Thursday, 25 May 2017

Candlestick Press launches ~ Ten Poems about Grandparents

Published May 2017, priced £4.95
ISBN 978 1 907598 47 0

Selected and Introduced by Liz Soar with Pupils of Headington School, Oxford

“Poems that capture the joy of being – or having – a grandparent”

This latest title from Candlestick Press is something of a departure: all the selections have been chosen by pupils at Headington School in Oxford and the anthology includes two beautiful poems written by the students themselves and one by their English teacher, Liz Soar.

The pupils were diligent editors and their choices reflect the multicultural world in which they are growing up. There’s a poem in three languages about a joyful reunion with a grandparent arriving from overseas and another in which a Muslim grandmother raises eyebrows in a posh department store by washing her feet in the sink in the ladies’ room.

But the abiding spirit of the selection is the sense of safety and comfort we feel in the company of a beloved grandparent. Joan Johnston’s tiny poem ‘Safe’ captures the feelings of a child tucked up in bed. Or as Andrew Waterhouse says so touchingly, it’s simply about:

“feeling his heat, knowing
the slow pulse of his good heart.”

from ‘Climbing my Grandfather’ by Andrew Waterhouse

Poems by Tiffany Atkinson, John Burnside, Katie Cleverley, Vicki Feaver, Joan Johnston, Katerina de Jong/Anastasia Matveeva/Minnah Rashid, Mohja Kahf, Derek Mahon, Liz Soar and Andrew Waterhouse.

Illustration by Kathy Morgan

To continue the Candlestick tradition of supporting a range of charities through pamphlet sales, a donation will be made to Friends of the Elderly.      

Candlestick Press is a small, independent press publishing sumptuously produced poetry pamphlets that serve as a wonderful alternative to a greetings card, with matching envelopes and bookmarks left blank for your message. Their subjects include Cricket, London, Lesbian and Gay, Revenge, Babies and Fathers. Candlestick Press pamphlets are stocked by chain and independent bookshops, galleries and garden centres nationwide and available to order online.

Follow on Twitter @poetrycandle


Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Blog Tour ~ Making Space by Sarah Tierney

 Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be hosting a stop on the Making Space Blog Tour

What's it all about...

Miriam is twenty-nine: temping, living with a flatmate who is no longer a friend, and still trying to find her place in life. She falls in love with Erik after he employs her to clear out his paper-packed home. They are worlds apart: he is forty-five, a successful photographer and artist and an obsessive hoarder still haunted by the end of his marriage. Miriam has an unsuccessful love life and has just got rid of most of her belongings. Somehow, they must find a way to reach each other.

What did I think about it...

Miriam seems to be a lost soul, struggling to live her life to her full potential. She lives with a flat mate she doesn't like very much and who seems to treat Miriam with complete disregard. Miriam's unsatisfactory work life leaves her feeling even more bereft, that is, until she comes into contact with Erik, a man who is as lost as she is, and who is struggling with his own problems which, at times, seem insurmountable.

This was a really astute look into the way we behave as human beings. How circumstances can affect the way we act, and of the coping mechanisms we choose to protect us from further hurt and pain. There is an acute realism to the narrative which is both bittersweet and tender and which gives such a sensitive look at life and love and which reiterates that we can only control our lives to a certain point, after which fate takes over.

I loved both Miriam and Erik from the start and felt both their isolation and their uniqueness, which comes across in the shrewd attention to detail and in the gentle way the author allows their combined stories to unfold.

I particularly enjoyed the Manchester ❤ references, a proud city I know and love, and of course, Morecambe fish and chips, who can resist that!

Making Space is undoubtedly a very confident and beautifully written first novel by a talented writer who I look forward to reading more from in the future.

Best Read with...Morecambe Bay fish and chips, straight out of the wrapper and tangy with salt and vinegar..

Sarah Tierney is a graduate of the MA in Novel Writing at Manchester University, and her short story, ‘Five Miles Out’, was made into a short film by the acclaimed director Andrew Haigh. Sarah has worked as a journalist, editor and copywriter. She lives in Derbyshire with her husband and daughter.

Follow on Twitter @sarahjtierney #MakingSpace

Published by @SandstonePress April 2017

My thanks to Keara at Sandstone Press for the invitation to be part of the blog tour

 and for my review copy of Making Space

Available on Kindle  promotion  at £1.00 until this weekend.


Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Blog Tour ~ Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be part of the blog tour for Leopard at the Door

July 2017

What's it all about...

After six years exiled in England, Rachel has returned to Kenya and the farm where she spent her childhood, only to find the home she has longed for in the grip of change. Her father’s new companion—a strange, intolerant woman—has taken over the household, and the political climate in the country is growing more unsettled by the day. Looming over them all is the threat of Mau Mau—a secret society intent on uniting the Africans and overthrowing the whites.

