Book Review: The Witches of Vardo by Anya Bergman

From the whimsical adventures searching for Norwegian fae, in Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries, today’s review remains in the North but it ventures back to the dark times of the witch trials. The Emporium’s attraction to The Witches of Vardo by Anya Bergman is clear -put witch is the title and the bookshelf will covet it but scroll down to see if this novel deserves a place on the shelf on merit alone.

Book Review: The Witches of Vardo by Anya Bergman

Title: The Witches of Vardo

Author: Anya Bergman

Publisher: Bonnier

Genre: Fiction, Witchlit, Historical fiction

Release date: 12th Jan 2023

Blurb

1662. Norway. A dangerous time to be a woman, when even dancing can lead to accusations of witchcraft. When Zigri, a normal fisherman’s wife, desperate and grieving after the loss of her husband and son, embarks on an affair with the married son of a wealthy merchant, it is not long before she is sent to the fortress at Vardø, to be tried and condemned as a witch. Summer is twenty-four hours of light and winter is twenty-four hours of darkness, and night is closing in.
 
Zigri’s daughter Ingeborg leaves her younger sister and sets off into the wilderness to try to bring her mother back home. Accompanying her on this quest is Maren – herself the daughter of a witch ­– whose wild nature and unconquerable spirit gives Ingeborg the courage to venture into the unknown, and to risk all she has to save her family.
 
Also captive in the fortress is Anna Rhodius with instructions to extract the confessions from the supposed witches. Once the King of Denmark’s mistress, she has been brought to Vardø in disgrace. What will she do – and who will she betray – to return to her privileged life at court?
 
These Witches of Vardø are stronger than even the King of Denmark. In an age weighted against them they refuse to be victims. They will have their justice. All they need do is show their power.
 
The Witches of Vardø is based upon the real events of witch hunts in Norway in 1662. A blend of historical fact with magic realism, retellings of old Nordic folktales, Norse mythology and Sámi mythology, and told from the points of view of Anna and Ingeborg, it will take your breath away.

Thoughts from the Emporium

After reading, this novel’s worthiness for being on the enchanted shelf is beyond doubt. Spellbound, Amber and Willow have also bought copies to keep for themselves for the knowledge it contains and the compelling storytelling they know they will return to. 

Beyond the witch trials in the UK and Salem, the Emporium’s witches’ knowledge of them is sketchy, so both were intrigued by this book’s basis in fact. What followed horrified and enthralled them in equal measure and triggered heated debates between customers about the role of misogyny, fear and spite in the persecution of so-called witches.

Told in two voices, the reader sees the story from the viewpoint of the accused and   those against them, gave a full experience of the events. The smattering of mythology and folk tales  blended in added depth and context to the magical side to the novel. 

Daughter of a physician, Anna is outspoken, and intelligent and used to the finer things in life and in exile to Vardo. Like many characters in this book, she is complex and multifaceted. Willow and Amber wanted to dislike her; she made their blood curdle with rage at her support for tracking down the witches but when her life story was revealed their stance wavered. Was she a  woman with good intentions trapped by circumstance? Like Willow suggested. Or pure evil which was Amber’s more rigid stance. Book clubs will have fun unpicking their thoughts.

Ingeborg’s chapters highlighted the harsh realities of the fishing village she lives in where poverty is rife, women vulnerable and superstition thrives. Young, she has grown up too fast to care for her younger sister Kirsten while battling her own grief with the loss of her brother. Loss and grief are consistent themes in the book, exploring how its power can  lead to unwise decisions with far reaching consequences. Her loyalty, level headedness and love for family shone on the page making everyone eager for her to succeed on her mission to rescue her mother when she became entangled with a frenzy of hate, fuelled by misogyny and ability to use the accusation of witch as punishment for any misdemeanor or perceived fault.

Maren, daughter of a feared and infamous witch provided the mystical elements to the novel with her fantastical stories, unreliable narration and unwavering strength. She added to the are they or aren’t they witches thread that cleverly ran throughout.

The Emporium witches were completely immersed in the 17th century world Anya Bergman created thanks to the small details in character, location, dress and experience. They could taste the sugar almonds and feel the pleasure of seeing the Northern lights. The research must have been immense and they were thrilled to discover a reading list at the back of the book so they could explore things more for themselves.

The Witches of Vardo is a compelling, dark and emotional historical tale of loyalty, female strength, magic and betrayal. Its impactful and the unexpected ending showcased its strength in storytelling.

Author Biography

Photo of Anya Bergman. Petite white woman with dark hair huddled in a snuggly thick fur lined coat.
Anya Bergman

Anya Bergman lives in Ireland. She graduated from Edinburgh Napier with a Master’s in Creative Writing with distinction in 2020. She lived for six years in Norway researching this book extensively. The Witches of Vardø, a passion project, is her debut novel.She says: “My aim is to raise the lost of voices of the women of Vardø with tenderness, to reclaim their agency and to empower the reader with a strong sense of F*** the patriarchy!”

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Book Review: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

There are no fae in the Emporium’s secret garden but Willow is sure she saw one in Grandma Jax’s garden as a child and she was warned about those roaming the Yorkshire Moors the cottage backed on to. When this beauty, Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries, arrived on the enchanted bookshelf*, she knew she had to read it. Amber saw the cover and immediately thought of her own painted pages in her Book of Shadows so lay claim on it too.

The cover could easily have been designed by the fae itself and promised to hold an exquisite read. Scroll down to see if it hit everyone’s high expectations.

Book Review: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

Book Cover for Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett. Cream parchment style background with an open book at the bottom. Framed by exquisite water colour illustration of flowers and toadstools
Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries

Title: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries

Author: Heather Fawcett

Publisher: Orbit

Genre: Adult fantasy, folklore

Release Date: 19th January 2023

Blurb

Enter the world of the hidden folk – and discover the most whimsical, enchanting and heart-warming tale you’ll read this year, featuring the intrepid Emily Wilde. . .

Emily Wilde is good at many things: she is the foremost expert on the study of faeries; she is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encylopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby

But as Emily gets closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones – the most elusive of all faeries –  she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all – her own heart.

Filled with enchanting magic, heart-warming romance and a heroine you can’t help but love, Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries is the perfect read for fans of The Ten Thousand Doors of January and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

Thoughts From the Emporium

Both witches decided this novel tapped into their adoration of Brian Froud’s Faeries books and could easily imagine once Emily had corelated all her findings, it would be just as an outstanding to read, with intricately detailed descriptions and illustrations of each faery. With this in mind, they were invested from the start for her to succeed in her mission.

Brian Froud and Alan Lee books

Written as a journal, the adventure slowly unfolded as she travels to the cold depths of Norway to study the elusive Hidden Ones for her project. This gave them the opportunity to find out about her as a character through her actions and thoughts. Highly focused, scholarly and straightforward, it was fun to read a strong personality with such dedication to her field who thinks differently with surprising results. Amber related to her attraction to books, journaling and nature, solitude over social interaction, her in-depth curiosity and she understood why studying the fae became priority. The more Amber read, the more Emily Wilde became her literary hero. She had worked hard and nothing would get in her way. In Emily’s journals, her reasonings, flaws and social floundering were in full display. And her hatred for Wendell.

Wendell Bambleby was Emily’s opposite, and seen through her eyes it took a while to warm to him but with a flamboyant attitude, charisma and love of homely decor and fashion, he became a character to love and root for whatever his secrets. His unrequited love for her provides humour, chemistry and clashes. It was a joy to watch this slow, subtle romance and attraction grow.

Every character was well-developed, including side ones from the village, so was easy to be immersed in the comings and goings of the village, the horror of fae abductions and attacks. The Faeries themselves have personality, depth and a darkness seen in fairy tales of old, not the sanitised Disney versions.

Highly imaginative in characterisation, plot and setting, the small details gave this story heart. The wintery Norwegian location was an ideal place for the investigations for its landscape and otherworldly atmosphere. The freezing temperature emanated from the page the further Emily’s investigations took her, so lots of hot beverages were required while drinking. No one wanted this book to end and excited to see its part of a series. 

This beautiful, heart-warming fantasy has everything needed for a magical tale exploring the dark world of the faeries and self-discovery; immersive worldbuilding, humour, mystery, drama and soul. More, please!

Author Biography

Heather Fawcett is the author of the middle grade novels Ember and the Ice Dragons and The Language of Ghosts, as well as the young adult series Even the Darkest Stars. She has a master’s degree in English literature and has worked as an archaeologist, photographer, technical writer, and backstage assistant for a Shakespearean theater festival. She lives on Vancouver Island, Canada.

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*Thank you Compulsive Readers for supplying a copy to review.

Best Books of 2022 and chat of things to come

Happy New Year from all at The Enchanted Emporium and we wish you a magical 2023 with plenty of happiness, good health and laughter. And books, lots of books and tea. If the current influx of books arriving on the enchanted bookshelf and in Rosa’s Box of Romance is anything to go by we’re in for a treat.

Have you seen the recent Guardian newspaper articles regarding the rise of witch lit or witcherature? We’ll link them here and here. We agree 2022 been the year of the witch as our favourite books will show and it looks like the trend will continue. Aren’t we lucky? Willow needs to conjure a pause time to read spell to read them all. Maybe, just maybe we will have exciting news to tell about our own story based in our shop written by writer, Kate Kenzie later this year but you know what some writers are like with deadlines and self doubt, it could be delayed again. You can follow her progress and give her a kick up the bum – sorry encouragement here.

Our blog is in its infancy, toddling about but we’ve had a ball chatting to authors in our Monday Merry Meets. They’ve brightened up our weeks and you can catch up with those you may have missed below. This year we’ll continue to fling our staff room doors and provide tea while we gossip with more writers and customers who stumble down Black Cat Alley. Our first guest is Yorkshire romance author, Jane Lovering. Why not press subscribe so you don’t miss any future chat?

Monday Merry Meets in 2022

Jeanna Louise Skinner

Alys West

Christina Courtenay

Kiley Dunbar

Kate Johnson

Kat Chant

J C Clarke

Elisabeth Hobbes

Lilian Brooks

Stephanie Hansen

Rachel Burge

Sharon Booth

Heidi Swain

Jessica Thorne

Emma Bradley

Photo of a floral cup and saucer

Enough rambling before our first cup of tea and the sun has risen over Whitby, here are our favourite books of 2022 from the bookshelf and Rosa’s Box of Romance in no particular order (that really is a ask too far). Are you ready?

Here goes

The Best Books of 2022 on the Enchanted Emporium’s Bookshelf

The Change by Kirsten Miller – One of the finest examples of witcherature and feminist writing we’ve seen. It kicks ass, has superb powerful characterisation and is unforgettable for its humour, darkness and immersive plot.

