Author Archives: sarahlking

Picking Roses: A Story of Elizabeth Ollive Paine

It’s been a while since I shared any of my own writing on my blog, so today I thought I would do just that. I wrote the story below for a magazine submission slot, the brief for which was to write a short piece of fiction in the voice of a female relation to a famous real or fictional person. My piece was not ultimately selected; nonetheless, I’m really pleased with how it turned out.

The female relative I chose was Elizabeth Ollive, estranged wife of the eighteenth century writer and radical, Thomas Paine. Paine has been a favourite of mine since my university days, when I pored over his political works and relished his involvement in both the American and French revolutions. It’s only in recent years that I have become more interested in his personal life, and have found that the scant information we have raises more questions than it answers. Paine was married twice, firstly to Mary Lambert who died in childbirth, and secondly to Elizabeth Ollive, from whom he ultimately separated for reasons unknown before emigrating to the American colonies in 1774, where his life as a man of fame and influence truly began.

For Elizabeth, this separation must have come at enormous personal cost – not only did she have to bear the shame and stigma of being an abandoned wife, but the wife of a renowned rabble-rouser and eventual outlaw. I wonder how she must have felt each time she heard news of him and his exploits, and how she bore her own lot, forced to leave Lewes for Cranbrook in Kent, where she lived with her brother and carved out a living as a dressmaker. Like so many women of the past, she is silent in the historical record, but that doesn’t mean we can’t imagine. I’d like to write more about her and about Paine, one day, but for now, I hope you enjoy this short story.

Picking Roses

I almost prick her when she mentions him. Right on the soft skin of her shoulder, where I’m still adjusting that pretty floral cotton she’s chosen, forming a dress from it with folds and pins. I’m not normally so clumsy, but her question is a surprise. Most ladies prefer light conversation, and this one hadn’t seemed any different; running her fingers over the printed roses as though she might like to pick them, telling me that she’ll wear her new dress to such-and-such’s house for afternoon tea. Then she says his name, just like that. Asks me if I’ve heard the news from France.

I’ve heard the news – of course I have. I don’t say anything, though. I just nod and concentrate on pinning. I’m not about to make a mistake. I don’t want to start again.

She’s still admiring those flowers. Her husband told her at breakfast, she says. It’s been in all the papers. She hopes I’m able to bear it. It must be such a troubling reminder of the past.

Troubling – there’s a word for it. I turn my attention to the hem of her skirt, shrinking from the urge to reply. The sooner I finish, the sooner we can both move on. Cranbrook likes reminders, even after all these years. When I first arrived to live with my brother, I hoped to be Miss Ollive the dressmaker, to foster the presumption of my spinsterhood, of my blank and loveless past. But Cranbrook soon gathered up the pieces of my tale, and almost as adeptly as I can sew a gown, the town stitched it all together and found Mrs Paine – shunned wife of a rabble-rouser, a republican, a revolutionary. Cranbrook looked upon my dresses differently after that.

She keeps on talking about him. It seems the French lock up everyone, she says, even those so committed to their cause. I don’t want to think about him in prison; filthy, half-starved, trapped in the shadow of the guillotine. He doesn’t fare well in confinement; I know that better than most. Perhaps he will escape, just like he did before, when we lived together in Lewes and failed to pretend to be happy. Perhaps he will board a ship and sail for America again. I pray he does. He might well write that the world is his country, but it’s America which resists him the least.  

She’s gone quiet, let her remarks fall away like the offcuts of material scattered on the floor. I’m glad. I don’t talk about Tom; I never have, not since we agreed to part ways, agreed to stay silent on all that had passed between us. Now the only words we have are in our letters; infrequent, but sincere and tenderly meant. This lady in her rose dress wouldn’t understand. Cranbrook wouldn’t understand. They’d say I was still his wife, but I haven’t been that for twenty years, if I ever truly was at all.  

Currently Querying

It’s Hump Day once again, and I’m spending today taking stock of where I am with my next book, as well as starting to think about the second one in the series. Before I do any of that, though, I thought I would check in with a quick update on what I’ve been up to.

