The Pendle Witch Girl is Live!!

Today is release day for The Pendle Witch Girl. I am delighted to publish the third installment in my Witches of Pendle series and to share with you my re-imagining of young Jennet Device’s fascinating and tragic story.

What was it like, to grow up in a world of spells and curses, of magic and misdeeds?

What was it like, to believe that your family was capable of the most wicked acts?

What was it like, to be a girl caught up in one of the most notorious witch trials in English history?

Delve into this Witches of Pendle novella and find out! The Pendle Witch Girl is available now, e-book £1.99 and paperback £5.99, from Amazon / iTunes / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / Kobo

And if you’ve not read the first book yet, The Gisburn Witch e-book is available for just 99p / 99c. This is a special offer for release week only, and will run until 24th August 2018. So don’t miss out! Grab a copy now from Amazon / iTunes / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / Kobo

Exclusive Preview: The Pendle Witch Girl

In one week the third installment of the Witches of Pendle series, The Pendle Witch Girl, will be released. Today I am delighted to publish an extract from the book – I hope very much that you all enjoy it!

Prologue

Spring 1609

‘Crumbling Stones’

“Ouch!” Jennet exclaimed as she scraped her knees across the large stones which were strewn across the ground. These piles of rubble were all that remained of the back wall of the out-building now; last winter had been harsh and the old walls hadn’t had the strength to resist the relentless frost and biting wind. One day, just after fresh snow had fallen on to the frozen ground, she had wandered outside and round the corner as she usually did and the wall had gone. Just like that – gone.  It shouldn’t have been a surprise, really. For as long as Jennet could remember, the building had served no purpose other than to sit there, crumbling. She had asked her mother and grandmother repeatedly what it was for and both had shrugged, claiming not to know. Even when she badgered them for an answer, both continued to plead ignorance. She found adults so irritating when they were evasive like that; they probably did know and they just didn’t want to tell her. Who cares about old buildings and their uses when you’ve grown-up things to worry about?

Still, Jennet felt sorry for the old stone hut, sitting there all alone and falling apart. She decided that if the rest of her family weren’t interested in finding a use for it, then she would take it upon herself to do so. She would give it a purpose. Last summer, it had been her den, a little house all of her very own, but now that the back wall had gone it didn’t make a particularly good or cosy home any more. This spring, she decided, she would play on the rocks instead. That had seemed like a good idea until just a few minutes ago, when she had scraped her knee. Now she had drawn a little blood and her knee ached.

“Mama!” she shouted as she ran back towards her house. She ran inside and slammed the heavy wooden door of Malkin Tower behind her. “Mama!” she called again. “I’ve hurt my knee! Can you look?”

Slowing her pace and feigning a slight limp, Jennet walked to the back of their cottage, where her mother was sitting in the kitchen near to the hearth, chattering away with her friend, Jennet Preston. On Jennet’s lap sat her daughter, Bess, who was wriggling around, dribbling over a piece of soggy bread. Jennet shot the child a disdainful glance.

“Mama, I’ve hurt my knee,” she repeated, offering up her leg for her mother’s examination. There was quite a lot of blood now; it had trickled down her shin and settled on her ankle, where it had begun to dry.

Elizabeth Device wasn’t amused. “It’s nothing, Jennet. Bit of blood is all. No need to make such a fuss,” she said, sharply. “Honestly, you’re eight years old and still acting like a baby!”

“Shouldn’t Grand-mama have a look?” Jennet asked, deciding to pursue the matter of her injured knee and ignoring her mother’s jibe. “Grand-mama is good at mending people,” she added, smiling at Jennet Preston.

Jennet Preston returned the child’s smile. “Yes, your grandmother is good at a great many things,” she replied affirmatively. “You are very lucky to have her.”

“Grandmother’s sleeping,” her mother replied. “Please don’t wake her. Now, go and play, Jennet,” she added, gently but insistently.

“I’ve no one to play with!” Jennet whinged. “James and Alison are both out, and even when they’re here they don’t want to play with me. They think they’re grown up now, too. Everyone’s a grown up except me!” She gesticulated wildly with her arms for dramatic effect. It was a fair point, she thought. Her brother and sister really did think they were too old for her games.

The two women simply laughed at Jennet’s outburst. “What a lass you are,” her mother said, rubbing her hair affectionately. This gesture was intended to offer comfort but Jennet only found it infuriating.

