research

‘Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams’ by Matthew Walker #bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog

sleep

Waterstones   Amazon.co.uk

Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our life, health and longevity and yet it is increasingly neglected in twenty-first-century society, with devastating consequences: every major disease in the developed world – Alzheimer’s, cancer, obesity, diabetes – has very strong causal links to deficient sleep.

In this book, the first of its kind written by a scientific expert, Professor Matthew Walker explores twenty years of cutting-edge research to solve the mystery of why sleep matters. Looking at creatures from across the animal kingdom as well as major human studies, Why We Sleep delves into everything from what really happens during REM sleep to how caffeine and alcohol affect sleep and why our sleep patterns change across a lifetime, transforming our appreciation of the extraordinary phenomenon that safeguards our existence.

I have suffered from poor sleep on and off for most of my adult life. I’ve tried all the usual things – less caffeine, less alcohol, more alcohol, warm baths, no screen time after 8 p.m. – the list goes on and on and none of those things have worked. So I was keen to read this book and see if it could offer any help.

It does so much more than that. This book goes into real depth about how and why we sleep. It’s scientific, research-based and full of sometimes quite startling information. But it does all this in a very readable and reader-friendly way. It isn’t confusing or dense, and it certainly isn’t boring. It’s informative and fascinating and very, very well-written.

It’s eye-opening and concerning to discover just how much of an impact on health – both mental and physical – poor sleep has. And it’s a real concern in a culture that is based on work, work, work with little time for relaxation. It’s a reminder that sleeping and resting and caring for yourself isn’t a luxury or an indulgence but is something that is vital and necessary. A real wake-up call.

I still don’t sleep all that well, but I have more good nights than bad. And I understand now how important that is.

I can’t recommend this book enough.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

 

 

 

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Autumn Superstitions #wwwblogs #superstitions

autumn

Autumn seems to have well and truly arrived. The heating’s on, I’ve dug out my slippers and the countdown to that day has begun.

Autumn is a beautiful season – and one that is full of old traditions and beliefs. This is a post from a couple of years ago celebrating some weird and wonderful autumn superstitions.

Even the most sceptical among us might qualm when it comes to walking under a ladder, or find ourselves saluting when we see a single magpie (that’s me!); superstitions that have been around for hundreds of years still seem to have a hold in these more rational times.

Many superstitions arose in a past where life was governed by the weather and the seasons, so it’s no surprise that there are plenty of customs and beliefs associated with autumn. People needed to find security in the unknown, to feel that they had a handle on what might happen. And autumn was a scary time. The harvest was crucial – would there be enough to keep everyone going over the winter months? And what would those winter months be like? Many superstitions were focused on what the winter would bring. And many have their roots in common sense (but certainly not all of them!).

fruits

For example, it was believed that if fruits were plentiful the coming winter would be mild. This makes sense; as the fruits would need warmth to ripen, meaning that the autumn was probably mild, so therefore the winter could possibly be mild too. This is possibly the reasoning behind another belief – that if ducks leave it until late autumn to fly south, then winter will arrive late.

onions

It’s worth knowing your onions too – a thin skin means a mild winter, but if the skin is thick winter will be cold.

If you want to know when the worst of winter will be, then go and look for some caterpillars. If you find lots of caterpillars that are dark brown in the middle but yellow at each end, then the middle of winter will be cold. However, if there are lots of them, of any colour, then the whole winter will be cold.

caterpillar

Not sure what sort of winter this one signifies!

You could always slaughter a hog. Apparently if you do this and can identify its spleen, then if the spleen lies towards its head, winter will be mild (as a vegetarian, I’ll think I’ll pass on that one).

By now you could be completely confused. But you might also be wondering about next summer already. Will it be good here at home or should I book somewhere in the sun? Wait a few weeks until the end of autumn, then dig up the garden. You’ll need to dig deep. If worms are found deep down in the earth, then next summer will be cold.

