Writing adventures during Lockdown

November 14th, 2020

Amidst a truly surreal and horrifying year, I have been busy piecing together all of my research for my next novel and writing it. I won’t say it has been easy, in fact I realised that I had not put in all the primary research that I needed prior to lockdown and so it has been quite a task!

However, back in September, after the schools had reopened, I took advantage of a bit of freedom as well as the last of the hot weather and returned to Somerset to film part of the mini ‘fact behind the fiction’ documentary that will accompany the launch of my next novel in 2021.

This new novel is set in Winchester and parts of the West Country, where more than 1,700 people were tried during September 1685 in the infamous ‘Bloody Assizes’. You are quite right if you are making the assumption that this has been a particularly harrowing novel to research. Writing this book, I have found myself in some dreadfully dark places, lost in the deepest, most terrifying cavities of my imagination. What I have researched is far worse and more macabre than I will put in print, but it has been necessary in order to truly get under the skin of my characters and ‘walk in their footsteps’.

My research journey has taken me to several places, starting with my home – the beautiful and historic city of Winchester. How fortunate I am to live in such a beautiful and interesting place. It is absolutely brimming with history here in Winchester and I have enjoyed many walks to put myself in the shoes of my historical main protagonist, Kateryn.

My trip to the Great Hall of Winchester, where the Bloody Assizes were opened, was one of great interest indeed! I was lucky enough to be allowed entry into the rooms where the jury for the opening case of the Bloody Assizes would have deliberated over their verdict. Shockingly, the first case involved an elderly noblewoman by the name of Dame Alice Lisle. A very interesting conspiracy theory dating back to the fall of King Charles I sits behind her trial, but I do not want to digress from the purpose of this blog.

There is also the magnificent St Catherine’s Hill. This is a place where I have always felt a great spiritual connection. It is a place where you cannot help but be drawn into the very mystical atmosphere. Only the other day, at dusk, I took a beautiful walk up there with my little dog to visit a poignant location in my book and witness the magic of a golden sunset. Even Penny (my dog) appeared taken by it!

The second town featured in my book is Dorchester, where everything really kicked off on 5th September 1685.

It was fortunate that, a few months prior to lockdown, I managed to take a short tour of the house where the famous ‘Hanging Judge’, the Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys, resided. If you have read any of my books, you may well have already gathered that I have experienced some encounters with the unexplained. Some of those encounters have in fact inspired some of the scarier parts of my books. So when I visited Number Six High West Street, now a lovely Turkish restaurant called ‘Turquoise’, I was bowled over by the oppressive atmosphere upstairs when I was given the opportunity to take a private tour…

I had ventured into the rooms that are rumoured to have been the chamber that Judge Jeffreys slept in during his stay. When I looked out of the window where he would have stood 335 years ago, I felt choked, barely able to breathe and broke out in a cold sweat. I all but fell out of that room, almost colliding with a man who looked terrified to see somebody emerge from the shadows which made me think that, perhaps, it really is haunted. We exchanged polite conversation for a very short while and, being a chef, he went down to the kitchen, whilst I went to the bathroom to regain my composure.

The atmosphere upstairs in that building really did feel cloying and thick. It was vastly different to the relaxed ambience of the restaurant. Whilst I am sure that all of this will, one day, be explained away by science, I was left feeling shaken, nauseated and dizzy for a good two hours following my visit. I will cover the very fascinating history of that building and of the passageways and rooftops of Dorchester in a blog another day.

Finally, the story takes us to Somerset, where the Bloody Assizes meet their climax and where I really enjoyed filming a couple of months ago.

One thing I have learned whilst doing research is that many venues across Somerset claim to have hosted the famous Judge Jeffreys during that month of trials. One can draw tenuous links as to where he may have possibly visited or stayed, but I have drawn my own conclusions on where exactly he and the legal cavalcade resided during that time.

And so I leave you with some photographs that I have managed to take this year, before and after lockdown 1.0, giving you a small insight into some of the thought that has gone into the creation of this upcoming novel.

In the meantime, if you are interested in reading my latest published novel, ‘A Shadow Beyond’, featuring the true events of an English village forced to lockdown due to plague more than 350 years ago, it is currently only £0.99 on UK Amazon Kindle. You can also support independent bookshops that are selling the paperback:

Café Village Green – Eyam

High Peak Bookstore – Buxton

P&G Wells – Winchester