Sunday, 28 June 2020

The Cornish Witches of Saveock

My new novella – The Malan Witch – takes place in a remote coastal area not unlike Cornwall. It is peaceful, tranquil – except for the activities of two of the most evil witches you could ever encounter. The sisters were burned centuries earlier for their crimes, but the site of their former home is soaked in their heinous, demonic practices.

Mercifully, these two devil sisters never actually walked the earth, but the practice of witchcraft most certainly did – and indeed does – exist. Thankfully, in most cases we are talking about good or so-called white magic. Indeed, in centuries past, most (if not all) witches executed in various torturous ways were guilty of nothing more than being ‘wise women’ who knew a thing or two about how herbs and natural remedies worked. Then one day they upset one of their neighbours and, before you could light a candle, they would find themselves being poked and prodded for the infamous ‘witch marks’. Anything would suffice – a small mole, a wart, a tiny patch of eczema. Most of us have something the witch hunter would proclaim was a mark of the devil.

In Cornwall,  a coven of witches managed to evade detection, maintain their secrecy and continue practising their benevolent craft from the 1640s until at least the 1970s. Archeologist Dr. Jacqui Wood discovered pits lined with animal skins, carcasses of birds and feathers which, it is believed formed part of a fertility ritual.

The site is in a tiny hamlet called Saveock near Truro where two unmarried women lived, practising their craft and passing on its secrets. They were believed to be part of that secret coven until they died in the 1980s. The most recent of the small pits used synthetic orange baler twine only used in Cornwall since the 1970s, while the earliest witch pit dates back to the 1640s and is lined with a slaughtered swan (the bird symbolizing fertility), which had been turned inside out.  Claws belonging to other bird species and a small pile of stones were also found in it. The killing of swans has been illegal since the 11th century.

Other pits are lined with the skins of cats and dogs along with bird’s eggs containing soon-to-be-hatched chicks.

Dr Wood believes the pits were dug by young women desirous of becoming pregnant and could be an offering to St Brigid of Kildare in Ireland – the patron saint of newborn babies.

All in all, carbon dating has revealed that the site has been in continuous use since the 1640s, and there are over forty pits – each one unique, but all roughly the same size, measuring 42cm long x 35cm wide and 17cm deep. Dr Wood believes it is highly probable that members of the coven are still active today.

That this coven has managed to continue to exist despite contravening laws of the land and the prevailing prejudices of the times bears testament to the determination of a dedicated group of women who, no doubt, passed on their secrets from mother to daughter – with not one weak link.

Naught remained of their bodies to be buried, for the crows took back what was theirs.’

An idyllic coastal cottage near a sleepy village. What could be more perfect? For Robyn Crowe, borrowing her sister’s recently renovated holiday home for the summer seems just what she needs to deal with the grief of losing her beloved husband.

 But behind those pretty walls lie many secrets, and legends of a malevolent sisterhood - two witches burned for their evil centuries earlier. Once, both their vile spirits were trapped there. Now, one has been released. One who is determined to find her sister. Only Robyn stands in her way.

 And the crow has returned.

 You can pre-order The Malan Witch here:


Thursday, 21 May 2020

Games to (Seriously) Raise Your Blood Pressure

In The Garden of Bewitchment – my latest novel – a seemingly innocent and exquisite toy hides a deadly presence. It seeks out those it wishes to possess and they have no choice on the matter. You do. Run like hell away from these games or suffer the consequences.

Not convinced? Oh, all right then, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Let’s start with this one:

Dry Bones

In this game you will summon a demon and you’ll need matches, a candle and a room with a mirror (yes, the bathroom is frequently the room of choice).

Turn off all the lights in your house or apartment, or wherever you are doing this. Light your candle and enter the room with the mirror and make sure it is exactly 12:01a.m..

Stare hard into the mirror and you will begin to see changes. The mirror may ripple, appear cloudy, or it might shimmer a little. Whatever happens, you will see an image, other than yourself, take form. Don’t expect horns and a tail – this isn’t a painting by Hieronymus Bosch, this is real life.

Okay, your demon is looking back at you. Tell him, ‘I acknowledge your presence and welcome you into my home for a game of Hide and Seek until 3a.m. Come in now.’

Time is now of the essence. As soon as you utter the last word, get out of there and, as quietly as you can, find your hiding place (a bit of research beforehand is advisable. Now is not the time to discover you can’t actually fit under the bed). Make sure you find the best possible hiding place because your life and soul depend upon it. If he finds you, you’ve had it – and not in a nice way either. It won’t be pretty.

If somehow you manage to survive until 3.00a.m. without being caught, get yourself to the largest room in the building and announce that the game is over and the demon is no longer welcome in your home. You’ll probably hear him go and the sound he makes could well be right behind you. Be prepared.

Right before he leaves, he will have to grant any one (realistic) wish – material or otherwise – that you want.

The next game sounds quite similar but, for this one, you’re going to need a soft fabric doll.

