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The Worm Hole Podcast Episode 91: Stacey Thomas (The Revels)

Charlie and Stacey Thomas (The Revels) discuss English Civil War era witch hunting which includes the methods, the propaganda, and the awful theatre of it all. We also discuss Stacey’s inclusion of actual witches in her narrative, and Stacey’s recommendations of Wolf Hall and A Little Life.

Witchfinder General
James VI/I’s Daemonologie
Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall
Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life
Bridget Collins’ The Binding
Stacey’s episode on Witches Of Scotland
I spoke to Amita Parikh in episode 72

Release details: recorded 15th September 2023; published 12th February 2024

Where to find Stacey online: Twitter || Instagram || TikTok

Where to find Charlie online: Twitter || Instagram

You can contact the show at

Go back to the list of episodes


01:20 What made you want to tell this story of a man who is a witch, and his role in the judgement of witches?
02:23 Stacey’s interest in James I and his favouritism of different male courtiers
04:22 The theatrical elements of the book
05:58 The torture of the accused ‘witches’ that led to fantasy stories being created
08:51 The influence of the printing press and propaganda pamphlets on the public’s thoughts about accused women
10:02 About knot magic
12:09 The importance of having actual witches in the book and the impact of religion
14:32 Stacey’s interest in taxidermy and Althamia’s experience
16:41 Althamia’s impact on the novel
17:54 The themes of grief and guilt in the book
20:51 Castor and Pollux
22:20 The writing style and narrative voice, and Stacey recommends Wolf Hall and A Little Life
25:24 All about Will and how he fits into the story
30:44 Is John Rush a witch?… And the fact he’s left at large at the end
34:40 The initial execution scene did not originally happen…
35:57 Althamia says “Happy endings are beyond most people” and talks of proper endings – how does Stacey see The Revels in that sense?
39:15 Modern day apologies for witch hunters by the church
42:02 What Stacey’s working on now (this turns into a lengthy discussion on debutantes and their publicity machines


Please note that this transcript has been edited for legibility and is not a 100% accurate representation of the audio. Filler words and many false sentence starts have been removed, and words have been added in square brackets for clarity.

Charlie: Hello and welcome to The Worm Hole Podcast episode 91. Bringing on an author and talking with them, about one – occasionally more – of their books in detail. I’m Charlie Place and today I am joined by Stacey Thomas, debut novelist of the highly individual The Revels, which is set during the witch trials of the English Civil War period. When Nicholas’s brother dies, Nicholas is called home: previously neglected as an illegitimate son, he now has to do what his father tells him. And, he is to accompany Judge Percival, otherwise known as Will. Together they are to work on witch trials, but Nicholas’ involvement is difficult. He holds a secret about himself that makes him sit on the figurative fence even when he wants to shout out about a woman’s innocence – Nicholas can hear the dead sing about their deaths. Nicholas is a witch. Hello Stacey!

Stacey: Hi, Charlie. Thank you so much for having me on here.

Charlie: It is lovely to have you on. Going to ask a stereotypical question to begin with. What made you want to tell this story – this man who is a witch by historical definition and his work in the judgments of witches?

Stacey: What drew me to tell this story is that I’ve always been fascinated by witches. I grew up watching The Craft, Willow, and Buffy, so that’s always held a fascination for me. And then I’ve always been fascinated by witch hunters as well, especially Matthew Hopkins, who was a real life witch hunter. And I just remembered having nightmares from, this 70’s film called Witchfinder General, which was all about Matthew Hopkins going around and basically accusing women of witchcraft for money and power. With this story, originally, I wanted a female perspective, but then there’s been quite a few witch books from that viewpoint, and I’ve loved them, and when I was writing my story, I wanted to see how I could put my own unique twist on it. And so originally, it was going to be a witch hunter, and I guess I made it hard for myself by saying, okay, well, if he’s both a witch hunter and a witch, how does he navigate that world and why does he put himself in danger?

Charlie: Well, have I read rightly you have a prior interest in the reign of James I, which, I suppose, interlinks with this?

Stacey: I’ve always been quite interested in the Stuart period, especially because I went through my Elizabeth I obsession, so the Tudors. I don’t think she was very… they weren’t really fond of each other. So I was always fascinated about King James, who came after her, especially because you had this long reigning female monarch, and then it’s like, oh, well, we have a man on the throne, so back to the status quo. But I felt like with King James, what I found fascinating about him was his obsession with witchcraft and also the fact that he would actually involve himself in the investigations. And when you’re just reading his accounts, you can see that he really liked the theatricality of it; later on in his reign, he would intervene in investigations and be like, oh, you’re lying, that witch is actually innocent. So he seemed just to be quite a complex man. So I was quite interested in exploring his legacy.

Charlie: Yeah, I know about his favouritism of certain people, but the witchcraft I don’t know about.