As Rachel struggles to find her place in her home, she initiates a secret relationship, one that will demand from her an act of betrayal. Only one man knows her secret, and he has made it clear how she can buy his silence. But she knows something of her own, something she has never told anyone. And her knowledge brings her power.

What did I think about it...

When Rachel Fullsmith returns to her childhood home after an absence of six years, it brings back memories which she had thought hidden. The sights, sounds and smells of her home in Kenya are just as vivid as she remembered, and yet, all is not as it once was; now there is violence and unrest in the area and, with the introduction of a new partner in her father's life, even Rachel's childhood home appears changed and unsettled. Memories linger in the shadows and Rachel is acutely aware that finding what she thought lost perhaps means losing things forever.

This is a really powerful story about the 1950s Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, a period in history which I knew practically nothing about. So it was with interest that I started to read Leopard at the Door. With unsettling precision, the story shows just how families were ripped apart, and of how a way of life, so long in the making, was changed forever. The author writes so evocatively of the people and the places that I felt at one with the story. Africa, with all its innate splendour, comes gloriously to life, particularly in the author’s description of the stunning landscape, with its shimmering heat and vibrant colours. Rachel’s own personal story is linked irretrievably with that of her homeland. The childhood secrets she buried so deep within herself now threaten her safety and the repercussions have a devastating effect, not just on Rachel but also on those people she holds dear.

The author writes well and although the story is at times unsettling there is intensity to the narrative which I found made it all the more compelling to read. Leopard at the Door is about the fragmentation of tradition and values. It’s about the turmoil of coming-of-age in a world made angry by fear and oppression, and, for Rachel, it’s about those secrets which have been buried for far too long and which once exposed can never be hidden again.

Best Read With...Honey, from the forest, sticky and sweet..

Jennifer McVeigh graduated from Oxford University in 2002. She went on to work in film, radio and publishing before giving up her day job to study for an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. She has travelled in wilderness areas of East Africa and southern Africa, driving and camping along the way. Her first novel, The Fever Tree (Penguin, 2012), was a Richard and Judy Book Club Pick and received widespread critical acclaim.

Find out more on the author's website by clicking here 
Follow on Twitter @McVeighAuthor #LeopardattheDoor
Find on Facebook 

My thanks to Elke at Penguin for the invitation to be part of the blog tour for 

Leopard at the Door.


Monday, 22 May 2017

Review ~ See you in September by Charity Norman

Allen & Unwin

What's it all about about ...

It was supposed to be a short trip - a break in New Zealand before her best friend's wedding. But when Cassy waved goodbye to her parents, they never dreamed that it would be years before they'd see her again.

Having broken up with her boyfriend, Cassy accepts an invitation to stay in an idyllic farming collective. Overcome by the peace and beauty of the valley and swept up in the charisma of Justin, the community's leader, Cassy becomes convinced that she has to stay.

As Cassy becomes more and more entrenched in the group's rituals and beliefs, her frantic parents fight to bring her home - before Justin's prophesied Last Day can come to pass.

What did I think about it...

Whilst on holiday in New Zealand, Cassy has a row with her boyfriend, Hamish. After abandoning him, she hitches a ride with a group of people who persuade her to join them in Gethsemane, a rural community which lies within the volcanic shadow of Mount Tarawera. 

Living a sustainable existence in such an idyllic location is an attractive proposition to Cassy and even though she knows should return to her family in London, she is entranced by the group's ideology and decides to make her home with them. When Cassy fails to return, as planned in September, precious family memories are all that Cassy’s parents, Diana, Mark and younger sister, Tara have to sustain them through the missing years.

I think what is so powerful about this story is the utter believability of how Cassy was taken in and how, almost without conscious thought, she was brainwashed into believing that the life she was now part of at Gethsemane was the absolute truth. The indoctrination at the heart of the story is subtle and so cleverly contrived that I almost wanted to join the community, and follow the teaching and philosophy of Justin Calvin, for myself.

I read See You in September over the space of a couple of days and even when I wasn’t reading it I still had Cassy on my mind. As a parent, I felt every inch of Diana and Mark’s anguish at not being able to communicate with their precious daughter, and yet, due to the author’s vivid description of life at Gethsemane I also understood why Cassy felt compelled to remain there with her new family and friends.

Powerful, upsetting and more than a little disturbing, See You in September is an unputdownable novel by an author at her absolute best.

Best Read With...a rich and succulent venison casserole..

About the Author

Charity Norman was born in Uganda and brought up in successive draughty vicarages in Yorkshire and Birmingham. After several years' travel she became a barrister, specialising in crime and family law. In 2002 realising that her three children had barely met her, she took a break from the law and moved with her family to New Zealand. See You in September is Charity's fifth novel.