Solo Hide and (Go) Seek

This time around you’re going to summon a spirit – which will enter the doll. Yes, Annabelle immediately springs to most horror fans’ minds, I’m sure. Your game of Hide and (Go) Seek will be played with this demon-possessed toy. Warning to doll lovers – this contains details of graphic violence performed against a defenceless doll.

If The Conjuring franchise hasn’t served to convince you that playing around with this stuff is a seriously Bad Thing, then here goes:

Your tools of the trade, in addition to Annab…um…I mean a soft fabric doll, include:

Pair of scissors

Clippings from your own nails and/or hair

Red thread and a needle


Salt water in a cup

The best hiding place you can find, with a television

The action begins late at night in your bathroom, so go there, armed with all your tools – and don’t forget to name your doll (don’t use your own name).

In your bathroom, you are now going to use your scissors to disembowel your doll. Remove all the stuffing from it and refill it with the rice and clippings

Sew the doll back up (that’s what the red thread and needle are for). Don’t worry about cross stitch, embroidery or whatever, just sew it back up. Use any remaining thread to tie up the doll.

Run a deep bath of water, put your doll on the edge of the sink and take your scissors and cup of salt water with you to your amazingly-difficult-to-find hiding place. Put the cup of water and the scissors on the floor and wait.

At 3a.m., call out to the doll, ‘*insert doll’s name here* is it’ three times.

Return to the bathroom and immerse the doll in the water-filled bath and turn off all the lights in your home.

Go back to your hiding place. Turn on the TV, close your eyes and count to ten. Pick up the scissors and return to the bathroom. The doll should still be there. Say to it, ‘I found you, *insert doll’s name here*’ and stab the doll with the scissors, put it back on the sink ledge and run back to your hiding place, leaving the scissors behind in the bathroom.

Remain silent. Your TV may flicker, or turn off and on. If so, the spirit is near and in the doll. After a few minutes, take half the salt water in your mouth but DO NOT SWALLOW. Taking your cup with you, return to the bathroom where you should hopefully see the doll. If not, you will have to search for it.

When you find the doll, pour the rest of the salt water over it and spit the water in your mouth onto it.

Tell it, ‘I win’ three times and the game is over. Dry the doll, burn it. If anything remains, pour salt onto it and throw it away, far from your home.

When playing this game, always ensure your doors are unlocked so you can escape quickly if you need to. Also it is worth alerting neighbours to look out for anything suspicious. Lining the doorway of the room you are hiding in with natural salt, as well as keeping some of it with you, is a good idea.

Finally, if you are crazy enough to play this game, it is probably a good idea to seek serious psychiatric help – if you survive.

Sara Sarita

Two of you can play this game.

Sit on the floor opposite a friend and say, ‘Sara Sarita, may we join your game?’

Each of you then tosses a coin in the air. If you both get heads, the answer is ‘yes’. If both get tails, the answer is ‘no’. If you get a head and a tail, the answer is ‘maybe’. Only a ‘yes’ is an invitation to proceed.

Once this is achieved, you can ask Sara Sarita any question you like, tossing the coins to get an answer of ‘no’, ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’. Needless to say, you cannot ask a question that cannot be answered by any of these three responses.

The game finishes when you and your friend get bored (probably five minutes later) BUT you must ask Sara Sarita if you can end the game and you may have to carry on if she says ‘no’ or ‘maybe’. Failure to wait until she says ‘yes’ could have serious consequences for your sanity.

Have fun out there!

Don’t play the game.

 In 1893, Evelyn and Claire leave their home in a Yorkshire town for life in a rural retreat on their beloved moors. But when a strange toy garden mysteriously appears, a chain of increasingly terrifying events is unleashed. Neighbour Matthew Dixon befriends Evelyn, but seems to have more than one secret to hide. Then the horror really begins. The Garden of Bewitchment is all too real and something is threatening the lives and sanity of the women. Evelyn no longer knows who - or what - to believe. And time is running out.

 Flame Tree Press


Barnes and Noble

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Don't Open The Medicine Cabinet!

The sad, but true, story of Ruthie Mae McCoy – whose murder inspired Candyman

You’ve seen the movie, Candyman? Classic horror, and it had to be supernatural fiction. I mean no one could enter someone’s apartment through their bathroom medicine cabinet, could they?

Well apparently they could. In the high rise apartment buildings in Chicago’s South Projects, there was a building flaw so serious that it led to at least one well documented murder.

The 52 year old woman called Ruthie Mae McCoy lived on her own in apartment 1109 on the eleventh floor of the Grace Abbott House in Chicago’s notorious ABLA housing project, where violence was rife, fights broke out on a regular basis and break-ins were common. The police were called frequently but often, according to residents, never bothered to turn up. People thought they were afraid to. Maybe that was true - this was a scary place to live. But they did have a host of hoax calls from there.
Ruthie Mae had her own set of problems. She was receiving outpatient care for her many psychiatric problems and was hardly the most popular of residents. She would swear at neighbours, talk to herself in the street and was generally someone people steered clear of. She lived her life  in a state of perpetual terror and, living where she had for four years could hardly have helped. No wonder she felt the need to shout on occasions. As far as immediate neighbours went, there was only one other occupied apartment on her floor.