“Can Bess come and play with me?” Jennet asked, glancing warily at the drooling child. Bess’s face was always wet and she couldn’t talk much yet, but she could walk and that meant she would do for a friend, for today at least. Maybe Jennet could teach her to climb on the rocks carefully without scraping her knees.

Jennet Preston chuckled. “Bess is too little, Jennet,” she replied gently. “In a few years when she’s grown a little more, I’m sure she will be your very best friend. Just like your mama is my closest friend,” she added, giving Elizabeth Device a warm smile.

“I can’t wait that long,” Jennet answered rudely. She paused for a moment, allowing the two women to stare at her with confused faces. Jennet enjoyed moments like this, when adults stopped talking about boring things and listened to her. “By the time Bess is old enough to play with me, all the walls on my house will have fallen down and there will be nothing left. I won’t need a friend then, if there’s nothing left to play with.”

 

Later that day, Jennet watched from behind the front wall of her house as Jennet Preston and Bess finally left. She took care to make sure that she wasn’t seen; she liked the sense of watching other people without being spotted. Her brother James had once remarked that she was so good at it, perhaps she could go and spy for the King! The King indeed! James could be so silly at times. What would the King want with a little girl from Pendle?

Jennet watched her mother’s friend as she carried her daughter down the hill and disappeared into the distance. She liked Jennet Preston; she was always kind and friendly to her, but she talked a lot which was no use if Jennet wanted to speak to her mother. With Jennet Preston around, she could never get a word in edgeways. A couple of years ago, which felt like a long time ago to Jennet, her mother’s friend had lived at Malkin Tower for a little while. Jennet had quite forgotten all about it, and perhaps would have forgotten forever if her sister Alison hadn’t reminded her. Alison liked to talk about people she knew and everything she knew about them, especially if she knew bad things. As young as she was, Jennet knew that if you wanted to know about something bad, you could go to Alison and she would tell you.

“Do you know why Jennet Preston lived here?” Alison had asked mischievously once she knew that her little sister was hanging on to her every word.

“No. Why?” Jennet had replied, her eyes wide with wonder.

“Because she had to run away when everyone in Gisburn found out that she was having Master Lister’s baby,” Alison answered, her tone matter-of-fact but catty.

“Who’s Master Lister?” Jennet had asked innocently.

“A gentleman,” Alison replied, tossing her head sharply, as though to emphasise the importance of this man’s rank. “And he wasn’t her husband. Jennet Preston seduced a gentleman, can you imagine it?” she added with a giggle.

Jennet had been confused. She didn’t really understand a lot of what Alison was telling her, but guessed that this Master Lister must have fallen in love with kind, smiling Jennet Preston. That was quite clever of Jennet, she thought, to make a gentleman fall in love with her.

“How did she do that?” Jennet asked.

“Who knows,” Alison replied. “Maybe she bewitched him!” she added with a mischievous cackle.

“Alison! You can’t say things like that!” Jennet exclaimed.

“Why not?” asked Alison with a casual shrug. “I only mean that she might have cast a love spell. People do spells all the time, for all sorts of things. Look at what Grandmother does. She’s started teaching me too, so that I might know spells and remedies for everything, just like she does.”

“Can I learn?” Jennet asked eagerly.

“When you’re much older,” replied Alison haughtily. “And only if you have the gift. Not everyone has the gift, you know. Even if you do have it, Grandmother will want to be sure that you won’t use it for ill-wishing before she’ll teach you. Ill-wishing is witchcraft.”

“I would never do anything bad!” Jennet exclaimed. “I only want to mend people, like Grand-mama.”

Despite her pleas, neither Alison nor their grandmother had checked to see if Jennet had the gift. Alison didn’t share any of her learning with her younger sister, and no amount of prying or pleading could persuade her to loosen her tongue. Now, sitting in her crumbling den, Jennet was reminded of how much she wanted to have her grandmother’s gift and some of her powerful knowledge. She realised, however, that she could still pretend. She could make up her own spells in the safety of her den and pretend that she was turning milk to butter, or making ale taste better. She’d no use for love spells yet, but she could pretend to cure a few sick animals. If she pretended to do all these things now, she was sure that when her grandmother decided she was old enough to learn properly, she would be even better prepared than Alison.

