A Tale of Two Book Journeys

It’s been a crazy few weeks here at The Traveller’s Path. I’ve been consumed with getting all the details ready for the big launch of my book, which happened on Saturday! Whoop!

Like everything else associated with this writing journey, the whole process of the book launch turned out to be way more complicated than I thought it would be. So, just for fun, this week on the blog I am giving you a Tale of Two Book Journeys. I’ll let you guess which one mine has been like so far….


Book Journey One

The author has a great idea for a book, and after clearing her calendar of all other distractions, her manuscript is written within a year. After carefully vetting through many agent and publisher requests asking for the privilege of representing her, she decides to take her destiny into her own hands and go the self-publishing route.

She sets a date six months ahead for launch day, picking a time that is most opportune for her for the big day. After skimming a few books and blogs on the self-publishing process, she easily compiles her manuscript from Scrivener, the fabulous writing program she uses, formatting it into the three different formats she will need – one for Kindle, one for everything outside of Kindle, and one for paperback.

She then turns her attention to the launch. She calls up the many successful authors she knows for advice on how to do this, and they are happy to oblige, giving her some great tips. She spends a couple months preparing: writing newsletters and blogs in advance for the month before and the month after, setting up blog tours to promote her book, making contacts with influential people who can do reviews and get the book in front of important influencers. She gets some Advanced Reader Copies to people who can read the book and review it, so that right away it will start moving up the sales chart on launch day. She gets a series of count-down newsletters written, and develops a bunch of swag to give away at her book launch: bookmarks, buttons, and even cute little journals featuring quotes from her book, designed by someone who had heard about her book and wanted to help promote it for free.

All of this takes longer than she thought it would, but no worries. Her other job has given her a paid leave of absence, because they support the arts. Her husband and family continually shoo her into her office, urging her to keep on going.

Two days before launch she uploads her book, as per recommendation (just in case there are some problems with getting the file uploaded), but everything goes smoothly, and she is excited to see her book up live. Pre-orders have skyrocketed, her mailing list is booming thanks to all the clever bonus items she has developed for new subscribers. She is giddy with anticipation for the launch.

Launch day arrives, and she can sit back and watch the sales start. Her social media is buzzing, thanks to all the scheduled FB and Twitter posts she had prepared weeks ago. Occasionally she hops onto her social media channels to offer live updates.

The day ends with a successful party, where friends and family gather to toast her success! She’s got lots of activity planned for the next month, which will ensure her book’s placement on the top rankings at Amazon and the other retail sites for a few weeks at least.

She goes to bed excited and grateful, ready to start Book Two!!

Book Journey Two

After wanting to write for most her life, our author finally decides when she turns 40 that she isn’t getting any younger so she better get started. She is raising three kids and has a busy life of work and volunteering, but she carves out time on the weekends and in the evenings to write. She starts with short stories, and joins an online writing workshop. But her ultimate goal has always been a book, so after about three years of learning the writing craft she starts. She has a general idea of a story. It’s so exciting to get going!

After awhile the story fizzles. It’s just not working. Now what? She tries other angles, ignores the prompts to explain WHY her 21st century main character showed up in Dark Ages England, then finally gives in and abandons the story she thought she was going to write to explore the one that showed up, instead.  The story takes unexpected directions, some of which are good, some are not. And why did she decide to write about Dark Ages England, anyway? So much to learn….but it’s fun, and she perseveres.

Finally, about a decade later, she types THE END! Phew! Of course there is revisions needed….a couple more years pass and it’s ready to go. She ships the manuscript around to agents and publishers. There’s not a lot of those for historical fantasy set in the Dark Ages, it seems! She gets a couple nibbles, but she’s getting nowhere fast. After some research she decides to self-publish, and after saving up a large sum, hires a professional editor to guide her through the final revisions.  She eagerly waits to hear the feedback.

Hmm. Editor says it’s a good concept, and the writing is okay, but it’s too long. Only one POV, please. Take the trilogy you have written and make it into one book. Much gloom commences. Finally the author picks herself up and tries to do as the editor suggests. She trims half of book one out, taking out all other POVs except the main character. It’s ok, actually, and she starts to have hope this will work. But she just can’t make the three books fit into one, or even two. Back to square one. Three books it is.

She sends out the revised manuscript to a new Editor, because in the process of revisions she concluded that Editor #1 was not quite jiving with the vision she had for the book. She does a little research, and remembers an editor she had connected with a few years past. She contacts her, and joy! She’s available and interested. Editor #2 does the final edits. Some changes are needed, but it’s doable. Author gets back to work sets a date for Book Launch.

Book Launch date comes and goes. She’s running into trouble with those final revisions, it’s taking longer than she thought. And the tangle of info on self-publishing is getting very confusing. She pushes the launch date back. The second date comes and goes. Oh, this is getting frustrating. She’s got the manuscript ready now, but how on earth is she supposed to figure out all this publishing stuff? She reads endless blogs, books, and listens to podcasts and other experts on what to do and when. She sets another date. She’s sticking with this one, no matter what!

