Monday, 9 February 2015

The Witches' Tower

My new novel – The Pendle Curse – has some of its roots in a true story. In August 1612, ten men and women were convicted, in Lancaster, England, of crimes related to witchcraft and subsequently hanged on Gallows Hill. They became known to history as the Pendle Witches.

Prior to their execution, a number of them were incarcerated in one of the most vile, degrading and appalling places imaginable. It lay within Lancaster Castle, reached by a flight of stone steps below ground. It was known as The Well Tower, or Witches’ Tower.

 This part of the ancient castle was built in around 1325, so it was already nearly 300 years old when Alizon Device was shoved down there, along with her grandmother, to be chained up with their hated neighbours and rivals, Anne Redferne and her mother. They would have been kept in a vaulted stone-flagged underground dungeon, along with around fifteen prisoners. Between the date of their imprisonment at the end of March, until the day after they were found guilty in mid-August, at least one died down there – Alizon’s grandmother, Elizabeth Sothernes, also known as Demdike. Ten were subsequently hanged.

Conditions must have been deplorable. The prisoners were chained to the floor, unable to move around with any ease, cramped together in a space hardly big enough for half their number. There was no sanitation and the dungeon was dark, with walls that dripped water – and other substances. The tower containing the dungeon also contained two wells. Nearby, was a burial site, and it was said that liquid and fatty material from the decomposing bodies added to the moisture seeping into the accused’s prison. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to picture the way these poor wretches existed.

Lancaster Castle is no longer a prison, but its bloody history and legacy remain. More people were sentenced to death at the assizes here than at any other court outside London and, for that dubious distinction, Lancaster became known as ‘The Hanging Town.’

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Pendle Witch Child

My new novel – The Pendle Curse – has some of its roots in a true story. In August 1612, ten men and women were convicted, in Lancaster, England, of crimes related to witchcraft and subsequently hanged on Gallows Hill. They became known to history as the Pendle Witches. The trial was faithfully and uniquely (for the time) recorded by clerk of the court, Thomas Potts and then published in his book, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster.
One factor of the case has resonated down the years for reasons which could not have been foreseen at the time. Eighty years later – in 1692 – in a town thousands of miles from the wild, rugged Lancashire countryside, another trial took place. In Salem, Massachusetts. 

Here, between June and September, nineteen men and women were carted off to be hanged at a location also known as Gallows Hill, but the name of their place of execution wasn’t the only thing the two sets of trials had in common.
In both trials, the testimony of a child was crucial to the success of the prosecution. The Lancashire Witch trials broke new ground in allowing and conducting testimony from an under- age minor. In Salem, they had Mr Potts’s handbook on how to do it.

 It is not certain how old Jennet Device was when she testified against her mother, brother and sister, as well as their friends and their bitter rivals. She is variously recorded as having been nine, eleven or thirteen but, by all accounts, she was under the age of fourteen - until then seen as the youngest permissible age at which reliable testimony could be allowed in court.

So, who was she and why did she do it? 

Jennet Device was the youngest (most likely illegitimate) child of widowed Elizabeth Device and lived with her older brother, James, older sister Alizon, younger brother William, and grandmother (Elizabeth Southerns, known locally as ‘Demdike’, or demon woman).

The women in her family were the local ‘wise women’ of the area. Their knowledge of herbs and ability to fashion ‘cures’ for ailments of both animals and humans, made them a meagre income, which they supplemented with begging, but their bitter rivals were another family – Anne Whittle (known as Chattox, for her chattering teeth) and her daughter Anne Redferne. Each family had their own set of clients and woe betide anyone if they stole one of them. Whether these families had special powers or not, they certainly seem to have believed they did. Under the witch-hating King James I, they laid themselves wide open to accusations of witchcraft, but none could have suspected their chief accuser would come from within their own ranks.

When questioned by the judge as to Jennet’s age, Roger Nowell responded that she was “old enough”.

At the trial, Jennet could not be heard over the rowdy audience. Nor could she be seen, as she was so small. A table was brought in and she stood on it before pointing her finger, as directed by the chief prosecutor - the ambitious local magistrate, Roger Nowell. When prompted, Jennet said, "My mother is a witch and that I know to be true. I have seen her spirit in the likeness of a brown dog, which she called Ball. The dog did ask what she would have him do and she answered that she would have him help her to kill.” 

