The English West Country with HE Bulstrode- or Someone Like That

As a writer, one of my neurotic drivers is the need to be appreciated for my work, so I confess that the idea of working under a pseudonym has never occurred to me. After all, how can I be slavishly admired if nobody knows who I am?

That said, a number of people I’ve interviewed here write under pen names. Some because of the controversial nature of their work (usually that means hot or transgressive sex), some because they are worried that their professional reputations might suffer if they published as themselves (people with university gigs to keep). Whatever the reason, all of this brings me (in a winding and completely self-absorbed way) to today’s interview with HE Bulstrode. At least that’s what he (and I’m only taking his word that he’s a he) calls himself when writing his tales of superstition, witchcraft and violence in the English West Country. Tales like his novella, The Cleft Owl.

So if hordes of slavish fans actually knowing who you are isn’t your deal, what’s the HE Bulstrode story?

The mysterious H E Bulstrode

My background is in academia, but I now find myself with time to indulge something that has long been denied me: writing creatively without the need to cite interminable references larded with copious footnotes. I have been fascinated by history since an early age, as well as the oddities of folklore and beliefs of times gone by, although the more I see and hear of the world these days, the more disabused I am of the illusion that certain irrational beliefs dwell in the past alone. (and all the choir said, AMEN!) I have written five other novellas and novelettes with an uncanny edge – all set in the English West Country, which is where I grew up – but ‘The Cleft Owl’ is my first piece that could properly be termed historical fiction, if the 1920s is discounted (in England, that’s just yesterday). I am currently working on a full-length novel – ‘Pendrummel: Gwen Gwinnel’s Return’ – which opens in 1670s Cornwall, and will be available in paperback as well as Kindle format.

For the record, the Historical Novel Society says HF is anything more than 30 years ago…. so my high school years qualify as history. Let that sink in. At any rate, what’s your novella about?

Superstition, credulity and deception in a seventeenth-century Devon village. It draws upon a peculiar and little known sequence of events that unfolded in the rural community of Widecombe-in-the-Moor, subsequent to the self-murder of one of their number. The figure of Robert Tooley, the local cunning man, looms large in the tale, for it is he that a family call upon to deal with the fallout arising from their neighbour’s suicide. This, however, proves to generate more problems than it solves.

Cunning man is a real job title? How do you get that gig?  At any rate, what is it about that time period that fascinates you so much?

I stumbled upon the person of Robert Tooley and his associated case whilst re-reading Keith Thomas’s ‘Religion and the Decline of Magic’ as background for my forthcoming novel ‘Pendrummel: Gwen Gwinnel’s Return.’ The sheer oddity of the events outlined – of the singular nature of the charms and rites employed by Tooley – was striking, as was the ease with which a number of the villagers willingly acquiesced with his instructions, at least for a time. This, moreover, all took place in an area of Devon – Dartmoor – which is steeped in dark folklore and legends, with the village having been associated with a visitation of Old Nick himself during the ‘Great Storm’ of October 1638. On this particular Sunday, the parishioners were gathered in the church, which proved to afford them but ill shelter, for a bolt of lightning sent a pinnacle toppling through its roof, and was shortly followed by a sphere of dancing light – ball lightning – which bounced and scorched its path about the interior, leaving four dead and more than sixty injured.

Other than the raw facts of the case itself, and a handful of names, few details remain relating to the historical episode that occurred some years after this traumatic event. These thus provided a kernel of truth around which a tale of the bizarre and the uncanny could be woven, with there being a distinct whiff of brimstone about the character of the village’s self-declared doctor. Coupled with the attraction of real historical personages named the Worshipful Sir William Bastard and the Reverend Tickle, how could I resist putting pen to paper (and finger to keyboard, come to that)? The events sketched by Thomas proved ideal for working up into a novella.

Magic and witchcraft are not uncommon themes in works of fiction, particularly in those set in the 17th century, but they normally focus upon female witches, so the opportunity to write about the misdeeds of a cunning man, rather than a female equivalent, appealed to me. As the novella is set in the 1680s, when a supernatural interpretation of the world was gradually ceding its place to a naturalistic one – at least amongst the educated classes – it also afforded the opportunity to inject a little ambiguity into the attitudes of some of the characters with respect to such matters: can Tooley truly work magic, or is he nothing more than an unscrupulous trickster?

For me, there is no more fascinating period of English history than the 17th century, owing to it having been a time of great social, political and intellectual ferment, and it is something of a puzzle to me, as to why it should be less popular with writers than the Tudor era, or the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Perhaps it has something to do with an aversion to massive periwigs. Whatever the case, I shall be revisiting this century later this year.

And we shall look forward to it. Without giving away spoilers, what’s your favorite scene or event in the book?

That’s a tough one, especially when considering that this is a novella, and I don’t wish to give too much away, but the closing scene would be the logical one to cite. If, on the other hand, you should be looking for a moment that will make you flinch, you’ll appreciate a particular segment of ‘A prison of bended withies,’ in which Tooley makes preparations for the rite that he is shortly to perform. I’ll say no more than that. I hope that you enjoy it.

Where can people find you, your book, or your “bended withies?” 

The Cleft Owl: Also on Amazon UK

Amazon Author Page:







King Tut Had a Wife? J Lynn Else Tells the Tale

Other than mummies, (and that the toughest job there had to be a court reporter. Can you imagine trying to take notes in hieroglyphs?) what can you tell me about Ancient Egypt? The period is mysterious and odd to us, yet it is fascinating and dramatic. Midwest writer J Lynn Else takes a look at that era–and its most famous resident, King Tutankhamun in two books.

The latest, The Forgotten: Heir of the Heretic is out now.

So what’s a nice girl from Minnesota doing writing about Egypt and the wives of Pharaohs? What’s your story?

As all great things should begin, my love of history started with a book.  My

J Lynn Else getting up close to her research.

uncle, who is an expert in maritime history, gifted me the book ““The Discovery of the Titanic: Exploring the Greatest of All Lost Ships” (which I still own).  The Titanic was all over the news at that time (late 1980s), and I began to take an interest in the time period.  Eventually, my love of history went further and further back in time.  Conversely, I was also a budding Star Trek: TNG nerd, so I wrote a lot of stories in which I could explore space, meet aliens, be a part of epic adventures.  It was so much more fun than being a tween with acne and braces.  I continued to write through high school and college (I even completed a script for X-File).  I’ve always been a huge lover of books.  Currently, I actively review for the Historical Novel Society and NetGalley.  I’m working on a third book now, which involves the legend of Avalon.  Besides reading and writing (and reading some more), I also keep busy with my husband, 2 kids (an 8th and a 5th grader), and 1 guinea pig.

This is your second book about that time period. What’s it about?

It is a time of change for ancient Egypt.  Pharaoh Akhenaten (who in modern times is probably best remembered as King Tut’s father) has declared that there is only one god to be worshipped throughout Egypt. He has also made a promise to his oldest daughter, Merytaten, that one day she will be his heir and the future pharaoh.  However, as pressures build up against this new religion, it falls upon Akhenaten’s wife, Nefertiti, and Merytaten to help their citizens and prevent insurrection.

In my novel, THE FORGOTTEN: HEIR OF THE HERETIC, Merytaten’s voice is used to vividly recount her dynamic life during some of ancient Egypt’s most turbulent years.  My book will appeal to fans of Michelle Moran, Jo Graham, and Pauline Gedge who also bring to the forefront women from antiquity who defied the constraints placed upon them for a greater good.  This is the second novel I have written.  Besides this, I have self-published THE FORGOTTEN: ATEN’S LAST QUEEN (ISBN-13: 9781483505343), which was awarded an Indie Editor’s Choice in 2016 by the Historical Novel Society

Why Egypt? What’s the fascination for you?

