When Stacey Halls’ beautiful debut novel The Familiars was published by Zaffre to wide acclaim in February this year, it was just the start of a book world whirlwind for the Lancashire author.
The Familiars, a torrid tale set amidst the danger and suspicion of the 17th century witch trials at Lancaster Castle, spent ten weeks in the top ten bestsellers and turned heads even before it appeared on the shelves.
Stacey, 29, who hails from Rossendale and studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, found inspiration for her immaculately researched book on a visit to the Elizabethan manor house, Gawthorpe Hall at Padiham, near Burnley, built in the shadow of Pendle Hill by the Shuttleworth family in the 14th century.
As she wandered the rooms of the old house, now owned by the National Trust, Stacey was enchanted by the surprisingly ‘homely and cosy’ atmosphere of the comparatively modest stately home, and glimpsing Pendle Hill from one of the windows, she was taken by the idea of writing a novel about the witches… narrated by someone living at the house with a peripheral involvement in the trials.
Research led Stacey to the real-life Fleetwood Shuttleworth, mistress of Gawthorpe Hall in 1612 and the 17-year-old wife of Richard Shuttleworth, who attended the Pendle witch trials at Lancaster Castle and later became High Sheriff of Lancashire and MP for Preston.
Lancashire – a hotbed of Catholics, including many of the key players in the Gunpowder Plot only seven years earlier – was rich territory for the witch-hunters and it is this perilously febrile atmosphere which Stacey brings to life with such emotional and dramatic intensity in Fleetwood’s story.
And now to celebrate the publication of the paperback edition of The Familiars this week, Stacey will be holding an event for fans at Gawthorpe Hall on October 13 when she will discuss her inspiration surrounding the novel, its characters and the importance of Lancashire for setting the story.
The event, which runs from 12 noon until 4.30pm, includes re-enactors showing everyday life for women and men of the period, and demonstrating how the book’s leading character, Fleetwood Shuttleworth, would have spent her days there.
The re-enactment will be followed by book signings and Stacey’s talk in which she will reveal more about her second book, The Foundling, set against the vibrant backdrop of Georgian London, which will be published next February.
* The Familiars is published in paperback by Zaffre, priced £8.99, on September 24