The Final Hurdle

I have just eight weeks  to go before I complete my undergraduate degree in English Literature and History. Just the matter of a dissertation on fairies, an essay on children’s literature, two essays on creative writing, a 3000 word short story plus edits and one final dreaded exam to get through and I’ll be free, to do what I want – most of the time.

In preparation I’ve been making a few plans. First and foremost is to complete the first draft of Persephone Reborn. I’ve been going through my plot notes and what has already been written and it currently stands at around 32,000 words. That’s about a third of the way through the story, so another 60-80,000 words and it will be ready for the first round of rewrites and edits. It makes the 15,000 words or so that I have left to write for university seem almost easy in comparison, but I would much rather be working on the novel than planning another essay.

Having had to put my writing career on hold for the best part of the last five years it’s been a struggle to build a readership for my books, but I’m hoping to change that by using this blog as a base from which I can share insights into my writing process and interesting (I hope) posts that relate to what I’m working on. You can probably expect things about the locations, history and myths that feature in the next novel, everything from Greek vampires to Liverpool’s sunken graveyard and I’m going to try and become more active on  instagram, facebook, twitter and pinterest. All things I’ve neglected over the last few years.  I’m not the most natural self-promoter so we’ll see what happens.

For the moment it’s back to that essay…

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

 

 

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Blackfeather – Chapter 1

Kate threw the pipe under the scaffolding and hurried down the path to her car. Her hands trembled, her knees were weak. Had anyone seen her, running through the graveyard, flustered and grubby, with a suspicious bundle? She had just stolen something from a church and she didn’t even know what it was.

As she fastened the seatbelt and started the car, she remembered her promise to Reverend Pilling. She swore and raced back to the rear of the church, locked the vestry door and hid the key beneath one of the three plant pots arranged in a triangle near the wall. If anyone had seen her, they hadn’t bothered to investigate what she was up to. Back in the driving seat, she took a deep breath.

Just an hour ago she’d been standing at the lych-gate, looking fondly up at the church where she’d been christened, preparing herself for an afternoon away from the office, researching the family tree of a new client. Scaffolding covered the walls instead of ivy, and mesh screens had been fitted over the stained glass windows to protect them from falling masonry and vandals. By the look of things, repairs to the roof had begun just in time.

She blew away the flurry of snowflakes that danced round her head with a puff of hot breath and pushed a wind-whipped strand of hair back under her woollen hat with a gloved hand, then shouldered her bag, unlatched the gate and made her way up the path to the porch. The iron hinges squeaked as she pushed open the heavy wooden door. It was the perfect accompaniment to the whistle of December wind that played through the bare branches of the trees and it sent goose bumps up Kate’s arms in spite of the layers of warm clothing she’d piled on.

Inside the entrance stood a Christmas tree, its branches as yet untrimmed and at intervals down the nave were leafy green wreaths and swags of ivy, laid out ready for someone to fasten them in place. The decorations brought back happy memories of candlelit Christmas Eve carol services, and being carried back to the car in her father’s arms afterwards, too sleepy to walk.

The rainbow of light from the tall medieval stained glass windows was reflected on the arched stone wall opposite and Jacobean box pews, lined up in rows down the nave, mirrored the dark oak beams in the ceiling. At the entrance to each pew was a small posy of flowers, placed in a conical holder. A couple of sparrows and a plump wood pigeon had found their way in through a hole in the roof and while the pigeon perched on the curve of a wall monument, trying to sleep, his feathers puffed up for warmth, the sparrows chirruped and chased each other from beam to beam.

Kate watched them for a few minutes until an elderly man wearing the ubiquitous grey suit, black shirt and dog collar of an Anglican vicar, emerged through a door in the north wall, half hidden by a second row of arches. When he saw Kate, a wide smile formed on his face. She grinned back as he strode towards her, carrying his cane rather than admit his need for its support by leaning on it, and vigorously shook her hand.

“Goodness me, Kathryn, you have grown up,” he said with a chuckle. “You were just this high the last time I saw you.”

He held up his hand to chest level, then tapped the cane on the stone floor three times, a habit he’d developed soon after acquiring it.

“It’s been ten years,” she said.

“It can’t be!”

Kate nodded.

“Well, tempus fugit, as they say. You must be surprised that I’m still here. Though I think it won’t be long before I’m replaced by a woman. The Bishop is keen to increase the congregation and move with the times. There’s a vicar in the city centre you know who gives sermons dressed as a clown”.

He turned away, then muttered, “Idiot!” under his breath. She heard him, nonetheless and pressed her lips together to stifle a giggle. The Reverend tapped his cane again.

“Well, I expect you want to get on with your research?” he said, adjusting his glasses and turning to look over his shoulder at her with eyebrows raised.

She nodded once more and he led the way down the narrow aisle, between the pews and through the wooden door into the vestry. To their left was Reverend Pilling’s office, but they entered the room opposite, a room filled with shelves of leather bound books, where the church archives were kept.

“I’m afraid I can’t stay, Kathryn. One of my parishioners has suffered a bereavement and I need to get the funeral arrangements underway. I’ll go out the front and lock the main door, but I’d be grateful if you’d lock up round the back and leave the key under the pot when you’ve finished.” He handed her a large, old-fashioned brass key. “I must be off.”

He punctuated his words by tapping the cane a further three times and disappeared back the way they’d come.

Kate sighed with contentment. She loved the solitude of working alone in old buildings and began making herself comfortable, placing her notebook on the table in the centre of the room and laying her outdoor clothes over the back of a wooden chair. She took her time, walking a circuit of the room and running her fingers over the red, leather spines of the books. The dates were stamped on each one in gold lettering and when she found the one she needed, she pulled it from its place and laid it on the lectern on the table. Then she sat down and opened the notebook at a fresh page, wrote the surname of the family she was researching in capitals at the top and opened the register.

Her client had appointed Sharpe’s, Genealogists and Probate Researchers to finish his family tree when he could get no further on his own and had got himself in a muddle with the various records he had so far accumulated. Peter Sharpe had assigned the project to her.

She lost track of time as she worked, poring over the names and dates in the archives until the real world faded away. Anything beyond the book in front of her and the room in which she sat ceased to exist. She was copying the details with meticulous care and double checking the records already provided by the client when she was startled by a loud, reverberating crack and thundering echo from inside the church. She paused, listening for any other sounds before calling out.

“Hello? Is anyone there?”

There was no answer, but it was unlikely that anyone would have heard her from the thick walled room. It couldn’t have been a door banging shut. Reverend Pilling had locked the main door and this had sounded like a large, heavy object falling on stone. Something from the roof, maybe.

It was quiet now, too quiet, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to concentrate properly until she’d investigated the cause of the noise. Kate put down her pencil and left the sanctuary of the archives, passed through the vestry and emerged into the hushed church. The sound of her boots scuffing on the paved floor echoed round the building. There was no one there and nothing out of place that could offer an explanation for what she’d heard, but as she skirted the Norman font and turned toward the chancel, she found the culprit.

A huge piece of masonry, probably loosened by the roofing contractors, had fallen from high up in the east wall. It had crashed to the floor, miraculously missing the choir stalls and altar table, and landed smack in the centre of the chancel. The only damage was a broken flagstone.

Kate edged towards the slab, glancing nervously upwards with each step. A triangular piece of paving stuck up from the floor at an angle and she nudged it with the toe of her boot. It twisted and fell inwards, revealing a cavity below.

People were often buried beneath church floors, in fact there were other grave slabs nearby, but Kate couldn’t see any carvings on this one, not even worn ones. She crouched down and swept the palm of her hand across the stone’s smooth surface, confirming the absence of an inscription.

She felt along the jagged, broken edge of the flagstone with her fingertips then gave an experimental tug. It didn’t budge, so she pushed her hand into the hole, up to her wrist. Something tickled her and she pulled it out again. The tickle continued, travelling up her arm along with the spider, and she jumped to her feet, shrieking and shaking her arm, brushing furiously at it to dislodge the tiny creature. She hated spiders. When she was sure it had been flung far away from her, she took a deep breath. Her heart pounded and she looked back at the hole with trepidation.

Leave it, she thought. Whatever’s in there isn’t worth it.

She walked away, got as far as the font, stopped and blew out her breath in a long, slow sigh. She was far too curious to let it go.