So what then if the winter is going to be bad? You could always ward off colds beforehand. If you catch a falling leaf in autumn, then you’ll be free of colds all year. And there’s an added bonus; every leaf you catch means a lucky month the following year.

autumn leaf

Of course one thing our ancestors were scared of was death – they understood it even less than we did. So superstitions and predictions offered some comfort and some idea of control over the future. A primrose growing in your yard in autumn was a signifier of death. And if a cherry tree bloomed in autumn, then that meant death not only for a person, but for the tree too. In the West of Scotland, a white rose blooming in autumn was another sign of an impending death; however, the blooming of a red rose meant an early marriage.

I, of course, believe in none of these. Though that won’t stop me trying to catch a leaf when I’m walking the dog later. I’ve felt like I’ve been coming down with a cold these last few days and you never know, a falling leaf might be just what I need.

 

Happy Lupercalia! #valentinesday

Lupercalia heart

Happy Valentine’s Day! Here is my annual Valentine’s Day post about the real ideas behind the celebration.

Yes, I know it’s Valentine’s Day and lots of you will be receiving bouquets of roses and planning romantic dinners (not me- my husband knows I have no time for the gross commercialism that is Valentine’s Day and is under pain of divorce not to buy me flowers – and I mean it), however, it would seem that Valentine’s Day has always had a lot more to it than hearts and flowers. In fact, it originates from an ancient pagan ritual that was celebrated for years before anyone had heard of Valentine.

In Rome, many centuries ago, the festival of Lupercalia was celebrated from the 13th to the 15th of February. On the 14th of February, a day devoted to Juno, queen of the gods and patron of marriage, young women would place their names on slips of paper put into jars. The young men would pick out a name and the two would spend Lupercalia together.

Lupercalia itself was a strange festival. It was held in honour of the gods Lupercus and Faunus and the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. The ritual began at the cave where Lupa the wolf was reputed to have suckled Romulus and Remus. A goat (fertility) and a dog (protection) would be sacrificed, and the goat flayed. Men would then run through the streets whipping women and crops with this flayed hide, in a bid to encourage fertility and to ease pain in any future childbirth. Not quite as romantic as a candlelit dinner, but this was ancient Rome.

lupercalia

So how did this rather wild sounding festival become the St Valentine’s Day of today? The rise of Christianity saw Pope Gelasius officially condemn the pagan festival, banning it at the end of the fifth Century. He declared that 14th February be St Valentine’s day. Although no-one really knows who this Valentine was, he is possibly an amalgamation of two different men. During the reign of Emperor Claudius, it was decreed that all marriages be stopped. A priest called Valentine was imprisoned for continuing to perform marriage ceremonies. In the 3rd Century A.D. another Valentine was imprisoned for helping Christians. He allegedly fell in love with the daughter of his jailer and cured her of blindness. This good deed did him no good whatsoever, as he was executed on 14th February 289 A.D. These two Valentines may be the ones at the heart of Valentine’s Day (sorry!).

Even the tradition of young women placing their names into a jar to be picked by a man was incorporated into this new celebration – with one rather huge difference. The girl’s names were replaced by those of saints; each man vowing to emulate the life of the saint whose name he picked for the coming year. Not quite as romantic as the original really.

So, like many other feast days and holidays, Valentine’s Day has its roots in something far from saintly. Still, whether you object to the commercialism or not, it’s as good a day as any other to tell someone you love them!

Valentines

Eugene Delacroix and the lost art of letter writing

Eugene Delacroix

Eugene Delacroix

Researching my new WIP, I’ve been reading the selected letters of Eugène Delacroix.

Delacroix was a rather controversial 19th Century artist. His painting invoked strong reactions for their use of bold colour and for his refusal to conform to the ideas of the day. I think that’s why I like him so much. He’s pretty hard to research however, despite the fact that he is regarded as the father of the French Romantic movement.

These letters then are indispensable and a godsend. They are also entertaining, intelligent, beautifully written (and translated) and hugely insightful. Without them, I would be at rather a loss to put any flesh on the bones of the man whose paintings I so admire.

The letters that are relevant to the period I am researching, when Delacroix was a young man, are written to friends and family. They contain within them clues to Delacroix’s passions, his values, his admiration for his close friends and hints of the rather strained relationship he had with his sister. But what if Delacroix was alive today? How would I find out what makes him tick?