Find on Facebook

Follow on Twitter @charitynorman1 #SeeYouInSeptember

Follow the publisher @AllenAndUnwinUK

My thanks to Kate at Allen &Unwin for the opportunity to read and review 

See You in September 


Sunday, 21 May 2017

Sunday WW1 Remembered..

When I first started this WW1 commemoration back in 2014 I mainly featured poetry.

This month I will share my favourite poems

Sara Teasdale

1884 - 1933

There Will Come Soft Rains

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

Sara Teasdale was an American lyrical poet. She was born Sara Trevor Teasdale in St. Louis, Missouri, and after her marriage in 1914 she went by the name Sara Teasdale Filsinger.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Close to Home ...Beth Underdown

As a book reviewer I have made contact with authors from all across the globe and feel immensely privileged to be able to share some amazing work. However, there is always something rather special when a book comes to my attention which has been written by an author in my part of the North of England. So with this in mind I have great pleasure in featuring some of those authors who are literally close to my home. Over the next few Saturdays, and hopefully beyond, I will be sharing the work of a very talented bunch of Northern authors and discovering just what being a Northerner means to them both in terms of inspiration and also in their writing.   

Please welcome North West Writer

Photo credit : Justine Stoddart

Hi, Beth. Welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for spending time with us today. 

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started as an author. 

I was born in Rochdale and went to school in Oldham. My mum is from Rochdale, but my dad is from the south, and I remember growing up thinking that he was dead posh because he said ‘baarth’ instead of ‘bath’. None of my immediate family are very arty, but when I was little there were always a lot of books in the house. I was keen on writing at high school, and had one particular teacher who encouraged me a lot – she died while I was doing my A-levels, and The Witchfinder’s Sister is dedicated to her. 

I didn’t write very much as an undergraduate – I was quite social, and writing is such a solitary thing to do – but after I graduated I moved to London and started working for a publishing house, Phaidon Press. While I was there I began to get up early in the morning to write for an hour or two in a café before work, and that was when I started to think that I wanted to dedicate a bit more time to my writing. This happened to coincide with getting fairly fed up with living in London. I decided to do a Creative Writing MA, and the only way I could even slightly afford to do it was to move back in with my mum and dad in Rochdale – I found this pretty challenging, and I’m sure they did, too! 

So I started the Creative Writing MA at the University of Manchester, part time. I began The Witchfinder’s Sister in the last year of the course, and an extract from it was printed in the anthology which the MA students produce every year. Copies of that anthology are circulated to agents and so on, and my agent, Nelle Andrew, approached me having seen my piece. I signed with PFD and then worked on the novel for a number of years with feedback from Nelle – I was ill during this time, too, which did slow things down. But then in January last year I was signed by Penguin, and a few months later I got a job lecturing Creative Writing at the University of Manchester – so I now teach on the same course I did all those years ago. 

Whilst your novel, The Witchfinder’s Sister is not set in the North West, I wonder if the North West landscape helped to shape your story in any way? 

That’s an interesting question – I’m not sure. I think the West Pennine landscape is very present in my imagination – my mum and dad live near the bottom of Blackstone Edge, which can look peaceful or beautiful or downright sinister depending on the weather. From being a kid I was always taken hiking most weekends, and so as an adult I have a habit of noticing field patterns, old boundaries, things like that, which is really just another way of noticing history. So I think the landscape of the north west has had an important role in teaching me to look in the ways that were necessary to write the book I’ve written – if that makes sense. 

In The Witch Finder’s Sister you were inspired to write about the man who was known as a notorious witch finder. How did your interest in Matthew Hopkins start

What happened first is that I got interested in the seventeenth century and the English Civil War in general. I had a great uncle who was a history professor, and I read one of his books, which is set in the 1600s. It’s about the town of Dorchester, which burned to the ground in this period, and my great uncle used this event to write about the lives and beliefs of ordinary people at the time. I was really struck by it – I think I hadn’t read much history that told a good story before (or told a story about ordinary people). From there I started reading about the seventeenth century in general, including a book on seventeenth century midwifery, because I was thinking about becoming a midwife! (I was doing the Creative Writing MA at this point, but had never thought writing could be a job, so I was doing some midwifery work experience.) It was in this book about seventeenth century midwifery that I found a footnote about Hopkins and his witch hunts, and the whole thing grew from there. I read Malcolm Gaskill’s book about Hopkins, and thought, ‘this needs to be a novel’. 

If you were pitching the North West as an ideal place to live, work and write – how would you sell it and what makes it so special? 

I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I hope to be in this neck of the woods for the rest of my life – I’d like to do maybe a year in the US, a year in some other places, but I think I’d always come back. It has all the ingredients I need to be productive as a writer – green space, and good stuff going on culturally in Manchester, which for me is half an hour away. Most importantly, it’s still reasonably cheap to live. I’m not sure I’d get much done as a writer in London, or at least not full-time – I loved living there in some ways, but I found it exhausting. 

As a writer based in the North West, does this present any problems in terms of marketing and promoting your books and if so, how have you overcome them? 

Not really. Quite often London events will pop up on my Twitter feed, and I’ll be like, ‘oh, I wish I could go to that thing tonight’ – but I manage to get to a reasonable amount by arranging trips down in advance and staying with friends. And actually a lot of my work in terms of events with readers and engaging with bookshops has involved long road trips in Essex, Yorkshire, the West Country – all over the place. I don’t feel like the promotional activity has been particularly London-centric. 

Writing is a solitary business - how do you interact with other authors? 

I’m really lucky to work in a very supportive department at the University of Manchester, so I see a fair bit of the other authors there, certainly during term time. That’s been very important for me – some people there have been peers and others more like mentors, but all of them are great. We also have a lot of writers visiting the department to do events, so that’s not only interesting but also good for making links. I’ve met a few other authors through Twitter who have turned into real life friends, so that’s been lovely. And then, a friend from university has had her book taken on by Penguin for 2018, so we’re in very similar boats too. 

How supportive are local communities to your writing and have there been any opportunities for book shops, local reading groups, or libraries to be involved in promoting your work? 

There’s a writer’s group I set up in the town where I live in the Peak District, and they’ve been hugely supportive. It’s now run by one of the first people to attend one of my courses – from there she went on to do the Creative Writing MA at MMU, which she’s just about to complete. I still drop in there now and then, it’s a lovely community of people and that gives me a real boost. There are quite a few reading groups doing the book, lots of them in Essex and Suffolk. My local Waterstones, the Deansgate store in Manchester, gave me a fabulous launch, for which I’ll always be grateful! 

You can find out more about Beth and her writing by going to her website 

Find her on Facebook

Follow on Twitter @bethunderdown #TheWitchfindersSister

Here is the link to my review of The Witchfinder's Sister

Warmest thanks to Beth for spending time with us today and for sharing her love of the North West with us. 

I hope that you have enjoyed this week's Close to Home feature.

Coming next week : Kirsty Ferry


Friday, 19 May 2017

Review ~ Centaur by Declan Murphy and Ami Rao

April 2017

What's it all about..

Coping with your own death, when you are not yet dead, is a strange thing...

A natural on a horse since he was able to walk, and imbued with a pure love of riding, Declan Murphy became one of the most brilliant jockeys of his generation before his world came crashing down at the final hurdle of a race at Haydock Park in May 1994.

What did I think about it ..

I love horses. The power of them, their shadowy grace, the sheer exhilaration of watching them move, muscles rippling. However, I also have a healthy respect for them, they scare me a little, which is why I was never an over confident rider.  Now I'm older, I can't watch horse racing and I can't even bring myself to bet on the Grand National because I don't want to see either the horse or jockey fall and be injured. The image of a horse and rider going down is frightening, especially when you remember that 1,200lbs of muscle and bone is cutting through the air at tremendous speed.

In May, 1994, at Haydock Park racecourse, just a few miles from where I live, jockey, Declan Murphy was catastrophically injured when, Arcot, the horse he was riding in the 2:30 afternoon race failed at the last second to clear a hurdle. The race had been running for just 3 minutes and 27 seconds when Declan's life changed forever. Transferred to one of the best neurological specialist hospitals, The Walton Centre in Liverpool, twenty eight year old Declan's life hung in the balance.

Centaur charts Declan's long, slow journey to recovery.

I have no words to do justice to this story other than to say that I am in awe of the power of the human spirit, the sheer strength of determination and the perseverance which Declan needed in order to pick up the pieces of his shattered life is awe-inspiring.

Beautifully written by Ami Rao, Declan's unique affinity and special relationship with horses, from his childhood spent in Ireland, through to his natural ability to race horses and win, comes across with every well-chosen word. That Declan is speaking and recounting what he can barely remember, because after the accident he lost chunks of his memory, is never in any doubt. I could sense Declan's strength of spirit in every well uttered sentence, and his unique personality in every eloquent turn of phrase.

Declan's perfect symbiotic relationship and understanding of horses lies at the very heart of the story and despite the catastrophic injuries he sustained at Haydock Park, even when his own steely determination was the only driving force keeping him alive, his abiding love for horses never faltered.

I read Centaur in less than a day, travelling in Declan's footsteps on an inspirational journey, with tears shining so brightly in my eyes that at times I couldn't see the print. I had to stop and take frequent breaks in order to breathe, only to be impatient, after a few minutes, to pick up the story once again.

At the end of Declan's story I felt emotionally wiped out and completely overwhelmed by this story of a man who, with all the odds stacked against him, just wouldn't give up. Truly inspirational.

My thanks to Alison at Transworld for giving me the opportunity to read and review this amazing story.

Follow on Twitter #Centaurbook


Thursday, 18 May 2017

Review ~ Anne Boleyn:A King's Obsession by Alison Weir..

**Happy Publication Day**

18th May 2017

May 18th 2017

What's it all about..

Anne Boleyn. The second of Henry's Queens. Her story. History tells us why she died. This powerful novel shows her as she lived.

What did I think about it..

Alison Weir's second volume in her Six Tudor Queens series starts in 1512 when Anne Boleyn leaves her childhood home at Hever Castle to take up a position as fille d’honeur to the Archduchess Margaret of Austria. In the glittering courts of Burgundy and France, Anne discovers that charm, wit and intelligence will be her saving grace, and as she grows to young adulthood, it becomes obvious that Anne's ambition will take her in a very different direction than that of her older sister, Mary.

Beautifully written and meticulously researched, the author puts very human emotion at the heart of Anne’s life story. Anne’s early relationships with her family, her sister Mary in particular, is explored in detail, as is her later adult association with Henry Percy and Thomas Wyatt. All are contrasted against the wider significance of Anne’s burgeoning relationship with King Henry VIII.

The author writes with authority on the Tudor period and instils a real sense of personality into Anne so that you can’t help but be captivated by this young woman whose sparkling personality set the English royal court alight. I think what comes across is the very human face of a young woman who glittered and charmed her way into the affections of a King, a King whose capricious nature would be her very undoing.

After all that has been written about Anne's life you would think that there can't be much new to be revealed. However, in this fictional version of Anne’s life the Henrician court comes alive with all the gossipy intrigue, calculated scheming and deadly manipulations which are so reminiscent of this time in England's chequered history. And even though you know how Anne Boleyn’s story plays out, you can’t help but become completely caught up in her life story, which is so beautifully recreated by this talented writer.

This second volume follows the successful Katherine of Aragon. I can’t wait to see what happens in the third volume when Jane Seymour’s life will be laid bare and held up to scrutiny.

Best Read With ..Gold and jewelled goblets filled with rich, red wine..

Alison Weir

Find on Facebook
Follow on Twitter @AlisonWeirBooks

Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession is published today by Headline Review 


My thanks to Caitlin Raynor at Headline for the opportunity to read and review this book


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Blog Tour ~ The Butlins Girls by Elaine Everest

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be host today's penultimate stop on 

The Butlins Girls Blog Tour

Pan Macmillan
4 May 2017

What's it all about..

Times have been hard for Molly Missons. Following the loss of her parents, mysterious, long-lost family have darkened her door, laying claim to her home and livelihood.

Molly applies for a job as a Butlins auntie, in the hope of escaping bitterness and arguments.When she receives news that she has got the job, she immediately leaves her small home town, enthralled by the promise of a carefree new life in Skegness.

As soon as she arrives , Molly finds true friendship in Bunty and Plum. But the biggest shock is discovering that star of the silver screen, Johnny Johnson, is working at Butlins as entertainments adviser, Johnny takes an instant liking to Molly and she begins to shed the shackles of her recent heartache.

What did I think about it..

From the start of the story you can't help but warm to Molly Missons, she's such a lovely person, kind, generous and warm hearted. At the start of the story, we meet her when she is a at a really low ebb, her beloved parents have recently died, leaving Molly to face life alone. However, her good friend, Freda keeps her spirits up, that is until two unfamiliar relatives turn up to claim what they feel is their inheritance. Molly, with her life and security under threat, decides takes a position as a red coat at the newly reopened Butlins holiday camp in Skegness where she finds that friendship and a delicious romantic attachment can chase away her demons.

There's a real feeling of authenticity in this nicely written post-war saga. The story initially opens in Kent in 1946 and then takes the reader to the east coast, to Skegness, and to the wonderful era of fun loving holiday camps and the joy of seeing people once again enjoying a carefree holiday. Molly and her new found friends form a perfect back drop to showcase just what life was like in those heady post war days when excitement seemed to have returned, at last, to British life.

What I liked about the story was how the writer gets right into the personality of all her characters, especially Molly, Plum and Bunty who are firm friends from the outset. Molly, especially, comes across with an air of innocence which belies her strength of spirit and both Plum and Bunty add their own unique personality into the mixture. The mystery at the heart of the novel lends intrigue, and the delicious frisson of romance between Molly and the handsome, Johnny Johnson is fun to read.

With joy and sadness combined, The Butlins Girls would make a lovely holiday read...especially if you are heading to Butlins Skegness for a well earned break 😊

Best Read With...a brown Betty pot of tea and a plate of sticky buns...

Elaine has written widely for women's magazines, with both short stories and features. When she isn't writing, Elaine runs The Write Place creative writing school in Dartford, Kent, and the blog for the Romantic Novelists' Association. The Butlins Girls is her second novel with Pan Macmillan, following her successful novel The Woolworths Girls

Elaine lives with her husband, Michael, and their Polish Lowland Sheepdog, Henry, in Swanley, Kent.

Twitter @ElaineEverest #TheButlinsGirls


My thanks to Bethan at edpr for the invitation to be part of this blog tour and for giving me the opportunity to read The Butlins Girls.


Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Review ~ Widdershins by Helen Steadman

Impress Books

What's it all about...

Jane Chandler is an apprentice healer. From childhood, she and her mother have used herbs to cure the sick. But Jane will soon learn that her sheltered life in a small village is not safe from the troubles of the wider world.

From his father’s beatings to his uncle’s raging sermons, John Sharpe is beset by bad fortune. Fighting through personal tragedy, he finds his purpose: to become a witch-finder and save innocents from the scourge of witchcraft.

Inspired by true events, Widdershins tells the story of the women who were persecuted and the men who condemned them.

What did I think about it...

Living in Lancashire I am well aware of the lure of stories which feature witchcraft. Tales steeped in legend that tell of unfortunate women accused of hexing and bewitching local communities, so that when babies died, people fell ill, crops failed or general misfortune came a-calling there was always someone to blame.

Did all women have something of the witch about them?

Widdershins takes us into the North East of the mid-seventeenth century and back to a dark, dark place where superstition and mischance are as dangerous as stumbling widdershins around a graveyard in the chill of night.

Jane Chandler has learned the use of herbs and healing from her mother, Anna, and Meg, both local wise women. These generous women taught her the old ways and the cunning ways, the traditions and teachings of country folk and how to watch for signs that creep and crumble in the dark.

John Sharpe, a product of his time and Scottish upbringing, seeks to clear the world around him of evil. Evil that he feels can be found in the shape of a woman's body, in a wife that trembles before him, in the savage fury of his fist and in his absolute belief that witches lurk in all the dark recesses of daily life.

The narrative within Widdershins is superbly controlled by a very talented writer, someone who is a definite weaver of tales, and who has brought to perfect life the inner workings of a disturbed mind. A mind which is convinced that, with God on his side, he can do no wrong. Intertwining Jane and John’s story is inspired and gives a disturbing account of how lives can be brought together and changed irrevocably by the sly capriciousness of fate.

I am intrigued by stories that coalesce, which creep ever so carefully, which cleverly intertwine lives so that truth and fiction merge and blend and become so terrifyingly convincing that it hurts to read about lives which are tumbling out of control. The last section of Widdershins strikes at the very heart of terror. Its calculated evil scared me and I wasn’t anywhere near the witch pricker as he sought to condemn the innocent to their death and send them to lie forever in an unmarked grave, unshriven and unblessed.

Based on the true events of the 1650 Newcastle Witch Trials where sixteen petrified souls were taken to a needless death, the author has brought to life a chilling story of persecution, superstitious mania and terrifying ineptitude.

I can't praise Widdershins highly enough, and for someone brought up with the stories of witchcraft, believe me, this one stands up with the best I've read.

Best read with...a sip of mead and a slice of Beltane cake , carefully avoiding the carline...

LI crop
Helen Steadman lives in the foothills of the North Pennines, and she particularly enjoys researching and writing about the history of the north east of England. Following her MA in creative writing at Manchester Met, Helen is now completing a PhD in English at the University of Aberdeen.

When she’s not studying or writing, Helen critiques, edits and proofreads other writers’ work, and she is a professional member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders.

Twitter @hsteadman1650 #Widdershins

My thanks to Natalie at Impress Books for the opportunity to read 

Widdershins in advance of its publication.

Coming : 1 July 2017 


Monday, 15 May 2017

Review ~ Under the Approaching Dark by Anna Belfrage

April 2017

What's it all about ..

Adam de Guirande has cause to believe the turbulent times are behind him: Hugh Despenser is dead and Edward II is forced to abdicate in favour of his young son. It is time to look forward, to a bright new world in which the young king, guided by his council, heals his kingdom and restores its greatness. But the turmoil is far from over. 

Under the Approaching Dark is the third in Anna Belfrage’s series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, the story of a man torn apart by his loyalties to his lord, his king, and his wife.

What did I think about it..

Under the Approaching Dark, is the third book in The King’s Greatest Enemy series, which starts in 1327. Edward II has been incarcerated against his will and Queen Isabella and her henchman, Mortimer, flaunt their love affair before a court which neither accepts nor condones their illicit relationship, which, to some onlookers, goes beyond the bounds of common decency. The young king, Edward III, still little more than a teenager needs to look to his own men-at-arms for the love and support which is so often lacking in his relationship with his mother and Mortimer. With the announcement of Edward II’s death in captivity, Isabella and Mortimer’s political ambition once again plunges the country in turmoil.

It was a real delight to meet up again with the main protagonist of this series. Adam de Guirande is now firmly placed as one of the young King’s most loyal supporters and together with his beautiful wife, Kit, Adam is right at the very heart of the political conspiracy which fills the story with so much excitement and adventure. Plots, counter plots, intrigue and danger seem to follow Adam and Kit wherever they go, taking them on a journey which is rich in intrigue and alive with all the loving encounters which we have come to expect from this couple’s passionate relationship.

The author has once again given us a beautifully written story which is firmly ensconced in the early fourteenth century. From baronial manor houses to royal palaces, there is a real feeling of authenticity, so much so, you can sense the danger, feel the intrigue and experience all the sights and sounds of medieval life. No historical stone is left unturned and no aspect of medieval life is ignored or glossed over.

Under the Approaching Dark is a joy to read from beginning to end and I am looking forward to catching up with another well planned historical adventure in Book Four of the series - The Cold Light of Dawn, which is planned for 2018.

Best read with..Hot chicken and warm manchet bread, fragrant from the oven.. 

 Anna Belfrage talks about her hero, Mortimer. Read an interview here

Find on Twitter @belfrageauthor

Amazon UK

My thanks to Anna for sharing Under the Approaching Dark with me 

and for continuing The King's Great Enemy series with such enthusiasm.


Guest Author ~ Anna Belfrage

I am delighted to welcome back to Jaffareadstoo the historical fiction writer

Anna Belfrage.

Today, Anna is sharing her thoughts about Roger Mortimer, who is a major character in 

 The King's Greatest Enemy series.

Loving all his imperfections – about coming to terms with your character’s failings

I developed a crush on Roger Mortimer at the age of twelve. Not as bad a crush as the one I’d developed for Richard the Lionheart some years earlier, but definitely a crush along the lines of me conducting weird rituals involving walking backwards and lighting candles at midnight so as to somehow leap the huge divide of time that separated us so that I could warn him that pride is almost always followed by fall. 

Obviously, Roger Mortimer didn’t need me to tell him that. He lived in a time and age where the concept of the Wheel of Life was well understood – ergo what goes up one day, comes back down the next. Except, of course, that to judge from his actions he didn’t quite believe it would apply to him. What can I say? An excessive amount of pride.

Roger Mortimer plays the central role in my series The King’s Greatest Enemy. This is not to say he’s the protagonist, I have chosen to use a fictional character as my hero as this to allow me greater freedom when retelling the events as such. My creation, Adam de Guirande, is to experience his fair share of adventures and misfortunes in the wake of Mortimer’s rise to power—and his eventual death.

Mortimer belonged to one of the more powerful baronial families in England. Loyal servants of the king, his ancestors had established themselves in the Welsh Marches, where they held substantial amounts of land. Little Roger was born the heir and it was expected that he’d grow up to diligently serve his king and thereby further the Mortimer interests. 

Initially, things worked out according to plan. Roger Mortimer proved himself a capable royal servant. Problem was, he wasn’t the only loyal royal servant—and Edward II had a predilection for choosing a favourite and rewarding him with riches and powers well beyond what said individual had earned. This did not please Mortimer. In fact, all the barons except the lucky favourite were less than thrilled by their king’s favouritism. Which is why Edward II’s first favourite, Piers Gaveston, was brutally murdered by rebelling barons in 1312. 

Edward II

For some years, it seemed the king had learned his lesson, but while Roger Mortimer was in Ireland, there to reinstate order and bring this troublesome province firmly back under English control, a certain Hugh Despenser began climbing in Edward II’s favour. This, as per Mortimer, was not good. The Despenser and Mortimer families detested each other, and with Edward’s support Despenser began to grow too powerful, thereby threatening Mortimer’s people.

Many felt threatened by Despenser—and by the king’s willingness to ride roughshod over law and custom to give his favourite what his favourite desired. In 1321, the disgruntled barons, led by Mortimer and Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, rebelled. Initially, they reaped major success, obliging the king to exile his favourite. But Edward II was not about to take this lying down, and as this king lacked neither courage nor brains when sufficiently riled, some months later Lancaster was dead and Mortimer was rotting in the Tower, while Despenser did a happy jig with Edward. 

So far, Mortimer has all the traits of a romantic and doomed hero. A man committed to his cause, a man fearlessly staring death in the face to defend what is right (or what is his). No wonder I developed such strong protective feelings for him when I first heard of him – especially considering that I was entering puberty, which in general has hormones zipping back and forth in a most disquieting way. 