Stacey: Yeah, definitely. I found his favouritism quite interesting with Carr and, later, Villiers, because I think especially with Villiers, you can just see that he was from a noble family, but they’d fallen on hard times. He was so beautiful that rivals to King James’s favourite at the time, like Carr, they gravitated around this young man and gave him clothes to catch the king’s attention, which it did, and obviously he replaced Carr, so I was quite interested in King James’s personal life. He was married and had children, but he seemed to gravitate towards men who could give him that personal intimacy he was looking for, and I think it’s up in the air as to how close he was with these men. I feel that there was a romantic relationship, but then other people will feel differently.

Charlie: That is very interesting to get your opinion there, because I’ve had a couple of people say it and yeah, it’s always good to get another one there. But that’s interesting: so you said about his theatrical aspect.

Stacey: Yes.

Charlie: Is that where you first got the idea to bring in a theatrical aspect to your book?

Stacey: I feel like definitely from King James, because I read a lot of witch transcripts and obviously at the end of the day, a lot of people were falsely condemned. But it’s like they were treating it like a play because during this period you would have witch pamphlets, which would basically recount witch trials. I think usually they were just made up to sell copies, but it was this whole thing, this was a form of theatre for people. And even when you’re just reading the transcriptions, I could imagine if you were in the audience and listening to the court case unfold, there is just something about it that does seem like you’re at a play because a person is trying to say, oh yes, this young woman, or man in fewer cases, they would transform into a flying horse and plague their neighbours. I’m like, how could you not see it as theatre, in a way, when you’re listening to it? And I feel like maybe that’s why some people, they look the other way, because it’s just that thing, you’re so taken in by the excitement that you don’t actually realise that these are real people at the end of the day, and they’re obviously going to die once they’re found guilty.

Charlie: Yeah, and you say about it not being real. There is that thing where whenever there is a trial, people just clear off afterwards, or if there’s a death, they clear off afterwards. Which in itself, that is showing that, yeah, it’s not really real, it’s just like, oh, yeah, cool, that’s happened, that was entertaining, now we’re going to sod off home, you know. With that, you have the historical, and in your book, torture of the witches who were inevitably, often, women. And then you’ve got the people who are accusing these people of being witches and saying, as you said, the things that just sound completely ridiculous. But something that I found interesting, and that your book really brought to the fore, was that, of course, after this torture and sleep deprivation and everything that these witch hunters were doing, people would confess and they would just come out with these stories that matched a fantasy story. So I suppose I want to ask, can you talk more about how witch hunters went about extracting the truth, or what they wanted to call the truth?

Stacey: Yes. So basically, legally, you weren’t allowed to torture people. But obviously it happened because a lot of the times, with witch hunters, you’re torturing people behind closed doors and you would have the witch hunters, and then you would have the searching women who would search the women for what they thought was the devil’s mark. And then you’d also have the watching men. You would tie the accused witch to a chair and just keep her awake. And so the watching men were there to make sure that she didn’t fall asleep. All the people in the room, they were all paid to get results, so of course, they’re going to turn a blind eye if they’re taking things too far, which they did the moment they started pointing fingers. With the sleep deprivation, if you can’t sleep… I just remember reading in this book, you’re sleep deprived, you’re starting to hallucinate. And you have a witch hunter who’s, in a way, telling you what to say, and in that situation, you’ll agree with them. And then just going back to the witch pamphlet’s, basically, London printing presses were printing them from the 16th century. They were written in English, they were sold cheaply, so it was designed to be accessible so that everyone could read them. And they were distributed across the whole of the country. In terms of knowing what to say, a lot of these witch trials, the transcripts, they’re quite similar because if you’ve read those pamphlets, you know exactly the kind of details that the people are looking for. And so that’s why when I was writing my book originally, I was like, oh, maybe I should try to make all of the charges unique. But there’s always that commonality in terms of, a witch would have a familiar and then she would have her coven and stuff. You don’t really need to break away from tradition because there was always a fixed idea. And then obviously, with King James, when he wrote Daemonology, he set out his belief on witchcraft and what it looks like. And so obviously with the witch hunters who would use that as a kind of instruction manual, they’re going to make sure that the charges are in line with what King James believed as well.
Charlie: Well, you say about the pamphlets, they weren’t the most important, I suppose, but how important would you say they were in this whole accusation process?

Stacey: I guess they’re kind of like your newspapers, or your Twitter, your 17th century version of Twitter, because obviously it’s a source of misinformation, but in a way you can tune it out because you didn’t have to read them if you [didn’t] want to. And even though not a lot of people were literate – obviously you could have people read them out to you – but I feel like it’s part of your cultural background; even if you’ve not read it, you would have grown up hearing people talking about it, even if they were just joking about it, so this is part of your upbringing. I wanted to bring in the witch pamphlets because I just want to show that people have grown up with this, this idea of the supernatural, so obviously when things go wrong in their lives, it’s easy to be like, oh yes, I’ve suffered a loss, or I’ve a heartache because the witch has put a curse on me. Kind of like your childhood stories and turning back to them for comfort in a way.

Charlie: And you mentioned some of the things that people were accused of and how fantastical they were. But something I was wanting to know – you have this concept of knots.

