Dear Friends. Here’s the cover of the new Polish translation of “The Chronicles of Iona: Exile”. I love it! The long sword, the medieval abbey of Iona, the antique map underlay–it definitely sets the scene. If you have a moment, please visit the Facebook page at Wydawnictwokropla and give it a like!
You know what I love about what I do?
One of the things, in any case? (Because there are many!)
The research trips.
I sit here in my study, pulling together what I know about the 6th century so that I can imagine how my characters might have felt and thought and acted. Columba of Iona and Aedan mac Gabran were real people after all, and their lives changed the world. Aside from the love of it all, there’s a responsibility to try to get it right.
But there’s only so much written sources can reveal to you. At the end of the day, the history of the early mediaeval period is about people in landscape. How physical realities shaped experiences, limiting them, or opening them up. While writing, I am always thinking: how would this scene work, in situ? And that scene? If I had been standing there at that time, what would I have felt, heard, noticed?
Invariably, the time comes for a road trip. Out come the hiking boots, the Barbour jacket, the Ordnance Survey maps, and the completed manuscript. And off I go to check the novel against my memory of the places in which the real history happened. And to understand those sites more deeply. And to scout out new settings.
In this case, it meant a revisit to a part of the world I already know a little and love a lot: Northern Ireland. The early heartland of the Dark Age kingdom of Dalriada, and a major setting for Book III in my series, Island-Pilgrim.
What a fabulous week! I flew into Dublin and drove north, with a first stop at Dundrum Castle in County Down.
The site has always impressed me. Picture a great hill fort on a ridge overlooking a vast bay, a natural harbor. And that inner bay leading out by way of a narrow channel to a magnificent outer bay. Estuarine sands and shale, shifting. High dunes. Mud flats. Sea birds everywhere. The constant call of the ocean. The stark, unreal mountains of The Mournes just south of you, looming over you; keeping silent watch. To the north, farmland, undulating and fertile: the thing you are protecting.
It’s a special landscape, and is of immense strategic importance. You can peel back layers of history here, just as you can all over the North of Ireland. (The producers of HBO’s Game of Thrones film here for that reason. It’s authentic.) The Gaels called Dundrum home. Then the Normans. It passed to the Earls of Ulster, and then back to the Irish, and so on.
All because of where it sits. County Down is St. Patrick’s wheelhouse, but also home to St. Columba and his friends who founded a network of monasteries that acted like hubs of the internet of their age. Through these thought-leaders, these ambassadors of peace, the world was connected, north, south, east and west, and a cultural revolution swept across Europe.
I love that I can incorporate Dundrum into Island-Pilgrim.
More importantly, I have fallen in love again with Northern Ireland and its people. I was met everywhere with kindness, wit, and generosity–literally, open doors: a people with their eye on their past, yes, but also the immense possibilities in their future.
Next up, the magical town of Portaferry on Strangford Lough, and the beautiful Ards peninsula …
Posted in Book I: Exile, Book II: Prophet, Book III: Island-Pilgrim, Historical Fiction, Northern Ireland, The Chronicles of Iona | Tags: Aedan mac Gabran, Ards Peninsula, County Down, Dalriada, Dark Ages, Dundrum Castle, Game of Thrones, Iona, Northern Ireland, Saint Columba, Saint Patrick, Strangford Lough
I know you’re anxiously awaiting Island-Pilgrim, Book 3 in my historical-fiction series, The Chronicles of Iona–and I’m writing! I’m writing! But, my goodness, novels do take their time.
So … as I’m working, I thought it’d be fun to post the book in installments here on my website, starting with the preface.
In fact, I’d love your feedback! What moves you? Who and what would you like to see more of? Who and what less?
Keep me posted with your thoughts.
By now, you know the characters. Columba: our fiery abbot, a maverick and free-thinker–exiled from Ireland in 563 A.D. and now ensconced on his beloved island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland. And Aedan mac Gabran: our down-and-out Scottish warrior, a wanderer, an adventurer–who is now, suddenly and unexpectedly, the new king of his people.