Fortunately for Mortimer and my young and fragile heart, he did not die in the Tower. No, in August of 1323 our hero escaped, a daring feat involving clambering up chimneys, running over roof tops and climbing walls before finally making it to the river. Once free, Mortimer made for France, determined to one day return and crush Despenser. Feelings I could totally sympathise with, even if I wondered what price Mortimer’s family would pay for his escape. 

Roger Mortimer had married Joan of Geneville when they were both in their early teens. A well-matched couple, these two went on to have twelve children or so, the majority of which were locked up after Mortimer’s rebellion. His wife was treated very harshly, but I believe Joan applauded his daring escape, relieved to know he was safe in France. But in late 1325 and early 1326, rumours reached England (and I’m betting Edward and Hugh made sure they definitely reached Joan) of Roger spending his nights with Queen Isabella, Edward II’s estranged wife. Not something that would have pleased Joan, I imagine. Not something an honourable man would do—not when his wife was languishing in captivity because of him. 

Isabella and Mortimer

Seeing as I’m something of a romantic, I could forgive Mortimer for his passionate relationship with Isabella. Yes, I felt sorry for Joan, but IMO Roger and Isabella were made for each other: ambitious, intelligent, ruthless – an explosive and effective combination. Fate (and a common objective) brought them together, and what can man do against fate?

In 1326, Isabella and Mortimer returned to England at the head of an invading army. Some months later, Despenser was very dead. He’d died in the most gruesome way possible while Mortimer and Isabella sat and watched, sipping wine and feeding each other delicacies. Not something I found easy to reconcile with my youthful hero-worship of Mortimer. My hero had just acquired a major dent in his halo, and it left me squirming inside, while making up excuses along the line that Despenser had it coming, and what did I expect of a medieval grandee? 

Edward II was forced to abdicate, his son was crowned in his stead, and it soon became very clear just who did the ruling: Isabella and her Roger. This did not go down well with the barons. And then, in September of 1327, came the news that Edward II was dead. 
“Aha!” said the barons pointing at Mortimer, “he did it.”

I have never believed Mortimer murdered Edward II – for the simple reason that I find it inconceivable Isabella would have let him do something that heinous. I even remain unconvinced as to Edward’s death, but whatever my convictions, back then most people assumed Mortimer had rid himself of a dangerous enemy. Not exactly an act to up his reputation. 

Whether or not he had royal blood on his hands, Mortimer was definitely guilty of usurpation—together with fair Isabella. He controlled the administration of the kingdom, he filled positions with men loyal to him, he called the shots. But the young king was growing up, and many a disgruntled baron was quietly whetting his sword, waiting for the opportunity to bring Mortimer down. Power, Mortimer was discovering, was easier to grab than to control, but he no longer had the option of backing down gracefully—there were too many wolves clamouring for his blood.

In March of 1330, Mortimer decided to teach all those unruly barons a not-so-subtle lesson titled “be prepared to die if you threaten me”. He did this by manipulating the Earl of Kent into treachery and once he had proof of the earl’s intentions, he had him arrested, wording things in such a way that the young king had no choice but to condemn the terrified earl to death. Seeing as Kent was Edward III’s uncle, Mortimer thereby sealed his own fate. It became apparent to Edward that either he took control soon, or there was a major risk Mortimer would never let go of his power—no matter who he might have to kill to remain on top. 

Roger Mortimer in 1330 was no longer all that much of a hero. Yes, he was undoubtedly capable—he had the administration of the realm ticking along like clockwork—he was intelligent and brave. But he was also greedy and desperate to hang on to what he had, no matter the price. 

For me, the later years of Mortimer’s life was like watching the pedestal beneath him crumble to pieces. Instead of a hero, here was a man, as weak and fallible as all of us are. Here was someone who’d trick a man into hanging himself by handing him the rope with which to do so, here was a man with spies everywhere. A man who was beginning to feel the ground beneath his feet becoming far too hot for comfort but who refused to budge for fear of what it would cost him. 


As an adolescent, this development made me weep, ergo that desire to travel back in time and save him from it. As a novelist, I had found the perfect character: complicated and enigmatic. Which doesn’t stop me from still experiencing moments when I’d like to save him from his fate, have him ride off into a glorious sunset already in 1327 and leave the centre stage to all the squabbling factions who were more than eager to control the young king. Except, of course, that it would not have been honourable to leave the young Edward III (and his seductive and beautiful mama) so defenceless. 

Ultimately, all that ambition, all that hunger for power, came to an inevitable end: in November of 1330, Roger Mortimer hanged for treason. His death was celebrated by many, but devastated quite a few, among them Adam de Guirande—and me.

April 2017

Huge thanks to Anna for sharing her love of Roger Mortimer with us and for this fascinating guest post.

Under the Approaching Dark is out now Amazon UK