Noughts and Crosses

This year marks the centenary of women’s suffrage in the UK. Throughout 2018 there have been events, marches, exhibitions, plays and books to mark this significant anniversary when some, but not all women, finally got the vote. As the year draws to a close, no doubt many of us will pause to reflect on the celebrations, but also the discussions about equality, opportunity, and the ongoing challenges faced by  today’s women, which this anniversary has provoked.

As a historian and a writer, I have always been drawn to consider the position of women throughout the centuries, to examine their lot in life as mothers, daughters, lovers, witches and warriors. As the centenary dawned almost twelve months ago, I found myself drawn once again to the suffragettes. I decided to write a short story which reflects upon their struggle and their legacy, upon the power of the pen and the significance of the simple but hard-won act of making your mark at the ballot box. The piece, entitled Noughts and Crosses, is written as diary extracts from two women living in Edinburgh but almost a hundred years apart; an early twentieth century suffragist, and an early twenty-first century student faced with voting for the first time. I chose this format because as well as commenting on the political, I wanted to convey the empowerment which comes from personal writing and reflection. Noughts and Crosses is a celebration of women’s achievements, but it also reflects that in a time plagued increasingly by cynicism, turmoil and fatigue as established political systems creak and groan against the strain of twenty-first century challenges, the act of voting in itself nonetheless endures as a form of protest.

Noughts and Crosses was my entry for this year’s Costa short story award. A few days ago I found out that it had, unfortunately, been unsuccessful in making the shortlist. (The shortlisted entries can be found here. Please do consider reading them and voting for your favourite in the public poll – you’ll potentially make a writer somewhere very happy!) I felt it was a shame, given the story’s topical nature, for it to gather dust in a drawer forever more, so to speak, so instead, I have decided to publish it here. I really hope that you all enjoy it and I would ask, if you do, please share it on social media and maybe tag a friend who you think would like it too.

Noughts and Crosses

Diary of Mrs. Emma Milton, Edinburgh, 16th February 1909:

Yesterday evening was so exhilarating that I can barely keep the smile from creeping on to my lips. I know I must suppress it; H is at home today, locked in the drawing room with his papers and his cigars but nonetheless capable of spotting my unexplained glee from a mile away. He thinks we were at the theatre, Bess and I. No doubt he imagines that I enjoyed an evening of frivolity, a casual spectator at a performance of the latest production to travel north from London. If indeed, he imagines anything at all.

You see, last night confirmed something to me, something that I have long suspected, and now I feel certain is true. Men like H don’t see us, not really. They admire us, they choose us, they marry us. But they don’t see us – not like they see each other. We are the fair sex, the delicate sex. But we are not the serious sex. We are not the sex that is capable of making important decisions, even about matters which affect us first and foremost.

Last night I heard these arguments rebutted, one by one. I admit that I was captivated by the strength with which the case for our suffrage was made. The room was filled to the brim with such inspiring women, all arguing with the force of sheer logic why women such as I should be allowed the vote. Many of the speakers grew very animated, advocating strong action to achieve our aims – chaining ourselves to railings, breaking windows and so forth. I must admit that the mere thought of such disobedience makes my blood run cold. Can you imagine what H would say? 

Nonetheless, I’m already planning my ruse to attend next month’s meeting. I’ll tell H that we’re going to the theatre again. He will think me an enthusiast; he will laugh and tap me under the chin affectionately, just like he always does when he is amused. I don’t like having to lie; sometimes I envy Bess her freedom to do as she pleases, although of course I would not wish to be a widow. But I must lie; better that I am regarded as a supporter of the arts than a supporter of votes for women. Better I keep my face composed and my thoughts to myself. At least I can write it down and this diary, this paper and this ink can testify to what I dare not utter aloud: I believe that a woman should be allowed the vote in all elections, if she is of equivocal status to a man who is already allowed the vote according to the law of this land. I don’t think that is particularly radical. And yet, I know in my heart that H would disagree.

 

Diary of Clara Donoghue, Edinburgh, 24th April 2010:

Don’t even know how I’ve got the energy to write anything in here right now. So exhausted. Last night was braw though. Sinead and Mhairi had it all planned out by the time I got to Mhairi’s – into town, drinks then a club then more drinks! All good fun and no boys to complicate things, either. Managed not to run into Callum which was a bonus. Been doing my head in since we split.