We begin just a few short months after Prophet left off. It’s late April, 574 A.D., and Columba wakes from a deeply troubled sleep …
The Chronicles of Iona: Island-Pilgrim
Paula de Fougerolles
Iona: 574 A.D.
Oh! Dear God! The boys will die!
Not much time now. No time to race to them through the crush, to intercede, to spare them death from those hacking swords.
Except … they are no longer boys. They are not as they are now. They are men. Noble, valiant, vibrant men, in the prime of their lives; vital and strong. Look at them on their bright steeds! At the fore of the vanguard, laughing! Just as their father Aedan had taught them. Just as he had done.
Aedan, Columba’s anam cara. His friend, his soul’s companion. None more dear.
These boys? These men! They are invincible! No spear can reach them, no arrow; certainly not those horrible, relentless blades. They are safe from harm. Free from pain.
No. Blood clings to their beautiful faces. They stumble and fall. Their enemies have them now. They ring around them, prodding them; taunting and laughing.
He is too far away to save them. He will not be able to reach them in time.
He knows what is coming. So do they.
Oh! No! No! There go their heads!
It is too much. Columba wrests open his eyes.
A scream is choking him. He tries to push it out, but his throat is so tightly constricted with fear that he can only gurgle. He forces himself to breathe, gasping in air as he looks around wildly. Some of his panic abates: he knows this place, Deo Gratias! He is in his little sleeping hut. On Iona. Iona. Here is the smooth oval sea-stone he uses as a pillow, here his serviceable blanket; all around him the tightly interlocking masonry of the curving walls of his cell, damp now with morning mist but not cold. Sea breezes whistle through the cracks. He remembers when they built it: after the magna domus, the needs of his men coming before his own, but before his beloved scriptorium. There is no morning light yet leaking around the doorframe … but there is movement in the shadows.
Dear God! The half-light, there in the corner, is shimmering. Sheets of light and of dark macabrely dance. He may feel as if he is awake, but he is still between worlds, caught between sleep and true wakefulness.
His fear rushes back. If possible, he is more afraid than before. The sheeting of the half-light means that his terrible nightmare, his waking dream, is a message. He is seeing through.
It is not a sight he wishes to see.
He struggles but he is pinned to his bed, sweating and shaking, unable to move. He fights his unnatural paralysis until he again has control of his limbs. With effort, he jerks himself upright.
In the curve of his hut the shadows are still shivering, almost alive. The sheets of penumbral light shake and shudder. He sees through them to the lumpy protuberances of the stones behind, then they close again. It is a dance, and not a merry one.
They seem to mock him with what they know. What they wish him to know.
He will not have it! With superior strength of will, he wrests back some of his customary bravado. He has witnessed these kinds of otherworldly apparitions many times before, has dwelt with them in amity or has vanquished them as needed. He is a warrior for the light.
Besides, these are his customary domains. This is Iona! His Iona. How dare they disturb him here?
He will banish them.
He grabs for the cross around his neck, thrusts it out in a fist he is alarmed to see is still shaking, and begins to croak the Pater Noster. He takes immediate comfort from the rite. This prayer of prayers has always come easily, has always managed to exorcize darkness, in whatever form it has threatened him.
Pater Noster, qui es in caelis,
Sanctificetur nomen tuum.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
With growing confidence, his voice gaining strength, he continues to intone this most holy of charms.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us …
Deliver us …
Deliver us …
Unbelievably, he falters. On the libera nos! The libera nos!
He clears his throat, sits up straighter. Threatening the shadows with his small outstretched cross, he marshals all his strength, all his power, and tries again:
Libera nos …
Libera nos …
Astounded, he realizes that he has forgotten the rest of the prayer. He can not find the words for what comes next.
No—that’s not quite right. Rather, something is squeezing shut his throat, preventing those most important next becharmed words to be canted into the light.
Dear God! He will not allow this! He will not!
The boys are precious. Aedan loves them. He loves them. They are the sons Columba will never have.
Again, his innate stubbornness rears up. If the prayer will not work—because his own body can not respond—then he will reason through this madness. He will employ the great acuity of his senses, his towering intellect.