She starts a course on marketing. Great info, but yeesh…the work….She learns about Amazon keywords, reader magnets, blog tours, etc  and starts to try to implement these. Life outside of writing is crazy, and the work on the book suffers. The book launch date is looming. Time to compile her manuscript out of Scrivener (her fabulous writing program). Almost done now!

But wait! She has updated Scrivener to the new version. There was a warning before doing it that the new version handled compile differently than the old one, but she ignored it. She’s been using Scrivener for a long time. How hard can it be?

Gloom. Turns out, very hard. She spends hours figuring out how to do it the new way. Hours. Scrivener forum, online help, emailing Scrivener….finally she gets it done. Super. Now to get it uploaded into Amazon and the other book distributor. Amazon goes great! IngramSpark, the distributor most recommend to handle all other channels besides Amazon, is a different story. Formatting the files is torturous. There may have been a bit of weeping at the kitchen table.

Finally, FINALLY she figures it out with a little help from family, friends, and virtual strangers on the internet, other authors who have travelled the path before her…although one of those sent her down a complete dead end, which wasted quite a bit of time. Not the other author’s fault, entirely hers, but still…

Book launch is a week away! She is so behind…she is supposed to be writing blog posts, newsletters, pre-scheduling Facebook and Twitter posts, but the uploading of files to Ingram has taken another turn, and she’s stuck again. Argh. This has to work for book launch to happen, so she has to let the other stuff go and focus on that. She gets her author proof copy from Amazon – yay! She’s holding her actual book! But there’s a few things that need to change, so she does that, which means that she has to re-upload files to both Amazon and Ingram (super)…

The book has an Acknowledgements section, in which she asks people to sign up for her newsletter. She indicates that they will get a short story featuring one of the characters in the book as a bonus. It was a great idea at the time. But this story is just not coming together. Book launch is looming and she is frantically trying to make it work.

IT’S LAUNCH DAY! Her book is live! Yippee! Or is it? She can’t find it…not everywhere. It’s on the US Amazon store, and then she can’t find it. Oh, it’s back. Phew. But what happened to the paperback? It should be there on the Canadian Amazon store? Ah, it’s there. But it’s certainly NOT on iTunes. That’s one of the places Ingram is handling distribution to. Grrr….no time to look into this now. She spends the morning scheduling a bunch of posts for Twitter and FB to broadcast her big news throughout the day, as well as trying to design and print some bookmarks she wanted to bring to the launch. Nope, it’s not going to work, and she gives up. Ack. She has some friends and family coming for dinner so she abandons everything else and gets supper ready….

What a great time! Everyone is so kind. And then it’s off to the Launch Party! She has a wonderful evening with the people who came to hear all about her book and to congratulate her. Fabulous!

She goes to bed happy and grateful, excited to get to work on Book 2….


And here I am, six days after launch. There is still so much to do, and so much to learn. I’m still working on the bonus short story for newsletter subscribers – it’s almost done! I’m also working on getting the book ready for iTunes. Apologies to those who want to download it for their iPad or iPhones. Apparently there was a section of the IngramSpark website that I missed in order to have Apple distribute my book. Drat. I’m working on that now and hope to have it resolved soon. 

 Phew! I’ve learned so much and I know next time it will be so much easier. I HOPE. 

Thanks to all of you who have stuck with me so far. Here’s the links for all the places WILDING is available. PLEASE NOTE: Outside of Amazon, there is only the ebook format available. Apparently it takes a little while (up to a month) for the paperback to be available on the rest of the retailers sites. So if you are wanting to get a paperback immediately, Amazon is the only place it is available for now. By the end of the month you should be able to get the paperback through all the channels. It will also be available for libraries and bookstores to purchase at that time. 

amazon.ca

amazon.com

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Barnes and Noble

 

 

LAUNCH DATE! 

I know it’s been a long time coming, and I apologize for that.

I’ve given you launch dates, and have had to push them back.

But hold on to your hats, folks, the wait is (almost) over!

Wilding will launch on June 1st!

That means it will be available for sale on that date on all the major online retailers, like Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, etc.

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It has been a looong road to get to this point. And I can’t believe how very hard this process has been. It seems like other authors breeze through it, so I don’t know exactly why it’s been so hard for me. But, now I can say that I have a firm date.

However, as per usual it seems, there’s a couple caveats.

  1. Authors can choose to use Kindle Direct Publishing. (KDP) to make their books available both on the Amazon site and everywhere else. However, that’s is not generally recommended for various reasons I won’t go into here. The recommendation is for authors to use KDP for Amazon and then another distributor for all the other channels such as Kobo, iTunes, etc. There are many other distributors, but one of the ones recccomended most is IngramSpark. So that is what I have done. However, the process of getting the files ready to upload on Ingram is more complicated than for Amazon, and so as of this writing they are not quite ready . I will be working diligently to get them ready, but just in case I can’t, it might be the case that the book will only be available as an ebook for Kindle, and as a paperback on Amazon, on June 1st. There’s only a few minor things to figure out, so I’m not expecting this to be the case, but I thought I should mention it in case someone clicks on Kobo on June 1st and can’t find it.