Turning 18 is the best! Although today I’m feeling it. Head is pounding. Back to bed for me soon, I think, before I go out for a family dinner. Bit quieter than last night but it’ll be good – Mum says Gran is coming too, which is nice. Gran always has a good story or two about when she was my age. Mum says I should make the most of her, that she’s getting on a bit now and her memory isn’t what it was. Glad I’m only 18, not 80. Better keep those sorts of comments to myself though, or Mum will be once again reminding me that I’m an adult now. Seriously, I’ve been 18 for less than 48 hours and I’ve already lost count of how many times she has said that to me. The best one was yesterday afternoon, when she decided to dump a load of election leaflets in my room. Came through the door, apparently. You can vote now, she tells me, as if I didn’t already know. Next election is in May – well, okay, I’ll admit that I didn’t know that. Why would I? Not like any of it means anything to me. I dunno. Maybe I’ll have a read later. After I’ve slept some more. So tired.

 

Diary of Mrs. Emma Milton, Edinburgh,10th October 1909:

The day of the march started well, but ended terribly badly. I am so shaken that I can hardly manage to hold my pen to write this. Nor can I stop the tears tumbling down my cheeks, spilling on to the page and making the ink run, forming messy black pools as deep as my despair. I keep telling myself that I shouldn’t be surprised; I must have known that this day would come. Indeed, it is a miracle that I managed to keep this secret for so long. Yesterday, however, I took one step too far from the shadows, exposing my involvement for all to see. And H has his spies everywhere, of course, just as any successful man with a care for his reputation should. How foolish of me to think that I would not be seen! How dreadfully foolish.

The day which greeted us was still, sunny and bright; unusual for this time of year but wholly welcome. Bess and I joined the march at Princes Street, slipping through the crowds which had gathered and taking our places behind an enormous, beautifully embroidered banner declaring ‘Votes for Women’. As I walked I felt such pride at being part of something so important, to be making my stand for the right of women to vote on the same basis as men. I still believe that this cannot be too much to ask, that it cannot be so scandalous a notion! And yet it must, for when I returned home later a voice greeted me, one so grave that I thought for a moment that there must have been a death in the family. That evening there was a death, of sorts; the death of my spirit as it was crushed by the authority bestowed upon my husband’s sex. I was reminded at once of what it means to have no rights, no rights at all.

Today I am confined to my room like a reprimanded child. Bess is prohibited from visiting, H having satisfied himself that I have been led astray by a wicked widow whose lack of a husband has caused her descent into wild fanaticism. So I sit here, pressing my pen down hard as I write these words, my tears evaporating into anger at being robbed of those things that I hold dear: my cause, and my friend. The worst of it all is that I am punished so harshly for doing so little. I was a coward who went to a few meetings and walked in a procession. I broke no laws, smashed no property, set no fires. Now I sit and I wish that I had done, that I had given my all. Instead, yesterday was my final, feeble act; I dare not do anything else for our good cause ever again.

 

Diary of Clara Donoghue, Edinburgh, 1st May 2010:

Not managed to scribble down a single thought this week. College work is just immense; two assessments and an essay to complete and no end in sight. At least it’s Saturday.

Mum is doing my head in about this voting thing! Keeps asking if I’ve read the leaflets yet, have I got any questions, do I want to chat about it…total nightmare! She even got Gran joining in at my birthday dinner last week. I think when she was younger my gran must have been a feminist – she came out with all this stuff about the fight for equality and women’s rights. Reckon that’s where Mum gets a lot of her ideas from, too. Honestly, I had both of them on my case. Women fought and died for your right to vote, Gran says to me, like I didn’t know, like I never went to school and learnt these things. So I told her, nicely of course because she’s my gran, that surely if they died for my right to vote, they died for my right not to vote, as well? Surely it’s the choice that matters? That shut them both up. Honestly, absolute nightmare.

Anyway, I did have a look at those leaflets. Can’t say that any of them were very inspiring. Even if I did want to vote, I’ve no idea who I would vote for. Still think my first instinct was correct – waste of time, so don’t bother.

 

Diary of Mrs. Emma Milton, Edinburgh, 12th August 1914

It has been some time since I have written down my thoughts. In truth I have become very good at avoiding the practice of thinking as much as possible, letting life glide past me while I watch, a passive observer at the back of the crowd. It seemed easier that way; easier for H, easier for me.

