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 …
The castle in A Thin Slice of Heaven is fabulously atmospheric. As someone who picks up the energy of buildings, it really ‘felt’ like a real creepy castle. Is it based on a real place? And if so, how much did the place inspire your story?
Thank you for having me here today, Martha! I am a huge fan of your work. While researching my ancestry, I made several trips to my ancestral home at Glencull, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. The area inspired the village in A Thin Slice of Heaven as well as the castle. The potato famine was inspired by a visit to the Ulster American Folk Park and Museum at Omagh, County Tyrone. Whenever I visit Ireland, I feel the energy and history there almost as if I am being transported into the past. It is truly a magical and mystical country.Read More
The results of my survey into how people read, are now in! I asked you how your imagination interacts with the process of reading, and you told me. Now I have the fascinating results for you, so please do watch the video and life you’d like more detail, check out the full results here.Read More
Kathryn Cottam is the author of the Ferrybone fantasy series which includes The Shoemaker and the forthcoming The Queen’s Cage. She is currently writing a romantic comedy series with her sister Roberta which will launch in October 2017.
On amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Kathryn-Cottam/e/B00F83PS6K
I have a fascination with what happens in people’s minds when they read. So this week I have a video where I talk about how my imagination interacts with the process of reading, as well as a survey so you can tell me how it works for you. The survey is short so please do join in, and let me know what reading is to you. And let me know if you would like to be quoted.Read More
‘I feel as though I’m made of stories.’ I wrote this in a tweet recently, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I mean that statement from a very deep place. To me stories are part of my blood, part of my makeup. I function better as a person when I’m reading and writing stories, I actually feel as though they have a balancing effect on me, by enabling me to explore different energies and experiences from a distance, enabling me to observe. Stories help me understand the world and myself. When I read a good book I lose myself in it. I relate to the character so strongly that I can actually bring their loves and annoyances in everyday life.Read More
I am a self-professed control freak. Most of us are. Truly. Deep down. After all, we were sold on a belief of earning our keep. Reward through persistent struggle. Anything worth having requires a fight. Push hard. Be industrious. Sweat it out and get to heaven. Eventually. These beliefs served our species for a long time. Keeping us alive and our society growing. They were hard won beliefs. And in my life, offered a way through many tough times. Rewarding me with scholarships, friends, and careers. In the last few years, I noticed a big shift. A call to a different way of creating.Read More