Stacey: Yes.

Charlie: There’s two concepts of witches that are in your book, and I can’t remember the first one, I want to say it’s like poisons or spells, but then you also have knots. Could you explain this more fully, this whole idea of knots, and did it have any basis in what healing women, I suppose you could say, were doing, or anything like that?

Stacey: So with knot magic, it was just basically this idea that witches, they could cast spells using knots. And there’s this famous, I think, 17th century woodcut, which basically shows the witch selling threaded knots to a sailor to guarantee him good wind. And so I wanted to use knot magic because it’s quite tactile for the characters to use when they’re casting spells rather than, oh, it’s in my mind and I’m able to do that, because sometimes it’s a bit tricky to explain it. I was inspired by the 17th century magic, so I wanted to use the real life details in the novel as much as possible. And then you had the kind of witches who use knot magic, and then you had the lower tier of witches who would use their poisons and their herbs as well. And so I wanted to show the class element between different levels of magic as well and that is quite hierarchical, although I don’t really go into depth because with my book, it’s historical fiction with a supernatural twist. And I just remembered when I was writing it, I was really adding a lot of world building details, but we had to scale it back a bit so that it didn’t veer too much into the fantasy side.

Charlie: You may have taken it out but I think that you’ve got that focus, I want to say descriptive, I mean obviously, it’s also factual, but the way you have enabled the reader to see how much the witch trials were focused on the working class. And then, you’ve got your witches – if we say Nicholas, Grace, Althamia – I hope maybe I’ve said that right [both laugh] – and, I mean, they could all be called witches, and of course they’re privileged, effectively.

Stacey: Yes.

Charlie: And on that, actually, was it important to you to have actual witches in the book?

Stacey: Yes, definitely; for Nicholas’s character, I wanted to make him a witch because I really wanted to explore that vulnerability of being both a witch and a witch hunter who just gets drawn into this situation. And then as I was going along, I realised even though I had witch hunters, I also wanted to show… definitely with Grace’s character, who is a witch; even if she is a witch, I have that contrast with Nicholas in that she’s actively encouraging the witch hunts, because despite her background, she doesn’t really have any skin in the game because humans are just hunting amongst their own. She’s both a witch and a Catholic, so she’s basically part of two groups that have been ruthlessly terrorised. She’s not very empathetic, she wants as much power as possible, and she also wants revenge. I think it was William Penn who suggested that Catholics should be identified by being made to wear a special set of clothing. And then, obviously, they’re being subjected to huge fines. So with someone like Grace, she wants to be able to turn the tables, and rather than just be a prey, be the one hunting other people.

Charlie: Yeah. I did wonder how much religion itself had influenced what you wanted to write.

Stacey: Yes. When I first started, a lot of the spells that witches would use, in terms of the language – I just remember when I read in a book (I’m so bad at remembering names) but they were just saying the spells, they were reminiscent of Catholic prayers. So what was interesting is there was always that link between Catholicism and witchcraft, because even though King Henry forced everyone to change their religion, you can’t force people to just change their whole belief system overnight. And that was one of the issues as well in that period – people didn’t want to let go of their cultural traditions.

Charlie: Yeah, I remember – I think you were noting a couple of times the iconoclast… gosh, the name escapes me right now, but yes.

Stacey: William Dousing, yeah, he basically went across the country just smashing any Catholic symbols or really elaborate churches; it was just a huge waste. Just goes to show the level of intolerance in those periods as well.

Charlie: Yeah. So on Althamia.

Stacey: Yes.

Charlie: The taxidermy – I thought straight away, ahhh, this is where we’re going to bring actual witchcraft into it, or something like that. And I think you do a very good job of making the reader think, is it? Is it not? Is it just taxidermy? [Stacey laughs.] But where did you get the idea to add this into it?

Stacey: I actually did a taxidermy class a few years ago, but it was just for butterflies, because I just went through this period where, because I was stuck in a rush at work, I was trying to just do more creative things. And I’ve still got the framed butterflies, but I was like, oh, this is great, I’m going to do butterflies, and then I’ll move on to other creatures. And then I went there, and the instructor was really nice, but I saw a stuffed lamb, and then a part of me was like, oh, I don’t think I’m ready for this – the actual real life blood and flesh creatures. So I was like, I’ll stop at butterflies. But I really wanted to bring it into the book because it would have been an unusual hobby for a woman to do. And so I wanted to show that, even with Althamia, she’s quite ladylike and she seems quite modest – [but] she wants to do something different as well. With a lot of women in the 17th century, usually you just think of them being under the thumbs of their parents or their husbands, but there were women who were trying to make something of their lives despite the pressure to conform. You had female surgeons at the time, you had women writers, so there’s a lot they were trying to do.

Charlie: Yeah, it definitely did seem that the taxidermy, for Althamia, could definitely lead to her wanting to be a surgeon or she’d had that idea for a long time. Yeah.

Stacey: Yes. So actually it was quite fun, like later on in the book when she’s helping Nicholas with his investigations and she’s able to draw upon her medical knowledge that she’s gleaned from her uncle, who was a surgeon as well. I’m glad you picked up on it because I kind of want to show there’s a sequel. Hopefully she’s able to expand upon that as well.

Charlie: There possibly is a sequel, you’re saying?

Stacey: I mean, not for my second book, but hopefully a few books down the line; Id love to return to her character.

Charlie: Okay! So I didn’t know how important she would be to the text – when you first introduce her, I thought, okay, we’ve got a potential romance here. But would you say she’s fundamental?

Stacey: I would say she is, because when Nicholas is apprenticed to William – the judge who was also a witch hunter – the fact is he only goes with William because his father’s adopted him as his heir, because he’s illegitimate and his half brother has died; his father just needs him out of London to smooth over the news, and then he’ll have to come back and start to learn the business, even though he’d rather be a playwright. So I needed a reason as to why Nicholas gets drawn into a witch hunt, because in York, all he needs to do is stay a few weeks and then go home. He’s already in danger, he doesn’t need to go any deeper. But then, obviously, Althamia, gets accused of witchcraft, so he has to make a devil’s bargain to go with Will and this other witch hunter so that Althamia can be safe. That was the reason. But then I also feel with Althamia, she brings out things from him, and she challenges him about his guilt over his brother’s death and also what he really wants from life as well.

Charlie: Well, yeah, on guilt, one of the things that I think I picked up on, maybe I was wrong, but it seemed to me that you were also using knot magic. It ties into this idea of romance, the love, because Nicholas talks about a knot between him and Althamia.

Stacey: Yes.

Charlie: And also, then, he’s got the knot with him and Francis, which looks at grief.

Stacey: Yes.

Charlie: Can you talk about the effect of grief, or Nicholas’s grief, I suppose we should specify, on the novel?

Stacey: Yes. So with Nicholas, his mother died in childbirth, so he was raised by his father and his stepmother with his half-brother Francis, who’s legitimate; so his father only brought him into the household to humiliate his wife. So, apart from Francis, he’s grown up in quite a cold home, and he’s always just been seen as a nuisance, even though in other ways he’s very privileged in that he’s been able to go to Oxford and explore his passion for playwriting, even though that all comes to an end when his brother dies. But I feel with Nicholas, in terms of grief, he has always wondered what it would be like to be Francis, to be loved, to be legitimate. And so when his brother dies, he obviously feels very guilty because he encouraged his brother to follow his dreams and become a soldier. But then he starts to wonder if he did it because he maybe hoped his brother would die and he would be able to take over. So I feel with Nicholas, it’s like he’s trying to come to terms with his feelings. And then there’s also that guilt because he never told his brother that he was a witch. So he feels like his brother never really saw him or understood who he was, even though they did have a close relationship. And so I feel it’s grief and guilt kind of tied up, and it’s also the fact that with Nicholas, he has to keep his ability secret, so how can he have a relationship? How can he get married if he’s always having to keep that part of himself secret? And then even if he does keep it secret, he’s not just risking his life, but he’d be risking everyone close to him. And he has this valet, Stevens, who kind of is a surrogate father, and the fact is, with Stevens, it’s like he’s made him his surrogate son, but he’s never married because his own mother was killed for being a witch. He’s had to lead a lonely existence. And I feel that with Nicholas, that’s how he sees his future. And probably that’s why he’s passionate about playwriting, because even though he loves it, he feels like it’s the only thing he has. So when it’s taken away from him, it’s like it’s the end.

Charlie: Well, you have a suggestion that Nicholas may be a playwright at some point, and I think he goes somewhere, he goes to Mr Broad, the printer, at the end.

Stacey: Yes.

Charlie: But what we see in the book is that Nicholas has got these pamphlets, so in a way, he’s fulfilling that part of himself that he wants to do, which is lovely.

Stacey: Yes [laughs].

Charlie: Something that you note a few times, and I wanted to ask you about it – Castor and Pollox? Is that how you would say it?

Stacey: Yes.

Charlie: How did this ancient mythology help you tell your story?

Stacey: I never really intended to bring that in, and it’s quite subtle throughout the book. But even in the first draft, when I’m describing Nicholas’s father’s home, I had this tapestry of Castor and Pollox. I can’t remember which is which, but they were two twin brothers, but one was the son of Zeus and Leda, so he’s immortal, and the other was the son of Leda and her human husband. So when the human brother was killed, I think it was Castor [who] decided to share his immortality, so it’s like his brother isn’t fully gone – and that’s what Nicholas tries to do with the knot magic in the beginning, but obviously it doesn’t work because he doesn’t have that. Even though he can hear the dead sing, he can’t really bring them back in that way. But I had this tapestry because I love the symbolism of the sibling relationship, that brotherly bond, and also death as well. And then as I was redrafting it, I was like, oh, I could bring this out a bit more because it will show Nicholas’s relationship with Francis, but then also tie into Nicholas’s ability to hear the dead sing, too.

Charlie: Okay. No, I loved it. I loved the way that you brought it in and the comparisons and everything. Yeah, it really aided the tale.

