Really pleased to say that my first novel has been accepted for publication by Chrism Press and will see the light of day toward the end of 2021.
The Rules of Trade (The Peaceweaver, Book One), is an historical novel set in eighth-century Northumbria, just weeks after the great Viking raid on the rich monastery of Lindisfarne, which was the 9-11 of the Anglo Saxon world.
Here’s the first draft of the back cover blurb for the novel. Like the title, this may change:
In the year 793, a great Viking raid devastated the rich monastery of Lindisfarne, announcing the opening of the Viking age. In a small coastal village a few miles south of Lindisfarne, Elswyth, the daughter of a simple thegn and a slave, is preparing to marry a nobleman, Drefan of Bamburgh, a match that will secure her family’s fortunes. But Elswyth’s family has been trading with a Norse clan since before she was born and when Leif, the son of the Norse yarl, arrives seeking to raise a ransom for his kidnapped father by selling Christian holy books, Elswyth is charged with keeping the peace between Drefan and Leif. On its own this would be difficult enough, but it becomes so much harder when Elswyth finds herself starting to fall for Leif. If Elswyth follows her heart, or fails to allay Drefan’s growing suspicions, bloodshed and slavery are certain to follow.
And because every blog post must have an illustration, here is an picture by J. R. Skelton of Wealhtheow, Queen of the Danes, from the 1908 children’s book Stories of Beowulf by H. E. Marshall which illustrates one of the duties of a peaceweaver in an Anglo-Saxon hall.
If you clicked through the link to Chrism Press above, you will have noted that they are a Catholic press, part of the current movement to revive Catholic arts and letters. And yes, that makes me a Catholic novelist, a subject about which I plan to write more later.
But if you are wondering what a Catholic novel might be like, if you are fearing that it will be all preachy and goody-two-shoes, let me assure you that that is not the case. If you want to read a Catholic novel that will rapidly disabuse you of that notion, I suggest you start with Grahame Greene’s Brighton Rock — but only if you are not too squeamish.
The Catholic novel is not some strange new bud on the tree of western culture. Western culture is, in its forms, its history, and its expressions, fundamentally Catholic. It has seen many strange new buds over the centuries, but the Catholic novel is not one of them. It is part of a literary tradition that reaches back through Caedmon’s Hymn, The Dream of the Rood, Chaucer, Dante, and Dostoyevsky.
Actually, you have probably already read a great Catholic novel, though you may not have known it: J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The middle of the twentieth century saw many Catholic novelists rise to prominence, including Evelyn Waugh, Flannery O’Connor, and Walker Percy. Read novels by Catholic authors like Ron Hansen (westerns), Tony Hillerman (mysteries), and Gene Wolfe (science fiction), and you will find that they seem an awful lot like any other novel, at least on the surface. They grow from some of the oldest roots on the same tree from which all the other novels you read have sprung. You should not expect The Peaceweaver to be any different.
Are there differences from other contemporary novels? That is a complex question. Catholic novelists are not a block or a movement. They don’t have a common style or common subject matter. They write in every genre. I think there are things they share, though. I think we might describe it as a shared anthropology — a shared idea of what human life is and what it means to be human. I will talk about those things in later posts.
There are doubtless things that Catholics may notice in Catholic novels that others wouldn’t. I presume that there are things in the works of Jewish novelists that Jews notice and others wouldn’t. But Catholic novelists do not write for Catholics alone, anymore than Jewish novelists write for Jews alone. Nor do they preach. That is the job of priests. The job of the novelist is to tell stories — human stories that ring true in human hearts. That is what I hope you will find in The Peaceweaver.
What will you find in The Rules of Trade?
It is a story about a girl who stowed away on a ship and was brought back; a young woman who pines for the sea but is betrothed to the land.
It is the story of a young man who seeks refuge for his family on a foreign shore.
It is a story of Viking raids and illuminated manuscripts and football on the beach; of wine and moonlight and a kick in the shins; of lips that yearn but can never quite meet.
It is a story of open hearts and good intentions and the wise who give up their lives for the foolish.
It is a story of the rules of hospitality and the rules of trade and the finer points of property law.
It is the story of a young woman who gets exactly what she wants, and weeps for it.