I don’t believe I’m doing this, she thought, pushing the sleeves of her jumper up to her elbows, and steeling herself to try again.

It took several deep breaths and a number of false starts before she plucked up enough courage to thrust her hand all the way into the hole. It was deeper than she’d expected, but about a foot below the surface she felt something cold and solid and flinched away from it. When it didn’t move she touched it again. Beneath a thick layer of dust she could make out a surface covered with small bumps. Her trembling fingertips traced along the edge of the object, found a corner and continued on until she’d returned to her starting point. The object had depth to it too and with her arm as far into the hole as it would go, she felt all over it, building up a mental image, like a blind person touching the face of someone they’d never met before. It felt like a box.

She brushed the dirt off her hand and pushed herself up, sitting back on her heels to survey the floor around her. The piece of mortar she squeezed between thumb and forefinger crumbled to dust. All the other stones were cemented in place, but this one had been packed round the edges with dirt. It had compacted over the centuries, giving the illusion it was fixed in place like all the others, but if this had been a burial, why had it been left loose?

Go on, dig it out.

The thought was in her head so it must have been her own, but it didn’t feel like something she would say.

She looked around, chewing at a fingernail on the hand that hadn’t been in the hole, while she weighed up her options and wondered how long Reverend Pilling would be gone. She dreaded to think what he was going to say when he saw the damage to his church. Was she really going to do this?

With the decision made, she retreated to the archive room and rummaged through her bag for something to help remove the dirt from around the stone. The old nail file she found would have to do. The box was too big to come out through the hole, but if she could loosen the flagstone she might be able to lift it.

What if I get caught? she asked herself.

 We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Her inner monologue was really playing devil’s advocate today.  It didn’t even sound like her any more.

Go on then, it prompted

It took her fifteen minutes to scrape the dirt away. She stood at the unbroken end; bent over with both hands in the hole and pulled it towards her with all her strength. She managed to raise it an inch or two before the weight of the stone pulled it down again.

Unwilling to admit defeat, Kate scanned the church for something to use as a lever and was surprised by how dark it had become. The late afternoon light had faded to dusk, the church had turned gloomy and the silence settled like a heavy, wool blanket. Even the birds had gone.

The air felt electric, like the moments before a storm when you were just waiting for it to break, and the prickling sensation at the base of her neck made her feel as though she was being watched from the shadows. She shook her shoulders, trying to dispel the idea.

There was nothing she could use inside the church, and she knew better than to even think of using the medieval silver candlesticks adorning the altar, so she slipped outside to search beneath the scaffolding among the discarded rubble. The snow had started to stick and was already filling up the gaps between the stacks of roof slates leant against the wall. She turned up a length of steel pipe and after testing its weight decided it would do the job.

With one end in the hole and using the fallen stone as a fulcrum, she pushed down on the pipe. The flagstone raised enough for Kate to thrust in her spare hand and pull out the large casket that had been hidden there. She released the pressure and the flagstone thudded back into its original resting place. She held the box up to what remained of the light and examined it. Something shifted inside and she screwed up her eyes in an effort to peer through the keyhole on the front.

A rustling from the choir stalls made her jump again. With heart in throat she wasted no time in sweeping the dirt into the hole, back filling the crevices and tidying up as best she could before someone came in and discovered her. When she was satisfied the scene looked as undisturbed as she could make it, she rubbed the loose soil from her hands and wiped them down the front of her jeans, leaving dirty, grey streaks.

What now? she thought as she sat on a nearby pew with the box on her knee. She pulled at the lid, but it wouldn’t open.

Take it home.

Oh no, that was a step too far. She was no thief and whatever was inside was probably an old church relic or a saint’s bones, placed there when the church was built. It was one thing to remove it from the crypt so it didn’t suffer further damage but to steal it..? She shook her head. She would leave the box on Reverend Pilling’s desk with a note explaining everything and phone tomorrow to ask him about it.

With the note written and the box placed squarely on the Reverend’s desk, she took one last look at it and stepped away.

Don’t you want to know what’s inside?

She straightened, tossed her hair back over her shoulder, and firmly pulled the door of the office shut.

Satisfied she had done the right thing, she went back to work. She sat down at the desk in the archives room and picked up her pencil.

