Elizabeth Baines reviews her latest Books

Author: Elizabeth Baines

Don’t we love the idea of magic? But don’t we put our faith in science? How do we reconcile those two things? But then, are science and magic so very different after all?

These questions have always obsessed me and I guess it was inevitable that I would often be concerned with them in my writing. In my first novel, The Birth Machine, which has just been reissued by Salt Publishing (2010), children in a den in the woods weave a magic spell:

They should strengthen the spell. A snail bobbed, woodlice flickered. Stir thirteen times, thirteen times unlucky, unlucky for some.’

As the novel progresses, the spell will seem to come to a terrible fruition.

Running parallel is another story: years later, one of those children, the now-adult Zelda, lies on a hospital bed about to give birth, and the Professor of Obstetrics explains to his students about the wonderful new technology which will induce her baby. But is this technique any less an act of faith, a kind of spell, as that of the children, and how much less likely to go wrong? And how much of those things that happened in the past will have consequences for Zelda in the present situation?

In my most recent novel, Too Many Magpies, also published by Salt (2009), a young mother is married to a scientist. His rational scientist’s world-view is comforting to her and seems like a safety net for their children. But then one day she meets a charismatic stranger:

‘On the baby’s first birthday the Smarties on the cake went frilly round the edges. The first sign of odd things happening… He said it was magic.’ But then the magic turns sinister and her life, and that of her children, are turned upside down.

In The Birth Machine, so-called rational ‘science’ and technology can turn out to be very non-rational, acts of faith merely. In Too Many Magpies, too much belief in magic can get you in hot water. But the message of both novels is the same: we need to be rational, but we ignore at our peril the possibility of things we would never have guessed…


Elizabeth Baines is a writer of prose fiction and prize-winning plays for radio and stage. Her short story collection, Balancing on the Edge of the World, was published by Salt in 2007 and was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor.Elizabeth was born in South Wales and now lives in Manchester. She has been a teacher and is also an occasional actor.

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