The rabbit leads us down or, as is more accurate, through, a giant rabbit hole!
Things get stranger yet as we pass between a huge fork and knife…
We come to a place of unicorns.
We want to stay here with the unicorns, but we have to move on, to see…
A miniature castle! We go inside, and peer out like giants.
We hear sweet music, percussion. Everything feels dreamy and lovely.
And then, finally, this is where the rabbit has been taking us… to the book cover!
Set in a castle in Aberdeenshire, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR features a fictional account of three real women who were accused of witchcraft in 1597. It’s also a love story. And the cover makes it all very real now to Ailish (the Gaelic form of Alice)…
It’s mainly set in a fictional castle in Aberdeenshire.
It incorporates the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic.
There’s a stone circle.
There’s 16th century Christmas.
And there’s a love story.
Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it.
She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland.
She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird.
Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning…
Until the past catches up with her.
Set in the late sixteenth century, at the height of the Scottish witchcraft accusations, The Mermaid and the Bear is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.
I ran through St Nicholas Kirkyard, and down and round Correction Wynd, an old medieval lane in Aberdeen, to see this recent street art. I was due to meet people for breakfast, but determined to see the ‘Quine Shrine’ first. The reason being? That first part, on the left, honours those who were persecuted for witchcraft in Aberdeen, and one tile names a few of them, including the three women I chose to write about in The Mermaid and the Bear.
Survey of Scottish Witchcraft
The spellings are different, because spellings weren’t set back then, not like they are today. I chose to go with the way the names are recorded in the Survey Of Scottish Witchcraft from Edinburgh University. It was there that I learned, contrary to popular belief, that only a tiny proportion of those accused were midwives or folk healers; a mere 9 of the 3837 ‘witches’ in Scotland were midwives, and only 141 had some mention of healing in their cases (see the background page of the database).
In my fictional account of these women’s lives, one of them is a midwife and healer, but this is not the reason for the accusations brought against the three quines.
So, with the quine shrine admired and appreciated, on to breakfast:
Now fortified, off to gaol we go! It’s difficult to get good pictures in the 17th century Tolbooth, what with it being so dark due to having windows like this:
Prosecutions for Witchcraft in Aberdeen
I think I did a better job with photos the last time I was there, blogged here. That was when I first read these words:
I remember feeling overcome and distressed by the information, but it was then that I decided I was definitely going to write the book. Here’s that steeple, or its replacement, standing tall against the blue sky:
Back in 1597, there were two large bells in the original steeple. Now there’s an impressive carillon, and it started to play while I was eating my lunchtime chocolate ice cream in the kirkyard. This is not as creepy and strange as it sounds; there are benches and lots of people go there for lunch! I took a short video, so you can hear the bells.
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My Other Books
Set in 1st century Scotland, my latest novel, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, includes the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes. The book features a neurodiverse main character and some rather complicated romance!
FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the kidnapped children and young people of Aberdeen. The story follows the adventures of Elizabeth Manteith from the castle and her determined efforts to get back home. There’s love. There’s derring-dos on the high seas… And there’s chocolate!
That is my favourite bit of path in the woods by my house. It’s also the most productive. When I get stuck with a storyline or a finicky little plot detail that just won’t iron out, that’s where I go, and solutions become clear. Big epiphanies about characters and back stories happen there too. Maybe it’s because it’s a timeless landscape. Or maybe I just feel relaxed and at peace there.
Just now though, I am recovering from flu and can’t walk in the woods. Soon, I tell myself. Soon. I can sit up and write so I may really need to go there soon! (Edit2022: it would not be soon. This was the start of a non-woodland path to an auto-immunity diagnosis that would wind its way through hospital stays and many monstrous moments!)
Local Quine Kate the Quiet Knitter’s review “This wonderful magical tale then takes a deviation towards the darkness and from here Sinclair’s research and writing really shines. Her portrayal of 16th century Scotland is entrancing, and the details of the witch-hunts taking place in that time are fascinating.”
On the Mum, Write NOW blog “Overall the characters are lovable, I found it interesting that their lives intertwined slightly with Shakespeare and also touched on LGBT culture and attitudes at that time. It really felt that there was a depth of historical knowledge informing the narrative which I always enjoy.”
And the Wee Writing Lassie wrote about the book and asked me 7 impertinent questions! “Another inclusive detail in Ailish’s novel is the fact that her heroine – Isobell – is a plus sized woman, and this is never treated like a problem, or something about her that needs to be fixed, by the narrative. All body type inclusion, yeah!”
But the book is out! Released! That’s all that’s really on my mind today… though I can be momentarily distracted by shells:
It’s a strange feeling this, like opening a window and letting something precious and secret fly away to where it can now be seen by anyone who wants to see it!
That’s my favourite little house at Broadsea, right beside the rugged rocky coastline.
So… deep breath…
Set in a fictional castle in Aberdeenshire, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR blends an often overlooked period of history, the Scottish witchcraft accusations, in particular the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic, with a love story.
I came across this rather lovely little scene in the woods on a rainy day last week. It made me think of fairies…
Yesterday Paragraph Planet revealed the opening of The Mermaid and the Bear on their site. It’s gone now, but I took a screenshot, below. It was while walking in the same woods pictured above that the first line of the book came to me.
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