The Gifts by Liz Hyder – This was another immersive, breath stopping novel. Not witches this time but angels in the nineteenth century when misogyny and greed is rife. The cover is beautiful and with this unforgettable storyline, it deserves to sit on everyone’s bookshelf

The Hex Appeal by Kate Johnson – Full of humour, and with plenty of highly imaginative mayhem this witchy romcom made us chuckle out loud.

The Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marias – with a cast of six octogenarian witches, this novel captivated us and it highlights how commercial witch lit can be. The Moonshyne witches will be forever in out hearts.

Widdershins by Helen Steadman – Historical fiction based on the Newcastle witch trials in 1649. The detail and knowledge portrayed on the page brought the era and danger to live.

Demon by Matt Wesolowski. – From witches to a demon haunting a village in Yorkshire. The podcast format worked well for this horror novel and sent shivers down our spines.

The Ghost of Ivy Barn by Mark Stay – Another fun and immersive witchy novel in the Witches of Woodville series. It has humour, action and highly memorable, quirky characters. Once read you have to keep reading the series over and over.

The Witch and the Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore – The last book reviewed last year and with impressive world building, this retelling of the Baba Yaga folk tale is a must for witcherature fans.

What were your favourite reads last year? Drop us a line or comment we’d love to know.

Happy reading!

Book Review: The Witch and the Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore

This is the last review of the year unless another book sneaks in from the Enchanted Emporium bookshelf. A stunning copy of The Witch and the Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore arrived on the bookshelf courtesy of Random Things Tours. As usual, when a witchy book arrives there was a scrabble between the staff to see who would read it first. Willow won.

Scroll down to see her unbiased and honest review.

Book Review: The Witch and the Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore

Book cover for The Witch and the Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore Jade coloured background with gold lettering, gold stats and white snowflakes. A black stylisied crow flies in the sky and a nordic black house is at the bottom with white fir trees.

Title: The Witch and the Tsar

Author: Olesya Salnikova Gilmore

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Genre: Historical fantasy, folklore

Release Date: 8th December 2023

Blurb

As a half-goddess possessing magic, Yaga is used to living on her own, her prior entanglements with mortals having led to heartbreak. She mostly keeps to her hut in the woods, where those in need of healing seek her out, even as they spread rumors about her supposed cruelty and wicked spells. But when her old friend Anastasia—now the wife of the tsar and suffering from a mysterious illness—arrives in her forest desperate for her protection, Yaga realizes the fate of all of Russia is tied to Anastasia’s. Yaga must step out of the shadows to protect the land she loves.

As she travels to Moscow, Yaga witnesses a sixteenth century Russia on the brink of chaos. Tsar Ivan—soon to become Ivan the Terrible—grows more volatile and tyrannical by the day, and Yaga believes the tsaritsa is being poisoned by an unknown enemy. But what Yaga cannot know is that Ivan is being manipulated by powers far older and more fearsome than anyone can imagine.

Thoughts from the Emporium

The stunning illustrated cover with its golden gilt reflects the majestic tale inside. This reimagined tale of Baba Yaga is a beautifully written and captivating novel. Willow was gripped by the extensive world building, the depth of all the characters and dramatic plot. As someone who was unaware of the folklore connected to Baba Yaga this was a refreshing read. The language and vivid descriptions brought the colourful Russian cities, the horror of war and the scheming gods to life.

This version of the immortal witch, Yaga was far removed from the hateful, child eating witch she’s famous for. Instead, she was portrayed as a caring and reluctant hero. Her strength, chemistry between those she loves, including the animals she can charm, and her desire to protect the Motherland at all costs, makes her unforgettable. In the uncertain times we live, the politics of the sixteenth century and the war it fuelled felt oddly relevant and made the story more impactful.

Everyone at the Emporium adored Little Hen, her house on chicken legs despite the initial reaction being disgust. As a background character, she stole everyone’s hearts.

Olesya Salnikova Gilmore has successfully blended an inverted Yaga legend with the history surrounding Ivan the Terrible to create an immersive, dark and enlightening treat that will be well loved by those visiting the Enchanted Emporium bookshelf. It is a strong contender to be one of the bookshelf’s favourite novels of 2022.

Author Biography

Photo of Olesya Salnikova Gilmore White woman sitting on some steps, wearing black. Dark hair, smiling
Olesya Salnikova Gilmore

Olesya Salnikova Gilmore was born in Moscow, Russia, raised in the United States, and graduated from Pepperdine University with a BA in English /political science, and from North western University School of Law with a JD.
She practiced litigation at a large law firm for several years before pursuing her dream of becoming an author. She is happiest writing historical fiction and fantasy inspired by Eastern European folklore. She lives in a wooded lakeside suburb of Chicago with her husband and daughter. The Witch and the Tsar is her debut novel.

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Monday Merry Meet: Jeanna Louise Skinner

It’s the last Monday before Christmas and the Enchanted Emporium is hectic with customers wanting last minute presents, candles for calm and lotions to help have a happy day. We’re delighted to have a tea break to chat to paranormal romance author, Jeanna Louise Skinner. Her debut novel, The Book Boyfriend was recommended by Kiley Dunbar in her Monday Merry Meet so we’re looking forward to knowing more.

Monday Merry Meet: Jeanna Louise Skinner

Mug with a reindeer on it next to some teabags
Image by Luisella Planeta LOVE PEACE 💛💙 from Pixabay

Willow: Hi Jeanna, come in. Can we 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?