Well, you could argue that it would be a lot easier. That I would just have to look at his Twitter account or Google him to find out the latest gossip, or read interviews in magazines or on websites. But would that give me a true picture? I somehow doubt it. Here, in these personal letters, we have something precious – a real insight into a man that many consider a genius. For today’s artists, musicians, actors and celebrities, what we usually get is a PR approved, carefully constructed, watered-down version of a personality, a life that the artist (or their management company) wants you to see. Yes, we might get to read an autobiography (but this would be run through the usual PR checks), we might read on Twitter what they had for breakfast, but is that a real insight?

And it’s not just in the area of celebrity that something has been lost. The art of writing letters is lost to us on the whole. We write quick emails, tweet or text each other. We don’t sit down and write to each other about our feelings, our ambitions, our desires and our disappointments as Delacroix did. Even our moments of the greatest grief or the greatest joy are now more often posted on Facebook. I’ve seen people ‘share’ the loss of a parent in a post and the response has been a range of sad emoticons. That takes a few seconds. Compare that to Delacroix’s letter to his great friend J.B. Pierret, written after the death of Perret’s father. The letter is awash with empathy, with sympathy, with real feeling, real concern and real emotion. How much more comfort would that give than a ‘sad face’?

I’m not one of those people who think that everything was better in the past – far from it. But I do think in this age where everything is quick, everything is automated, our responses have become automated too. And I do think we’re the poorer for that.

A Witchcraft Tour of England

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, 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

300px-Pendle_Hill_Lancs

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

DSCF1380

This area was the stomping ground of Matthew Hopkins – Witchfinder General.  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!).

 

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be.

Flowers, Friends, Food and Fun – 17th Century Wedding Customs

17th century weding band

Researching my novel ‘The Black Hours’ was often a very dark and depressing business, focusing as it did on real accounts of persecution, terror, torture and death. When I came to write the prequel ‘Blackwater’, I did find some light relief. There is a wedding in ‘Blackwater’ and so I spent a much more cheerful afternoon reading up on the wedding traditions and customs of the 17th century.

My main source for this research was a lovely booklet by Denise Taylor called ‘17th Century Wedding Customs’. This booklet, though small in size, is packed full of useful information and interesting facts that really helped me to envisage the wedding between Samuel and Elizabeth. And it was refreshing to research using something other than the internet – something that I know I overuse.

wedding customs

As we are now coming into the most popular times for weddings, I thought I would provide a small glimpse into the way weddings, particularly those of the lower classes, were enacted all those years ago, courtesy of Denise Taylor’s helpful booklet.

Before they even got to the wedding, lower class adolescents in the 17th Century had a lot more freedom than you might think. This had a lot to do with young people very often leaving home early to take up jobs in service. This independence at a young age provided plenty of opportunities to spend time alone with members of the opposite sex, often without any chaperone.

These sweethearts would give gifts to show their affection. A silver coin, broken in half with one half kept by each of the couple, was enough to signify an engagement. Oaths and prayers would often be said over these coins, giving them much significance and importance, and making these tokens valued not only as a signifier of love, but also as a talisman against evil spirits.

It was very rare that a new dress was bought specially for a wedding. Most brides would simply wear their best dress, usually the one they wore to church, possibly with some extra adornment. More important than the dress were the bride’s garters! These were generally blue in colour, and were regarded as trophies. For although they were worn by the bride, tied just above the knee, they formed the centre of a rather risqué tradition. Once it was bed time, rather than being left in privacy with her new husband to remove the garters, they were instead removed by the ‘bride-men’ (two bachelors who would have led the bride to church carrying branches of rosemary). The garters would then be fastened to the men’s hats.

Along with garters, gloves were also important. These would be given to the bride either by her groom, or by a failed suitor who would use the opportunity to show her that she had chosen he wrong man, by presenting her with the most extravagant gloves he could afford.