Stacey: Thank you.

Charlie: The narrative voice. You’ve got Nicholas speaking directly to the reader – that’s how it came across to me – in the present tense. And you have a very, very, nice descriptive language that fits totally in the period. I really like it. Can you talk about the writing itself of the novel and how you wrote it, effectively?

Stacey: Yes. So the first line of my book was ‘I slip into the dead man’s life like a thief’, and that took me two months to get there because it was just that I had so many false starts with the novel where I was trying to do too much and I was struggling to get the character’s voice. I just remember coming up with that line, and then immediately it helped me set the tone for my story. Even though that line is now the beginning of chapter three, it’s just my favourite. I read a lot of Shakespeare plays and also poetry set in that period to get the rhythm as well. And obviously, in those times, if you were a writer, you would have those classical illusions, so I wanted to show that in the text as well. I’ve watched so many of those period dramas, and I just remembered my sister and I, when we were younger, we just role played being in one of those 17th century period dramas; so just having those 17th century speeches, in a way, so I feel like that helped. And I feel like that’s probably why I wrote in the present tense as well, because I could go method and kind of insert myself in the story and speak that way, as opposed to if I wrote it in a different tense or from a different viewpoint.

Charlie: Interesting. You said about the sentence taking you two months, yeah, I can totally see why; I was reading, thinking, I like that sentence. I like that sentence. Oh, I like that sentence. And it occurred to me that, okay, so authors in general, they’re going to edit their work, they’re going to put a lot of effort into every sentence, but you could see the effort you had put into every single sentence.

Stacey: I really loved Hilary Mantel, and it’s like I came to the Wolf Hall books late, but I love her sentences and just how detailed it is – each sentence can stand by itself in a way. You could probably just make a t-shirt with all those quotes, and people would just be like, oh, my God, that’s amazing. I wanted to just draw in that level of atmosphere and detail in my own work as well.

Charlie: I’ve had that book on my shelf for a few years and I still haven’t got to it.

Stacey: You need to read it, Wolf Hall and then A Little Life if you’ve not read it.

Charlie: I’ve got that one as well, and I haven’t read it!

Stacey: Oh my god, please read them both, yeah. I think with A Little Life… oh, god, I don’t think there’s ever a good time to read it because I read it and I just felt destroyed afterwards because it’s so beautifully written. But oh, God, it is just so depressing as well. I didn’t feel okay afterwards, but it is really good!

Charlie: That’s good to know in itself, because I can prepare myself. But no, you’ve given me two recommendations there, and I will be looking for holiday reads soon as well, so might be time to get them out of the shelves and get reading. I haven’t asked you about Will yet.

Stacey: Yes.

Charlie: Can you tell us why he’s in the story? Yeah, I suppose ‘why’; also where he fits into Nicholas’s life and how it all worked for you?

Stacey: Yes. He used to be this famous witch hunter; with King James he set up this commission for witch hunters, and Will was their shining star. And so at the start of the novel, the Commission for Witch Hunters had been disbanded under King Charles. But now with the Civil War, there’s rumours of it starting up again. And so this is how Will finds himself reluctantly drawn back into witch hunting – even though he was a witch hunter, he left before the commission fell into disgrace. It’s something he feels guilty about now, and it’s not something he wants to get drawn into, but then, because Nicholas wants to protect Althamia, he reluctantly finds himself getting dragged back into this. I wouldn’t say it’s a father-son relationship. I remember my agent just saying the relationship between Will and Nicholas, it’s like a meeting of mines, because with Will, he sees something of himself in Nicholas – something more innocent that he wants to protect – and this is why they have this friendship. Fifteen years ago, he would’ve guessed what Nicholas was, handed him in. But with Will, he’s trying to find redemption. But I also just wanted to show even though he’s trying to find redemption, how far can you be redeemed? Because, as he said, when he was hunting witches, he enjoyed it. And then when we go back into his past, we realise that he was hunted and preyed upon himself. Because I wanted to kind of show the fact that he was a page to King James and his own cousin was a favourite of King James, as well. So he was preyed upon, not by King James, but by the court for his looks. He was being groomed to be one of the king’s favourites. So I wanted to show that unsavoury element of court life and what happens when it’s just discarded and you have all that rage as well.

Charlie: I liked how from the start, you not only show that Will’s got an idea of who Nicholas might be, but you also let Will and Nicholas, yeah, fall into this kind of friendship. But yeah, what you’re saying – I wrote it down. You’ve got, think it’s Nicholas, that says we’re both rooted to the dying and the dead.

Stacey: Yes, yeah.

Charlie: Yes, which was very nice.