2.  The second issue could be a little more tricky. My faithful iMac is sick. I love my Mac computers, and I hardly ever run into problems with them, but for about 6 months or so I have been having issues with it. I was really hoping I could limp it along until after the launch, but it’s becoming just about impossible to do anything on it. So I have to take it in to have it looked at. As I live in a small town, I have to wait until the weekend when we are going to the city to take it in, and it will likely take a couple days to diagnose the problem, and then who knows how long to fix it. Needless to say, this is not optimal when I”m getting ready to launch in a couple weeks. Sigh. It shouldn’t impact the launch, as I will have everything stored on the cloud, but mostly I am working on my aging iPad, which makes things harder. I still have little things to fix on my files to get them ready to upload, and I can do that on my iPad, but not as easily. So I’m a little worried how this will impact everything, but there’s not much I can do about it.

But, I’m forging ahead!

June 1st, here I come! 

To Lent, or not to Lent….

I’m in the midst of a crazy time right now and writing time has dwindled to pretty much zilch. But I thought that seeing as we are in the midst of the Lenten season, I could re-post this post which appeared here on The Traveller’s Path back in my first year (2016). Hope you enjoy, and I’ll be back with fresh content at the end of April! 

Don’t forget, if you want to keep up with my book publication progress, sign up for my newsletter here!  I send out an update about once a month. I won’t spam you, promise! 


Believe it or not, this was a vitally important question back in 7th Century Britain. Not so much whether or not to celebrate Lent, but when. The whole question of when Easter began, and thus, when to start celebrating Lent, was the source of great division and controversy.*

It may seem silly to us now, but it was a serious problem for the Church. It’s a difficult one to encapsulate in one blog post, but I’ll give it a shot.

Christianity first arrived in Britain with the Romans, who conquered the island (or parts of it, anyway) in the early parts of the 1st century. By the time the legions withdrew somewhere near the end of the 4th century, the Church had established a presence in the island, but it was not a major presence, just a religion among the other pagan religions that people followed, and it likely might have died out as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes invaded and brought their own pagan religions with them. But the Celts in the South-west and North resisted those invasions as they had resisted the Romans, and Christianity survived and indeed began to flourish in those corners of the island.

However, they were cut off from Rome, and their practice of the faith began to take on a decidedly Celtic feel. The Irish and British priests and Bishops still venerated the Roman pope, but in all practicality their allegiances were much more tribal, and the Abbots of the monastery  had more sway in spiritual matters than the Bishops of the dioceses. In some cases, the Abbot was both Abbot and Bishop.  The Abbots were often descended from ruling Irish families, and held great influence over their people.  The practice of the faith was very much centred around the monasteries, as opposed to the dioscean, urban model developed in Rome.  Due to their influence, the monastic lifestyle was held up as the ideal of Christian living in the Celtic church.

Unbeknownst to the Celts in Britain, the Roman church had abandoned the original method for dating Easter, making some changes based on astronomical calculations (and other considerations, such as wanting to distance the resurrection of Christ from the Jewish passover) which are too complicated to get into here. Pope Gregory sent Augustine to Britain in 597 AD to convert the southern Saxon kings of England, which gave the Roman Church a firm hold on the southern parts of the island. But the it quickly came into conflict with the established “Celtic” church in the north as their differences in practice came to light.

All this brings us to the date of my  novel, set in 642 AD, and the situation in of the northern kingdom of Bernicia, which illustrates some of the difficulties in having two sets of practices. King Oswy of Bernicia, who, although a Saxon, had been brought to the Church through his exile in Dál Raita, and the influence of the monks at Iona, the island monastery off the west coast of what is now Scotland. For political reasons he married Eanflead, a princess of Kent, who was a Roman Christian. Therefore, at Easter, one spouse could be celebrating Christ’s resurrection while the other was still practicing Lent. It was all very awkward and, I imagine, confusing for the lay people.

There were other differences as well, including the style of tonsure worn by monks. The Roman monks shaved the top of their heads, leaving a ring of hair, echoing Christ’s crown of thorns. The Celts shaved the front of their heads from ear to ear, in what some surmise was the same haircut that the Druidic priests once wore.

This conflict between the two approaches to the faith continued until the Synod of Whitby, in 664 AD, instigated, interestingly enough, by King Oswy. He wanted to determine once and for all which practices would be the ones to follow for the Church in Britain as a whole (one wonders how much pressure his wife put on him to get it all sorted out!). Based in part on the influence of the charismatic Bishop Wilfred, Oswy ruled in favour of the Roman practices and the Celtic style began to be phased out, although the Church in Britain retained a couple of hold-overs from its Celtic monastic past, including the emphasis on missionary work and its dedication to intellectual pursuits. Pockets of resistance to this change lasted until the 9th century.

It may seem a tempest in a teapot to us, but at the time it was a vitally important matter as power, politics, and religion were all stakeholders in this conflict. The upshot of the whole thing was that the Church in England remained staunchly Roman until the marital shenanigans of Henry the VIII brought a whole new religious controversy to Britain.

