Loosely based on what is known of the period when Vikings regularly raided Northumbria, this novel is strong and dramatic; in particular, the first few chapters are compelling. The story remains exciting and action-packed all the way through, and as a reader I find myself gunning for Edith the main protagonist of this enthralling tale, which has emerged from the few sparse historical facts we do have about the times of Aelle, King of Northumbria, during the middle of the 9th century.
I love the twists and turns, the changes of fortune, the developing relationships and shifts in the balance of power and political alliances which seek to unite two traditional enemies, the Saxons and the Danes. As Edith is captured by Vikings and transported across the sea to be sold as a slave, we follow her into a new way of life, a new culture, and a different way of seeing the world.
Among the many outstanding elements of this novel, I particularly like the author’s use of the trope of the fierce trickster who comes alongside the hero and may be an adversary but finally proves an ally; and the way the hero is saved by the loyalty she has engendered in this ally. I was also very impressed with the way the author remains true to the values of the culture and the times of Edith, the Last Princess of Northumbria, without imposing our modern way of thinking upon the story. Yet throughout this she maintains our sympathy with the character.
The dichotomy between the ‘Christian’ culture of the Saxons and the Norse worldview of the Vikings is fascinating: ‘their gods were on our side’ is a wonderful observation. I was also intrigued by the way the two religions find a place of appeasement and accommodation with each other in some respects, although it is still a very fragile balance; this was beautifully done. The narrative and trajectory of the story helps the reader understand how in a desperate life and death situation with such high stakes, fierce decisions must be made.
The Wanderer: Scorned is biblical fiction. Natasha describes it as ‘a story that we all know, as you’ve never heard it before.’
Its sequel, TheWanderer Reborn is due for release in Winter 2022.
The Wanderer is a man shrouded in legend. Moving from place to place in the land of Nod, he is known primarily for the curse that hangs over his life. When that curse is invoked during the celebration of a murderous rampage, the Wanderer is summoned to tell his story. The tale has been obscured by centuries of rumour, and few know the truth. Yet now, they shall hear it from the lips of the man who lived it: the man who became the Wanderer.
The Wanderer Scorned plunges straight into action as it opens. I was immediately intrigued by the family relationships of the violent and threatening Lamek, and his two wives.
This is biblical fiction, and the story upon which the author has chosen to base her novel is that of Cain and Abel, the children of Adam and Eve: Cain was a farmer, who murdered his brother Abel, a shepherd. In the bible story, Cain was banished by the Lord from the settled country; he it was who became a Wanderer.
All these events take place in the early Bronze Age, and reflect the growing tension between farmers and shepherds, between ‘settled’ tribes and nomads, who were at odds in the dry climate of the early Bronze Age Levant.
I found the author’s handling of her story highly skilled and polished; we are very soon plunged into a fascinating family drama which imagines the story of Cain’s descendants.
As the story opens, we meet Chanok, eldest son of Kayin the Wanderer (also known as Abba); (Kayin himself is the eldest child of Adam and Chavah, the first man and the first woman); Lamek (5th generation descendent of Kayin and son of Methushael); Adah, Lamek’s first wife; and Tzillah, Lamek’s second wife.
Taking a significant role in the story are Adam/Abba – the first man; and Eve/Chavah (the first woman, also known as Ima). We also meet their other offspring: Awan and Habel – twins; Chayyim and Avigayil; and Shimon and Channeh – also twins
Lots of unusual names – but hang in there! I found excellent descriptive writing and attention to detail. The author conveys the atmosphere and setting very well and as a reader I can imagine myself into that lifestyle of the earliest farmer in the Middle East in the Bronze Age.
Above all though, our attention is on the dramatic and heartrending tale of fractured family relationships which the author sets out before us. As we progress through the narrative told by Kayin, the sibling rivalry, tragic misunderstandings and miscommunications build up. This is all complicated by the fact that they as the offspring of the first man and woman must choose their partners from among their siblings. Kayin becomes ever more deceitful, and cannot rid himself of anger and envy.