Last week, however, everything changed. Britain is going to war, and it looks like H is going, too. He has to do his bit, so he tells me. He says that with so many men going away, it is likely that women will also have to help, that I must be prepared for some of the servants choosing to leave and taking whatever wartime work presents itself. Life will change, he keeps telling me, but it will only be for a little while. Everyone expects that the war will be over by Christmas.

I hope it is over quickly. I can’t bear the thought of being left alone in this house, especially with a baby on the way. I haven’t told H yet. I don’t know why; perhaps it’s because I know he’ll be so happy with me, and I can’t bear his delight when I feel so unhappy with myself. I will tell him before he leaves.

The news of war has affected the cause, too. There will be no more marches, no more action; it has all ground to a halt. Part of me is relieved, I think. The reports over the last few months have been so upsetting, with more and more women finding themselves arrested and charged with increasingly dangerous acts. This summer one woman even tried to interrupt the King and Queen’s visit to Perth by running towards the royal car! They say that once in prison those women who refuse to eat are force-fed, and that Perth prison is one of the worst places for this practice. The very thought makes my stomach churn. At least this war has put an end to that, but on the other hand, where does this leave the cause? I hope it is not forgotten forever.  

 

Diary of Clara Donoghue, Edinburgh, 6th May 2010:

Well, I went and I did it. Still can’t believe it. Until yesterday I was sure I wasn’t going to bother to vote. Must have read those leaflets hundreds of times – even went on the internet to try to decide who to vote for, and came away even more confused. Why can’t politics just be straightforward? Seems like riddles to me. Riddles and promises which aren’t kept.

Something about what my gran said kept bothering me, though. Kept hearing her voice going round and round in my head, talking about the suffragettes and everything. That made me think that not going at all seemed like a bit of a waste. So, I voted – well, sort of. I made my mark at least. Several marks, actually. I still didn’t know who to vote for, so I went to the polling station and I put a zero in each of the boxes – a series of noughts all in a column down the page. Then I put my paper in the ballot box and left. I know it doesn’t count as a vote, but I’ve been and I’ve had my say anyway. That’s what women fought for, after all – the right to a voice, not to say any particular thing with it.

Mum’s just glad I went and voted. I haven’t told her the full story, of course. Keep thinking about the power of the pen now. Started off thinking that my noughts were just symbols of my cluelessness but now they feel like a protest – my protest against how rubbish I think it all is, carved out in ink. Weird thought. Still not telling Mum though.

 

Diary of Mrs. Emma Milton, Edinburgh, 14th December 1918

Tonight my heart is so full of joy that I think it might burst. Even the sorrows and horrors of the last four years cannot dampen my happiness. All that hard work and strife, all that bravery and determination; it was all worth it.

I voted today. Such wonderful words! I voted. I went with Bess; we’re both on our own now, reunited since she returned from her Land Army work. She has changed a great deal; she is so worldly-wise, and so strong! But she is still such a dear friend. Little Edith came too, wrapped up warm as she skipped along to the polling place. I showed her what to do, how to put a cross against your chosen candidate and how to put your paper in the ballot box. She didn’t really understand, despite my efforts to explain how important it was. But she will understand one day. She will understand what I, what all of us did for our daughters, how significant that little mark made in ink actually is.

On my way home I thought about H, just as I do every day. It’s hard, knowing that he will never come home, that he will never see Edith grow up. I know that he was never in favour of votes for women, but I like to think that he was watching as I voted, that he was proud of me. I thought too about all the women who weren’t able to vote today. There is still more to do in that regard, especially since all men now have the vote. All men – I wonder what H would say about that! It’s strange how this war threw everything up into the air and we are still grappling around, trying to gather the pieces. H was right; life did change, and I feel certain that it will keep changing. Perhaps by the time Edith votes, all women will be voting alongside her! I can’t think of anything more wonderful.  

The Suspension of Focus

Those of you who follow my blog regularly will know that a month ago I made a pledge, banning myself from social media, blogging and all manner of other online browsing distractions to focus on my latest project.

Well, things didn’t quite go according to plan.

In the end I managed around 7,500 words in four weeks, which in the grand scheme of writing a novel, isn’t a great deal. Turns out that although you can remove yourself from the internet, you can’t remove yourself from life. For a time a few real-life events took over, which meant my writing had to take a back seat. Also, if I’m completely honest, I struggled to stay away from social media, for which I blame my politics addiction, particularly the mind-blowing boorach which is Brexit.

