Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Some Favourite Witches in Fiction

The Pagan celebration of Samhain or Halloween is a perfect time to celebrate some of the best witchy fiction that I have encountered recently. Witches seem to be an ever popular subject for TV and film but so often they are badly portrayed, presented as worshipers of Satan or actively anti-christian, lumped in with demonic forces, full of lust and sin and evil.  For any followers of the Pagan path this can be very frustrating, so finding a book that presents witches in a more truthful and more flattering light is always a great moment.

One of my most recent witchy reads was Daughter of Light and Shadows by Anna Mckerrow, which is about three young witches who cast a love spell which opens them up to the world of the Fae. Read my review here

Louisa Morgan's tale of a family of hereditary witches moves from Brittany to Cornwall and London to Wales. It's a wonderful story of family and women supporting each other and also the pain that family secrets can inflict. Read my review here.

Slow Poison is the second book in Helen Slavin's Witch Ways Series it features three sisters who have inherited their grandmother's place as Game Keepers of Havoc Wood. Blending magical realism and dark fairy tale as the sisters struggle to come to terms with their magical abilities. Review here

This is a charming tale set in 1880s New York where the surge of interest in the Supernatural and the Occult means that witches Adelaide and Eleanor can practice their craft openly from their shop Tea and Sympathy offering remedies and spells to the upper class ladies of Manhattan. Review

Widdershins is set in the mid Seventeenth Century and features a mother and daughter who practice traditional healing. Set around the Newcastle witch trials this is a wonderfully researched book full of the detail about nature, herbs and their healing properties that many women would have learned at their mother's knee. Review

There were not a huge number of witch trials carried out in Ireland in comparison to the rest of Europe. But one famous or rather infamous case was that of the Islandmagee witches. The tale is retold and fictionalised beautifully by Martina Devlin in this fascinating historical novel. Review

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Halcyon by Rio Youers Blog Tour

Martin Lovegrove is man who dreams of being able to provide a better life for his family. His ten year old daughter Edith has terrifying nightmare visions of violent events, his teen age daughter Shirley is growing increasingly distant and then a terrible tragedy strikes. Shaken by grief and feeling powerless Martin is intrigued when a man he meets in a bar tells him about Halcyon; a community cut off from technology and modern life, where everyone works together and the violent world that is an everyday reality in modern America can become a distant memory. Martin decides that this is the new start his family needs and full of hope he sets off with just a handful of possessions. Halcyon is run by the charismatic Mother Moon and as Martin throws himself into contributing to the community on the island everything seems rosy. Martin himself feels stronger and the whole family have benefited from the fresh air, good food and beautiful setting. But Martin begins to notice some things that just don't add up and so he starts to investigate if Halcyon is really the haven it claims to be. This is a fast paced, heart pounding dark thriller. Despite the fact that it's over five hundred pages I tore through this book frantic to know what happens next. It's a perfect spooky tale for Halloween, ideal for fans of Dean Koontz or Stephen King. Halcyon is out now from Titan books who kindly sent me a copy.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Witch of Willow Hall

The Witch of Willow Hall drew me in long before I started reading. I saw this gorgeous cover and of course it reminded me of the mid century gothic novels such as those written by Victoria Holt, Joan Aiken etc. which I am obsessed with. The stories usually centre around a spooky house in the country, a young woman and a mysterious powerful man. The Witch of Willow Hall at first might appear to fit into this pattern; Lydia Montrose and her family move to Willow Hall when rumour and scandal drive them from their Boston home. A runaway dog and a sudden rainstorm provide a suitably romantic meeting with their neighbour Mr. Barrett. Lydia is smitten but her older and prettier sister Catherine seems equally interested. Lydia has already begun to suspect that the house is haunted but a family tragedy seems to awaken a latent power in her. As Lydia feels herself more and more constrained by the house, her family's scandalous reputation and the scheming of those around her, her anger and her abilities develop. To say much more would be to spoil a fascinating and compelling book that echoes with Austen, Heyer and Du Maurier as well as New England history and folktale. A captivating first novel written with a nod to those authors of the past and those heroines trapped by circumstance. I'm delighted to be part of the blog tour. The Witch of Willow Hall is out now in e-book and paperback from HQ a division of Harper Collins. Thanks to Lucy Richardson for my copy.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Hallowdene by George Mann