Flowers were as important then as they are now. Most country brides would dress their hair with wildflowers, myrtle or miniature sheaves of wheat. Myrtle would also be used in the bouquet along with orange blossom. When the bride left the church after the ceremony, wheat would be thrown on her head to bring fruitfulness – perhaps a pre-cursor to confetti.

Orange blossom - a traditional wedding flower

Orange blossom – a traditional wedding flower

If the bride lived in the north, then she may also have cake broken over her head! This again was a fertility charm. It was also believed that the future could be seen in the broken pieces of bread and that those who gathered the pieces would have good luck.

Eating and drinking was very important. Cakes, meats and treats would all be specially prepared, with the whole community helping to provide a feast for the couple and their guests. The traditional tiered cake of today’s weddings may have featured, but in the earlier part of the century, the wedding ‘cake’ was likely to consist of small buns built into a huge pile and placed before the couple at the table. The couple would try and kiss over this mound of cakes – if they managed to reach each other they were guaranteed prosperity and plenty of children.

Going to bed on the wedding night was not a private, romantic affair. Instead, the couple were escorted to bed by the bridesmaids and groomsmen. Once the garters had been removed and distributed, the bridesmaids would undress the bride, making sure that any dress pins were removed and thrown away, lest they bring misfortune. The bride would then be surrounded by her female relations and friends, waiting in the ribbon be-decked bed for her groom. He would climb in with his bride and then all the guests would come into the bedchamber to wish the couple luck. The company would then return to their celebrations, finally leaving the newly-weds in peace!

Some of the traditions may seem rather odd, but many haven’t really changed that much through the years; the flowers, the friends, the food and the fun remain an integral part of wedding celebrations.

 

Do you have any unusual wedding traditions in your part of the world or particular to your family? I’d love to hear about them.

17th Century Wedding Customs by Denise Taylor is available on Amazon.co.uk here.

Find out more about ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be. 

Mrs Blunden – a most unfortunate Basingstoke resident

basingstoke

Basingstoke. A town known for many things – its roundabouts, its housing estates, and, more recently, its not so contrite local MP, Maria Miller. These seem to be the things that spring to mind if you question those who don’t know the town. They don’t often mention the beautiful surrounding countryside, the historic old town or the subject of the town’s most horrible, yet most gripping tale, the unfortunate Mrs Blunden.

This poor lady lived in the town in the seventeenth century, the wife of a successful local malt merchant. During the hot summer of 1674, her husband was away on business in London. One evening Mrs Blunden, by all accounts a rather large lady, was feeling unwell.  For some reason, no-one seems to know exactly why, she drank a huge quantity of poppy water acquired from a local apothecary. One account blames her maid, who gave her the water accidently when she asked for wine; other reports suggest that Mrs Blunden took the water as a curative. Whatever the reason, having drunk the water, she apparently dropped dead.

Her body was laid out, and a messenger was sent to her husband. He requested that she not be buried until he had returned home. However, due to the size of the woman, and the heat, it was feared that she would soon begin to smell. She was, therefore, placed in a coffin that was nailed shut.  She was then buried at the Liten burial ground near to the Holy Ghost Chapel.

holy ghost - old

These burial grounds were used as a playground by boys attending the Queen’s school. Some of the boys thought they heard noises coming from the grave and went to tell the School Master. At first he didn’t believe them, but when other children also claimed to have heard noises, the grave was eventually opened. It was too late to do anything for the unfortunate woman. She had clearly been alive when she had been buried as her body was covered in self-inflicted wounds, caused by her struggles on regaining consciousness. This is terrible in itself, but the horror doesn’t stop there.

Mrs Blunden’s coffin was re-sealed and placed back in the grave to await the coroner who was due the following day. A guard was posted, but he must have been distracted, fallen asleep or left his post, for, when the grave was re-opened, poor Mrs Blunden was covered in fresh wounds. Her shroud was torn, her fingernails bloody and, some reports claim, her mouth bleeding, presumably from chewing at herself in her distress.

So the unlucky Mrs Blunden had the bad luck to be buried alive not once, but twice.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The ruins of the Holy Ghost Chapel can still be visited today.

