Historical fiction

‘The Story Collector’ by @evgaughan #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #Bookreview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘The Story Collector’ for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

Story Collector

Waterstones   Amazon.co.uk

Thornwood Village, 1910. Anna, a young farm girl, volunteers to help an intriguing American visitor, Harold Griffin-Krauss, translate ‘fairy stories’ from Irish to English.
But all is not as it seems and Anna soon finds herself at the heart of a mystery that threatens the future of her community and her very way of life…
Captivated by the land of myth, folklore and superstition, Sarah Harper finds herself walking in the footsteps of Harold and Anna one hundred years later, unearthing dark secrets that both enchant and unnerve.
The Story Collector treads the intriguing line between the everyday and the otherworldly, the seen and the unseen. With a taste for the magical in everyday life, Evie Gaughan’s latest novel is full of ordinary characters with extraordinary tales to tell.

This novel tells the stories of Sarah, a young woman who, on impulse, flies to Ireland after leaving her marriage, and Anna, who, one hundred years previously, helped a young American academic to collect local stories about fairies.

This dual storyline is seamless, the two stories separate and yet connected, through the diary that Sarah finds. Anna’s account is fascinating, and the events that she is caught up in bring an edge to the tale – and a reminder that fairies and folklore aren’t always benign.

The novel is beautifully written, the settings drawn clearly and evocatively and the author’s love of her subject matter is clear. The two female protagonists are relatable, strong, brave but not unrealistic – they’re not perfect, by any means, and Anna, in particular, has to live within the confines of society. Many novels have their heroines, particularly their historical heroines, behave in unrealistic ways. Anna is a girl of her time – and she has to learn to live with what that entails. Unrealistic behaviour from women in historical fiction is a real bugbear of mine, so it was refreshing to have Anna behave as a girl of her age and time would behave.

I would have liked a little more information about Sarah and what had happened to her. I didn’t feel she was a s fully realised as Anna, which was a shame. But this is the only criticism I have of this lovely book. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read.

4 stars

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Women in Historical Fiction #InternationalWomensDay #IWD2019

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I recently read a lovely book, ‘The Story Collector’ by Evie Gaughan, (review to follow soon) in which the historical female protagonist is that rare thing – a woman in historical fiction who actually behaves within the constraints and confines of her time. It reminded me of this post that I wrote a while ago, and, as the problem of ‘feisty’, unrealistic historical heroines is still one that I come across with depressing regularity, I thought I would post it again, in honour of International Women’s Day.

boxing-woman

My recent post about the portrayal of women of a certain age in fiction certainly seemed to strike a chord with many of you. So I thought I’d have another bit of a rant – this time about the way women are portrayed in historical fiction.

Now, I’m not talking about historical romance here, because to be honest it’s not a genre I read and I know that the female characters  don’t really have to be historically accurate (and I don’t mean that to sound demeaning).

In the historical fiction that I enjoy, there will be strong, likeable, intelligent female characters. These characters will often be inspiring and admirable. There are enough real historical women who have acted bravely and out of the bounds of convention after all. But, without exception, all of these women would have found it tough, and would have met resistance and hostility and often real danger.

So what really gets on my nerves in historical fiction is women who act rashly, or who are rebellious, or adventurous and who do these things without any consequences whatsoever. Women of upper class families who go out on their own, for example, without permission. And this is acceptable because after all, she’s a feisty one (god how I hate that word) and it’s all just a bit of a giggle.

And women who show no fear. Who stand up to adversity and discrimination and their fear, their anger, their frustration isn’t portrayed. I’m willing to bet everything I have that every single woman who stood on the gallows, accused of witchcraft was utterly, completely terrified. That every single woman who fell under suspicion and was arrested and tortured felt helpless. That every single woman who wanted more for herself than to be a wife or a mother felt totally frustrated and angry.

In too many books and films these women stand up for themselves and are defiant. Would they really have been? Or would they have crumbled, and cried and begged for mercy? And wouldn’t you? I think we do a disservice to these women when we write their feelings out of our fiction. These women were often completely, utterly, helpless and alone and would have had no agency at all. There would have been no one, absolutely no one to help them. It would have done no good for to be feisty. They just had to bear it and they just had to suffer.