 

It was almost dark when Jennet decided to venture back indoors that evening. She had been so absorbed in her game of magic that she hadn’t noticed the fading light. She approached the door of Malkin Tower with some trepidation, feeling certain that her mother would be waiting behind it, armed with some harsh words and a cross expression. Carefully, she opened the door, trying to prevent it from creaking so that she could sneak in without drawing attention to herself.

To Jennet’s surprise, however, the sound which greeted her was not her mother’s scolding tone but raised voices coming from the back of the house. Unable to dissuade her curiosity, Jennet crept towards the kitchen and hid around the corner, close enough to hear but out of sight. She immediately recognised the two voices as those of her mother and Alison. She sighed disappointedly. Arguments between her mother and Alison were nothing new; Alison was forever disappearing into the countryside for hours on end, and her mother never knew what she was doing or who she was with. She was about to lose interest and walk away from her hiding place, when something Alison said caught her attention.

“You know what John Robinson says about you?” Alison asked her mother. Even from her hiding place, Jennet could sense the vindictiveness in her sister’s tone. She shuddered. She hated it when Alison behaved like this.

“No, Alison,” her mother sighed in reply. “Tell me, what does he say?”

“He says you’re a whore,” Alison spat. “He knows that you had a child with Richard Sellers when my father was still alive.”

“Yes, I’m sure he does know that, Alison,” replied her mother, forcing her tone to remain even through gritted teeth. “I’m sure everyone round here knows that. You’ve known about it yourself for a few years now, and I really wish you’d stop bringing it up. She’s your sister, Alison.”

Jennet’s interest began to dissipate. Her mother was right; Alison was always bringing up the fact that she and Jennet had different fathers. Like Alison, Jennet knew that Richard Sellers was her father, and that she only had the Device name because her mother chose not to mark her as different from her siblings. None of this was anything new. She thought about leaving her hiding place again. Perhaps she could go and find her grandmother, or James.

“How do you feel about people calling you a whore, mother?” Alison demanded, recapturing Jennet’s attention with her raised voice. “Does it not make you angry? Does it not make you ashamed?”

“Ashamed? Never!” said her mother in response, her voice growing louder now as she became angrier. “No one can understand my actions, no one can understand how I felt at the time, and no one should judge me!”

“So it makes you angry?” Alison goaded. Jennet could sense the pleasure she was taking in riling her mother. She shuddered again, feeling glad now that she was still hiding.

“Yes it makes me angry! A pox on John Robinson, and his brother too! A pox on them both!” her mother screamed.

Silence followed. To Jennet it was a long, worrying silence, since from her hiding place she couldn’t see what had happened. Stealthily, she crept towards the door and peered round into the room. There, she could see her mother, sat down, the dog they called Ball spread across her lap. Ball must have come in for scraps before the argument had ensued. Poor Ball, thought Jennet, caught in the middle. He didn’t even live here really; he just came in when he felt like a meal and a fuss.

“It’s alright Ball,” she could just about make out her mother’s muttering. “It’s alright. We’ll show them, won’t we? We’ll teach them to hold their nasty tongues. I curse the Robinson brothers. I curse them both.”

Jennet gasped. This was the first time she’d heard her mother speak in that way. She tiptoed away from the doorway, unseen, and went through to the bedroom where she slipped silently under a blanket. She didn’t feel like eating now, she didn’t want to see her mother; she just wanted to hide away. After a while she fell into a restless slumber, disturbed by the thought that her mother had just wished away two lives, that the Robinson brothers might suffer dreadful deaths as a result of her words. Tossing and turning, she cried out in her sleep, her dreams plagued by images of death and suffering. In the middle of the night, surrounded by darkness, Jennet awoke suddenly, a sharp gasp of air escaping from her lungs as she sat up straight. In the pitch black silence, a terrible thought suddenly occurred to her. If her mother had the gift, she realised, then she had just used it to ill-wish someone, to throw a curse upon them. Alison’s words rang in her ears. Ill-wishing is witchcraft.

Jennet gulped hard. Had her mother just done the work of a witch?

The Pendle Witch Girl will be released on 18th August 2018 and will be available in e-book and paperback from Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, iTunes and Barnes & Noble.

Spreading the Word

Whilst all writers have their own hopes, dreams and aspirations, I think it is fairly safe to say that there are a few things which appear on all of our wishlists. Whether we are writing our first book or our fourth, we toil night and day, agonising over our creative efforts before eventually summoning the courage (after seemingly endless rounds of editing and proofing) to put our work out into the world. At that point, I think there are four things we all wish for:

  1. That readers buy the book.
  2. That readers read the book and enjoy it.
  3. That readers rate/review the book on Amazon, Goodreads etc.
  4. That readers tell a friend, family member, colleague or other acquaintance about the book.