Hallowdene is the follow up to the brilliant Wychwood which I reviewed last year. It's the second in Goerge Mann's new series of crime/horror/urban fantasy novels. I talked to the author about this new series when Wychwood was released, you can read the interview HERE In this instalment Elspeth has begun to really settle into her new life in rural Oxfordshire and a relationship with childhood friend Peter. However temptation arrives in the form of old friend Abigail and a London job offer.
The mystery this time around begins when the grave of a woman tried for witchcraft in the Seventeenth century is excavated by archaeologists on the grounds of Hallowdene manor. Many local people are intrigued by the mysterious tale of the witch Agnes Levett; to some she is a curiosity a way to attract tourists to the town, a bit of fun. To others she is a malevolent spirit and the act of disturbing her grave a very dangerous one. The excavation attracts a lot of attention. Agnes had been buried under a huge stone to prevent her spirit from harming the villagers when the stone is removed and her body disturbed a series of suspicious deaths begin. Peter and Elspeth investigate and wonder if the killer is supernatural or all too human. This is a a compelling and page turning tale, carefully blending crime and horror. A great read for Halloween and for fans of Elly Griffiths, Syd More and Gary Kemble. Thanks so much to Titan Books for my copy. You can pick up Hallowdene in e-book and paperback now. 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Q&A with author of Daughter of Light and Shadows Anna McKerrow

Q1. Daughter of Light and Shadows includes lots of Fairy lore, such as Faye's tips about leaving food to placate them and the fairy road that Rav's house is built on causing disturbances in the atmosphere and temperature. Did you do a lot of research into folk/fairy belief in Scotland?

Yes, I suppose I did. Some I knew already - like, in Iceland, where roads are diverted around faery mounds to appease the fae, which was something that fed into the faery road that cuts through Rav’s house - and some I learnt from reading. I can recommend The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies by Robert Kirk, which is the supposedly true record of a 17th century Scottish minister’s direct experience with the faery realms. Also great was Magical Folk: British and Irish Fairies 500AD to the present by Simon Young and Ceri Houlbrook, which is a compilation/survey type of book and has a chapter on Scotland in particular. Another great book is The Chronicles of the Sidhe by Steve Blamires in which I learnt all about the faery writings of Fiona MacLeod, where we find the origin of the traditional four elemental faery cities: Murias, Falias, Finias and Gorias.

MacLeod was in fact a ‘channelled’ entity, a fae, that a Scottish writer called William Sharp was in contact with, and created a number of poems and writings under her name. So there is a deep history and reasonable amount of scholarship on the subject of faery realms in Scottish lore. Those faery cities as concepts for imagining and working with the elemental kingdoms (earth, air, fore and water) are used by other writers such as hedge witch Rae Beth. Plus, there’s a pretty big version of modern witchcraft which is specifically faery witchcraft, that is, a semi-ceremonial spiritual practice whose deities are the fae. So, reading about that has been very useful and interesting.

For anyone interested, there’s also a very detailed and modern survey of modern faery sightings from all over the world between 2014-2017 here, published in association with Magical Folk: British and Irish Fairies 500AD to the present by Simon Young and Ceri Houlbrook:  Before you dismiss the 500 records all as being from oddbods, have a read - no-one sounds mad and there is definite synergy of particular locations having high numbers of unconnected faery sightings. Fascinating reading considering that the 500 records included are only from people who would have found out about the survey, and were inclined enough to fill it in, over a three year period. Extrapolated over the history of humankind, and including people that were too frightened to talk about what they saw/thought it was evil/thought they themselves were evil for seeing it/thought they were mad/disbelieved the evidence of their own eyes, that’s a lot of faery sightings.I also love Brian Froud’s faerie oracle which has a very interesting book that comes with the deck: lots of faery types to  learn about in there!