So, where to now? Well, I’m not planning to extend my internet ban, but I am hoping to get on with some writing, despite the busy festive season ahead. I think the key will be making time but also giving myself a break – if the past month has taught me anything, it’s that so much in life is unforeseen and outside of our control, and that distraction comes in many forms. What struck me, more than anything, is how life’s twists and turns can absolutely leave you in the ‘wrong’ place to write, so that even when you find the time and space, you don’t necessarily feel like writing. In the years I have been crafting stories, it has only been very recently that I have encountered this feeling. I’m not going to lie to you, folks, it’s a tough one to overcome.

One way or another, however, I am going to finish this book. I’m excited about it and I believe in it, and as 2018 comes to a close, it is that sense of determination which I plan to focus on.

Taking a Break

I hope you all had a blessed Samhain and a happy Halloween yesterday! In my household it’s been a non-stop whirl of parties, costumes and sweet treats for the best part of seven days now. Time to come down from the sugar-induced high…

…and get on with some writing.

I’m about 27,000 words in to my current work-in-progress, which I think is either really good or not nearly good enough, depending on my mood and what day of the week it is. However, Christmas is looming large and as my kids keep telling me, it is only a matter of weeks now until the festive season begins and brings 2019 in directly behind it. Time really is marching on at a pace.

I am keen to make some rapid progress on my new book before the end of the year. With this in mind I have decided to put myself on a firm distraction ban for about a month, to spend some serious quality time with my new plot and characters, and to notch up that word count considerably. So, for the next four weeks I’m going to take a break from blogging, from social media, and from aimlessly browsing the internet. It’s going to be tough but I’m going to do it because I think it will be good for me, and I think it will be good for my book.

So, I’ll see you all on the other side! I will be back in December with an update on how my focused writing time went, as well as a review of my favourite books of 2018.

Book Review: Warrior Daughter by Janet Paisley

Inspired by first century AD warrior women, Janet Paisley’s Warrior Daughter is a gripping adventure about one young woman’s struggle to survive in the harsh Celtic wilderness.

2,000 years ago on the Isle of Skye, a warrior is born.

Daughter of an Iron Age warrior queen, Skaaha is wild, headstrong and revered. But she is also a child, and when a chariot race leaves the queen dead and her menacing rival Mara in her place, Skaaha’s charmed life lies in ruins.

Vulnerable, her future imperilled, Skaaha seeks to forge a life beyond the new queen’s reach. But with rumour, fear and danger sweeping the island, she cannot remain unmoved. Broken by brutal misfortune, alone in a world of mistrust, Skaaha must unearth the courage to confront her enemies in defence of her people.

Illuminated by the great Celtic fire festivals, Warrior Daughter is inspired by the historical Scathach, a fierce warrior woman of the first century AD and forerunner to the equally ferocious Boudicca.

I read a lot of historical fiction, but this is the first novel I have read which could be referred to as prehistorical fiction. Set in the first century on what later became the Isle of Skye, Warrior Daughter tells the story of Skaaha as she struggles to forge her own way forward in a wild and often brutal world where enemies are not always easily seen.

I was struck almost immediately by the sheer amount of research the author must have done in crafting this novel. Paisley weaves historical detail into the narrative seamlessly, demonstrating an impressive understanding of a world so far removed from our own, from its druid beliefs to its calendar structured by ancient festivals and the lunar cycle. When combined with her superb, evocative prose, the impact was magical, effortlessly transporting the reader to the middle of the action, from spear fights to the great fires of Beltane. Her success in managing the subject matter so well must not be understated: it is one thing to bring alive documented history, but to bring alive a period and a people which predate recorded history so vividly, is quite frankly magnificent.

The story is structured around the stages of Skaaha’s life, from the death of her mother in childhood through to around the age of eighteen. Although it is a third person narrative, the focus is always on Skaaha, documenting the twists and turns of her life, the challenges and the hardships she faces. Some of the subject matter is agelessly familiar, such as growing up and coming of age, but much of it is not. Living in a matriarchal society of goddesses and warrior queens, Skaaha is revered as the child of Queen Kerrigen and the descendant of the Goddess Danu – an identity which raises her up among her own people but also makes her a target for vengeance, hatred and rivalry. At times the plot is very hard-hitting; a reflection of the times in which it is set, no doubt, but more sensitive readers may wish to exercise caution as graphic violence and sex are frequent features of the novel.