I began reading a book the other week that was a best seller. The author is well-respected and very, very successful. I’ll admit I had my reservations before I began. The book is set in France, in the occupation. In the opening scenes, a local woman, very young, very clever, very outspoken, is put into a very difficult and scary situation that could end with her being killed. But she’s fine, because she’s strong, and brave and clever and beautiful and feisty. She stands up to the nasty Gestapo officer. And all is fine.

How utterly insulting to all those women who were left to deal with the occupation and who did whatever they could to keep themselves sand their children safe. What a judgement on those who weren’t feisty enough or pretty enough or brave enough. I wouldn’t be brave in that situation. I doubt that I’d stand up for myself.

I know fiction is make-believe. I know that people can act differently in fictional worlds to how they act in the real world. But I also feel so strongly that we owe it to the millions and millions of women that have suffered, that have been tortured and murdered and abused and vilified and subjugated, to portray them honestly. A woman that confessed under torture to things she hadn’t done, a woman that betrayed someone because she was scared for her children, a woman that didn’t do all the things she was capable of because she COULDN’T. Because not everyone was bloody Florence Nightingale (although she certainly had her struggles too). These women are part of female history too. And if you’re writing historical fiction, please show these women how they would have been. And please do remember – there weren’t many happy endings.

‘The Twelve-Mile Straight’ by Eleanor Henderson #tuesdaybookblog #bookreview

12 mile

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Cotton County, Georgia, 1930: In a house full of secrets, two babies–one light-skinned, the other dark–are born to Elma Jesup, a white sharecropper’s daughter. Accused of raping Elma, field hand Genus Jackson is lynched and dragged behind a truck down the Twelve-Mile Straight, the road to the nearest town. In the aftermath, the farm’s inhabitants are forced to contend with their complicity in a series of events that left a man dead and a family irrevocably fractured.

Despite the prying eyes and curious whispers of the townspeople, Elma begins to raise her babies as best she can, under the roof of her mercurial father, Juke, and with the help of Nan, the young black housekeeper who is as close to Elma as a sister. But soon it becomes clear that the ties that bind all of them together are more intricate than any could have ever imagined. As startling revelations mount, a web of lies begins to collapse around the family, destabilizing their precarious world and forcing all to reckon with the painful truth.

New York Times bestselling author Eleanor Henderson has returned with an audacious American epic that combines the intimacy of a family drama with the staggering presence of a great Southern saga. Set in the years of the Depression and Prohibition, and tackling themes of racialized violence, social division, and financial crisis, The Twelve-Mile Straight is a startlingly timely, emotionally resonant, and magnificent tour de force.

In a world that seems to be moving backwards, with the rise of the far right in the US and here in the UK, this is a pertinent novel. We kid ourselves that we’ve moved so far, that we have achieved equality, but the prejudice and discrimination written here is unfortunately only too real almost a hundred years later.

Sharecropper’s daughter Elma gives birth to twins – one light-skinned, one dark. Not surprisingly, this garners a great deal of interest, and gossip, and the result is that field hand Genus, deemed to have raped Elma, is lynched.

But there’s more to the twins’ conception and birth than meets the eye. And Elma, her father Juke, and housekeeper Nan find themselves entangled in a web of lies and deceit.

The writing is so evocative – 1930’s Georgia is brought to life with a confident yet careful touch. The little details of everyday life really help set the scene and the poverty, the frustration and the dreadful unfairness are portrayed not always through dramatic events and tragedies, but through the every day constraints, degradation and brutality that one group of people inflict on another.

The narrative shifts viewpoints and we get to know the story from all the main characters which adds a depth to the novel and makes the reader feel involved and invested. Each characters feels real, and authentic, and their actions and reactions, their decisions, their mistakes and their desperation, carry the narrative along.

There are shadows of Harper Lee here, and Carson McCullers and Williams Faulkner – with writing that is sparse at times and as dry and barren as the Georgia fields in drought, at other times vibrant, full of colour and life.

This isn’t a pleasant, happy read. But it is an important one. Like Britain’s history of colonialism, the US has never seemed to really address its past, admit its guilt and make amends. That it isn’t too hard to imagine the events of this book happening still is a sad indictment of how little we’ve progressed. A must read.

5 stars

 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

‘The Wicked Cometh’ by Laura Carlin #bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog

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Down the murky alleyways of London, acts of unspeakable wickedness are taking place and the city’s vulnerable poor are disappearing from the streets. Out of these shadows comes Hester White, a bright young woman who is desperate to escape the slums by any means possible.

When Hester is thrust into the world of the aristocratic Brock family, she leaps at the chance to improve her station in life under the tutelage of the fiercely intelligent and mysterious Rebekah Brock.

But whispers from her past slowly begin to poison her new life and both she and Rebekah are lured into the most sinister of investigations, dragging them into the blackest heart of a city where something more depraved than either of them could ever imagine is lurking. . .

A compelling page-turner from a gifted new voice in historical fiction, The Wicked Cometh is the perfect read for fans of The Witchfinder’s Sister, Fingersmith and The Essex Serpent.

I’m really in two minds about this book. On the one hand, I really admire the author’s absolutely exemplary research and attention to historical detail. The novel is meticulously researched. The settings are portrayed so well, the sounds, sights and smells of the time and places so well written, you really feel like you’re there.

And Hester has the potential to be a compelling main character. Her circumstances show how easy it was (and still is) to find yourself only just surviving in a cruel and unfair world, and her feelings for Rebekah come across as genuine and are written in a heartfelt way that lacks any sentimentality.

And the subject matter has so much potential too – the poverty of London, the plight of the poor, the terror of mysterious disappearances, all based in the real history of a time when the poor counted for nothing and their lives were viewed as worthless. Fiction mixed with real events and history is something that I love to read.

But for me it was really overwritten. There’s a balance when writing historical fiction in that it needs to be authentic but also accessible. A writer like Hilary Mantel makes this look easy. And Sarah Water’s masterful ‘Fingersmith’ (which this reminded me of) does this beautifully. This book, however, felt overblown and overdone in parts and I did find myself skipping over some of it. A good, brave edit, cutting things down and adding clarity would do wonders for this book. The story felt lost under all the writing at times. Which was a shame, because it could be brilliant.

I can’t fault the research though, or the idea behind the novel. If there was a rating between three and a half and four stars, that’s what I’d give this book – but there isn’t so I’ll go for four as I would read more by Laura Carlin.

4 stars

Thanks to the NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

‘Mediterranean Summer’ by Jane MacKenzie #RBRT #FridayReads #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Mediterranean Summer’ for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

Mediterranean-Summer-cover

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

‘Beautiful artist, beautiful woman, and beautiful lover.’ 
May 1968 and Paris is hot with rebellion, passion and hope, as protestors clash with the riot police. Brilliant art student Laure stands boldly on the barricades, heady with her new-found defiance, and is swept into romance with Lolo, the fascinating student leader. But youthful rebellion comes at a cost.
Two months later, the excitement is over. Laure heads home for the summer to Vermeilla, her picturesque Mediterranean village. She looks forward to the simplicity of village life, and to a summer in the sun with family and friends, but is aware that the new Laure may shock her little Catalan community.
But even Vermeilla isn’t protected from the forces of change. Shadows hang over both Laure and her village haven. Can she battle the menace that has followed her from Paris? And can she trust Robert, the aloof lawyer who may be the only one who can keep her safe? 

I’m a bit of a Francophile. France is definitely my favourite place to visit and I plan to move there permanently one day – Brexit permitting. So I love reading anything set in France and this novel, set just after the civil unrest of Paris in 1968, sounded intriguing.

Art student Laure is returning home to her quiet village after her involvement in the Paris demonstrations. She needs to rest and recover, and she also needs to find a way to resolve the problem hanging over her – a problem that could mean the end of her studies.

At first the peace and solitude are soothing, and Laure enjoys reconnecting with her family and her childhood friends. But her brother-in-law Daniel has a new job at the Nobel factory in Paulilles, and trainee doctor Martin, his brother and Laure’s best friend, is worried about the risks the workers there face from exposure to nitro-glycerine.

The gorgeous summer is clouded by these issues and with Laure’s worries over what has happened in Paris. Then Martin’s cousin Robert, a lawyer from Paris, offers to help. The novel focuses on these relationships – between Laure and Robert, Laure and her family, and Laure and Martin’s family.

There is romance here, and conflict, and at the heart is a girl trying to find her place in a changing world. Laure is a lovely main character, and the interactions between the characters are well-written. There are some beautiful descriptions, of the little towns, the gorgeous countryside, and, of course, the wonderful food, and this part of France is really brought to life through the writing.

It’s a gently-paced read, which works well with the setting. However, it was too slow at times, and, while the descriptions were beautifully done, there were places where they went on for too long, and I did find myself skipping ahead. I do feel that this novel could be quite a bit shorter.

It was also a little difficult to keep track of the many characters and their complicated relationships – though it was worth persevering. The writing was a little too formal at times as well, and came across as a little forced and unnatural. However, on the whole this is a lovely novel, just right for a summer read.

4 stars

‘Ghost Variations’ by @jessicaduchen #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview #RBRT

#RBRT Review Team

I reviewed ‘Ghost Variations’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

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Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

The strangest detective story in the history of music – inspired by a true incident.

A world spiralling towards war. A composer descending into madness. And a devoted woman struggling to keep her faith in art and love against all the odds.

1933. Dabbling in the fashionable “Glass Game” – a Ouija board – the famous Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Arányi, one-time muse to composers such as Bartók, Ravel and Elgar, encounters a startling dilemma. A message arrives ostensibly from the spirit of the composer Robert Schumann, begging her to find and perform his long-suppressed violin concerto.

She tries to ignore it, wanting to concentrate instead on charity concerts. But against the background of the 1930s depression in London and the rise of the Nazis in Germany, a struggle ensues as the “spirit messengers” do not want her to forget.

The concerto turns out to be real, embargoed by Schumann’s family for fear that it betrayed his mental disintegration: it was his last full-scale work, written just before he suffered a nervous breakdown after which he spent the rest of his life in a mental hospital. It shares a theme with his Geistervariationen (Ghost Variations) for piano, a melody he believed had been dictated to him by the spirits of composers beyond the grave.

As rumours of its existence spread from London to Berlin, where the manuscript is held, Jelly embarks on an increasingly complex quest to find the concerto. When the Third Reich’s administration decides to unearth the work for reasons of its own, a race to perform it begins.

Though aided and abetted by a team of larger-than-life personalities – including her sister Adila Fachiri, the pianist Myra Hess, and a young music publisher who falls in love with her – Jelly finds herself confronting forces that threaten her own state of mind. Saving the concerto comes to mean saving herself.

In the ensuing psychodrama, the heroine, the concerto and the pre-war world stand on the brink, reaching together for one more chance of glory.

There are so many strands to this book, so many different things that have their own unique appeal. Firstly, it is beautifully written and an absolute pleasure to read. Secondly, its subject matter is intriguing, and a book that mixes fact and fiction is something that really appeals to me. The mystery of the concerto, the story around its discovery, the back story about Schumann himself which is heart-breaking, and the historical detail that seems so particularly relevant today – all these things are brought together in an intelligent, compelling narrative.

The story is told mainly from the viewpoint of Jelly herself, a violinist from Hungary, living in London, and, later on, from the point of view of Ulli, a young music publisher, in love with Jelly, living in Germany as the Nazis climb to power.

This sense of impeding horror and war is portrayed so clearly. These people don’t just suddenly come to power – they take it, little by little, piece by piece. For Ulli, in the midst of it, the realities become terrifying. For Jelly, feeling the rise of anti-Semitism and fascism in her adopted home country, the prejudice and intolerance is subtle, but still horrifying.

So this is a timely book too. This is what one character says about the Daily Mail, who have published an article with the headline ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’:

‘”This paper’s feeding us nothing but lies, lies, lies,” Alec said, “yet we gulp it down without questioning it, while there’s real suffering, real danger, out there.”’

And on the appeal of the Blackshirts themselves:

‘Anybody could be drawn to them, Alec said, from the unemployed to Eton lads, some believing they had the answer to keeping out the communists, others determined to restore the glory of British imperialism, or some such guff, which meant reasserting their superiority over filthy foreigners.’

While the author has obviously researched thoroughly, and also has a formidable knowledge of the world of which she is writing, this isn’t highbrow, or inaccessible – it is intelligent and knowledgeable, lyrical in places, but it is also very readable.

There is a real sense of time and place, with little details that bring authenticity to the story. Jelly is warm, talented, intelligent but not perfect – she has her flaws, her insecurities, she makes mistakes. But she comes across as wholly believable, a talented, intelligent woman, striving for success and happiness both personal and professional.

An excellent book.

5 stars

 

 

 

 

The Myth of the Feisty Woman #wwwblogs #womensfiction #histfic

boxing woman

My recent post about the portrayal of women of a certain age in fiction certainly seemed to strike a chord with many of you. So I thought I’d have another bit of a rant – this time about the way women are portrayed in historical fiction.

Now, I’m not talking about historical romance here, because to be honest it’s not a genre I read. In the historical fiction that I enjoy, there will be strong, likeable, intelligent female characters. These characters will often be inspiring and admirable. There are enough real historical women who have acted bravely and out of the bounds of convention after all. But, without exception, all of these women would have found it tough, and would have met resistance and hostility and often real danger.

So what really gets on my nerves in historical fiction is women who act rashly, or who are rebellious, or adventurous and who do these things without any consequences whatsoever. Women of upper class families who go out on their own, for example, without permission. And this is acceptable because after all, she’s a feisty one (god how I hate that word) and it’s all just a bit of a giggle.

And women who show no fear. Who stand up to adversity and discrimination and their fear, their anger, their frustration isn’t portrayed. I’m willing to bet everything I have that every single woman who stood on the gallows, accused of witchcraft was utterly, completely terrified. That every single woman who fell under suspicion and was arrested and tortured felt helpless. That every single woman who wanted more for herself than to be a wife or a mother felt totally frustrated and angry.

When I wrote ‘The Black Hours’ I wanted to show that what happened to these women accused of witchcraft was terrifying. In too many books and films these women stand up for themselves and are defiant. Would they really have been? Or would they have crumbled, and cried and begged for mercy? And wouldn’t you? I think we do a disservice to these women when we write their feelings out of our fiction. What I was trying to get across with Alice, and with Maggie, was that they were completely, utterly helpless. Alice had no agency at all. No one, absolutely no one, was going to help her. It would have done no good for her to be feisty. She just had to bear it and she just had to suffer.

I began reading a book the other week that was a best-seller. The author is well-respected and very, very successful. I’ll admit I had my reservations before I began. The book is set in France, during the occupation. In the opening scenes, a local woman, very young, very clever, very outspoken, is put into a situation that could end with her being killed. But she’s fine, because she’s strong, and brave and clever and beautiful and feisty. She stands up to the nasty Gestapo officer. And all is fine.

How utterly insulting to all the women who tried to deal with the occupation and keep their children safe in whatever way they could, but failed. What a judgement on those who weren’t feisty enough or pretty enough or brave enough. I wouldn’t be brave in that situation. I doubt that I’d even stand up for myself.

I know fiction is make-believe. I know that people can act differently in fictional worlds to how they act in the real one. But I also feel strongly that we owe it to the millions and millions of women that have suffered, that have been tortured and murdered and abused and vilified and subjugated, throughout history, to portray them honestly. A woman that confessed under torture to things she hadn’t done; a woman that betrayed someone because she was scared for her children; a woman that didn’t do all the things she was capable of because she couldn’t. Because not everyone was bloody Florence Nightingale (although she certainly had her share of the struggle). These women are part of female history too. So, if you’re writing historical fiction, please be authentic to these women; to how they would have been and what they would have done. And please, do remember: there weren’t many happy endings.

#RBRT ‘When Doves Fly’ by Lauren Gregory @mslaurengregory #TuesdayBookBlog

Rosie's Book Review team 1

I reviewed ‘When Doves Fly’ for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

when doves fly

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

I love well-researched and realistic historical fiction, portraying the world as it would have been and the people as they were. I particularly love well-written historical fiction that tells the story of women, and that pulls no punches. That’s certainly what you get with this novel.

At first, I have to admit I was a little wary. I was worried that Lily was going to be one of those historical women that I hate – the type that people describe as ‘feisty’, who manage to live lives that are completely unrealistic and who emerge from life-changing, catastrophic events unscathed, having snared the handsome hero, won battles single-handed, carved out an independent existence, made their voice heard etc. etc. etc.

But this book doesn’t shy away from the realities of life for women, particularly women alone, in the wild west of the nineteenth century. This is not a light romantic historical – this is gritty, realistic, hard-hitting and at times hard to read. There are no easy solutions for Lily, no fairy-tale rescues. She fights for herself, she has to rely on herself, but she fails as well as succeeds, she suffers, she’s frightened at times, she messes up. In short, Lauren Gregory tells the truth, and tells it well. Life for Lily in the boom town of Clear Springs is hard – she makes enemies as well as friends, and those relationships have dreadful consequences.

I do feel that the early parts of Lily’s story are rather glossed over, not given enough detail. I would have liked to have got to know her better, to have understood her motivations more clearly. More time spent on this would have added a depth to Lily’s character and would have made me feel more invested in her story. Aside from this though, the writing is well-crafted, the sense of time and place extremely well-executed, and the story line is gripping, dramatic and involving. A very good read indeed – I look forward to reading more from Lauren Gregory.

4 stars

A WITCHCRAFT TOUR OF ENGLAND #Halloween

Halloween falls on a Saturday this year so if you have some free time over the weekend, there’s no better time to visit one of these fantastic places described in this article first posted here in July 2014.

pendle witches

England has a long and varied history of witchcraft. As a tradition stretching back centuries, it is hardly surprising that there are a great variety of places that abound with legends, stories and histories about witchcraft, witches, persecution and execution. When researching the topic for my novel  ‘The Black Hours’, I came across lots of interesting stories and made a long list of places that I’d love to visit. Some of them I have been lucky enough to visit although I would like to visit again one day. In fact, what I’d really like to do is go on a witchcraft tour of England – spending time in all these places. All offer something interesting and informative; some are fun and have more to do with legend, myth and fairy tale than the brutal truth of the horror of the witch hunts; other places I have found to be spots where poor, misunderstood and persecuted women (let’s not forget that the majority of the witch hunt victims were women) can be remembered and honoured in some small way. These are the places I’d love to visit and re-visit.

The North West

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No witchcraft tour would be complete without a visit to Pendle Hill in Lancashire and it’s a great place to start. Pendle was the location of the famous 1612 trial for witchcraft. The accused all lived in the area, and ten were hanged on Gallows Hill. Of course, rumours now abound that the hill is haunted – TV’s Most Haunted has filmed there. As a sceptic I don’t believe that these women haunt the hill – I like to think they are at peace, free from the horrible persecution they suffered and no longer afraid. But I must admit I’m not sure I’d like to spend the night on the hill!

The North East

witch pricking

Margaret Brown and thirteen other poor souls were hanged on the Town Moor in Newcastle in 1650. Margaret was a victim of ‘witch-pricking’ – it was claimed she had a devil’s mark on her body that, when pricked by a pin did not bleed. She protested her innocence right up to the last according to Ralph Gardener’s 1655 book ‘England’s Grievance’:

“These poor souls never confessed anything but pleaded innocence and one of them, by name Margaret Brown, beseeched God that some remarkable sign might be seen at the time of her execution.”

The Town Moor is a place I’d like to visit, to pause for a moment and think about poor Margaret and the other terrified accused – hoping against hope that something would end their terror.

Yorkshire

mother shipton

I have heard a lot of stories about Mother Shipton and the ‘Petrifying Well’ or ‘dropping well’ in Knaresborough. It used to be believed that the water was magic – turning objects to stone. Now of course we know that the calcifying is due to the high mineral content of the water – but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. And Mother Shipton herself is an interesting character – allegedly born in a cave near the dropping well, she has become a legendary figure of folklore, renowned for her prophecies. There is a whole park devoted to her now, with the dropping well, cave, a museum, castle ruins and gardens. You can even buy a petrified teddy bear in the gift shop!

East Anglia

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This area was the stomping ground of Matthew Hopkins – Witchfinder General, subject of ‘The Black Hours’.  There are a wealth of places to visit – though few traces of the man himself remain. I’ve visited Colchester Castle and stood in the cells where Hopkins interrogated his victims (a very spooky and uncomfortable experience). I’ve also eaten dinner in ‘The Mistley Thorn’, a lovely pub that stands on the site of the inn where Hopkins set up his witch finding business and where he is rumoured to have lived. The food is lovely. I did get a bit freaked out when leaving though as we decided to go for a walk in the dark – and I have to say it was incredibly chilling to think we were walking where Hopkins may have walked. My imagination did get the better of me, but that might have been the wine.

The South

coven of witches

Burley is a very pretty village in the New Forest known for its connection with the witch Sybil leek. Leek moved to the area in the 1950s and opened a shop – ‘A Coven of Witches’ – still open in the village. There are now other shops in the village selling various witch-related items and a tea shop called ‘The Black Cat’. I’ve been to Burley several times and it is a really beautiful place – and a bit of light relief too!

The South West

Museum of Witchcraft

Two places of note in the South West – the wonderful Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall and Exeter in Devon.

I won’t say too much about the Witchcraft Museum other than saying again how utterly fabulous it is – quirky and weird, packed full of witchcraft related stuff, but you can read about my visit here.

Alice Molland plaque

I regret not stopping in Exeter on my way to Boscastle as I would have liked to have seen the plaque at Rougemont Castle commemorating the execution of the Bideford witches and Alice Molland – you can find out about Alice here.

I know I have missed out some wonderful places but there are so many that it is hard to choose. And I know I have also ignored Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – I am planning separate posts on the history of witchcraft in these countries.

Do you know of any interesting places connected to witchcraft in England?  I’d love to know about them (any excuse for a holiday – I mean research!).

THE HAMMER OF THE WITCHES #Halloween

Halloween is fast approaching and, as always at this time of year, when I see the costumes hanging in the shops, the broomsticks, cauldrons and pointy hats, the black cats and fake warty noses, I think abut the women and men that were persecuted and murdered for being ‘witches’. This post, that I wrote in January 2014,  is about the horrific treatise that lay behind many of the superstitions and opinions that led to the horrific trials and executions of so many innocent people.

When writing my novel ‘The Black Hours’ I researched in depth the methods used to interrogate and persecute suspected witches. This was, on the whole, a rather grim process that occasionally reduced me to tears when I thought about the real women (and sometimes men) behind these often lurid and horrific accounts.

The backbone of my research came from the infamous ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ or ‘Hammer of the Witches’. This is a 15th century treatise that is basically a handbook on the way to identify, interrogate and prosecute those suspected of witchcraft. It was written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer, a German Catholic clergyman, and had three main purposes – to refute allegations that witchcraft did not exist, to set out the forms of witchcraft and the ways in which the craft can be identified and resolved, and to aid and assist magistrates in the prosecution of those accused.

malleus

What I found particularly dreadful about this treatise was its terrible attitude towards women. Although acknowledging that both men and women can practice witchcraft, the treatise argues strongly that it is women who are more susceptible due to their gender – women, according to Kramer, are more inclined to submit to temptation due to their inherent weakness as a sex; they are weak in faith and in character and more carnal than men, leading the ‘stronger’ sex into sin. Indeed the word ‘maleficarum’ is the feminine form of the Latin word for ‘witch’.

While I am aware that the times were significantly different, the utter hatred for the female sex is breathtaking.  Here are a few of the horrible assertions:

‘since they (women) are feebler both in mind and body, it is not surprising that they should come more under the spell of witchcraft.’

‘she is more carnal than a man, as is clear from her many carnal abominations. And it should be noted that there was a defect in the formation of the first woman, since she was formed from a bent rib, that is, a rib of the breast, which is bent as it were in a contrary direction to a man. And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives.’

‘No one does more harm to the Catholic Faith than midwives. For when they do not kill children, then, as if for some other purpose, they take them out of the room and, raising them up in the air, offer them to devils.’

‘when girls have been corrupted, and have been scorned by their lovers after they have immodestly copulated with them in the hope and promise of marriage with them, and have found themselves disappointed in all their hopes and everywhere despised, they turn to the help and protection of devils; either for the sake of vengeance by bewitching those lovers or the wives they have married, or for the sake of giving themselves up to every sort of lechery. Alas! experience tells us that there is no number to such girls, and consequently the witches that spring from this class are innumerable.’

‘all witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.’

What is also interesting is that Kramer backs up his assertions with references to the Bible. He references Ecclesiastics xxv:

‘There is no head above the head of a serpent: and there is no wrath above the wrath of a woman. I had rather dwell with a lion and a dragon than to keep house with a wicked woman.’

He also quotes St John Chrysostom commenting on St Matthew:

‘It is not good to marry! What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an unescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil of nature, painted with fair colours!’

Kramer then turns to the philosophers, quoting Cicero:

‘The many lusts of men lead them into one sin, but the lust of women leads them into all sins; for the root of all woman’s vices is avarice.’

and Seneca:

‘A woman either loves or hates; there is no third grade. And the tears of woman are a deception, for they may spring from true grief, or they may be a snare. When a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil.’

Now you might think that these are only one man’s views (The Malleus Maleficarum is attributed to two authors, Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, but some scholars now believe that Sprenger was given joint authorship by Kramer in an attempt to give the treatise more authority) but, due to the development of the printing press, the treatise was able to spread widely through Europe. Who knows how many innocent women were tortured and murdered because of Kramer’s ideas and beliefs – beliefs that were held by many at the time? Is it any surprise that, faced with this utter contempt and hatred of the female sex, thousands of women lost their lives to superstition?

http://www.sacred-texts.com

http://www.shc.edu/theolibrary/resources/women.htm