be.
That was not, however, her main point of inspiration.
“Initially, I had the idea of two girls switched at birth who meet when they are teens. And that was it. I then had to figure out why they were switched and by whom. Once I made those connections, everything else flowed from there.”
Brignull also found that to her, writing about witches was less about the fun and fantastical elements of witchcraft, and more about it being a very compelling way of introducing strong, independent female characters with a strong sense of female empowerment.
“I’ve always been interested in the idea that perhaps the witches of the past were just women who were ahead of their time, not willing to simply be the property of their fathers and then husbands, maybe trying to harness some power for themselves in what was a man’s world. I also wanted to try and imagine a society that put sisterhood first and examine the positives and negatives of this,” said Brignull. “The coven have banished men from their world, partly because they believe that they weaken female loyalty.”
The message of female empowerment is in fact a strong one in the novel, and a very important part of the plot for Brignull.
Rather than have the women pitted against each other trying to bring one another down, she wanted to depict something else: the sense of sisterhood being tested — and surviving the test, with the girls coming out on the other side of it united.
Brignull is already working on the sequel to The Hawkweed Prophecy, which releases next year and will follow Poppy, Ember and Leo through more dangerous times.