Monday Merry Meet: Heidi Swain

Happy Samhain! The witches’ favourite time of year. It’s also the only day they wear the iconic witch’s pointy hat. While Willow dons a black hat that shimmers purple in the Emporium’s lights, Amber’s is a more subdued affair. Made of brown felt, it is battered, twisted and entwined with autumnal leaves and toadstools.

Both are ready for trick or treaters that maybe brave enough to wander down Black Cat Alley for some of sweets including Willow’s homemade enchanted lollies. Lucky for them, she refused Amber’s suggestion to hex a few to keep things interesting.

The emporium’s shop window is a blaze with flickering pumpkins, shrouded with cultivated cobwebs, the ghosts are enjoying the possibility they maybe seen. Vincent, the large ginger Maine Coon and ghostly Black Cat are on guard waiting for their special guest, Heidi Swain.

This Sunday Times bestselling author is one of Rosa’s favourite writers so she is sipping yet another chamomile tea to calm her nerves so she can speak. She has also muted her mobile as Alejo is unimpressed his Trick or Treating has been delayed so she can have fangirl moment.

Monday Merry Meet: Heidi Swain

Willow: Welcome Heidi. Please come in from the cold though its not much warmer in here. Our heating is struggling to compete with the extra ghosts that have appeared since Mrs Marley discovered you were visiting. She’s a huge fan of your audiobooks which I usually play for her while I’m at work. Unlike Percy, she has never mastered the art of telekinesis so page turning is a chore. She loves Wynbridge and Nightingale Square.  

Thank you for the welcome and thank you to Mrs Marley. I’m delighted to discover you are a fan of Wynbridge and Nightingale Square. I’m sure both Wynthorpe Hall and Prosperous Place have their own ghosts, but they are yet to make themselves known to me.

Rosa: I love them too. There are several of your books in my Box of Romance and they’re my go to comfort reads. What can we get you to drink? There are many blends of tea including Yorkshire, coffee, hot chocolate or Amber has concocted a special warm Halloween punch? It’s her take on mulled cider. I tried some and it warms you up a treat.

Thank you, Rosa. I would love some of that seasonal punch. It sounds like the perfect tipple for this chilly day.

Willow: Amber is staying on trick or treat duty while we chat. With the many ghost stories the emporium has attached to it and the reputation of us witches draws in some kids. Not as many as I’d have expected though. I think they preferred it when it was a derelict building and played the part as the haunted house to visit as a dare well. Is Samhain something you usually celebrate?

It certainly is. I follow the Wheel of the Year and along with dressing the hearth and enjoying a pumpkin feast, I consider Samhain the start of my magical new year. It is when I make plans and set exciting intentions for the months ahead.

Rosa: Christmas isn’t Christmas without one of your books. What is your latest about?

That’s very kind, thank you! A Christmas Celebration takes us back to Wynbridge and more specifically Wynthorpe Hall, for the festive season. With a few folk temporarily away from the hall, the arrival of Paige (goddaughter to Catherine and Angus), couldn’t be better timed. Unbeknown to everyone else, she’s carrying a secret, but finding herself quickly drawn into helping at the hall and in the town, there’s initially little time to dwell on it.

In the run to Christmas, Paige also makes two new friends, both carrying their fair share of secrets and of course, catches up with Molly, her witchy friend who lives in the Wynthorpe woods.

The emphasis is very much on community spirit and coming together, both for Christmas and beyond.

Willow: It is your 15th novel.  What has your publication journey been like? Is being a writer how you expected it to be?

I keep counting the books on the shelf in my writing room. I’m amazed there are fifteen there already!

My debut, The Cherry Tree Café was picked up after submitting to the Books and the City #OneDay open submission opportunity. That was back in 2014 and the e-book was published almost a year to the day in 2015. Since then, I’ve been writing two books a year for Simon and Schuster, secured a fabulous agent, become a Sunday Times bestseller and been shortlisted twice for an RNA award.

Being a writer has far exceeded my expectations and I’m both grateful and proud that I found the courage to make it happen. When I started out, I used to write from 5 to 6 in the morning before my kids got up, then in my car during my lunch break and again in the evenings. I had a few books published before I made the leap to write full-time but it was worth every chilly, dark start I made along the way. Nothing beats the sight of my books lined up on a supermarket or bookshop shelf. I love the writing life!

Willow: We have many would-be writers popping in for copious amounts of tea or confidence candles, do you have any advice for them?

That’s wonderful! I wish them every success. One of the best pieces of advice I can give is, don’t wait for what you imagine to be the perfect opportunity to start writing. You’ll never have more time – no matter how hard you try to manifest it – you have to look at your schedule and work out where you can squeeze in a few minutes, cast a circle of protection around them and use them! You’ll be amazed how quickly the word count grows once you’ve made the commitment.

Also, be proactive in seeking out opportunities to be published. Once I’d decided I was going to be a published author, rather than thinking I wanted to be a published author, great things happened but I still had to make them happen. Take control and responsibility for your writing journey.

Willow: Mrs Marley would also like to ask a question, if you could choose one character to have tea with, who would it be?

I would love to have tea with Molly, who lives in the Wynthorpe woods. The atmosphere in her little cottage is so warm, welcoming and incense infused, it would perfect. That said, I’m not sure what sort of tea Molly would brew!

Three tarot cards lying next to a crystal. " of wands, a man holding a staff looking into the distance, king of pentacles a king sitting on his throne holding a coin and one of cups - a golden chalice being held up by a large hand.
Image by JOAN A BROWN from Pixabay

Rosa: We love Molly. I’m sure she’d fit in well here. She lives in the woods of Wynthorpe Hall and reads the tarot cards for people. Have you ever had yours read and did it come true?