We reach a point where the tension is ratcheted up extremely high: we the readers can see Kayin’s psychological torment increasing together with his paranoia; and because we know the outcome to the story of Cain and Abel, we know what is going to happen. That makes the story even more suspenseful. As I read, I am bracing myself for the terrible moment to arrive. Along with this, I feel I don’t like Kayin at all; he annoys me with his resentful attitude, his unforgiveness, and his wilful negative interpretations of every effort by his siblings and parents to pacify him. I feel like slapping his face and saying, “get over it.” I much prefer Habel, who, I feel, is innocent and unsuspecting of what is going to happen to him.
Tragedy ensues, as we know: the author brings us to a highly dramatic moment, with many questions unanswered. Those who want to know the answers must wait for the sequel later this year!
I was delighted to visit the Warwick Folk Festival in July 2022 both as a singer with the Folk Festival Choir, and as an author, searching for special musicians, singers and dancers, and that one perfect photo to include in my forthcoming book ‘A-Z of Warwick’.
The Folk Festival Choir conducted by Bruce Knight were onstage at 2pm. The audience enjoyed our set of folk songs from around the world, especially ‘All Around My Hat’ from England, ‘Mandela Says Freedom Now’ from Africa, and ‘Roll the Woodpile Down’ from the Mississippi River.
We loved a wonderful folk duo who came onstage after the choir. Bryony Griffith is a fiddler and singer, and her husband and partner Will Hampson is a melodeon player and dancer. Bryony Griffith and Will Hampson are both gifted interpreters of English folk music, and were special guests on the Jester Stage. I plan to feature them in my book.
Here are a few pictures to give a flavour of the festival.
Today I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for Joy Margetts’ new book ‘The Pilgrim‘ to be published by Instant Apostle on 22 July 2022. ‘The Pilgrim‘ is historical fiction, set in medieval Wales.
Driven by ambition and family expectation, young Henry de Brampton is determined to make his mark. Destined for a prestigious career in the Church, he readily embraces the chance to experience the world before taking his vows. But fuelled by selfish desire, he recklessly betrays those he loves, with devastating consequences.
Overwhelmed with guilt, he seeks redemption among the Cistercians of Abbey Cwmhir and finds a new identity as Brother Hywel. Yet a further thoughtless betrayal will prove he cannot escape himself, and he is forced on pilgrimage to save his vocation.
A reluctant pilgrim, can the unlikely company help him discover what it truly means to be great in God’s eyes, and will Hywel ever be willing not just to receive forgiveness but also to forgive himself?
What a beautiful book this is. From the very beginning, right through to the end, Joy Margetts’ story held me captivated. I felt I was in medieval Wales, and tried to delay reaching the end, as it became almost like a retreat-in-daily-life, just reading this book! As it relates the story of Hal, a nobleman, later to become the monk Hywel, it becomes almost meditative for the reader.
Unable to shake off overwhelming guilt for his lustful behaviour, his responsibility for more than one death, including that of the beautiful girl he loves, and his betrayal of a good friend, Hal is first despatched by his father to a monastery; but then he again transgresses, through his relationship with two fellow monks in the community. Finally, he is sent off on a journey by horseback, which is not only physical and geographical, but also an inner journey moving him towards God’s heart and towards self-knowledge: a pilgrimage to Bardsey Island.
I fell into the rhythm of their pilgrimage alongside the members of the group: Madoc, the seemingly gruff leader; the two brothers Tomas and Rhys; the crippled widow Myfanwy; the arrogant nobleman Matthew, who tries to prove himself more spiritual than the rest; and of course Hywel himself. All seek healing of body and spirit as they head towards the Island of the Saints.
