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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

Any witches in your family history?

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

I once read a fascinating article in Family Tree magazine (15 years ago, as it turns out!) about someone's ancestor who’d been accused of being a witch. I remember reading that the author of the piece had traced her family back to the early 1700s, hoping to uncover the truth behind the family story, only to be shocked to find that the incident had actually taken place in 1906! 

The poor elderly woman had been accused of witchcraft after being consulted by a local family to help find some stolen money. Several members of the family went on to suffer distress and mental illness –one ending up in an asylum – the implication being that it was the old woman's fault.

A year later, she was taken to court for "bewitching" two cows and three pigs which had died. Thankfully, the case was dismissed, due to the support of the many people who wrote letters testifying to her good character and to her skills as a herbalist.

I realise that the story must have been in the back of my mind when I was writing the latest Esme Quentin mystery, The Fear of Ravens, which was published this week. The initial inspiration for the book came from the fact that Bideford, in North Devon, the town near to where I used to live, has the infamous history of being the home of the last women in England to be hanged for witchcraft in 1682. The story has always intrigued me.

In The Fear of Ravens, Esme is drawn into the sinister past of two families when researching the history of an old mil. Here’s the blurb...

Two families haunted by a sinister past

When Esme Quentin is engaged to research the history of an ancient mill owned by her client, Anna Brannock, she stumbles upon a bitter family feud, tales of witchcraft and a century-old allegation of murder.

As Esme digs deeper, the past begins to converge on the present, when Anna becomes the target of a disturbing campaign, echoing menacing events from many years before.

Can a 19th century curse still wield its formidable power? What connects Anna with the 24 year-old mystery concerning the whereabouts of the charismatic Ellen Tucker?

Esme must uncover the truth to save Anna from becoming a 21st century victim, in a cruel repetition of her ancestor’s merciless fate.


Surprise coincidence

Out of curiosity, I went in search of the aforementioned Family Tree magazine article and dug it out to re-read it. To my surprise I discovered that the ancestor charged had been called Ellen, the same name as the mystery woman in my own book. Spooky!

Clearly, the piece had had an even greater influence on me than I realised.

If you’d like to buy a copy of the The Fear of Ravens, click on the image below.

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