Q2. You are quite a spiritual person, how does that feed into your writing/creativity?

I suppose as anyone could surmise from my first answer, yes, a pagan spirituality is a big part of my life. Everything I write is in some way connected to my interest in witchcraft, in particular, but in general, death, reincarnation, magic and the occult. Writing is also a spiritual practice for me, in that I write sometimes in an open, channelled manner which allows me to connect with, say, deity and energy and ‘free-write’ or even use automatic writing at times. I also do a lot of shamanic journeying, a kind of meditative practice using a drumbeat, which is a very visionary type of experience and helps a lot for writing in terms of imagery. I also write using my own knowledge and experience: how I have experienced spellwork, how I’ve felt connecting to gods, my dreams, how healing feels when you doit, what tarot is like, etc etc.

Q3. Faye's story takes place in Scotland. Is Scotland a special place for you? How important is place and landscape to your writing?

I have a lot of family in Scotland and an ancestry there, so I have a historical connection with Ayrshire, though I set this book in Fife because I know it a bit better, and the coastal regions are very magical. Scotland is a deeply beautiful, resonant land, dense with magic, and so it was a pleasure to write a little bit about that. Land is very important to me, and I think of it as an extra character of its own when I write because setting is so vital for the context of the story. As a pagan, too, I’m always trying to get over to my readers my sense of delight and wonder in the natural world as well as a desire to protect and revere it as holy - as having sovereignty. Like our bodies do too.

And, also, something always about the real, direct, usable power that the land has we can use for our own empowerment, whether that be the now-scientifically-proven fact that our bodies connecting to the earth makes us more healthy (those articles on forest bathing and the benefits of walking barefoot on soil), the benefits of women understanding their menstrual cycles in relation to moon phases and that wisdom of women’s health, or how we can consciously draw power from the earth and the elements and direct it towards good outcomes for ourselves.

Q4. How easy or difficult has it been to switch gears from writing YA to writing for adults?

t’s been okay - much is the same. To be honest it’s quite nice to move away from the self-referential first person teen voice I wrote my first trilogy in - not that I didn’t enjoy it, but good for a change! And in the third person you can adopt a really nice cosy narrator voice that I enjoy.

Q5. You make reference to the Scottish witch trials, Faye campaigns for a memorial to all the women who were condemned including her ancestor Grainne. Do you think you will write about this historical period at some point?

I don’t intend to, no. Partly because there’s so much on the subject I don’t know what I could bring to it that would be new, partly because it’s so dark and I wouldn’t want to spend a lot of headspace there. I referred to it in Daughter of Light and Shadows because I wanted to explore the theme of ancestral healing for Faye - her ancestor was murdered at a witch trial, and she and all her grandmothers after that point have felt it. Faye manages to heal that line, going back generations, helped by the magic of a faery queen. In shamanic traditions, when we have healing, it’s seen as healing us but also healing the seven generations before, and the generations yet to come, which is such a powerful concept. I’ve had healing of this kind and I can only say how profound it was.

Faye reclaims her power, no longer feeling that she shouldn’t take up space, that she’s afraid of being noticed, of standing out because of the power she has. In many ways this is the struggle of women now: survivors of sexual intimidation and rape, a trauma related to being shamed for being a woman, are being brave and taking that power back. Even when we, as women, are not personally victims of rape, we have the experiences of intimidation, fear, harassment and horror connected to being a woman from the generations of women before us, woven into our ancestral DNA. That’s a lot of healing that needs to be done, and a lot of women are starting to do that now.

The commemoration of those experiences - the public acceptance and apology for atrocities such as the witch trials, which are burned into many womens’ souls - is important, just as it’s important that we listen to and believe victims of abuse. A memorial says we see you, we hear you, we are sorry.

