Under an Evil Star: A Cosy Chat with Author, Jane Holland

Martha Dunlop Book Chat, Fiction Leave a Comment

Under an Evil Star is a thriller based on horary astrology. What led you to choose this as a topic?

Since astrology is such a big part of my daily life, I wanted to extend that into my fiction. But how? Last year, eager to write for radio, I listened to Alastair Jessiman’s great radio plays about a Scottish psychic, The Sensitive, and kept thinking throughout, I need to use my esoteric knowledge in my fiction in the same way. Then I hit on the idea of making an astrologer my main character. But obviously, you need to know who the villain is to study their birth chart. But with horary, a much wider field of possibilities becomes open to you.

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The Serpent House: A Cosy Chat with author Bea Davenport

Martha Dunlop Book Chat, Fiction Leave a Comment

Twelve-year-old Annie is invited to Hexer Hall to work as a servant for the mysterious Lady Hexer.  Carvings of snakes are everywhere and when Annie touches one, she travels back in time to when the Hall was a leper hospital run by a sinister doctor with a collection of terrifying serpents.   Annie never wants to return, but Lady Hexer demands she finds a way to steal the doctor’s book of magical cures. She promises it will rid the world of disease, including tuberculosis, which killed Annie’s mother.  Summoning all her courage, Annie travels back in time again …  The Serpent House is aimed at Middle Grade age children, although I loved reading it as an adult too.  What inspired you to write a time slip? The story of The Serpent House actually came about because of the place where I live, which is called Spittal. It got its name from a medieval leper hospital which used to be there. It fascinated me that somewhere under the pavements where I walk every day, there are the remains of this hospital. I also wanted to write something in a sort of tribute to my three great-aunts, who were maids and cooks in large houses in Newcastle and Cumbria at the turn of the twentieth century. So a timeslip idea linked the two periods together – the Victorian maid Annie was able to travel back to the medieval leper hospital. Also, I really love timeslip novels – Tom’s Midnight Garden is one of my all-time favourite children’s books. The more timeslip novels I read, the more exciting I realised they could be. Why did you choose to write about leprosy? It started with that local history about the leper hospital that used to be in the village where I live, but when I did research I realised it was not really covered often in children’s historical fiction (unlike the plague, which is covered quite a lot!). Although leprosy has died out in the west, it’s still a problem in developing countries. The charity Lepra helped me a lot with my research. What do the plants that start to take over the garden mean? Are they actually from the past? Yes! I was very inspired by a visit to a medieval herb garden in France and I realised that lots of the plants had snake-like names and qualities. So I wanted them to start creeping up into the garden to show how the past was beginning to encroach, from under the foundations of Hexer Hall and its grounds. It was meant to show how the past was beginning to take a bit of a stranglehold on the primary time of 1899. In the past, the doctor uses snakes in an attempt to ‘cure’ his patients. Is this something that happened, and if not, where did you get the idea? Yes – snake venom was used a lot in medieval cures, including for leprosy. It’s such a well-used medicine that you see snakes on the …