Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Bideford Witches

My 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.

They were not alone.

In England’s West Country, in the county of Devon, lies the charming seaside town of Barnstaple.

Peaceful enough now, but in 1682, the last women to be hanged for witchcraft were captured there, held in Exeter before being tried for their alleged crimes, convicted and then executed. The three were old, confused, poor and scared. This unhealthy combination appears to have been their downfall.

Rougemont Castle, where they were held prior to their trial, is now a picturesque ruin and tourist attraction, but back in the seventeenth century, it was a fortress, strong enough to withstand a siege and easily robust enough to house three feeble women.

 In fear for their lives, each of the women accused the other. Mary Trembles blamed Susannah Edwards for leading her astray. Susannah Edwards blamed Temperance Lloyd for precisely the same misdemeanour.

So what heinous crimes had these women committed that they should be sentenced to hang?

Temperance Lloyd stood accused of the murders by witchcraft of a number of people. Three women also testified that she had made them suffer by using the dark arts. Grace Thomas swore that on two occasions she had been tormented by stabbing pains. An account of her accusation reads:
'Sticking and pricking pains, as though pins and awls had been thrust into her body, from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet, and she lay as though it had been upon a rack.'

 A witness – Anne Wakely – claimed she had seen a magpie fly to Grace’s window and said Temperance Lloyd had told her that she was visited by a black bird that changed into a black man. Thomas Eastchurch, a shopkeeper, was Grace’s initial accuser and he added fuel to the fire by claiming he had heard Lloyd talking about the black man persuading her to go to Grace Thomas’s house to ‘pinch and prick her’.

While Lloyd denied harming Grace Thomas, her testimony was confused, as she did confess to having stabbed a piece of leather nine times – the exact number of times Grace Thomas claimed to have been stabbed. 

Two more women came forward to claim that they too had been harmed in similar fashion by Lloyd, who eventually admitted all charges - including charges of the murder of three local people and the blinding of another. She then claimed to have been a witch for over 20 years. She said she had sunk ships at sea. If she hadn’t been mentally unhinged before, it seems she certainly was by the time she was put in the cart to wheel her to the gallows. A contemporary report says, she was, "all the way eating, and seemingly unconcerned".

Mary Trembles and Susannah Edwards seem to have suffered guilt by associating with Temperance Lloyd. All three women were reported as being seen in each other’s company, begging. Whether by fair means or foul, confessions were obtained from all of them. Their trial took place on 19th August 1682 – exactly 70 years after the trial of the Lancashire Witches from Pendle.

In those 70 years, the political mood had changed and, even though condemned, most ‘witches’ were usually reprieved. Not in this case. The whole area was alive with speculation and interest, The witches were popularly convicted. To reprieve them now could lead to civil unrest. No reprieve was granted and all three hanged. As she was about to die, Temperance Lloyd was asked if she believed in Jesus Christ. She replied, "Yes, and I pray Jesus Christ to pardon all my sins." She then calmly accepted her fate.
Judge Sir Thomas Raymond had directed the Jury that,
"these three poor women were weary of their lives, and that he thought it proper for them to be carried to the Parish from whence they came, and that the Parish should be charged with their Maintenance; for he thought their oppressing poverty had constrained them to wish for death".
The local populace thought differently. Their will prevailed.
In 1685, a fourth woman – Alice Molland – was also tried, convicted and sentenced to death but, unlike the other three, no actual record exists of her being hanged, although she is mentioned in a plaque on the wall of the ruined gatehouse:

The Devon Witches. In memory of Temperance Lloyd, Susannah Edwards, Mary Trembles, of Bideford, died 1682, Alice Molland, died 1685, the last people in England to be executed for witchcraft, tried here & hanged at Heavitree*. In the hope of an end to persecution and intolerance.


Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Welcome Blithe Spirit... with Shehanne Moore

The great horror writer, Ramsey Campbell, said recently that, in his opinion, writers should make a point of reading outside the genre in which they normally work. I concur wholeheartedly. You can become jaded and even a little one dimensional if you don't spread yourself about a bit. 