Holidays…

It’s that time of year, isn’t it? July just flew by for me, as I spent quite a lot of it on holiday in the very lovely Shetland isles. We visited many of its islands, did plenty of walking, and had a fair few picnics on the beach! In short, it was amazing.

Watching the birds at Hermaness Nature Reserve on the Isle of Unst

Writing…

After rounds of editing, my forthcoming novel is now out on submission to literary agents and publishers, and I’m patiently waiting for replies. I know I haven’t said a great deal about this novel (other than dropping a few hints here) but I hope to be able to reveal much more soon. For now, I can say that it’s historical fiction, set in late Georgian Edinburgh, with a mystery at its heart.

Other than my novel, I have put a couple of shorter pieces out on submission to magazine and online publications, and I’m awaiting news on those too. I’m also looking ahead to the second installment of my Georgian mystery series – I have so many ideas and threads to pick up from the first story, but I need to do some work to shape it all into a plot. I feel a trip into Edinburgh coming on, too, to help me ground myself in the story’s setting. That wasn’t possible for the first novel because of lockdown restrictions, so I will really appreciate being able to do that this time.

Reading…

I have been doing so much reading this summer! In fact, last night I stayed up far too late to finish Janice Hadlow’s The Other Bennet Sister, and it was so, so good. If you love Pride and Prejudice then you will love this – it’s the story of Mary Bennet, the quieter, bookish sister who is always on the periphery of Jane Austen’s novel. Recently I also read Miss Austen by Gill Hornby, which I similarly adored. Told from the point of view of Jane’s sister Cassandra, this is a novel about family stories and who gets to tell them. I was utterly spellbound from start to finish.

I have occasionally left the nineteenth century behind, however, and picked up some more modern reads. On holiday I enjoyed a couple of the very fabulous Tracy Broemmer’s contemporary romances, Hookin’ Up and Gettin’ Hitched from The H Books series.

My recent reads

What’s Next?

In short, a lot of waiting around! It’ll probably be well into the autumn before I know the outcome of my novel submissions. However, I plan to use the time well, working on the next book as well as doing some work on my short stories with a view to pulling together a collection. Oh, and I’m also going to do a lot of reading, and hope I’ll manage to post some reviews here, if time allows.

Hopefully I will have more news about my next book soon, so in the meantime, watch this space…

Book Review: Blackberry and Wild Rose by Sonia Velton

WHEN Esther Thorel, the wife of a Huguenot silk-weaver, rescues Sara Kemp from a brothel she thinks she is doing God’s will. Sara is not convinced being a maid is better than being a whore, but the chance to escape her grasping ‘madam’ is too good to refuse.

Inside the Thorels’ tall house in Spitalfields, where the strange cadence of the looms fills the attic, the two women forge an uneasy relationship. The physical intimacies of washing and dressing belie the reality: Sara despises her mistress’s blindness to the hypocrisy of her household, while Esther is too wrapped up in her own secrets to see Sara as anything more than another charitable cause.

It is silk that has Esther so distracted. For years she has painted her own designs, dreaming that one day her husband will weave them into reality. When he laughs at her ambition, she strikes up a relationship with one of the journeyman weavers in her attic who teaches her to weave and unwittingly sets in motion events that will change the fate of the whole Thorel household.

It was the cover which first drew me to this book; bold and eye-catching, much like Esther Thorel’s silk designs which are described in the novel. This is an intriguing debut, set in mid-eighteenth century Spitalfields, and centred on the lives of two women who, for all their many differences, are set to see their fates intertwine. The context of the story really grabbed my attention, and Velton paints a vivid picture of life in the Huguenot weaving community and particularly the strife between masters and journeymen, which was inspired by real events. I like stories which teach me something, and there was definitely much to be learned here.

Velton’s characters are well-drawn, although I have to say that I found many of them unlikable, including, at times, the two female protagonists. However, as a reader who appreciates a story about flawed characters, this was not a negative for me, even if I did wince at some of the things they said and did, particularly to and regarding each other. The interesting aspect of this was that despite my misgivings about Sara and Esther, I found myself cheering them on. Neither woman was inherently bad, she was just fallible – as, indeed, we all are. Written as a first person narrative, the story used chapter breaks to alternate between each woman’s point of view; a structural choice which was as neat as it was compelling, allowing the reader to really draw close to what each woman felt as events unfolded.