*Interestingly, there is still a difference today between the Eastern Orthodox church calendar and the Western (Roman) one, but for different reasons than the ones delineated in this post.

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What do you think? How important is the dating of Lent to you? Does this seem a silly thing to disagree about? What are some practices that the Church disagrees about today that might be equally as silly?

Photo credit: Celtic Cross at Ballinskellig Priory by Ulrich Hartman

 

Star Wars and 7th Century Monks

If you start a conversation about the Star Wars: The Last Jedi, you are likely going to get some conflicting opinions on whether or not it was a worthy addition to the Star Wars canon. Or maybe you won’t. Does anyone think it was? Heh. I digress.

I will admit that I was less than impressed by the movie. Could they not show some originality in the screenplay? How many times must we see the same battle scenarios over and over again? And don’t get me started on Kylo Ren. Ugh.

But there was one part of the movie that had me absolutely giddy with delight. That was when Rey and Luke are together on the ancient Jedi temple on Ahch-To. We saw a glimpse of this at the end of the previous movie, The Force Awakens, but in The Last Jedi we are treated to more of the scenery and buildings that make up the old temple as Rey tries to convince Luke to join her in the fight against the First Order.

Trust me, it wasn’t because of the plot or acting that made me so happy at this part of the film, although both actors handed their scenes well enough. No, it was the setting that gave me such delight.

That is because this part of the movie was not made up of CGI enhanced buildings or scenery. This was filmed in a real place, the beautiful little island of Skellig Michael situated off the south-west tip of Ireland, and it has a place in the story of seventh century Ireland.

In real life, this wasn’t a temple, but it was a religious site, a monastery built in the Early Medieval period. The little “beehive” building that Luke lives in and the stone steps that Rey climbs are all real features, built by the monks themselves.

Skellig Michael is a small island (54 acres), consisting of two rugged vertical peaks, with a couple of flatter spots in-between peaks where the structures are located. There are three bays on the island where the monks could land, depending on the time of year and the weather, and there are stone stairs leading up to the buildings from each of them. Today only one of them is safe (ish) for use. The island is named after the archangel Michael. The word skellig comes from the Old Irish Gaelic word sceillec which means small or steep area of rock.

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This is a daunting place to live. Howling, near-hurricane force winds are common, and the seas around the island are often rough. Modern visitors are only allowed on this World Heritage Site in the summer. No children are allowed, as the stairs are too steep and dangerous for them. Visits are limited to six hours, and only 180 people are allowed at one time, to protect the structures.

The monastery itself consists of two oratories (places where the monks could pray) a cemetery, crosses, cross-slabs and six domed beehive cells, given that name because of their resemblance to beehives. There is also the remains of a later medieval church.The cells and oratories are all of dry-built construction and the church is of mortared stone. There is also a hermitage on another part of the island, possibly built in the 9th century. This would have been a  place for visitors to stay who might have come there for retreat, or for the abbot or another monk to withdraw even more from the world.

It is thought that there would have been maximum twelve monks and one abbot on the island at one time. The monks would likely have shared their beehive cells. The cells  vary in size, and some may have had an upper loft. It’s hard to know exactly when the first monks came there to establish the monastery, called St. Michael’s. The monastery could have been founded in the 5th century, as I mentioned earlier, but the first historically reliable reference to it comes from the 8th century, in the recording of the death of “Suibhini of Skelig”. I imagine he was likely a monk or an abbot of the monastery.

One wonders how the monks survived in this remote, wild, harsh environment. There is some evidence of gardens on the small areas that allowed for growing. Of course fish, birds, and eggs were plentiful. Making their way up and down those steps would have been a challenge, but it was a journey the monks would have to make any time they went on/off island or down to the spots where they could fish.

The cleverly constructed dry-stone cells are good shelter against the harsh winds and rain, but it must have been a cold, miserable place when the freezing winds howled and the sleety rain lashed against their walls. The monks were made of sterner stuff than I, but this place suited the aesthetic bent of these Celtic Christians very well. It was isolated, harsh, and difficult. A perfect place to stretch one’s dependence on God.

It’s not an easy place to visit, even now, but I sure would like to try. Another place to add to my places of pilgrimage for the next time I get to Great Britain.

I’ll leave you with a bonus clip of Mark Hamill discussing the filming of Star Wars on Skellig Michael.


Publication of my first novel, Wilding: Book One of the Traveller’s Path, is coming soon! To be kept up to date on all the news on it and the rest of my writing, sign up for my newsletter! You’ll get the first chapter of Wilding as a thank-you!

The Celts: 7th Century Ireland

I have several series going on here on The Traveller’s Path, in which I delve into one topic a little more deeply over many posts.

This post is the third one on the Celts. The first was an introduction to the series, and the second featured 7th century Wales.

Today I’m going to feature the Irish, who in the seventh century, were a force to be reckoned with, indeed. It seems appropriate, as next week is St. Patrick’s Day!

(Just as an aside, you might wonder why the narrow focus on the seventh century. It’s because that is the era I have researched most deeply for my novel, Wilding, and so I feel somewhat more comfortable writing about it. Plus, this is only a blog post. There’s only so much I can fit in!)

