Ailish Sinclair admits she knew little about the extent of the witchcraft trials across Scotland in the 16th and 17th century until she started investigating the subject in Aberdeen.
Yet now, the Fraserburgh-based author has created a new book The Mermaid and the Bear, which will be published later this month, and captures the full horror of how so many women were accused, tried and often executed as ‘witches’.
Mrs Sinclair’s eclectic cv hardly suggests she would end up writing novels. In the past, she has trained as a dancer in London, helped children with special needs in a variety of schools and playgroups across Aberdeenshire, and worked as a housekeeper in a ‘atmospheric’ castle in Moray for a few months.
But her attention has switched to literature and she has poured herself into bringing the 16th-century hysteria which swept the nation to a 21st-century audience.
She told the Press and Journal: “When I first visited the Tolbooth Museum in Aberdeen several years ago, I read about the ‘witches’ who had been imprisoned in the steeple of the Kirk of St Nicholas and I knew I had stumbled onto something which was little known, but truly terrible: a story that needed to be told.
“I chose to write about three women who were linked in their official records: Isobell Manteith, Bessie Thom and Christen Michell.
“They were accused of attending dances at the Mercat Cross in Aberdeen and associated with the more famous case of Thomas Leyis/Levis.
“Christen confessed to meeting the devil, while Bessie denied murdering her husband. There is very little recorded information on Isobell, who is my main character, and I have changed their stories somewhat, but I hope they would not be displeased with the resulting tale.”
Set in a fictional castle in the north east, her book blends the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic, with a love story. It doesn’t shirk from highlighting the terrible consequences of the trials, which were launched against more than 3,000 women in Scotland, but Mrs Sinclair has added optimism and romance to the mix.
Wendy Lawrance, co-founder of GWL Publishing, is delighted with the result.
She added: “We are really honoured to represent Ailish. In The Mermaid and The Bear,
she has created a truly wondrous, almost fairytale, setting.
“Her local knowledge has proved invaluable, and her research into the subject has been second to none.”
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