I’m so pleased you love Molly too. She’s someone readers have really warmed too. She’s cast us all under her spell. I read my own cards and yes, they’re pretty accurate. A while ago I started working with a different deck and we didn’t bond at all, so I’ve gone back to my original cards and I’m much happier. There was an instant energy shift.

Willow: Some cards are like that. The Enchanted Emporium sell a number of candles in The Wishing Spell range which promise to help your day go smoothly. Which would you choose?

I would choose either financial security or confidence, but between the two, financial security would come out on top.

Willow: One candle we sell invokes memories of your perfect day when lit. Where would it take you?

This is a tricky one! I’ve been blessed with so many perfect days, such as the day my editor said the words ‘we’d like to offer you a two-book deal’! That was phenomenal!

However, I’m going to pick the day my daughter and I travelled to London to see Kpop group, SF9 perform in Hammersmith. The concert in the evening was fabulous, but the entire day ran so smoothly – even traffic lights changing as we approached so we could cross roads without waiting and finding each other straight away in the city even though we’d travelled from opposite ends of the country. There was definitely magic in the air that day!

A pumpkin with two small resin ghosts.
Image by Alexa from Pixabay

Willow: Even when it’s not Halloween, The Enchanted Emporium is plagued by ghosts and paranormal activity. Have had had any spooky experiences – has it influenced your writing?

I have lived in both National Trust and National Trust for Scotland properties and there were plenty of bumps in the night there! Ghostly goings on haven’t influenced my writing, but I often include a solstice celebration. The one on the beach in Underneath the Christmas Tree was a joy to write.

Rosa: You must have so many tales to tell living in those properties. Normally, we’d ask about what potion you’d have the witches blend for you but in your books, there is a wishing tree in the grounds of Wynthorpe Hall. What would you attach to the tree and what wish would you ask to be granted?

I adore the Wishing Tree! I think it would have to be a notebook and I would ask for endless inspiration. There’s no sign of the well running dry, but it would be a comfort to have a back up.

Willow: What book would you add to The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf?

I know it’s a little early in the year, but every December 1st I read A Christmas Carol and I have quite a few beautiful copies of it now, so I’ll add that timeless tale if I may.

Rosa: You can never have too many copies of A Christmas Carol. There are many stunning editions. What would you add to my Box of Romance?

Not surprisingly, I have a few favourite romance authors, so I had a tricky time picking just one book to add! Trisha Ashley has an entire shelf to herself on my bookcase, more than one actually if you include the hardbacks, so I’m going to add Twelve Days of Christmas. Another festive title, but one I often visit whatever the calendar says.

Willow: And lastly what are you working on currently? Or is it top secret?

I’ve recently submitted the first draft of the summer 2023 release which publishes next April. It’s called The Book-Lovers’ Retreat and is a standalone read which I am absolutely loving working on. It is set in the Lake District, which is somewhere I have wonderful memories of visiting, and is already available to order.

Here’s the blurb – The Book-Lovers’ Retreat, set in the Lake District, tells the story of three friends who spend the whole summer in a hideaway cottage, the real-life setting of their favourite book. As the summer develops, so will their friendship, they will find love in all its forms and, as a result, their lives will change course forever…

So exciting! I’m also making plans for Christmas 2023 as I need to start writing that book very soon!

Rosa: That book sounds amazing, it’ll be on our pre-order list. Thank you for visiting and good luck with your writing. Happy Samhain!

Heidi Swain Author Biography

Photo of Heidi Swain. White woman in glasses and smiling. Short cropped hair and red dangly earrings

Although passionate about writing from an early age, Heidi Swain gained a degree in literature and flirted briefly with a newspaper career before she plucked up the courage to join a creative writing class and take her literary ambitions seriously.

A lover of vintage paraphernalia and the odd bottle of fizz, she now writes feel good fiction with heart for Simon and Schuster. Her debut novel, The Cherry Tree Café was published in July 2015 and she became a Sunday Times Bestseller in 2017. Heidi writes two books a year – a summer and winter title.

She is represented by Amanda Preston and lives in the east of England with a mischievous cat called Storm.

Links

Website: http://www.heidiswain.co.uk/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Heidi_Swain

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WriterHeidiJoSwain?ref=hl

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heidi-Swain/e/B00YNN3LDI?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1620727029&sr=8-1

Publisher: https://www.simonandschuster.co.uk/

                  http://booksandthecity.co.uk/

Book cover for A Christmas Wish by Heidi Swain. Purple with her name in gold and title in white. The bottom shows a winter scene, snow covered fir trees and a mansion

A Christmas Celebration by Heidi Swain

Blurb:


When Paige turns up unannounced at Wynthorpe Hall, she discovers the place she knew when she was growing up has changed beyond all recognition. She’s only planning to stay for a short time, but is quickly pulled into local life.
 
One night while driving home after delivering library books and shopping to residents she stumbles across an isolated cottage and meets Albert, its elderly and rather grumpy owner. She quickly realises there’s more to Albert than meets the eye and the same can be said for the other man she can’t seem to help running into, handsome but brooding Brodie.
 
All three of them have a secret and a desire to hide away from the world, but with Christmas on the horizon, is that really the best way to celebrate the season?

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Book Highlight: The Parlour Game by Jennifer Renshaw

A new book has arrived on the Enchanted Emporium bookshelf, The Parlour Game by Jennifer Renshaw thanks to Random Things Tours. With a stunning cover and an intriguing blurb involving a creepy house and spiritualism Amber has snuck it into her college bag. Watch this space for a review but in the meantime scroll down to see why the book caught her eye.

Book Review: The Parlour Game by Jennifer Renshaw

The Parlour Game by Jennifer Renshaw

Title: The Parlour Game

Author: Jennifer Renshaw

Genre: Dark Gothic

Release Date: 31st August 2022

Blurb

DEATH IS ONLY THE BEGINNING… a dark gothic tale for fans of The Clockwork Girl and The Woman in Black.