First of all, I’ve explained before that the Irish in seventh century England were not actually called “Irish”. The Romans had called them the Scotti, and that name still stuck here and there, but the Irish people themselves did not seem to have a name that they collectively called themselves, or at least not as far as I can see. I think they identified more closely with their clan groupings, such as the Ui Neill, rather than as a people group as a whole.  For clarity’s sake, however, I will refer to them as the Irish, and the island as Ireland, even though it was not called that then.

Ireland in the seventh century was distinctly rural. There were no cities, or towns. People lived dispersed among farms, in kinship groupings.  The society was very much a tribal one, with clans warring with one another for land and especially, cattle, which represented wealth. Individual families would live in circular dwellings, their land ringed by an earthen or even stone barrier to discourage raiders. These hillforts could be small or more elaborate, depending on who lived there.

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A typical Irish ringfort, showing the circular wattle and daub houses, plus the underground souterrain commonly found in structures from this time. Historians believe these were either used for storage or for hiding or escape during war or raids, as many of them were connected by tunnels as well. Image from The Áed. 

There were no roads to speak of. The Romans, with their impressive engineering and road-making skills, had never conquered this part of Britain. Which means Ireland was left without the benefits of their nice, straight roads. People would either walk or ride horses along the cow paths, or travel by boat to get where they wanted to go.

The main source of wealth was cattle, and cattle-raiding was a fierce contest between rival clans. There were some rules around it, such as no man could take more cattle on a raid than he could drive away successfully, and they were not allowed to take so many (or all!) of another’s cattle such that the person would be left destitute. Cattle were too valuable to be used as meat, however. They were a source of milk and dairy products. Other livestock, such as sheep or pigs would be used for meat. Game such as deer or wild boar could also supplement the diet, as well as fish or seafood, of course.

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The green, rugged beauty of Ireland. Image from Pixnio

The society was made up of the túath, a kinship group which lived in a defined area, about the size of a town. These túatha were ruled over by a petty king or chief, who in turn were ruled over by slightly more powerful overlords, who were in charge of their own túath, plus several neighbouring ones. Finally, at the top there were the five most powerful kings, who each ruled over one of the traditional five kingdoms of Ireland.

The practice of fosterage was very common in Ireland at this time. Children were often sent to other families (or monasteries/nunneries) to be raised and educated, only coming home when they had reached adolescence. It served to bind kinship groups or political allies closer together. But it could also have a detriment on the family of origin, as siblings could therefore be virtual strangers to each other, making it easier for rivalries to spill over into feuds and violence.

Irish society was organized similarly to that of the Anglo-Saxons, with the kings on top, followed by the nobles (professional warriors like the Anglo-Saxon thegns) on top, the various ranks of freemen made up of farmers of differing levels of wealth, churchmen and women, and slaves on the bottom. Slavery was big business in Ireland. Irish raiders frequently prowled the coasts of Britain and would swoop down and gather up slaves. St. Patrick was one such victim, a son of a wealthy Romano-British family who was taken by the Irish in a raid. Slaves could also be taken from a conquered enemy.

Additionally, there were a couple of important hereditary castes in Ireland at this time, the filid (poets) and the brehon (judges). Brehon law had been handed down over the centuries, a system of common law, and was learned and interpreted by the brehon. These laws covered all aspects of society, including inheritance or divorce, for example, as well as the more serious crimes such as theft or murder. There were no penal laws, however, in terms of capital punishment or imprisonment. People found guilty of a crime had to pay compensation to the victims in terms of land, or livestock. But not coins, as they were not used at this time in Ireland. Unlike the Anglo-Saxon kings at this time, the Iris kings had no part in making or interpreting laws. All of the legal aspects of Irish life were handled by the brehon, every king would rely on their judgements and interpretations of the brehon law. The brehon could be either male or female.

In the seventh century, Ireland was mainly a Christian society, although it is possible that there were still people who followed the old ways of the druids. But for the most part, the unique brand of Christianity we now call Celtic Christianity was reaching its zenith in the seventh century, responsible for establishing great centres of learning in the monastic schools and creating beautiful works of art, particularly in the form of illuminated manuscripts. The monks were also taking their culture and scholarly mindset with them on their missionary journeys into Anglo-Saxon England and the continent, where they were had a big part in re-converting Europe after the fall of Rome had decimated the Church and society there.

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The Abbey of Iona today. These buildings were built in 1938, part of a general restoration of the fifteenth century monastery buildings. Of course, in the seventh century, the buildings would have been small, wattle and daub buildings, which have not survived. Image from Wikicommons 

 

In the seventh century the Irish were not just confined to Ireland. They held territory on the mainland as well, in the kingdom of Dál Riata. This kingdom seems to have been Irish on the east side of the mountains and Scottish on the west, but the lines are a little blurry from this far away in time. At any rate, there was a definite Irish part of Dál Riata, that much we know for sure, even if we don’t know exactly where the boundaries were and how long the kingdom itself lasted. The famous monastery of Hii, now called Iona, was part of Irish Dál Riata, and it was the heart of the Celtic Christian Church.

