One of the many enjoyable and fun things I get to do as part of my work is to chat with some brilliant and inspirational scholars. Today, I had the pleasure of catching up with Professor Marion Gibson in her office at Exeter University, where we were recording a new episode of The Folklore Podcast. Find out about Marion here - and if you're on Twitter, follow her @witchesetc.
My husband Mark Norman, who is the creator and host of The Folklore Podcast, was interviewing Marion about her recent book Rediscovering Renaissance Witchcraft, which covers many intriguing iterations of witches from Macbeth to Matthew Hopkins to Eastwick to Dennis Wheatley to Sabrina. And if that sounds cool, wait until you hear her job title - she's Professor of Renaissance and Magical Literatures!
Marion is one of the lecturers who has used WITCH as theatre-in-education for her students, so it was great to catch up and spend some time listening to her talking about her inspirations and sharing her thoughts on various topics. The podcast episode will be released at the beginning of April and it's well worth a listen because we talked about so many different aspects of witchcraft - there's some Charmed in there, The Witch of Edmonton, Amicus and Hammer Horror and a couple of excellent reading recommendations from Marion, so keep an eye on The Folklore Podcast's website (link above) and make sure you give "Rediscovering Renaissance Witchcraft" a listen!
Professor Marion Gibson and myself in her office at Exeter University - which has an impressive set of bookshelves which immediately inspired bookshelf envy! (They run the length of the room and are ceiling to roughly waist height and they are FULL!) Image copyright is my own.
Mark and Marion in mid-discussion (Look at the shelves. LOOK AT THEM!) Image copyright is my own.
I'm delighted to announce that Margery is back!
Circle of Spears has just confirmed that we will be bringing WITCH to South Devon for the very first time on 6th April 2019. We're doing two performances at Torquay Museum - 2pm and 7pm. These will be our 63rd and 64th performances. Tickets will be available very soon from the Circle of Spears website here or from the museum.
We have also been invited to support the fantastic work of tapestry artist Anne Jackson at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen in Bovey Tracey, Devon, on 2nd May at 7.30pm. This is the second time we have supported Anne's work and we're very much looking forward to performing in the fabulous gallery space at the Guild with Anne's beautiful tapestries as our backdrop - it adds another layer of poignancy to Margery's story. Check out the Guild's website here.
I am delighted to have been invited to be a guest blogger on the brilliant Blue Jinni Media website, chatting about how I use history and folklore in my fiction writing. It was interesting to actually sit back and consider how I write. Most of the time, I either have a written plan or an outline in my head and simply crack on with the writing.
I talk about WITCH and also about my new title, a collection of fictional creation myths for the world I am creating in my High Fantasy series The Fire-Eyes Chronicles, which you can check out here. The creation myths feature some familiar aspects of Norse, Swedish and British folklore, providing an anchor for the reader in an unfamiliar world of elves, dragons, goblins and trolls.
Check out my blog post and, while you're there, have a look at the rest of the site - there are some great posts and podcasts to enjoy from hosts Dedra L Stevenson and Rodney Harper, as well as guest authors.
This morning, I got my walking boots, compass and map of Dartmoor ready and headed over to Belstone for some field research. I was following up an anecdote in one of my books, which mentioned a particular location in Belstone, but after a fruitless online search yesterday, I decided to head over there today to see the area for myself. I was expecting (and looking forward to) a good few hours tramping around taking photos and seeing what I could find. However, the day didn't pan out as I had expected!
No, I didn't end up in the village stocks!
I parked up and got out of the car. Nearby, a man was carrying out a survey so I asked him about my search. Amazingly, I had just encountered the village historian, who knew exactly where I was talking about! So my research took all of five minutes and I found out a lot about the history of the site as well, which was an unexpected bonus. I'm very grateful to him for giving so generously of his time and knowledge and I'm glad I was able to share something about the area that he wasn't already aware of.
Of course, when you find out one thing, it always raises a whole raft of other questions...so the research continues tomorrow!
(both images are my own copyright)
Things are certainly taking a very exciting turn WITCH-wise at the moment.
Having performed recently for students from two history courses at Bristol University, I was stunned and delighted to learn that the play has been made into a formal seminar for both courses, one of which is Witchcraft and the other History Outside the Box. There really are no words to describe how amazing it felt when the two lecturers told me. I am honoured and humbled to think that my play is being used to teach the historians of the future.
For the next couple of weeks, I will be WITCHing in Tiverton, at the fabulous independent bookshop Liznojan in Gold Street. They run a women's circle and I have been invited to speak at their next two meetings because people have been specifically asking for me. I am really looking forward to these evenings, not least because today, I found out some more fascinating facts about earthworms (yes, they're back!) and I can't wait to incorporate the info into my talk. Plus, there is the added bonus of all the fantastic cake Liznojan sell, too. Give their Facebook page a Like and, if you get the chance, pay them a visit. It's one of those shops where you can tell that every item on the shelves has been selected with the utmost care, so make sure that you set aside a decent amount of time for a proper browse.
Finally, in slightly less WITCH-related news, I have just sent off my first folklore column to The Moorlander, the fantastic Dartmoor newspaper. This is part of a new feature they are running and I am very excited to be part of it. If you haven't read the Moorlander before, I can highly recommend it - the articles are engaging, well-written and varied, with topics covering pretty much every interest. Check out their website here - and if you're local to the moor and feeling jaded with the tabloids, try the Moorlander for a refreshing change!
