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Today’s post is from best-selling medieval fantasy/thriller writer Karen Maitland: I know spring is here because I keep tripping over birds on my way to my writing den, snatching moss for their nest building. This month sees the hatching of my own nestling –THE RAVEN’S HEAD. Like a lot of people, I love these intelligent birds, but in the Middle Ages, ravens were associated with death because they were seen feeding on the slain on battlefields and on the corpses of executed men and women who hung in gibbets at the crossroads. In Viking and Celtic mythology the gods sent ravens out to circle the earth and bring back tales of mischief and malice. Little wonder, then, that the medieval alchemists adopted the raven as the symbol of death. THE RAVEN’S HEAD is a Book of the Month title with Lovereading.co.uk – read an extract and find out what early readers thoughtof it. Would you like to attend a Karen Maitland event this spring? Check out the listing on her website http://www.karenmaitland.com There’s new content for the Myth & Magic section on Karen’s new website. Make sure you haven’t missed any: Here’s a glimpse I’ve been fascinated by medieval alchemy ever since I was a child and read ‘Bonfires and Broomsticks’ by Mary Norton, author of ‘The Borrowers’. The book is nothing like the later film version ‘Bednobs and Broomsticks.’ In the book one of the characters is a 17th century alchemist, Emelius Jones. But the scene which captivated me as a child was the author’s description of his candle-lit laboratory with all the mysterious jars and boxes, and stuffed crocodile hanging from the ceiling. That brief description sparked my life-long fascination with alchemy. THE RAVEN’S HEAD is set in Langley Abbey and I discovered that in 1816 archaeologists excavating the abbey ruins unearthed two jars containing human viscera. It immediately made me think of that alchemist laboratory. But my tale is definitely not for children – welcome to the dark side of alchemy! I hope you enjoy it. Karen also published THE VANISHING WITCH recently, out now in paperback. If you want to pick it for your reading group make sure you use the reading guide Check out some more Karen Maitland titles. Here are a few of Gail’s favourites: Company of Liars is a fabulous Canterbury Tales type read. It’s 1348 and plague has come to England. A group of misfits travel together in a bid to escape pestilence: a scarred trader in holy relics, a one-armed storyteller, a conjuror, a musician and his apprentice, a midwife, a couple on the run – and a rune-reading girl who may do for all of them. Possibly my favourite Maitland title. The Owl Killers is set in England, 1321. A band of religious women settle in a remote area ruled by the Owl Masters. How do they make their crops succeed and escape illness? Do they have a holy relic inside their house? Are they witches? For more on Karen Maitland and medieval afterlives, visit her website and read/download Gail’s interview with her on the main Bloomsbury website.

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