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This is a handy little map! It shows you the various kingdoms, languages, and people-groups in the British Isles at the beginning of the seventh century. Note Dál Riata, which encompasses part of Ireland and the mainland. 

The common practice of fosterage allowed the Anglo-Saxon æthelings, including four-year-old Oswy, to come to Dal Riata and be sheltered there after the death of their father, Æthelthrith. Æthelthrith had conquered part of Dál Riata during his time as king of Northumbria, and obviously had some ties in that kingdom, as his sons (and wife? I assume?) were sent there after his death, safely out of the clutches of Edwin, who had taken Æthelthrith’s throne. Therefore Oswy grew up in the Irish Christian culture, which he then brought back to Bernicia when he became king. He requested an Irish Christian monk from Iona to come and establish a monastery to begin the work of converting the Angles of his new kingdom. This resulted in the establishment of Lindisfarne, with St. Aidan at its head as abbot.

Ireland has a rich and fascinating history. The seventh century is but one small part of it, but it is an important part. At that time it was a small country with relatively few people situated on the far edge of the known world, but its influence loomed large, creating echoes that still resound today.


Note: If you want to know more about Ireland in the seventh century, check out this fascinating article by Eamon O’Kelly, on Quora. It’s a good summary which gave me quite a lot of information.


My historical fantasy novel, Wilding, set in seventh century Northumbria, will be published in spring of 2019 (hopefully May!). To keep up to date on publication news, and to learn more about my writing in general, subscribe to my monthly newsletter. As a thanks you will get the first chapter of Wilding for free! 

 

 

 

Anglo-Saxon Literature: The Seafarer

The Seafarer is one of the Anglo-Saxon poems found in the Exeter Book. We don’t know who exactly wrote it, nor the date that it was composed. The Exeter Book itself dates from the tenth century, so all we know for certain is that the poem comes from that century, or before. Keeping in mind that in general, Anglo-Saxons heard their poetry rather than read it, this poem is likely one that was originally memorized and then recited, possibly with musical accompaniment, as form of entertainment at the mead-hall.

Like The Wife’s Lament and The Wanderer, other poems I have discussed here on the blog, The Seafarer is an elegy – a meditative poem that shares common themes of loneliness, exile, and the passage of time. In other words, it, too, is rather gloomy!

It is written in Anglo-Saxon, of course, which means that it can be tricky to translate. Anglo-Saxon is a “dead” language – no one speaks it now, nor have they for a very long time. And so to translate it is difficult, as there are disagreements about what certain words actually mean. In the poem itself, portions are damaged, making it even more difficult to understand the meaning.

However, enough of it survives, and there is enough general consensus about the translations, that we can get a fairly accurate idea of the broad strokes of what the poem is about.

seafarer

This is The Seafarer, in the Exeter Book. I never cease to be impressed by the beauty of the uncial writing. If you look carefully, you can see the extra spaces between some of the words, where the reader is meant to pause (see note, below).

It consists of 184 lines of poetry, and is written in the typical Anglo-Saxon alliterative style. Words don’t rhyme, but there is a rhythm to the poem created by having lines of poetry containing the same number of stressed words,  pauses between words, and words that begin with the same letter. All of these things make for a pleasant hearing experience.*

The poem begins,

I can make a true song

about me, myself,

tell my travels,

how I often endured days of struggle,

troublesome times,

(how I) have suffered

grim sorrow at heart,

have known in the ship

many worries,

the terrible tossing of the waves

where the anxious night watch

often took me

at the ship’s prow,

tossed near the cliffs.

Now a modern listener/reader might be tempted to tell the bard to just get on with it already, and, by the way, lighten up, but I suspect these opening words would have a different effect on the warrior in the mead-hall.

He would have been given several clues about what he was about to hear from these words, and perhaps from the music that would accompany the poems. The opening line, “I can make a true song about me, myself,” would have been a signal that the tales to follow were ones that the author of the poem (which may or may not be the one reciting it) actually experienced. The word translated here “true song” is the Anglo-Saxon word, soðgied. A gied was a specific type of song, sung by bards in front of an audience. Often these were heroic ballads about the daring deeds of warriors and kings. But any hope our warrior has that this will be that type of song is quickly dashed, as the “me, myself” indicates this will be a song about the speaker/author, not about someone else.

I wonder if the music for these types of songs might be different than what would accompany the recitation of Beowulf, for example. I picture that particular music to be more stirring, to suit the action of the verses. Perhaps the bards would give these  mournful elegies a slower, more minor key accompaniment? Who knows?

At any rate, music aside, our warrior-listener has the sense that perhaps this might be a song about love lost, or family forsaken. The words, struggle, troublesome times, endured, sorrow, certainly give him the idea that this is going to get sad. But there’s that intriguing word, travel to perk him up a bit. Who doesn’t love a good story about a difficult journey, especially if the person triumphs at the end, even if the way there is hard?

