Today our guest is local author Alison Williams, writer of yesterday’s book “The Black Hours”. Here is a link to the book review. http://wp.me/p2Eu3u-4UI
1) Where is your home town?
I live in Basingstoke, in Hampshire. I moved here when I was seven, moved away at 21, and then came back twelve years ago.
2) How long have you been writing?
I have always loved writing stories. I trained as a journalist, but then worked in education after my children were born and after a brief stint as a freelance writer. When I hit forty I decided to give up work, go back to freelance writing and also started a Masters in Creative Writing. It was as part of the course that I wrote ‘The Black Hours’.
3) What key factor made you want to write “The Black Hours”?
I’ve always been extremely interested in history and, in particular, women’s history. I find it rather sad that a man like Matthew Hopkins actually existed and did the awful things that he did, but that he is not really that well-known. In fact a lot of people that have read ‘The Black Hours’ think that I made him up! He was responsible for hundreds of deaths in England yet is hardly mentioned in our history books. Consequently, I really feel his victims have largely been forgotten – all too often they are just names on a list in a book or in a museum. We tend to forget that they were real people, with real lives, families, dreams, hopes and fears. What they suffered was dreadful and I really felt compelled to give them a voice. Although ‘The Black Hours’ is fiction and Alice never existed, the methods Matthew Hopkins uses in the novel are all methods actually used on real victims. I hope, in some small way, the novel pays tribute to those real victims.
4) Can you tell the readers a bit about Matthew Hopkins?
He is certainly a man shrouded in mystery. No-one knows exactly when he was born, but it is thought to be around 1620, making him only 24 when he began his witch hunting campaign. There is no information relating to Matthew’s childhood and adolescence, although it has been variously suggested that he attended school, spent his formative years on the continent and that he trained as a lawyer. His performances in court may give some credence to this claim, but again, there is no evidence to support the assumption. What is known is that, along with his colleague John Sterne, he was responsible for over 200 executions of suspected witches – more in that short space of time than all the other witch hunters managed during 160 years!
5) Why do you think Hopkins was successful in gaining support for his Witch hunts?
He operated during a time when Civil war had brought great unrest to the country. In times like this people are afraid and uncertain of their future and are perhaps more likely to blame other people for their misfortunes. I think also that Hopkins used fear extremely well – if you didn’t join in with the accusations, you may well have ended up being on the receiving end of them yourself! Also, life was short and cheap and hard and bad things happened all the time. People didn’t have the knowledge to always explain why someone was ill and dying, or why crops failed or why a woman suffered miscarriage after miscarriage. It was easy, and perhaps understandable, that they looked to others to take the blame.
6) Alice’s surname was Pendle, what do you know of the stories of the Pendle Witches from Lancaster?
I chose ‘Pendle’ as Alice’s surname as a small tribute to those executed in Pendle in 1612. I recently published an article about them on my blog. The story certainly has similarities, although it happened more than thirty years before Matthew Hopkins began his witch hunts. Again, a woman was accused of cursing someone, and, in turn and probably under extreme duress, implicated others, who then implicated more, until nine women and two men were executed, and one woman, in her eighties, died in prison. It is a familiar pattern, seen in many of these cases both in England and in many other countries around the world.
7) Were the English Witch Trials similar to the American Salem Witch Trials?
They were similar in that a kind of mass hysteria overtook reason and in that more women than men were accused and subsequently executed. Hopkins wrote a book ‘The Discovery of Witches’ in which he outlined his methods – the following year, trials and executions for witchcraft began in the New England colonies. In one of these cases, that of Margaret Jones, Hopkins’ methods of watching and searching were used. And some of his methods were used in the Salem Witch Trials – so the two are actually closely connected.
8) What do you think was the most shocking torture that Hopkins administered?
Torture was actually unlawful in England, so Hopkins as very careful to use methods that were not regarded as such, however shocking they may seem to us today. Sleep deprivation was one such method that caused terrible suffering. But I think that ‘pricking’ was the worst, particularly as Hopkins cheated. It was believed that witches had marks on their bodies that would not bleed. So ‘prickers’ pricked the flesh with knives and pins until they found a spot that did not bleed. Hopkins had a retractable pin made so that, of course, his victims, when ‘pricked’ with this pin would not bleed.
9) What role did wise women have in the everyday life of poor villagers?
Wise women (and sometimes men) provided a service to those who could not afford to pay for a doctor or apothecary, using herbal remedies for ailments suffered by people and livestock. Some were also midwives, as Alice and Maggie are. Although wise women were accused of witchcraft, it was also often the case that wise women or other midwives were those that did the accusing – I wanted to show this through the role of Annie Everard.
10) I know you enjoy writing about the everyday lives of people in times gone by, what are you working on next?
Since publishing ‘The Black Hours’ I have had a lot of requests from readers wanting to know the story behind Maggie. So I have written a prequel to ‘The Black Hours’ called ‘Blackwater’, a novella that will be available as an eBook in March. I am also working on my next full length novel, ‘Remember, Remember’. I was researching an article and came across some interesting information about Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot. There was one source (and only one) that suggested Guy Fawkes may have had a wife. This got me thinking – what would it have been like to be married to a man willing to give up everything for his beliefs? If he was married, then his wife was a woman caught up in events she couldn’t control – something that interests me immensely. So ‘Remember, Remember’ imagines the plot from her point of view. I’m hoping to release the novel in November!
Thank you Alison and Good luck with your next books. I am currently reading Blackwater and a review will appear on the blog in May.