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that these four wishes are important to any author writing in any genre, whether they are traditionally published, crowdfunded, or self-publishing. For the indie author, those last two wishes are particularly vital. Most indies, myself included, don’t have vast marketing machines behind them, or enormous budgets with which to procure such resources. Most indies rely on the internet, on social media, on reviews, on shares and ratings and that great old-fashioned thing, word of mouth, to maintain their book’s profile far beyond that initial burst of sales which comes with release day.

Why am I talking about this? Well, today I decided that I would write a post which plays my part in this. I am a writer but I am also a reader too, and over the past few years I have read some truly wonderful books by independent authors. Today I thought I would turn the spotlight on to them, tell you a little about their work and where you can find it. It’s all part of spreading the word!

K.J Farnham

K.J Farnham writes women’s fiction and contemporary romance. Her work includes her Click Date Repeat series and her most recent release, A Case of Serendipity. K.J has also written a YA novel, Don’t Call Me Kit Kat. I’m an avid reader of K.J’s work and have reviewed a number of her books on my blog (see here, here and here). If you like light, funny and enjoyable reads which will make you smile and lift your spirits, K.J’s romance novels are probably for you.

Find out more about K.J here.

 

Hillary DeVisser

Hillary DeVisser writes women’s fiction and romance. Her Coal Country series, which includes the books Fishing Hole, Copper Creek and Poets Pass, follows the fortunes of family and friends in a small mining town in Southern Illinois, where lives are not simple and there is always a good dose of suspense to be found. I read these books consecutively and just couldn’t put them down. If you like heartfelt, romantic reads which will have you clutching your chest at times, DeVisser’s books are probably for you.

Find out more about Hillary here.

 

Fiona MacBain

Fiona MacBain writes in the thriller, suspense and crime genres. Her books are one of my more recent discoveries, in fact it was only last week that I reviewed her second novel, Glasdrum, a crime thriller set in the Scottish Highlands (you can read my review here). In the past couple of days I finished reading Fiona’s first novel, the pacy women in jeopardy thriller Daughter, Disappeared set in Tunisia (review for this one is still to come). Both novels are gripping, exciting reads with unpredictable plots, and intriguing, challenging and at times downright grisly characters. If you like absorbing thrillers which you can’t put down, Fiona’s books could well be for you.

Find out more about Fiona here.

 

Campbell Hart

Campbell Hart writes crime fiction and noir, and has more recently released collections of ghost stories. His Arbogast trilogy, comprised of the novels Wilderness, The Nationalist and Referendum are crime novels set in central Scotland all featuring his gritty and completely unforgettable protagonist, DI John Arbogast. Campbell’s Arbogast books were one of my first forays into reading crime fiction and discovering that I did indeed enjoy the genre. The plots were framed within the context of recent memorable events in Scotland, from the freezing winter of 2010 through to the eve of the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014, making them immediately relevant and relatable. If you like well-constructed and engaging crime fiction, Campbell’s books might well be for you.

Find out more about Campbell here.

 

Marissa Campbell

Marissa Campbell writes historical fiction and contemporary romance. Her first novel Avelynn was published by St Martin’s Griffin and she has since gone on to self-publish a second novel in the series, Avelynn: The Edge of Faith, as well as a contemporary romance novel. The Avelynn books are epic adventures of magic, faith and survival in the dangerous and superstitious world of ninth century England and Wales. This wasn’t a period I was particularly familiar with before picking up these books, but Marissa’s spell-binding prose and memorable characters really brought it to life for me. If you like gripping historical fiction with a touch of the otherworldly, Marissa’s books are probably for you.

Find out more about Marissa here.

So, over to you! Tell me and your friends about your favourite indies by commenting here, or sharing this post and commenting on your own social media channels with the hashtag #SpreadTheWord

 

The Pendle Witch Girl: Cover & Blurb Reveal!

Today I am delighted to reveal the cover and blurb for my forthcoming novella, The Pendle Witch Girl. This third installment of the Witches of Pendle series revisits the infamous trials of 1612, focusing on the childhood story of Jennet Device, an impoverished and impressionable young girl who finds herself at the very centre of Pendle’s first witch hunt, with tragic consequences.