Along the way we experience the wide spectrum that is human nature, in the varying reactions of those whom the pilgrims meet at the abbeys where they might find food and rest. As this is the 12th century, we see some of the abbeys in the process of being built; and we feel, with the pilgrims, the disappointment of being treated unkindly and callously by those who should be full of the love of God. Then, our hearts are warmed by those who give hospitality and are overflowing with kindness, like Gracia.
We learn Madoc’s heart-breaking story, and along with Hywel, we come to realise that this story is for us, in our own flawed lives, with our own wrong choices and bad decisions, our regrets and failings: we too must make this inner pilgrimage if we are to find true forgiveness and peace.
A highly recommended book, as is its prequel, The Healing, which I have also read and loved.
Find the author Joy Margetts on the following social media channels:
I loved our recent visit to the Tower of London where we enjoyed wandering through the Tower through a moat filled with wildflowers.
Superbloom celebrates the Platinum Jubilee year of Her Majesty the Queen. 20 million seeds were planted and the result is astonishingly beautiful and moving. Superbloom will be on till September 2022 – so hurry to book if you’ll be in London before then!
I always love going round the Tower. On this occasion we were able to enter the Chapel Royal, St Peter ad Vincula. This has such resonance for those who have read of the final hours of Anne Boleyn Lady Jane Grey and Catherine Howard who all lie beneath the altar pavement. I have never forgotten the accounts I’ve read of Anne Boleyn’s death, both in fiction and non-fiction: when it was clear her execution hadn’t been expected and no coffin had been made ready. So her ladies had to hastily bundle her decapitated body and her head into an arrow chest, and take it into St Peter ad Vincula and deposit it unceremoniously in the crypt beneath the altar pavement. Later, Lady Jane Grey and Catherine Howard both joined her, and they were both probably only about 16 years old. What poignant and horrific associations this church has, and yet of course, today, it is a place of serenity and peace.
We were lucky to be there to hear the organist rehearsing royal music for a wedding – before the Ravenmaster ushered us out so they could prepare for the wedding!
The ravens were well on display too, so pleased their time of isolation is past, and that they can once more strut around amongst the visitors to their hearts’ content.
Phil’s genre defies categorisation, but Amazon often kindly list him under Welsh crime, and he variously takes the tags contemporary horror, horror thrillers, paranormal, women sleuths, gothic romance, and mystery, the last two being the case with his Book 1 in the series, The Wine of Angels. which was published in April 2011.
It’s fascinating wondering what Amazon will come up with next to describe his subject matter.
Phil Rickman created Merrily Watkins, young widowed woman vicar, and placed her in the beautiful black-and-white village of Ledwardine in the Welsh border country. He gave her an ancient draughty vicarage and a troublesome, rebellious teenage daughter Jane ( heavily into all things pagan). Then he made Merrily take on the role of Diocesan exorcist (known more subtly in the Church of England as ‘the deliverance ministry’, With that, he hit upon his winning formula, as an ideal vehicle for all the things he wanted to write about.
He created a main protagonist who finds herself constantly in tension with so many different areas of her life:
i She’s a woman in a leadership role in a traditionally male preserve;
ii She’s working for a huge institution, which historically holds, and still clings onto, a significant level of psychological and political power in the UK;
iii Her role in that organisation is one it still feels ambivalent about, is slightly ashamed of, likes to keep secret, and is wondering whether to ditch, to make itself more trendy and acceptable to the secular world;
iv She’s in an unstable personal situation: she loves a man who is himself vulnerable, and whom she fears to marry; her wilful daughter is obsessed with things the church fears, but she is indispensable in the resolution of Merrily’s cases; and through all this she is a discerning, intuitive, non-judgemental listener.
v She finds herself at the forefront of a conflict between the powerful undercurrent of myth/folklore/ancient pagan tradition that runs along behind human behaviour, especially in the Welsh border country, versus the things established religion says people should be guided by.
Phil Rickman’s devoted fans are, with this novel, reading Book 16 in a much-loved series, which many of us have followed all the way through. We therefore take-as-read the relationships and situations between the characters. This is a series that is almost essential to begin at Book 1, and not start halfway through.
Being in this position must make an author fear the possibility that he might not think of anything new to tell readers about his characters for fear of spoiling it all – along with the fear of bringing to an end something which is keeping so many readers reading. That was how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle felt with Sherlock Holmes, and we all know how he tried to kill the great detective off and had to bring him back from the dead!
I have loved all the books in the Merrily Watkins series and this new addition was particularly long-awaited due to the author’s sad ill health. I admire how he has come through this gruelling challenge, and completed this book despite such adversity. Phil Rickman still keeps us guessing about the relationship between Lol and Merrily and this to me is the clearest indicator he plans another Merrily book!
In this story there was more emphasis on Merrily’s self-willed daughter Jane, especially in the first part of the story, and I really feel that I’m on Jane’s side here. Jane comes up trumps again later on, using the simple strategy of eavesdropping on Merrily’s conversation with a haunted and disturbed ‘client’, and then doing her own investigations without telling Merrily. I have throughout this series long wished Jane and Merrily would communicate better, as they make such a wonderful duo of investigators into all things paranormal / weird / pagan / criminal.
Everyone in this story seems to be, or becomes, very knowledgable about the poetry of Wordsworth, even when (in Merrily’s case) they claim not to have read anything of his since school. I love Wordsworth: some of his poems have a luminous rhapsody about them. He was a mystic, a pantheist, and my favourite from early youth. Certain lines shine out to me: “We come, trailing clouds of glory… we forget that imperial palace from whence we came.”
Alongside the strong references to Wordsworth and his close relationship with the Wye Valley, I also love the way the author evokes Symonds Yat Rock, the sublime view of the river Wye, and the peregrine falcons soaring down from their clifftop home. Phil Rickman captures all this in his story. He brings together so many elements that fascinate me in fiction, along with family relationships: 1) A place of wild natural beauty on the Welsh border; 2) a creator famous for being inspired there (poet/composer/writer); 3) the ancient history associated with the region: standing stones, myths, along with the idea that history does not recede; 4) the faerie lore associated with the area, along with witchcraft traditions and ghost stories; 5) crimes/murder/dark deeds.
Over-arching all this we find the characters we love; Gomer Parry, redoubtable old man and ever-loyal to Jane, Lol and Merrily; Frannie Bliss, Scouser policeman; his sidekick David (or is it Darth?) Vaynor; Sophie, Merrily’s ally and rather subversive Bishop’s PA; a dodgy Bishop; the faithful, persistent, and highly-relatable character of Lol; the impetuous, inspired and rebellious Jane; the gifted, insightful, and non-judgemental listener and investigator Merrily.
In this story we also meet Arlo, former TV actor, now a very troubled vicar; Maya from the TV world who claims she’s seen spirits of dead children; Diana a sinister weirdo and probable succubus; and not least Wordsworth himself, obsessed with the vision of the eight year old girl he has met.
A worthy book in the series although I wish it had been longer and more complex, as we have come to expect from this series.
The book will uncover some intriguing stories about the town of Warwick, past, present and future; and will contain 100 photos mostly taken by myself, or by my photographer son and daughter Abigail and Jamie Robinson.
Today I am delighted to share with you my review of a new novel, ‘Braver‘, prior to publication on 30th June 2022. I’ve met its author, Deborah Jenkins, during a recent writing conference and we are fellow members of the Association of Christian Writers, and often in touch via our Facebook group. Deborah is very helpful, supportive and encouraging to her fellow authors, and it was lovely to find advance copies of her new novel available to buy at the recent conference, and I snapped up a copy!
Hazel has never felt normal. Struggling with OCD and anxiety, she isolates herself from others and sticks to rigid routines in order to cope with everyday life. But when she forms an unlikely friendship with Virginia, a church minister, Hazel begins to venture outside her comfort zone.
