Well, dear readers, I am very pleased to announce that ‘Cradle of Saints’, the fourth book in ‘The Chronicles of Iona’, is here at last!
The story begins in 574 as Columba and Aedan mac Gabran hunt down their enemies through the wilds of Ireland’s ancient north and west, Columba to find Aedan’s lost brother, Aedan to unite the warring peoples of Dal Riata and to defeat once and for all the tyrannical overlord who holds them all hostage. But an even greater enemy threatens: bubonic plague ravages Europe yet again, bringing the West to its knees—a mortal peril from which none of them may escape …
I have loved writing this book (more on that below …). And I do hope you enjoy it. If you can, please leave reviews on places like Amazon and Goodreads, as that’s always hugely helpful.
Also coming soon are the 10th-anniversary editions of ‘Exile’, ‘Prophet’, and ‘Island-Pilgrim’, with some new brand material and gorgeous new covers—watch this space!
On a personal note, I’d like to say a few of things about the writing of this book:
Firstly, I knew from the very beginning, over two decades ago when I began to sketch out the first outlines of this world in the pages of my journals, that bubonic plague would factor heavily in this particular book. It had to: when bubonic plague, which first appeared in Egypt, spread to Britain, Scotland, and Ireland in the 540s, Columba was a young man and Aedan but a baby. They somehow survived it, but something like half of the population did not. In the 570s, it was back again; and remained active in Europe for two centuries—two centuries! So its terrible spectre loomed large over every aspect of Columba’s and Aedan’s lives.
Because of this, I had factored in plague as one of the main narrative drivers of this part of the series. What I could not have guessed then was just how timely this would turn out to be.
Because, you know: COVID-19. Thankfully, I found the process of writing about pandemic while also living through it to be oddly therapeutic. I suppose that’s because, ultimately, all writers, all artists, should (must?) grapple with the whole notion of life and death—why we’re here, and why we’re then not. It’s these kinds of musings that make art useful, and I would argue necessary. It’s why I write. As an added bonus, historians also get to look at how the people and societies who came before us made sense of their personal existence, and of existence in general (if they managed to make any sense of it at all). For me, being able to speculate about why people lived the way they did, and why they believed what they believed, is the fun part of the job, in fact an obsession for me—the ‘why’ often being far more compelling than the ‘how’.
Our lives are fragile, even in the best of times. That is both a burden and a gift to know. How much more so would that knowledge have been to the people of the 6th century, who were facing mortality rates of up to 50% with no hope of vaccines? How did they react? What did they do? What did they not do?
It was deeply informative to compare then to now. Two things really stood out. The first is just how similar our responses to pandemic have been to our poor forebears’. Their despairs, their sacrifices, their failings and nobilities, both individually and institutionally, are also our own. The second is that, just as they did, we are finding our way through, and lifting up others as we go—a thought which I find immeasurably comforting. I hope some of that comes through in this book.
Lastly, I’d like to say a heart-felt thank you to all of you who have been so patiently awaiting ‘Cradle’s’ publication. Like for so many of you, it has been a challenging time for my family, never more so than this past year when we lost an outsized number of those we loved. This book is dedicated to them, with love and gratitude for the blessings of their lives: bright lights and sorely missed, all.