Six summer reads for all the family

Fletcher and the Rockpool by Julia Rawlinson and Tiphanie Beeke 

Fletcher and the Rockpool by Julia Rawlinson and Tiphanie Beeke - Credit: Graffeg

This month's feast of books with a Norfolk flavour include an iconic Scottish bird with a local backstory, witch hunts, wartime and a fictional fox with a gorgeous real-life beach backdrop   

Witch history 

Strange things happened in a Massachusetts town in 1651. Food spoiled, things disappeared, people were plagued by nightmares and children died. Witchcraft was blamed and the town was engulfed in accusations and denunciations.  

The ensuing witch hunt brought paranoia, anger and terror and, for one young family, disaster. 

Their story is told by Malcolm Gaskill, one of Britain’s leading experts on the history of witchcraft, magic and spiritualism in Britain and America and emeritus professor of early modern history at the University of East Anglia.  

He has previously written about the witchfinders of 17th century East Anglia and is also an expert on mid 20th century spiritualism.  

His latest book, The Ruin of All Witches: Life and Death in the New World is already a Sunday Times, The Times and BBC History book of the year and has been shortlisted for Britain’s most valuable non-fiction writing prize, the £50,000 Wolfson History Prize, which champions the best and most accessible historical writing. Previous winners include Mary Beard and Simon Schama. 

Most Read

The Ruin of All Witches: Life and Death in the New World by Malcolm Gaskill, published by Allen Lane. 

The Ruin of All Witches: Life and Death in the New World by Malcolm Gaskill

The Ruin of All Witches: Life and Death in the New World by Malcolm Gaskill - Credit: Knopf Doubleday

In Search of One Last Song, Britain’s Disappearing Birds and the People Trying to Save Them, by Patrick Galbraith

In Search of One Last Song, Britain’s Disappearing Birds and the People Trying to Save Them, by Patrick Galbraith. - Credit: William Collins.

Save the birds 

Britain’s wild places, and the creatures that live in them, are disappearing.  

In Search of One Last Song by Patrick Galbraith is a blend of nature, conservation and travel writing, and a search for 10 of our most endangered birds. “I suddenly realised that if I didn’t see and hear the likes of the nightingale, the corncrake, and the capercaillie soon, I quite possibly never would,” said Patrick. 

He meets country people and conservationists and explores how birds, which he calls ‘one of our greatest sources of solace and wonder,’ inform folklore, music and art. 

One of his 10 birds has a little-known backstory in Northrepps, near Cromer. Thomas Fowell Buxton, of Northrepps Hall, is famous as the MP who led the movement to abolish slavery. He also helped reintroduce capercaillie to Scotland, where they had been extinct for at least 50 years.  

When a cousin sent him a pair of capercaillie from Sweden they did not survive in Norfolk. But he had more sent to a landowning friend in Scotland where they thrived - but are now threatened again.  

In Search of One Last Song, Britain’s Disappearing Birds and the People Trying to Save Them, by Patrick Galbraith, published by William Collins. 


University fiction 

Sara Barnard studied creative writing at the University of East Anglia and sets her latest novel in Norwich. 

Something Certain, Maybe is written for young adults and draws on Sara's memories of student life. Although she loved Norwich her heroine, Rosie, has a tougher time. A plot of first love, family illness and all the highs and lows of that heady first year of university is woven around themes of friendship, expectation versus reality, and having the courage of your convictions  

Sara had several student jobs while in Norwich including selling beer on match days at Carrow Road. “I really got to feel like I was a part of city-life. I always felt safe and at home in Norwich. It was just a matter of time before I put it in a book, really!”  she said. There are scenes in Cromer and Blakeney as well as at UEA and in the city centre. Sara won the 2019 Young Adult Book Prize with her novel Goodbye Perfect. 
Something Certain, Maybe is by Sara Barnard, published by Macmillan.

Something Certain, Maybe by Sara Barnard

Something Certain, Maybe by Sara Barnard - Credit: Macmillan

A Punch to the Heart by Andrew Humphrey

A Punch to the Heart by Andrew Humphrey - Credit: Head Shot Press

Crime county 

Norwich crime writer Andrew Humphrey has set his latest two books in contemporary Norfolk. 

Debris, described as 'relationship noir with a crime understory,’ is set in and around Norwich, Holkham and King's Lynn. It features complicated relationships, unreliable memories, gambling, infidelity and lies.  

A Punch to the Heart is a collection of nine crime stories set across the county with plots including  drug deals, gang violence and dysfunctional relationships. Locations include Brancaster and Ingham. 

“I have always found Norfolk landscapes particularly evocative. This is not original, I suppose, but the flatness of the light and the uncompromising nature of our vast, indifferent skies are often matched by the internal landscapes of my characters as they scrabble for a foothold in their lives,” said Andrew, a claims handler for Marsh Insurance. “While my characters are almost always damaged in some way, they are often at least trying to be better!”  

His previous short story collection won an inaugural East Anglian Book Award. 

Debris and A Punch to the Heart, by Andrew Humphrey, published by Head Shot Press. 


New Rachel Hore novel 

Bestselling author Rachel Hore sets her latest novel in 1940s Norfolk.  

Maddie and her two young daughters leave their bombed-out London home, to take refuge in Norfolk, in the house where her husband, believed to have been killed in action in France, spent childhood summers. 

Maddie refuses to give up hope that Philip might somehow still be alive as she tries to discover what happened in Norfolk between him and his cousin and a mysterious young woman many years before. The story is set in a beautiful Norfolk country house as the war rages and Maddie's curiosity turns to desperation in a novel of loyalty and betrayal, hope and despair and a husband and wife separated by secrets as well as by distance. 

Rachel worked in publishing and taught publishing and creative writing at the University of East Anglia before becoming a full-time novelist. She lives in Norwich with her husband, acclaimed novelist, biographer and literary parodist DJ Taylor. His latest book of Norfolk-themed short stories, Stewkey Blues, featured in the March issue of Norfolk magazine.  

One Moonlit Night by Rachel Hore, published by Simon and Schuster. 

One Moonlit Night by Rachel Hore

One Moonlit Night by Rachel Hore - Credit: Simon and Schuster

Fletcher and the Rockpool by Julia Rawlinson and Tiphanie Beeke 

Fletcher and the Rockpool by Julia Rawlinson and Tiphanie Beeke - Credit: Graffeg

Childhood beside the sea

The Norfolk coast inspired a beautiful book for young children.  

The wonders of tides, rockpools and sea creatures are revealed as Fletcher the fox cub enjoys his first visit to the sea. 

Illustrator Tiphanie Beeke grew up in Norwich and based her charming illustrations on trips to Holkham, East Runton, Winterton and Sea Palling. 

Writer Julia Rawlinson spent childhood holidays at Holme-next-the-Sea near Hunstanaton and said: “My strongest memory is of seeing the beach for the first time each year, the sudden feeling of light and space and leaving the everyday world behind. Tiphanie has captured it perfectly. 

“It was such wonderful luck that she grew up in Norfolk and knew the beaches I had visited as a child.” 

The Fletcher stories introduce young children to some of the marvels of nature and the latest in the series explores the mystery of ever-changing tides and the fascinating creatures that live along the shore, its gentle, glowing illustrations perfect for families planning beach trips this summer.  

Fletcher and the Rockpool by Julia Rawlinson and Tiphanie Beeke, published by Graffeg.