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Wednesday 27 October 2021

Alison Morton: all about her new release...

Welcome to my Blog!
Wander through wonderful worlds
real and fictional,
meet interesting people,
visit exciting places
and find a few good books
to enjoy along the way!

    Welcome back to Alison Morton. As she’s writing another crime thriller, I’m going to grill her with some awkward questions!

    Where is the book set and how did you decide on its setting?
    Double Pursuit starts in Rome in a 40C heatwave. After all my Roma Nova thrillers, I couldn’t resist dragging Rome in somewhere! But my heroine, Mel or Mélisende to be formal, is based in Brussels. However, she whizzes around to Strasbourg on the Franco-German border, Sète, a beautiful ancient city on the south west French coast, Tilbury, West Kent and then a part of Africa she dreads returning to. 

    Ile de Thau, Sète
    Photo: Christian Ferrer, CC Commons

    Why? I live in France and I wanted to show it off a bit. ;-) Plus I love travelling, even virtually.

    When did you come up with its title?
    I always leave it until I’ve finished as I then know what the book was about. I admire people who choose a title and then write to it. Once my brain had hit on the idea of ‘Double Something’, half the work was done.  Then I realised that my story was a two-way pursuit, so for once, the title fell into place.

    Did you know where this book was going to go right from the start?
    Ha-ha! No. I’m what is called euphemistically a ‘discovery writer’. Okay, I admit that I do sketch out a few ideas – something to start the action off, three or four critical points/crises, then a moment where it all goes to sh*t, relieved by a resolution and tying up the loose ends. Sometimes a question or issue I can integrate such as sexual harassment presents itself  spontaneously, but for the rest I don’t really have much of a clue when I start.

    How do you select the names of your characters?
    When I wrote the Roma Nova thrillers, especially the later ones, I had the whole world built complete with tens of characters whose names I knew intimately. When I wrote Double Identity, the first Mélisende thriller, I had to invent a whole new one. My female protagonist needed a name that would reflect her aristocratic French heritage and be fairly formal, but one that could be shortened to a more relaxed form she could use when in England, with her English mum or among her closest friends. I settled on Mélisende (a nod to Mélusine from a local legend) which shortened to Mel. 

    Her boss, Patrick Stevenson, gives her the respect of her full name as does her prickly schoolfriend and sometime colleague, Aimée. Her beloved father, Henri, doesn’t use short forms, so she’s Mélisende to him.  Jeff McCracken, colleague and …? He calls her Mel, as do her other workmates. 

    McCracken and Mel

    As for Jeff’s surname, it reflects his crackly nature. That was an easy one! A single syllable first name suits his short and sharp manner, but the softness of the j and the double f tones down the hardness of the surname.

    Essentially, names can say so much about the character without the author having to explain anything. Priceless, if selected carefully.

    Do you have a technique for keeping track of your novel as you write it? 
    Good grief, yes! Writing thrillers involves a lot of plotting and I do like to lead my readers up a variety of garden paths. I developed a tracking grid which records time and date of action, a brief description of actions and main relevant discussions and decisions, and a third column for chapter numbers. It’s like an index to the book. More here and you can download a free sample.

    When you’re writing, do you focus on the detail as you go along or keep your eye on the bigger picture?  Or the reverse?
    I bash the story out, checking research bits and pieces when necessary to the plot, then go over these points once the manuscript is finished. If I really need to research something while writing the first draft, I’ll divert, but not for too long as I don’t want to interrupt the story flow. At this stage, I don’t worry about using the same word three times in a sentence. I’ll sort that out during the first editing pass when I wield a machete on my unfortunate prose. No quarter is given. 

    Where do you come up with your idea(s)? Do people in your life need to be worried?
    Probably. ;-) Seriously, I let the characters run around in my head until they demand to be let out. Then I throw a lot of trouble at them and watch how they react. I’m a big fan of exploring ‘what if’ which is where my Roma Nova stories came from. I’m a bit of a fidget myself, so my stories tend to be more active than passive.

    Double Identity came from the idea of dual nationality and crossing cultures. Mel thinks and speaks in both French or English, switching from one to another as necessary. However, sometimes, she’s not completely sure which identity she’s inhabiting. Giving my heroine a background in rural Poitou in western France was easy – I live there myself!  
    Should people be worried? Haha! They’ll have to read Double Identity and Double Pursuit to find out…

    Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
    I do read them as I can glean ideas about what readers liked. Of course, every review is subjective, but taken together you can get an idea of whether your writing goes down well (or not).  One tip: NEVER reply to them. It’s none of your business – this is the readers’ area. And nobody comes out well from an online fight.

