What We All Saw by Mike Lucas

Witches only exist in stories. Everyone knows that. But what if the stories are real?


If you wander into the wood …
If you hear scratching sounds from the Old Quarry …
If you go too close to the edge …


Shortlisted for the Young Adult Readings Prize 2022 and a CBCA shortlisted book for the older readers category in 2023, this debut YA novel from author Mike Lucas is a powerful, creepy, and deeply layered story, that will keep you reading well into the night – if you dare.

The author of a number of picture books, including CBCA Notable Book Olivia’s Voice, Mike has also written and published several books of humorous children’s poetry, has had work highly commended in magazines and contributed to poetry anthologies. In 2017 he was one of the main organisers of the Adelaide Festival of Children’s Books. He presents writing and poetry workshops at schools, owns Shakespeare’s Bookshop in Blackwood, South Australia, with his partner Becky, and works as a full-time engineer. He says he doesn’t sleep much! What We All Saw is Mike’s first YA novel, for lower to middle high school readers, and it’s a cracker!

Narrated from the omniscient adult perspective of the main character Sam, we are taken back to the late 1970’s and an estate in south-west England, where Sam grew up. Mike says in his author notes, that he delved into his own childhood to develop the setting, and this is reflected in the richness of the environment he has created for the book. It is the last days of the summer holidays, where children of the 70’s were allowed to roam freely, have adventures and stay out late in the twilight hours.

Sam and his three friends decide to walk to the nearby quarry, a somewhat frightening idea, because there are long-held stories about witches inhabiting ‘Hag’s Drop’, and the surrounding deep, dark woods. We learn that there were many witch burnings and drownings here in the past, which has turned it into a place of legend and horrors. Local children have long been warned to never go near the edge of Hag’s Drop, but when Sam and his friends take the risk, they are attacked by bully Denny Jones and his mates, and things go terribly wrong…

There will be a death, strange happenings, and a terrible secret that Sam and his friends will need to keep, after deciding to cover up what happened that night. Like all good horror stories, they have to get their version of what happened straight, keep their secrets, and deal with their personal battles in the aftermath. Sam is unsure what he really saw and what was in his imagination and his dreams. He doesn’t think his version of events can be right, because witches aren’t real are they? But as he and his friends begin to uncover more and more about Hag’s Drop and its terrible past, they begin to believe their worst nightmares – maybe there was a witch…

Mike has cleverly woven a number of important themes into the story, including disability, the persecution of women as witches, class and power differences, family violence and neglect, and the importance of friendship, forgiveness and seeing things from other people’s perspectives. The characters are diverse, with Shell, who is blind and often pulls the boys into line with her clear-sightedness and clever thinking. Sam, who tells the tale, bringing everything together and offering insight into his friends and their worries. There is kind, gentle Charlie, who has asthma and is a firm believer in stories, and Gray, a seemingly care less sort-of boy who wears his armour into the world, who longs to be loved and never quite finds his place.

Having Sam as the narrator, allows us to see inside of his thoughts, as well as getting to know his friends through his eyes. There are a number of stories within the story, with Charlie sharing creepy tales and later, old Mr Grant, who holds memories and stories from the past, that will both shock and enlighten the children. Mike’s own ability to tell a story is highlighted here, bringing us expertly out of the narrative and into each story and back again, without interrupting the beat.

There is a nostalgic feel throughout the narrative with the 1970s setting providing a good old-fashioned adventure vibe. With the adult Sam looking back on these events of his childhood as he tells us the story, it also allows him to reflect on the deeper meaning behind it all, which he would not have understood as an 11-year-old boy.

This story provides a platform to discuss the cruelty and repercussions of ignorance and hatred, both when we look at history, and in our present day. It deals with prejudice and misunderstanding and the dangers of revenge. At its core, this is a heartfelt, funny, scary horror story, that will draw young readers to the edge of Hag’s Drop and hold them there all the way to the insightful, unexpected and satisfying end.

I absolutely LOVED this book and couldn’t put it down! I literally walked to get my cup of tea with the book in my hand, furiously turning pages!

Recommended for ages 12+. There are some Reading Group Questions at the end to get you started on discussions generated by the book in classrooms and teacher notes here.


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