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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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