    Can you give novice writers some tips (do’s/don'ts)?
    Persist and don’t skimp on quality. Hone and polish your work until you are completely sick of it. If publishing independently, collect a series of beta readers around you and/or a critique partner, get a professionally designed cover and ALWAYS have your work edited.

    Where can readers find you?
    Alison’s World of Thrillers site:
    Alison’s writing blog:
    Sign up to her monthly newsletter:

    If you’d like to buy Double Pursuit, you can find it here:

    < PREVIOUS POST by Alison Morton

    *** *** 

    You might Also like

    Books By Helen Hollick 


    Amazon Author Page: 

    A Mirror Murder
    #1 in the Jan Christopher 
    Cosy Mystery Series
    set in a 1970s London library 

    A new edition with new additional scenes

    Tuesday 26 October 2021

    Norman's (hemp) Rope ...

    Welcome to my Blog!
    Wander through wonderful worlds
    real and fictional,
    meet interesting people,
    visit exciting places
    and find a few good books
    to enjoy!

    NORMAN’S ROPE   by John Fitzhugh Millar

    I worked as a Tavern Entertainer (balladeer) at Colonial Williamsburg for many years, but I began my folk-singing career in the 1960s at Newport, Rhode Island. I attended the Newport Folk Festival, and was introduced to Norman Kennedy (born 28 August 1933), a soft-spoken Scotsman with a twinkle in his eye, and shoulder-length flaming red hair, who sang the Gaelic songs of the Hebrides Islands off the west coast of Scotland that he had learned at his grandmother’s knee.

    I was delighted to find that Norman had a “day job” as the official weaver of Colonial Williamsburg – he had also learned traditional Hebridean weaving at his grandmother’s knee -- so I promised that I would look in on him the next time I visited Williamsburg.

    A few months later in the early 1970s, I made good on my promise.

    Now, Norman was an honest, honorable fellow with few vices. He liked a glass of Scots whiskey now and then, but not to excess. His idea of a joke was that while he was out of town he would put the pot of a prickly house-plant in the toilet to keep it watered, but one time a lady friend of his, who had a key, sat down on that toilet without bothering to turn on the light.

    Colonial Williamsburg Balladeer

    On my visit, however, I could see that Norman was troubled, so I asked him what was wrong, and this is the story that he told me...

    He was at work in the weaving shop about a year before my visit, when a very senior Colonial Williamsburg official (I will call him [VIP] because members of his family still live in the Williamsburg area) entered the shop. [VIP] was showing around the president of Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut and giving him a tour of Colonial Williamsburg.

    [VIP] had been belittling Mystic Seaport all through the tour. “You see, here at Colonial Williamsburg, we do everything from scratch, and we’re the only museum that does this. The silversmith doesn’t buy a half-finished teapot and then finish it off; he takes a bar of silver from the mine and bashes it out into a sheet and then forms the sheet into a teapot.”

    He paused for effect, and then continued. “Take Norman, here. He grows his own flax to weave into linen cloth, he grows his own sea-island cotton (the only kind of cotton available in 18th-century Virginia), and he shears Colonial Williamsburg’s black-faced sheep to get his wool.”

    At that point, the man from Mystic blurted out that Mystic Seaport not only built and repaired boats, but also made rope from scratch in a rope-walk. [VIP] was not to be put off. “I bet Norman here could make a rope, too, couldn’t you, Norman?”

    Norman quickly replied with his strong Scots accent, “Och, aye, I could make a rope.”

    [VIP] pressed on: “I tell you what, Norman. You make a rope. Anything you need, my office will vouch for it. Then we’ll send it up to Mystic to see if it’s as good as their rope.” The two men then departed in good humor and presumably forgot all about the incident, but Norman had been given an order and had no luxury of forgetting the assignment, so he carefully planned how to go about making the rope.

    Many months later, the calm of Duke of Gloucester Street just after 9AM was shattered by a police squad car roaring down the street with lights flashing and siren wailing. The car screeched to a halt in front of Norman’s shop, and even though the shop door was open the two policemen approached with guns drawn and kicked in the door.

     “All right, where’s the stuff?” asked one of them.