Stacey: Yeah. With Will, he has all these deaths on his conscience. So even when I was writing… I love Will’s character, but then, in a way, why is he allowed to walk away from this until now just because he expresses remorse and he’s sorry? And then I also wanted to compare it to Clements, who is basically more of an all out villain who really revels in his past as a witch hunter. He went through the same situation to Will in that he was also exploited at court; and then probably just bringing in the class difference in a way as well, because he came from a kind of upper middle class family. Those types of people, usually you expect them to become leaders and to do well, and with Clements, he doesn’t have that. As he said, he went to court, it didn’t work out, and then his family apprenticed him to a witch hunter, even though the profession was starting to die out. And so he doesn’t have the resources Will has. And when it comes to opportunities, he’s not going to be at the front of the queue, he’s always going to be at the bottom, having to fight for what he wants. So he needs the money, he needs more power, in a way. And I don’t feel sorry for him because he’s a despicable character, but then it is interesting how different people react to him. Because even with Will, he doesn’t have an easy time with it. The only person who really challenges him is Nicholas at one point, and then also Althamia’s mother, Mrs Hale; when they first go to York and he’s at their house having dinner, she does challenge him about his past and she doesn’t like this man, she doesn’t forgive him, even though he is a judge now and he’s respected. But no one really challenges him. So I wanted to subtly just show that in the book as well.

Charlie: Clements needs to bring someone down with him, doesn’t he, in a way, to feel better, almost. Yeah.

Stacey: Yeah, yeah. With Clements, he’s one of those people in that emotionally he’s quite suppressed; he’s afraid of being vulnerable. You have that bit where Nicholas is in the bathtub and Clements comes into his room and he’s trying to suggest how they could bring Will down because at that time Will is subtly blocking the witch investigations. And so there’s that moment where it’s like, is Clements coming on to Nicholas or is he just trying to make him feel uncomfortable? And with Clements he doesn’t actually know because he doesn’t really know how to relate to people, because in a way he is quite brutish. In a way, he has made himself a bit vulnerable to Nicholas and when he realises that this is like a double cross, he’s just really angry and betrayed.

Charlie: He’s thuggish, definitely.

Stacey: Yeah.

Charlie: So you have talked about Matthew Hopkins, you’ve introduced us and of course you’ve got a comparable person in John Rush, and he’s horrible and he’s kind of an upstart, I suppose, to use a nicer phrase – a fraud, basically. But as far as Nicholas knows, Rush disappears and effectively escapes; at least it seems that’s what’s happened. I wondered if Rush was a witch himself?…

Stacey: So Grace – who’s Althamia’s cousin – before the events of the novel, she’s pregnant, but her child is stillborn. She’s away from home at that time, and she sees John Rush, who before his transformation, he used to be this labourer with mental disabilities. He has a head wound because the castle was under siege and he pushed a young woman, Bess, out of the way, but then he got hit by falling bricks. So he’s been injured. And then when Grace sees him, she has her dead child and then she sees this man who, because of his mental disability, she just regards him as this empty person, which is completely wrong. She uses knot magic to bind him to her, to take the place of her dead child. And then obviously when she comes out of it, she’s just completely horrified and she spurns him. And so you have John Rush, who is fully conscious in this way. He’s fully aware and then he’s been abandoned by Grace, so he wants revenge and he does it by hunting witches to get a reaction from her. So I wanted to be ambiguous as to whether Rush has magic himself or he’s a spell, but he definitely has that connection to Grace, because you could just wonder why he doesn’t come after her directly; and I feel that he wants attention and then when he doesn’t get that, he wants revenge. So that’s why he takes Althamia towards the end. But in terms of what happens next at the end of the book, I wanted to show that, because it shows Nicholas and Althamia riding out to be the witch hunters and that they’re hunting witch hunters down to save witches. And they’re riding to a town where they think John Rush might be. I won’t make it that easy for them if I ever write a sequel, but I wanted to show the hysteria and that all those witch hunters, they’re all John Rush. Like with those witch hunters, I have a moment where they just say, witch hunters are all the same kind of man. So you’re going to have to travel all over and stop all these witch hunters to find him. So in a way, Rush, he’s the disease, because his influence is just spreading, because people can see how easy it is and they all want to follow in his example.

Charlie: Yeah. And he makes this awful, evil, excitement, doesn’t he? Yeah.

Stacey: Yes.

Charlie: So, yeah, I suppose if you wrote a sequel, he would definitely have to show up in it then.

Stacey: Yes.

Charlie: You get rid of Clements. Was it difficult to leave John Rush at large and leave him, as far as we know, alive, et cetera?

Stacey: I didn’t want to vanquish him completely because Rush is inspired by Matthew Hopkins. He’s so notorious; a lot of people know who he is. But he wasn’t the only witch hunter, so I didn’t want Nicholas to get rid of Rush, and then it’s sort of like at the end ‘and they all lived happily ever after’. At the end of the day, Nicholas is just one man. I didn’t want to be like, oh, yes and he’s responsible for why the witch hunting finally ended. That’s not what happened; it just continued in ways. And I believe that the last person executed or prosecuted for witch hunting, it was way up until the 19th century – I’m really bad with dates, but it continued. It might not have reached the heights of the English Civil War, but it definitely continued in the centuries afterwards.