For me, when I'm not reading horror, I frequently grab an historical novel. I can't be doing with bodice-rippers or heaving bosoms and maidens fainting all over the place (probably because their corsets are cutting off the oxygen to their brain).

Step forward Shehanne Moore. When she's not reading historical fiction, she frequently picks up a ghost story or a horror novel. I like to think it's that muse that sits at her shoulder while she creates the gutsiest, sassiest heroines in some of the strongest historical storylines it has been my pleasure to read in recent years. This week, she's launching her latest - The Writer and the Rake. You can get a flavour of the story later in this post.

Now, she takes over my blog to talk about one of her favourite topics. Ghosts.

Take it away, Shey!

 Do ghosts wander the face of the earth? (Asks she on a horror writer’s blog.)  And if they do, would they be welcomed? I guess that depends on the writer. Noel Coward certainly turned the idea into a farce in Blithe Spirit, when the dead wife turns up. 

 Daphne du Maurier did something quite different with Rebecca.  Rebecca may not appear as a ghost but her presence clings to every scene. And there is no doubt she casts a huge shadow over her husband, Max.  And yes, I welcome both these ‘spirited’ ladies because I find them much more interesting than the wives currently in situ, although I might not say that if they came to tea.

Ghosts are said to be restless spirits and the interesting thing is that they exist in every culture, ancient ones especially. Look at the idea of Halloween being the Day of the Dead, where  people left spaces at the table for their loved ones who were no longer with them. 

 Ghosts are invariably bound up with the idea of an afterlife—blame the Greeks for the Underworld, and rivers that we cross. But what if we don’t? Because also invariably, ghosts have unfinished business. 

The heroine of my new release

is not a ghost but she does go to bed in 2017 and wake up in 1765. And, after her initial, ‘it’s a dream and think of the book she can write from this, scenario’ she comes to the conclusion that her ex fiancĂ© has murdered her in her sleep, after she moved into his spare room  with a random guy, in a bid to get her name off a joint mortgage. (As you do.) The afterlife, of course, isn’t what she thinks—how do any of us really know what it might or might not be?—but she is certain that the possibility of getting back to haunt her ex isn’t that daft. Just think about the kind of ‘dead’ person you might be here in terms of unfinished business. Is there anyone you would want to haunt and why? 

While there’s not any ghosts in the book, I suppose that the spirit of the hero’s first wife—where did I get this idea about wives?—hangs over him. I never thought about that when I was writing it. But he never loved her, she hated him, but his family insisted on the match when he was too young to argue. Okay and he’d er… got a servant into trouble. Because of that he’s gone to hell in a handcart since. Her clothes, her shoes, are all lovingly kept by their son, Fleming, who resembles her in every way and consequently is the daily reminder that everyone holds him responsible for her death. 

As if that’s not enough about  ‘ghosts’ in someone’ s life, because let’s face it, we don’t need to see or feel them, they don’t even need to be there, for the dead’s influence to taunt and haunt from beyond the grave, her sister, Christian, went and married the hero’s old uncle. Why? So she can stop him inheriting what is rightfully his, of course. And not just that. She has the  ’hots.’ 

To say 

is saying how much he is capable of sinning, because he’s plenty sinned against.  

 Here’s an extract from where Brittany, having fallen out a first floor window and broken a priceless Ming dynasty vase in a bid to escape the carriage she thinks had come to take her to hell, does a quick bit of re-thinking.  You can tell that despite the title of this post she’s not welcome….

Thank you so much Catherine for asking me to your wonderful blog. I am a huge fan of your wonderful horror books and your blog.

“Wife? Mitchell?” 

As Christian spoke, Brittany strove to look composed, serene. She’d fallen down the rope, somehow broken that vase, nearly broken her neck, except she couldn’t break her neck. She’d already been murdered by Sebastian. These things were bad enough. Had she mentioned that Mitchell Killgower was transfixed with horror?

She is not—”

“But she is very, very nice, Aunt Christian, the mother I never had, so we are all getting along . . .getting along quite famously in fact.”

Brittany struggled to her feet, dug in her pocket, fished out her fags. What a bloody awful thing it was being dead. Even her fag was so bent, getting it between her lips was such a mammoth task, it took three attempts. Five if she counted keeping her hand steady enough to ping her lighter and suck long and hard, wreathing herself in delicious, such needed smoke. She sucked even harder, while she considered her next move. It wasn’t biting her nails, or being pushed into the carriage. She’d a new slant on the carriage. The fag was just what she needed to find her cool and face down whatever these things were. She’d already come to think, ‘ghoul one’ and ‘ghoul two.’ Mitchell made it ‘ghoul three.’

 “Are you sure your new mother is nice, dear, only . . . only she looks . . . Well, I really don’t know what to say.” 

“Believe me, darling, the feeling’s mutual.”

                Mitchell‘s eyes were icy as polar caps. “May I say, for the benefit of those who are hard of hearing, this woman is not—” 

“Your wife?” The uncle’s shining, silver cravat pin nearly pinged from his cravat. He grasped his cane so tightly his knuckles were white as his hair.  “I should sincerely hope not. You know our terms and conditions on that. If this is the best you can do, then we should redraw our will now. Unless you’re going to try telling us she’s Fleming’s wife?”

“Well, Uncle, now that you come to mention it. At sixteen, it is about time. Half the boys in the county, if not the country, are already—” 

              “Oh, really? Mitchell . . .” Brittany took a deep breath and pinged her fag beneath the withered hydrangea. The afterlife wasn’t what she’d thought. If this wasn’t heaven, or hell, then it was some sort of place of atonement. Look at all these ghostly shrubs and trees for a start and those stone dragons poking out of the walls. 

              Ghosts did wander the face of the earth. These must be the ones with unfinished business who’d managed back. She wouldn’t rest till she’d done whatever it took to do that and make Sebastian’s life hell. Mitchell would know the way. Whatever this was about, put out her hand to the weary traveller and he’d owe her big time. Besides why should she suffer all these stinging cuts to her pride? She was the perfect homemaker. Look at all these rugs and pot plants she’d bought for Sebastian’s. The ones he’d thrown at her when there were rows.

            “All right, you win. So you were right. Your aunt and uncle can’t take a joke, but are you really going to let them talk to me like this? We both know I was locked in that room by . . . by a certain person and that person wasn’t you, my dearest. With hardly any clothes to speak of too? All for a joke? Hmm? Fleming, what do you have to say? Let’s hope it’s interesting?”

            “No, I never. How would I do that?”

             “Very, very easily, darling. Don’t lie to your great-uncle. It’s so unbecoming when he’s such a nice man.”

             “You mean, Fleming, you never had any clothes on either?”

              Fleming flushed scarlet. “Uncle. They took my clothes. They put me out wearing a bed sheet.”

              “But, you just said to your great aunt that your new mother was very nice. Well? Which is it to be? Are you lying to me, boy?” 

             “She . . . she is nice, Uncle Clarence. But, I didn’t lock her in my room. How could I?”

 The Writer and the Rake

1765 had bugger all to recommend it. 

He saw her coming. If he’d known her effect he'd have walked away.

When it comes to doing it all, hard coated ‘wild child’ writer, Brittany Carter ticks every box. Having it all is a different thing though, what with her need to thwart an ex fiancĂ©, and herself transported from the present to Georgian times. But then, so long as she can find her way back to her world of fame, and promised fortune, what's there to worry about?

Georgian bad boy Mitchell Killgower is at the center of an inheritance dispute and he needs Brittany as his obedient, country mouse wife. Or rather he needs her like a hole in the head. In and out of his bed he’s never known a woman like her. A woman who can disappear and reappear like her either. 

And when his coolly contained anarchist, who is anything but, learns how to return to her world and stay there, will having it all be enough, or does she underestimate him...and herself?  

Thank you so much for being my guest today, Shey!