I found Skaaha to be a well-drawn and engaging character who I liked very much; she is a strong female heroine who is bold and brave, but also almost broken by her circumstances and the realisation of her own vulnerability. The story is supported by a fine and colourful cast of characters, from Skaaha’s moon-crazed aunt Jiya, to the wise and otherworldly Ruan, to the thoroughly hateful queen of spite, Mara. To be honest, I struggled to choose a favourite. Nonetheless, I always found myself rooting for Skaaha to find the courage she needs to succeed, to steer her own course and to become who she truly is. Whether she does or not…well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.

An epic, heart-stopping prehistorical adventure which would work wonderfully as a film. Five stars.

Love and loss when worlds collide

This morning I found out that another of my short stories has been published. It came as a bit of a surprise as in fact the story was published towards the end of July, but as I hadn’t received any correspondence about this, it had escaped my notice. It might never have come to my attention at all, but for a google search. Yes, I looked myself up, which is not as self-indulgent as it sounds; I learnt some time ago that when trying to tell the world about your books, it’s important to know what sorts of search results are yielded from your name and what order they fall in.

Anyway, a happy discovery made whilst refining my marketing strategy means an unexpected blog post to share with you all my short fantasy story, The Smailholm Faerie. Set near the beautiful and isolated Smailholm Tower in the Scottish borders, The Smailholm Faerie tells the story of an encounter between an inquisitive mythical creature and a grieving young man, and what happens when their worlds collide.

You can read the story on the Reader Writer Lounge’s website here. I very much hope that you enjoy it.

The Other Pendle Witch Trial

August 18th 2018 marked the 406th anniversary of the Pendle witch trials at Lancaster Castle in 1612. It is an anniversary which always causes me to pause, and one which I never forget. Growing up in Lancashire, I was captivated from a young age by tales of the Pendle witches. For a child there is, after all, something irresistibly and gruesomely fascinating about the likes of Old Demdike and Chattox doing their worst with magical misdeeds before meeting their own horrible fate. As I got older my interest developed into something altogether more academic, with a dissertation on the subject for my undergraduate degree at Lancaster University and, of course, several works of historical fiction since then! Over the years, the Pendle witches have been a big part of my intellectual and creative life.

Although perhaps not as widely known internationally as other later trials, notably those which occurred in Salem in 1692/3, there is no doubt in my mind that across the breadth of English history the 1612 trials have grown in stature and notoriety over the years. I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that 1612 has become the stuff of legend, or that it contributes enormously to the cultural and artistic life of the north of England, and of course to tourism and the economy. This activity and interest in the trials reached fever pitch in 2012 for the fourth centenary, with commemorative activities, events, sculptures and new works of literature and scholarship on the subject, and such activities have continued ever since; for example, this year there was a family weekend of events at Lancaster Castle.

What is less well-known, however, is that a second round of witch trials occurred in Pendle in 1634. In late 1633, a boy named Edmund Robinson gained local fame and notoriety as a witch-finder. It seems that upon returning home later than expected one day in early November, he told his father a tale;  a story of his abduction by witches, of women turning into animals and of a great, unholy Sabbath. The story quickly spread around the local area and the boy became something of a celebrity. Edmund’s father, perhaps sensing there was fame and fortune to be found in such a reputation, began charging people to see his son’s ‘performances’ and taking him on a tour of the local churches.

It was only a matter of time, of course, before a story of this magnitude reached the local Justices of the Peace and in February 1634, young Edmund finally told the story to the authorities. As part of his deposition, Edmund gave a considerable list of local people who he claimed had been involved in his fantastical tale.

One of the names which appeared on Edmund’s list was that of Jennet Device.

We don’t know for certain, of course, if this Jennet Device was the same Jennet who had been the star witness of the 1612 trials; however, to imagine that it might have been is truly the stuff of stories. My second Witches of Pendle novel, A Woman Named Sellers, is a story woven on the supposition that it was the same Jennet, that in 1634 events in Pendle came full circle, that the witness became the accused.

As in 1612 the accused, including Jennet, were found guilty at the Lancaster Assizes. However, in a move which signaled how times were beginning to change, the judges deferred sentencing to seek further advice from the authorities in London. The Privy Council duly dispatched the Bishop of Chester to undertake a further investigation into the case. They also requested a number of the accused be sent to London for further examination. Four women were sent on the long journey south, where they were subjected to a physical examination by the king’s physician, further questioning, and an interview with King Charles I himself. We can only imagine how utterly terrifying and bewildering that experience must have been.