What if someone comes in and takes it before the vicar gets back?

       Why would anyone do that?  she thought in reply.

It would be much safer in here with you.

That was true, she could watch over it until she had to leave, at least. Reverend Pilling might be back by then and she could give it to him personally.

That’s right, it will only take a minute to get it.

She got up and moved towards the door and suddenly found herself rooted to the spot.

You don’t have to do this, Kate.

“What?” she said aloud.

Where had that come from? Was someone else here with her? She was sure she had heard someone speak.

“Who’s there?” she called. “Reverend Pilling, is that you?”

There was no reply. She turned the brass knob of the door, but it wouldn’t open. It couldn’t be locked. Unless someone was on the other side.

She heard whispering and stiffened as she tried to hear what was being said, but all she caught were snatches of a few words and phrases between what sounded like two people arguing.

shouldn’t be doing this… can’t interfere…

       …she should know… what if she wants to…

There was a pause and the door was released and Kate stumbled back a step.

Take the box before someone who shouldn’t does.

The thought was so forceful and induced such an overwhelming sense of fear for the safety of the box that Kate hastily packed up her work and a few minutes later was back in the vicar’s office.

“I’m sorry,” she said to the air. “I don’t know why, but I need to know what’s inside. I’ll bring it back. Promise.”

 

And that’s how she found herself fleeing the scene of a crime.

In the time it had taken her to free the box, the road had been obliterated by a layer of snow. Kate restarted the engine of her cherry red VW Beetle and with a quick look over her shoulder pulled away from the church. The back end of the car swung out into the road, but she managed to regain control and accelerated out of the village onto a narrow, unlit country lane.

The branches of the trees on either side of the road reached so far over they met in the middle and interlaced like an arch of swords formed by a military honour guard. The tunnel they formed made it so dark Kate could hardly see where she was going. She hunched over the wheel, her eyes squinting through the blizzard of snowflakes that battered against the windscreen, obscuring her view even further.

She had thrown everything into the back except the box, which lay on the front passenger seat. She tried to focus her attention on driving, rubbing her hand over the inside of the windscreen to clear the mist her breath made on the glass, but the box, thrown about by the movement of the car, jerked forward and teetered on the edge of the seat. She pushed it back, looked up and gasped in shock, jamming her foot onto the brakes.

The man had appeared out of nowhere, and as Kate’s car sped towards him, he looked straight at her and smiled.

 

Buy Blackfeather & Immortal

Would You Be Tempted by Immortality?

Immortal Final Cover 5 x 8   The title character of my latest novel, Immortal, is a man who has lived for two thousand years.  Tricked into a deal with Lucifer he has spent immortality as the instigator of disaster and a cause of  chaos in the human world. Given the name Malachi, meaning messenger or prophet, he has almost  forgotten his real name or how he became Lucifer’s pet. All he knows is that he hates what he must  do, but to refuse would mean losing his soul to the eternal torments of Hell for far longer than he has  been alive.

   The inspiration for Malachi comes from a biblical character called “the rich man’s son”. When he  asks Jesus how he can enter the kingdom of Heaven and be given eternal life he is told that he must  renounce his worldly wealth, give up his possessions to the poor and follow Jesus. Only then will he  be rewarded with riches in Heaven.

   The young man cannot accept this, he doesn’t want to give up his comfortable life and I found  myself wondering what he would do if he was offered immortality under different terms. If someone, a stranger, had told him he could not only keep the wealth he already had but accrue even more, be powerful and attractive and spend the rest of time doing anything he wanted in return for nothing more than a few “little jobs” as and when necessary – would he be tempted? Would he resist and question the stranger’s motives? Or would he jump at the chance to live forever?

Once the deal is done it cannot be taken back and Malachi finds himself in an impossible situation. Forced to do Lucifer’s bidding Malachi is at first appalled, but the ever present threat of Hell’s horrors keeps him at his post. Shunned by his own kind he comes to hate humanity and vows to carry out his work with zeal, but revenge is not so sweet and overtime this hatred turns to self loathing and a desire for oblivion.