Having built her own life after a traumatic loss, Virginia has become the backbone of her community caring for those in need and mentoring disadvantaged young people. Yet a shock accusation threatens to unravel everything she has worked for.
A sensitive, thoughtful, touching novel about our contemporary society and the many ways in which people can be broken or vulnerable or ‘odd’ – along with the multitude of techniques with which people attempt to protect themselves, or try to cover it up.
We all have our own personal backstories which affect us now: our behaviour, our relationships, our approach to life. In this story, the main protagonist Hazel, living on her own in the London suburbs, and working as a Teaching Assistant in a local school, suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety, and we see how she encounters a group of people who give her the opportunity to change her life.
The key people she meets are young Harry, bullied at school, terrified ‘the Social’ will find out about his abusive home life with his alcoholic mother; and Virginia, a warm, compassionate and caring church minister with her own tragic past, whose eagerness to help others gets her in deep trouble. I found the story very poignant and discerning.
The novel has been compared to ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ and I can see a clear relationship between the two stories. By the end of Deborah Jenkins’ novel, we have a deeper insight into the complex and sometimes surprising ways we may become “braver” in our lives, no matter how diverse our circumstances. A beautiful and compelling story.
Deborah Jenkins is a freelance writer and primary teacher who has worked in schools in the UK and abroad. She has written several educational textbooks, as well as articles for the TES online and Guardian Weekend, among other publications. Her short fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies, and she has also published a novella, The Evenness of Things. She lives in Sussex and enjoys reading, walking gardening, travel and good coffee. She writes a blog at stillwonderinghere.
‘Braver’ will be out on 20th June but you can pre-order a copy here
This must have been the most stunning of all the talks we listened to during the weekend. The queue that formed afterwards to buy his book was the longest in the whole conference!
The curious relationship between the two books immediately struck me: for within both of them a child recalls his impressions during an apparent near-death experience, and over the course of time, relates the details to the adults in his life. It was fascinating to read both accounts, in different circumstances, and to pick out the many ways in which they corresponded with each other.
Jonathan Bryan’s account is probably the most outstanding because it emerged later after he had been taught to read and write, via his perspex spelling board from which he chooses letters and words using his eye movements. His experience took place in Intensive Care while he was in an induced coma during ventilation, which he was highly unlikely to survive.
“Alive. I had never felt so alive.” He describes a beautiful garden which he identifies as “Jesus’ garden” and he vividly relates how he walked and ran around and swung his free arms, sauntering through an orchard full of “trees laden with delectable fruit”, playing with other children by the trees: all things he had never experienced in this life in a crippled, dysfunctional body.
“With the sibilance of the oxygen silenced, I inhaled deeply, the fresh air revitalising my new body and filling my soul with joy… the atmosphere was saturated in a deep, contented peace.”
His most compelling image was “As I stretched my body to its full height (my scoliosis had elongated and vanished altogether), I realised the dragon cerebral palsy had been banished from the lair of my body.” He also describes meeting his friend Noah who had died the year before from a brain tumour. Four year old Colton Burpo also refers to meeting family members, some of whom had died before he was born. Jonathan refers to the choice he was given, to stay to meet the gardener, or to go back to his fragile, sick body, back to “my mind trapped in my silence; back to the family I loved.”
In Todd Burpo’s book, little Colton, whose experience took place when he was three years old and seriously ill with a ruptured appendix, also refers to the choice he was asked to make. This does seem a common feature of accounts of near death experiences.
I found both books very moving but Jonathan Bryan’s was the most powerful. Children’s author Michael Morpurgo wrote the foreword to the book, and Jonathan has founded a charity called “Teach Us Too” pleading for all children regardless of their “label” to be taught to read and write. A significant proportion of the profits from his book will go to that charity.
Do let me know if you’ve read either of these books, and what you think. But if you haven’t yet come across them, I do recommend both to you.