I’m surrounded by conundrums. I close my eyes and they float around in their little boxes with tags floating on the breeze of my mind. I dismissed a few during this mornings meditation because they are not important enough for action just yet. Some of those remaining are vexing. Challenges are fun but sometimes I hold up my hands and say, ‘I am not defeated but I could do with a few pointers.’
I will return to my need for pointers soon, one thing I find very exciting about writing is that I often find the answers to my questions as I write. The universe responds; it’s beautiful.
My publisher will not like this but I walk through a sticky mire in the dark and they don’t seem able, or willing to offer a helping hand. So, my philosophy is to reach out, discover where to go, and plot the course. Thanks to many wonderful people I’ve met on my journey as an author, I know where I need to go with some and the routes are planned. I use friend maps and they don’t lead me into any one-way streets.
Back to the conundrums . . . I must get my work out there and have identified several ways. Perhaps you can help?
- I live in France but originate from the north west of England. Should I try to organise signing events in that part of the world or, go elsewhere? I’ve not lived in the north wet since 2003.
- Waterstones and WH Smith say, ‘don’t contact store managers,’ true / false?
- Does anybody want to talk to an unknown author?
Enough about my challenges, let’s move on to this weeks dusty file from an unknown author who I would love to reconnect with. I was a founding member of a writers group called, ‘Phoenix Writers’ in Blackburn, Lancashire in 2002/03. I’ve no idea how this file ended up on one of my hard drives but it’s a positive example of creativity with the potential of something great. All I can tell you about the author is her name was Pippa although I am sorry to say I don’t remember a Pippa back in 2003.
Anno Domini: 640
‘I never wanted to come here!’ He rubbed his stiffened hands, knuckles swollen by the ‘Elves’ Curse’. Now I’ m going to die here, Ithamar.’
Outside the wind whipped the rain against the wooden walls. No hangings kept out the draughts, not even the vestige of a fire in the brazier warmed the bare cell. I struggled to conceal my shivering. The hem of my sodden tunic dripped little puddles among the rushes and my leather boots squelched with every step. On a peg by the door I hung the cloak I had clutched around me as I dashed from the nave where I was trying to teach some of the younger monks to achieve harmony in the alleluia magnus dominus. I wiped my nose on my sleeve, wincing as the rough fabric rasped across the flaked skin. But it was always this way at Winterfylleth, getting soaked between church, refectory and cells, when even the pent roof around the cloister gave scant protection.
‘You’ll go back to the Holy City soon, Bishop.’ But I knew my words sounded hollow. The old man looked frail. The grey hair around his tonsure was sparse and his long face was haggard making the big hooked nose more prominent than ever. He breathed with a harsh rattle. He’d never be able to withstand the rigours of the journey at this time of year. The roads would be too clogged with mud for the ox carts to make much headway and even if he could reach the coast, no boat from the estuary would dare to set out in such rough seas. It would be the same at Sheppey. Thanet and Dover. The gulls had moved inland and stayed on the ground facing into the wind, a sure a sign of storms. Even from Canterbury only a score of miles away there had been no messenger for a sennight.
‘And what’s worse I’ll never get my work finished. It’s too cold to write and too dark to see except for a few hours at midday.’ He gestured despairingly to the heaps of vellum strewn across the wooden trestle and underneath at the two iron-banded chests with large locks filled with even more. For a man who denied himself every comfort, he was extravagant when it came to his books. He trained a score of young monks every year to keep the craft alive and he had made me learn it a long time ago. His love for learning was stronger than any of the Romans I’d known. He’d brought the gospels of John and Mark for our church of Saint Andrew, but here in his cell he had all kinds of manuscripts, histories of his people, works of their philosophers and more and knew them all by heart; better than any scop with his lyre telling battle tales in the King’s hall.
Then there were all the ones he’d written himself, a record of all the doings of The Mission. And of course The Book; he was the one who persuaded old Ethelburt to have his law-code written.
‘To be a truly Christian King you must have your laws codified.’ But it was the thought of having something no other king in these islands had that appealed to the old trickster. It was hard work because he agreed to write it in the folk tongue. He could write the script of the Book language so fast that that his hands flew across the page like the wind blowing across a cornfield but he had to find ways of putting our sounds down. ‘Yours isn’t a civilised tongue, it’s a pain in the throat, he used to joke! He even used some of our runic shapes but I don’t think he knew about their magic.
‘I must finish my history. I promised….’ A bout of coughing interrupted him.
‘I’ll get the women to prepare you a draught elderberry and horehound and put in some juniper to ease the pain of the elf arrows that slice into your joints.’
‘As you wish, but first you must help me, Ithamar.’
‘Father Paulinus, what can I do?’
I’d known this man for nigh on forty years, almost from the day he first came to our land. If it hadn’t been for him I’d still be scratching a living in some woodland clearing, or dead of starvation these many years.
‘You can write the Book language almost as well as I can. I can’t use these wretched fingers but at least I can tell you what to put down. ‘He clutched at the strangely carved cross hanging round his neck. Where it came from I knew not but it was precious to him.
I thought of all the tasks that awaited me. As second in command of all the monks in our little settlement of Rochester, most of the organisation fell on me, reading the Offices, preparing for the services, attempting to convert more of the locals and the administration, seeing that there was enough food, dealing with the messengers of the King I had precious little spare time. What he was asking of me was no small task. Obedience Ithamar! I reminded myself again of the Rule of Benedict, acceptance without complaint.
And as always curiosity got the better of me.
‘The facts are all recorded in the chronicles on the Easter Tables in Canterbury.’ I began.
‘Facts, yes! But those are the bare bones of what has happened like the branches of winter trees. If you just see those, you do not understand what the trees look like in the full splendour of summer, decked with the thousands of leaves that dance with the wind. So it is with the lives of men. Facts don’t tell of the feelings, the motives of men. He taught me that. He could tell a tale that could make you catch your breath with wonder. I swore to him I’d set it down and the people we knew deserve that. We can’t let the memory of what they dreamed, fade.’ His voice trailed off.
I was a plain man, never one to miss an opportunity if it would help me to be the first Jute to become a bishop.
‘If I will scribe for you then I’ll need more light and some warmth to keep my fingers from stiffening. I’m not as young as I was. We need a room with plenty of wall sconces and hanging bowls – and a decent fire.’
‘So be it. Whatever you need. The great darkness is coming. The Lombards still threaten the Holy City of Peter and the Huns push ever westward. The lands where Our Saviour walked seized by the follower of a new prophet from the sands of the desert. We must tell our story. Why else are we here? To show the good deeds of men as an example and to the wicked as a warning.’
He looked at me with a desperate expression.
‘Besides I must finish it and give it to her. I must see her once more before I die.’
And I did not have to ask whom he meant.