Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Black Widows of Liverpool

Two sisters living in a rundown part of Liverpool decided on an easy way of improving their meagre circumstances - and paid with their lives.

In 1881, Thomas Higgins took his wife and ten year old daughter to take lodgings in the house of Catherine Flanagan who, along with her recently widowed sister, Margaret, lived at 5 Skirving Street in the Vauxhall area of the city. In doing so, Thomas had unwittingly signed the death warrants of his wife, child and, ultimately, himself.

Not long after they moved in, his wife died, and he must have sought solace in the arms of Margaret, for, on 28th October, 1882, the couple married. By the end of the following month, Thomas's daughter had joined her mother. On 22 October 1883, having recently increased his life insurance cover, Thomas died, apparently from dysentery, not uncommon in those days of poor sanitation and public health.

But Thomas's brother Patrick, believed something much more sinister was going on and contacted the doctor who had signed the death certificate with his suspicions. The coroner was alerted and Thomas's body was exhumed and examined. No trace of the disease was found and arsenic was proved to be the cause of death. Amazingly, this deadly poison could be found in most homes in those days - as one of the constituent ingredients of flypapers.

Motive? Simple. Money. Thomas was worth far more to the sisters dead than alive.

Following this gruesome discovery, three more bodies were exhumed. All had died recently, all had life insurance, and all had resided with the sisters. Catherine's own son, John, had netted his mother £71, a young female lodger had added £79 and Thomas's little daughter had returned a quick profit of nearly £22. Not inconsiderable sums in the 1880s. Post mortems revealed that every single one of them had died from arsenic poisoning.

Catherine Flanagan and Margaret Higgins were hanged on 3rd March 1884 for the four murders, but this may only have been the tip of the iceberg. It was found that four other women were involved in the scam (although not convicted of any involvement in the poisonings) and there may have been as many as seventeen victims.

The moral of this gruesome tale? Life insurance may not be good for your health!

You can read more about this fascinating story of dark deeds in Victorian Liverpool in Angela Brabin's book, The Black Widows of Liverpool:

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Hewhay Hall - The Challenge That Grew Into a Novel

Today I am delighted to hand over my blog to one of my favourite authors, Susan Roebuck, whose latest novel  - "Hewhay Hall" - has taken her into the realms of the paranormal.

Over to you, Sue:
 "Hewhay Hall”, my new novel, was born out of a challenge.

With just one or two prompts a group of friends and I challenged each other to write a story in a genre that we hadn’t tried before.

I opted for paranormal and I do believe I’ve found my niche.

It does make sense, when I think about it. I’ve read so much paranormal romance, dark gothic paranormal and horror. I devoured Stephen King’s early work (“Carrie”, “The Shining”) and Anne Rice’s Lestat the vampire novels. But my favorite book of all time is the “Gormenghast” Trilogy by Mervyn Peake (  It’s one of the few books I can read over and over because it’s populated by peculiar, quirky characters (think Swelter the cook and Steerpike the crook). With every read I peel another layer off and find pure genius underneath.

Back to that original challenge. We had just a couple of prompts: a house that the protagonist had never seen before, and a neighbor called Slater.

From just those two, I envisaged the whole novel. That’s how “Hewhay Hall” was born. Of the group, only two of us finished – me and Ute Carbone ( Ute’s “The Whisper of Time” is being published later this year.

It wasn’t so hard entering the paranormal genre. Some people may be surprised because I am a practicing Catholic. But that means I believe that there is great evil in this world and I also believe in the Afterlife - and therefore the supernatural.

I have no experience of seeing ghosts, although a medium once told me my grandmothers (who she described perfectly) and an aunt were all looking out for me. That’s been comforting to know so many times in my life. And my mother once witnessed the death of a neighbor which upset her greatly. Shortly after, she was in a supermarket and a complete stranger turned to her and told her that Jack (the neighbor) wanted my mother to know he was OK.

While I was writing “Hewhay Hall” it was strange trying to imagine an
evil, cruel and maniacal demon. I’m basically a peaceful person who hates violence, but I loved pushing my imagination to what is hopefully acceptable limits. The only drawbacks were the nightmares I had during the writing. Those characters just wouldn’t leave me alone.

Here's the blurb for Hewhay Hall:
An unsung hero's destiny--Slater's house of horrors.

Fire-fighter Jude Elliott loses part of his leg trying to rescue a family held hostage during a terrorist attack. He journeys to mysterious Hewhay Hall, where it is told there are wondrous, magical cures. Little does Jude know that his destination is Slater The Prince of Envy's lair where demons reside and courageous souls are tormented... Can Jude escape Slater's house of horrors, or will he suffer for all of eternity?

 Here's an extract:
Jude stared down the hill at the glint on the water and then across to the fields baked hard by weeks of sun. He’d followed the directions to the letter, so this was the right place. But where was Hewhay Hall?

A row of swallows balanced on a wire stretching overhead, each facing the same way as Jude, who rested against a five-bar gate. They too seemed to be eyeing the fallen tree trunks that littered the overgrown path down the rocky hillside. They were lucky—they could fly, but Jude had to hobble.

The air moved on the other side of the marshland. He didn’t imagine it. A definite ripple, the kind that alters your vision when a migraine’s about to start. Although the shift was fleeting, he had the idea something was down there after all, very faint and hard to describe. The outline of a building? Or maybe just heat haze. Whatever, he’d come this far—he’d go and investigate.

The latch and hinges on the gate were so rusted, Jude couldn’t open it. Nothing for it, then, but to climb over. He propped his crutches against the wooden bars, placed his hands on the top, and hauled himself up so his right leg got a footing on a lower rung. Now he could sit on the top. He bent down, picked up what was left of his other leg, and maneuvered it over until he straddled the gate. It creaked under his weight. As he swung his right leg over, he teetered, tried to grab the top bar but lost his balance and fell headlong into a bramble patch.

Prickles stabbed him as he lay on his back, his whirling gaze locked on a wiggly jet trail in the cloudless sky. Once the world righted itself, he pushed himself up on his elbows and extracted some of the more painful brambles before rolling onto his right knee. His bum in the air, he hoped no one was looking and that he retained a shred of dignity as he balanced on his right leg and wobbled his way upright. As he tried to stand, his knee locked. He was a second away from landing back on the ground but he grabbed an oak tree trunk for support.

Bloody hell. Wasn’t it about time they gave him a prosthesis? He bent to rub his stump, still raw after all this time. Why wasn’t he healing?

You can buy 'Hewhay Hall' here:
and you can find Susan Roebuck on her blog:

Thank you for being my guest today, Sue.  I wish you every success with 'Hewhay Hall'

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Finding The Extraordinary In The Ordinary - Ralph Hartman

 Today, I am delighted to host Ralph Hartman, author of one of my favourite paranormal books of the year, 'The Loosening'. I asked him about his interest in the paranormal. Here's his response (and thank you for the kind compliments, Ralph!):
 Thanks Cat for inviting me over. Thrilled to be here and humbled by your interest in my writing. I loved The Demons of Cambian Street and can only hope my stories will one day touch the bar you’ve set with yours.

We talked a little about the origins of story ideas and what my ‘take’ on the paranormal might be. I’ll be honest with you; I gave this some thought and came up blank. So... I figured I’d get some work done on my latest story and come back to your question when I wasn’t so preoccupied. I write purely by ‘the seat of my pants,’ an idea ghosts out and builds and takes me where ever it thinks I need to go. As words tumbled onto my monitor I realized I was answering (sort of) your question. For me, it kinda goes like this: I start with something totally ordinary...

