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Northumberland Author Shares Debut Novel Inspired by the County.

Following our call out via the Culture Northumberland newsletter , for art work on remembering the Sycamore Gap Tree, Sue Reed shares her debut novel: "The Rewilding of Molly McFlynn".

Sue Reed lives in rural Northumberland with her husband, Tim where their love of wild places and nature can be realised. Their family is very important to them and between them they have three grown up children and two granddaughters who mean the world to them.

Born in Worthing, Sussex, Sue has migrated steadily north and has worn a variety of hats in her professional life from teacher, museum guide, upcycler of waste wool knitwear as The Woolly Pedlar to published author. It was in 2019 that she decided to go to Newcastle University to do an MA in Creative Writing, which is where the idea for the Molly McFlynn books first fledged.

When not writing, Sue divides her time with her husband in the garden, travelling their converted campervan or looking after the grandchildren. They try to live as sustainably as possible, leading gentle lives in tune with the seasons, growing their own fruit and vegetables. Sue also writes about organic gardening, seasonal eating and foraging at The Bridge Cottage Way.

This is guest blog post by Sue, who tells us about her inspiration and experience of writing her debut novel.

Over to Sue...

"The Rewilding of Molly McFlynn"

The Rewilding of Molly McFlynn is my debut novel for young adults and older readers alike. It is a tale of true friendship, reinvention and breaking free of expectations, set in rural Northumberland between the 2020 Covid Pandemic and the 1649 Newcastle Witch Trials.

This is my first novel in a planned series in which 15 yr. old Molly is sent from Newcastle to stay with her bohemian grandparents in the wilds of Northumberland for what she thinks is just a few days. However, when the first lockdown is announced, Molly finds herself stuck down the lane. Her friends have deserted her, the WiFi is non-existent, the food inedible and her Nan is doing strange things in the garden at night.

Life takes a dramatic turn when hares keep crossing her path and she meets Martha a homeless girl who is living rough in the woods. Martha is on the run from the witchfinder in Newcastle who has banged her mother Ann Watson in the gaol on accusations of witchcraft. Ann was one of fifteen women and one man hung on the Town Moor in 1650.

As the pandemic deepens, Martha’s life is not the only one in danger and Molly must stand up for what is right, help heal family rifts and come to the rescue in a moment of peril.

As Molly’s friendship with Martha grows, Molly reconciles with her true self, develops a love of nature, and moves away from her consumerist lifestyle.

I started writing The Rewilding of Molly McFlynn whilst at Newcastle University studying for my MA in Creative Writing, in the module ‘Writing for Children and Young Adults’ with the author and playwright, Ann Coburn. After just a term of lectures, everything stopped, and we went into of the first lockdown. I found not being in university hard, but I pressed on with my writing, trying to bring the fears and uncertainly we all felt at the time into my book.

I knew that I wanted to write about turning from consumerism to a life more in tune with nature, and as I was mulling this over, I discovered a tiny leveret, a baby hare, nestled in a dip in the soil by a clump of tulips. We have lots of brown hares in this pocket of Northumberland every year, a hare comes into the garden to birth her baby.

Using the hare as a starting point, I began to research folklore about came across the idea that witches were said to be able to shapeshift into hares. This then led me down a rabbit warren of research, looking at the history of so-called witches, and ecofeminism.

So, to marry all these ideas together, I came up with the idea of a book which explored a love of nature, but also elevated the stories of women accused of witchcraft and murdered during what known as the burning times, but with the local interest of those tried and hung in Newcastle, whilst setting this all during the pandemic so I could write about what we were experiencing at the time.

At the same time, one of my Facebook followers shared the Medicine Spoon Memorial Project with me – Caren Thompson’s project to honour the names of the hundreds of women killed in England and Scotland during that is known as the Burning Times on accusations of witchcraft. I asked if any of the Newcastle Women’s names were available and got Ann Watson. I embroidered a small flag in her honour which would join the others in the exhibition then went about writing her into the story. We know nothing about her other than that she was kept at Newgate prison and then hung on the Town Moor on 21 august 1650 for being a ‘wych’.

In my novel, The Rewilding of Molly McFlynn, Martha and Molly strike up an unlikely friendship; they are both outsiders and find each other through what I’d like to think of as an emotional portal. Molly has been shunned by her so-called friends and soon begins to realise that they were false friends and despite her best efforts, did not fit in. She was, like Martha in the 16C, a victim of malicious gossip. Martha and her mother were also shunned by their local community for being ‘different’. Despite the difference of nearly four hundred years, they have the same concerns and worries, and therefore share a common humanity.

I hope that reader will take this central theme away with them from the book: that it is okay to be different.

In this first book, Molly has been rewilded, but in subsequent stories I want her to take on specific environmental challenges. All the Molly McFlynn stories will have an environmental theme, and a time flip to days gone by. I am working on a sequel in which two trees are important in Molly’s life: the shoe tree in Heaton and Sycamore Gap on Hadrian’s Wall where she finds solace after the death of a friend and is transported back to the Iron Age where another grieving girl needs Molly’s help.

As with Covid and the first lockdown in The Rewilding of Molly McFlynn, I want to capture this moment and the feelings here in the community of how the felling of this iconic tree has caused grief in the community, but I also want to write about kindness, regrowth and hope.

Folk can find out more about the Rewilding of Molly McFlynn and Sue’s writing from her website, where signed copies of both the book and the artwork that was sent to the publishers, The Book Guild to inform the cover design, can be purchased.

Details of upcoming events and book signings, and how to book Sue for author talks can also be found on her website.

The Rewilding of Molly McFlynn is also available direct from the publishers, or locally at Waterstones, Cogito Books and Forum books and can be found online at Amazon, Waterstones, WH Smith,

If you have a favourite indie bookshop that doesn’t not yet stock it, ask them to order it in!

Sue can be followed @suereedwrites on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter/X and BlueSky. Readers can sign up to her newsletter on Substack.

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