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Water Shall Refuse Them with Lucie McKnight Hardy and Claire Askew

Our second Golden Hare Books Book Fringe event was prefaced by a deluge of Biblical proportions, appropriate for the launch of a novel set in extreme weather conditions.

The weather was a marked contrast from the considerable heat of our Nan Shepherd event the day before, but just as with Nan Shepherd, a flock of literary enthusiasts braved the torrential conditions to celebrate Lucie McKnight Hardy’s gorgeous and unsettling debut novel Water Shall Refuse Them.

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Lucie began with a reading, immersing us immediately in her novel’s disturbing and evocative opening scene. Set in the heatwave of 1976, Water Shall Refuse Them centres on sixteen-year-old Nif and her family, who move to a rural village in Wales to escape and heal following a family tragedy. The extract Lucie read from is beautiful and disquieting – the heat and tension were almost tangible; every word echoed with hidden, unspoken depth, so much so that it was a pity when she drew to a halt. But the reading was followed by an absorbing conversation with Golden Hare Books writer-in-residence and team favourite Claire Askew, more than ample compensation! 

Claire and Lucie chatted about Lucie’s writing process and how Water Shall Refuse Them came about: the novel started life as part of Lucie’s dissertation for her Creative Writing Masters, which she wrote throughout her two-year degree before scrapping and rewriting everything in the last few months (this was highly relatable content). Certain details and plot points changed, with Nif aging from twelve to sixteen in this process of rewriting, but Lucie explained just how valuable the first draft was – even though so much of it was unused – because it gave her the chance to develop the characters and atmosphere that are so central to the experience of the novel. Lucie beautifully described the process of writing as a form of composting, with various ideas being layered over each other, fermenting and producing new ideas over time.

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Lucie in full flow, reading an extract from Water Shall Refuse Them.

One of the most striking elements of Water Shall Refuse Them that developed through this process is its engagement with gender and power. Witchcraft reminiscent of American Gothic writing is woven throughout, but for Lucie the novel is less an exploration of specific occult practices but rather of the intersection between women and power, and the ways that this can be expressed.

Lucie was adamant that she wouldn’t write another book where women are victims: instead, Water Shall Refuse Them features women in a myriad of empowered roles, both heroic and villainous. For a coming-of-age narrative focused on a young girl, this complex understanding of womanhood and femininity is absolutely essential and places Lucie within a tradition of women writers such as Shirley Jackson, Muriel Spark, and Angela Carter who recognise and fearlessly navigate this complexity. 

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Claire Askew gets to the heart of the matter with Lucie.

We are so grateful to Lucie and Claire for coming to chat about this beautiful novel with us, and for everyone who came to listen despite Edinburgh’s current propensity for thunderstorms!

If you loved this event, make sure to check out the rest of our Book Fringe programme – particularly our event with Marina Warner and Kirsty Logan on the 22 August at 6:30pm here at Golden Hare, which promises more tenacious women and creepy folklore!