     “Where is wot?” replied Norman.

    It seems that a US Navy sailor had been arrested for smoking a joint in Newport News. Usually, when asked where he obtained it, a sailor would answer that he bought it from some sailor in Norfolk, and that would be the end of the story, but this time the sailor said that it was growing in a field out behind Colonial Williamsburg. The police had then gone to investigate the field, only to find that the crop had all been harvested. I should say that this field’s contents were an open secret. The late Tayler Vrooman, Colonial Williamsburg’s premier balladeer, told me that he regularly went to that field during a period of a few months to help himself to a pinch or two or three.


    Once the police had explained what they wanted, they said, “We’re going to open the trunk of the squad car, and you’re going to put it all in there.”

    “Och, I couldna do that!” said Norman. “It will take a whole trailer truck.” Norman is now in a heap of trouble: he has said no to the police; he’s a foreigner; he has long hair, so he’s obviously a hippy; it’s the South; it’s the ‘60s; and he is associated with a large amount of hemp or marijuana.

    Norman took the police to the barn where the hemp was hanging up to dry. They duly brought a trailer truck to the barn, and they used industrial vacuum-cleaners to make sure that every last seed had been collected. Then they took Norman to arraign him in front of the magistrate.

    When the magistrate read the charges, Norman replied, “But I was ordered to do this by [VIP].”

    “[VIP]?” said the magistrate. “I know him well; I play golf with him all the time. I’ll give him a call.” The magistrate picked up the phone and dialed the private number from memory. Norman heard the magistrate’s end of the call: “I have in front of me one Norman Kennedy who works for you. He said you ordered him to grow hemp… No, of course I didn’t think you had! That’s all. Thanks.”

    In [VIP]’s defense, it is likely that he thought that rope comes from nylon trees. However, that left Norman hanging in the wind. The magistrate told Norman that he was facing ten years in prison, followed by deportation to Scotland. Norman quickly made a deal with the judge. Norman would have 48 hours under armed guard while he made a rope, and if the judge liked the rope he would drop the charges.

    So, relays of policemen with carbines across their knees sat and watched Norman at work. Finally, he was satisfied with the rope and brought it to the judge. The judge approved it as an excellent job, and dropped the charges. Norman never learned whether the rope was then sent off to Mystic Seaport Museum to fulfill the original order.

    What was troubling Norman was that [VIP] had given him an order and had not stood behind him when he was accused of a crime as a result of having done no more and no less than following [VIP]’s instructions. He therefore did not feel comfortable continuing to work for Colonial Williamsburg, so after a few months he resigned in 1972 to take a job with the Mansfield School of Weaving in Vermont that demonstrated traditional weaving practices from all over the world. Norman retired from that job in 1995, but he is still in demand to perform Gaelic folk-songs at folk festivals.

    For many years after Norman’s departure, Colonial Williamsburg’s official position was that there never had been a separate shop for a weaver in colonial times, so it was a good thing that Norman’s shop had closed. All weaving was done as part of regular household work in such places as the Wythe House out-buildings, and so that was how it was exhibited for many years. However, in recent years, a fully-fledged separate weaving shop has been re-opened. Presumably, the new weavers will not be ordered to make a length of rope.

    A further note is that the black-faced sheep that Norman used to sheer for his wool were replaced in 1983 by Dorset-Wiltshire-cross sheep (a rare historic breed) and then in 1985 by Leicester Long-wool sheep. The Leicesters, because it is often thought that they cannot be herded (and therefore, who would want them?), are also a rare historic breed, and Colonial Williamsburg now subscribes to the Rare Breeds Program for most of its publicly-seen farm animals. 

    However, that means that the Leicesters are often kept behind fences in fields, whereas the previous sheep were regularly herded back and forth across Market Square every day by Robin, a diminutive girl with blonde hair so long that she could sit on it – the most colorful activity regularly presented at Colonial Williamsburg in those days. Robin was a graduate of the College of William & Mary. Shortly after Robin lost her job in a bureaucratic shuffle, she joined the US Army as an officer and built up an impressive record of service until she retired recently as a colonel. Had Robin held an advantage over her fellow officers because she had once herded sheep?

    Helen and a friend enjoying breakfast,
     hosted by John,
    at Newport House

    Visit John at Newport House, Williamsburg for an entertaining, comfortable and enjoyable B & B stay located just outside Colonial Williamsburg. Highly Recommended!

     * * *   * * *

    *** *** 

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    Books By Helen Hollick 


    Amazon Author Page: 

    Liked Pirates Of The Caribbean?
    then you'll love the Sea Witch Voyages!

    Liked Pirates Of The Caribbean?
    then you'll love the Sea Witch Voyages!

    Friday 22 October 2021

    My Guest today - Alison Morton and an excerpt from her latest book!

    Welcome to my Blog!
    Wander through wonderful worlds
    real and fictional,
    meet interesting people,
    visit exciting places
    and find a few good books
    to enjoy along the way!

    Today I’m welcoming Alison Morton back with her new thriller, Double Pursuit.

    Many readers will know Alison as the author of the Roma Nova alternative history thriller series featuring tough but compassionate heroines. I think I’ve reviewed most of them at some time! That nine-book series is set in an imaginary European country where a remnant of the ancient Roman Empire survived into the 21st century. But there’s a twist – it’s ruled by women who face conspiracy, revolution and heartache but with a sharp line in dialogue. 

    Where does she get her inspiration, you may ask? She tells me she blends her deep love of Ancient Roman history with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, historical and thriller fiction. She has an MA in history which probably helps!   

    In January, she changed tack, as my pirate Captain Jesamiah Acorne might say, and wrote Double Identity, a modern crime thriller. I loved it! Now she’s written the sequel – Double Pursuit.

    Alison now lives in Poitou in France, the home of the heroine of these two contemporary thrillers, Double Identity and Double Pursuit. Oh, and she’s writing the next Roma Nova story. (Hooray!)

    So what’s Double Pursuit about? 

    One dead body, two badly injured operatives and five crates of hijacked rifles. 

    In Rome, former French special forces intelligence analyst Mélisende des Pittones is frustrated by obnoxious local cops and ruthless thugs. Despite the backing of the powerful European Investigation and Regulation Service, her case is going nowhere. Then an unknown woman tries to blow her head off.

    As Mel and fellow investigator Jeff McCracken attempt to get a grip on the criminal network as well as on their own unpredictable relationship, all roads point to the place she dreads – the arid and remote African Sahel – where she was once betrayed and nearly died. Can Mel conquer her fear as she races to smash the network and save her colleague’s life?

    Here’s an extract…

    Mel turned over in the bed trying to find a cool spot. Even the thin cotton sheet felt hot and heavy. Her skin was damp with light sweat; everywhere, especially in her groin and under her breasts. Rome in a heatwave was purgatory. Not so much the temperature – she’d experienced over 40°C every day when on operation with her regiment in the African Sahel – but the humidity. She leant over and drank tepid water from the glass on the bedside table.
    Andreas was still asleep beside her; his blond curls reminded Mel of a Renaissance angel. Even though separated by several centimetres, just the extra heat from his body made the room so much warmer. The fan was no substitute for broken air conditioning, but it wasn’t the heat that was keeping Mel awake. It was frustration.
    Their investigation had stalled. Their one contact was dead. Mel had knelt by the body in the street last night and touched the dark hair on the back of his head to find it matted and wet with blood and tissue. When they’d turned him over, she’d shivered at the small round hole in his forehead stark black under the dim streetlights. However distressing brutal death was, she had to focus. The reaction would come later. Today would be the first of several of long interviews and endless paperwork with the police. 
    She pulled herself out of bed and opened the louvred shutters. They’d opened the windows wide at two this morning but closed the shutters when the carabinieri had at last let them go back to their pensione. The small side-street hotel covered in ochre stucco and festooned in flags and geraniums was more discreet than a big hotel, but at this precise minute Mel yearned for the efficient if sterile, air-conditioned box of a four-star international. 
    In the bathroom, she yanked off the nightshirt she’d been wearing for decency’s sake. Andreas Holzmann was the perfect gentleman, but she didn’t want to embarrass him or herself. That was the problem working undercover as a married couple with a colleague who was a friend who’d rather be more than a friend. She could have told Director Stevenson ‘no’ when he’d outlined their assignment, but that would have been cowardly and Mélisende des Pittones was no coward. Besides, she’d always worked in mixed groups since she’d joined the French Army, often sleeping in a stuffy tent with the rest of her detail, mostly male. At least Andreas didn’t belch or fart in bed.
    But Jeff McCracken, whom she was dating, had been furious. 
    ‘Why does Holzmann have to go with you? He just wants to get into your knickers.’
    ‘God, Jeff, it’s just an assignment. A professional one. It’s because both of us speak some Italian. I’m perfectly aware Andreas has feelings for me, but he knows how to behave.’
    ‘As long as you do your ice maiden act, I suppose that’ll have to do.’
    Mel had put her hand out and caught his. McCracken’s mouth had been a tight line, his grey eyes flint hard and his whole body tense. She’d known it was anxiety. Bit by bit, Mel had gleaned from him that he’d come up the tough way. His family, really his mother, had strained every nerve and bone in the body in a daily struggle to ensure they survived until the next pay day. With his father’s drinking habit and her low-wage jobs it had been a gamble, he’d said, given she had to clothe and feed four children on fresh air and handouts. There hadn’t been much space or energy for anything like emotional nurturing, although his mum always came to school open evenings with them all. Joining the London police had saved him from the life of a petty criminal that had crushed his father, but he found it hard to throw off the cynicism that had protected him all his life.
    Mel’s upbringing had been more than comfortable, in a rural château in France her family had owned for centuries. Although grounding their children in the realities of life – they’d all had to learn how to milk cows and goats and muck in with harvesting – her father and mother had given them all the best education possible along with unconditional love.
    But somehow, a spark of recognition and working together in the European Investigation and Regulation Service had made them friends, then lovers. For Mel, in Jeff McCracken she had found safety, a straightforward and honest man and a strong and considerate lover. Was it love? After two relationships when she’d thought she’d found her life partner had ended disastrously, she’d shut those thoughts away in a locked cupboard in the back of her mind.

    Mel and McCracken - book 1

    After a breakfast of cappuccino and over-sweet cornetti served by a smiling but silent mamma hovering round them in the shaded courtyard behind the pensione, Mel and Andreas set off in the glaring sunshine. 
    ‘I don’t know how you can bear to wear longs in this,’ Mel said and waved her hand towards the brilliant blue sky.
    ‘Well, I don’t want to look like a tourist when we meet our Italian colleagues this time,’ Andreas said. 
    Mel smoothed her hand down the skirt of her linen sleeveless sundress and prodded the bridge of her sunglasses. She’d piled her fair hair up into a pleat to keep her neck and shoulders cool.
    ‘Well, I’m certainly not putting a suit on for a day like this.’
    ‘Do you ever?’ Andreas smiled at her.
    ‘Ha!’ True, she was a jeans and shirt type or until recently, combats. But this morning her practical side had led her to choose thick-soled canvas shoes for Rome’s hard pavements.

    Rome - carabiniere

    The police building on the Quirinal Hill stretched up in front of them from a ground floor of grey masonry blocks to the upper three floors covered in red stucco. No window boxes of scarlet geraniums. Inside, the carabiniere radioed through their names and a few minutes later a man in a light grey suit entered the lobby.
    ‘Buongiorno,’ he said, his face solemn. His black, slicked-back hair and slender frame gave him a youthful look, and he radiated fitness in his stride. But Mel saw wrinkles at the outside edges of his eyes and some grey hair at his temples. A fit operative, experienced but still actively in the game, but not as an ordinary policeman.
    She glanced at Andreas who gave her the briefest of nods in return. 
    ‘I am Captain Giordano,’ the man said. ‘Your ID, please.’
    He took their EIRS warrant cards, studied them, turned them over then handed them back without a comment. He gestured them to follow him and set off down a corridor, obviously confident they would follow him. At a security arch, he flashed a plastic card across a reader pad.
    ‘Please use your EIRS cards to pass through.’ Two peeps and a green light for both Mel and Andreas. Giordano opened the next door and they entered a meeting room complete with polished table and uncomfortable-looking chairs.
    ‘Now,’ he said, fixing them with a hard stare, ‘Investigator des Pittones and Kriminalkommissar Holzmann, please tell me why two officers from the European Investigation and Regulation Service are sneaking around Rome under false names and without the courtesy of at least informing us.’

    Trajan's Market, Rome


    Buy it here:
    B&N Nook:

    Connect with Alison 
    Her World of Thrillers site:
    Twitter:    @alison_morton
    Alison’s writing blog:

    *** *** 

    You might Also like

    Books By Helen Hollick 


    Amazon Author Page: 

    A Mirror Murder
    #1 in the Jan Christopher 
    Cosy Mystery Series
    set in a 1970s London library 


    Liked Pirates Of The Caribbean?
    then you'll love the Sea Witch Voyages!

    1066 - the events that led to the Battle of Hastings
    Harold the King
    I Am The Chosen King (US/Canada edition)
    1066 Turned Upside Down -
    an anthology of alternative stories
    (includes a Roma Nova story by Alison Morton)

    Tuesday 19 October 2021

    Widdershins by Helen Steadman Narrated by Christine Mackie my Coffee Pot Book Club Guest

    Welcome to my Blog!
    Wander through wonderful worlds
    real and fictional,
    meet interesting people,
    visit exciting places
    and find a few good books
    to enjoy along the way!

    Thanks very much for inviting me along to guest post on your blog today [Helen: my pleasure!]. My historical novels Widdershins and its sequel, Sunwise, were inspired by the Newcastle witch trials in 1650 when sixteen people were executed for witchcraft on the same day. Now, Christine Mackie of Downton Abbey fame has brought the Newcastle witch trials to life as audiobooks.

    Author: Helen Steadman
    Narrator: Christine Mackie

    It’s odd that the Newcastle witch trials are not widely known about when they resulted in the biggest mass execution of witches on a single day in England. The 1612 Pendle witch trials are very well known, and ten people were executed on Gallows Hill in Lancashire. At the 1645 Chelmsford witch trials, nineteen people were executed in all; however, these executions did not take place on the same day, or in the same town. That said, Chelmsford and Essex more widely suffered terribly under witch trials, not least because Essex was the main stamping ground of the Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins. Hand on heart, I have to confess that I didn’t know about the Newcastle trials, even though they took place on my doorstep, until I started researching… 

    Hanged witches from Ralph Gardiner 1655 book
    England's Grievance Discovered out of copyright

    After reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall I decided I had to write a historical novel but had no clue what it would be about. One day, when walking my dog in the woods, I smelt a strange strawberry-like smell and followed my nose uphill. At the top of the rise, the source of the smell became clear: loggers had cut down hundreds of Scots Pines, revealing an enormous natural amphitheatre, albeit one populated by oozing stumps. Stunned by the sight, and possibly in an altered state on account of the pine sap, I sat down to wonder what might have happened here hundreds of years ago. 

    Apropos of nothing, Florence Welch jumped into my head, singing ‘We raise it up, this offering’. Sacrifice! Ritual! Rituals could have happened here, magical goings-on. Witches! Armed with nothing more than an overdose of pine sap, I realised that my book had to be about witches. It felt right. An astrologer once tried to convince me that I had been burnt as a witch in a past life and offered to regress me. Thank you, but no. Strangely, the revelation of my book’s subject was equally unwelcome. Why witches? I could not do witchcraft. I knew no witches. Witches would not be easy. This would mean research. Sorry, this would mean RESEARCH. And lots of it.

    Cue a spending orgy in second-hand online bookshops (to the chagrin of the postie, who came to hate me). Tree medicine lessons were taken, gardens both physic and psychic were visited. The walls filled with old maps. The garden filled with strange plants. The cupboards filled with home-grown lotions, potions and tinctures, and I was haunted by endless moaning: 
    Can I just have a paracetamol, Mam, I can’t stand the taste of silver birch.’ 
    Can we have mouthwash from an actual shop? That acorn stuff has made my teeth brown.’ 
    Who put hawthorn berries in my good vodka?’ 
    The police have been round again.’

    drying herbs

    Undeterred, I continued. Paranormal groups were joined, county archives were raided, local historians were interrogated, execution records were pored over, and spectacle prescriptions were renewed at a rate hitherto unprecedented. 

    During this research, I found my story, courtesy of a disgruntled Northumbrian coal trader, Ralph Gardiner. Thanks to his grievances, I discovered that a large number of people had been executed for witchcraft in Newcastle in 1650. This resulted from the Puritan council (in perhaps the earliest example of local authority performance-related pay) offering a witchfinder twenty shillings per witch. Fascinatingly, at the trial, the witchfinder was revealed as a fraud, but only one girl was spared execution, and the witchfinder escaped.
    Having been inspired by Hilary Mantel’s makeover of Thomas Cromwell, I was tempted to write the witchfinder’s story. However, it was too overwhelming having a story written entirely from such an evil point of view. Besides, I could not stop thinking about the girl who got away. Despite further research, I could find no information on who she was or why the other accused ‘witches’ were still executed. This conundrum continued to bother me until I decided that this girl would have to be my story. So, unusually for witch trial novels, Widdershins and Sunwise are both told through the alternating perspectives of both accused witch and witchfinder, so we get to hear both sides of the story.
    I have to say, that I was heartily glad once the sequel was published so I didn’t have this terrible man, John Sharpe living in my head any more. Or at least not until this year when I’ve been working with Christine Mackie on producing the audiobooks. She’s done an absolutely amazing job of bringing all the characters to life, but I’m in awe of what she’s done with evil John Sharpe. Now that we’ve completed audiobook production, we can both relax without the witchfinder haunting us. (At least for now.)

    Ralph Gardiner (1849 [1655]) England’s Grievance Discovered in Relation to the Coal Trade. North Shields: Philipson and Hare. Ch. 53.

    The new audio book of Widdershins is narrated brilliantly by talented actor, Christine Mackie, from Downton Abbey, Coronation Street, Wire in the Blood, and so on.  

    The first part of a two-part series, Widdershins is inspired by the Newcastle witch trials, where 16 people were hanged. Despite being the largest mass execution of witches on a single day in England, these trials are not widely known about. In August 1650, 15 women and one man were hanged as witches after a Scottish witchfinder found them guilty of consorting with the devil. This notorious man was hired by the Puritan authorities in response to a petition from the Newcastle townsfolk who wanted to be rid of their witches. 

    Widdershins is told through the eyes of Jane Chandler, a young woman accused of witchcraft, and John Sharpe, the witchfinder who condemns her to death. Jane Chandler is an apprentice healer. From childhood, she and her mother have used herbs to cure the sick. But Jane soon learns that her sheltered life in a small village is not safe from the troubles of the wider world. From his father’s beatings to his uncle’s raging sermons, John Sharpe is beset by bad fortune. Fighting through personal tragedy, he finds his purpose: to become a witchfinder and save innocents from the scourge of witchcraft. 

    Praise for Widdershins:

    The Historical Novel Society said of Widdershins: “Impeccably written, full of herbal lore and the clash of ignorance and prejudice against common sense, as well as the abounding beauty of nature, it made for a great read. There are plenty of books, both fact and fiction, available about the witch-trial era, but not only did I not know about such trials in Newcastle, I have not read a novel that so painstakingly and vividly evokes both the fear and joy of living at that time.”

    Trigger Warnings:
    Domestic abuse, rape, torture, execution, child abuse, animal abuse, miscarriage, death in childbirth.

    Dr Helen Steadman

    Dr Helen Steadman is a historical novelist. Her first novel, Widdershins and its sequel, Sunwise were inspired by the Newcastle witch trials. Her third novel, The Running Wolf was inspired by a group of Lutheran swordmakers who defected from Germany to England in 1687.

    Despite the Newcastle witch trials being the largest mass execution of witches on a single day in England, they are not widely known about. Helen is particularly interested in revealing hidden histories and she is a thorough researcher who goes to great lengths in pursuit of historical accuracy. To get under the skin of the cunning women in Widdershins and Sunwise, Helen trained in herbalism and learned how to identify, grow and harvest plants and then made herbal medicines from bark, seeds, flowers and berries.

    The Running Wolf is the story of a group of master swordmakers who left Solingen, Germany and moved to Shotley Bridge, England in 1687. As well as carrying out in-depth archive research and visiting forges in Solingen to bring her story to life, Helen also undertook blacksmith training, which culminated in making her own sword. During her archive research, Helen uncovered a lot of new material and she published her findings in the Northern History journal.

    Helen is now working on her fourth novel.

    Social Media Links:

    Twitter  @hsteadman1650

    Christine Mackie

    Christine Mackie has worked extensively in TV over the last thirty years in well-known TV series such as Downton Abbey, Wire in the Blood, Coronation Street, French & Saunders and The Grand. Theatre work includes numerous productions in new writing as well as classics, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Comedy of Errors, Richard III, An Inspector Calls, and the Railway Children. In a recent all women version of Whisky Galore, Christine played three men, three women and a Red Setter dog! 


    Follow the Tour

    Twitter Handle: @hsteadman1650 @maryanneyarde
     @coffeepotbookclub #HistoricalFiction #Widdershins #Witches #Audiobook #BlogTour #CoffeePotBookClub

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