Jeanna: Thank you so much for that lovely warm welcome, Willow. I’m delighted to be here. I adore your magical emporium and regularly find myself getting lost in all the mysterious nooks and crannies as a visitor, so it’s lovely to drop in with my author hat on. I’d kill for a decent cuppa but decaf if you possibly have it. Milk, no sugar, please.

Willow: Your debut novel, The Book Boyfriend, is a paranormal romance. What drew you to that genre?

Jeanna: I’ve always loved all things magical and mysterious. Some of my favourite movies growing up were Mannequin, Splash and Big. You know, the kind of film where the fantastical happens, but it’s within the real world. I love high fantasy too, but I feel like there’s something whimsical about grounded fantasy or paranormal. Something about the “What If” nature of the supernatural that resonates in my soul. I used to enjoy the spookier side of the supernatural more when I was younger and ate up shows like The X Files, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more chicken and I can’t do the scary stuff anymore. I still want all those Will-They-Won’t-They Mulder and Scully feels though, and Paranormal Romance gives me the hit of magic that I’m looking for with the HEA endings I crave. My sweet spot is Cosy Paranormal/Fantasy Romance and my personal brand is that but featuring plus-size and neurodiverse characters.

Willow: I loved those films and watched all of them on repeat as a teenager.

Amber: The Book Boyfriend contains our favourite things, bookshops, magic and romance. And to top it off, it has a map. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

Jeanna: The Book Boyfriend is the book of my heart.

It’s very meta in that it’s about a romance-loving bookworm who wants to write but who struggles to put her messy thoughts on to paper. There’s a throwback swoon-worthy, brooding historical hero who literally, magically appears out of the book the heroine is reading, plus a grumpy bookshop cat. The idea came from a conversation with an old friend years ago where she was lamenting the fact that the real life men she knew couldn’t match up to her fantasy heroes and that her book boyfriends just couldn’t be real. It was literally a lightbulb moment in my head. And I set it in a bookshop because there’s no place which feels more magical to me (except for possibly a library).

The map was kind of a happy accident. The Book Boyfriend is set in Exeter where I live. It’s a beautiful old city with so much history but I feel it’s often overlooked in literature, so I mined Exeter’s very rich historical seam for titbits and plot bunnies. The cathedral plays an important role in the story, as do the centuries old underground passages, both of which are major tourist attractions here today. And of course, I had to delve into Exeter and Devon’s abundance of ghost stories and folklore.

My husband is born and bred here and even though he’s not an illustrator by trade, I know he’s talented at drawing. I mentioned to him one day that I’d love to put a map of Exeter in the book; one which shows the then and now of Exeter in the 16th century and how it’s changed today. Well, let’s just say he rose to the challenge in true book boyfriend fashion. I’m thrilled with how it turned out and all the little details he included. If you look closely, you can even see a tiny horse and cart figure near the cathedral.

I wrote this book to be a love letter to Romance and included loads of Easter eggs for book lovers to find. And there’s even a choice of covers because I know how some Romance fans love a clinch cover with a real-life couple, but others prefer the cartoon Illustrated style.

Open book in candlelight. The pages are bent to form a heart

Willow: It sounds fabulous and everything a magic loving romantic bookworm desires. Unlike many romance books,  Emmeline isn’t your petite and neurotypical heroine. How important do you think representation of everyone is in fiction?

Jeanna: In many ways Emmeline is me. I tried very hard not to make her a self insert, but she’s the me I always wanted to read in books. Of course, there are lots of ways where we’re not alike, but she means a lot to me as a character. It’s my hope that others will read her story and see themselves in her, especially in her strength, because she’s unbelievably resilient and resourceful.

Emmeline has schizophrenia, a mental illness which is still very highly stigmatised and misunderstood. I’ve already mentioned my brand being plus-size and neurodiverse paranormal romance, and I stand by this. I’m privileged in lots of ways but I’m also marginalised in others. Namely, being plus-size, neurodiverse and disabled. If my stories can make just one person feel seen or represented in a positive light, it will all be worth it. We need diverse books isn’t just a throwaway slogan. It truly matters. I’m proud of the work that myself and others – especially indie authors – are doing to bring positive representation to publishing, but I feel that traditional publishing still has a way to go.

Willow: Yule has arrived here in the Emporium and Whitby is full of Christmas cheer. Are you someone who enjoys the festivities or more bah humbug?

Jeanna: I adore Christmas! I’m a big traditionalist and I used to go all out making my own mince pies, Christmas cakes and having the perfectly decorated tree etc, but I’ve had to take a step back these days because of my health. So now I try to take joy from the smaller things. My very favourite part of Christmas is that feeling when you find the perfect present for someone, the anticipation of them opening it and their eyes lighting up when they do. It feels magical to me. Very much like when you know someone is The One or that moment when I strike gold whilst writing – which doesn’t happen often enough, unfortunately.

Willow: There are so many different ways to be published nowadays. What has your journey been like? If you did it again, would you change anything?

Jeanna: Oh goodness, that’s a long and complicated story so I’ll try to keep it brief. I started out like many aspiring authors in that I went down the querying route. I spent a lot of getting down and dirty in those trenches and I still have the scars to prove it. I thought I’d made it when a small indie publisher showed interest in The Book Boyfriend. It was so exciting. I was finally a real published author, but months after my dream came true, my publisher closed. I got my rights back relatively quickly and easily and I’m so grateful for that. I know so many authors who’ve had nightmares where returning rights are concerned. So, in March I became a self published author. It was never on my radar to self publish. My health issues mean I have limited spoons and time to devote to pretty much everything and I knew self publishing would mean a LOT of hard work, so it wasn’t really what I wanted. But I’m here now and I wouldn’t say I’m thriving as an indie author. Surviving, maybe? So I’m taking each day as it comes and I’m truly grateful for all my readers, followers, friends and family who are cheering me on.