...Talking with an individual one day and finding the interaction left me feeling drained and tired; I got to thinking how I felt as though my energy had been stolen from me. I wonder if a person could unknowingly be an energy thief. What is energy? Do we each have our own and it is possible...can it be taken from us and used somehow...? I imagined someone who had a connection with a stream of unconscious energy, and didn’t know it. A young man, tormented by a strange affliction...and so it begins:

It was the creepiest damned feeling. Something behind him, watching and waiting. Little spider legs crawling over his back, the sensation growing stronger as minutes ticked by. He sat frozen, fingers hovering over the keyboard, unable to move. Then, barely noticeable fingertips touching his hair and moving to the naked skin of his neck, at the nape, beneath his shirt collar. Cold lingered where the fingers touched. He shivered. The fingers lifted and touched down firmly on his right shoulder, once, twice...three times.

Tap... Tap... Tap...

It wanted him to turn around.

Soon enough another character enters the page; she’s here to teach my MC the art of meditation. He’s a little reluctant but he’s promised a friend, the meds aren’t working and he’s about ready to try anything. Next thing I know I’m writing a scene early in the story meant to lay a credible foundation for the incredible events which will certainly follow... This is really cool because now—I know what’s coming next.

It seemed he had two choices: close off or open up. He considered the two options and remembered his promise to Ashley. “I don’t understand,” he said. “I’m not too sure I get this whole thing about meditation and energy and stuff.”

     Cassandra stood to water in the seedlings. Water sprinkled from the bulbous, perforated sprinkler head, absorbed and taken into the soil. “Humankind has always sought to manage and understand their environment, both the physical and the spiritual. Early in our evolution we determined a need to explain what we could not control or understand. We invented supernatural beings and made them responsible for our welfare. Even so, we thought to influence these deities, these constructs of our innermost need to be special and unique amidst all other life, and sway the gods to favor us, spare us from the unknowable world.” She set the can down, empty, and sat cross-legged directly opposite Jeff.

 “Essentially every human being was born the same... It was our gods who were created unequally.” She paused at his expression, pursed her lips, and forged ahead, “We worshipped, lived in rapture or despair for many thousands of years. Placing our very existence firmly in the hands of our gods, our lives lived only to glorify theirs. As we moved across this world and encountered more of it and of each other, our gods were reinvented and evolved to explain the ever deepening mysteries of our world. They became whimsical and unknowable and as unfathomable as an earthquake or lightning in the sky. So began the time of prophets and priests as the bringers of truth and the facilitators of salvation.

“Now we had another reason to fight and go to war. Now we had those who spoke for our gods and against those of others. This was a time of kingdoms and new world orders, of servants and servitude, a hedonistic rush to convert and possess. But the priests proved unreliable, our gods deaf to the tithes offered; drought and flood came as before, and the priests were found to be corrupt and impotent. Then we found a new religion called science.
“Now we sought to explain the world in only its own terms. For many, life became nothing more than a magnificent rationalization, the discovery of sub-atomic particles an epiphany of understanding. Matter and energy is the same thing, Einstein taught us and we teach our children. We have the language of mathematics to explain chaos and computers to peer into the cosmos. And because of this we are more unsettled than ever before.”

Jeff shifted to relieve a cramp starting in his leg. A plane droned overhead. He could hear the soil sucking up the water, he looked at the base of a newly planted seedling to see the soil move and settle around the thin stalk. Cassandra watched him with her eyes hooded, a half-sad smile tugged at her lips. “So what’s it all mean?” he asked.



“Don’t you think someone somewhere, every second of every day, asks exactly that same question?”

“I dunno...” he shrugged, “I suppose...”

“What if,” she locked her eyes on him, impossible to look away, “the spirit world is real? What if it’s as real as the ground we’re sitting on?”

Jeff lifted his hands palms up and dipped his head.

”What if I show it to you?” she asked.