Well, our warrior won’t be disappointed. This poem is pretty much like that. It tells the tale of the seafarer, describing his journeys alone on the cold sea in the middle of winter, picturing all those on land enjoying a night in the mead hall with friends and family while he’s in the cold, all alone.

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A stormy sea at Coldingham Bay, St. Abbs, Scotland.  Photo by Walter Baxter, at geograph.org.uk

But unfortunately our warrior will not get much description of foreign places other than that. This poem is really more about the journey, not the destination itself.

There are hints that the reason why the seafarer wanders the seas, far from hearth and kin, is that he is an exile. This echoes The Wife’s Lament. There’s also the hint that even when the seafarer is on land, and spring is coming, he longs for the life at sea. No pleasing him, in other words.

The Anglo-Saxon language is full of poetic words called kennings, which are two words put together to give deeper meaning to the concept described. In this poem we get a good example of this. Often the author uses the word whale-road, or whale-path, to describe the sea. What a great picture, no?

This is a mournful poem, full of images of cold, loneliness, and dissatisfaction. But it ends on a brighter note. At the end, after describing his lonesome journeys on the sea, and equally dissatisfying time on land, the seafarer says,

Let us ponder

Where we have our homes

and then think

how we should get thither–

and then we should all strive

that we might go there

to the eternal blessedness

that is a belonging life

in the love of the Lord,

joy in the heavens.

This turn towards contemplating the eternal end of man and the joys to be found in Heaven has caused some debate among scholars. Some feel that the end third of the poem, which includes these Christian elements, was tacked on at a later date. Others argue that it was part of the poem from the beginning. Myself I tend to agree with the latter. I think this is another wonderful picture of the time when the society was teetering between pagan Anglo-Saxon beliefs and the Christian faith. The Seafarer contains elements of both, and it shows how the mindset of the people of the time could easily accommodate both beliefs, at least for awhile.

Some scholars argue that the poem is meant to be an allegory of a person’s life, wandering through a hard world with little to bring them happiness, longing for the ultimate joys of their eternal reward. I suppose that you could make that argument, but I’m not sure that the author set out with that effect in mind. It seems a bit too much of a metaphorical approach for our earthy Anglo-Saxons. Certainly that idea is there, in the closing stanzas. But I tend to think that the poem starts in the concrete and then moves to the “lesson” that the author had in mind. Of course, we don’t really know either way.

I think that our warrior, sitting in the warm, cozy mead hall with a mug of fine ale at hand, would have enjoyed this melancholy tale of loneliness and hardship. It would have given words to emotions he would have had in his own life, if not in the same circumstances as the seafarer, but in others just as lonely and hard in their own way. The ending call to contemplate what might await after death would have been a challenge to pagan and Christian alike.

I imagine the bard would have got a fine round of applause and a few coins thrown his way after this one, don’t you? Although he probably would have had to follow this up with Beowulf, I think!


To read the entire poem and the see the original Anglo-Saxon alongside it, click here.


*Just to give you a better sense of this, here is what the first lines look like, with the pauses included (these pauses are included in the written poem in the Exeter Book, that’s how we know where to put them) :

I can make a true song          about me myself,
tell my travels,          how I often endured
days of struggle, troublesome times 

Can you get a sense of the rhythm of the poem? It’s a bit tricky, as our English words don’t sound the same, nor have the same number of syllables as the Anglo-Saxon ones. The translator here has also tried to include some of the repeated sounds (me myself, tell my travels, troublesome times).


My first novel, the historical fantasy book, Wilding: Book One of the Traveller’s Path, set in 7th century England, is coming in spring of 2019. To be kept up to date on publication news, and to get the first chapter of Wilding, sign up for my newsletter! 

Year of Reading Buechner: Wrap-up

I know it’s now been a couple months since 2018 wrapped up (how did that happen?) but I have just now realized that I never did a wrap-up post on my reading series from last year, The Year of Reading Buechner.

Last year I took on the challenge of reading one Frederick Buechner book a month. The books I read are as follows (all linked to the posts about them):

Year of Reading Buechner: The Remarkable Ordinary

Year of Reading Buechner: A Sacred Journey

Year of Reading Buechner: Brendan, A Novel

Year of Reading Buechner: The Alphabet of Grace

Year of Reading Buechner: Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation

Year of Reading Buechner: Godric

Year of Reading Buechner: Telling Secrets: A Memoir

Year of Reading Buechner: A Room Called Remember

Year of Reading Buechner: Lion Country

Year Of Reading Buechner: Eyes of the Heart

Year of Reading Buechner: Crazy, Holy Grace

Highlights and (not really) Lowlights

I am so glad that I spent a year with Frederick Buechner, an author I had heard much about before but had never got around to reading. His books were challenging, beautiful, layered, and impactful. It’s hard to summarize exactly how I feel about his books, but here’s some of the highlights of the year for me, anyway.

