Thursday, April 18, 2013


                                                           A Handful of Straw
                             Mary Rensten’s bewitching new HERTFORDSHIRE novel

Standing directly in front of her, with his left hand firmly grasping Jane’s arm, Arthur drove the pin deep into her flesh.  The old woman remained perfectly still and looked straight into Arthur’s face. Caroline flinched and turned her head away. When she looked back Arthur was withdrawing the pin from Jane’s arm.
  Now, let us see if there is any blood.” Francis took hold of Jane’s wrist and lifted it, waving her arm about as if it was an inanimate object, not a part of a human being. “There. Nothing. Not a drop. Just  watery fluid. I knew there’d be no blood.” He let the arm drop. Slowly the woman’s sleeve slid down.’

This spine tingling excerpt is from ‘A Handful of Straw’ by Hertfordshire author Mary Rensten. The novel is based on the story of Jane Wenham of Walkern, who was tried as a witch at the Hertford Spring Assizes in 1712.
All Jane wanted was a handful of straw, but when the farmhand refused to give it to her, he accused her of putting a spell on him. The villagers said she was a witch; they wanted her dead. So did Francis Bragge… and he was a man of God.

How could any sensible person believe such nonsense in this new enlightened century? Caroline Newell, 30, widowed and wealthy, did not… and said so.  Voicing her modern ideas in Walkern was dangerous,  both for Caroline and Mary, her young maid… who could read! The events of February and March 1712 - the witch-hunt itself and meeting the gentle but passionate Simon Warrender and the clever gypsy boy Jem – would have a lasting effect upon Caroline’s life. 

A Handful of Straw. ISBN 978-0-9562494-6-3. Published by SCRIPTORA (in association with the SWWJ.)  Retail Price: £10.99 paperback. Distributor: Books@Hoddesdon. Tel. 01992 442290.  Email:   
 Launch, Hertford Museum, 18 Bull Plain, Hertford, SG14 1DT. Tel. 01992 582686.   April 20th. 11am -2 pm;  Signing, Books@Hoddesdon, High St. Hoddesdon, April 27th. 11 am - 1 pm. Walkern Fair, Walkern Sports & Community Centre. SG2 7NP. Sunday, May 5th.  2-5 pm.
The cover painting is by Cuffley watercolour artist Yvonne Sint.

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