Archives for January 2011

Guest Post: How I Became a Daughter of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt

In bleak midwinter 2002, I moved to rural Lancashire, in northern England, an incongruous place for an American expat. The first months were so oppressively dark, I felt I was trapped inside some claustrophobic gothic novel. But then came spring in a tide of bluebells and hawthorn. The wild Pennine landscape cast its spell on me.
I live at the foot of Pendle Hill, famous throughout the world as the place where George Fox received his vision that moved him to found the Quaker religion in 1652. But Pendle is also steeped in its legends of the Lancashire Witches.

In 1612, seven women and two men from Pendle Forest were hanged for witchcraft. The most notorious of the accused, Bess Southerns, aka Old Demdike, cheated the hangman by dying in prison. This is how Thomas Potts describes her in The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster:
She was a very old woman, about the age of Foure-score yeares, and had
been a Witch for fiftie yeares. Shee dwelt in the Forrest of Pendle, a vast
place, fitte for her profession: What shee committed in her time, no man
knowes. . . . Shee was a generall agent for the Devill in all these partes: no
man escaped her, or her Furies.

Once I read this, I fell in love. I had to write a book about this amazing woman. Bess became the guiding voice and power behind my new novel, Daughters of the Witching Hill.

Reading the trial transcripts against the grain, I was astounded how her strength of character blazed forth in the document written to vilify her. She freely admitted to being a healer and a cunning woman, and she instructed her daughter and granddaughter in the ways of magic. Her neighbors called on her to cure their children and their cattle. What fascinated me was not that Bess was arrested on witchcraft charges but that the authorities turned on her only near the end of her long, productive career. She practiced her craft for decades before anybody dared to interfere with her.

Bess’s life unfolded almost literally in my backyard. To do justice to her story, I had to go out onto the land—walk in her footsteps. Using the Ordinance Survey Map, I located the site of Malkin Tower, once her home. Now only the foundations remain. I board my beautiful Welsh mare at a stable near Read Hall, once home to Roger Nowell, the witchfinder and prosecuting magistrate responsible for sending Bess and the other Pendle Witches to their deaths. Every weekend, I walked or rode my mare down the tracks of Pendle Forest. Quietening myself, I learned to listen, to allow Bess’s voice to well up from the land. Her passion, her tale enveloped me.

History is a fluid thing that continually shapes the present. As a writer, I am obsessed with how the true stories of our ancestors haunt the land. Long after their demise, Bess and her fellow witches endure. This is their home, their seat of power, and they shall never be banished. By delving into their story, I have become an adopted daughter of their living landscape, one of many tellers who spin their unending tale.   
Mary Sharratt’s critically acclaimed novel Daughters of the Witching Hill is now available in paperback by Mariner. To learn more about Mary and the true history of the Pendle Witches, visit her online:

Book Trailer Fridays – Juliette Fay & Deep Down True

I’ve been meaning to blog all week, but I’ve been completely lost in my manuscript. It’s a good thing, but I get to the end of my writing day and I’m kind of shocked that I’m still me. It’s a little disorienting. Like watching a movie that’s completely engrossing and when it’s suddenly over, walking through the doors of the movie theatre back to the normal world seems surprising.

Or like the time The Other 1/4 watched the entire first season of Heroes around the same time that I did.

She called and said, “You know, the only thing I didn’t like about it –“

“–was when you stopped watching and didn’t have superpowers it was disappointing?” I said.

“Yeah,” she said. “Exactly.”

That’s what I’ve been feeling like every Tuesday and Thursday when I finish writing for the day. Not that my main character has superpowers, just that right now, even though she’s not real, I can’t get enough of her.

But this weekend, I’m taking a break from work, writing, and everything else – except laundry, because the clean clothes situation around here is a little dire – and planning a good old-fashioned reading binge. Hot tea, my electric throw blanket, and my HappyLites. I’m going to pretend like I’m not tired of winter and enjoy being cozy while the snow falls. Deep Down Truecame out this week and I’ve been dying to read it!

Here’s the description:

Newly divorced Dana Stellgarten has always been unfailingly nice–even to telemarketers–but now her temper is wearing thin. Money is tight, her kids are reeling from their dad’s departure, and her Goth teenage niece has just landed on her doorstep. As she enters the slipstream of post-divorce romance and is befriended by the town queen bee, Dana finds that the tension between being true to yourself and being liked doesn’t end in middle school… and that sometimes it takes a real friend to help you embrace adulthood in all its flawed complexity.

Here’s the trailer:

Deep Down True by Juliette Fay book trailer from Keiji Iwai on Vimeo.

And here’s what people are saying about Deep Down True:

“Heartwarming, funny, well-penned, unexpectedly suspenseful, this is a solid page-turner right through to the touching end.” –Booklist

“Familiar material gets sensitive treatment in this subtle novel. It expertly walks a heavily trodden path. ” –Publisher’s Weekly

“Sincere, powerful and heartfelt … the intricate dynamics of friendship and family are immediately recognizable.” –Emily Giffen, New York Times bestselling author of Heart of the Matter

You can learn more about Deep Down True on Juliette’s website.  Follow Juliette on Twitter @juliettefay.

What’s on your agenda this weekend?

Book Trailer Fridays – Kelly O’Connor McNees & The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

I read Little Women in fourth grade, and was completely and totally mesmerized.  It was the first book that made me feel like I was living inside the story while I read it, because I was so emotionally invested in the characters.  I’d enjoyed reading up until then, but Little Women is the book that made me a reader, and it’s still one of my all time favorites.

Little Women was also the book that sparked my interested in writers.  The woman behind the Little Women is just as interesting as the book itself.  Louisa May Alcott was a student of several members of the Transcendental Club, an abolitionist, and an advocate for women’s rights.  She died at the age of 55, but wrote over 270 books in her lifetime.

I love that Kelly O’Connor McNees has written a novel about what could have happened in Louisa May Alcott’s life to inspire the ending to Little Women.

Here’s part of the description:

“In her debut novel, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, Kelly O’Connor McNees deftly mixes fact and fiction as she imagines a summer lost to history, carefully purged from Louisa’s letters and journals, a summer that would change the course of Louisa’s writing career—and inspire the story of love and heartbreak between Jo and Teddy “Laurie” Laurence, Jo’s devoted neighbor and kindred spirit.”

Here’s the trailer:

And here’s what reviewers are saying about The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott:

“…The Lost Summer is the kind of romantic tale to which Alcott herself was partial, one in which love is important but not a solution to life’s difficulties. Devotees of Little Women will flock to this story with pleasure.” 

– The Washington Post

“… the book is so compelling and well written that I hated to see it end.”

– Historical Novels Review

“… McNees deftly combines historic figures and documented aspects of Louisa’s life with speculations about what might have been. Fans of Little Women may be first in line to read the novel, but the book will also appeal to others who enjoy historical romance.”

– Library Journal

Check out Kelly’s website, and follow her on Twitter!