North West Reads Book 6: The Witching Stone by Danny Weston
Book 6 of our North West Reads is a great spooky tale perfect for Halloween.
Alfie Travers is sixteen years old and really should be spending the summer holidays with friends and getting out and about. However, most of his friends have gone away for the summer and Alfie has just broken up with his girlfriend. To make matters worse, she is now going out with one of his friends.
Needing to get away he travels with his father from their home in Bristol to the little village of Woodplumpton, near Preston. His father is a freelance IT engineer and he has some work at a local Estate Agents, Blackwood and Phibes. They are staying at a local guesthouse, The Excelsior. Alfie finds out that while the place is nice, food leaves a lot to be desired!
Alfie decides to explore the village and finds himself in the graveyard of St Anne’s Church. There he finds the grave of the infamous Meg Shelton, a reputed witch, who died in mysterious circumstances in 1705. A large rock and a small sign marks her resting place. Alfie is not alone in the cemetery. A girl, dressed in black, is sitting on a bench nearby and she introduces herself as Mia. Noticing his interest in the grave she tells him about Meg and also the story of the Pendle Witches.
Mia then tells him about the local superstition, that if you walk three times around Meg’s grave saying ‘I don’t believe in witches’, she will rise from her grave come after you. Scoffing at this, and with a great deal of bravado, Alfie does just that, ignoring Mia’s advice not to. At the last turn of the grave a feeling of being watched and an invisible tug at his ankle creates a sense of misgiving and unease, which Alfie tries to shake off. On his way back to the guesthouse the feelings persist. Is that ginger cat really following him, or is it his imagination?
From the time of her death children have dared and scared themselves witless by tempting Meg’s re-emergence from the grave. She had never heard any them in all this time, but with Alfie it was different. This time she did hear, and whatever troubles Alfie was currently experiencing they would be eclipsed by the trouble Meg was about to inflict on him.
Visiting him in the middle of the night in his room (disturbing his father and the owners, woken up by noises that sound like animal cries), Meg is astonished to find it is now the twenty-first century and she has been dead for over 300 years. Her anger at the people of Woodplumpton who persecuted her (or stood by and allowed it to happen) has not diminished however, it has festered and grown.
She is determined to have her revenge, ignoring Alfie who points out that none of the current residents of Woodplumpton had anything to do with what happened to her. She also wants to right a great wrong inflicted upon her by the head of the local landed family whose descendants may still be living in the area. Alfie, as her conduit to the living world, is given no choice but to help her or she will wreak her revenge on the community and, more alarmingly, on those closest to Alfie.
The only person he can turn to is Mia who very intrigued with his predicament and willing to help. However, she is not sure whether to believe him or whether Alfie is attempting a rather unique way of getting to meet her regularly and to get to know her better. Luckily Mia has an Aunt, Hannah, a local historian and folklorist, who is a bit of an expert on Meg Shelton and has written a book about her.
Hannah has felt for a long time that there was something fishy about Meg’s demise, after all who’s ever heard of a witch being buried in consecrated ground? She’s willing to help and will go to the Harris Library in Preston to do more research.
By this time Meg has been making her presence known to the confused and bewildered villagers, causing the type of havoc and downright weirdness that could happily grace the pages of the Fortean Times. Alfie finds himself in a race against time to help Meg find justice and peace or face the consequences, with Mia and Hanna giving support, though they do wonder whether Alfie is delusional or, possibly, dangerous.
Inspired by the story of Meg Shelton, a.k.a The Fylde Hag, Weston has created an exciting and dramatic supernatural thriller. Alfie and Mia are both dealing with difficult family situations as well as trying their best to negotiate the trials and tribulations of being a young adult.
The relationship between Alfie and his father explores the sometimes awkward and confusing changes that occur when a child starts to grow up, still dependent on the parent but also gradually becoming independent. Alfie finds it difficult to confide in this father (though he would dearly like to) as he is trying to work out his feelings and make sense of them for himself. Any talk of Meg is, obviously, a complete non-starter. There is a lot of banter and humour, particularly between Alfie and Mia, along with some amusing and awkward exchanges between father and son.
Meg’s character and actions are more complicated. Her anger towards the innocent is unreasonable and her treatment of Alfie is awful, but you do feel some compassion for her nonetheless when you hear what had happened to her. This is a great read from one of our leading children’s and young adult authors about one of Lancashire’s notorious and mysterious historical figures. You may wish to visit Meg Shelton’s grave in St Anne’s graveyard, but remember just in case, you do believe in witches!
Young Adult Fiction
Written by Janet - Library Assistant
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