The Pendle Witch Girl will be released in ebook and paperback format on 18th August 2018 – the 406th anniversary of the start of the trials in Lancaster.

What should you do when you discover that you’re the child of witches?

This is the predicament which faces Jennet Device. An illegitimate and lonely child, Jennet can only look on in horror while her family engage in the dark side of the folk magic learned from her grandmother, the notorious cunning woman known as Old Demdike. As terrifying tales of bewitchment and murder sweep through the Forest of Pendle, Jennet is forced to realise the power of their vengeance, and her powerlessness to stop it.

When her family’s practices come to the attention of the local sheriff, Jennet suddenly finds herself at the centre of a witch trial which could destroy them all. The little girl from Pendle is now the court’s star witness, and she has a terrible choice to make: can she bring herself to lie to protect them, or find the courage to tell their stories to the world even if it could cost them their lives?

Book Review: Glasdrum by Fiona MacBain

One town. Five women. Dark events. 

Life is not easy for the women of Glasdrum… 

A skeleton is unearthed, too many walkers are falling to their deaths off mountain cliffs, and the local pub doesn’t know how to make a decent raspberry daiquiri. 

Single mother Megan is a hill runner and cannabis dealer, an unlikely friend of well-to-do Finella, whose confident appearance hides struggles with her unpleasant husband and unruly children. 

Vicky is Finella’s child-minder, and when Finella’s husband starts digging about in her past, he discovers she has a secret. How far will she go to protect it? 

Glasdrum is a culture shock to Londoner Sarah, but she finds friendship with local journalist Catriona, recently returned to her home town but haunted by memories from her past. 

The women battle through daily life while the spectre of death looms over the town. Could one of them be living with a killer? 

I read a few books on holiday this year, but Glasdrum was by far my favourite. Set in a fictional town in the Scottish highlands,  Glasdrum makes for a masterpiece of pathetic fallacy – the backdrop is gloomy and grey, the rain is lashing down and summer is stubbornly refusing to arrive. I found the setting in particular to be very powerful and on more than one occasion found myself shuddering as MacBain’s prose made Scotland’s beautiful west coast seem suddenly so forbidding.

Glasdrum is a third person narrative pieced together from the points of view of several women as they grapple with tricky personal lives which are not made any easier by recent unnerving events, the deaths of hikers in the mountains nearby, and the literal skeletons found in the back garden. I found MacBain’s characters to be well-drawn, realistic and easy to relate to. I particularly liked Megan, a rough-round-the-edges single mum, whose unlikely friendship with well-to-do-but-falling-apart Finella injected just the right amount of humour into the story.

In addition to the heroines there are, of course, a number of villains in Glasdrum. I don’t want to say too much about them as I wouldn’t like to spoil the story, but suffice to say that for me there were one or two who I really loved to loathe. Whether they’re the murderers…well, you’ll have to read it to find out. Certainly, if you’re anything like me you won’t easily manage to guess ‘whodunnit’ – MacBain’s plot is a fairly complex one which takes the reader through a good number of twists and turns and keeps you wondering until the very end.

A gripping read, perfect for enjoying from the comfort of your sun lounger. Five stars.

Book Announcement: The Pendle Witch Girl is coming soon!

It’s that time of year when summer has finally arrived and everyone gets ready to jet off on their summer holidays. In Scotland we have been enjoying something of a heatwave recently, basking in sunshine and unusually high temperatures. After a seemingly endless freezing and snowy winter it has been mostly welcome, although I have heard a few people whispering that it’s too hot but not daring to say it too loud, presumably for fear that the dreaded snow might return.

So, whilst Scotland hasn’t quite looked like the photo above, it’s certainly been a welcome change. I will be taking a break from writing for a couple of weeks, as the arrival of summer also means that it’s time to take a break and spend some quality time with my family, especially my kids who are now on summer break from school.

However, before I sign off for some much-needed rest and relaxation, I would like to share some book-related news with you all. I’m very excited to announce that The Pendle Witch Girl, the third book in my Witches of Pendle series, is set for publication mid-August. At the end of July I will be announcing the exact release date and revealing the blurb and cover. In the meantime, however, The Pendle Witch Girl now has its own page on Goodreads, so please do head over there and add it to your ‘to be read’ list.

I wish you all a pleasant and enjoyable summer, with lots of sunshine wherever you are!!