In summary, this was a well-written debut, superbly grounded in the unforgiving context of mid-Georgian London. Five stars.

Selected Listening

I don’t know about all of you, but I find listening to the news difficult these days. More and more, I find myself ducking away from current affairs, not catching up on the latest, and just kind of ignoring it all and hoping it’ll go away. I imagine that after the past year, I’m not the only one doing this!

However, I do like to listen, either to music or to the radio, and unless I’m hooked on a particular show, I’m not much of a telly-watcher. In particular, I like to listen to things which make me think, or which teach me something, and I’ve been fortunate to find some great podcasts to listen to in recent times. Those of you who follow me on social media may have seen me sharing some of these, but I thought today I would pull together a short post all about podcasts I have enjoyed, and why I would recommend them. So, here we go…

The Ghostly Lady in Green – Haunted History Chronicles

This is a great podcast series if you enjoy history with a paranormal twist. Michelle is brilliant on the history of different historical buildings, many of which she has visited and experienced herself. I’ve enjoyed so many of the episodes in this series that it was hard to pick a favourite, but on reflection I think I would have to choose the episode about Sudeley Castle. Having visited Sudeley myself and been spellbound by both the location and its relationship to Queen Katharine Parr, it was a pleasure to hear the castle’s rich and moving history presented with such knowledge and enthusiasm. You can listen here.

Yours truly in front of the banqueting hall ruins at Sudeley Castle in 2016.

Stepping Out: A Short History of Solitude – BBC Radio 4

I know, strictly speaking this is a radio series rather than a podcast, but I had to highlight it as I enjoyed listening to this so much last year. Stepping Out was my favourite episode, and I found that Thomas Dixon’s exploration of romantic ideas of solitude in nature in the nineteenth century really resonated with me in the lockdown times. You can listen here.

Perilous Places: Spaces of Solitude – Queen Mary University London

Yes, I know – more solitude. You might be sensing a theme here! I loved this whole series, but this episode and its discussion of Emily Dickinson and the ‘Graveyard Poets’ particularly captured me. I pondered the ideas this raised about the darker side of being alone for days afterwards. You can listen here.

The Witches of Shetland – Witches of Scotland Podcast

This podcast is a fairly recent discovery of mine, and I’ve only listened to a few of the thirty-four episodes currently available. So far, my favourite was the discussion of the Shetland witches. This caught my eye as I’m due to visit Shetland this summer. For someone who knew nothing about Shetland’s witches, this was an excellent discussion and a fascinating insight into the subject. You can listen here.

The Bigamy Trial that Scandalised Georgian England – BBC History Extra Podcasts

BBC History Extra are prolific on the podcast front, and from the hundreds of episodes available online, it is so hard to highlight just one that I love. Perhaps because of the period I’m currently writing about in my forthcoming novel, I’ve tended to seek out their podcasts concerning the Georgian and Regency eras. This one about Elizabeth Chudleigh’s bigamy trial really caught my attention, and was fascinating to listen to. I love how History Extra’s podcasts are so good at bringing lesser-known episodes in history to wider attention. I’ve certainly learned a lot from listening to them. You can listen here.

So, there you are – a brief summary of my recommended listening. Do you have a favourite podcast you would recommend? If so, feel free to drop a note of it in the comments below.

Studies in Wax

As promised back in February, I have been quietly and steadily working on my new novel. I’m conscious I’ve been silent for some time now, so thought I’d blog a short update on how things are going. I’m pleased to say that I’ve now completed the first draft of the manuscript and have almost completed the first round of editing. There will be more reading and editing work to be done, of course, but I feel as though I’m making some serious progress towards the final, finished novel.

So, today I thought I might say a little more about what this book is about, and where it came from!

The first seeds of this story were sown in my mind back in the autumn of 2019, while working on an assignment for the creative writing course I was taking at the time. I was doing a lot of free-writing for this, and I produced a number of short passages about a psychic who has a vision of a crime which has not yet been committed. As I developed them further, I found myself wandering into the late eighteenth-century, sketching characters and settings which felt sometimes Austen-esque and sometimes far less privileged – a contrast which I enjoyed. I live not far from Edinburgh, a city with a notable Georgian heritage, so I began to feel this might be my story’s setting. At this point I had lots of threads, lots of ideas, but it was only when I started looking more closely at eighteenth-century Edinburgh, that I had a ‘eureka’ moment.

That moment looked something like this:

Madame Tussaud, from Wikimedia Commons.

I discovered that, in 1803, Madame Tussaud opened an exhibition in Edinburgh’s New Town. Travelling from France to London and then on to Edinburgh during the brief peace between Britain and France, her Grand Cabinet of European Figures was the first time the Scottish capital had seen her lifelike waxworks of royalty and revolutionaries – including, of course, the now infamous death masks. This tiny, fascinating piece of information provided the setting for my university assignment, but it was also the spark which got me to realise that the plots, settings and characters whirring around my head needed a novel. The result is a story which is grounded firmly in its period: a new century, an uneasy peace, an ancient city in flux, and an old world still reeling from revolution. It’s also a novel which still has that psychic and that original mystery at its heart: how do you solve a crime which hasn’t happened yet?

I can’t wait for you all to read it.

It’s World Book Day!

Happy World Book Day 2021! Normally this is a day when kids dress up as their favourite book characters and there’s lots of chat (and school work) about reading, about books we’ve enjoyed, about all that wonderful literature out there, both past and present. Of course, like everything else, this year’s looks a bit different. My children are still learning at home, so their World Book Day celebrations are on-screen, but they are enjoying themselves nonetheless. And nothing can stop us appreciating good books and swapping recommendations for great reads!

So, what are you reading? I’m currently reading Plus One by Tracy Broemmer. I just started it yesterday, but I’ve read a few of Tracy’s books now and have always enjoyed them. And it’s set in Californian wine country, which I can totally get on board with! It’s a contemporary romance, which is one of my favourite genres just now. With *everything* that’s currently going on, I find I need happily ever afters. Check out Plus One on Amazon here.

What better way to celebrate World Book Day than with a sale? I’m running a short sale on my debut novel, The Gisburn Witch. It is currently reduced to 99p / 99c for Kindle over on Amazon UK and US. So, if you haven’t read it yet and think you might enjoy some historical fiction, now is a good time to pick it up! Get your copy here.

Have a great World Book Day, everyone!

Shifting Sands

I’m aware that it’s already February and I haven’t actually posted anything on here so far this year. To say it’s been a rough time would be a bit of an understatement, with the most recent twists and turns of the Covid situation affecting the deadlines I’d set and plans I’d made with regards to my writing. I find myself often comparing these circumstances to shifting sands; after eleven months I am pretty disorientated by it all and without a doubt this has an impact upon my creativity and my output. However, perhaps the less said about that, the better.

I am still writing whenever time and other commitments allow, and making some slow but steady progress on this novel. I’m now writing the final third, which is probably my favourite part as all the seeds scattered and left to grow in the first two thirds bloom beautifully as everything comes together. Or at least, that’s the general idea! I am very much looking forward to introducing you to my characters, of whom I’ve become very fond, as they sleuth their way around Auld Reekie in spring 1803, during that brief reprieve between the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic wars. Hopefully you won’t have too long to wait.

As all my available writing time is focused on my novel, I haven’t been able to write the short pieces for submission to magazines and other publications that I would normally produce. However, I do have quite a back catalogue of work now, and one of my intentions after finishing this novel is to review it all, potentially with a view to producing a short story collection. This will depend on how this year progresses, but it is something I am giving some thought to.

So, just a short update from me to say that I am still here and I’m still writing! Hopefully I will have more news in the coming weeks, but if I am quiet it’s because I’m still in the thick of early nineteenth century Edinburgh, trying to solve a mystery.

