Book Review: The Words in my Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd

The Words in My Hand is the re-imagined true story of Helena Jans, a Dutch maid in 17th-century Amsterdam, who works for Mr. Sergeant, the English bookseller. When a mysterious and reclusive lodger arrives – the Monsieur – Mr Sergeant insists everything must be just so. It transpires that the Monsieur is René Descartes.

This is Helena’s story: the woman in front of Descartes, a young woman who yearns for knowledge, who wants to write so badly she makes ink from beetroot and writes in secret on her skin – only to be held back by her position in society.

Weaving together the story of Descartes’ quest for reason with Helena’s struggle for literacy, their worlds overlap as their feelings deepen; yet remain sharply divided. For all Descartes’ learning, it is Helena he seeks out as she reveals the surprise in the everyday world that surrounds him.

When reputation is everything and with so much to lose, some truths must remain hidden. Helena and Descartes face a terrible tragedy and ultimately have to decide if their love is possible at all.

This was one of those books which took me a while to get into. The story begins slowly, the focus almost entirely upon maid Helena and her mundane (although not uninteresting) routine, to the point where the reader begins to wonder if they will ever enjoy more than a fleeting glimpse of Monsieur Descartes. In those early chapters, we do see plenty of mid-seventeenth century Amsterdam, with Glasfurd’s rich descriptions leaving the reader feeling as though they are in the midst of it all. Nonetheless by a third of the way through the book, I was beginning to wonder when the story would begin.

Patience, however, proved to have its rewards and as the story between Helena and Descartes took off, the value in those earlier chapters becomes clear. We learn, for example, of Helena’s thirst for knowledge, her eagerness to learn to write and, implicitly, her determination to improve her lot. Glasfurd’s fluent and engaging prose paints a clear picture of Helena’s character and by the end of the novel I was heavily invested in her, sharing her triumphs, her tribulations and her disappointments.

By contrast, Glasfurd keeps Descartes at arms’ length. There is always an air of mystery about him; a sort of unknown quantity. I suspect that this was intentional but at times it could be frustrating – for reader and Helena alike! Nonetheless, the relationship which develops between Helena and Descartes is as heart-warming as it is unconventional, albeit still constrained by the social norms of their time, a fact which was always going to be to Helena’s great disadvantage. The ending is quite a punch in the gut for even the most stoic bookworm and, reader beware, don’t look up either Descartes or Helena on Wikipedia until you have reached the end, otherwise you will spoil the ending!

Overall, an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, slow to start but well-written and vividly drawn. Four stars.

Nineteen days to go…

…until Ethersay is released.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter  to keep up to date with everything Ethersay – teasers, trailers, and launch events.

I will be holding a paperback launch in my hometown of Armadale, West Lothian on 3rd December so if you live in the area and would like to come along, simply join the event here.

For readers who are further away, I will be holding an online launch party on 30th November – details coming soon!

Ethersay will be available to buy in ebook and paperback format on 30th November from Amazon and other major online retailers.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Leaders of the Revolution

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and The Bookish.

Radical, independent, visionary – this week’s chosen characters stand out for their sheer drive, determination, stoicism, fierceness and spirit. In short, stick them in the midst of a revolution and they’d probably emerge victorious! Here’s my top ten leaders of the revolution:

Matthew Shardlake – Dissolution by C J Sansom

The single-minded lawyer turned investigator successfully navigates the shady and complex world of Tudor politics to solve a succession of murders and mysteries in C J Sansom’s acclaimed series. Matthew is a man who always sees things for what they are, even if he doesn’t much like what he finds.

Thomas Paine – Citizen Tom Paine by Howard Fast

Now I admit I’m cheating a little with this one, since Paine was a literal revolutionary; an influential Enlightenment thinker who was a pivotal force in both American and French politics in the eighteenth century. However, Howard Fast’s historical novel gives me a great excuse to include him.

Katheryn Parr – The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory

Queen Katheryn Parr was the last wife of Henry VIII – infamous in history (and in the popular rhyme) as ‘the one who survived’. Yet Gregory’s novel shows us that there was far more to Katheryn than mere nursemaid to the ageing King. She was a complex, passionate and intelligent woman, and an accomplished writer and thinker who was the first English Queen to be published in her own name.

Aliena of Shiring – The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Beautiful, resourceful and independent Aliena shines in Ken Follett’s medieval historical novel about the building of a cathedral in the fictional English town of Kingsbridge. For me, one of the recurring and engaging themes of historical fiction is how women living in difficult, prejudicial times sought success and tried to overcome the limits placed upon them because of their gender. Aliena is no exception – a determined businesswoman who overcomes hardship, cruelty and the trauma of sexual assault to find happiness and success.

Margaret Tudor – Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

Daughter of Henry VII, sister of Henry VIII, wife of King James IV of Scotland – from a young age Margaret’s life is ruled by the whims and schemes of powerful men. Then her husband dies on the battlefield and suddenly Margaret is the regent of Scotland, mother of a King and, for the first time, the mistress of her own destiny. What follows is a story of passion and folly but above all it is a story of bravery. Margaret’s choices weren’t always good ones but at least they were her own. And she even defied the wishes of her tyrannical brother! Surely for that alone she deserves a place in the revolution.

Helena Jans – The Words in my Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd

She was the lover of Rene Descartes, a Dutch maid who was so determined to read and write that she made ink from beetroot and wrote on her skin. And, in some ways, that makes her more interesting and impressive than the great thinker himself. History only records her as the mother of Descartes’ only child but thanks to Glasfurd’s novel, I get the feeling that there was so much more to her than that. If there was a revolution, she’d be writing coded notes – using beetroot.

Anne Farquharson – White Rose Rebel by Janet Paisley

Colonel Anne, as she is known to history, takes up her sword for the Jacobite cause in 1745. The only problem is that her husband is fighting on the other side. This is a wonderful novel full of passion, romance and bravery which gives a rare insight into the military role of Scottish women in the eighteenth century. Anne is spirited, fierce and determined – key revolutionary qualities.

Matilda Wormwood – Matilda by Roald Dahl

Dahl’s infamous character is precocious, intellectual and magically-powered. A beautiful and hilarious tale of the empowerment which comes from knowledge and learning, young Matilda leads the charge against her world’s injustices, personified by her neglectful parents and cruel headmistress, Agatha Trunchbull.

Elizabeth Bennett – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

No list of this sort would be complete without Austen’s famously stubborn and single-minded character. Just imagine her living in the twenty-first century! She would be formidable.

Jane Eyre – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Another woman who knows her own mind, Jane’s individualism comes at a painful cost. Orphaned and unloved, she has learnt to fend for herself, but these qualities are what stands her in good stead when she meets and falls for the charming, Byronic Mr Rochester. Whilst the love story is the most famous part of the plot, I felt I learnt most about Jane in her role as a teacher and a governess, trying to instill some independence of mind in the next generation of girls. Even within the constraints of her historical context she is illuminating – just imagine what she could bring to the revolution!

So there you have it – this week’s top ten! Who are your favourite revolutionaries? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

Ethersay Cover Reveal & Release Date

I’m really pleased to announce the release of my third novel, Ethersay, on 30th November 2017. I’m also delighted to reveal the book’s cover in this fantastic teaser trailer created by the incredibly talented Stewart Kerr Brown of The Imagination Engine, with voice-over provided by the fantastic Jodi Findlay:

Frankly, I am over the moon with this trailer, with the cover, and with how the book has turned out. This novel is quite a change of direction for me – my first contemporary story, my first dual narrative, and my first novel which combines politics with a healthy dose of suspense!

In the coming weeks I will be releasing more intro material, including a full length book trailer. But for now, here is the cover image along with the book’s blurb:

Ethersay CoverEthersay
Release date: 30th November 2017

“The day after the referendum, my life fell apart…”

The day after the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, Glaswegian Yes activist Rebecca Owen decides to run away. After being involved in a car accident she is knocked unconscious and when she wakes, she finds herself inexplicably marooned on an isolated Scottish island, Ethersay.

Suffering from memory loss, Rebecca finds herself drawn into the island’s mysteries, particularly those surrounding the strange disappearance of a young woman, Delilah Berry, whose fate seems to be inextricably intertwined with her own. As Rebecca draws closer to the truth about Delilah, she is forced to confront what happened to her in Glasgow, and everything she lost, with devastating consequences…

A stirring tale of passion, loss and betrayal, Ethersay is a novel about the search for truth, but also the pain of remembering.

Like the sound of Ethersay? Add it to your Goodreads reading list today. 

Witches of Pendle Sale – The Final 24 Hours!

