My fictional cathedral city of Barchester (and yes, that’s the same fictional city created by Anthony Trollope in the 1850s) needed a founder. In my novel The Lost Book of the Grail, the reader encounters bits and pieces of the history of Barchester from the beginnings in Saxon times through invasions by Vikings and Normans, the upheavals of the Reformation and the Civil War, and even the Nazi bombings of World War II. But through all that history I wanted the spirit of the founder to permeate, and I wanted the founder to be a woman.
Many English medieval cathedrals, originally built in the Norman style, were eventually rebuilt (owing to fire, earthquake, or just the generosity of some fashion loving bishop) in later more light and airy styles like Decorated or Perpendicular. Not so for large chunks of Durham, which retain their Norman weightiness. Some would call it gloom—the Normans had not yet mastered the building technology that allowed for large windows—but I love it. There is an ancient feel to Durhams massive columns and rounded arches that exceeds the soaring gothic masterpieces of later centuries.
In preparation for the 2/28 publication of my upcoming novel The Lost Book of the Grail, which is set in the fictional English cathedral of Barchester, I’ve been reviewing some of my favorite English cathedrals, all of which inspired elements of my fiction Barchester Cathedral.
There are a lot of reasons to like Salisbury Cathedral, and it has always been one of my favorites. Because the cathedral was relocated from Old Sarum to the new, planned community of Salisbury in the 13th century, it has one of the largest and most beautiful cathedral closes in all the kingdom. Lovely wide lawns and beautiful residences and other buildings are all tucked away in the center of town, protected by the walls of the close from the noise of the 21st century. John Constable captures this in some of his paintings of Salisbury (though to be fair, he shows it protected from the noise of the 19th century).
Well I promised you a sneak peak at some of my favorite English cathedrals (and some of the inspirations for The Lost Book of the Grail, which is set in an English cathedral) so here we go. Because my English cottage is in the Cotswolds, there are several great cathedrals that we can reach in an easy day trip. One of these is Winchester, which has special meaning to me. Not only does one of the earliest scenes in The Bookman’s Tale take place in Winchester (at the tomb of Bishop William of Wykeham, pictured below), but one of the final scenes in my novel First Impressions leads to the grave of Jane Austen, just yards away from Wykeham’s tomb at the west end of the nave. So Winchester has literary associations for me and for any Jane Austen fan (she died in a house just outside the cathedral precincts). Also near Austen’s tomb is what I think is one of the most beautiful wall memorials in any cathedral—a lovely mosaic of an angel holding a harp.
First of all, Happy New Year! If you are a regular reader of this blog, I hope you’ll enjoy where it goes in 2017 and if you’re new, then welcome aboard. A year ago I was getting ready to have surgery and the first few months of 2016 were mostly about recovery. This year promises to be a lot more fun for me. Not only is my health good, but on February 28, my new novel, The Lost Book of the Grail, will be published in hardcover by Viking. I’ve been really pleased about the early buzz, including a starred review in Publishers’ Weekly this week that called the book “thoroughly enjoyable.”
Remember these? Those of you who are younger may never have seen one—or you may have seen them only as graphic designs on a t-shirt or mousepad at the New York Public Library gift shop. Through a strange set of circumstances, I came into possession of this library card, still in its pocket. What a flood of memories this brought back.
For those who don’t know, the card worked like this—the pocket was pasted into the back of the library book. When you checked out the book, the librarian removed the card and you wrote your name on it. Then the due date was stamped on both the card and the pocket. The card was filed away under that due date and off you went with your book. No bar codes, no computers. It worked a treat.
I know it’s not even “Black Friday” yet, but I do have a Christmas book on the market this year and I’m trying to get a jump on my own shopping, so I thought maybe it would be OK to blog about Christmas presents. We have adopted a Christmas shopping mantra in our family in the last few years that keeps us from buying endless presents and also provides some focus for our shopping. For close family members we try to buy four presents, and the “guide” goes like this: “something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read.” Needless to say, I was happy when I first heard this little rhyme that it included “something to read.” A new book—a new world to discover—has always been an important part of my Christmas morning.
Alert: Some minor spoilers ahead if you have not read The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Last week I wrote about how The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge (now available in paperback) was connected to Halloween. This week is, for some of us, even scarier—it is election time. But again, we can turn to Scrooge and find a connection to what is going on in the nation right now. In my book we meet not the miserly, misanthropic Scrooge of Dickens’s narrative, but the reformed, transformed Scrooge who, at the end of A Christmas Carol, “knew how to keep Christmas well if any man alive possessed the knowledge.” What does this have to do with the election? Well, here come the spoilers.
Last week the Penguin paperback of my little Christmas book The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge was published. I know it seems annoying for me to be plugging a Christmas book when it’s not even Halloween yet, but in many ways this book could be a good Halloween read. First of all, the book is not set at Christmastime. It is set on the hottest, longest day of summer, as far from Christmas as you can get. My story is about how Ebenezer Scrooge, following his famous transformation on Christmas Eve 1843, carries with him the spirit of Christmas, as Dickens would say, “all the year round.” Scrooge decides that kindness and generosity should not be limited to a single season, and I’m guessing he feels the same way in October as he does in my June story.
Today my Christmas book, The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge, is published in paperback by Penguin Books. This is my third Penguin paperback (after The Bookman’s Tale and First Impressions) and I think it’s a particularly pretty book (I’ll let you decide for yourself about the content). I’ve always been a fan of Penguin paperbacks, and to celebrate publication day, I’m reposting a blog from a couple of years ago about the history of that little penguin that I am proud to have on the cover of Scrooge. He (or she) has a long history that dates back to what was something of a publishing revolution in 1935.