Willow: That is some journey, and we wish you all the luck in your indie career. I am very ritualistic in my day. Do you have writing rituals to help you write?

Jeanna: Absolutely none. The only thing I do need is relative peace and quiet to write otherwise I’m as scattergun as it comes with my writing process.

Amber: We’ve spoken to many would be authors this year. Do you have any advice for new writers?

Jeanna: The best bit of advice I’ve ever been given and something that’s much easier to say than do:

WTFB – Write The F##king Book.

It’s a cliché but you can’t edit, polish, query or publish a blank page.

I just wish I would listen to my own advice more!

Amber: I need to remember that one.

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

Jeanna: Anything that keeps my ADHD brain occupied on the task in hand so “Focus while the candle is burning” would be wonderful, please!

Willow:  One of candles when lit invokes memories of your perfect day? Where would it take you?

Jeanna: To Blackbury Camp in Devon, the site of an old Iron Age hillfort and an enchanting bluebell wood. We used to visit every year before I got sick. I remember spending one particularly magical early summer’s day there with a picnic and the sun beating down on us, while the boys went off looking for faeries and wisps in the trees.

Amber: The Enchanted Emporium is plagued by ghosts and paranormal activity all year round. Have had had any spooky experiences – has it influenced your writing?

Jeanna: I don’t know if it’s influenced my writing but I swear I heard (heard not saw) a werewolf once. The sound gave me the shivers. Even now it’s making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up just thinking about it.

Dark blue background. A silhouette of a wolf howling against a full moon
Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Willow:A werewolf experience is something we’ve not heard of in the Emporium but there have been several sightings in East Yorkshire. 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?

Jeanna: Probably something to do with focus again because my combination of ADHD and CRPS is huge energy-sucking bummer of a cocktail. Either that or I’d like to do something amazing like time-travel.

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

Jeanna: Probably the Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake. I first read it as a gothy teenager and I fell completely in love with Peake’s gothic-laced fantasy world. It’s Dracula meets Game of Thrones but better than both, imho. There was a beautifully detailed BBC adaptation years ago, but I think it’s the perfect time for a new version.

Amber: I need to search for those. Thanks.

Willow: Our assistant Rosa says hi. She couldn’t be here today because she’s at her son’s Nativity, but she has a box full of romance novels for people to borrow. What would you add to Rosa’s box of Romance?

Jeanna: Oh gosh, so many. Can I choose two recent favourites?

Willow: Of course. It’s Christmas, so the more the merrier.

Jeanna: Holding on To Bluebell Lodge by Rachel Bowdler. A gorgeous enemies to lovers sapphic romance by the sea.

Just Fake Married by Marty Vee. As the title implies, it’s a fake relationship romance, but this one has all the feels, mutual pining, a New Year’s Eve kiss, only one bed and doggos. LOTS of cute doggos.

Amber: And finally, what are you working on currently? Or is it top secret?

Jeanna: I’m (not) very busy writing the first book in my new series. It’s called Pumpkin Spice and it’s book one in The Bluebloodsuckers series, which is about a modern-day European royal family who also happen to be vampires. Pumpkin Spice is a Cinderella-inspired steamy plus-size romcom with a fat, witchy, sword-forging heroine and a handsome Prince Charming who becomes a vampire when the clock strikes midnight. It’s human sunshine meets grumpy immortal and so much fun to write. I’m hoping to release it next Autumn.

I’m also writing a short story in the same series which will be published first in Hexes and Ohs, a witchy paranormal romance charity anthology from The New Romance Cafe. It’s available to preorder now and ALL the proceeds will be going to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Willow: Vampires and witches will make a great combination. Good luck with your writing and we’ll be pre-ordering Hexes and Oh’s from here. Have a lovely Christmas.  

Photo of walnuts, iced star cookies and cones.
Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Author Biography

Photo of Jeanna Louise Skinner. White woman, long curly hair wearing an orange jumper
Jeanna Louise Skinner

Jeanna Louise Skinner writes plus-size romance with a sprinkling of magic. She has CRPS and ADHD and she is passionate about writing people underrepresented in Romance, especially those with disabilities and neurodiverse conditions. She lives in Devon with her husband, their two children and a cat who sounds like a goat. Her debut plus-size paranormal romance The Book Boyfriend is out now in ebook, paperback and audio. 

Blurb:

If your fictional boyfriend came to life, could you write your own Happily Ever After?

Emmeline always dreamed of being an author, finding comfort in words and between the pages of her beloved romance novels, but a mental health diagnosis leaves her blocked and unable to write. Then she inherits a crumbling, second-hand bookshop from a mysterious old friend and Emmy discovers that magic is real. Maybe her fantasies about the heroes in her favourite historical romances aren’t so far-fetched after all?

Lord Jonathan Dalgliesh is the handsome stranger – wielding a sword as dangerous as his Tudor past – who appears in Emmy’s bookshop asking for help. Together they must race against time itself to lift the curse imprisoning him inside an ancient book. But when growing threats to Emmy’s safety are proved real and not another symptom of her illness, she must learn to trust her own voice again. Can she find the words to save Jonathan and her shop before tragedy strikes on the fateful final page? Romance-addict Emmy may be, but this damsel is about to kick distress into the Ever After.