Top Books of 2020

Each year, I set myself a reading challenge on Goodreads. I read regularly, but even so I like to have a target to reach each year, in terms of the number of books I manage to read. In recent years my target has been 20 books, and this year I decided to increase it to 25. In fact, I ended up reading 26 books this year, and as ever these were an eclectic mix, from ghost stories to romances, and from classics to brand new releases.

As the year draws to a close, I thought I’d review my Goodreads reading challenge list and pick out my favourite reads of 2020. And so, in no particular order, here they are…

The Cold Black Sea – Campbell Hart

There’s something rotten at the heart of the Balfour family. These three stories highlight the darker side of a shared history, told through the voices of different generations.

The Sniper: as the bloodiest battle of WW1 rages all around them, three friends find themselves facing a phantom sniper deep in no-man’s land. Set against the horror of the Somme one thing is certain: you never see the shots, and the marksman never misses.

The Rocking Stone: the vengeful spirit of the Lady of Threepwood stalks Cuff Hill, bringing death to those who catch her eye. When a black metal box is unearthed in an ancient grave, a young girl’s life is transformed. Only the Rocking Stone holds the answers, with the truth found in the ancient fire cast out from the otherworld.

The Cold, Black Sea: A dying woman returns home for the final time, but with her judgement clouded by visions of the past and present, nothing is quite as it seems. As she tries to lay her demons to rest she’s dogged by a journalist determined to uncover a terrible secret.

There’s no escape from the cold, black sea.

I wrote a review of Campbell Hart’s collection of three ghost stories back in October after receiving an advanced copy, and as I noted at that time, they certainly made an impression on me. This was a perfect Halloween read: dark, foreboding and very satisfying as each story explored a different layer of one family’s accursed history.

An Unreliable Man – Jostein Gaarder

From the creative genius of Jostein Gaarder comes a beautiful novel about loneliness and the power of words.
Jakop is a lonely man.
Divorced from his wife, with no friends apart from his constant companion Pelle, he spends his life attending the funerals of people he doesn’t know, obscuring his identity in a web of improbable lies.
As his addiction to storytelling spirals out of control, he is forced to reconcile his love of language and stories with the ever more urgent need for human connection.

I’ve been a fan of Jostein Gaarder’s work for years, ever since I read Sophie’s World as a teen, and this book certainly didn’t disappoint. A touching tale about loneliness which addresses the nature of reality and the extent to which we create stories about ourselves as we navigate our relationship with the world around us.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë

Anne Bronte’s second novel is a passionate and courageous challenge to the conventions supposedly upheld by Victorian society and reflected in circulating-library fiction. The heroine, Helen Huntingdon, after a short period of initial happiness, leaves her dissolute husband, and must earn her own living to rescue her son from his influence. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is compelling in its imaginative power, the realism and range of its dialogue, and its psychological insight into the characters involved in a marital battle.

I read a number of classic novels this year, but this one was my favourite. In its day, this book was bold and shocking; so much so that after Anne’s death, her sister Charlotte prevented its re-publication. An epistolary novel told from the points of view of a farmer, Gilbert Markham and the mysterious Helen, whom he admires, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a story of love and sacrifice which does not shy away from addressing the cruelty and unhappiness which no doubted existed within the bounds of many a Victorian marriage.

Five Hundred Miles from You – Jenny Colgan

They live five hundred miles apart. Yet their lives are about to collide . . .

Lissa loves her job as a nurse, but recently she’s been doing a better job of looking after other people than looking after herself. After a traumatic incident at work leaves her feeling overwhelmed, she agrees to swap lives with someone in a quite village in Scotland.

Cormac is a restless. Just out of the army, he’s desperately in need of distraction, and there’s precious little of it in Kirrinfief. Maybe three months in London is just what he needs.

As Lissa and Cormac warm to their new lives, emailing back and forth about anything and everything, finally things seem to be falling into place. But each of them feel there’s still a piece missing. What – or who – could it be?

And what if it’s currently five hundred miles away?

Towards the end of 2020, I made a conscious decision to indulge in some lighter reading. I absolutely loved this book, and couldn’t put it down. It’s a real feel-good read which has it all, including a romantic Scottish highland setting and a good bit of will-they-won’t-they. If you want a book which will make you smile, I’d recommend giving this one a try.

The Year without Summer – Guinevere Glasfurd

In 1815, a supervolcanic eruption led to the extraordinary ‘Year Without Summer’ in 1816: a massive climate disruption causing famine, poverty and riots. Lives, both ordinary and privileged, changed forever.

1815, Sumbawa Island, Indonesia
Mount Tambora explodes in a cataclysmic eruption, killing thousands. Sent to investigate, ship surgeon Henry Hogg can barely believe his eyes. Once a paradise, the island is now solid ash, the surrounding sea turned to stone. But worse is yet to come: as the ash cloud rises and covers the sun, the seasons will fail.

1816.
In Switzerland, Mary Shelley finds dark inspiration. Confined inside by the unseasonable weather, thousands of famine refugees stream past her door. In Vermont, preacher Charles Whitlock begs his followers to keep faith as drought dries their wells and their livestock starve. In Britain, the ambitious and lovesick painter John Constable struggles to reconcile the idyllic England he paints with the misery that surrounds him. In the Fens, farm labourer Sarah Hobbs has had enough of going hungry while the farmers flaunt their wealth. And Hope Peter, returned from Napoleonic war, finds his family home demolished and a fence gone up in its place. He flees to London, where he falls in with a group of revolutionaries who speak of a better life, whatever the cost. As desperation sets in, Britain becomes racked with riots – rebellion is in the air.

The Year Without Summer is the story of the books written, the art made; of the journeys taken, of the love longed for and the lives lost during that fateful year. Six separate lives, connected only by an event many thousands of miles away. Few had heard of Tambora – but none could escape its effects.

I’m a huge fan of Guinevere Glasfurd’s writing, and really enjoyed her debut novel, The Words in my Hand. Her second offering, an evocative tale of how one natural event can influence the course of many disparate lives, was just as wonderful. The way in which Glasfurd weaves her narrative is masterful, as she brings together a cast of well-drawn characters, from those on the cusp of making history, to ordinary folk just trying to survive. This writer has a real talent for bringing history to life on the page, and I look forward to seeing what she will write next.

Mistletoe Mishaps – Tracy Broemmer

If there’s anything Nic Collier likes less than decorating for Christmas, it’s being called out on local TV news to do just that. When anchorwoman Hailey Gerritsen challenges her to participate in the Christmas decorating contest sponsored by her own news station, Nic has no choice but to play along.

Enter Scott Woodrow, news cameraman, owner of a smokin’ hot body, and all-around nice guy. When Scott shows up to help Nic with her Christmas lights, she assumes none other than Hailey Gerritsen put him up to it.

But as the two of them work side-by-side to finish the decorating, Nic finds herself drawn to Scott and actually enjoying the decorating project and the holiday season.

Will Nic’s newfound holiday cheer last through the season, or will ghosts from her past ruin yet another holiday?

This novella was my festive reading choice for 2020, and it certainly did not disappoint. I’ve read quite a number of Tracy Broemmer’s books now, and she is fast becoming one of my favourite authors of contemporary romance. I really enjoyed the mistletoe premise, and the way in which a lighthearted piece of Christmas folklore propels the characters’ journey along. If you’re looking for a heartwarming love story laced with Christmas cheer, then this book is for you.

The Dead Girl’s Stilettos – Quinn Avery

After a Jane Doe is murdered in journalist Bexley Squires’s hometown, she’s hired by one of Hollywood’s brightest stars to clear his name as a suspect. But her skills as an amateur sleuth weren’t enough to find her missing sister. Does she have what it takes to find a killer?

When she returns to California, she discovers the elite seaside community of Papaya Springs has become more corrupt than she imagined. All too soon, she stumbles into a web of twisted games played by the rich and famous. Along with the detective in charge of the case, who also happens to be her high school crush, she’ll uncover a level of depravity unlike anything she’s ever known.

