Ah, history and the paranormal, or rather the fear of the paranormal. Sounds like a nice recipe for a good story. I’m a history nerd, so when author Alison Williams contacted me to interview her, I was really excited to feature her self-published book, The Black Hours. Her love of history made her explore the witch hunts in 17th century England, and thus her novel was born.
Here she is, discussing how her story idea came about:
MC: What was the big moment that made you decide to write and publish a book?
AW: I have always loved reading; ever since I was tiny I have always had my nose in a book. This progressed to writing, again from a very young age, and I dreamed for a long time of being a novelist. While studying journalism, I met my husband. After our children were born, I worked in education, and then, when I hit forty, I suddenly thought that I really needed to do what I wanted to do. So I gave up work, started working as a freelance writer and began a Masters in Creative Writing. As part of the course I began writing ‘The Black Hours’. My fellow students enjoyed reading it and were so enthusiastic about it that I thought, you know, I could actually publish this. So I did! (Well, after loads of rewrites, editing and fiddling about!)
MC: You’re clearly a big history fan. In general, what is it about history that excites you?
AW: I have an interest in the way that the big events of history impact on the lives of ordinary people. That is what I wanted to convey in ‘The Black Hours’. We read about the witch hunts but quite often don’t think about the people behind these big stories in history. I visited the Museum of Witchcraft in Cornwall and was looking at the very long list of names of the victims of the witch hunts in England and I just realised that behind each one of those names was someone with a life of their own, with family, dreams, hopes, aspirations and fears. Someone just like me or you. It’s those stories that interest me.
MC: Writing “The Black Hours” obviously took a lot of research to get accurate information on witch hunts and religious fanaticism. How long did it take for you to gather all the necessary information?
AW: I love researching – you turn up so many interesting little facts and stories that it can become totally engrossing. I knew I wanted to write about Matthew Hopkins and I had a vague idea of the history of the time, so I plotted the story out first. That way I knew what I needed to find out. I spent a good two to three months reading different treatises, books and histories of the time and looking online for information too. When I began to write though, I found that every now and then I would need to look something up, so the research was really an ongoing process – with historical fiction you have to be so careful to get it right. If I used a certain phrase or term for example, I would have to check that it was actually in use in 1647. And I also had to be sure that the herbs and plants used by Maggie and Alice were correct and would have grown in England at the time too.
MC: What do you hope your readers will take away from “The Black Hours”?
AW: I really feel that the people, particularly the women, behind the grim fame of Matthew Hopkins have largely been forgotten. I hope people will get a sense of the frustration, fear and helplessness that his poor victims must have felt. And also to realise that these things can happen so easily – that intolerance and ignorance still have a devastating effect on people’s lives.
MC: You’re a self-published author. What was the hardest part about releasing your book on your own?
AW: It has been a huge learning curve. The technical side of things was perhaps my biggest challenge – I still don’t understand why Word doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, but now I know what mobi and ePub and gutter margins and bleeds and widows and orphans are!! I’m glad I did that side of things myself, because, although at times I wanted to throw my computer out of the window, I’ve learnt a whole new set of skills now and I can do it again for my next novel.
MC: What do you think is the future of self-publishing?
AW:It is a real shame the way that the world of traditional publishing has gone. Agents and publishing companies seem so wary of taking a risk on a new writer and I think this has been detrimental to both aspiring writers and to readers. I, for one, am heartily sick of walking into my local bookshop and seeing row upon row of books by celebrities and TV and movie tie-ins. I think that the rise of self-publishing is a positive thing for writers and readers as it allows writers to write what they want to write, and for readers to make their own judgements, without someone standing between the two and making those choices for them. Of course, there are some self-published books out there that are poor quality, but there are also some pretty dreadful traditionally published books too! At least readers can make their own decisions – and they have plenty of online resources to help them with lots of blogs and websites dedicated to reviewing indie authors. I hope that indie publishing will go from strength to strength and that some of the rather old-fashioned opinions and ideas about self-publishing will change in time.
Here are links to Alison Williams’ book and social media sites: