Brie’s Books: A Virtual Book Club

Well, even though this Saturday brought snow, sleet and a shocking hangover, I’ve had a lovely day.

Brie the Chi keeping a close eye on proceedings

This morning, I was interviewed by Brie the Chi, who is the teeniest, tiniest dog I’ve ever seen. She’s a chihuahua who was rescued from a horrible existence in a puppy mill, and now she lives with her lovely human and her very own pack.

Brie is something of an Instagram star, and she has a huge following of almost thirty-five thousand loyal supporters, often known as #TeamBrie. Recently, Brie set up her own book club, which takes place on Instagram. It’s perfect for people who may not be able to get to a traditional book club, whether because of distance or health issues.

I was deeply honoured when my first novel, Widdershins, was chosen by #BriesBooks. This morning, I went to visit Brie and her pack, and her human interviewed me while I snuggled up to Brie’s sisters, Bou and Vesper (if you look carefully on the video, you might also see Dexter and Bella wandering about). You can watch the interview here, and if I seem to be distracted at one point, it’s because I feared that Dexter was making a bid for freedom. This worry was unfounded as he was just doing his job and looking out of the window in case of intruders.

When I got home, I had a lovely hot bath, put my onesie on and settled in to answer lots of thoughtful and well-considered questions about Widdershins. You can read the questions and answers on Instagram.

Lots of people asked for more information about witch trials in England and Scotland and also for ideas on further reading. In my answers, I’ve directed people to have a look on my blog as there are lots of posts about witches and witchfinders, and also about writing and research. I thought it might be helpful to provide some links here to save people wading through dozens of earlier posts to find what they’re looking for, so here they are…

Who was the Scottish witch-finder behind the Newcastle witch trials?

Was the Newcastle witch-finder the earliest example of local authority performance-related pay?

How a ‘personable and good-like woman’ escaped the hangman’s noose

The different methods used to find out whether someone was a witch

The 17th century witch trials according to John Wheeler (witness deposition)

Witch-finders go on the record to defend their diabolical practices

Details of witch-finders and their practices in Scotland

How I researched and wrote Widdershins

Meg Wetherby’s recipe for elder linctus (good for coughs and colds)

The Derwent Valley witches (read their depositions online)

What kind of people were accused of witchcraft?

Tips for writers

Janet Horne: the last woman executed as a witch in the British Isles

Ten tips for archive research

I hope you find some useful information here. Thank you to everyone who read Widdershins and to everyone who came along to Brie’s Book Club today. It’s always lovely to talk to readers and answer questions about my writing. And it was very heartening that so many of you were inspired to find out more about witch trials here and around the world.

Brie has asked me to help book club members to choose their next book. I’ve resisted the urge to name my three favourite books. Instead, I’ve suggested three books that I’ve read in recent months and really enjoyed. Here they are, with a few words about each one and why I liked it.

Milkman by Anna Burns

The main character in this book is Middle Sister. She’s a teenager in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, where being noticed and talked about can be very dangerous. So, she spends her life trying to keep secrets and trying to avoid becoming the subject of gossip. Middle Sister is an engaging character, and I found that a lot of my own adolescent experiences chimed with hers (even though I didn’t grow up in Northern Ireland). This book is funny, poignant, enraging and original. (And it was a deserving winner of last year’s Booker Prize.)

The Spectacular Vision of Oskar Dunkelblick by Hattie Holden Edmonds

This novel caught my eye when Linda Hill, a book blogger on Twitter, reviewed it. Oskar is an adolescent artist who runs away from home and lives in Berlin. He’s deeply unhappy, with a fairly dark moral compass. He has some interesting adventures, which give him a new perspective on life. I’m so glad I read this as it was quirky, funny and uplifting, and I loved it so much, I bought extra copies for gifts.

The Changeling by Matt Wesolowski

This was quite an unnerving book with some characters that weren’t always easy to sympathise with, which made them all the more compelling. What I really liked about this book was the way it was written, in the form of six podcasts, which revolved around interviews with different characters. This means the story was seen from lots of angles, which made me constantly question what was going on. Don’t read this one when you’re alone in the house, and definitely don’t read it if you’re alone in the woods…

By the way, if you’re ever looking for reading recommendations, book bloggers are pretty amazing people, so try following a few on Instagram and Twitter for top reading tips. To start you off, I’ve listed a few below.

The Book Trail (literary travel agency providing free trips of the imagination)

Linda’s Book Bag (reads widely across most genres, including YA, historical, literary fiction, romance)

Page Turners Nook (reviews and author Q&As)

Lisa Reads Books (particular interest in women in history)

The Quiet Knitter (interested in historical novels, crime and police procedurals)

Jaffa Reads Too (interested in historical novels, women’s fiction, romance, psychological suspense)

The Paperback Piano (also plays piano beautifully so watch out for Music Mondays)

The Book Magnet (enjoys thrillers, crime, chick-lit, historical, women’s fiction – also knows some book fairies)

Beady Jan’s Books (literary fiction, historical novels and psychological chillers)

Short Book and Scribes (women’s fiction, crime, historicals)

What Cathy Read Next (also a best-selling author of contemporary fiction)

Love Books Group (covers almost all genres including sagas, children, YA, cookery and graphic novels)

A Cat A Book and A Cup of Tea (fantasy, sci-fi and historical fiction)

Finally, Goodreads is a great place to get book recommendations, find out more information about authors, post and read reviews, ask questions of authors, chat online to other readers and join reading challenges.

Well, that’s all from me. Thank you once again to Brie and her lovely human for inviting me to their book club today. And thank you to #TeamBrie for reading Widdershins and asking me so many thought-provoking questions – I had a great time talking to you all today.

Best wishes, Helen

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