Neighbours did note though that Ruthie Mae seemed to be making an effort to turn her life around in the months before her tragic murder. Gone were the old bag lady clothes and the cussing out. She seemed to be eating better, dressing better and generally behaving in a much more pleasing, friendly manner. She had also enrolled in classes to try and better educate herself.

One day, in a van on her way back from the psychiatric unit at Mount Sinai Hospital, she confided in a fellow passenger. “Someone has threatened my life.” 

The passenger urged her to seek help but Ruthie Mae said she didn’t want to involve anyone else. Instead she returned home to a building where elevators frequently broke down, drug addicts roamed the corridors and she had to walk down a long, lonely, often dark corridor to reach her apartment. This was a horror story waiting to happen.

On an April night in 1987, the police received an emergency call from a clearly frightened woman, Ruthie Mae McCoy, "I'm a resident at 1440 West 13th St. and some people next door are totally tearing this down, you know… They throwed the cabinet down.”

Further questioning by the despatcher revealed that the cabinet Ruthie was referring to was in her bathroom and that the way the building was constructed meant that the back of her cabinet also formed the back of the cabinet in the next door apartment. It was indeed possible for someone to break in that way and, in fact, it wasn’t the first time a breaking and entering had been facilitated in this way.

A total of six police officers in three cars arrived at the high rise building, after two neighbours had called 911 reporting the sound of gunshots coming from Ruthie Mae’s apartment. Four of the officers banged on her door but there was no reply. Two more police officers were waiting downstairs. They drove over to the project office to fetch a key. When they arrived back and tried it, it didn’t fit. They called Ruthie Mae’s telephone and, from the hallway, heard it ring and ring. No answer.

They now debated whether or not to break the door down – an action which could have serious repercussions if taken without good reason. Once again, they contacted the project office. The janitor answered but said he had no other key for that apartment. 

Incredibly, the officers made the decision to leave the premises.

The following evening, Ruthie Mae’s neighbour called police expressing serious concerns about her welfare. She said she had not seen Ruthie Mae all day and, as she always, without fail, saw her each morning, she was certain something was badly wrong. This time, police, accompanied by security guards from the Chicago Housing Authority arrived.  This time, the police wanted to break the door down but were dissuaded by the security guards, concerned the tenant might sue and also about the need to subsequently secure the apartment. 

The officers once again left the premises.

The following day, the concerned neighbour contacted the project office after yet again failing to see Ruthie Mae. This time, a project official arrived along with a carpenter, who then proceeded to drill through the lock. 

The two of them found Ruthie Mae in her bedroom, lying on her side in a pool of blood, with one hand across her chest. When they turned her slightly, the unmistakeable smell of decayed flesh told them she had been dead for a while. She had been shot four times. Papers were strewn around her along with magazines and coins. From the nature of her injuries, she probably didn’t die instantly but, however quickly she had been taken to hospital, it is unlikely she would have survived the attack.

However brutal and violent, such a murder wouldn’t have made much of a headline, as such crimes were all too common in the projects, but what made this one different was the way the perpetrators had gained entry. They had simply broken into the adjoining apartment, removed the bathroom cabinet and climbed in. What sort of building was this where personal safety had been so blatantly and callously ignored? The residents were unsurprised. They knew only too well that burglars and other criminals had it easy there. Only six nails secured those cabinets and many a wrongdoer had escaped police capture by climbing through a cabinet into the neighbouring apartment, waiting there quietly until the coast was clear. It was well known, but nothing was done to rectify the serious design flaw.

Residents reported hearing scurrying noises in their bathrooms and seeing strangers rush out of their bathroom and out through the front door. Many put furniture in front of their bathroom door before going to bed. One woman at least, put out a bucket each night for her children to use as a toilet, and secured the bathroom door handle with rope attached to the foot of her kids’ bunk bed.

The motive for Ruthie Mae’s killing was most probably robbery. She had recently been granted supplementary income, backdated by some months. She was planning to use her small windfall to help her get a better apartment - out of the projects. The murderers almost certainly planned for her to be home when they invaded her property so that she could tell them where she had hidden her money.

Two men were charged with her murder - 19-year-old Edward Turner and 22-year-old John Hondras – both local residents. They went to trial but, owing to lack of evidence, the case against them was dismissed. No one has, as yet, been convicted of her killing.
The Grace Abbott Homes were finally demolished between 2005-2007.
(with thanks to the

Don’t play the game.

In 1893, Evelyn and Claire leave their home in a Yorkshire town for life in a rural retreat on their beloved moors. But when a strange toy garden mysteriously appears, a chain of increasingly terrifying events is unleashed. Neighbour Matthew Dixon befriends Evelyn, but seems to have more than one secret to hide. Then the horror really begins. The Garden of Bewitchment is all too real and something is threatening the lives and sanity of the women. Evelyn no longer knows who - or what - to believe. And time is running out.