Now... I can go anywhere I want. And I’m going to. I’m going to follow Jeff wherever he takes me. Once I get there, and back again, I may have a novel worth sharing. But whether it finds its way to a publisher, or claims a space next to the others resigned forever to a trunk...I’ll let you know how it ends. 
What’s the paranormal all about, Catherine? I think it’s about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Wishing for you a wondrous multitude of imaginings,

'The Loosening' is available from Amazon  Barnes and Noble 
Kobo  and other online booksellers

Ralph's riveting psychological action suspense novel,'Ever Since' is also available from Amazon  Barnes and Noble
Kobo and other online booksellers

Both are published by Etopia Press.

'Rat Rod' - a contemporary YA paranormal novel - is due out later this year, from Musa Publishing

You can find Ralph on his website:
and on Facebook

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Rent an Ebook?

Both in the USA and UK, an increasing number of libraries are offering ebooks for download to their members and now an apparently new concept has been launched by the former MD of Waterstones - Tim Coates. 
 He has just announced the launch (in Britain) of his online bookshop, Bilbary and, in an article in the Daily Telegraph, has challenged publishers by saying that, owing to the lack of distribution costs, ebooks should retail for half the price of a printed book. As might be imagined, publishers have hit back, claiming that his argument is over simplified and much more than mere distribution costs need to be taken into consideration when pricing an ebook.

In addition to his controversial claim, Tim Coates has announced that Bilbary (to be opened next month) will offer a new concept by which readers can 'rent' an ebook. Needless to say, the major publishers have not yet bought into this, but he expects their attitude to change before too long.

Bilbary will, he says, also work in partnership with libraries, so that when a reader buys a book, money will go to their local library. Apparently, this system has been operating in the USA but, so far, not in the UK. He blames this on the way British libraries are run.

To read the full Daily Telegraph report, please click here:
So, what do you think? Is Tim Coates a visionary with a brilliant new business model - or he is about to fall flat on his face? 
Should Amazon be worried, or just let him get on with it? 
And is he right when he says that ebooks need only cost half as much as printed books?
Finally, what will all this mean to writers? Should we be encouraging or disparaging?

Thursday, 5 April 2012

I'm In The Lucky 7 Challenge!

Julia Kavan has tagged me in the Lucky 7 Sentences Challenge.
To participate, all you have to do is:

Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
Go to line 7
Post on your blog the next 7 lines, or sentences, as they are – no cheating
Tag 7 other authors to do the same"

So, here goes.

What follows is an excerpt from my latest manuscript, ‘Miss Abigail’s Room’ –  a creepy, Gothic horror novella set in a large English country house in 1896. Sam and Becky are two servants in a house where recent, unexplained events have proved disturbing:

Sam nodded. “Lord Stonefleet was always a big man. And he was imposing, with that great booming voice of his. He always seemed angry about something.”

“I know what you mean. ‘E’s ‘ardly recognizable these days. I reckon ‘e’s sickening for something.”

“He won’t see Dr. Stamford. I know. I tried. Tore me off a right strip he did.”

Becky paused in her sewing and gazed off into the distance. “Something in this ‘ouse is wrong, you know.”

 I now tag 7 authors:

Happy Easter everyone!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Dianne Hartsock's Encounters with the Paranormal

Today, I am delighted to welcome Dianne to my blog. She is the author of 'Alex' and 'Nathaniel' - two riveting books centred around characters with psychic abilities.
Here she tells us of her real-life spooky encounters:

 We have a ghost haunting the gift store where I work. Faucets will turn on when no one’s near them. Things will fall off shelves. A co-worker says a pair of scissors flew off a table and landed in the middle of the room in front of her eyes. I know she seemed shaken up when she came running over to tell me about it. Actually, I would consider this to be the work of a poltergeist, but since we don’t have an angst-ridden teenager working with us, it’s unlikely. But it does give me the shivers to imagine a specter creeping around the store trying to convey some sort of message. 