Background of this banner is based upon a section of https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pendle_Hill_01.JPG by Immanuel Giel Licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0 International License / CC-BY-SA-4.0Background Photo by Immanuel Giel / CC-BY-SA-4.0

A final reminder that my Witches of Pendle e-books are half price until the end of October – in other words, for another twenty four hours. So, don’t delay – grab your copies now!

Both novels are available from Amazon  and most other ebook retailers.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Unique Book Titles

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and The Bookish.

Welcome to this week’s top ten! I’ve had a bit of a hiatus from Top Ten Tuesday over the past couple of weeks due to taking some holiday time and being pretty busy getting my next book ready for publication.

This week I am back with the latest top ten theme – top ten books with unique book titles. This one was quite tough, as in many ways lots of book titles are unique. To narrow it down a little, I picked a selection of books from my reading list over the past couple of years which I chose to read in part because I was drawn by their unusual-sounding title. So, without any further ado, here is my top ten:

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire by Sandra Hutchison

This was one of my holiday reads this year. A coming-of-age novel set in 1970s small-town America, the story revolves around the unexpectedly close relationship which develops between a thirty-something grieving widower and a teenage girl. The title is a quote from To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.

Don’t Call Me Kit Kat by K J Farnham

This is a young adult novel which I read a couple of Christmases and I was so hooked on it that I read it in two days. This is a heartbreaking emotional rollercoaster of a story about a teenager’s descent into depression, anxiety and eating disorders. A very honest read which stuck with me for a long time afterwards. ‘Kit Kat’ is the unwanted nickname of the protagonist, Katie Mills and this title, for me, captures a lot of what the book is about.

The Sewing Machine by Natalie Fergie

This is a sweet novel, bringing together the stories of Jean and Donald, Connie and Alf, and Fred, all taking place across different periods of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but all connected by one thing – A Singer Sewing Machine. I loved the novel’s title and its unique telling-point, the way that it is an object rather than a person which acts as a sort of inanimate protagonist, grounding the story and cementing the history which brings these characters together.

The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier

The Virgin Blue is Isabelle Tournier, known as ‘la rousse’ because of her similarity to the Virgin Mary. The story follows Isabelle and her descendant, Ella, born centuries apart but whose lives follow interesting parallels. A book full of tragedy and sadness which always left me wanting more, but I did love the title.

Whisky From Small Glasses by Denzil Meyrick

This is one of these great titles which draws you in but which, upon reading the book, seems to have no obvious link to the story! Nonetheless this is a great crime novel set on the west coast of Scotland, and the first in Meyrick’s DCI Daley thriller series.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Frankly, this is probably my book of 2017. It is, in short, a beautiful story about a very unconventional, flawed but likable character who, the reader realises very early on, has a terrible past to come to terms with. The title is quirky and completely evokes the tone of the novel.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Based on the true story of Eyam, the English village struck by plague in 1666, this is a story of survival and a year of catastrophe becoming instead an ‘annus mirabilis’, a year of wonders.

The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory

The Kingmaker’s Daughter is the story of Anne Neville, youngest daughter of the Earl of Warwick or the ‘Kingmaker’, and later wife and Queen of Richard III. A really enjoyable read about the short but relentlessly exciting life of a woman at the centre of late medieval English politics.

Veronika Decides to Die by Paolo Coelho

At the beginning of this story, Veronika attempts suicide. What follows is a journey through despair, emotional discovery and ultimately liberation in a novel which questions the very meaning of madness and conformity. I have read this book so many times that I probably know it by heart.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

This is a ‘Salem’ novel with a bit of a difference. I love books which are named after objects and this is no exception, the ‘physick book’ being the central physical tenet which binds Connie Goodwin and her ancestors together in a tale of mystery and revelation.

So what are your favourite unique book titles? Please feel free to share in the comments or via social media.

The Witches of Pendle… and Zombies

Today I am pleased to bring you a brand new short story. The story is based on my second Witches of Pendle novel, A Woman Named Sellers, and is a bit of Halloween fun! In this piece we meet the novel’s protagonist Jennet Sellers, alone in her cottage, and surrounded by bloodthirsty zombies as they scratch and bang at her door…

Without any further ado, this is The Witches of Pendle… And Zombies 

The sound began as it always did: quietly, a tentative scraping noise creeping into the night-time silence. Jennet sat alone in the dark, listening, her heart pounding in time with the rhythm of the fingernails as they were dragged again and again over the coarse wooden door. Putrid bile rose from her gut, bubbling upwards as the sound came again and again, louder and louder, building to a menacing crescendo.

Scratch, scratch, scratch.

Fear overwhelmed her. She wished that she had the nerve to light a candle. She wished that the noise would stop. More than anything, she wished that William was with her. Like everyone else he had disappeared, leaving her all alone in their humble barn, forced to fend for herself. She tried not to think about what might have happened to him; she tried not to imagine those blade-like fingernails wrapped around his neck. She felt certain that he was dead, that she would never see him again. Despite her terror, she felt the warmth of tears pricking in the corners of her eyes.

Scratch, scratch, scratch.

“Grace, go away!” she cried out, desperation ringing out on the quavering notes of her voice.

Scratch, scratch, scratch.

Thud.

Jennet jolted at the sudden bang, biting her lip hard to prevent herself from screaming.

“Stop it, Grace. Just go away!” she cried, burying her head in her hands.

It was hopeless. She knew it wasn’t Grace, not really. She had come to realise that whatever the creature was that stood at her door, it hadn’t been Grace for a long time.

Faces appeared like shadows at the windows. So many awful faces, their features contorted, their expressions rabid, their pallor ghost-white in the moonlight. Jennet swallowed hard. Ghosts – yes, that was exactly what they were. They were ghosts of her past. She forced herself to look at them, to recognise them. One by one, she breathed their names into the darkness. Grace Lund. Alice Holgate. Jennet Preston. James Device. Alison Device. Grand-mama. Mama…

They were no longer themselves, but she had known them once. She had known them and she had wronged them. She had betrayed them, she had abandoned them, she had caused them pain.

She had killed them.

Jennet swallowed hard. She had spent so many years trying to run from her past. So many years hiding, so many years denying who she was. But those faces at the window knew the truth. They knew, and now they were here for their revenge.

Faces became fists, a frenzied blur of hands hammering on the windows, the door, the walls. Jennet watched in horror as the wooden door shook violently, its rickety hinges straining with the effort of keeping those abominations outside. It wouldn’t be long until her defences were breached. It wouldn’t be long until they were inside.

It wouldn’t be long until they had her in their grasp.

Unable to bear it any longer Jennet screwed up her eyes, shutting them tightly. She clasped her hands together in prayer, trying to stiffen her resolve, trying to suppress her sheer terror at her impending doom. There was no escape from this. Night after night these creatures had come for her; they had taken the man she loved, they had trapped her and now there was no choice but to submit to her fate.

“Our Father, which art in Heaven…”

Thud. Thud. Thud.

“…hallowed be Thy name…”

Thud. Thud. Thud.

“…Thy Kingdom come…”

Thud. Thud. Thud.

“…Thy will be done…”

The cry of surrendering hinges forced Jennet’s eyes to burst open. Instinctively she fell backwards as a creature lunged for her. It looked like Mama – the same red hair, the same distinctive green eyes set unevenly on its thin face. But she knew it wasn’t Mama. It couldn’t be; Mama had died a long time ago, and it had been all Jennet’s fault. The creature grunted, its tongue lolling thirstily, blood pouring from its mouth, its nose, its ears. Jennet shrieked as it grabbed her, baring a set of wolf’s teeth, as sharp as knives, ready to sink into her flesh. She closed her eyes again. This was it, she told herself. This was the end. It would all be over soon.

The sound of a swinging blade swept past her ears, followed by a pained cry and a dull thump on the ground. The sound repeated again and again, all around her, echoing like music in the darkness. And then, silence. It took Jennet a moment to realise that the creature had relinquished its grip upon her, that all the banging and scratching had ceased. Even when she did realise, she didn’t believe it. This was her mind playing tricks on her, she told herself. Surely, she was dying. Surely, the creatures had won. In the darkness and the silence, she sat and waited, not daring to open her eyes.

“Jennet?” A familiar voice called to her. A voice she thought she would never hear again.

Jennet held her breath. It couldn’t be him. He was dead. She knew that he was dead.

“Jennet? It’s me. Open your eyes.”

He lit a candle and held it up to her face. “See? It’s me. It’s all over now.”

Her eyes flickered open, her vision blurry as it struggled to adapt to the candle’s glow.

“William? Is it really you? You came to get me?”

He smiled, that handsome, familiar grin lingering upon his lips. “Of course,” he replied. “I promised that I’d never leave you.” He shuddered, surveying the gruesome scene around them. “In the name of our Lord, what were those things?”

“My past, I believe,” Jennet murmured her reply.

William frowned. “Well they’re gone now.” He held out his hand, helping her to her feet. “Come on, let’s go.”

As they headed out in the dark night, Jennet glanced over her shoulder, casting her eyes over those shadowy ghosts one last time.

“The past is never gone,” she whispered to herself. “Just buried, that’s all.”


Don’t forget The Gisburn Witch and A Woman Named Sellers are available from Amazon  and most other ebook retailers and are £1.99 until the end of October.

Halloween Chills and Magic Circles

At the beginning of October, I announced that my Witches of Pendle series is half price on ebook for the whole month of Halloween!

To continue the Halloween celebrations, today I’m pleased to bring you an extract from the first book in the series, The Gisburn Witch. In this chapter, Jennet and her new friends Elizabeth Device and Old Demdike go in search of a magic circle, said to have been used by a powerful cunning man. The women find themselves in woodland as the evening draws in and darkness and strange spirits abound…


Southern Pendle Forest, Near Huntroyde Hall

April 1597

“Are you sure we should be looking for this?” Jennet asked. Her earlier excitement had been replaced by nerves, and she kept glancing over her shoulder anxiously. The evening seemed unusually dark for the time of year, even by the standards of the Pendle countryside where day could often become night with remarkable rapidity. The weather was also beginning to turn, and Jennet noted the force with which the wind was toying with the tall trees overhead, teasing apart the delicate branches so that they appeared to swirl against the backdrop of the fading light. Although much of what was known as Pendle Forest had long ceased to be covered with the thick foliage to which it owed its name, this particular area did contain some small areas of woodland, and it was one of these little woods that Jennet and her two companions now sought.

“Mother is determined to find his circle,” replied Elizabeth. “Anyway, we’ve come too far to turn back now. Look, over there you can see the light from Huntroyde. We must be close.”

Jennet nodded. Elizabeth was right: ever since Edmund Hartley’s execution a month ago, the talk of the forest had been filled with tales of the bewitching and the magical, and through these tales Elizabeth’s mother had heard about a magical circle used by Edmund to ward off those who would do the devil’s work. Old Demdike had not been able to curb her curiosity and according to Elizabeth she had talked of little else these past weeks. With good reason, Jennet had thought, when Demdike had enthusiastically recounted the full tale to her during their journey. The recent events at Huntroyde Hall were nothing short of fascinating.

Two years earlier, a cunning man of high repute, Edmund Hartley, had been brought to Huntroyde to cure the two Starkie children, John and Anne, of the bewitchment which had taken hold of them in the form of seizures. After administering certain charms and remedies, Edmund appeared to have been successful, and the children were cured until about six months ago when their symptoms returned. In making more strenuous attempts to cure the children permanently, Edmund had created a circle so powerful that he could use it to command spirits to help him identify and defeat the witch who was cursing the children. The circle had ultimately proved to be his undoing, as he involved his employer, Master Nicholas Starkie, in the ritual and in the end, when Starkie decided that it was Edmund who was bewitching his children, he brought the story of the circle as evidence against him. Invocation of the spirits was, of course, punishable by death and Edmund was sent to the gallows. However, none of this had seemed to deter Old Demdike’s enthusiasm and she was determined to find the circle. Jennet was not certain of the exact purpose of her quest, although she suspected that the aged cunning woman hoped that, through mere contact with this magical artefact, she might emulate a practice which had previously been beyond her powers.

“Ah!” exclaimed a voice. “Here it is!”

Jennet peered in front of her, forcing her eyes to focus in the dim light. In the dusk she could just see a circle carved in the dirt and not much more. She could see Demdike slowly and deliberately bend down and trace her fingers over the ground. The old lady’s eyesight really was poor and Jennet reflected that it was nothing short of miraculous that she had managed to locate the circle this evening, which really showed her determination to find it.

“A circle made up of four parts, just as I thought.” Demdike spoke affirmatively.

“Should you touch the circle, Mother?” asked Elizabeth. Jennet could sense her growing reservations about their expedition.

“Perhaps not lass, but its magic is spent, I am sure of that.”

The conversation was interrupted by the sudden and fierce howling of the wind and the three women shivered with the realisation of the growing cold.

“Let’s return home,” said Elizabeth. “I feel a chill in the air, and we don’t want to get ill. Besides, I left John with the children and he will be wondering where I am by now. Have you seen all you need to see, Mother?”

In the dark Jennet sensed the old lady nod in agreement and the women turned to follow their path back home. As they did so, they heard the sharp and urgent sound of twigs breaking underfoot. Fearing their discovery on Starkie land, Jennet tried to stifle a gasp as she turned to see who was there. To her surprise, she could not decipher any human shadows in front of her. Instead, in front of the circle, where they had been standing moments earlier, were two eyes, glowing green and staring intently at her. By now the light had almost faded from existence, but Jennet could just about make out four legs and a creature which was just about the size of a dog. She breathed a sigh of relief.

“It’s just a dog,” Jennet informed the others. “It’s nothing to worry about.”

“A black dog,” replied Demdike.

 

The three women returned to Malkin Tower late that evening, much later than Jennet had anticipated; in her ignorance of Pendle’s exact geography she had not realised just how far away Huntroyde Hall would be from her new friends’ home. At this late hour, it was impossible to return to Gisburn tonight, in the dark and unaccompanied. Her companions realised this and upon arriving back at Malkin, they offered her some blankets so that she might stay the night. The three children and John, Elizabeth’s husband, were sleeping and for the first time Jennet was able to appreciate the peace and calm of this house, alone and isolated as it was on the Blacko hillside.

Jennet was tired and weary from another long walk, yet also elated, fuelled by the adrenaline of their venture. Her two companions had talked of nothing but the strange black dog they encountered at Edmund Hartley’s circle all the way home. It had just looked like an ordinary dog to Jennet, but Old Demdike seemed quite fixated upon it, as though it held some significance to the remains of the ritual she had examined, as though it had held the key to what had happened to Edmund Hartley. The more Jennet thought about it, the more it unnerved her, and the less inclined she felt to ask about it, even now in the safety of Malkin Tower.

“Won’t your husband worry?” asked Elizabeth, interrupting Jennet’s thoughts and clearly concerned for her new friend.

“Probably,” replied Jennet. “But he would be more concerned if he discovered I walked home alone, in the dark. If you don’t mind the best thing for me to do is to stay here for tonight.”

“Of course we don’t mind,” replied Elizabeth, kindly.

Both women glanced at Old Demdike, who was muttering to herself about the evening’s events.

“What is it, Mother?” asked Elizabeth.

The old woman appeared to be wild with her ideas. Jennet was momentarily concerned by her incessant mumbling, as though she was suffering a sort of madness. Hearing her daughter address her, Old Demdike looked up and remembering they had company, she composed herself.

“The sight of that black dog is troubling my mind,” she replied, with a hint of weariness. Clearly the afternoon’s events were beginning to tell on her physical and mental state.

“But surely, it was just a black dog? An animal from the nearby estate perhaps and it had simply lost its way and found itself in the woods?” asked Jennet.

Demdike looked at Jennet and released a sharp intake of breath, appearing to physically deflate as she did so.

“It’ll be difficult for you to understand, Jennet, I know. But you have to believe me when I tell you that it was not a mere black dog that startled us all tonight.” Old Demdike lowered her voice to a whisper. “Some say that the Starkie children are troubled still, even now that Edmund Hartley lies cold in the ground and despite the efforts of the two preachers who have been brought to Huntroyde to cast out their demons. I have heard that they are menaced by animal spirits and mainly by a black dog.”

Jennet gasped. “So it is true, then? Edmund Hartley was a witch? He brought the devil to Huntroyde to torment the children after being employed to help them?”

“Many folk around these parts think so, no doubt the Starkies do too,” replied Demdike. “I have my own theory: the black dog is one of the animal spirits that Edmund Hartley invoked to counter the magic of the witch who was attacking the Starkie children. However, because this spirit was attached to Edmund Hartley, because Hartley was his master and Hartley is now dead, the spirit remains here still, haunting the lives of those responsible for his master’s death.”

Jennet was incredulous. “And we saw it tonight?”

Demdike laughed. “Fear not, Jennet. The spirit has no business with us, you can sleep soundly.” The old woman yawned. “Speaking of which, I am exhausted and you must be too. We should all get some rest.”

Demdike turned to head towards her bed then quickly turned back to Jennet as though she had forgotten something.

“Oh, Jennet?” she said.

“Yes?” replied Jennet, half-yawning herself.

“I have something to help you with your troubles,” said Demdike, giving Jennet a meaningful stare.