We have met Malachi once before in Blackfeather, the first book in the series, where his role was to persuade Thomas Whittle to kill an angel and win immortality for himself. Without Malachi’s interference Catherine Whittle would not have died and Ashrafel would not have been exiled from Heaven. Now, five hundred years later, he meets Ashrafel again and all Hell could break loose.

Over the next few posts I’ll explain Malachi’s involvement in some of history’s disasters.

You can get Blackfeather from: Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk,

Immortal is released tonight, at midnight, click here to purchase Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

Immortal Book Extract Chapter One

The figure, perched on the highest point of York Minster, had his eyes closed and his arms outstretched as though he was about to take a swan dive off the building. If the tiny figures below, intent on checking their texts and posting morning selfies, had looked skywards he would have drawn quite a crowd, but humans rarely bother to look up.

“Where are you little brother?” the figure said, sending the thought out far and wide in all directions.

He crouched, looking out over the city and waited for an answer. He had been searching for more than two weeks now, asking the same question over and over with only silence in return. No one knew where Ashrafel was. No one had seen him, sensed him, or even heard a rumour. The only word from above was that Ash had not returned home, but they could not tell him where he had gone instead. Could not or would not? The Watcher thought the latter. How could they not know where he was? He got the distinct impression he was being fobbed off.

Careful not to tell him an outright lie but evasive enough that he learned nothing, he had pestered them to the point that they no longer bothered to answer him at all.

Well, he could play games too, he knew better than anyone how to bend the rules and he had no intention of leaving his investigations there. There were other ways to find out what he wanted to know. He would just have to get creative.

You can purchase Immortal here

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

The Burning of Witches

Witches weren’t burned at the stake in England during what is commonly referred to as the “witch craze” or “burning times”, but I have used this method of execution in a scene in my novel Blackfeather. Below you will find a paper I submitted for an assignment we were set on the Go Higher course which explains in more detail what really happened to those accused of witchcraft during this period of fear and uncertainty. It is fully referenced for those who are interested in reading more.

Who Was Accused of Witchcraft in Early Modern England and Why?

witchburningDuring the witch hunts of the early modern period 95% of those accused of witchcraft in England were women.[1] It is a commonly held belief that many of these women were burned at the stake, but there is no evidence for this. On the continent, however, things were very different, horrific tortures were carried out on both men and women and burning was one of the forms of execution.

No single cause can explain the “witch-craze” that swept across Europe in its entirety. It can only be interpreted by viewing the multitude of factors that together impacted on the phenomenon as a whole.  Some possible reasons can be gleaned from the evidence  that is still available. Surviving records come from assize and ecclesiastical court records, gaol books, first-hand accounts and contemporary writings and tracts of the time.[2] The most complete are those from the Home Circuit, particularly Essex, but others are missing or incomplete and may have given us new insights on the situation had they survived.[3]

The early modern period covers the years 1450-1750, an era of major upheavals in both religion and politics. The Reformation, the Catholic Counter-Reformation and the Puritan Movement all occurred at this time. The pressure to conform to whichever religion was prominent at the time meant those that did not do so became potential targets for witchcraft accusations.[4]   There was a ‘tyranny of local opinion and […] lack of tolerance towards noncomformity and social deviance’.[5]

The first statute against witchcraft was introduced in 1542 by Henry VIII, but there is no evidence it was ever enforced. Elizabeth I’s statute of 1563 made killing a person by witchcraft an offence punishable by death while James I’s statute of 1604 meant an accusation of injuring by witchcraft was increased from a sentence of life imprisonment to a death sentence also. [6]

Witchcraft was defined in two ways: Black Magic or Maleficium – causing or intending to cause harm or death, by magic and White Magic which included treasure seeking, fortune telling, finding lost objects and using herbs for healing.[7]   Maleficium was the most common accusation, usually involving a child, but also adults and animals.[8] As it was mostly women who took on the role of midwife and healer it is no surprise that these were the first to be accused.[9]

Whilst acknowledging the fact that the majority of those accused of witchcraft were women, James Sharpe, in his book, Witchcraft in Early Modern England, says that ‘few serious historians now see the problem in terms of a simplistic emphasis upon […] male oppression’. His evidence for this is that ‘a high proportion of those accusing them […] were also women’. He also points out that where witchcraft accusations were high men would also be accused.[10] Though it was only 5% in England, throughout Europe the figure for male accusations is 20%.[11]