Murder and scandal under the hot California skies – what’s not to like? I really enjoyed this first book in Quinn Avery’s Bexley Squires series. It is a well-paced mystery with twists and turns aplenty, which I am sure fans of this genre will find satisfying. The heroine’s return to her hometown, her re-connection with her teen crush and the question of her missing sister all add further depth and interest to the story. Quinn Avery has been prolific in writing this series, a number of which are now available. They are on my to-read list for 2021.

Spotlight Part 5: The House at Kirtlebeck End

And so, readers, we have reached the final book spotlight. The House at Kirtlebeck End is my most recent novel, published in 2019.

Cover for The House at Kirtlebeck End

The House at Kirtlebeck End is a dual narrative story which moves between the 1970s and present day as a young woman, Harry, and her grandmother, Eleanor, tell their respective stories. At the centre of the tale is an old house, filled with secrets and a murky family history which begs to be uncovered. In terms of genre, the book is undoubtedly a paranormal mystery and a ghost story, and is probably the spookiest thing I have written to date!

Weaving a story across two different timelines and from two different characters’ point of view was quite a challenge. I began by writing both narratives in turn, following the structure of the book. However, about a third of the way in, I found it more productive to focus on one character’s story at a time, completing one before returning to the other. I wrote Eleanor’s story, set in 1972, first; this made most sense to me as this timeline was the pivot upon which Harry’s various discoveries hung while she tried to solve her family’s mysteries. Nonetheless it was tricky to ensure that things came together, that the pacing was correct and that the chapters fell into the right order. A large part of the editing was a painstaking process of ensuring that it made sense, and that nothing was discovered by Harry before being revealed to the reader by Eleanor.

Promotional poster

The story itself was inspired by a Christmas holiday spent in southern Scotland a few years ago. We stayed in a big old Victorian house in a tiny village in the countryside. It was a truly beautiful place, not at all forbidding like the house at Kirtlebeck End. Nonetheless, it was full of interesting features, from the sweeping wooden staircase, to the antique iron towel rail in the bathroom. It got me thinking about the things that the house would have seen over the years, and the stories it held within its walls. I found myself wondering what the house might tell me, if it could speak. The idea stayed with me, and developed eventually into this ghostly tale which takes place in an old house, sitting alone at the end of a fictional village I named Kirtlebeck. Given my love of the Gothic, it’s little wonder things ended up this way!

Spotlight Part 4: The Pendle Witch Girl

In today’s spotlight is my fourth book, and the last instalment in the Witches of Pendle trilogy, The Pendle Witch Girl. This book is also my only novella to date, and was published in 2018.

The Pendle Witch Girl cover

In the spotlight post I did for A Woman Named Sellers, I mentioned that originally I wanted that book to cover Jennet Device/Sellers’ whole life, but found early on that to do so would have made the book far too cumbersome. So, after publishing that book I decided that I would write one final story, covering Jennet’s childhood and her pivotal (and tragic) role in the 1612 trials. Of all my Witches of Pendle books, this one draws closest to events leading up to and during the trials in Lancaster in 1612. Whereas The Gisburn Witch operates on the periphery of the Lancashire aspect of the story, The Pendle Witch Girl concerns the character who was at the centre of it.

Release day promotional poster

It was quite a challenge to tackle such an infamous story, particularly in trying to understand some of the accusations of witchcraft which arose and their context, and to represent those convincingly in fiction. I also had to bear in mind that the key primary source for the trial, The Wonderful Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster written by court clerk Thomas Potts, contains its own biases, as it approaches events from the authorities’ point of view. Therefore, a good deal of reading between the lines was required.

When writing, I worked hard to avoid falling into the trap of ‘explaining away’ the superstitions and alleged magical events, or of putting too much of a modern slant upon them. Instead, I tried to get into the minds of my characters, to see the world through their eyes and to do justice to their stories. It’s important to remember, I think, that the accused and their accusers believed in witchcraft just as fervently as the authorities, and therefore saw events and the actions of neighbours, friends and even family through this lens. I also had to remember that I was writing from the point of view of a child, whose view of the world was not only steeped in superstition but also her immaturity and her own family dynamic. That dynamic, I felt, was key to understanding why she did what she did, and why events unfolded so dreadfully in the summer of 1612.

More information about The Pendle Witch Girl can be found here.