There is an almost complete lack of proper remembrance sites for witch trials, perhaps because people still don’t really understand what happened in those years. They haven’t connected the facts that these were ‘ordinary’ people who may or may not have been practising some form of folk magic or medicine, an indigenous practice if so, or, more likely, were poor and a nuisance, or the victim of a neighbour’s ill will (arguably, when it comes to the ‘evil eye’, the accusers were the powerful witches, not the victims).

I wonder whether the lack of witch trial memorials in the UK is due to a continuing false belief about the ‘evil’ and indeed supernatural nature of witches, coupled with a desire on the part of the establishment (church and state) to avoid questions such as if these people weren’t supernatural entities, why were they persecuted? And perhaps therefore what does that say about the continuing fear by both church and state of magic and folk magic traditions? It feels as though, if memorials became more of a thing (which they should be, out of basic decency if nothing else) more people would start seeing that magical practices have been suppressed in many countries by patriarchal religions, corporations and governments, because they know that when people practice empowering traditional magical practices, whatever they may be, they get a little rowdy.

Q6. Who are the writers who inspire and influence you?

So many! All writers are such book nerds of course. I love Ursula Le Guin, the mother of fantasy. I love Margaret Atwood, a complete genius in every way; I’ve read everything she’s written multiple times. I am a big fan of Marge Piercy, Orwell and AS Byatt. I love Neil Gaiman. Starhawk, definitely. I adored Mary Stewart’s Arthurian books, Stephen King, the occult novels of Dion Fortune and Stewart Farrar have been a big influence on me, Game of Thrones, Alice Hoffman, tons of poetry from Eliot to Tennyson to Mina Loy to Yeats. I have an MA in avant garde and experimental poetics and write in that genre too, and I love contemporary artists using text like Sophie Calle, Marina Abramovic, Jenny Holzer, Guerilla Girls, that kind of thing. For short stories I love Kelly Link, Susan Irvine, Flannery O’Connor, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Deborah Kay Davis, Nicola Barker, so many, I can’t think of them all! Lots of scifi/speculative fiction too, counterculture things, you name it really.

I read a lot of music biography too - my favourite recently was Just Kids by Patti Smith and Moby’s autobiography with Faber, and a LOT of nonfiction both around what I’m writing for research, but also for general spiritual interest, so books about specific gods and goddesses, other cultures’ spiritual practices, tarot, astrology, places of interest.

Q7. Are you a writer who carefully plans out your work or do you simply start writing and see what happens?

Mostly the latter, though I have to be less devil-may-care now as I’m on tighter deadlines! Detailed planning fills me with dread and I have to say I do rely on the arrival of an out of the blue idea to save a plot, which happens more than you’d think. Plus, I do a lot of the writing in the editing.

Thank you so much Anna for answering all my questions. Daughter of Light and Shadows is out now in e-book, paperback and audio-book from Bookoutre   The e-book is only 99p on Amazon Uk  or $1.30 on

Monday, October 15, 2018

Daughter of Light and Shadows by Anna McKerrow

I am already a fan of Anna McKerrow's wonderful writing and I have loved and recommended her YA novels See My Review of Crow Moon here. Daughter of Light and Shadows is a bit of a departure for the author as it is intended for an older audience. However those who enjoy Urban Fantasy and Magical Realism will not be disappointed. Faye Morgan knows that she is a daughter of witches. She has studied the craft since childhood and carries on the traditions of wise woman handed down through generations. When she loses her mother at 18 she must step into her shoes as the local wise woman and healer and run the shop her mother established with the help of her friends and fellow witches Aisha and Annie. The three young women longing for love and excitement in their lives find an old love spell and soon their lives begin to change. When Finn Beatha; the Fairy King comes into her life Faye is smitten and torn between her own life and the world of the fae. This is a book spilling over with romance and sex as the story dances between the real world of the small village in Scotland where Faye grew up and the fairy world which draws her with it's hedonism, it's romance and it's magic. The charming setting of the small village with its gossip and old fashioned ways is contrasted with Faye and her friends; props to the author for diverse characters and also with the majestic setting of the fairy lands. The first of a new series, I found this an enchanting and magical read and devoured it in two sittings. Perfect for fans of Diana Gabaldon,  Paula Brackston, Sarah Painter, Helen Slavin,  or Alice Hoffman

Available from Bookoutre who kindly provided an e copy Daughter of Light and Shadows is published tomorrow 16th October and available in paperback and e-book.

Tombland by CJ Sansom exclusive audio extract

The Shardlake books are C.J. Sansom's bestselling historical mystery series, set in the reign of Henry VIII and staring lawyer and investigator Matthew Shardlake. The books have won and been nominated for a number of awards and Tombland is the seventh in the series. If you have yet to discover these books then this exclusive opportunity might appeal to you. If you are already a fan, then it definitely will.
I am delighted to share exclusive early access to the new Shardlake novel, thanks to the kind folks at Pan Macmillan. Use the link below to get a new instalment of Tombland each day Monday to Friday, this week only. Audio books are a fantastic resource for book lovers whether you are short on time and want to listen in the car or while out for a run or doing some errands. Audio books are also a fantastic tool for book lovers with disabilities or illness. Pan Macmillan are publishing C. J. Sansom's latest novel in all formats; audio, hardback and e-book this Thursday October 18th. Follow the hashtag #Shardlakelistenathon and check out the link below for your exclusive limited time audio extract and don't forget to check back to hear a new instalment each day until Friday.

Through the PanMacmillan website

Tombland Extract

or via Souncloud


The Price Guide To The Occult by Leslye Walton Review and Q&A

Leslye Walton has written a wonderful follow up to her critically acclaimed first novel The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. Teenager Nor Blackburn is desperate for a normal life but being descended from generations of witches makes that unlikely. In each generation the Blackburn witches have displayed different powers but a family curse means that the witches carry heartbreak from one generation to the next. Nor thinks that she hasn't inherited any power and hopes to avoid the curse, until a book of spells is released written by Nor's estranged mother and becomes a sensation across the US and beyond as Nor's mother seems able to perform magic beyond her capabilities. However magic has a price and Nor is about to find out exactly how costly and dangerous that price is. A dark and compelling tale for Young Adults and beyond, with great characters, a compelling story and a powerful small town atmosphere, dealing with issues such as self harm and family break up. A page turning read for fans of Anna McKerrow, Sally Green and Melissa Albert.

I asked Leslye some questions about the book and her writing process.

Q1. Both of your novels contain fantastical or magical elements. Who are the authors
(fantasy or otherwise) who inspire you?

I’ve always been inspired by Isabelle Allende, Alice Hoffman, and Joanne Harris. Laura
Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s glorious One Hundred
Years of Solitude are two of my favorite reads of all time.

Q2. Will you revisit the characters of The Price Guide to the Occult in a future book?

I hope to.

Q3. You explore the impact of trauma and self harm in the book. Did that take a lot of
research? Is it a subject close to your heart?

YA novels that explore dark themes like trauma and abuse and self-harm help young
people explore some of the horrible sides of humanity within the safety of fiction. They
say 1 in 5 teenage girls will struggle with self-harm. I did a lot of research both before
and while writing PRICE GUIDE. I wanted to make sure I did justice to a character
struggling with such a common ailment.

Q4. What is the one writing tip that you would give to your younger self or to other
aspiring writers?

Whenever someone asks my advice on being a writer, I always recommend that they do
something else. If you can find something to do other then write and still feel fulfilled in
life, go do that other thing. It’s dreadfully difficult to muster up the self-motivation,
determination, and, let’s face it, complete and utter delusion that writing requires while
still figuring out to pay the rent on time.

Q5. What are your writing methods? What comes first; plot or character? Do you plan
meticulously or are you more of a pantser?

For me, writing always starts with the characters. I can’t begin to formulate a story
before I know the people who will be living it. More often than not, the characters tell
me the plot, not the other way around. That said I am definitely an outliner.

The Price Guide to The Occult is out now from Walker Books who kindly sent me a paperback copy to review. 

Strange Ink by Gary Kemble Blog Tour Review and Q&A

Gary Kemble's debut novel, Strange Ink reads more like the work of an established novelist. The writing is powerful, the characters spring off the page and the darkness at the heart of the book is truly chilling. The protagonist Harry Hendrick wakes up hungover with a tattoo on his neck he has no memory of acquiring. Harry is a journalist with a small local newspaper and naturally curious so he's intrigued when he discovers that the tattoo is a representation of an arcane magical symbol. However as he begins to have dark and disturbing dreams and more tattoos appear on his body Harry knows that something supernatural is trying to warn him. As Harry investigates further he discovers a tangled web of darkness tied to a story that almost destroyed his career and he becomes determined to uncover the truth. Strange Ink is a thrill-ride of a book, full of tension and darkness that at times is all too human. Highly recommended, especially if like me, you are a fan of Angela Slatter's Verity Fassbinder series.

I had the chance to ask Gary a few questions about Strange Ink, his writing and his influences.

Q1. Who are your literary heroes and why?

I'm a huge Stephen King fan. I like the way he takes normal settings and gives them a macabre twist. It's something I've tried to emulate in Strange Ink.

On a completely different note, I really enjoy Kurt Vonnegut because he breaks many of the rules of writing and yet it still works. I aspire to be so brave.

Q2. Strange Ink features a main character; Harry being haunted by another character; Rob and yet the difference between the two is made obvious. Was this difficult to write?

Yeah, I didn't want Rob to be too stereotypical. I reached out to people who know former special forces soldiers to see if I could get someone to read the Rob sections, but didn't have any luck so I had to rely on military non-fiction (mostly SAS Sniper by Rob Maylor and Robert Macklin). (Yes, the character in my book is named in Rob Maylor's honour).

The other tricky bit was gauging how much detail to include as Rob's personality begins to bleed into Harry's. I didn't want to be too heavy-handed but I also didn't want readers to miss the clues. I hope I got the balance right!

Q3. Any advice for a debut novelist?

It's handy having a second book pretty much ready to go if/when your first is picked up. That was the situation when I sold Strange Ink (Skin Deep down under) to Australian publisher Echo. It meant I wasn't freaking out about book 2 in the series, because I had a fairly solid draft in my back pocket.

Q4. The story is very much rooted in Brisbane. Is it important for you to make the place and the landscape part of the story?

A large part of it was just not wanting to bite off more than I could chew. I had what I felt was a solid concept. Setting Strange Ink in my hometown meant I could draw heavily on my own experiences and locations I know so well.

I'm proud to have a genre book set in Brisbane on the global stage (following in the footsteps of John Birmingham, Trent Jamieson and Angela Slatter... and more) but I definitely planning on spreading my wings in future books.

Q5. Will you revisit Harry in your fiction in the future? 

Yes! The second Harry Hendrick book -- Dark Ink -- is coming out in 2019. I have drafts for books 3 and 4, but we'll have to see how the first two go, so please keep your fingers crossed!

I'm delighted to hear that there will be more Harry Hendrick books and I look forward to reading the next instalment. Strange Ink is out now from Titan Books in paperback and e-book. Thanks so much to Philippa Ward for a copy. Details of the blog tour below. 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Literary Gifts Website and a discount offer.

Hey all, I'm going to make a wild assumption here, but I 'm guessing that if you have stopped by my blog then you have an interest in literature. Well if the answer is yes then read on. In partnership with the amazing Literary Book Gifts who create and sell the lovely literary themed items you can see here, I have a special discount code for my blog readers. Just look at the gorgeous things you can buy.

Iliad Tote Bag

The Picture Of Dorian Gray Tote Bag

Beowulf T-shirt

So if you want to get your hands on some gorgeous literary tote bags or t-shirts head to and use the discount code LISAREADSBOOKS20 which will get you a 20% discount. You can use the code at any time and against any item on the site. Happy Shopping.