Christine Larner refutes this by stating that women who conformed to the patriarchal social structure felt threatened by those who did not and would therefore attack them in order to protect themselves.[12] She describes the stereotypical witch as, ‘an independent adult woman who does not conform to the male idea of proper female behaviour.’ [13]

A more commonly held stereotype of the witch comes from Reginald Scot, writing in 1584 as, ‘women which bee commonly old, lame, bleare-eied, pale, fowl and full of wrinkles; poore, sullen and superstitious and papists; or such as knowe no religion.’[sic] [14]This description conforms to the idea most people have of witches, as old, ugly, hunchback women. These older women, often widowed, living without the protection of a man and relying on charity from their neighbours were regularly singled out.   The “charity-refused” scenario or failure to repay a debt often resulted in retaliation by the perceived witch, but it was also believed that those giving charity were just as likely to become victims of witchcraft as those who refused.[15]

The tensions of daily life and conflicts between women especially resulted in libellous accusations, with the word “witch” used to insult often paired with aspersions of sexual impropriety. Arguments could last for years between antagonists, each accusing the other of increasingly more grievous crimes, e.g. stealing a husband, bewitching someone into conceiving an illegitimate child or causing a child’s death.[16]   Men also used the word witch to insult not only women, but other men.[17] However, men’s sexuality was rarely called into question. It was the woman who was ‘sexually insatiable and prone therefore to sinful and deviant behaviour’.[18]

Rural village life appears to be full of feuding, quarrelling and troublesome individuals. There is: “overwhelming evidence of a lack of warmth and tolerance in interpersonal relations…[with an] extraordinary amount of backbiting, malicious slander, marital discord and unfaithfulness…[the] only unifying bond being the occasional episode of mass hysteria, which temporarily bound together the majority in order to harry and persecute the local witch.” [19]

The lives of the common people were dominated by rituals of both a religious and magical nature. Whilst the church presided over life’s milestones (baptism, confirmation, marriage, penance and death), superstition regarding luck and the banishment of evil persisted and was widespread.[20]   The church felt it had good reason to persecute women, after all Eve’s weakness had caused humanity’s fall from grace. It was the Christian Church that created the devil-worshipping image of the witch.[21] The contemporary writer, William Perkins summed up their position when he wrote:

“The woman being the weaker sexe, is sooner intangled by the devill’s illusions, with the damnable art, than the man… the devill hath more easily and oftner prevailed with women than with men.”[sic][22]

There was a second peak of witchcraft accusations which coincided with the 1642-1651 Civil War and the breakdown of social norms. Concentrated in Puritan East Anglia, this outbreak is most commonly attributed to the self-styled Witch-finder General, Matthew Hopkins and his companion, John Stearne.   Hopkins was the younger son of a clergyman who expected him to show his devotion to God by setting an example. It was finding and executing witches that provided him an opportunity to do this.[23]

Historians have concluded from his use of certain techniques that Hopkins was aware of continental literature on witchcraft beliefs and the methods employed to prosecute them.[24] Though torture was illegal in England, he regularly used walking, (the constant pacing round and round of the accused for hours on end until exhaustion brought her to collapse and therefore nearer to confession). The accused could be brought to confession by sleep deprivation over several nights. He also used ducking or swimming as a method for confirming a witch’s guilt; the hands and feet of the accused were tied together she was thrown in a lake to see whether or not she floated (guilty) or drowned (innocent).

If this is true, it may be that this knowledge of Continental practices, along with his religious upbringing, influenced his attitudes towards women. Out of the 250 people he accused, 161 were women, 19 of whom were hung together. He was responsible for 100 deaths in total.[25]

The Hopkins trials were unusual in the number of cases involving the devil. It was the sexually active, sinful and manipulative woman, who sought to fulfill her sexual needs by liaisons with the devil that came to the fore in the 1645-1647 trials.[26]    The Lancashire witch trials also differed from the usual pattern of accusations in that groups of witches were thought to have acted together and attended “Sabbats”. In 1612 and 1633 families, acting as witch-finders [27] and accusing each other of crimes of maleficium, resulted in the mass hangings of ten and nineteen people respectively.

