What would it be like to find yourself suddenly living in Tudor England? … Guest Post by Jonathan Posner

Delighted to have a blether with author of The Witchfinder’s Well Series, radio presenter, playwright and lyricist, Jonathan Posner, about his books, the setting and writing generally.

Your books are set in the Tudor period. What draws you to that era?

My original idea was to create a time-travel story with a modern-day traveller going back to the Puritan 17th century and being accused of witchcraft. But my concern was that she would be isolated in such an era, with everyone being too afraid of witchfinders to be on her side. As a story it would be less interesting, as she would have few, if any, allies to help her. So I decided to go back a few more years to Tudor times, where accusations of witchcraft were treated more even-handedly and there were those who were sceptical about such things. This would give my time-traveller potential allies – adding greater interest to the story. The 16th century was also a more colourful, flamboyant and interesting period than that of the Puritans, and is also when a more recognisably modern society started to emerge out of the medieval past.

Your Witchfinder Series shifts in time between now and the Tudors. How do you go about writing a time slip novel and what are the challenges of this genre?

The time shift is when my heroine Justine falls through a worm-hole caused by an electrical storm. Once she arrives in Tudor England, she soon realises that this is a freak event and will never happen again – and certainly not in reverse. So she has to reconcile herself to the fact that she is stuck in Tudor England with no way back for the rest of her life. The challenge was then to make her transition from a modern-day girl to a fully-functioning Elizabethan believable – showing how she learns to cast-off her modern ways and embrace her position in Elizabethan society.

Another challenge was to make the Elizabethan world itself seem real. This meant a number of things had to work – the language had to seem authentic without being clichéd (or so accurate that it’s impossible to follow); the lifestyles needed to be historically accurate yet still understandable to the reader, and the plot needed to flow from Elizabethan character – such as Hopkirk being driven by the religious fervour of the period, Melrose by the injustice of land enclosure and Lady de Beauvais by the need to marry her son off to the right girl.

What do you enjoy about being a writer and how do you keep yourself motivated?

I love the process of creating a story. I work from a broad outline, then build the early part of the book by opening up a number of possible plotlines. Then I explore which of these I am going to develop further, and follow them through to the climax of the story. I love it when little plot or character devices that I set up in the early part of the book come together and resolve themselves by the end – I find that very satisfying!

I keep motivated by getting feedback – good or bad – as it shows me how people engage with my work. Something I write when sitting on my own seems real to me, but only truly becomes real when other people read it and react to it. I remember once directing a play I had written, and explaining the meaning of a line to a couple of actors. I was amazed when they disagreed with my interpretation! It made me realise that even as the writer, mine is only one possible interpretation of the text – not the exclusively ‘correct’ one.

First in series The Witchfinder Well is on offer until Monday. It’s an exciting read… ‘when a girl in 2015 falls through a time-travelling worm-hole she finds herself in 1565. Accused of being a witch, she has to use her wits, her cunning and her ingenuity to survive. The trilogy then takes her –and readers of all ages –into a dark world of assassins, subterfuge and plots, involving Queen Elizabeth, Francis Walsingham and Mary Queen of Scots.

You can find out more about Jonathan at https://jonathanposnerauthor.com and he also produces a regular and fun 5 minute break quick read.

Jonathan can be found at …





What did it mean to be ‘worth your salt’?

In my saga The Seton Chronicles the family make their money through trade. I spent a fair amount of time trying to unpack just what Scotland would be trading across the North Sea (which was known as the German Ocean until just after WW1 ). In the 1500s hides, wool and fish were the main exports but increasingly salt became important too.

National Library of Scotland – An illustration by William Brownrigg showing 18th Century salt making

The production of one ton of salt required six tons of coal to keep the fire beneath the iron pans, which contained the sea water, burning over several days until the water evaporated. Several villages dotted around the Forth Estuary in the east of Scotland had the perfect combination of sea and coal seams needed.

Culross Palace home of Sir George Bruce, a salt entrepreneur of the 1500s

In Culross, the coal was mined from beneath the sea, always a dangerous process but even more so in the 16th century. The owner of both mine and salt pans, Sir George Bruce, invented a horse drawn bucket and chain system that continually drained the seawater from his underground mine allowing the coal to be extracted. It was such a curiosity that visitors, including King James VI, came to Culross especially to see it.

Sir George Bruce of Carnock

Culross has become part of the Outlander tour circuit since scenes from the series were filmed there, so welcomes quite different visitors from the time of Sir George’s invention. Although the geographical information being given to Outlander tour groups seems a little hazy; visiting Culross the other day I came across a lovely American who was under the impression that she was in the Highlands.

Inevitably the salter serfs, who worked the salt pans had a hard life. The 1606 Act placed both salters and colliers in permanent bondage to their employers and anyone who absconded was to be punished as a thief – which could mean anything from having their ears chopped off to a hanging. Not only were they bound to their place of work for life, but any children they had were too. They were paid in salt and if you visit Culross palace you will see the small window they reached their cupped hands through to receive their ‘handful of salt’.

However to be worth your salt is an expression that pre-dates the poor salter serfs of Culross. It goes back to Roman times when their soldiers were paid in salt, and buying salt was seen as a shrewd investment. The origin of the word salary harks back to then. Sal was the Latin for salt, the soldiers month payment was called a salarium, which in French became salaire and then in English, salary.

Ornate Salt Cellar 1660

To sit below the salt refers to your lowly status. As a valuable commodity, the salt cellar was placed on the high table of the Lord of the Manor and was readily available to him and his high ranking guests. And salt cellars were often very ornate underpinning the value of the commodity and the status of its owner.

The first mention of status defined by the salt cellar is credited to Bishop Joseph Hall, in verses he penned in 1597 …

A gentle Squire would gladly entertaine
Into his House some trencher-chapelaine,
Some willing man that might instruct his Sons,
And that could stand to good Conditions:
First that He lie vpon the Truckle-bed,
Whiles his yong maister lieth ore his hed;
Second that he do, on no default,
Euer presume to sit aboue the salt.

But writing satire was a risky business as the good bishop discovered when, in 1641, his levity led to a charge of high treason and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.


The Scottish People 1490-1625 by Maureen M Meikle

The Salt Industry and its Trade in Fife and Tayside c1570 to 1850 by C A Whatley