            About a year after I was first married, I was fast asleep one night, lost in dreams, when my husband suddenly shook my shoulder, waking me. I blinked in the darkness. What was going on? He climbed from the bed and quickly went into the other room. He returned a few minutes later and told me he had woken up and saw me standing beside the bed, not saying anything, just standing there. He called my name and the figure disappeared! That’s when he shook me. Imagine his surprise and confusion when he found me in bed. The apartment was empty when he searched it.
            When my daughter was four years old, I woke up one night to see her standing by the bed. Only she was a grown woman and began screaming at me, shrill and hateful words, full of anger. I couldn’t understand what she was saying, and then the woman simply vanished. To this day I don’t like sleeping facing the door just in case the woman returns.
            Can both instances be simple dreams? Perhaps, but my older sister tells the story of one night waking up when we were just kids to see a woman walking from bed to bed, looking down at the children sleeping. Then the woman vanished.
            I’m left wondering why this woman is in my life. To me, the paranormal adds a spice of the unknown and thrill of danger to the mundane. I’m fascinated by psychic phenomenon. The thought of telekinesis and mind reading, the power of the mind over matter, fills my world with wonder. What if it is true? What if there are people whose visions are real and dreams foretell the future? It’s this feeling of amazing possibility I try to capture in my writing. 

            My paranormal thriller novel, ALEX, is the story of an unwilling psychic. I wanted to create a character who, by his very nature, could suspend disbelief for the duration of a novel.
            With ALEX, I wondered what extreme circumstances could lead to his psychic ‘gift’. I decided it would have to start with his childhood. Alone and isolated, living with the anguish of an abusive parent, perhaps a person’s mind would expand, seeking escape from the sadness and loneliness of life. I believed his isolation would also make Alex hypersensitive to the people around him. He’d be empathetic to the point where he could sense and sometimes see the emotions of others. Their thoughts would leap to him in a wave of a sympathetic connection.
 After ALEX, I wanted to write something lighter, but keep the same psychic tone. And I wanted to make it a fantasy, a genre I’ve only dabbled in but thought it would fit what I wanted to do.  NATHANIEL is another story of a young man with psychic abilities. I wanted to put him in a fantasy book where his ‘gift’ would seem like magic to the people around him. They would fear him. Call him a witch and ultimately want to destroy him.
But of course, my stories always have to have a happy ending! So I gave Nathaniel a lover to stand by his side against his enemies, Taden is enchanted with the young magic user and falls in love with the vulnerable, beautiful man. In the end, Taden becomes Nathaniel’s hope.


Alex is twenty and confused. He always is. He hears the cries of children, the screaming women. He sees the brutal images of the tortured victims. Severely abused as a child, he is left with horrible scars on his body and even worse scars within his mind. Even though it puts him in danger, he’s compelled to help those who call to him. He’s driven, motivated by his visions to rescue them and uncover the killer. When he can, he helps the police; yet some detectives suspect he’s the cause of the problem, not the solution. Often, Alex finds himself alone and afraid in a world he doesn’t always comprehend.


From the moment Taden rescues Nathaniel from the Sutherlin soldiers’ torture, he finds himself caught in the gaze of the most beautiful eyes he’s ever seen; amazing eyes that hold him thrilled and confused. The Sutherlins are planning to invade the beautiful Tahon Valley, but as Taden secrets Nathaniel from their reach, he finds himself drawn to the young man. Not only does he feel the urge to protect him, but he feels an ache he hasn’t felt in many long years.

Nathaniel claims to be a traveler from a distant continent, saying he comes in peace. True or not, the youth has powers beyond anything Taden has seen—control over men and animals and the very weather. Taden falls hard for the strange traveler, protecting him not only from the Sutherlins but from his own mistrustful people, who don’t understand Nathaniel’s powers and accuse him of being a witch…

Thank you so much for having me as your guest, Cat! 

Feel free to contact me any time:
Dianne Hartsock