(photo is my own).
A couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to be a guest on North Manchester Radio's Hannah's Bookshelf, chatting to Hannah about all things book-related. WITCH naturally dominated the conversation as it is such a major part of my life, but we also discussed dragons, Dartmoor and human origins, amongst other things. I also fangirled shamelessly over the fabulous Shardlake novels by CJ Sansom and shared my three selections for the Library at the End of Days. If there was an apocalypse and you could only save three books, what would you choose? You can listen to the interview here.
If you haven't caught the show before, give Hannah a follow on Mixcloud here.
And if you'd like to see what Hannah's other guests have contributed to the Library at the End of Days, you can see all the selections on her website here.
.I am delighted to announce that the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle has invited us to bring WITCH back to the museum library for three performances this summer.
It is always wonderful to bring the show back to what I consider to be its spiritual home. There is something very comforting about the museum library and it is always a real joy to perform there.
So if you would like to enjoy WITCH in the setting for which it was written, make sure you book your ticket soon! Check out the Dates for your Diary page for a link to the Circle of Spears website, where you can pick up your tickets online. Tickets are also available from the Museum. Seating is limited to 20 per performance, so book early to avoid disappointment!
The dates are:
and each performance starts at 7.30pm. I'd advise getting there around 7.15pm.
The show lasts for 50 minutes and is followed by an informal chat with myself and my fellow cast members about the issues raised in the play and about Deanes Grimmerton's case - and, if you follow my blog regularly, you will know that I have a lot of new information to discuss! So do come and join us - and remember, book your ticket sooner rather than later!
A few weeks ago, I meticulously collated a list of all the primary sources I wanted to look at on my next visit to Dorchester. I rang the History Centre, emailed them the list...and then the Beast from the East completely messed up my plans.
However... it transpires that the delay was for the best! As I was working through the latest set of references I'd found, I discovered that one was an MA thesis from the late 1990s. After a brief initial moment of frustration, I realised that it was an Exeter thesis. Did the University still have a copy, I wondered.
Through the kindness of two of the university lecturers, who were incredibly accommodating and helpful, I have been able to meet with the author of said thesis, who is a lovely lady. We had a brilliant discussion about the case and it was simply wonderful to talk about it with someone else who has studied it in depth. She very generously offered to lend me the thesis to work on, so I have been carefully working my way through the primary sources she lists, double-checking those I have already seen and those which were on my Dorchester To Do list. As a result, I've added a few things and been able to prioritise some over others, so I'm now very well-prepared!
I cannot put into words just how much her act of kindness means to me. Anyone who has been following my work on this case will know that Deanes Grimmerton quickly changed from an inspiration to an obsession and the new leads *should* enable me to declare the research complete.
The best thing was seeing tiny snippets of Deanes's character finally springing from the page. It's clear that there is little record of her, but these hints have confirmed quite a few things which I suspected, having studied the depositions in her case. It's going to be wonderful to settle down with the original documents and see the details for myself. She has always been just beyond my reach thus far - but no more.
The only thing that slightly concerns me is the length of my To Do list...It looks like this research session will involve an overnight stay!
Don't forget to follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more frequent updates!
Last week, Circle of Spears Productions had the pleasure of taking WITCH back to its spiritual home at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle. We were performing for a group of students from Exeter University. I very much enjoyed our post-performance discussions and linking with new people on Twitter, which has led to some very interesting developments in my research!
The Museum has asked us if we'd like to bring the show back in the summer, so as soon as the dates are arranged, I will post them on all my social media - follow me on Twitter and Facebook to make sure you see them!
Photo by Marion Gibson:
I have spent a really productive morning gathering together all the outstanding queries I have regarding the (many) gaps in Deanes's story. Unsurprisingly, there were quite a few! They have now all been sent off to the lovely team at the Dorset History Centre, as I am hoping to head to Dorchester for more research at the end of the week. I see that the latest snow warning has been upgraded to amber, so I hope the weather won't mess with my plans! I'll be sharing fun facts and juicy details on Twitter and, time permitting, a Facebook live video, so check out Twitter (@WITCHplayCoS) and Facebook (@TraceyNormansWITCHBook) if you don't already follow my work on those platforms. Don't forget to bookmark this site, too, so you can keep up with my progress and findings!
My book is now all plotted out section by section and I have enquired about reproducing the original transcripts I worked from when I wrote the play. The main concept behind the book is to have Deanes's entire story in one place in as much detail as possible. I suspect that there won't be much more information to find than I already have, which is a great shame. Given the ages of the documents in question, it's hardly surprising. I really hope that in one of these final few places, I manage to locate something of Deanes herself. At the moment, all that is known of her personally centres on the pipe she smoked, a habit that really did have a life-changing effect on her.
Yet while it would mean so much to me to be able to describe her without reference to the pipe, I cannot lose sight of the fact that the pipe was the one aspect of her case which really intrigued me and caught my imagination. Deanes's pipe is a stark reminder of the fact that even an innocuous gesture like sharing tobacco was enough to trigger an accusation of witchcraft. That pipe devastated Deanes's life and, for me, it has become a symbol of the people like Deanes who suffered similar devastation for something equally mundane.
I'm hoping to have the manuscript finished by the end of the summer, so keep checking back for more news. I'll be sharing extracts here and there along the way, too, as the various sections start coming together. But for now - back to the research!