London, 1873.

Ivy Granger, an amateur botanist, is plagued by disturbing dreams and faceless whispers. Misunderstood by her father, she fears for her sanity – threatened with the asylum or worse, the hands of a man she loathes.

But a stranger at her mother’s funeral reveals Ivy’s world has been a lie and she could have a different life, for she is capable of so much more…

Miss Earnshaw, London’s most renowned spiritualist, is Ivy’s only hope of revealing what secrets her mother took to the grave and discovering her true purpose.

Ivy’s journey for knowledge takes her to Blackham House, a building haunted by a terrible past – full of macabre artefacts and ancient studies of the supernatural. But behind closed doors, the Blackhams collect more than relics alone, and Ivy will soon find herself at the centre of a conspiracy spanning generations and a hidden evil waiting to be unleashed.

Can Ivy survive in a world where women must play their part or risk being silenced?

Author Biography

Jennifer Renshaw

Jennifer Renshaw grew up in Sussex, England, and is a former analyst. She has always been fascinated by history and enjoys a gothic mystery. She now lives in Denmark with her family and two portly cats.

Find out more at http://www.jenniferrenshaw.com

Other blogs on the tour

Monday Merry Meet: Alys West

Today we’re excited to chat to Alys West, author of the witchy series the Spellworker Chronicles. We hope you enjoy hearing about Samhain, her books and spells.

Monday Merry Meet: Alys West

Willow: Hi Alys, come in it’s blustery out there. It’s as if you brought your Storm witch with you. We’ve heard the waves hit the harbour walls all day. Usually we’re too far away.

Amber: On the plus side the courtyard has gathered so many autumnal leaves, I can make a wreath.  Can I get you a drink? We have our own blends of tea, Yorkshire tea, as no one can beat that for a proper cuppa, coffee or something different?  

Alys: I’ll have a cup of green tea with jasmine if you’ve got it.  Thanks for inviting me to visit your wonderful shop. I love Whitby. It’s one of my favourite places. I always feel history really strongly here and there’s so many stories to tell about Whitby. I set my steampunk romance, The Dirigible King’s Daughter here and I’m sure I’ll come back to it in future books.

Willow: We’d love to read those. You write novels surrounding witchcraft and the occult. What drew you to that genre? 

Alys: Ooh, thanks for the tea. That looks lovely.  I’ve always read a lot of fantasy and I’m a big fan of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Merlin.  I’m also deeply fascinated my folklore. When I started writing Beltane I wanted the magic to be organic, to come from the earth and the folklore of Glastonbury.  I think all of the witches in my books are essentially hedge witches. Their power is mainly instinctive and comes from hedgerows and gardens rather than reading magical books.

Willow: We know all about instinctive magic and it often gets Amber into trouble.

Amber: Willow prefers tried and tested magic from books.

Willow: Not always. I love your atmospheric settings. Beltane was set in Glastonbury and Storm Witch is located in West Orkney. How important are locations for you and what comes first, the location, character or plot?

Alys: Location is hugely important to me. I’m very influenced by the spirit of a place.  With my writing, I start with the place and the story grows from it. Beltane grew out of the landscape around Glastonbury.  Storm Witch was inspired by a folk tale about a girl called Janet Sinclair who lived on the island of Westray in Orkney in the seventeenth century who was believed to be able to call up storms.   

Amber: I found the Storm Witch highly relatable and their emotions cause havoc with their powers. How easy was it to write those scenes?

Alys: I’m pleased to hear you related to the Storm Witch. It was pretty cathartic to write those scenes. It was a bit of a release to allow those emotions out. As a person I feel things deeply but do my best to hide it so I was probably working through some of my own anger by allowing the Storm Witch to let rip!

Willow: As you can see with our pumpkins and window display, we are looking forward to Halloween. Is Samhain something you usually celebrate?

Alys: Yes, Samhain is a really important time of the year for me.  I love autumn. In the Celtic tradition, Samhain is the start of the new year. It’s the time when our energies turn inwards as the days grow shorter.  I’ve got much more comfortable with the idea of retreating and recharging in the winter and Samhain is the start of that period. 

There’s a Samhain tradition which I like to follow; you eat an apple and each seed symbolises something you’d like to grow or develop during the winter months. Traditionally you would then eat the seeds but I like to see that as optional!  

So I won’t be out Trick or Treating but I’ll be celebrating the turn of the seasons at home with candles and the leaves and seeds I’ve gathered on my walks. 

Willow: It’s a beautiful way to celebrate it and we must give you one of our Samhain candles before you go. Every writer seems to tread different paths to publication. What has your journey been like? If you did it again, would you change anything?

Alys: My journey has been a bit twisty-turny but I feel I’ve ended up in the right place. Initially I tried to get a traditional publishing deal and had an agent for a while. However that didn’t work out so I indie published Beltane. It’s been hard work but I wouldn’t have changed it. It’s allowed me the freedom and time to write the stories I wanted to tell.  I’ve also met some absolutely brilliant people along the way who have supported my writing and helped me keep going.  If I was to change anything, I think I’d have gone indie straightaway. Indie publishing is right for me and my books. I could have saved myself a lot of rejection letters if I’d embraced it sooner!

Willow: Spells and magic can be very ritualistic. Do you have writing rituals are strict writing regime?

Alys: I always sit in the same green Ikea chair. We moved house a few months ago and the writing chair was not available for a few weeks and it really threw me. Other chairs are available in our house but none of them felt right.  I also need tea when I sit down to start writing.  That’s usually a pot of green tea but I move onto peppermint later in the day. I like to write first thing in the morning but don’t think that means I’m up at six every morning. I like my sleep so for me first thing in the morning is about 9.30am!

Amber: I secretly write. Do you have any advice for new writers?

Alys: There’s masses of advice out there for new writers and it can be overwhelming. When I was younger I absorbed the maxim that you must write every day. I have a long-term health condition which means that’s simply not practical for me and I spent a lot of years feeling that because of that I would never be a writer. I’m older and wiser now and have learnt what works for me. 

In my opinion, many writing books are about what works for that writer. Some of that may work for you but other bits won’t. The most important thing you can do is keep writing and as you do that, you’ll find out what approach works for you. 

Having said all of that, I do recommend reading books on story structure. These are generally written for script writers but apply equally to fiction writers. My favourite is ‘Into the Woods’ by John Yorke. It’s definitely worth picking up a copy of that, Amber.

Amber: I’ll seek it out. Thank you. If we used magic to bring one of your characters to life so you could share a coffee with them, who would you choose?

Alys: Gosh, that’s a tough one because I love them all.  I’m going to go with Winston because he’s got that bad boy charm going on but underneath he’s a bit of a softy.  In the next book in ‘The Spellworker Chronicles’ we’re going to find out a bit more about Winston’s past.  Over coffee I could ask him a few searching questions but I know him too well to think he’d open up and give me a straight answer. Most likely I’ll get a lot of jokey deflection. Seeing behind that as one of the challenges of writing his character.

Willow: Talking of magic, we sell a number of candles in The Wishing Spell range which promise to help your day go smoothly. Which would you choose?

Alys:  I’m a bit of a people pleaser so the ability to say no would be useful. If you can make that the ability to say no without guilt then that would be even better.

Amber: Releasing the guilt is important and already accounted for in the spell. The Enchanted Emporium is plagued by ghosts and paranormal activity all year round. Have had had any spooky experiences – has it influenced your writing?

Alys: I’m originally from York which is absolutely packed with ghosts. There are stories of ghosts in most of the pubs, the theatre and various historic buildings. I’ve never experienced anything paranormal even though I’ve worked in a few buildings which are known to have ghosts. The most I’ve experienced is a strong sense of negative emotions in certain places. I do believe buildings can absorb the feelings of the people who inhabit them and I think I pick up on that sometimes. 

Willow: If we could blend a potion to give you a superpower or special ability for 24 hours what would it be and what would you do with it?

Alys: Right now, I could do with a superpower that allowed me to travel instantly to where I need to be. My Mum is currently in hospital. It’s an hour’s drive each way to visit her. I’d like to be able to teleport straight to the ward to see her rather than spending ages stuck in traffic and then pop to my parent’s house to have a cuppa with my Dad.

Amber: We hope she feels better soon and teleporting would be ideal. What book would you add to The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf?

Alys: ‘Spirited’ by Julie Cohen. I’ve only just finished it and I absolutely loved it. Julie’s a fabulous writer and she packs such a lot into a book. ‘Spirited’ is about Victorian spiritualism but it’s also about sexuality, female power and colonialism.  The characters became so real to me that I’ve kept thinking about them and wanting to know what happened to them after the novel ended.

Willow: We loved that book. Great choice. Our assistant Rosa couldn’t be here today because of childcare issues but she has a box full of romances for people to borrow.  What would you add to Rosa’s box of Romance?

Alys: Oh gosh, it’s so hard to choose! I’m going to go with ‘Thornyhold’ by Mary Stewart. I loved Mary Stewart’s books when I was younger and read them all again when I decided to start writing myself. This is my favourite. It’s a wonderful story of romance and magic which a big dollop of mysticism.

Amber: I’ve heard good things about her. And finally, what are you working on currently? Or is it top secret?

Alys:  I’m working on ‘Stone Magic’ which is the third book in ‘The Spellworker Chronicles’. It’s taken a while for this one to reveal itself (turns out living through a Pandemic is not good for my creative process) but I’m really excited about it now.  It’s going to pick up the story from the end of Storm Witch and follow the investigation into the deaths of The Order. After ‘Stone Magic’, there’ll be a fourth and final book in the series which has the working title of ‘The Winter Tree’.  I’m not making any promises as to when they’ll be ready as I don’t write very fast and life has a habit of getting in the way but I will get there. 

Thank you so much for inviting me to visit The Enchanted Emporium. It’s been lovely to sit in your wonderful shop and chat to you both. Thanks as well for the tea, very much appreciated!

Beltane by Alys West

Title: Beltane

Author: Alys West

Publisher: Fabrian Books

Release Date: 8th June 2016

Genre: Fiction, supernatural

Purchase: Amazon

BLURB

Struggling artist, Zoe arrives in Glastonbury seeking inspiration. The small Somerset town is steeped in myth and legend and Zoe’s sure it’ll be the perfect place to work on a book about King Arthur. But behind the shops selling witchcraft supplies and crystals real magic is being practised.
When Zoe meets Finn her life changes forever. Not only is he a druid connected to the ancient energies of the earth but she dreamed about him long before they met. Finn’s life is in terrible danger and Zoe’s dreams start to reveal more of the plot against him.
After dreaming of a deadly battle at a stone circle on Dartmoor, Zoe starts to wonder if the dark magic around her is playing tricks of its own or if she really can see the future. Will she learn to trust Finn, and herself, in time to stand any hope of surviving the powerful magic that will be unleashed at Beltane? Or is it already too late?
This gripping story of magic, romance and the supernatural will entrance fans of Deborah Harkness and Phil Rickman and keep you spellbound until the very last page.

Author Biography

Alys West

Alys West writes contemporary fantasy and steampunk. Her first novel, Beltane was inspired by the folklore of Glastonbury. Her second novel, The Dirigible King’s Daughter is a steampunk romance set in Whitby. Storm Witch is her third novel and is set in the beautiful Orkney islands which she fell in love with back in 2010 and has used every excuse to return to since (including setting a novel there!) She is fascinated by folklore and folk tales which are a big influence on the stories she tells.