This nightmare is a creature of his fears, he reasons, conjured up by the violence of his affection for the friends, the family he has unexpectedly found in his exile, here in Dal Riata. It has to be. He himself has brought this atrocious vision into the world of man. He is its creator.
So this vision is not a true vision, he tells himself: it is not a message from his Lord. It has nothing whatsoever to do with what his Lord revealed to him before he consented to ordain Aedan as king.
It is not premonition. In no way is it prophecy.
Suddenly desperate to be free of his cell, to flee the mocking shadows he has been unable to banish, Columba throws off the blanket tangling around his legs. But those normally sturdy legs will not obey him, buckling under him as he tries to stand. Instead, he lurches for the door of his hut, throwing it open to thrust his sweaty face out into the brisk morning air. It is fresh and salty and there are drops of rain in it. Braced in the doorway, he welcomes the rain with upturned face. Shaking his head to clear it, he trains his eyes on the beloved, familiar sights of his island-monastery home, hoping they will anchor him here, pull him back from that other, wretched place of pain.
But there is a strangeness to the air, even outside his hut. It too is shimmering, in a way that is not a precipitate of sea-mist and morning. The shadows are clinging stubbornly.
He looks away.
It takes a long time for his world to return, to settle back into its accustomed shapes and forms. It helps when the brothers begin to emerge from their own sleeping cells into the early morning light, their voices calling out to one another sleepily. He takes immeasurable comfort from their well-known, beloved faces.
Columba huddles in the doorway, on the threshold, shivering, until this mortal realm clicks back into place. Eventually he can rise and begin his day. He can wash his face in the clear cold water of the stone trough set by his door, refreshed each morning by his brothers. He can don his sandals; make his way to the chapel for the hour of prime. He can lose himself in the lilting, measured, joyful songs that they sing at that hour to greet the day, to welcome their Lord back into the light.
He can reassure himself: it was not a communication. It was not a vision. It will not come to pass.
He can ignore the fact that he has never known his Lord to lie.
Coming soon: Chapter 1 of Island-Pilgrim …
Posted in Book II: Prophet, Book III: Island-Pilgrim, Historical Fiction, Ireland, Scotland, The Chronicles of Iona | Tags: Aedan mac Gabran, Argyll, Caledonia, Chronicles, Dalriada, Early Christian Scotland, Early Medieval Scotland, Iona, Saint Columba, Scottish History, The Dark Ages, The Scots
Many thanks to Donna Quinn of the Donegal Library Services for letting me know that “The Chronicles of Iona: Exile” was the most read book in Donegal Libraries in 2013.
It edged out J.K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy”, Maeve Binchy’s “A Week in Winter”, both “Wolf Hall” and “Bringing up the Bodies” by my favorite novelist, Hilary Mantel, as well as the official Driver Theory Test.
Now that we have successfully settled into our new home here in Belgium, and my study has been unpacked, I am back to work on Book 3 in the series, called “Island-Pilgrim”.
I have missed Aedan and Columba and am happily contriving more heartache for them to overcome … nor not …
Tune in to the Michael Dresser Show, tomorrow, Wednesday, July 17, 2013, 5:31 p.m., for a live interview about my book, The Chronicles of Iona: Exile.
Friends! If you’re in Maine this week, come check out the Saltwater Music Festival 2013 at Thomas Point Beach, Brunswick. It’s a two-day event (July 20 and 21) showcasing the best in Celtic music.
I’ll be in the literary tent as their 2013 Writer-in-Residence.
There are a host of wonderful satellite events leading up to the festival. (Check out the link above for the whole list.)
I’ll be reading from my book The Chronicles of Iona: Exile at the CURTIS MEMORIAL LIBRARY, 23 Pleasant Street Brunswick, ME 04011, (207) 725-5242, on Thursday, July 18, at 6 p.m.
After the reading we’ll head over to BYRNES IRISH PUB, 16 Station Street Brunswick, ME 04011, for a social hour.
