Last week, I saw Emma Carroll at the Bath Festival, talking about her new book, ‘The Somerset Tsunami’. Where I live would have been completely flooded by this event so I was very keen to hear about her story. Emma’s enthusiasm for writing and storytelling is infectious and everyone really enjoyed the session.
Fortune Sharp lives in Fair Maidens Lane, a small community of strong women in rural Somerset. When her neighbour, Old Meg, is accused of witchcraft by a rival cheese maker- a man- the outside world starts to show more interest in this little hamlet and tomboyish Fortune and her brother attract attention to themselves by testing a boat that they made on the Sabbath, a day when such a thing is not considered seemly.
To save her daughter, Fortune’s mother sends her away disguised as a boy to search for employment. Ending up a servant at Barrow Hall, Fortune finds herself caught up with an unhappy family, whose father hates witchcraft yet is willing to exploit the fear and suspicion of others to increase the trade in people across the Atlantic. When natural disaster in the form of a tsunami takes place, Fortune survives only to find herself accused of witchcraft, facing imprisonment, torture and trial.
This is a stunning piece of writing, drawing on a little known piece of (for us, local) history and weaving a fascinating tale using this and other social events of the time. Witchcraft was taken very seriously during the reign of James I who had himself written a book on the subject called Daemonologie published in 1597 whilst he was King of Scotland and the famous Bideford witch trials took place in Exeter in 1682, their hangings being one of the last for witchcraft in England.
Fortune is a wonderful character whose individuality and personality made her an easy target for those looking for a scapegoat for their troubles. Those in power used fear and manipulation to create distrust and division in communities, destroying anyone who challenged the status quo. Sadly, it is not hard to draw parallels with events happening today.
Easily Emma Carroll’s best book to date, ‘The Somerset Tsunami’ is a wonderfully atmospheric, action packed novel which is a joy to read. Historical fiction at its best!
The Somerset Tsunami Emma Carroll
Faber and Faber ISBN: 978-0571332816