The early modern period could be a dangerous time for women, but especially so if they were considered to be outside the jurisdiction of men. Women who were unmarried, widowed or lived alone were viewed with suspicion from both sexes and with jealousy by those who must defer to their husbands, the church and male authority as a whole. Self-governing, outspoken, sexually independent women and their opposites: elderly, poor, and reliant women, were easy targets for charges of witchcraft when misfortune, illness, conflict and death took their toll. Gossip, a predominantly women’s pastime, could stir up the enmity and hatred of an entire community.[28]

Attitudes towards women were influenced by the church, patriarchy and politics. Women were targeted because of their status and the perceived ability to ‘manipulate men for their own ends in a male-dominated Christian society’.[29] The witch craze (though it never really reached this level in England) and witch trials could not have occurred without the church creating the idea of a Satanic Pact and the legal system’s acceptance that witchcraft was a crime.[30] Accusations may have been fuelled by women’s conflicts, but it was men who were the law-makers, gaolers, judges, jurors and priests. The majority of those accused were hung or died in prison either having been given a life sentence or before they were even brought to trial through the awful conditions in which they were kept.

Whilst Kate’s dream of being burned at the stake in Chapter Five and description of Catherine Whittle’s execution for conversing with spirits in Chapter Eleven of  Blackfeather may not be quite correct, women who were accused and found guilty of treason and adultery were burned in this way. By placing them in a barrel of tar a continuous and furious fire was ensured with no risk of it going  out before death had occurred. I chose to use burning at the stake as it was a more terrifying event that would stick in the minds of those who observed it and something more likely to cause trauma to the souls of Catherine Whittle and her father, Thomas. It also provided a neat solution to Catherine’s burial in the small jewellery-box-sized casket which Kate discovers in the church 500 hundred years later.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

[1] Lea, Deborah, ‘Harlots, Whores and Witches’, in Herstoria (3) Autumn 2009,  pp.32-36

[2] Pickering, David & Pickering, Andrew, Witch Hunt: The Persecution of Witches in England,  (Stroud: Amberley, 2013)

[3] Ibid

[4] Sharpe, James, Witchcraft in Early Modern England, (England: Pearson Education, 2001)

[5] Thomas, Keith, Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in popular beliefs in sixteenth and seventeenth century England (London: Penguin, 2003)

[6] McFarlane, Alan, Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England (London: Longman, 2009)

[7] McFarlane, p. 3-5 and Thomas, p. 518-519

[8] Pickering, David & Pickering, Andrew, Witch Hunt: The Persecution of Witches in England (Stroud: Amberley, 2013)

[9] Ibid

[10] Sharpe, p.10

[11] Roper, Lyndal, Witch Craze (Suffolk: St Edmundsbury Press Ltd, 2004)

[12] Larner, Christine, Witchcraft and Religion (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985)

[13]Ibid

[14] Scot, Reginald,  The Discoverie of Witchcraft  (Dover Publications Inc: Dover Occult Series, 1990)

[15] McFarlane, p105 and  p.174, Thomas, p.661,

[16] Lea, Deborah, ‘Harlots, Whores and Witches’, in Herstoria (3) Autumn 2009, pp.32-36

[17] Ibid

[18] Hester, Marianne, pp.294

[19] Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 (1982) as cited in Sharpe p.34

[20] Wilby, Emma, Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic  (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2005)

[21] Sharpe p.6

[21] Perkins, William, A Discourse of the Damned Art of Wtchcraft. So Farre Forth as it is Revealed in the Scriptures, and Manifest by True Experience, (Cambridge, 1608) as cited in Sharpe p.43

[23] Gaskill, Malcolm, Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-century English Tragedy, (Great Britain: John Murray, 2006)

[24] Sharpe, Jim, ‘The devil in East Anglia: the Matthew Hopkins trials reconsidered’, in Barry, Hester and Roberts, eds, Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 1996, pp.237-254.

[25] Davies, Owen, Witchcraft, Magic and Culture 1736-1951, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999), p.91

[26] Hester, Marianne, ‘Patriarchal reconstruction and witch hunting’, in Barry, Hester and Roberts, eds, Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp.288-306

[27] Swain, John, ‘Witchcraft, economy and society in the forest of Pendle’ in Poole, Robert, ed,  The Lancashire Witches, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003).

