The Meaning of the Forest in What The Woods Keep
As a child, I used to spend my summers visiting my paternal grandparents in a small town in the Russian Northwest (not far from Saint Petersburg). The town of my father’s youth was already ancient then (its earliest mention dates to 903!), so naturally it was steeped in history, spotting bona fidemedieval fortresses and archaeological digs at every turn.
This ancient town was, of course, surrounded by an ancient forest.
I don’t remember the exact moment I developed a fascination with this forest, but I’m not surprised that I did. The forest was pervasive, seemingly encompassing my grandparents’ modest summer estate (nothing fancy, just a standard-issue dacha, complete with a swampy pond and a tiny vegetable patch). The dark menacing woods hovering over the tiny house were kind of hard to ignore. I remember simultaneously fearing this forest and being drawn to it. At twilight, we’d go in for a wander with my parents and cousins, and it was pure magic. But also danger: there were those scary swampy parts, concealed by shadows and a thin blanket of moss. One misstep would plunge you into the icy muddy waters. My cousin fell in once, trying to save a baby bird. Both were rescued, but it wasn’t fun. So, these woods imprinted on my mind so much that to this day I naturally gravitate toward stories set in or around forests. Bonus points if the woods have a mind of their own.
The Forest of No Name in Alice in Wonderlandterrified me. Kipling’s Jungle Bookmade me crave adventure, while the magical Slavic woods of Baba Yaga and Koschei the Deathless were my weekend TV staples, practically gluing me to the screen.
I suppose it was only logical that my debut novel, What The Woods Keep, would be all about the mysteries hiding in the woods. Making the woods the main setting of this strange story was a no-brainer. I mean, the thing practically wrote itself! But it’s not just about the forest per se, it’s also about what it represents. A shadowy domain of the unsettling and the misunderstood. A place in-between, where two – or several – worlds overlap; a thin barrier between the world we know and something else, something otherworldly; and finally, the last place guarding our reality, protecting us from forces we can’t even being to fathom.
The title of my debut is both a question and a suggestion. It implies there’s danger that awaits in the woods but also that the woods have a role to play in keeping this danger at bay. I get this question often: so what dothe woods keep? And, without giving away anything, I can tell you: it’s nothing good.
Title: What the Woods Keep
Author: Katya de Becerra
Published: October 2018
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Readership: Young Adult
Genre: Sci-fi & Fantasy