She then went on to give evidence of a witches’ sabbat, allegedly held on Good Friday of 1612. “At 12 noon about 20 people came to our house - my mother told me they were all witches."

Her mother screamed out that the child didn’t know what she was saying and then rounded on Jennet herself. The child demanded her mother be removed from the court. Then Jennet continued with her testimony and condemned all her remaining family – with the exception of little William – to the gallows.

Why would she do such a thing? We will never know for sure of course. She may have been the only illegitimate child in the family (although she did have a younger brother) and something of an outcast. Maybe she was exacting revenge. We cannot discount the influence of Roger Nowell who may have persuaded her that this was the only way to save herself from a similar fate to that of her family. 

Whatever her motivation, Jennet disappeared from history - only to reappear in 1633 when she herself stood accused of crimes relating to witchcraft. In a bitter twist of fate, she was accused at her trial (along with sixteen others) by a ten year old boy - Edmund Robinson. The precedent she had unwittingly set came back to haunt her.

Jennet was found guilty and imprisoned in Lancaster Castle, where her family had been. But times had changed and the verdict was overturned by the Privy Council some time later. Edmund Robinson admitted her had lied, saying he had been influenced by accounts of the Pendle Witch trials. Jennet was free to leave prison – except for one overriding problem. Guilty or innocent, prisoners had to pay for their board, or must remain incarcerated until they could. For Jennet this would have been impossible. She was last heard of in 1636. Still in prison.

 Now, here’s the blurb for The Pendle Curse:

Four hundred years ago, ten convicted witches were hanged on Gallows Hill. Now they are back…for vengeance.

Laura Phillips’s grief at her husband’s sudden death shows no sign of passing. Even sleep brings her no peace. She experiences vivid, disturbing dreams of a dark, brooding hill, and a man—somehow out of time—who seems to know her. She discovers that the place she has dreamed about exists. Pendle Hill. And she knows she must go there. But as soon as she arrives, the dream becomes a nightmare. She is caught up in a web of witchcraft and evil…and a curse that will not die.

Here’s a short extract from the beginning:

His spirit soared within him and flew up into the storm-clad sky as blackness descended and the rain became a tempest. 

He flew. Lost in a maelstrom of swirling mists. Somewhere a baby cried until its sobs became distorted, tortured roars. Beyond, a black void loomed. He saw Alizon’s spirit just ahead and tried to call out to her, but his voice couldn’t reach her. 

Beside him, another spirit cried out. His mother. He flinched at her screams before they were drowned in the mass—that terrible parody of some hideous child. 

The blackness metamorphosed. An amorphous shape formed as his eyes struggled to see with their new vision—the gift of death. Small baby limbs flailed towards him. Eyes of fire flashed as a toothless mouth opened. Screeching, roaring and demanding to be fed. Demanding its mother.

His spirit reached out for his lover. Tried to pull her back. “Alizon!” 

She turned anguished eyes to him. “It calls to me.” 

He recognized it instantly. The blazing fire. The devil child. That cursed infant had come for them. 

Again he reached out with arms that no longer felt connected to him, but he was powerless to stop Alizon being swept away, deep into the abomination’s maw. 

“No!” His cry reverberated around him—a wail of anguish in a sea of torment. 

Then…silence. Only he remained, drifting in swirling gray mists of time. 

“I will find you, sweet Alizon. One day I will find you. And I will find the one who betrayed us.” 

From somewhere, he heard an echo…

 You can buy The Pendle Curse here:

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Funny Fear - with Chantal Noordeloos

When I read the fabulously scary Angel Manor recently, I was hooked. I knew I had to invite the author - Chantal Noordeloos - to be a guest on my blog. I gave her free rein to write about anything that took her fancy. Here's what she chose and I'm so glad she did. I'll never look at a bowl of chili in quite the same way ever again...

Horror and comedy have a lot in common. 

Stop looking at me like that, I see you raise your eyebrows at me. Let me explain. 

Both genres are a lot more sensitive to personal preference than most other genres. With every horror or comedy I’ve discussed, someone has always said “it didn’t scare me” or “Not my kind of humor.” 

I’ve never heard anyone say whilst discussing romance or science fiction, for example, ‘why, that’s just not romantic’, or ‘that’s just wasn’t science fiction enough’. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe people say that every day, just not to me.