Featuring a fierce, body-positive, fat and tall heroine; a morally-grey, swoonworthy Tudor hero; mental health rep; romance novel references galore; a dusty Devon bookshop setting; history, mystery, magic; and the grumpiest, chonkiest bookshop cat, “The Book Boyfriend” is the perfect witchy, slow burn, time-travel romance for fans of Outlander, A Discovery of Witches, Practical Magic and many more!

Social media links: 

Tiktok: https://www.tiktok.com/@jeannalouiseskinner

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

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

Book Review: Widdershins by Helen Steadman

Willow and Amber were thrilled when Widdershins and Sunwise, the second book in the series arrived on the Enchanted Emporium bookshelf, courtesy of Random Things Tours. They knew the stories were written with love and attention when they unwrapped the package to discover the books came with a corn dolly for fertility, and lavender and tea to aid sleep.

Scroll down to see if they were right.

Book Review: Widdershins by Helen Steadman

Widdershins by Helen Steadman

Title: Widdershins

Author: Helen Steadman

Genre: Historical Fiction, Witchlit

Release Date: 8th April 2022

Blurb

‘DID ALL WOMEN HAVE SOMETHING OF THE WITCH ABOUT THEM?’


England, 1649. A sadistic witch hunter. An apprentice healer accused of witchcraft. Can she escape the hangman’s noose?
When John’s parents die at the hands of a witch, he faces a choice: an easy life with a woman who serves Satan, or a hard life with a preacher who serves God. The cursed orphan chooses the church. Raised on raging sermons, he discovers his true purpose: to become a witchfinder and save virtuous souls from the jaws of hell.
In a town mesmerized by superstition and fear, two destinies collide. As John rounds up t

he local witches, Jane gets more than she bargained for when bartering with the apothecary. Instead of trading herbal remedies, she finds herself on trial for consorting with the devil. Can she prove her innocence, or will she be condemned to death?


If you like historical novels based on real witch trials, you’ll love Helen Steadman’s Widdershins and its sequel, Sunwise. Recommended for fans of The Familiars, Tidelands and The Witchfinder’s Sister.

Thoughts from the Emporium

What a fabulous read! History plays an important role in the witches’ lives yet to their shame neither had heard about the Newcastle witch trials which this series covers. Beautifully written with intricate details masterfully blended into each scene, this novel immersed both Willow and Amber into the 17th century. It allowed them to breathe in the aromas of the herbs, choke on the stench of disease, hear nature and the hubbub of village life, and experience the culture of the time. For part they enjoyed walking side by side with Jane learning the ways herbs were used and how they were integrated in society, but the sense of danger and the tightrope knowledgeable women walked was terrifying.

Glimpsing into the life of John made an emotional impact that surprised them. Despite knowing the horrors he’d commit, they pitied the boy he was and understood the reasons how he came to change his stance when strict fanatic puritan views were rife. The hatred and twisted views after radicalisation were harder to forgive as was the societal change taking power away from women during birth to those of male medics. The impacts of these can still be seen today.

The collision of Jane and John’s lives horrified the witches and were grateful those times have passed but the fear lives on. They are eager to read Sunwise to find out more.

Helen Steadman is a wonderful storyteller and makes historical fiction accessible where in other hands, it could have been heavy with too many facts and no soul. She tapped into the characters and era and made them come alive. This is witchy historical fiction at its best and on par with Barbara Erskine. The Enchanted Emporium is proud to have theses books in its collection and the witches are now hoping Helen Steadman will wander down Black Cat Alley for a Monday Merry Meet. Willow suspects they have much to discuss. Watch this space!

Author Biography

Photo of Helen Steadman. White woman smiling with dark shoulder length hair and cosy jumper. Trees in the background.
Helen Steadman

Dr Helen Steadman is a historical novelist. Her first novel, Widdershins and its sequel, Sunwise were inspired by the seventeenth-century Newcastle witch trials. Her third novel, The Running Wolf was inspired by the Shotley Bridge swordmakers, who defected from Solingen, Germany in 1687. Helen’s fourth novel is God of Fire, a Greek myth retelling about Hephaestus, possibly the least well-known of the Olympians. Helen is now working on her fifth novel.
Despite the Newcastle witch trials being one of the largest mass executions of witches on a single day in England, they are not widely known about. Helen is particularly interested in revealing hidden histories and she is a thorough researcher who goes to great lengths in pursuit of historical accuracy. To get under the skin of the cunning women in Widdershins and Sunwise, Helen trained in herbalism and learned how to identify, grow and harvest plants and then made
herbal medicines from bark, seeds, flowers and berries.
The Running Wolf is the story of a group of master swordmakers who defected from Solingen, Germany and moved to Shotley Bridge, England in 1687. As well as carrying out in-depth archive research and visiting forges in Solingen to bring her story to life, Helen also undertook blacksmith training, which culminated in making her own sword. During her archive research, Helen uncovered a lot of new material and she published her findings in the Northern History
journal.

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?

Book Review: The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2023 by Lia Leendertz

Amber was thrilled by this book post courtesy of Random Things Tours. Amber has  secretly coveted Willow’s treasured and rather battered almanac since she saw it in the Emporium’s workshop. Some pages are stained from when they foraged for blackberries under the full moon for added potency, and others have added notes in Willow’s distinctive script. When opened, more often than not, pressed flowers and leaves fall out, each one holding a memory and connection to nature. 

