I wrote The Witch’s Tree earlier this year, the story of Selena Cain in the present time, who has been treated unfairly by a man she loved but didn’t realise that he was married until it was too late, and Grace Cotter in 1683, who is naïve and falls victim to privileged and prejudiced people who believe they are entitled to treat her as they do.
I’ve had some incredible reactions to the novel, more than I could have imagined possible, and it seems that my wonderful readers are incensed by the injustice that happens to Grace and very moved by the dilemmas of women, past and present, (and not just women, of course,) who’ve suffered at the hands of entitled and controlling people.
I’ve been to speak to readers in libraries, book groups and signings and talked to various people about The Witch’s Tree: so many people are shocked by Grace’s treatment and the injustice that dominates her story. She is a working girl, a milk maid and weeding woman who looks after her widowed father, so Grace’s chances of self-fulfilment and independence aren’t high on her agenda. She helps her grandmother Bett to deliver new babies and she learns skills with herbs and potions, all for the good of the people she knows in the village. Grace is trusting, kind hearted and God-fearing. And she is drawn towards Nathaniel Harper, the handsome son of the farmer. These things are to become her downfall.
Late on in the novel, one of Selena’s friends remarks how awful Grace’s treatment was and how things should have become a lot better for women nowadays but they are still victims even now, in the twenty first century. During this last week, I heard three stories that horrified me about the treatment of people I know and respect a lot. A feisty young mother was trying to breastfeed her baby on a park bench while a passing man grimaced and made lip smacking noises. A confident woman in her early twenties driving her car on a motorway was pursued by a man who harassed her for forty-five minutes and made obscene gestures through his car window. A compassionate twenty-two-year-old woman working as a classroom assistant in a school was cornered and forcibly kissed by a male teacher twice her age who wouldn’t let her out of the room. One of the saddest things was that none of these women, who are all strong and independent, knew who to turn to for help or advice. Of course, what happens to Grace is awful and indicative of the times when women were blamed for the ill treatment they received at the hands of men. But we haven’t moved forward enough.
I intend to write another witch story at some point – I have one in mind – but my next two Elena Collins novels deal yet again with dual timeline spooky stories which link women in the present and the past and examine injustices that have prevailed through time.
In The Lady of the Loch, one of the characters from the present day, Leah, suffers from low self-esteem because she isn’t sure of her place in society. Coaxed by her twin, she finds a job as caretaker in Ravenscraig Castle in the Scottish Highlands. In 1306, Agnes is a kitchen maid there; she’s loyal, feisty and unafraid of anything. Her story is about what happens when she falls in love with a warrior and refuses to back down against oppression. Her story is a familiar one, and the repercussions of how she is treated remain in the castle as a ghostly presence.
I’m currently working on the third Elena Collins book, and as I write, I’m saddened by how my central characters who lived in the past had so few rights and were subservient to others, often men or high-status women who lacked sympathy, relying on them for their livelihood. The prejudice and entrenched belief that many of these women had such low worth always horrifies me. In this novel, many men have very little power too, because they lack the resources to compete with the rulers. Of course, occasionally there are privileged leaders with consciences and kind hearts, and that makes the story richer and more interesting.
The third novel has been an interesting journey as the present-day character finds herself inextricably linked to the one in the past. Both women, past and present, are bright, passionate, feisty and both are held back because something in their lives is missing. I’ll wait until I’ve finished this story before I say more, but injustice rears its head again and the sense that good men and women are denied because another group holds all the cards. Plus, there is the resonating story that what happens in the past somehow makes itself known in the present day…
The Witch’s Tree, and particularly Grace’s treatment at the hands of those who hold the power, struck a real chord with readers, and I’m thrilled by the responses I’ve received. Agnes in The Lady of the Loch is punished for her sweetness, loyalty and strength in an unimaginably cruel way. After what happens, it is no wonder her spirit can’t rest for seven thousand years.
I really enjoy writing dual timeline spooky novels. It gives me the opportunity to explore another side of writing and I believe that writing in more than one genre enables me to develop. I’m indebted to my wonderful publisher, Boldwood Books, who believe in me and I have to say, that’s one of the most important things to keep in mind when embarking on a 120,000-word novel.
I’m grateful to the people who encourage me, friends, family, writers, bloggers. Their contribution is immeasurable. And a novel without a reader is nothing, so deep thanks to all of you who read my books. It’s for you that I write them, always. Thank you.