  1. Favourite book of the year (nonfiction) – this is tough. But if I have to pick just one as a favourite, it would have to be A Sacred Journey, his first memoir, which I read way back in February 2018. This is an astonishing book. It is short, but packed full of insights and sentences that make you want to stop and ponder your own life. Probably one of the best memoirs I have read. It’s so wonderful how he can take the tale of his life, a very ordinary life in many ways, and make it into a profound meditation on life, death, and faith. I don’t want to give too much away. I want you to read it for yourself and discover its treasures as well.
  2. Favourite book of the year (fiction) – see how clever I am? I can get two favourites this way! But I should really say, look how clever Buechner is, that he can write both nonfiction and fiction with such skill. I will admit that his fiction was harder for me to get through than his nonfiction. But that says more about me than about him. My favourite that I read this year was Brendan, the tale about the Dark Ages monk who set out with some other monks to find the land of the saints. This book featured a saint whom I am particularly fond of, and I loved seeing him brought to life in Buechner’s tale. Buechner is such a clever writer, and he’s not afraid to tackle life as it is in his novels, not life as we wish it would be. So he presents us a very human saint, which is not a bad thing at all. But don’t read this book if you are expecting a sanitized view of life in the Early Middle Ages, or a “typical” Christian fiction book.
  3. Favourite book I didn’t read this year – Son of Laughter. It’s perhaps cheating a bit to include this book on my list of favourites seeing as I didn’t read it this year, but I don’t want you to miss this one. The story of Jacob, the scheming son of Isaac (whose name means “laughter”, as his mother Sarah laughed when the angel of the Lord told Abraham he would have an heir), was my first introduction to Buechner. I read it a few years ago, but it has stayed with me ever since. Jacob is no sanitized saint in Buechner’s hands. But it is in his very real and flawed humanity that the grace of God shines so brightly. A brilliant book, and I loved it very much!

Although I really enjoyed most of the books I read this year, there were a couple that were my least favourites. Which means out of a scale of 1-10, they would get a 6 or 7, instead of the 9-10 the others got. In other words, they are still excellent books.

  1. Least favourite nonfiction – if I had to pick one, I would choose the last one I read, Crazy, Holy, Grace. And that is only because it is a compilation of essays and pieces of some of his other books, some of which I had already read during the year. But for someone who was looking to get an introduction to Buechner’s works, you wouldn’t go too far wrong with this book.

   2. Least favourite fiction – Lion Country. So many people love the tetraology of books    called The Book of Bebb, of which this is the first book, that I hate to put it down as my least favourite. It’s very well written, and I like the way Buechner presents the tensions in the book between doubt and faith, dark and light.. But the whole insinuation of Bebb possibly being a pedophile was just a little too much for me. That being said, I do have the other three books on my Kindle. I will read them, because I love Buechner so much that I am willing to go a little further into the story just to see where he goes with it.

What I learned as a writer. 

I would be foolish not to take some tips from Buechner, the writer, to carry with me from my reading series this year. He is a master of the craft, hailed by many as one of America’s best writers. So, what have I learned from Buechner?

First of all, be honest. In both his fiction and non-fiction books, Buechner is not afraid to explore all aspects of what it means to be human. His memoirs are painfully honest at times, and in his his fiction he is not afraid to use a lamp that throws into stark relief both the best and worst of humanity.

This is terribly important for all writers, but especially, I think, for those of us who write either about faith or about people of faith. It’s so tempting to gloss over the character flaws and hard times, and to just show the sunny side of life. Buechner’s writings are a good reminder that as writers we need to show the truth, both good and bad, in order for our readers to come to terms with that truth in their own lives.

Secondly, make your words sing. Buechner is a beautiful writer. I’ve said before that he is probably the most quotable writer I have read (C.S. Lewis and he vie for this honour in my mind). He hones his words well, polishing them until they shine. The quote that I have had as the featured picture for each of the posts of the series is a good example.

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. 

Three phrases, each of them short and to the point. But all together they give us truth and hope in equal measure, stiffening our spine for our forays down the paths life gives us.

And what about another one of his most famous quotes?

Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace. 

– From

These are words that speak to the hidden springs within us, that make us stop, give us eyes to see things we may not have seen before. It’s not just the thought, which is profound, but the way he expresses it, which brings the thought to life in our minds.

He does this in his fiction, too:

What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup. (from Godric)

“To lend each other a hand when we’re falling,” Brendan said.  “Perhaps that’s the only work that matters in the end.” (from Brendan)

I could go on and on. Pretty much each page I have read has some kind of underlining or note on it. He is just that good.

What I learned about life.

You can’t come away from a year immersed in Frederick Buechner’s words and not learn something. In my case, his words were a reminder of the importance of paying attention, to listen and see all the ways that God speaks to us every day, and to look back and see the ways in which He has been present all along.

Buechner reminded me that everything is important. Even the most mundane encounters or events holds layers of mystery that we would do well to examine.

His flawed characters gave me hope. If God could use them, and He does, then surely He can use me, too. The bumbling steps of faith these characters make, sometimes stubborn, sometimes naive, sometimes clueless, are a picture of all of our journeys. It’s always comforting to know we are not alone, right?

It’s been a marvellous year reading through a few of the works of Frederick Buechner. I heartily recommend him to anyone who loves good writing and is not afraid to slow down a bit to catch a glimpse of the glory of our lives.