Amber longed for an almanac of her own. An annual extension of her Book of Shadows. With a beautiful cover and the promise of extensive information in the blurb, she’s looking forward to giving her unbiased opinion on this edition.

Book Review: The Almanac A Seasonal Guide to  2023 by Lia Leendertz

The Almanac A Seasonal Guide to 2023 by Lia Leendertz

Title: The Almanac A Seasonal Guide to 2023

Author: Lia Leendertz Illustrated by Whooli Chen

Publisher: Octopus

Genre: Non-fiction, Nature

Release Date: 1st September 2022

Blurb

The sixth instalment of the bestselling season guide is here! Reconnect with the seasons in Britain and Ireland with this month-by-month guide to the world around us – including key dates, tide tables and garden tasks; constellations and moon phases; sunrises, folk songs, seasonal recipes plus a ‘bun of the month’; and – because 2023 will be a good year for planet spotting – the solar system and the zodiac.

The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2023 gives you all the tools and inspiration you need to celebrate, mark, and appreciate each month of the year in your own particular way. Divided into the 12 months, a set of tables each month gives it the feel and weight of a traditional almanac, providing practical information that gives access to the outdoors and the seasons, perfect for walks, expeditions, meteor-spotting nights and beach holidays. There are also features on each month’s unique nature, with this instalment following the swirling micro world of the garden pond through the year. You will find yourself referring to The Almanac all year long, revisiting it again and again, and looking forward to the next edition as the year draws to a close.

 PRAISE FOR PREVIOUS ALMANACS

 ‘Indispensable’ – SIR BOB GELDOF

 ‘This book is your bible’ – THE INDEPENDENT

‘I love this gem of a book’ – CERYS MATTHEWS

‘Lia Leendertz’s classic almanac never fails to delight’ – THE HERALD

‘It’s a perfect Christmas present’ – ALLAN JENKINS, THE OBSERVER

 ‘The perfect companion to the seasons’ – INDIA KNIGHT

Thoughts from the Emporium

As you can see from the sample pages below, the beauty of the cover continued inside and gave the level of information hit the criteria Amber wanted.

Sample of the pages

As a keen amatuer gardener she enjoyed the reminder of jobs she needed to do and the recipes helped her connect the nature she loves to the kitchen she doesn’t. Most of all, she loved the easy to reach tide and celestial information without reaching for her phone.

Divided into month’s the information is accessible and diverse. With the clear layout, its it was easy to read and space to add her own notes in the margins.

This almanac is all she wanted. The compact size means it can be easily slipped inside a bag enabling it to be a constant companion for easy reference. It will be well loved over the year like Willow’s. Recommended for those who love nature, gardening or want to connect to the world around them. It will make a wondeful gift.

Author Biography

Lia Leendertz is an award winning garden and food writer based in Bristol. Her reinvention of the traditional rural almanac has become an annual must-have for readers eager to connect with the seasons, appreciate the outdoors and discover ways to mark and celebrate each month. Now established as the bestselling almanac on the market, this is the sixth instalment.

Social media

Website: Lialeendertz.com

Instagram: @lia_leendertz

Twitter: @lialeendertz

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’.

Monday Merry Meet: Rachel Burge

Ever since we read Waking the Witch by Rachel Burge, we’ve been wanting to know more about the author and how the story came about. So imagine our joy when Rachel Burge popped in for a drink at the Emporium.

Why not grab yourself a cuppa and take a break to catch up with her too?

A mug of hot chocolate with whipped cream, pumpkin and leaves illustration
Pumpkin and coffee by Image by Irina Alex from Pixabay

Monday Merry Meet: Rachel Burge

Willow: Hi Rachel, come through to the back and have a seat if you can find one. Sorry for mess. Amber has been creating the perfect pumpkin for the window display and we have an excess of them everywhere. In fact, you can take a pumpkin or two with you when you go home, if you’d like?

Amber: Carving pumpkins isn’t as easy as I thought and seeds and gloop go everywhere. If you let me use magic, it would have been tidier.

Willow:  I doubt it. What would you like to drink, Rachel? We have our own blended teas, Yorkshire tea, coffee or something stronger? We still have some parsnip wine, raspberry gin or damson vodka.”

Rachel: I’ve never had parsnip wine and would love to try some. Thank you!

Amber: Congratulations on the publication of Waking the Witch. We were excited when it arrived on the bookshelf. I had a sleepless night when I started it, as I had to read just one more chapter. Can you briefly tell our readers what the story is about?

Rachel: Waking the Witch tells the story of a seventeen-year-old girl called Ivy who is searching for her mother after being abandoned as a baby. She tracks her down to a remote Welsh island, where she discovers a disturbing truth about her past and why her mum gave her up. The story draws on Welsh mythology and Arthurian legend and offers a fresh take on some well loved stories and characters, namely Morgan le Fay and Merlin. It’s feminist, witchy, and very creepy!

Willow: Though we believe witchcraft is a way of life not just for Halloween, there is always more interest in witch related books this time of year. How did you come up with the story? Was your inspiration character or plot based?  

Rachel:
I tend to be inspired by setting first and foremost. I was looking up “remote places in the UK,” looking for a good location to set a creepy story, when I came across Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli), off the west coast of Wales. Isolated from the rest of the world, the tiny island has no roads or amenities and only a handful of residents.