[28] Lea, Deborah, ‘Harlots, Whores and Witches’, in Herstoria (3) Autumn 2009, pp.32-36

[29] Katz, Steven, T., The Holocaust in Historical Context: Holocaust and Mass Death Before The Modern Age Vol 1. (USA: Oxford University Press Inc, 1994)

[30] Sharpe, p.33 and Pickering & Pickering, p.41

Your Guardian Angel and You – A Guide

The Blackfeather universe contains several mythological and religious themes including angels, demons and The Watchers. The abilities and appearance of these supernatural beings in the Blackfeather Series of books may not have any bearing on similar themes in the real world. To that end, I felt I should explain a few of the concepts as they appear in the books.

We’ll take a look at several attributes of angelic beings over the next few posts. Let’s start with the connection between guardian angel and ward. 

The Bond Between Guardian Angel And Ward 

797b9-angelstatueWhat Is A Guardian Angel? 
A guardian angel is an invisible companion, appointed by Heaven, to watch over a human. They are assigned to a soul at the birth of their first human incarnation and stay with them through all lifetimes lived by that one particular soul.

What Do They Do? 
Their duties include gentle encouragement and nudges in the right direction along a soul’s chosen life path. They can whisper suggestions into the mind of their charge, making them believe they are their own thoughts, but they must not make decisions for them or interfere in a human being’s free will. Ultimately, the choice to take one path over another belongs to the human whose decision it is to make.
They may keep their charges safe from harm in small ways, by making them change direction or delaying them in some way in order to avoid a dangerous situation. In the same vein they can manipulate events to bring about fortuitous occurrences, e.g. being in the right place at the right time. Most people put this kind of thing down to coincidence, but in reality there are no coincidences.
This is not the same as the miraculous escapes from death that some people experience, walking away from major accidents and crashes without a scratch on them for example, or like those tales that we’ve all heard of, where a mysterious stranger has appeared to warn against certain dangerous, life threatening courses of action. These are the domain of The Watchers and will be explained in another post.
In most cases, humans are never aware of their guardian angels and blunder through life after life oblivious of the divine help they receive. Guardian angels are careful not to reveal their presence and believe falling in love with their human charges is forbidden because of the enormous risks involved, but as Ashrafel says to Kate:

“I didn’t fall because I loved you. I fell because of the consequences that came about through that love.”

The connection between Ashrafel and Kate in the Blackfeather books is far deeper than that of any other guardian and ward. They are soul-mates, in every sense of the word. Ashrafel has and would continue to spend lifetimes searching for Kate’s reincarnated soul, and without him by her side, Kate feels lost and alone.
Whether they can overcome those consequences, battle the evil that has stalked them through five centuries and find a happy ever after remains to be seen…

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

All Souls Church – novel locations

All Sainst

All Saints Church Bolton Percy (Martin Dawes)

If you’ve read my first novel, Blackfeather you’ll know that at the start of the story Kate is running away from All Souls Church with the box that she has found in the floor of the chancel. It is an important location throughout the book, linking past and present together. It is the place where the story begins and where it all ends. What you might not know is that All Souls is a real church in the small village of Bolton Percy in York, England. In reality this beautiful church is called All Saints, but I decided to change the name in the book for two reasons.

When I talked to other writers they felt that the people who knew the church or lived nearby might be concerned about some of the events that take place there within the novel and secondly, All SOULS meant much more to the premise of the story since it deals with the theme of reincarnation.

However, the descriptions of the church, its interior and churchyard environs are true to life and if you go there you will be able to see the place where Kate finds the box, the Norman stone font and Jacobean box pews and the Lych-gate where Kate stands before going up the path to begin her afternoon of research in the archives.

Of course, the Lych-gate  hasn’t been destroyed by demons and you won’t find a pentacle carved into one of the pews, but you will be able to imagine all this if you visit. (Oops spoilers).

You can find out more about the church’s history and see pictures of the interior at the following links, which I used when researching the book.
http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/YKS/ARY/Boltonpercy/index.html

http://vidimus.org/issues/issue-32/panel-of-the-month/

http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-326405-church-of-all-saints-bolton-percy-north

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter