Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Blog Tour Guest Post: Circle of Witches by Margaret Frazer


Her mother had always been afraid. That’s what Damaris remembered. From the time she was a little girl until the day her mother died, she had seen the fear in her eyes.

But now she understood. Now she was afraid, too.

Young Damaris wanted more than anything to be happy at Thornoak, the ancient manor owned by her aunt and uncle. Adventuring through the wide, open beauty of the Dale in the company of her rambunctious cousins she rediscovered a joy she had thought lost with the death of her parents. And in the deep, storm-tossed eyes of Lauran Ashbrigg she was surprised to find an entirely new emotion.

But even under the warm and inviting sun, Damaris is chilled by the undeniable fact that the family which claims to welcome and love her is hiding truths from her: The truth of the Lady Stone. The truth of the Old Ways. The truth of moon and star and witchcraft.

The truth of her mother’s death.

Last winter I read and enjoyed Margaret Frazer's most recent installment in her popular Dame Frevisse historical mystery series, Winter Heart.
I'm very pleased to have her here on the blog today, talking about her new release, which is a bit of a departure from her previous novels and a true labor of love and determination!


Circle of Witches, my latest novel, is now up for sale, and the beta readers have been enthusiastic, but it was a strange and twisted road that ever brought it to be published.

For one thing, Circle of Witches is not only my latest book, it is also, in some ways, my oldest, written well before the first of my seventeen Dame Frevisse novels or the Joliffe the Player series. In fact, its first version came as an act of desperate creativity, to prove to myself in the midst of frantic motherhood that I could still write something besides grocery lists. Since eight years old, I had been writing down stories and parts of stories, but with young children in the house all of that had ceased, and a writer can get very, very twitchy when unable to write. So when my husband set up a vacation for us and our small sons to visit his mother in California and sleep on the fold-out couch in her living room, I chose (instead of homicide) to stay home. They went, I stayed. I tidied the house, thrilled to know it would stay that way for longer than ten minutes; liberated my tension by watching several rented movies without interruption; slept through the night for the first time in years; and then -- refreshed in mind and body -- I wrote.

It was a story I had had in mind for several years. The bones of the story had grown out of a spell of heavy reading I had done about... well, I won’t say; it would give too much away. I had also lived for a time in the Yorkshire Dales where it is set and visited a number of prehistoric standing stones in Britain. All the elements had blended together, and I had characters and plotline ready to go when finally the chance came for uninterrupted writing.

And write I did. Day after day I wrote, reminded to eat by my growling stomach and to sleep when my vision blurred. To free my characters and story from my head onto the computer was a relief, a pleasure, and just plain fun! It was only a first, rough draft when I was done, but where there had been just thoughts in my head and notes on straying papers, now my long-trapped characters existed. They moved, lived, died in their own real world. And I knew that I could still write!

Of course my family came home, and even if it meant the end of writing, I was happy to have them back.The years passed. My sons grew. My marriage perished. And by a strange wandering of events, I got a contract to write two history mystery books set in my beloved 1400s. And then another contract to write more. And more. While seeing my sons through their teen years into adulthood, I made my living as an author writing medieval history mysteries and enjoying it immensely.

But always, sighing in the background, was Circle of Witches, and when there was a break in my other writing, I would work on it, polishing it, refining it, finding new parts to the story and adding them, until I felt it was ready to offer to my agent. By then I was a firmly established midlist author, confident of my ability to wield prose and tell stories. I foresaw no difficulties in my agent being pleased.

She was not. The writing was fine, yes, but the book didn’t fit properly into any category. Was it an adult book or a young adult? Was it gothic mystery or historical mystery or... just exactly what was it? Well, to my mind it was the story I had wanted to tell, that’s what it was. When I wrote it, I hadn’t been thinking of a category it should fit into, or of how it ought to be for the sake of getting it published. As with all my other books, I had simply written the story I had wanted to tell. But it seemed the most damning thing about Circle of Witches was that it was not like my other books.

It was not set in medieval England. It was not a “proper” murder mystery. It had a theme far removed from what my readers had come to expect of me. It seems that, in the publishing world, once an author is known for one kind of book, she or he cannot write another kind because it will disappoint their readers who will thereafter turn against them and not read any of their books anymore.

Besides – I was told -- you cannot begin a book with a child as the main character who then grows up as the story goes on. I humbly suggested that Jane Eyre begins with a child who grows up as the story goes on, and it seems to work pretty well. I was told to not go there (a response that continues to baffle me).

In addition, even if my agent was able to figure out which editor to send the book to, I would have to publish it under a different name. To protect my usual readers from seeing a book that wasn't part of my regular series. And since the book would then be that renamed author’s first book, I would be paid what first authors are paid, not what I was being paid for my established series.

Fine. If that’s how it was, that’s how it was. I just wanted Circle of Witches published for people to read and (hopefully) enjoy.

But my agent was still intensely uncomfortable with the book and did nothing with it. Time passed. Situations changed. I got a new agent. As well as plans for more of my established series, I offered her Circle of Witches -- and got the same feedback as from my former agent: the writing was fine but the story was too different from what my readers expected from me; they wouldn’t tolerate it; I’d have to publish it under a different name...

I rather wearily agreed again to all of that, but yet again my agent took it no further. Why? What was so terribly wrong about the story of a girl as she grows into young womanhood trying desperately not to learn the secrets that have surrounded her all her life and yet unable to stop the accumulating truths what may destroy everything she holds most dear?

I still don’t know. Maybe my readers will tell me after they’ve read it.

But how (you well may be asking at this point) does Circle of Witches come to be finally published?

The world of publishing it is a-changing. I fortunately have a family adept at all things computerish. Remember those little sons who went to California, lo, these many years ago? As the publisher gradually returned the rights to my published novels to me, one of those sons had been refurbishing them, developing handsome covers for them, and putting them up for e-sale for me, along with all my short stories written for anthologies over the years. Then he laid hands on Circle of Witches, read it, and saw no reason why I shouldn’t e-publish it myself.

And so here it is -- with the enthusiastic blessing of a number of beta readers and despite confused agents and narrow-minded publishers – my first e-book original: Circle of Witches.

And for those of us who still prefer the traditional way of reading a book, it is likewise available in print: A book designed for reading and not for a marketing department.

May you enjoy!

Find Circle of Witches on


  1. I needed to hear Margaret Frazer's story! And today is the perfect day for that as I struggle with my own conundrum of which path to take. Many thanks to you, Jenny, and to Margaret.

  2. Margaret Frazer's Frevisse series is one of my favorites, and I'm really picky about historical fiction. I heartily recommend them to everyone who likes a good mystery, whether historical or no. This year I re-read them all from beginning to end and enjoyed them as much if not more than when I first discovered her. I'm looking forward to reading Circle of Witches!

  3. Circle Of Witches just went on my wishlist. Everything I've read about it has been good and I'm looking forward to giving it a try.

  4. I had already bought this -- and read it -- before this blog tour started, so I'm feeling smug ;) it is truly very good. I have read a few of other "historical secret circle of benevolent witches" books but this is by far the best.

  5. Hmm... Looks like the internet swallowed my earlier reply. Mary: I wish you the very best of good fortune in choosing your path. Choice is so often hard, but onward is the best of all ways to go.

    Annapi, Leah: I look forward to seeing what you think of it! And, Chris, I'm so glad you've enjoyed it.


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