Light of the World

Hild is done (for now). She has a working title: Light of the World. (Subtitle, if novels had such things, might be something like The woman at the heart of war, politics, and religion in seventh century Britain.)

The book, volume one of three, is huge: 963 pages, 197,878 words (excluding the title).

I’ve sent it off to my agent. She’ll get back to me with suggestions, in terms of possible cuts. (With something this length, they’re always looking for cuts. It wouldn’t shock me if they suggested I cut it in two and publish as separate volumes. I just don’t know if I’ll listen…)

Now I start looking for expert readers. Key word = expert. This is not a finished work. It still needs shaping. The input I need now is from those who know some aspect/s of the period, Britain 617 – 631 CE: politics, monetary systems, trade, health, family relationships, religion, flora and fauna, war gear, liturgy, metallurgy, textiles… Anything and everything, really. [ETA: Also languages, Old Irish, Old English, and Latin in particular.]

For example, there are two lengthy scenes set in Gipswīc. It mentions trade goods, coinage, exchange rates, food, slavery, elite hierarchy, etc. There’s a lot of potential, in just those scenes, to get things laughably wrong. And I have no doubt I do. Some of it will be easy to fix. Some of, given the story, might not be fixable.

If you think you can help, if you’re willing to read nearly a thousand manuscript pages of rip-roaring fiction (life, death, politics, nature, sex, violence, grief, joy) and not forward the ms. around to all your friends, if you’re willing to accept that the needs of fiction sometimes clash with the facts, please email me or drop a comment to that effect. I can send you a raw .doc file. I can promise that I’ll do my utmost to take your input and use it (with deference to the exigencies of story) and I’ll thank you in the acknowledgements. (Actually, in the interests of full disclosure, if you’re an expert, and are reading this, I probably also read you–so it’s likely I’ll be acknowledging your expertise anyway, ha. So, okay, I’ll also think of some other nifty Thank You.)

I can say this without blushing: I’m a good novelist. This book, though, is a stretch. I’ve never written a coming of age story, never written from the point of view of a child, never written historical fiction. I need all the help I can get.

I’ve done my best to get things right. I’ve had to make some dubious choices here and there for the sake of story (I’ve mentioned already some of the heinousness regarding music and Fursey). What happens isn’t impossible, but some of it is rather, ah, unlikely.

What kind of novel is this? It’s difficult to describe because I’ve never seen anything like it. Imagine Kristin Lavransdatter meets Game of Thrones (only without the dragons). It’s epic in every way. Except for actually being an epic in the accepted lit-tech sense: it isn’t from multiple viewpoints; Hild is in every scene. So it’s an “intimate novel of character painted on an epic canvas.” With warlords, priests, and kings. And anxious reeves, stressed out seers, and beleaguered queens. Plus some slaves and farmwives and scops. And more trees than you can shake a stick at. And rivers and oceans and rills and burns and becks, and seals and cows and crows and otters and herons, and death and destruction and famine and plague (well, not plague plague–or maybe just a hint of a possibility of it, in Kent, once–just illness and cattle murrain). And song, and heroism, and gold-and-sparkly-jewels, and plotting

If I were Empress of the Universe, and if this were a graphic novel not, ahem, a literary work of wide popular appeal, I’d call it: Butcher Bird! (Everything you know about the 7th C is Rong!) Because you don’t get to be famous by being all sweetness and light.

But, oof, I’m getting punchy. So I’ll leave you with this photo of carnelians, to which Hild is passionately attached. In the book, they’re a political gift from the infant Rhianmelldt to the child Hild. I don’t specify the hows and whys in the text, but I imagine they were acquired by numeri in Greco-Roman Egypt, then brought to Hadrian’s Wall on deployment, passed down through generations (or stolen, or retrieved from a hoard or accidentally-unearthed grave goods, or…), ending up with the British elite. I am also passionately attached to these beads; I own them. (Supposedly they’re 1st century Greco-Roman grave goods, dug up from an Egyptian oasis.)

Photo: Jennifer Durham

5 thoughts on “Light of the World

  1. eyebeat, thank you. If you know Lisa, and if she's interested, I'd love to hear from her. But I hesitate to knock on the email door of a complete stranger and say, “Hi! Will you read my thousand page book?”

    If someone did that to me (in fact they do), on a good day I'd ask why me, and on a bad day I'd suggest they do something anatomically impossible.

    So, as I say, if you know her, I'd love to hear from her.

  2. Kathleen Herbert would have been your woman, but alas is no longer up to it. Did you ever meet her? She has forgotten a great deal more than I ever knew or could know about 7th Century Britain! It might be worth contacting The Engliscan Gesithas, at least for help with Old English: http://www.tha-engliscan-gesithas.org.uk/ Kathleen used to be a member (so did I but hundreds of years ago) and did the odd lecture for them. I'm fascinated by your reference to Rhianmelldt- KH's Queen of the Lightning (to be republished early next year) and can't wait to read Light of the World! Good luck with it.

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