Tag Archives: Pendle Witches

The Daylight Gate – Jeanette Winterson

There are some books with which, due to their subject matter, you find yourself being extremely excited about and all at once rather dubious or nervous about before you read them. This was the position I found myself in before reading Jeanette Winterson’s latest novella ‘The Daylight Gate’, for the revived Hammer Horror imprint, as the book centres around The Pendle Witches and their trial. These historical English events have just had their 400th anniversary and still to this day are rather seeped in myth and mystery. Would the book do justice to the legend or was this going to read like a commissioned cash cow? Those were my fears before I turned the first page.

****, Hammer Books, 2012, hardback, fiction, 194 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘The Daylight Gate’ opens with the events that really caused the Pendle Witch Trial. As pedlar John Law met Alizon Device on one of the many tracks around Pendle Hill, on the 21st of March 1612, and she asked him for some pins. He denied her where upon she placed a curse on him. It is from this point that several things including the effects of Alizon’s curse, rumours the Device family were all witches and a supposed meeting of witches in the Malkin Tower on Good Friday that lead to a trail of thirteen people, the biggest England had seen to date. One of these people was Alice Nutter, a loose thread in the whole trial as unlike the other twelve she was a woman on means and money. It is Alice that Winterson focuses on for her fictional telling of the events.

Through Alice we see the events as they unfold with the Device family as they live on her land; we also see what happens when she becomes accused and what life is like in the dungeons of Lancaster Castle, which Winterson brings almost too vividly to life. We also, through her past, get to see how society is at the time, from the reign of Elizabeth I, who we discover is in part responsible for Alice’s wealth, to the reign of James I, a man who brought fear to a nation through fears of his own. I did find the historical context really interesting and have since been off finding out more. I did also find it interesting that Winterson used Alice almost as a thread of narrative on how ill treated independent women were, and with what suspicion they were treated.

With a novel about witches and one by Hammer the natural question is of course’ is this book scary?’ Well no. However it has got the trademark Hammer Horror guts and gore theme running through it. In many ways, with rape, murder, witchcraft rituals and methods of torture all described in quite ‘The Daylight Gate’ is more horrifying than it is scary but that in itself is scary, just not in the ghostly way some people might be expecting. I certainly had no quibbles with being made to feel very squeamish rather than simply screaming my way through reading it.

My only slight quibble with the book was that Alice’s back story, whilst being an integral part of what Winterson’s fictional version of events and enjoyable, seemed to take over the book a little too much. For example she ends up meeting Shakespeare as the trouble is brewing in 1612 and then we hear how they met before, yet oddly it didn’t add anything to the story apart from placing Shakespeare in the narrative. I would have rather had those pages go back to Old Demdike and all that was happening in the castle as it was there that the book worked its magic the most.

Pendle Hill as taken by me in February, more on that tomorrow…

Overall though I was really rather spellbound by ‘The Daylight Gate’. I came away feeling like I knew more about the Pendle Witch trials, if not the witches so much, and how people’s lack of knowledge and some men’s desire for infamy created it all. I also just fell into the story even when it took me places I wasn’t expecting, but that in itself was all part of the enjoyment. I would definitely recommend this for curling up with on a dark and stormy night by the fire.

I will be back tomorrow with more from Pendle Hill itself.

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Filed under Hammer Horror, Jeanette Winterson, Review

Books By The Bedside #1

So not so long ago I asked you all if you liked the idea of me doing a regular feature on the blog where I share a picture of my bedside table and the books frequenting it. This was a slightly mean ask as frankly I was thinking of doing it anyway, but it was nice to get your thoughts on it as it is with all things. Anyway without further ado and further waffle here is what is on my bedside table and the reasons why…

First up is a very recent addition, yesterday in fact, in the form of Lucy Wood’s debut short story collections ‘Diving Belles’ which I have been really eager to read. The tales were inspired by the flotsam and jetsam of a Cornish beach and theses magical tales of straying husbands, creaking houses, whispering magpies and trees that grant wishes sound wonderful, I do love an adult fairytale after all, I meant to try one yesterday and suddenly two hours had gone and I was ¾ of the way through. I will be telling you all about this very soon. I had meant to start on Angela Carter’s ‘Burning Your Boats; Collected Stories’ this week after it arrived in the post (this seemed odd as I was in a bookshop with a nice chap last week who bought the book, it then arrived here the next day, spooky) and I love her fairytale like short stories. It is a rather massive collection so expect this to become a regular offender in these posts, speaking of which…

Two old offenders follow as I have been reading Marieke Hardy’s essay collection ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ and Chris Womersley’s novel ‘Bereft’ for so long that I am worried by the time I write of them you will be bored to death. I think I need to focus on ‘Bereft’ more now, as whilst initially languishing over it was working I am beginning to feel it actually might not be doing this book any favours (and it has been lugged about so much by me over weeks it is looking a real state) oops. In fact it looks rather like the battered 1971 Fontana edition of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mystery ‘The Moving Finger’ which I am going to read as a cleanser soon I think.

As for the rest of this loot, well really these are all the books that I am pondering over. I have been unbelievably excited that Hammer Horror and Random House have gone into partnership for some ghost stories new and old. While I await Jeanette Winterson’s fictional account of the Pendle Witches (sounds amazing) I have just received Helen Dunmore’s ghost story ‘The Greatcoat’ all starting on a cold night in Yorkshire and a hand knocking on a window. Oh goody. In fact Andrew Miller’s ‘Pure’ links into this as its said to be a gothic tale of cemeteries, grisly possibly but fascinating I am sure. It’s been the talk of the town with the Costa Book Awards and reminded me I really wanted to read it.

The TV Book Club has inspired me to push ‘Girl Reading’ by Katie Ward onto the bedside table. I started this then decided it was so good I might never finish ‘Bereft’ and so it’s on hold and it may have to stay on hold a while as we may have Essie Fox joining us on The Readers and so I must read ‘The Somnambulist’ asap, hence its appearance.

Finally to books that I have been recommended and am keeping at the top of my reading periphery, as it were. I already fancied reading Rachel Joyce’s debut novel ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ when I fell across a very advanced review, then its inclusion in the ‘Waterstones 11’ made it shoot up my TBR pile. Several recommendations for Kevin Brockmeier’s ‘The Illumination’ have come from The Readers listeners who have voted for it in the International Readers Book Award’s so when that arrived early this week (it’s out in paperback in February) I instantly popped it here, as I did ‘All Is Song’ by Samantha Harvey which William of Just Williams Luck reviewed and sold to me straight away. I may not comment on blogs as much as I should but I am very much reading them.

So that’s the state of my bedside table, and my reading brain too I guess. What are you reading and have got lined up to read? What is just tickling your fancy (I love that expression) right now books wise?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Books By The Bedside