The old woman handed Jennet a piece of cloth, inside which something was wrapped. Jennet gasped as she opened the piece of cloth, for inside was a small object, modelled in clay and shaped like a man’s penis.

“What am I to do with this?” Jennet asked, barely able to whisper.

“Place it under your pillow and sleep with it there every night. Once you are with child, leave it under your pillow until after the child is born. I gathered from your words to my daughter earlier that you have suffered the loss of many children. This will help you, as long as you don’t remove it until after you are safely delivered from child-bed,” Demdike advised in a very matter-of-fact manner, as though she might be a physician offering a remedy to a patient.

Jennet nodded in response. It was the strangest-looking item and indeed the strangest idea that she had ever heard. She could only imagine what William would say when he saw it. She couldn’t imagine what he would say if it actually worked.

“Thank you, this is very kind of you,” she replied, with genuine gratitude.

“It’s no trouble, Jennet,” Demdike said kindly. “You came with us tonight, hardly knowing either of us, and facing considerable danger, yet you came nonetheless. I doubt my daughter would ever have agreed to come with me if it hadn’t been for you. This is my way of thanking you.”

Demdike glanced at Elizabeth, who had been listening quietly and who smiled in agreement. Jennet nodded again. Without a further word between them, the three women retired to their beds, exhausted by the day’s events. That night, Jennet dreamt of the child she wanted, the child she had dreamt of many times before, the daughter with the brown curls in her hair, the freckles on her nose, a nose which wrinkled when she laughed. This time, however, the dream seemed different: they were running through the grounds of Westby Hall, laughing, and the girl was so vivid that Jennet could almost touch her. When she awoke, instead of sobbing as she normally did, Jennet smiled. This time she felt sure that the girl would be born, and that she would live.

The Gisburn Witch and A Woman Named Sellers are available from Amazon  and most other ebook retailers and are £1.99 until the end of October.

Book Review: Whisky From Small Glasses by Denzil Meyrick

DCI Jim Daley is sent from the city to investigate a murder after the body of a woman is washed up on an idyllic beach on the West Coast of Scotland. Far away from urban resources, he finds himself a stranger in a close-knit community.

Love, betrayal, fear and death stalk the small town, as Daley investigates a case that becomes more deadly than he could possibly imagine, in this compelling novel infused with intrigue and dark humour.

I should probably begin my review by confessing that I am not usually a crime fiction reader. However, this book was recommended to me by a friend and I have to say, it did not disappoint.

Whisky From Small Glasses is undoubtedly an entertaining read. The story centres around a small west of Scotland rural community in Kinloch, where a brutal murder has taken place. Glasgow detective DCI Daley and his team are sent in to investigate, but as the investigation spirals and more murders occur, Daley uncovers secrets, corruption and criminality which threaten him and those he loves. For me, the plot is the strongest aspect of this novel, engaging the reader from the very  first page, and progressing at a relentless pace through the various twists and turns of the unfolding crimes and police investigation.

The characters are interesting and for the most-part are well-drawn; the protagonist DCI Daley is likable and realistic, and is supported by a cast of interesting and varied individuals – his rough and ready sidekick DS Scott is particularly notable. There are a couple of characters who seem unjustifiably two-dimensional, considering their key role in the story. Daley’s wife Liz, for example, barely manages to transcend the ‘tarty wife’ stereotype which is a shame – I felt that there is more to Liz and would have liked her story to have been better explored.

Overall, however, this is a great read which I would recommend to lovers of crime fiction, as well as those who, like me, are newer to the genre. Four stars.

Available at: Amazon

Top Ten Tuesday: Romantic Heroes

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and The Bookish.

This week’s top ten is all about favourite romantic heroes. For me, this means indulging myself in some of those wonderful romantic leads of classic literature, many of whom have graced our television screens in modern times, capturing our attention and making many of us swoon! However, in amongst the Regency and Victorian stalwarts, the breeches and wet shirts, there is some diversity, including a Viking, a Jacobite, a chef, an architect and a journalist. There is even one romantic hero of my own creation! Ready? Let’s go!

William Braithwaite in A Woman Named Sellers (Sarah L King).

I know plugging my own book in a top ten list is pretty shameless but honestly, you have to meet William. He is kind, honest, outward-looking and refreshing. And above all he loves Jennet, who is more than deserving of a little love in her difficult, traumatic life. A Woman Named Sellers is a historical novel and as such most of the characters are based on people who really existed. Unfortunately William is one of the exceptions to this and is completely my creation. However, that hasn’t stopped readers contacting me to request a sequel all about him. It is lovely to have created a character who is so well-liked.

Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen).

Made infamous by Colin Firth in THAT lake scene, Darcy is the epitome of a regency gentleman; intelligent, refined and intense. Yet Elizabeth Bennett finds him ‘most disagreeable’ and, prejudiced by the tales of others, initially dislikes him. However, the twists and turns of the novel’s story ensure that eventually Elizabeth sees him in a far more favourable light and, inevitably, so does the reader.

John Thornton in North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell).

A story about another pair of characters who get off on the wrong foot, initially Hampshire-born Margaret Hale cannot warm to Thornton’s rough northern ways. In time, however, she learns that there is more to Thornton than meets the eye. Thornton’s character was played wonderfully by Richard Armitage in the 2004 television adaptation, proving to me once and for all that I am a sucker for brooding Victorian men.

Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte).

As historical male leads go, Rochester is a tricky one. After all, he locked his insane wife in the attic and pretended she didn’t exist. But…but…but he and Jane are very good together, and by the end of this novel I was rooting for their Happily Ever After. Rochester is also another example of a complex male lead in period costume – I see a pattern of obsession developing here. The television adaptation starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens captures the novel perfectly.

Allan Woodcourt in Bleak House (Charles Dickens).

Woodcourt is an all-round good guy –  a surgeon by profession who is utterly devoted to Esther. He is one of those guys who the female protagonist doesn’t seem to notice half as early as the reader does. Dickens isn’t famous for writing romances and admittedly there is far, far more to Bleak House than a simple ‘will they, won’t they?’ with Esther and Allan. Nonetheless, as creating romantic heroes goes, he did a fine job with Woodcourt.  Woodcourt was also portrayed fabulously by Richard Harrington in the 2005 BBC adaptation.

Sawyer in Click Date Repeat Again (K J Farnham).

The Click Date Repeat novels are funny, romantic stories about online dating and as such, there are a good number of male characters to choose from. However, the one who stood out for me was Sawyer, the sardonic chef who Jess meets in the bar where they work. In my mind he was slightly broody, slightly grungy and just the right amount of fun. I warmed to him from the first encounter. A modern favourite of mine.

Julien Duplessi in The Witch of Painted Sorrows (M J Rose).


Julien and Sandrine’s intense, passionate relationship captivated me in this novel. This book was more erotic than my usual reading choices; however, in this case it seemed right. Architect Julien is a charismatic , creative delight and against the backdrop of Paris during the Belle Epoque he is, well, irresistible.

Alrik the Bloodaxe in Avelynn (Marissa Campbell).

A hunky Viking with just the right amount of sexy. He makes Avelynn crazy and it’s easy to see why.

Jamie Fraser in Outlander (Diana Gabaldon).

Another character made infamous by TV adaptation, Jamie Fraser is the kind-hearted Highlander who sweeps accidental time-traveller Claire off her feet. What can I say? I can’t resist a man in a kilt.

Reeve Wilder in Tiffany Girl (Deeanne Gist).

Reeve is an interesting choice and to be honest, I agonised over whether to include him. Tiffany Girl is a story about Flossie Jayne, an art student in 1890s Chicago who is hand-picked with other female students to work on the stained-glass mosaic chapel after the glass-workers go on strike. There is a definite feminist strand running through the story, with Flossie striking out on her own as an independent woman in a world which frankly isn’t quite ready for her. Reeve is very much a man of his time and, in this sense, initially I wasn’t keen on him. But as in all good books his character develops, the love he has for Flossie softening some of his more traditional views. He is a little odd and a bit repressed but in the end I really liked him. I suppose the Reeves of the literary world are there to remind us that not all romantic heroes wear wet shirts or have warrior muscles!

Okay, okay…I’m going to be bad here and include an 11th choice because I couldn’t decide who to eliminate and because, well, it’s my list 🙂

Ross Poldark from Ross Poldark (Winston Graham).

Ross is the irrepressible, bombastic, stubborn and slightly revolutionary hero of the Poldark novels. Revived recently by Aiden Turner in the BBC adaptation, Ross is a more than a little bit sexy, too. In Ross’s case, no shirt rather than wet shirt is the order of the day.

So who are your favourite romantic characters? Please feel free to share in the comments or via social media.