I really like reading about historical women who carved out new trails and touched their dreams despite the naysayers; those are stories I like to read and want to offer to my daughter when she gets older.  Ancient history has always been particularly fascinating to me, especially ancient Egypt. They are a society lasted for over 3000 years.  They never developed technology like phones or cars or computers, yet they thrived.  Modern society hasn’t even scratched that type of longevity.

After going to an exhibit at the Minnesota Science Museum entitled “King Tut and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs,” I discovered that while much is known about King Tut, very little is left to us about his wife.  I wanted to know more about her.  The pictures left to us show that Tut and Ankhesenamun loved and supported each other.  There is very little art in ancient Egypt that shows this type of relationship publicly.  So my interest was piqued to research this woman who seemed “forgotten” by time (get it, my title? Ha, ha!).  Thus came book 1, THE FORGOTTEN: ATEN’S LAST QUEEN.  My latest book, THE FORGOTTEN: HEIR OF THE HERETIC is about Ankhesenamun’s oldest sister, Merytaten, who was definitely in the thick of things as Akhenaten established a whole new religion in a country founded in polytheism.

Without giving everything away, what’s your favorite scene?

First off, I think it’s well known that King Tut dies early in life.  No spoiler there.  As his funeral procession assembles itself for the walk to the tomb, Ankhesenamun is about to see Tutankhamun’s golden sarcophagus for the first time.  She’s feeling guilty about many things in their lives.  She’s scared and confused and is nervous as the sarcophagus is brought out from the royal barge.  But then she looks down at his gold-clad face.  Peace overcomes her.  She refocuses herself and realizes none of the mistakes of the past matter at that moment.  She promises to be there for her late husband in the last few moments she has to walk beside him.  It’s a moment when Ankhesenamun forgives herself and hopes that Tutankhamun will find peace of his own in the heavenly paradise.  There are things she has to let go of, but she can still be there for him as his soul takes its final journey.  It’s definitely a turning point for her character development.

Where can we learn more about you and your books?

2 Upcoming History Talks and Book Signings

Now that Acre’s Bastard is out in the world, we have two events coming up. Please join us for some fun, conversation and a chance to get your hands on a signed copy of my latest novel.

Saturday, February 11, at 1 PM at the Museums at Lisle Station Park, I’ll be part of the Chicago Authors Series. Join us as we talk about “Putting the STORY in History- How writers turn history into great historical fiction.” I’ll also be selling and signing both my books, The Count of the Sahara and Acre’s Bastard.

Sunday, February 26th 12-4 PM at Barnes and Noble in Downtown Naperville, IL I’ll be talking writing and reading historical fiction, then signing copies of Acre’s Bastard. B and N is anxious to support local writers, so if you’re a fan of historical fiction, or are thinking about writing it yourself, come on down. Bring your questions and book recommendations for the others. There’ll be lots of Q and A, as well as a chance to help convince Barnes and Noble that supporting local authors is good business.

Chicago History and Mystery with Michelle Cox

One of the things I love about living in Chicago is the insane pride people take in the history of this city. Not just the big things; the fire, Capone, blues music, but the growth of the town from lonely fur outpost to whatever it is today (Carnage Central, Hub of the Midwest, the City that Works… pick one.)

Today’s author, Michelle Cox, writes romance mysteries set in Depression-era Chicago.

So, Michelle, what’s your deal?

Hi, Wayne!  I write the Henrietta and Inspector Clive series, the first installment of which, A Girl Like You, debuted last April.  Book two of the series, A Ring of Truth, is publishing in April.  Besides working on the manuscripts for the series (I’m currently toiling over book four!), I also write a weekly blog about Chicago’s forgotten residents, entitled “Novel Notes of Local Lore,” and another blog that pokes fun at the publishing industry called “How to Get Your Book Published in 7,000 Easy Steps – A Practical Guide,” both of which can be found on my website.  I live in the Chicago suburbs with my Liverpudlian husband and three kids.  Oh, yeah, and I have a BA in literature from Mundelein College in Chicago, if that matters to anyone!

I’ll swap you that for my Associates Degree from BCIT any day. What’s your series about?

A Girl Like You is the start of a historical fiction series, set during the Depression era in Chicago.  It’s a mystery, really, but there’s a pretty strong romance thread running through it, too.

Essentially it’s about a young woman, Henrietta Von Harmon, who has to provide for her mother and siblings when her father kills himself after losing his job due to the Depression.  The book starts off with her working as a 26-girl at the local tavern.  She’s not making enough, though, so she is persuaded by a friend to become a taxi-dancer at one of the big dance halls.

Not long after she starts there, however, the floor matron is murdered, and an investigation led by the aloof Detective Inspector Clive Howard begins.  Impressed by Henrietta’s beauty, Inspector Howard convinces her to go undercover for him as an usherette in a burlesque house, where he suspects the killer is lurking, all the while not realizing that Henrietta is much younger and more innocent than she pretends.

Henrietta quickly gets absorbed into the seediness of the place, meeting all sorts of strange characters, as she attempts to discover the secret behind the “white feather club,” which she believes is connected somehow to the murder and the disappearance of young women.  So that’s the mystery part.

Meanwhile there’s a little bit of comic relief in the character of Stanley Dubowski, the love-struck neighborhood boy who thinks of himself as Henrietta’s protector and continues to follow her around, annoyingly popping up at rather inconvenient moments.  Not only is he worried about Henrietta working at such a dangerous place, but he’s threatened by what he sees as a growing attraction between the Inspector and Henrietta.  And that’s, of course, where the romance part comes in, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

What’s your fascination with that time period in Chicago?

I’ve always been very drawn to the ‘30’s and ‘40’s—the music, the clothes, the cars, the Great Depression, the wars.  People lived through so much in such a short period of time and there’s so much there to write about – drama, intrigue, romance—you’ve got it all!

In the early 1990’s I found myself working at a nursing home on Chicago’s NW side, and I heard literally hundreds of these types of stories from that era.  So when I decided to write a book, I actually picked out one woman’s story, let’s call her Adeline, and used some of the details of her life to create the character of Henrietta.  There are many parts of the book, then, that are actually true:  Henrietta’s extreme beauty, all of the strange jobs she procures, the family history of the Von Harmons, the character of Stanley, and, believe it or not, the lesbian characters that befriend her at the burlesque house.

Of course, I had to fictionalize most of the book, including the murder mystery and all of the other characters, but it gave me a great foundation to start with.  Adeline was quite a character, and she used to follow me around the nursing home, telling me – frequently – that once upon a time, she had had “a man-stopping body and a personality to go with it!”  That’s classic!  So I tried very hard to capture that same spunky spirit and give it to Henrietta.

I know you love all your children equally, but do you have a favorite scene in the book?

There’s so much going on in Chapter 7.  We’ve got a little comedy with Stan roughly being escorted out of an abandoned apartment, the building suspense of the mystery as Henrietta and Clive discuss certain chilling aspects of the case, followed by an unexpected scene of domesticity as Clive sits quietly musing and watching Henrietta sew.  He takes the opportunity to ask her more about her sad story, and they both become a little more vulnerable.  This naturally lends itself then to a sort of sexual/romantic tension as they realize that they’re alone in an empty apartment without a chaperone.  Clive is obviously attracted to her, but it torments him, as he sees himself at thirty-five years of age as being much too old for this young girl of eighteen.  Henrietta, for her part, is also attracted to this older man, whom she possibly sees as a father figure, but doesn’t believe anyone so good as the inspector would ever be interested in “a girl like her.”

So as you can see, there’s lots of drama and intrigue and romance going on in this scene, and it’s deliciously fun to see what unfolds, not just in this chapter, but the whole book, if I do say so myself!

Anything you want to say to the giant throng of people reading this?

I hope you’ll check out the next book of the series, A Ring of Truth, due out in April!  It picks up right where the first book ends.  You can read more about it (including the whole first chapter!) on my website:

You can also connect with me on Facebook: or Twitter: