Author Archives: sarahlking

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.

Spotlight Part 3: Ethersay

In today’s spotlight is my third novel, and first contemporary story, Ethersay, which was published in 2017. For me this novel marked a real shift in my creativity, as I went from re-imagining times and people long past, to crafting a story about modern characters who were entirely my own invention.

In 2016, around the time I was finishing A Woman Named Sellers, I had a really strange dream about a woman waking up on a beach with no recollection of what happened or how she got there. This, it turned out, was the seed of an idea which became Ethersay. After a lot of thought, I decided to set part of the narrative during the independence referendum here in Scotland in 2014 – a momentous, exciting time which provided my protagonist with just the right amount of upheaval and drama to propel her story along.

Of all my books, Ethersay is probably the hardest to describe or place in any sort of category. On one level it is about political activism, but that really isn’t the whole story – it’s also a mystery, with some strange twists and turns, and with plenty of suspense. If I had to describe it in one sentence, I’d say that ultimately it’s about a young woman having to face up to her past and its consequences.

Ethersay is also my only novel to have a book trailer. I worked with the very talented Stewart Kerr Brown of The Imagination Engine to create this film, which stars Jodi Findlay. We had an absolute ball filming this in Fife, Scotland.

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about how my experiences during the referendum inspired this novel.

You can find out more about Ethersay and where to buy it here.

Spotlight Part 2: A Woman Named Sellers

Last week I started a series of ‘spotlight’ posts, focusing on each of my novels in the order I wrote them, and talking a little about their subjects and themes, what inspired me to write them, and so on. In today’s spotlight it’s my second novel, and the second book in the Witches of Pendle trilogy, A Woman Named Sellers.

Published in 2016, A Woman Named Sellers picks up the Pendle witches’ story twenty years after the first trials. It follows the story of former trial child witness Jennet Device, now living as Jennet Sellers. Following the death of her father, Jennet moves to a new village to live with relatives she hardly knows. She tries hard to carve out a new life for herself, and finds solace in new friendships, particularly with her fellow newcomer William Braithwaite, a stonemason from Cumberland. However, Jennet’s past continues to haunt her, and with witch hunters once again prowling the Pendle countryside, she’s not sure if she can ever be safe.

After writing The Gisburn Witch, I really wanted to focus on the story of the other, arguably more famous Jennet in the Pendle witch tale. Originally I planned to cover her whole life story but realised that her childhood and adult tales were too lengthy and complex to put into one novel. So, I decided to focus instead on her adulthood and possible involvement in the 1634 trials. Due to some of the gaps and contradictions in the evidence, we can’t know for certain that the Jennet Device named in the 1634 trial records was the same as the Jennet Device of 1612, although, on balance, it seems likely. I was really captured by the notion that her tragic life probably did come full circle – from witness to accused.

When I was writing this book, I was also really interested in reflecting some of the changes going on in wider society in the 1630s. These were the years leading up to the civil wars, and society was changing – we can see that in the shifting attitudes to witch-hunting, but also in the religious landscape, with many new Christian groups emerging. One of the major characters in the book, William Braithwaite, is a Grindletonian, a sect which sprang up in the northern village of Grindleton during these years. Groups like the Grindletonians were really very radical, placing emphasis on the individual’s relationship with God, rejecting the need to be ordained to preach, and believing that accepting God’s spirit was all that was required to attain salvation. William is one of the few fictional characters in the story, and to this day he remains one of my favourites. Some readers have also commented on how much they liked him, and a few have even asked if I’d consider writing a spin-off about him!

The 1634 trials are less well known that those in 1612, which is a shame as they are fascinating in their own right. Indeed, the echoes of 1612 are all there – child witnesses, tensions between neighbours, outlandish accusations, and the persistence of witch-hunting zeal in the north of the country. The results, however, were somewhat different from 1612. You can read more about the 1634 trials and Jennet’s possible involvement here.

More information about A Woman Named Sellers, including where to buy, is available here.

Spotlight: The Gisburn Witch

As the year tumbles towards its conclusion, I’ve found myself in a reflective mood. Let’s be honest, there’s a lot to reflect on this year, and not a whole lot of it has been good! However, in recent weeks I have been staying positive (mostly) and busy, working on the first draft of my next novel, and really enjoying the experience of delving into a different world which writing it affords. After all, 2020 could not be a better excuse for a little escapism, could it?

I’ve also found myself looking back on the books I’ve written and the things I’ve achieved so far. It is good to take stock once in a while, to look at your work and to think ‘wow, I did that’. I began writing my first novel in 2014, published it in 2015 and I haven’t really stopped since. As it is almost the end of another year, I thought it would be fun to shine a spotlight on my books in the order I wrote them, and say a little bit about them – what they’re about, what inspired me to write them, and so on.

So, in today’s spotlight is my debut novel, The Gisburn Witch.

Published in 2015, The Gisburn Witch is a historical fiction novel which tells the story of Jennet Preston, one of the so-called Pendle witches, who found herself caught up in the trials in Lancashire in 1612. I’d always had an interest in the Pendle witch trials, and wrote my university dissertation on the subject. Jennet had particularly drawn my interest as she was geographically separate from the other accused, living in Gisburn in the Yorkshire/Lancashire borderlands. She was tried separately, too, in York rather than Lancaster. I really wanted to dig deep into Jennet’s story, to understand how she ended up being accused of witchcraft. The Gisburn Witch is my imagining of that story.

In 2016, I wrote an article for Edinburgh University’s Dangerous Women Project, all about Jennet and the other ‘witches’ and some of the aspects of their lives and stories which made them vulnerable to witchcraft accusations. You can find it here.

You can find out more about The Gisburn Witch and where you can get a copy here.

Next time in the spotlight will be my second novel, and the second book in the Witches of Pendle series, A Woman Named Sellers.

In Remembrance

As a novelist, I love stories. I love reading them, creating them, writing them, and discovering them. As a historical novelist, I am drawn to the tales of the past, to imagining (and re-imagining) past peoples, places, and events. Perhaps most of all, I enjoy blending research and creativity to bring the past to life through storytelling. I love digging around in the records, discovering those delightful snippets of information bequeathed to us by time and wondering, what then? Why? How? I suppose that same curiosity is what drew me to another interest of mine: genealogy. Over a number of years, I have been researching my own family tree and unearthing the stories of my ancestors. Today, on Remembrance Sunday, I thought I would share with you one of those stories.

The photo above was taken by Darge Photographic Company at Seymour Army Camp in Victoria, Australia, around 21st November 1915. The young man pictured is my ancestor, Thomas Brocklebank, who in July 1915 enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force to fight in the First World War. Five days after this photograph was taken, Private Brocklebank embarked with the 24th Battalion from Melbourne, aboard the HMAT Commonwealth. The records indicate that he first travelled to the AIF Training Camps in North Africa, including Zeitoun Camp, near Cairo. From there he travelled onwards to France and the western front. On 3rd July 1916 he went missing in action. He was never found and following a Court of Enquiry in 1917, was declared to have been killed in action. He was nineteen years old. As he has no known grave, he is commemorated on the Australian National War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux near Amiens, northern France.

As is so often the case with history, the answer to one question provokes many others. While researching Thomas’s tragic story, I found myself repeatedly wondering how a young man from my family ended up enlisting with the Australian Imperial Force. As far as I knew, I had no connection to Australia, nor did the Brocklebank branch of my family tree, a branch firmly rooted in Cumbria, northern England. It was quite the mystery – a mystery I felt compelled to solve. So I dug further into the records, tracing Thomas’s life through both the military records and census data, taking the clues it offered and building it into the story of his life.

This, I believe, is his story.

Thomas Brocklebank was born in the village of Baycliff, near Dalton-in-Furness in 1897, the youngest son of Thomas Brocklebank snr and his wife, Mary. Mary Brocklebank appears to have died during Thomas’s early infancy, and sometime afterwards his father seems to have left for South Africa, where he fought in the Boer War and subsequently remained for the rest of his life, working as a miner. By 1901, Thomas was living in the Dalton area with his aunt and uncle, Margaret and William Raven, and their family.

Thomas then disappears from the British census records, and I believe therefore that sometime before 1911 he emigrated to Australia with another of his aunts, a lady called Clara Smith and her husband, Richard. They lived in Swan Hill, Victoria, where Thomas worked as a farm labourer until his enlistment in 1915. Thomas’s military record contains some deeply sad correspondence between his aunt Clara and the authorities concerning his whereabouts during the time he was missing, asking for information about what had happened to him. His story is sadly an all too common one, with so many of his generation losing their lives on the battlefields of Europe. Seeing those records, and knowing the profound sense of loss which sits between the lines of Clara’s letters, was very moving.

Unlike many British war records which fell victim to the Blitz, the Australian records remain intact and have been digitised. Whilst census data, by its very nature, can only provide a snapshot of a person at a moment in time, the Australian war records present a timeline of a young man’s army life from enlistment, through training, in combat and ultimately, to his death. The records make for heart-wrenching reading, demonstrating the impact of the war on one young man and his family. They also give some very specific details. I know, for example, that Thomas was five feet two inches tall, with brown hair and green eyes. But a lot of other information has, of course, been lost to time – most importantly, Thomas’s voice. He left no record of himself, no words of his own to stand as testament to what he saw, thought and felt during those short but tumultuous years. And that, for a curious historian and a descendant, is one of the saddest details of all.