Alys has a MA in Creative Writing from York St John University and teaches creative writing at the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of York. She’s also a book whisperer (like a book doctor but more holistic) and mentor to aspiring writers.

When she’s not writing you can find her at folk gigs, doing yoga and attempting to crochet. She occasionally blogs at www.alyswest.com, intermittently tweets at @alyswestyork and spends rather too much time on Facebook where you can find her at Alys West Writer. She is also on Instagram at @alyswestwriter. To keep up with Alys’s news you can join her Facebook readers’ group ‘Druids, Spellworkers and Dirigibles’.

Book Highlight: Silverweed Road by Simon Crook

A new book has arrived on the Enchanted Emporium bookshelf, courtesy of Random Things Tours and it promises to provide its readers nightmares before Halloween. Silverweed Road by Simon Crook has an unusual premise and Amber can’t wait to read and give her honest opinion soon. Watch this space.

Want to know more? Scroll down for its horrifying blurb

Book cover of Silverweed Road by Simon Crook
Silverweed Road by Simon Crook

Title: Silverweed Road

Author: Simon Crook

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Genre: Horror, anthology

Release Date: 29th September 2022

Blurb

Welcome to Silverweed Road – a once quiet suburban street where nothing is quite as it seems. In this macabre collection of twisted tales, were-foxes prowl, a swimming pool turns predatory, a haunted urn plots revenge and a darts player makes a deal with the devil himself. As the residents vanish one by one, a sinister mystery slowly unpeels, lurking in the Woods at the road’s dead-end. Creepy, chilling, and witty by turn, Silverweed Road deals in love, loss, isolation, loneliness, obsession, greed,and revenge. Come take a walk through suburban hell. The neighbours will be dying to meet you …

Author Biography

Photo of Simon Crook. White male looking straight at the camera with a purple filter across to look spooky
Simon Crook

Simon Crook has been a film journalist for over 20 years, travelling the world visiting film sets and interviewing talent for Empire Magazine. A new and exciting voice in domestic horror, he is perfectly placed to translate the recent successes of the genre from the silver screen to the written word – while adding something new and wholly his own.

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Book Review: The Hex Appeal by Kate Johnson

Following Kate Johnson’s visit for a Monday Merry Meet, we’re excited to share our review for her latest release, The Hex Appeal. Have you read it, we’d love to know what you thought?

Book Review: The Hex Appeal by Kate Johnson

Book cover for The Hex Appeal by Kate Johnson. Dark purple backgound, white font entwined with green foliage. A cottage is at the bottom and a dungaree wearing woman is on the upper right side while a man is on the left looking at her
The Hex Appeal by Kate Johnson

Title: The Hex Appeal

Author: Kate Johnson

Publisher: One More Chapter

Genre: Paranormal romance

Release Date: 1st October 2022

Blurb

Encanto meets Hocus Pocus in this perfect witchy romcom. An absolute must-read if you love Erin Sterling’s The Ex Hex and Lana Harper’s Payback’s a Witch!

It’s just a bunch of hocus pocus…

Essie Winterscale lives in a huge and ever-changing house in the village of Good Winter, in deepest, darkest Essex. She lives with various witches of various ages, one of whom is still a bit salty about having been burned at the stake in 1635, one who keeps accidentally casting fertility spells, and one who knits things that create the future.

All Essie ever wanted was to have a normal life but in the end she found herself drawn back to Beldam House because she just can’t stop her witchiness (although the ability to instantly chill wine is pretty awesome, even she has to admit).

Into this coven of chaos stumbles gorgeous, clueless Josh, their new landlord – and he’s just discovered his tenants haven’t paid rent since the 1700s! As Josh is drawn further into the lives of the inhabitants of Beldam House, Essie is determined to keep him at broomstick’s length. That is, until a family secret, lying hidden for centuries, puts Josh firmly under her spell…

‘Funny, smart and sassy…No one creates such brilliant worlds quite like Kate does’ Julie Caplin

Thoughts from the Emporium

Blimey! What a fantastic and perfect novel to lift the spirits on a dreary day. Some books make you believe the author had a ball writing it and this is one of those.

Bedlam house, where the witches live, is an explosion of magical imagination. The small details such as fencing animals, loved up plants and ability to knit the future gave the world building depth and made the setting unforgettable. The location is a character of its own.

Essie is a witch who believes she is only useful for one day and their talent has hilarious consequences. The chemistry and misunderstandings between her and Josh were a joy to read and the threat of the curse kept everyone on those toes. No one knew where this novel was taking them but they were never disappointed.

With a strong cast of supporting characters this could easily become a series.

Willow is convinced, they’ll discover missed details when they reread, adding to the reading experience. This is always a sign of strong world building and storytelling. There have been many good witch related stories this year but this is one of the best romcoms.

Author Biography

Photo of Kate Johnson. Smiling white woman with pink wavy hair
Kate Johnson

Kate Johnson is a Romantic Novel of the Year Award-winning author of romantic, mystery, and science fiction and not a stack of cats inside a raincoat, as many people believe. Kate lives in Essex with a small pride of cats, and writes books because actually being a space pirate, witch or murderer sounds like hard work.

Social media

Twitter, instagram & TikTok: @K8johnsonauthor

Facebook: @catmarsters

Monday Merry Meet: Kate Johnson

Welcome to the last Monday of September. With celebrations of Mabon over, the staff at the Emporium are gearing up for the busiest times of the year, Halloween. Where as Willow used to have a subtle approach to the season, under Amber’s influence and Rosa’s romantic view of the Halloween decorations have exploded this year. Amidst the chaos, they are delighted to catch up with author Kate Johnson. Her latest novel, The Hex Appeal was loved by everyone and provided chuckles and endless imagination on every page.

Amber sees it as a blueprint of how a witch should live without the constraints of normality while Willow thinks she has enough to contend with with the clashes between Vincent and the resident ghost feline, never mind flying glass parrots.

Monday Merry Meet: Kate Johnson

Cobwebs at old window
Image by Myri Roet from Pixabay

Willow: Hi Kate. It’s so lovely to see you. Mind your head when you come through to the back, Amber attempted to talk to the spiders to make extra cobwebs for Halloween decorations and they’ve taken it to the extreme. It’s like walking into Shelob’s lair. She has convinced them to depart the Emporium while we chat, just in case you are arachnophobic.

Kate: That’s fine. You should see my house. The spiders are both entertainment and food for the kittens.

Willow: That sounds mayhem. Rosa’s putting the kettle on. What would you like to drink? We have a range of teas, including Yorkshire, coffee, hot chocolate or something stronger? We had a good harvest of damsons last year so have some damson gin.

Kate: Damson gin will do nicely, thanks.

Amber: We’ve all read your new novel, Hex Appeal and were blown away by your world building in Beldam House. It was full of small details that made the house feel alive. Did you have as much fun writing this book as it appears on the page?

Kate: So much fun! I sat back and thought about the things you get in witch stories, and the things that had been weird or amusing to me recently, and then just… amplified them. I started growing carnivorous plants in the first lockdown, and they can be quite spectacular. So they had to go in the book. And I really liked the idea of a house that changed to suit your needs, like the house in Encanto (and how’s this for a sign: my new kittens were nicknamed the Encanto kittens by the RSPCA: it was meant to be!). The village of Good Winter is a mixture of the village where I live and others around it—even the names aren’t entirely out of the realms of possibility: we have a Good Easter and a Cold Christmas, and there’s a Beldam’s Lane and Gall End (that being short for gallows) around here too.

Willow: They’re fantastic names. Essie and her family are a fantastic group of witches, each with their unique abilities. What came first in the writing process, characters or plot?

Characters, always. I spent a while thinking about Essie and her backstory, and Josh and his, and how the two would come together, clash, push and pull each other. I kind of thought of the household a bit like What We Do In The Shadows: a disparate group of people who only have one thing in common, but it’s a really big thing, so it’s what binds them. As for plot… I never usually plot. I just went, “Blah blah, Witchfinder General, great evil threatens the earth, somehow they’ll fix it, now on with the witty banter!”

Amber: He brings us to the next question. The threat in Hex Appeal is based on the Essex witch trials and the general witchfinder. What made you choose this part of history as the novel’s foundation?

Kate: Well, he’s the most famous person associated with witches hereabouts. Essex has a strong association with witches, and in fact more people were executed as witches in Essex than any other English county. This is almost entirely down to Matthew Hopkins, who was less a witchfinder than a con artist who profited from the persecution of helpless people, mostly women, and didn’t care much that they could—and often did—end up being hanged. It honestly amazed me that he isn’t considered a serial killer. The number of deaths he’s responsible for is in the hundreds.

An etching of Matthew Hopkins the General Witchfinder. Man wearing tall hat, breeches and moustache and short pointy beard.
Mathew Hopkins The General Witchfinder

Willow: We agree.  Evil man. I’ve also read Little Haunting by the Sea about the relationship between Jen and a Victorian child only she can see. Have you had any paranormal experiences and has that influenced you work?

You’d expect so, but no! But then again I have fierce protection. A while ago one of my cats sat on the sofa beside me, and really took umbridge at a patch of empty air a foot or so in front of her. Hissing and growling like mad. Then she suddenly stopped and began to purr. Now, was she fighting off an invisible demon for me? She’ll never tell.

black kitten hissing
Image by ktphotography from Pixabay

Amber: She sounds a good protector. We’re gearing up to celebrate Halloween, is it something you celebrate or avoid?

Kate: Unsurprisingly, I absolutely love Halloween! I always have. I take my costuming quite seriously and have an impromptu lecture prepared for when people tell me “It’s all very American,” because my friend, it’s more British than queuing in the rain to see the Queen. In fact it’s the origins of Halloween that form an important plot point in Hex Appeal: the festival of Samhain, which wasn’t always a fixed date but fell at the midpoint between the autumn equinox and winter solstice. It’s very much the nightfall of the year, when there is more dark than light and the cold settles in for the winter.

Rosa: We love being nosy. What has your publication journey been like? If you did it again, would you change anything?

Oh… long. Recently at a writing event the chair of the panel referred to me as the “longest-serving” and none of us could work out how many books I’d written (including me). I started writing for small presses, then slightly larger ones, then larger still. There have been a few small disasters, but nothing I really regret doing.

 I think the only change I’d make to that journey was holding my horses a bit when I first began submitting, because none of those books were remotely ready! I’m very glad self-publishing wasn’t around back then, because I’d probably have thrown up some very green books and set myself back.

Amber: I like to dabble in writing. What advice would you give new writers?

Kate: It’s like any craft: you’ve got to put the hours in. Read everything in your chosen genre (and outside it too!) and write lots. Be prepared to discard a lot, and I mean a lot. Be sensitive to the world around you but develop a thick skin for criticism.

Willow: The Enchanted Emporium sells a number of candles in The Wishing Spell range which promise to help your day go smoothly. Which would you choose?

Kate: Ooh. A good night’s sleep. Or confidence. (Do you have one that helps with indecision?)

Amber: Now that would be a bestseller. We have a candle that invokes memories of your perfect season? Where would it take you?

Kate: Autumn. A proper crisp autumn, where it’s cold enough to wear a pretty coat and a cute hat. Crunchy leaves underfoot, the scent of woodsmoke in the air, a cosy blanket in the evenings. Bliss!

Autumnal coloured maple leaves
Image by Shirley Hirst from Pixabay

Willow: I agree with you there. If we could blend a potion to give you a superpower or special ability for 24 hours, what would it be and what would you do with it?

You know what, I’d like a potion that helps me learn things really quickly. So I could play the piano, speak fluent French, understand the causes of WWI, that kind of thing. So long as I don’t lose the memories after 24 hours!

Willow: Losing all that knowledge would be cruel. The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf is always on the lookout for new books. What book would you add to it?

Kate: Jessica Thorne’s The Water Witch. It weaves in wonderful Breton folklore with a modern romance. I love Jessica’s books (also check out her Ruth Frances Long YA titles, which are brilliant and include English and Irish folklore).

Rosa: I’ve seen The Water Witch on the Enchanted Emporium’s bookshelf and She’s rumoured to be popping in soon. I adore romance novels and have a box full of them to share with customers. What would you add to it?

Kate: My absolute favourite romance author is Jennifer ruise. I pick her up whenever I need to remember how to be funny. I also want to recommend Jeevani Charika, who writes lovely warm romcoms with British Asian characters.

Willow: Finally, what are you working on currently? Or is it top secret?

Kate: Hex Appeal has been such a whirlwind I haven’t started work on a new book yet—but I have a couple of projects on the back burner. I’m hoping to do more paranormal romance, but exactly what flavour…? We’ll see.

Willow: Thanks for visiting and if Essie, Blessing, Avery, Maude, or even Lilith are in the area, please tell them to pop in. We will have lots to talk about.

Kate: If Lilith pops in, I apologise in advance.

Willow: Ha ha we’ll have to make provisions for that outcome. She’s a force to be reckoned with.

Author Biography

Photo of Kate Johnson. Smiling white woman with pink wavy hair
Kate Johnson

Kate Johnson is a Romantic Novel of the Year Award-winning author of romantic, mystery, and science fiction and not a stack of cats inside a raincoat, as many people believe. Kate lives in Essex with a small pride of cats, and writes books because actually being a space pirate, witch or murderer sounds like hard work.

Social media

Twitter, instagram & TikTok: @K8johnsonauthor

Facebook: @catmarsters

Book cover for The Hex Appeal by Kate Johnson. Dark purple backgound, white font entwined with green foliage. A cottage is at the bottom and a dungaree wearing woman is on the upper right side while a man is on the left looking at her
The Hex Appeal by Kate Johnosn

Blurb

Encanto meets Hocus Pocus in this perfect witchy romcom. An absolute must-read if you love Erin Sterling’s The Ex Hex and Lana Harper’s Payback’s a Witch!

It’s just a bunch of hocus pocus…

Essie Winterscale lives in a huge and ever-changing house in the village of Good Winter, in deepest, darkest Essex. She lives with various witches of various ages, one of whom is still a bit salty about having been burned at the stake in 1635, one who keeps accidentally casting fertility spells, and one who knits things that create the future.

All Essie ever wanted was to have a normal life but in the end she found herself drawn back to Beldam House because she just can’t stop her witchiness (although the ability to instantly chill wine is pretty awesome, even she has to admit).

Into this coven of chaos stumbles gorgeous, clueless Josh, their new landlord – and he’s just discovered his tenants haven’t paid rent since the 1700s! As Josh is drawn further into the lives of the inhabitants of Beldam House, Essie is determined to keep him at broomstick’s length. That is, until a family secret, lying hidden for centuries, puts Josh firmly under her spell…

‘Funny, smart and sassy…No one creates such brilliant worlds quite like Kate does’ Julie Caplin

Book Review: Spooky Ambiguous Ghost stories and poetry, fangs and fairy tales

With October only a couple of weeks away, the Enchanted Emporium is overflowing with books it recommends for the spooky season. A new arrival and one, Willow and Amber adored is Spooky Ambiguous by a collection of authors. Scroll down to see why.

Book Review: Spooky Ambiguous Ghost stories and poetry, fangs and fairy tales

Book cover for Spooky Ambiguous.
Dark cover, painted with shading representing a sea and the sky. A red full moon in the right hand corner with 2 birds flying by
Spooky Ambiguous

Title: Spooky Ambiguous

Author: Penny Ayers, Michael Bartlett, Patrick Booth, Amaris Chase, Holly Anne Crawford, Ivor Daniel, Amanda Jane Davies, Daphne Denley, J. J. Drover, Harriet Hitchen, Rebecca McDowall, Jane Phillips, Angela Reddaway, Joe Robson, Margaret Royall. Illustrations by Lorna Gray

Publisher: Crump Barn Studio

Genre: Horror, Gothic

Release Date: 15th September 2022

Blurb

Ghosts and vampires, zombies and werewolves. A mirror with danger at its heart.

A child is delighted to discover she is a witch, and a village disappears under a fairy curse.

Then a selkie finds her way back to the waves, before a blood moon rises, bringing its own secrets …

Full of the spooky and the gothic, fairy tales and poetry, this is a brilliant and intriguing collection where nothing and no one is as they seem.

Thoughts form the Emporium

This small anthology is a deliciously dark, gothic collection of poetry and short stories from several talented authors. We’d read previously read Regan by Rebecca McDowell so we knew if she was included in the book, the other authors would be of high standard. We weren’t wrong.

Some of these stories were spooky enough to give goosebumps and Amber’s fear of mirrors was reactivated by Michael Bartlett’s Mirror, Mirror. The haunting poetry drew us into other places and danger and we particularly loved Corpse Light by Amaris Chase. Living near the Yorkshires Moors, we will heed the tales warning.

It’s an ideal book to dip into on the darker evenings, share around the fire just like our ancestors did and treasure for future Halloweens.

Beautiful dark illustrations

Thank you Crump Barn Studio for inviting us to this tour and providing a copy to the Enchanted Emporium bookshelf so we could provide an honest and unbiased opinion.

Book Review: Waking the Witch by Rachel Burge

With a wet start to the day at Whitby, it’s time to share another review from the Enchanted Emporium bookshelf. With a vibrant book cover, Waking the Witch by Rachel Burge caught Amber’s attention when it arrived courtesy of Bonnier. Scroll down for her unbiased opinion.

Book Review: Waking the Witch by Rachel Burge

Cover for Waking the Witch by Rachel Burge,
Red and white lighthouse emitting red rays of light. A large black cormorant with wings spread in the fore ground is guarding a person in the foetal position. They are surrounded by a circle of runes.
Waking the Witch by Rachel Burge

Title: Waking the Witch

Author: Rachel Burge

Publisher: Bonnier

Genre: YA fantasy, witchlit

Release Date: 18th September 2022

Blurb

A darkly spellbinding story of witches, sisterhood and coming of age, steeped in Welsh mythology and Arthurian legend.

Ivy has spent years looking for her birth mother, but when she finally finds her on Bardsey Island, she is shocked by what greets her. According to folklore, the cormorants that fly over the remote Welsh isle are the terrifying witches of Arthurian legend – and they are searching for Ivy.

Her mum warned her not to come and to stay away from the lighthouse, but now it’s too late. As the shadows draw closer, Ivy must look deep within herself if she wants to survive. For not every story in folklore is true, and some evils aren’t what they seem…

An unputdownable new stand-alone novel from the bestselling author of THE TWISTED TREE and THE CROOKED MASK.

Thoughts from the Emporium

Waking the Witch resulted in Amber having no sleep and arriving late and bleary eyed for her weekend shift at The Enchanted Emporium. Thank the Goddess for the glamour spell she’d been practising. From the first page she was hooked. Having discovered her own powers as an adolescence, she related to Ivy’s bewilderment and fear as magic entered her life with horrifying results. Amber found it impossible to put the book down as Ivy made the road trip to the remote island and the awaiting dangers. The haunting imagery of the cormorants and witches are powerful and added to the tension as Ivy’s past was revealed.

Amber’s patchy knowledge of the Arthurian legends didn’t put her at a disadvantage as the folklore was explained in the prose but it has made her want to read more. There is so much more to them than the few episodes of Merlin she’s watched. Spellbound the ending arrived too quickly and longed fro more. She didn’t want to let the characters go. She hopes the standalone statement in the blurb is a lie and there will be a sequel. Until then, she’ll recommend it to other witches visiting the store and put it on her reread pile.

Its perfect for the upcoming spooky season and beyond.

Author Biography

photo of author Rachel Burge. White woman with beaming smile and brown straight long hair
Rachel Burge

Website: https://rachelburge.co.uk/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RachelABurge

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rachelburgewriter/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Rachelburgeauthor/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/burge0709/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/rachelburge99

Book Review: The Lighthouse Witches by C.J Cooke

As far as those at the Enchanted Emporium is concerned, September is really a precursor to Halloween so it’s the ideal time to share reviews for witchy books old and new. The Lighthouse Witches by C.J Cooke was released last year but deserves to be shouted about again now it’s spooky season.

With a hauntingly beautiful cover, it oozed darkness and menacing which meant Amber couldn’t wait to read it. Scroll down to see if it met her expectations.

Book Review: The Lighthouse Witches by C.J Cooke

Book cover for The Lighthouse Witches by C.J Cooke. Dark cover with red and black lighthouse amidst dark blue and grey stylised waves.
The Lighthouse Witches by C.J Cooke


Title:
The Lighthouse Witches

Author: C.J Cooke

Publisher: HarperCollins

Genre: witchlit, paranormal, Gothic

Release Date: 30th September 2021

Blurb

The brand-new chilling gothic thriller from the bestselling author . . .

Upon the cliffs of a remote Scottish island, Lòn Haven, stands a lighthouse. A lighthouse that has weathered more than storms. Mysterious and terrible events have happened on this island. It started with a witch hunt. Now, centuries later, islanders are vanishing without explanation.

Coincidence? Or curse? Liv Stay flees to the island with her three daughters, in search of a home. She doesn’t believe in witches, or dark omens, or hauntings. But within months, her daughter Luna will be the only one of them left. Twenty years later, Luna is drawn back to the place her family vanished. As the last sister left, it’s up to her to find out the truth . . .

But what really happened at the lighthouse all those years ago?

Thoughts from The Emporium

Based on an isolated Scottish island, The Lighthouse Witches is a deliciously dark tale full of gothic atmosphere. The descriptions of the lighthouse’s interior provided the location for an unnerving, fear based reading experience. Told by several narrators, including an ancient grimoire, it followed Luna as she returns to the island to discover the truth about her mother and sisters disappearance in 1998. The hostile welcome from the close-knit community added to the mystery and tension. With links to the 17th century Scottish witch trials, both witches were hooked until the end. Even then their thoughts were drawn back to it. Thankfully, they had each other to discuss things with.

There were moments when Amber wondered how dark the story would go and began reading behind a cushion, Dr Who style. It may not be graphic but it forced both witches to use their imagination which may have made things worse. With increased tension, it hurtled towards an unexpected but satisfying conclusion.

If you want a chilling witchy pageturner with strong female characters, this is one to pull from a bookshelf. A perfect Halloween read.

Have you read it? The witches would love to know you thoughts.

Author Biography

black and white photo of author C.J Cooke. White woman with dark shoulder length hair and friendly smile
Author C.J Cooke

C.J. Cooke is an acclaimed, award-winning poet, novelist and academic with numerous other publications written under the name of Carolyn Jess-Cooke. Her work has been published in twentythree languages to date. Born in Belfast, C.J. has a PhD in Literature from Queen’s University, Belfast, and is currently Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow, where she researches creative writing interventions for mental health. C.J. Cooke lives in Glasgow with her husband and four children. She also founded the Stay-At-Home Festival.