Mad as a March Hare

Photagraph by Simon Litten

Photagraph by Simon Litten

Spring is finally upon us – I’m sure I even saw a glimpse of sunshine the other day. Turning the calendar over to March always makes me feel a little more cheerful – the dark, drab days of winter are finally coming to an end and the days hold the promise of warmth and light and colour.

This morning, flicking through news when I should have been writing, I stumbled upon this rather lovely picture of a ‘mad’ March hare, and it made me wonder when and where the saying originated.

Photograph by Simon Litten

Photograph by Simon Litten

The meaning is clear – someone as ‘mad as a March hare’ is behaving strangely, as hares do in the month of March, although they have an excuse as it’s the start of their mating season, something I’m sure they are very excited about. But when did we start to use the comparison to describe other people?

One of the first recorded instances of an early form of the term dates from around 1500 in the poem ‘Blowbol’s Test:

Thanne þey begyn to swere and to stare, And be as braynles as a Marshe hare

(Then they begin to swerve and to stare, And be as brainless as a March hare)

John Skelton, writing in the 16th century has a penchant for variations on the phrase, in both’ Replycacion’ (1528):

Aiii, I saye, thou madde Marche Hare”

And ‘Magnyfycence’ (1529)

As mery as a marche hare”

Even Sir Thomas More was a fan, and in his ‘Supplycacyn of soulys’ (1529) gives the first record of the phrase as we now use it:

“As mad not as a March hare, but as a madde dogge.”

A derivative phrase – ‘hare-brained’ – appears in 1548, in Edward Hall’s Chronicle:

“My desire is that none of you be so unadvised or harebrained…”

Perhaps the most famous mad March hare is the creation of Lewis Carroll, in that  lovely classic ‘Alice in Wonderland’ who, along with the Mad Hatter, presides over a very confusing tea party:

‘Have some wine,’ the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.

Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. ‘I don’t see any wine,’ she remarked.

‘There isn’t any,’ said the March Hare.’

 ‘The March Hare took the watch and looked at it gloomily: then he dipped it into his cup of tea, and looked at it again: but he could think of nothing better to say than his first remark, “It was the best butter, you know.”

mad march hare - carroll

In the original illustrations for the book by Sir John Tenniel, the poor March Hare is depicted with straw on his head. This was a symbol often used in Victorian illustration to depict madness. It has been suggested that this comes from no less a famous madwoman than Shakespeare’s ‘Ophelia’. Gertrude describes her, in death, as having ‘fantasticke Garlands’ of ‘Crow-flowers, Nettles, Daysies, and long Purples,’ and ‘Coronet weeds’.

ophelia

As for the Mad Hatter, that’s a whole other post, with far more gruesome connotations, mad as he is from mercury poisoning!

mad hatter

Anyway, it’s good to celebrate the coming fine weather, and I for one certainly have a spring in my step (now, where did that one come from?!)

http://www.opheliapopularculture.com/home/gertrude-s-description-of-ophelia-s-death

http://sabian.org/alice_in_wonderland7.php

http://idiomation.wordpress.com/2011/07/12/mad-as-a-march-hare/

http://www.express.co.uk/news/nature/463047/CHEEKY-Moment-a-mad-March-hare-blows-a-raspberry

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Skelton

Vexed and Troubled Englishmen

vexed and troubled

I am currently working on a prequel to my dark historical novel ‘The Black Hours’, focusing on Maggie Prentice and her daughter Elizabeth. Looking for a suitable name for the mother of Samuel Pendle, I did a quick Google search for popular names of the time (my research is usually far more involved than that, honestly!) I stumbled upon a 1968 book ‘Vexed and Troubled Englishmen’ by colonial historian Carl Bridenbaugh, concerned with the period from 1590-1642 and using sources such as parish and court records to give an idea of the circumstances that caused people to leave the country and settle elsewhere. Mike Foster compiled a list of names using the book for Ancestry.com. Besides each name he has given an extremely brief summary of the reason for their inclusion in the book. It is this brief sentence that makes compelling reading, giving as it does a little snapshot into the lives of these real people. Some of them are sad, some baffling and others completely hilarious. Here is a very small selection:

Awdy Bartholomew, South Elmham, Norfolk – vicar, unlearned & useless

Ayres John, London – “poor man”, called Hanna Mobbs a whore

Banks William, Wetherby, Yorks – begat bastard 1614, whipped

Barrett Bridget, Lewes Ct – stuck pins in Mrs Dumbrell in church

Benbury Christopher, Southampton brewer – bad beer 1630

Brooke Ralph, Arlington, Sussex – wore horns in churchyard at wedding

Cauker Katherine, Somerset – had bastard child, whipped 1617

Dell Ann, wife of Sditch butcher – unlicensed surgery 1615

Lincolne Marie, Swanton Morley, Norfolk – jilted 1597

Merrett Thomas, Somerton, Somerset – bawdy thievish alehouse 1627

Laney Julius – branded as dangerous beggar aged 7yrs

Johnson Otilwell, Manchester – lacked chimney for hovel fire

Why on earth did Ralph Brooke wear horns in a churchyard? And what kind of unlicensed surgery was Ann Dell, butcher’s wife, carrying out? Then there are the clutch of unfortunates; poor, jilted Marie Lincolne, and Otilwell Johnson, lacking a chimney! Behind each of these sentences there surely lurks a story and some of these characters will hopefully be turning up in one of my future novels. In the meantime I chose the name Bridget for Samuel’s mother. As a character, she is definitely the type of woman who would stick pins in someone in church!

You can see the full list here

And you can even buy the book here (if you have ninety quid to spare!)

 

Researching the Past in the 21st Century

When I first embarked on my novel ‘The Black Hours’ I spent many hours researching  17th century England – it’s civil war, religion, the lives of ordinary people and, of course, Matthew Hopkins and his notorious witch hunts. Lots of the information I used for the book I found online – it is amazing just how much is out there, freely available in a few clicks. How I would have managed without the internet I really don’t know, but I suspect it would have taken me a great deal longer to gather everything I needed. I am so grateful to those who spend their time making all this information available for anyone who cares to look – the masses of history sites and blogs that provide so much intriguing detail, whether professional, scholarly or amateur.  It all helped me to build a picture as close as I could get to the sights, sounds and smells of 17th Century England. I was even able to read extracts from Matthew Hopkins’ own pamphlet ‘The Discovery of Witches’ which gave me a valuable insight into the workings of the mind of this driven individual.

hopkins

Matthew Hopkins’ pamphlet was written to defend his practices and refute allegations that he was in league with the devil himself

Of course, I didn’t rely solely on the internet.  I also read widely, including the infamous ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ or ‘Hammer of the Witches’. This 15th Century treatise details the methods that should be used in the prosecution of witches including how to identify them and how to secure a conviction. It made for a great many disturbing evenings! But it also provided a context for the world of Alice and her grandmother, and indeed the world of Matthew. Although written 150 years before my novel takes place, the beliefs within it were still held to be true and almost certainly had some influence on Hopkins.

malleus

The Malleus Maleficarum was written in 1486. The Latin title translates as ‘The Hammer of the Witches which destroyeth Witches and their heresy as with a two-edged sword.’

This research fascinated me, and I could willingly have devoted years to it – however, I had a book to write!  And now the book is done I have a whole load of notes and facts and bits and bobs, some of which made it into the book and some of which didn’t. So in these blog posts I’d like to share some of the interesting details I learned along the way, and hope that in doings so, more will be understood about this dark time in history and its victims, those poor souls whose stories are often overlooked and forgotten, reduced to names on a list that does no justice to their suffering. I’d also like to share some of the experiences I had researching and writing the book – it can be a lonely experience and I often read the blogs of other writers when I needed a bit of inspiration and focus. I’d love to hear from other writers and from those interested in history. Please feel free to leave a comment, to visit my Facebook page or to follow me on Twitter. And if you have any interesting stories about the ‘poor buggers’ hidden behind the scenes of the history books, I’d love to hear them!