On Friday, July 19, I’ll do a book reading and signing at BOOTHBAY HARBOR MEMORIAL LIBRARY at 3 p.m.
Then, at 4 p.m., join us for A TASTE OF SALTWATER dinner reception with the Gothard Sisters and Kevin O’Hara hosted by the FISHERMAN’S WHARF INN, 22 Commercial Street, Boothbay Harbor, ME 04538, (207) 633-5090.
And then the festival itself on Saturday and Sunday, July 20-21.
Very happy to be here and hope you can join us!
(And now I see why it seems like the entire east coast of the U.S. heads up to Maine for July and August! Beautiful!)
Posted in Book I: Exile, Book II: Prophet, Historical Fiction, Ireland, Scotland, The Chronicles of Iona | Tags: Boothbay Harbor, Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library, Brunswick, Byrnes Irish Pub, Curtis Memorial Library, Fisherman's Wharf Inn and Restaurant, Gothard Sisters, Kevin O'Hara, ME, Saltwater Celtic Music Festival 2013, Saltwater Lit Tent, Writer-in-Residence
Exile, the first book in my series The Chronicles of Iona, has won Silver Prize in ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Awards in the category of historical fiction.
For the other winners, see: ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Awards 2012.
My thoughts have been eastward all day as the transnational One Book One Community Reading Project is officially launched in Derry. Readers in Northern Ireland, Co. Donegal and New England will be reading “Exile”, the first book in my historical-fiction series “The Chronicles of Iona”, at the same time. Donegal County Council and Libraries Northern Ireland set this up as a way to promote a common history—in this case the life and times of Colmcille, their shared 6th-century saint. The fact that the endeavor is cross-border is particularly meaningful to me and, I know, to them.
Colmcille/Columba hails from Co. Donegal, and founded Doire/Derry/Londonderry, amongst other monasteries. So, a true local hero. As they have said, “Colmcille or Columba was born 1500 years ago in Gartan, Co. Donegal and yet his life and legacy is still remembered in both Scotland and Ireland. His story spans the islands, the culture and the language. Such is the influence of Colmcille on Irish, British and European history during his own lifetime and today that he can be singled out as one of the truly great figures of the early Christian church”.
We had the New England launch at the Irish Cultural Centre here in Canton in January. And now, Derry and Donegal.
This week is Columba’s week—his feast day, the day commemorated as the day of his death, is June 9. Both Ireland and Scotland are hosting a number of major events to celebrate the occasion, especially since 2013 is the 1450th anniversary of his founding of the monastery of Iona and probably Derry (although that may have been a bit earlier).
The One Book project runs from now through August. The program of events is below, or visit www.donegallibrary.ie or www.librariesni.org.uk. I’ll be there for the finale during Heritage Week. Wish I could be there for all of it!
If you’d like to join the ongoing conversation, there is an online book group discussion at www.donegalibrary.ie. Look under bookgroups, online, and you’ll see the conversation already started. As I said there, I’m writing Book 3 in the series (in which Columba returns to Ireland in triumph), so your thoughts about Columba, Aedan mac Gabran, et al., would be particularly useful. And more than a little fun.
On this side of the pond, don’t forget to come check out the Boston Irish Festival this weekend in Canton, MA. (June 7-9). For the lineup of musicians and to get tickets, go to www.BostonIrishFestival.info.
I’ll be in the author’s tent all weekend with a number of excellent local authors. We’ll be doing book readings on and off over the course of the festival. I’ll read from “Exile” and its sequal “Prophet” and talk about the medieval world which inspires the series, complete with slides and photos!, on Saturday, June 8, from 1:30-2:30 and then again on Sunday, June 9, from 11:45 to 12:30.
Posted in Book I: Exile, Book II: Prophet, The Chronicles of Iona | Tags: Aedan mac Gabran, Boston Irish Festival 2013, Co. Donegal, Colmcille, Derry/Londonderry, Early Christian Ireland, Early Christian Scotland, Early Medieval Ireland, Early Medieval Scotland, Iona, Irish Cultural Centre of New England, one book project, Saint Columba