The Privy Council’s intervention led to the 1634 case falling apart, with the authorities ultimately finding that the story was a fabrication exploited for financial gain and ordering the arrest and imprisonment of Edmund Robinson’s father as a result. The accused were all acquitted, allegedly pardoned by their monarch, and their four representatives were sent home to Lancashire. However, the ending of the story is not a happy one: despite the acquittal many remained in prison, probably as a result of being unable to pay the debts they had accrued after so many months of being unjustly detained at His Majesty’s pleasure.

The tragedy of the 1634 case is that whilst the changing attitudes of the London authorities were able to prevent this tale ending at the gallows, the accused were nonetheless undone by poverty and powerlessness, by being at the bottom of the social heap and by being without the means to free themselves from a justice system which was always stacked against them. It may be less well-known that its 1612 counterpart, but in many ways the story of the 1634 trials is no less poignant. I hope that when the fourth centenary comes around in sixteen years’ time, the other Pendle witch trials will be given the recognition they deserve.

More information about my second Witches of Pendle novel, A Woman Named Sellers, which focuses on the 1634 trials, can be found here

 

A Significant Day

On this day four years ago, Scotland went to the polls to vote in a referendum on its independence and, by a majority of 55% to 45%, decided to remain in the United Kingdom.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, the details of which I won’t get into in this post (this isn’t a politics blog, after all). Nonetheless, I wanted to post something today which reflects on this significant date for a moment. For someone who campaigned heart and soul for something which they believed in (and still believe in), but ultimately fell short in achieving, today is a weird sort of day. Quiet, reflective, moderately restless – that’s how I’d describe September 18th for me now. Which is a long way from the shock, the tears and the grief of those early days following the vote. Time is, after all, an odd sort of medicine.

I have written previously in my blog post The Safe Space about my own referendum experiences and how they ultimately moved me to write my third novel, Ethersay. Ethersay is my first (and to date only) contemporary novel. In many ways, it is different to my other books – different genre, entirely different subject matter. But it is also in keeping with what I like to write about – ordinary people, caught up in extraordinary times.

Academically, intellectually and creatively, I have always been fascinated by thinkers and ideas, by movements and counter-movements, by challenges to the social/political status quo of any era, by rebels, radicals and philosophers. As a student I always gravitated towards subjects which could satisfy these interests – renaissance and enlightenment, political philosophy, witchcraft theory, to name a few.

However, of equal interest for me are the emotional and psychological effects of the great stories of the ages – as a writer, I am attracted to the human tales which are always tucked away, obscured by the headlines or the history books but waiting to be discovered or re-imagined. My first novel, The Gisburn Witch, is essentially about recreating the life story of a name – Jennet Preston. It is about lifting her from the pages of history and making her flesh and blood, giving life to her hopes and desires, her fears and disappointments. It is about filling the gaps which history, for the most part, cannot address – as a writer, I wanted to get to the crux of what this ordinary person, Jennet Preston, went through, and what it was like for her to be caught up in such turbulent times. My motivation was exactly the same for the other Jennet, Jennet Device/Sellers, and my other two Witches of Pendle novels, A Woman Named Sellers and The Pendle Witch Girl.

When it came to writing Ethersay, my motivation was similar too. I really wanted to explore the impact of that momentous, exciting, watershed moment in Scotland’s history on ordinary lives. Unlike my Witches of Pendle novels, however, the subject matter was a couple of years ago, not four hundred; it was much more immediate, personal even. That’s not to say that Ethersay is biographical (it’s not), but I had lived and breathed this period of time myself, I had known what it was like to hope and to strive, to lose and to lament. As the old adage goes, it’s best to write what you know, and in terms of first-hand experience, there probably isn’t a time I know better.

So for me today is about reflecting on that time, about remembering and undoubtedly, about wishing things were different and knowing what I’ll do next time the opportunity comes around! Something tells me I won’t have too long to wait.

Eerie Whispers

Today I’m really pleased to share with you one of my horror/dark lit short stories which has been published by Dark Fire Fiction.

Eerie Whispers is a dark tale about a woman possessed by a destructive force, preoccupied by unrequited love and having to hold herself together when faced with a psychic asking pertinent questions. I was inspired to write it after visiting a psychic café for a reading – it made me wonder, what would it be like to look into such perceptive eyes when you have so much to hide?

You can read Eerie Whispers on the Dark Fire Fiction website.

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.