Reading group historical fiction at its best
by Stacey Bartlett
Fleetwood Shuttleworth is 17 years old, married, and pregnant for the fourth time. But as the mistress at Gawthorpe Hall, she still has no living child, and her husband Richard is anxious for an heir. When Fleetwood finds a letter she isn’t supposed to read from the doctor who delivered her third stillbirth, she is dealt the crushing blow that she will not survive another pregnancy.
When she crosses paths by chance with Alice Grey, a young midwife, Alice promises to help her give birth to a healthy baby, and to prove the physician wrong. When Alice is drawn into the witchcraft accusations that are sweeping the North-West, Fleetwood risks everything by trying to help her. But is there more to Alice than meets the eye? As the two women’s lives become inextricably bound together, the legendary trial at Lancaster approaches, and Fleetwood’s stomach continues to grow. Time is running out, and both their lives are at stake. Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.
Fleetwood Shuttleworth, Alice Grey and everyone else in the novel were real people, and much of it is based on the historical timeline. In the early 17th century Lancashire was deemed a lawless county full of Catholics, criminals and conspirators, and King James I was obsessed with capturing witches, who were mostly poor, illiterate women. Historian Keith Thomas asked ‘was witch-hunting woman-hunting?’ and THE FAMILIARS expertly deals with themes of women’s rights in the period, many of which resonate today.
Stacey Bartlett grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire, as the daughter of market traders. She has always been fascinated by the Pendle witches. She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire and moved to London aged 21. She was media editor at The Bookseller and books editor at Stylist.co.uk, and has also written for Psychologies, The Independent and Fabulous magazine, where she now works as Deputy Chief Sub Editor. She lives in south-east London with her boyfriend Andy, also a journalist.