Charlie: Yeah, I mean, you say about you can’t have Nicholas save the day and all that, but yeah, you do a very good job of that balance where you have the Lady Teversham, I think it is Catherine Teversham, yes. And you do make us think that she’s going to be saved and Will’s going to save her, and then it is quite shocking that she isn’t. But then you show us why and you build it up to Nicholas being brave, I suppose, and starting to use his talents.

Stacey: I mean, this is another spoiler, but in the original draft, she was found innocent. But then when I was going through edits with my agent, my agent said, ‘the thing is, we need to see the stakes of witchcraft. If Lady Catherine walks free, you don’t really have that tension; because we’ve all been told that witch hunting is a threat, but then no one’s actually paying the price for it’. So I’ve changed it to Lady Catherine is guilty of witchcraft and then obviously, Nicholas can realise what the stakes are. So when Althamia is being accused of witchcraft, he knows what the stakes are because Lady Catherine has already been hung in that same town. He needs to protect Althamia, and so that propels the storyline.

Charlie: Yeah, and I suppose along with Nicholas, us, the reader, we see exactly what happened. Another thing on that – your ending. Althamia says that happy endings are beyond most people, and she talks of proper endings, which I really liked. I think it’s on the very end of the book, I think it’s even the last page.

Stacey: Yes.

Charlie: So, yeah, this happens there. How would you describe The Revels in this vein, if I can ask you? Where does it fit into that idea?

Stacey: I feel it’s people trying to reach for a happy ending, but it’s also knowing that in a way, happy endings are a fairy tale. Because with Nicholas, obviously, he’d love to be a playwright, and he has that invitation to go to the royalist court in France and write plays for the queen. His happy ending is just across the ocean, and he has the means to go there, and Althamia would be by his side. But it’s not a happy ending because Rush is still out at large. There are women still being hunted for witchcraft, and he has a stake in the game now. So his happy ending is on pause until he finds it. Sometimes a happy ending, it’s like it’s the end, and it’s like real life. It’s a series of journeys, and his journey hasn’t ended. It’s reaching for happiness whenever you can find it, but also just being realistic and realising that you have to work for your happy ever after, in a way.

Charlie: Your book effectively does give us this proper ending, I think, that Althamia says, but, no, I like that. I mean, you do leave it that, yes, you can go and write a sequel, but equally, it’s a closed ending enough, but also open ending enough that the reader can finish it off as they want to. Yeah.

Stacey: Yeah, I love endings where it’s a closed or proper ending, but then there’s also that scope for it to be continued. Because even like with Bridget Collins, The Binding, which I absolutely loved, I love that the two characters get together in the end, and it is a complete ending. Maybe it’s just me because I loved it, but I just kept imagining, oh my god, what other journeys could they go on? There are still little strands that you can imagine the story continuing, and that’s what I wanted to bring to The Revels as well.

Charlie: Okay. Is that something you can see yourself doing in other books? Something you like in general?

Stacey: Yeah, sometimes with stories, it’s sort of like that wheel of fortune, because even with Bess’s character, she starts the book as the poor, impoverished young woman, and then at the end, she’s the lady’s maid to Althamia’s mother. But then as, she says to Nicholas, her family used to be tenant fathers until her father drank it away. So she’s hinting she’s going to be climbing that wheel to get back her former position. I wanted to show, at the end of the day, people, the people, we all have ambitions, so it’s not the end of the story. And with a sequel, I’d love to have Bess in it and see where she’s up to because I love showing those characters with drive, and just seeing what she gets up to, especially since she has powers herself. So she has that agency, despite her circumstances.

Charlie: That’s really nice to hear, that you were going to bring Bess back in a sequel, maybe, because as you were talking, I could see that you’re really big on Bess. So I will ask you – we’ve got modern day apologies. I think it was the Church of Scotland, and there was a church, I think, in Europe, can’t remember which country.

Stacey: I think it was the German Church. Yes.

Charlie: Yeah. Can you tell us more about this? They have apologised for the witch hunts, effectively, yes.

Stacey: Yes, so it was only when I started listening to the podcast Witches of Scotland… so I discovered it while I was doing my edits. And so that really helped me with the ending because obviously with Witches of Scotland, they interview midwives, authors, historians, a range of people, discover why the European witch routes happened. But they’re campaigning to get an apology and a national memorial and a pardon for the women and men convicted of witchcraft in Scotland. And so that’s what inspired the subplot in the book, where Nicholas and Althamia are really trying to fight back and persuade the people to take a stand against Rush as well. They have been making a lot of headway because, as we said, the Scottish and German churches have apologised. And I think that it’s been in the Scottish Parliament as well, there’s been movement on trying to get a pardon, as well. And I think Nicola Sturgeon also apologised as well. And it seems like they’re making a lot of headway too. But I just found the podcast really inspiring, and so it really inspired me to just make my characters, really look at the legacy of witch hunting and how they could make a change in their own time. But also in that period, you had John Gaul as well, who was actively speaking out against Matthew Hopkins too. So I wanted to draw that in and show the ways in which people could fight back.

Charlie: I think it’s beyond the scope of this podcast episode here, but yeah, I did read about John Gaul and that was really heartening to see, I think, that he was doing that. Yeah. But you have been on that podcast, Witches of Scotland, now?

Stacey: Yes, I have. Yes [laughs].

Charlie: That must have been quite awesome, quite exciting for you?

Stacey: It was, it was, because I mentioned them in my author’s note. When I discovered them, I went on a listening binge because it was just a huge resource. I feel anyone interested in witch history should definitely give their podcast a listen. Like you, they’re probably close to 70 episodes as well, so there’s a lot of material to delve into. I’ve got so much catching up to do for your podcast because I listened to Amita Parikh’s episode [editor’s note: 72], which I really liked. And then I was like, when you introduced me and said, this is the 91 episode, I was like, okay, I’m going to have to go on a listening binge now to catch up [laughs].

Charlie: You’re very kind, thank you. But yeah, I will link your episode on Witches of Scotland – listeners, there will be a link in the show notes for you, so you can go straight there, you won’t have to look it up or anything. So you have introduced it ever so slightly. What is next? What you’re writing at the moment?

Stacey: So with my second book, it’s set in London, 1958. So it’s the last year that debutants curtsy to the Queen. The basis of the story is it’s not the debutants who are the focus, but it’s the people behind them. So the mothers who will do anything to scheme to get their daughters to the top. And then also these social secretaries, because what I just found interesting in those times is that debutants, despite their protests, a lot of them, if they had money, would have press agents or publicists. And so they were responsible for making sure that they would get in the magazines and get the attention. With debutants, you would curtsy to the Queen. And a lot of people would think, oh, yeah, their aim was just to get into the Tatler and one of those society magazines and then make a glorious match. But with these debutants, they had a lot of social capital, enough so that some of them would be offered film roles or at least a screen test; so there was a lot of money to be made in the 1950s. A lot of those stately homes, they’re really struggling because there’s not enough money. If you’re a deb and you don’t want to get married straight away, you want to make your mark, you’ll do anything to be deb of the year. But then it’s told through the voice of a young social secretary. I think it’s just the idea that sometimes you have famous people, but then some famous people, they’re controlled by powerful people. So it’s the lengths my character will go to to get power, in a way.

Charlie: Okay, so, I mean, you surprised me on the thing about publicity and magazines and articles. You’re going to have a lot of that in there, I suppose, if you’ve got a secretary as the narrator?

Stacey: Yes, yes, because with social secretaries, obviously they’re being paid, they’re employees, but they’re also working in partnership. These debs, who were often very young girls who would be presented the moment they finish boarding school, yes, they’ve been educated, but they’re quite unworldly. And so with some of these press secretaries, sometimes they could see these young women coming, because these are just your inexperienced girls and they’re just being treated as pawns. And there was one American deb called Joanne Connolly. She was spotted by this press agent called Ted Howard or Hughes. And he just said, oh, yes, I saw this beautiful girl at this restaurant, and he just said, I’m going to make her the next Brenda Frazier, who was at one point the richest girl in the world, a socialite who curtsied. The debs are basically like possessions, and you have all these people who are trying to get something out of them. And in Joanne Connolly’s case, the press agent made his career from her, but then also her mother, who pushed her daughter to be a deb – when her daughter first came out, the mother was working as a saleswoman in this boutique in New York. And then the moment her daughter came out and had got all this attention and then married a millionaire playboy, the mother’s living in a penthouse in Paris. I think I have a line in my book where it’s ‘ a daughter is like a pension’, or something. And a lot of the cases, it’s not just the fathers who are trying to marry their daughter off to the richest man, like the mothers, there’s also that ambition there, too.

Charlie: Blimey!

Stacey: Yes.

Charlie: It’s sounding a bit like an extravagant My Fair Lady or something.

Stacey: Yes, I’m still writing on it. So hopefully by the time this episode airs, there’ll be a proper synopsis and stuff, and I could just listen to it and I’ll be like, oh, God, yes, I finally finished it!

Charlie: Yeah, you said before we started recording that you’ve got your tour going on for The Revels, you’re working on the drafts that you’ve got to get in, and then it’s going to be published in 2024 – my goodness. You’ve got a lot to do, but you’re doing well.

Stacey: Once I’m done, I’m just probably going to just sleep for like a week. But it’s been an amazing experience. But then it’s also just been a roller coaster because there’s so much going on. But you can only be a debut once and I’ve just been enjoying every moment. So it’s just been really special time.

Charlie: Fantastic. Okay, well, Stacey, it has been fantastic having you. I think I’ve used that twice now – okay, it’s been wonderful having you [Stacey laughs]. Thank you for coming on today.

Stacey: Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure.

[Recorded later] Charlie: I do hope you enjoyed this episode. Do join me next time. And for more information as to upcoming authors, check out The Worm Hole Podcast episode 91 was recorded on the 15th September 2023 and published on the 12th of February 2024. Music and production by Charlie Place, with invaluable help from Jawnson.

With thanks to Jawnson.


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