Book Review: The Wages of Sin by Kaite Welsh

Sarah Gilchrist has fled London and a troubled past to join the University of Edinburgh’s medical school in 1892, the first year it admits women. She is determined to become a doctor despite the misgivings of her family and society, but Sarah quickly finds plenty of barriers at school itself: professors who refuse to teach their new pupils, male students determined to force out their female counterparts, and—perhaps worst of all—her female peers who will do anything to avoid being associated with a fallen woman.

Desperate for a proper education, Sarah turns to one of the city’s ramshackle charitable hospitals for additional training. The St Giles’ Infirmary for Women ministers to the downtrodden and drunk, the thieves and whores with nowhere else to go. In this environment, alongside a group of smart and tough teachers, Sarah gets quite an education. But when Lucy, one of Sarah’s patients, turns up in the university dissecting room as a battered corpse, Sarah finds herself drawn into a murky underworld of bribery, brothels, and body snatchers.

Painfully aware of just how little separates her own life from that of her former patient’s, Sarah is determined to find out what happened to Lucy and bring those responsible for her death to justice. But as she searches for answers in Edinburgh’s dank alleyways, bawdy houses and fight clubs, Sarah comes closer and closer to uncovering one of Edinburgh’s most lucrative trades, and, in doing so, puts her own life at risk…

I came across the Wages of Sin some time ago and, intrigued by its setting and subject matter, put it on my long ‘to be read’ list. Then, a few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to hear author Kaite Welsh read from her book at a Noir at the Bar event in Edinburgh. I loved what I heard so much that I went home and started reading this book straight away – a decision I’m glad I made, since I absolutely adored this story.

The tale is a first person narrative, told from the point of view of Sarah Gilchrist, a young woman with a difficult past who is determined to become a doctor, despite the barriers and social stigmas of the late Victorian society she inhabits. Welsh’s Sarah is well-drawn; she is brave, resilient and just the right amount of vulnerable. As a reader it was very easy to get inside Sarah’s head and to see her world as she saw it – as frustrating as that was, at times! There are some great supporting characters too, from the brooding Professor Merchiston to the catty and snooty Julia Latymer. Welsh does an excellent job of making even the most unlikable character a touch sympathetic, whilst ensuring that in terms of the mystery, the reader remains as blind to their worst flaws and darkest secrets as Sarah is, until that crucial moment when the truth and the killer is revealed…

The setting for the story is 1890s Edinburgh, and Welsh does a masterful job of evoking the sights and smells of the ancient city, thick with slums, and contrasting this with the orderly and more privileged (but no less debauched) new town. As a piece of historical fiction this novel is superb, with Welsh firmly setting Sarah’s sleuthing tale in the context of the time, tackling issues from poverty and deprivation, to the social conflict surrounding female emancipation and sexuality with impressive sympathy and accuracy. At times it was hard not to feel as though I had been transported back to 1892!

A highly enjoyable read – I am looking forward to the next installment in the series already. Five stars.

The Safe Space

Ethersay is now six months old. To mark its half year anniversary, today I’d like to share some words I wrote which explain how my own experiences during the Scottish independence campaign eventually moved me to write this novel. 

For me, the day after the independence referendum was a blur of tiredness and disbelief. Everything was done on autopilot: taking the kids to school, picking them up, heading to the shops for some retail distraction. Everyone else seemed to be the same, too. I remember walking around Livingston shopping centre and noticing how quiet it was – the place itself was busy, but the people there were muted, sombre, reflective. Disappointment hung in the air like rain on a dreich winter’s day: disappointment in ourselves, disappointment in Scotland. Disappointment that the vision we had for our country would not, at that moment in time at least, be realised. And perhaps above all, an aching disappointment at the realisation that dependence had won.

Much of that disappointment, of course, would have belonged to those who voted Yes. But I always wonder how many of those who voted No woke up that day and realised that they felt disappointed, too.

Prior to the referendum, I had started writing my first historical novel, having set myself the bucket-list style challenge of publishing a book before my thirtieth birthday. In that final, crucial six months of campaigning I had put my project on hold, throwing myself entirely into political activism in a way that I had never done before. Sure, I had campaigned for my party’s candidates in various elections, but this was different, somehow – it felt so vital, so momentous, so all-consuming. For six months, I lived and breathed the independence referendum. I walked miles; I chapped doors, delivered leaflets, worked on street stalls. I did everything I possibly could. If I give this my all, I remember thinking, then perhaps it will be enough. Perhaps we will win.

And then we lost. I still struggle to describe what it felt like once it was over, once I knew we hadn’t won. Emptiness, numbness, grief – none of those words seem to quite fit.  All I know is that at that point, all I wanted to do was throw myself back into writing, and I did. Thank goodness I had my book to focus on, to distract me, to give me something to think about other than politics during those long, dark autumn days.

During 2015 and 2016, I published my first book then wrote and published its sequel – two historical fiction novels, set hundreds of years ago in my native Lancashire. They were a welcome escape, intellectually and emotionally. They were somewhere I could go and not think about how absolutely gutted I still was and for a long time, that was great.

Gradually, however, I found my gaze shifting back towards the independence referendum. By this point almost two years had passed and so much had changed at a pace which is still astonishing. Creatively, it felt like the right time to look back, to take those experiences and those feelings and weave them into fiction. Then I had a dream (yes, really) about a woman who finds herself stranded on a remote island with no memory of how she got there. I remember waking up and immediately jotting down the idea, spinning its threads, developing it through questions: who is she? How did she get there? What is it that she can’t remember?

What if she was a Yes campaigner?

What if the referendum had irrevocably changed her life?

An idea was born; an idea which over the subsequent weeks and months became my third novel, Ethersay.

Of course, it is important to say that the woman in the book isn’t me, that she is a work of fiction, as is every other character in the book. But as the saying goes, you should write what you know. I also feel, to paraphrase another saying, that if you’re ever going to have a clear idea of where you’re going, then you must understand where you’ve been. Stories can help us to do that; they can resemble real life but be remote enough from it to provide a safe space in which to explore the emotional and psychological impacts of our experiences. Stories can help us to reflect, to digest, and to engage. Perhaps above all, stories can help us to come to a better understanding of ourselves.

And in my view, if Scotland is going to move forward as a nation, if we’re going to realise our massive potential as we navigate the murky, brexiting waters of present times, we need to do exactly that. I hope Ethersay contributes to that but if not, well, it was damn cathartic writing it.

Ethersay is available at Amazon / iTunes / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / Kobo

Book Review: Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes and hallway harassment. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, so now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. Pretty soon Viv is forging friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, and she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

This book was a rare experience for me for two reasons. One: it is a young adult novel, which is not a genre I tend to read. Two: I loved it so much that I read it in less than twenty-four hours. Vivian, a sixteen year old high school student from a small town in Texas, decides to start a Riot Grrrl-inspired zine called Moxie to vent about the sexism and harassment which is commonplace in her school. Vivian’s small act of defiance quickly grows into a movement, empowering young women (and men) across the school to challenge the behaviours and indeed the wider school environment which are both so patently unacceptable.

I am loathe to use the term ‘girl power’ but effectively, that is what this story is all about. The homage to the Riot Grrrl movement of the early 1990s is heart-warming and (for those of us of a certain age) a little nostalgic. Mathieu does a really good job of crafting an engaging, entertaining plot filled with interesting, complex characters. The protagonist, Vivian, is drawn very realistically; a typical sixteen year old girl who just wants to get on with her studies and keep herself out of trouble. However, she also cannot help but see the unfairness and discrimination going on all around her and ultimately rebels, and rightly so! She is joined by her friends and classmates, an interesting supporting cast who are all different but ultimately come together in mutual support and recognition that they are more powerful together than apart.

In terms of the plot Mathieu deals well with a range of issues which confront young women, from sexist jokes in the classroom, to the institutional sexism of targeting female students over their appearance, to the most sensitive and serious issues like sexual assault. I also liked that the story was not framed as boys versus girls; indeed, not all the young women in the story were keen feminists (at first, anyway) and not all of the boys were participating in the sexist behaviour, with some actually joining in with the Moxie revolution. The result is a realistic story about growing a movement, taking back control, and realising that we are all more similar than we are different. It is also a story about feminism and what it means to be a feminist in an age when people often talk about feminism as though it’s no longer relevant. I’m not normally one to quote at length from books but these few lines, when Vivian realises the power of what she’s started, really struck a chord with me:

“This is what it means to be a feminist. Not a humanist or an equalist or whatever. But a feminist. It’s not a bad word. After today it might be my favorite word. Because really all it is is girls supporting each other and wanting to be treated like human beings in a world that’s always finding ways to tell them they’re not.” 

In short, this was a highly entertaining, relevant and powerful read. Five stars.