Today is Remembrance Sunday, when we commemorate the sacrifice made by millions of men like Thomas. They were the lost generation of the early twentieth century. Lest we forget.

Book Review: The Cold, Black Sea by 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.

The Cold, Black Sea is the latest release from Scottish noir author Campbell Hart. It comprises a trio of ghost stories, all linked by their connection to one family through a number of generations. I had previously read The Sniper and The Rocking Stone when they were published individually, and it was very satisfying to see them brought together with The Cold, Black Sea, a story which packs a considerable punch in rounding off the tragic tales of the Balfours.

The Sniper is a strikingly original ghost story, set on the battlefields of the Somme during the First World War. It is a disorientating read, told from the perspectives of three different young men from Glasgow as they grapple with ghostly sightings on the western front. Hart deploys fragmented, multiple first person narratives to great effect, drawing the reader into a gruesome hellscape in which it is often unclear what is real and what is imagined. Herein lies the story’s magic, and when the mist clears at the conclusion, the sense of futility and tragedy is palpable.

If The Sniper draws upon the horrors of relatively recent history, The Rocking Stone reaches out to the magic of the ancient past. It is a story of spells and curses, of old druid legends and the price paid by those who get caught up in them. Using multiple first person points of view, Hart weaves a richly descriptive and creepy tale with an unexpected twist. The protagonists are members of the Balfour family, and are relatives of one of the young soldiers in the first story. By the end of this second story, there is a growing sense that this particular family is cursed.

The concluding story, The Cold, Black Sea, is a masterful piece of noir storytelling. Haunted by the past, a present day Balfour seeks to lay ghosts to rest while confronting her own impending demise. Again Hart deploys a fragmented, multi-perspective narrative to great effect, leaving the reader with a nagging sense that something isn’t quite right. And, of course, it isn’t: the fates of the previous generations hang heavy over the protagonist, but so do her own secrets. When all is revealed at the conclusion it is breathtakingly dark, and for fans of this genre, enormously satisfying.

A highly recommended collection, perfect for Halloween. Five Stars. Get your copy here.

***I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.***

Writing in the Time of Covid

As we reach the final quarter of the year, I think most of us will be looking back on what a difficult time 2020 has been. Each of us will have had our own challenges and hardships over these preceding months. I saw a meme on social media earlier this week which captured this sentiment perfectly – in essence, it said that though we are all going through the same storm, we aren’t all the same boat. It’s perhaps a statement of the obvious to say that this situation we’re living through touches every part of daily life. For me, it has undoubtedly affected my writing, both in terms of my ability to find the time and space to write, but also how I go about developing a story. One area which has definitely been affected is the way in which I do my research.

From pexels.com.

As some of you will know, my latest project is set in late Georgian Edinburgh. The seeds of this story were sown around nine months ago, during my second Open University assignment. I wrote a short story about a psychic sleuth who, having seen a genteel young woman’s dreadful fate during a leaf reading, tries to intervene with unexpected and rather creepy results. I loved the sleuth so much that I knew I had to write a novel about her – indeed, a series of novels about her. At the time I looked forward enthusiastically to the research I’d be able to do – as anyone who has visited Edinburgh will know, it is a deeply historical and atmospheric place, with a wealth of landmarks and museums to visit.

Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh. From pexels.com.

And then Covid came along.

At the time of writing, things are beginning to open back up but are by no means ‘normal’, meaning that some of the visits I’d planned, particularly to museums, can’t go ahead. Fortunately prior to Covid I had been to some of the places on my list, notably The Georgian House (which is just wonderful, by the way), and as someone living in the nearby Lothians I am broadly familiar with the city. But there were gaps in my knowledge, particularly in understanding how Edinburgh would have looked c.1800 (trust me, even seemingly old cities actually change an awful lot).

Thank goodness for books, and of course, the internet.

I thought today I’d share with you a couple of the absolute gems I’ve come across online during my lockdown research. The first is the Edinburgh World Heritage website, which contains a wealth of information about the old and new towns in the city. This is a really good starting point for anyone interested in the city’s history, and for finding interesting bits of information about individual streets and buildings. The second is the Maps Section of the National Library of Scotland website. I think I’ve lost count of how many hours I’ve spent poring over eighteenth century town plans, cross referencing streets and just generally building a mental image of the Edinburgh my characters inhabited.

North Bridge, Edinburgh, c.1809, from Wikimedia Commons.

In these past months, the internet has been an invaluable resource. If it was hard to imagine life without it before Covid, it seems impossible now. As an historical fiction writer, its importance to my research over these past months can’t be overstated. Quite simply, my latest project wouldn’t be happening without it.