When most of us think of witches we come up with images of broomsticks, black pointy hats, cauldrons and spooky cottages in the woods. And many of us were taught in school about how witches were thrown in the village pond to see if they floated. But the truth about witch trials is much darker.
In the 17th century, accusations of witchcraft were used to persecute women, and such an accusation could mean imprisonment, torture, trial and horrific execution.
In This Fearful Thing and The Unnamed, Laina West, writing as L M West, takes the limited facts available about witch trials in Suffolk and builds them into stories that bring home the true horror of the misogyny and hatred that these women suffered. At times these stories make uncomfortable reading but they are compelling and powerful. Told from the first person perspective of the women, we feel their pain and frustration as they are unable even to plead in their own defence in court.
As a self-published author Laina has already sold hundreds of these books through bookshops in Suffolk, so I am delighted that she has now chosen Bittern Books to take over distribution so she can concentrate on writing her next one. Historical fiction done well is a wonderful way to bring history to life and to a wider audience. And these stories, and the women involved, deserve a wider audience.
This Fearful Thing
This Fearful Thing is set in Southwold in 1645. Ann, the wife of a wealthy merchant, has fled from her past but then her childhood tormentor finds her. Innocent events become evidence of witchcraft, and it suits the High Steward, a staunch Puritan, to press charges against her. In the end, Ann has to go through three trials for witchcraft. This is the story of her fight to survive.
This Fearful Thing by L M West
Paperback 247 pages
ISBN 9781800496392; RRP £9.99
The Unnamed is set in Aldeburgh in the same year, 1645. Mary Howldine is an innkeeper, a Puritan and follower of rules. Joan Wade, a widow, long-despised, is accused of witchcraft. As their two worlds collide, the terror grows. By Christmas, during the hardest winter in living memory, there are seven imprisoned, awaiting trial and Mary’s beliefs begin to falter.
Inspiration for The Unnamed
Laina writes: “In the course of my research for This Fearful Thing, I found that there had been a bigger witchcraft trial just down the road in Aldeburgh, involving no less a person than the Witchfinder General himself, Matthew Hopkins.”
“He was invited to the town in 1645 to search out witches and the original Chamberlains’ Accounts, still available to see in the Suffolk Archives, note all the payments made to him and others. History has given us the names of the many men involved and how much they were paid, but only two of the women were named. Their lives were wiped out as if they had never been. This is their story . .”
The Unnamed by L M West
Paperback 308 pages
ISBN 9781800685581; RRP £9.99
The Ipswich Witch: Mary Lackland and the Suffolk Witch Hunts
This is a more factual book covering the same period, investigating another witch trial, this time in Ipswich, and digging deeper into the facts of the case and the political climate of the times.
The Ipswich Witch: Mary Lackland and the Suffolk Witch Hunts by David L. Jones
Paperback 221 pages; History Press
ISBN 9780752480527; RRP £14.99