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.

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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’.

Introducing The Enchanted Emporium and the Witches of Whitby

Welcome to The Enchanted Emporium’s bookshelf where the witches of Whitby and residents of the store are delighted to share their passion for books they love. Many of these are gathered on the magical bookcase. These can be old favourites and new.

If you love books with a supernatural twist in all it’s forms or have a keen interest in witchy literature, you’re in the right place. So grab a cuppa and discover some new books for your to be read pile.

If magic is not your thing but you adore happy ever afters, Rosa will be sharing her favourites too.

Each person working in the emporium have their particular interests, let’s introduce them.

The Enchanted Emporium

Sketch like image of a back street in Whitby image credited to Mary Grobchenko
Rambling street of Whitby image credited Mary Grobchenko

In the atmospheric coastal town of Whitby, North Yorkshire – famed for its inspiration for Dracula, and the bustling Goth Weekends – is The Enchanted Emporium, a small specialist tea suppliers which also specialises in lotions, potions and witchcraft. It sits hidden down a snicket away from the crowds, on the site of an old apothecary dating back centuries, many people pass it by but once visited it’s never forgotten. Let’s meet the team who work there.

Painting of an old fashioned shop called The Enchanted Emporium. Blue frontage with witches broom and selection of tea and herbs in the window by Jess Titcombe
The Enchanted Emporium by Jess Titcombe

Meet the team and book reviewers:

Willow Anderson – proprietor of The Enchanted Emporium, she practises the art of witchcraft through the teas she blends and handmade cosmetics – The Wishing Spell range. Her favourite books are ancient grimoires full of herbal remedies, witchy romances, spooky tales that make her tingle with trepidation or original ideas that make her think. She is also a keen reader of psychological thrillers with a paranormal twist.

Amber – apprentice and daughter of Willow’s best friend, Louise only recently discovered her witch heritage and powers. Attracted to the darker side, she loves horror, gothic tales, YA witch stories so she feels less of a freak and the grimoires Willow has locked away. She can feel their power and is convinced they are meant for her.

The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf was her idea to share the knowledge she is gaining under Willows care with other witches but it has evolved into something more.

Rosa – the only non-magic member of staff though she is adamant she saw a ghost once. She enjoys some supernatural novels but her heart is with romance novels of all kinds. As a single mum, she’s not given up on a happy ever after so while she waits for Mr Right, she escapes into books full of romance, magical or not. Many books she adores are rejected by the bookshelf for lacking magic so has created her own share and swop box – Rosa’s Box of Romance.

Photo of Whitby Abbey, St Mary's church and beach credited to Zeyu Jiang
Whitby – image credited to Zeyu Jiang

They all have a passion for books and wish to share their favourites with you. Which book from the bookshelf will they review first?

An open book with the illustration leading to a magical place in woods and a girl on a swing from a pink blossom tree
image credited to Darkmoon_Art