Bardsey has been a site of holy pilgrimage since the 5th century and there are 20,000 saints and holy martyrs buried there. As it’s only about a mile long, you can supposedly dig anywhere and find bones. I was also fascinated to discover the island’s few residents move to the mainland each winter and take their farm animals with them, leaving the place deserted. Could something sinister be happening there in the darker months, I wondered?

I became excited when I discovered that Bardsey claims to be the site of Avalon and Merlin’s last resting place. In some tales, he’s trapped in a tree, cave or tower. Interestingly, Bardsey has a tower in the form of a red-and-white striped lighthouse. After seabirds kept crashing into it (as many as a thousand birds were killed in a single night), they replaced the rotating white beam with a fixed red LED light, which birds aren’t drawn to.

I took these facts and used my imagination to come up with an explanation for what might be happening on the island. The result is Waking the Witch.

Amber: What a fabulous background story.  I found the opening chapters in the butterfly room immersive. The imagery was vivid. What made you choose a butterfly zoo as a setting for Ivy’s job?

Rachel: I wanted to write about a character who undergoes a major transformation. I was brainstorming ideas and the image of a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis came to me. Butterflies symbolise metamorphosis, and I had a crazy notion that maybe my character could physically transform too. Once I had this theme and imagery in mind, I decided my character should be fascinated by butterflies and want to work with them.

illustration of cupped hands surrounded by butterflies
Image by InspiredImages from Pixabay

Willow: It’s a good fascination to have. They’re enthralling creatures. We love to hear about author’s publication journeys. What was yours like? If you did it again, would you change anything?

Rachel: I’ve always loved writing and have wanted to be an author since I was at a school. After studying English Literature at university, I worked on a local magazine and then as an online editor and feature writer. As I was coming up to my 40th birthday, I remembered my childhood dream and started working on a novel in earnest. I came up with the idea for my first book, The Twisted Tree (a ghost story based on Norse mythology) while doing a tarot course with Maddy Elruna.

As well as being a gifted tarot reader, Maddy is a Norse shaman and talked a lot about the Norse gods while explaining the meaning of the different cards. One card that really captured my imagination was The Hanged Man, which shows Odin hanging from the world tree, Yggdrasil. The Twisted Tree is based on this particular myth and features the Norns and Hel, queen of the underworld. 

Maddy also led me on several shamanic journeys where she contacted Odin on my behalf. He had some surprising advice for me, and even helped with several plot points I was stuck on. (But then he is the god of poetry and writing!)

The tarot card The Hanged Man A man is hanging upside down
Image by Virgo Gemini from Pixabay

Amber: I need to look her up. She sounds fascinating. I dabble with writing beyond my book of shadows. Do you have any advice for new writers?

Rachel: Try to get as much feedback on your work as possible. There are websites where you can look for beta readers, or you could join a writing group and read each other’s work. I’ve learnt a lot from the feedback of others. Although I now have an editor to read my work, I still try to get my books read by as many people as possible before they’re published.

Willow: I find I need my own space to perform spells and have my own rituals I perform beforehand. Do you have a particular writing routine?

Rachel: I write whenever I have a spare moment, usually in my office at my desktop computer. I don’t have a particular routine, but I will light candles and play spooky music to help me get into the mood to write.

Amber:  We sell a number of candles in The Wishing Spell range which promise to help your day go smoothly. Which would you choose?

I would probably choose confidence, as it’s something I’ve always lacked, or a good night’s sleep.

Amber: This is a question we ask everyone because the Enchanted Emporium is plagued by ghosts and paranormal activity. Have had had any spooky experiences – has it influenced your writing?

Illustration of a ghost reading ghost stories

Rachel: Yes, I’ve had several experiences which happened as a child. I grew up in a small two-bedroom house with my mum and my nan. Mum had me when she was 18 and I shared her childhood bedroom, which was filled with her collection of clown dolls. I don’t mean one or two – every surface was covered with them. One day, I must have been about seven, I was playing on the floor when I saw a doll move by itself. It didn’t fall off a shelf or slip from its stand, its hand moved as if it was beckoning me.

Other things happened, too. A door knob rattled when there was no one on the other side, and once when I was in bed I saw a white mist, like a whirlwind, hanging above my head. I asked my nan about it the next day and she told me that several of my relatives had died in the house. If there was anything there, then they were my family and wouldn’t hurt me.

Willow: I agree with your Nan about your relatives but clown dolls are horrifying at the best of times, never mind haunted ones. If we could blend a potion in our workshop to give you a superpower or special ability for 24 hours, what would it be and what would you do with it?

Rachel: I often have tarot readings to help me make difficult decisions, so I would probably ask for the power to see exactly what my various futures would look like depending on which choices I make. (I don’t believe the future is fixed. Instead, I think it changes based on our thoughts and actions).

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

Rachel: Michele Paver’s Dark Matter, a ghost story set in the Arctic. It creates such a creeping sense of dread while you’re reading it and I was afraid to turn the light off at night.

Amber: What are you working on currently? Or is it top secret?

Rachel:
I’m writing another spooky book. It’s set in autumn, my favourite season, and draws on the beauty and horror of the natural world.

Willow: Thank you so much for visiting the emporium. It’s been fascinating to talk to you and you’ll have to come back again when your next book is out. Maybe we can compare tarot card collections.

Rachel:
Thank you for having me! It’s been lots of fun.

Author Biography

Photo of Rachel Burge. White woman, smiling straight long hair parted in the middle. Leaves are in the background
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

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

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.

Our review can be found here.