Anyway… I’m digressing. (Bear with me, I do that a lot).

So… ehm, where was I? Oh right, comedy… 

Making someone laugh isn’t easy, any comedian will tell you. Humor is so specific; what you find funny can bore the living daylights out of me, and vice versa. 

Fear is the same way. 

Let me use Angel Manor as an example (yes, I am shamelessly plugging my own book, and what you don’t know is that this text is riddled with subliminal messages that will get you to buy my books). 

*coughs* What was I saying? Oh right, Angel Manor. I’ve written a lot of short horror stories, some were just dark and creepy, whilst others were downright disgusting. I like to play around with a lot of different ideas. But writing short stories is different to writing a novel. Tension is easy to maintain if it’s only 4000 words, if the word count is 112,000, it’s a whole new kettle of fish.

 My personal preference in horror is to have a good mixture between action and character development.  I decided to be rather explicit on the ‘gore’. To me it suited the setting and the story, so I ran with it. I’ve had a really wide range of responses to my more explicit scenes, they got under the skin of some readers. Someone actually wondered what was ‘wrong’ with people for wanting to read something this nasty. I’ve had comments that readers were afraid to turn off the lights after reading the book. One person told me they had nightmares, and another person told me they didn’t dare reading it at night. At the same time there were readers who would shrug and scoff, making sure to tell me that they didn’t find what I wrote scary at all. 

 And there you have it… different strokes for different folks.
It’s not up to me to decide what is scary or not. Don’t get me wrong, I would like to scare the heebie-jeebies out of my readers (well, when I write horror anyway), but if I only focus on that, I would get a lot of disappointed readers, because I honestly wouldn’t know how to scare ‘everyone’.

That’s why I concentrate on the story, and leave it up to the reader what emotions they take away from the book. To me, writing horror isn’t any different than writing any other genre, I focus on the same elements. 

 I’m in the mood for a metaphor, so let’s compare a horror novel to a bowl of chili con carne. (I’m doing this because I’m hungry, just go with me on this, okay?) The plot is the protein, the mince, sausage, bacon… whatever you want to put in your particular chili. There will be layers, so different proteins. The main characters are the beans and the minor characters are the vegetables. Some like a lot of vegetables and different beans in their chili, some like to keep it simple. The horror elements the spices and chili to add a bit of a distinct flavor to the dish. It’s this flavor that makes all the difference. Let’s say graphic description is like a habanera chili. You can add as much or as little as you like. If you put a lot of habanera in your chili, it will be hot. Serving it to different people you’ll get different reactions. Some will like the spice, some’ll think it’s a little too spicy, or even far too hot, and others believe that you made the chili too mild. So all you can hope for is that the chili that’s underneath the spice is tasty enough for most to at least sort of like it. Those who prefer to eat really hot chili can still enjoy the flavor of a well constructed one, but they’ll always wish you added more habanera. The only people you will probably alienate are those who don’t like chili at all.

 Now, let’s stop talking in food metaphors. I’m sorry I let my stomach rule the metaphor in this one. The point is: write a good story. It still won’t please everyone. You can’t please everyone. No matter how hard you try, no matter how much you want to, there will always be people who won’t like your work. The personal preference in horror and comedy just make it more likely that you stumble across people who don’t like your work.
There is no universal joke that everyone in the world will enjoy, and there is no universal fear. One of my friends called comedy the ‘ugly redheaded child of the writing world’, and I think horror is probably the creepy kid who eats his own boogers. They are often misunderstood. 

Luckily for snot eater and unattractive ginger, they are still loved by many.

Now, I shall leave you to ponder over your personal horror or comedy preference, while I go and cook some chili. I have a strange craving for it.

Thank you, Chantal!  I really enjoyed your visit, so please stop by again soon. In the meantime, here are some internet haunts where we can connect with you:

Chantal has some brilliant books out there - in addition to Angel Manor. Here are some 'buy' links:

Angel Manor:

Amazon US 
 Amazon UK

Even Hell Has Standards:

Amazon US 
Amazon UK 

Deeply Twisted

Amazon US 
Amazon UK 

Science Fiction:

Coyote - The Outlander

Amazon US 
Amazon UK 

Coyote - The Clockwork Dragonfly

Amazon US