Posted by: pauladefougerolles | August 7, 2017

Columba’s lovely month

After 1,420 years in the grave, St. Columba has had a glorious resurgence this past month. In case you missed the news, featured in many news outlets in the U.K., the location of Columba’s writing hut on the island of Iona may have been found.

A team led by archaeologists Drs. Ewan Campbell and Adrián Maldonado of Glasgow University, and funded by Historic Environment Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland, subjected samples of charred wood excavated from Iona 60 years ago to radiocarbon dating analysis—to spectacular effect. The hazel charcoal, possibly from a wattle hut, were dated to the years 540-650 A.D. In other words, contemporaneous with Columba, who died in 597.

It is hard to understate the importance of this radiocarbon date. We know from early medieval documentary sources that on Iona Columba had two buildings set aside for his personal use. One was the cell where he slept. The other was the hut where he worked. Adomnán, Columba’s kinsman and hagiographer, described it as ‘his raised wooden hut’, ‘built in an elevated position’ (Vita Columbae, I.25, III.22).

In this small building, set apart and slightly above the main part of the monastery, Columba could write in relative peace while still keeping an eye on what was going on down below. Called Tòrr an Aba, the high place of the abbot, it was Columba’s private scriptorium. His man cave, if you like.

Embed from Getty Images

But while we know it existed, we do not know where it stood. To put it in context, no one has been able to say for sure where, exactly, Columba’s monastery was located. That is, we have our educated guesses, but almost nothing remains from that very first phase of monastic occupation. The dig carried out in 1957 by the eminent archaeologist and historian Professor Charles Thomas helped narrow down the search radius, suggesting that that first monastery lies beneath the current abbey church, as one might expect.

As for the Tòrr an Aba, there is a small rocky knoll more or less across from the main door of the abbey upon which a later medieval building stood. Could this be Columba’s Tòrr an Aba?

Embed from Getty Images

Professor Thomas took samples from there, including the now famous piece of hazel charcoal, and then the artefacts from his dig were shelved in his garage and other places to wait for technology to help out.

Earlier this year, technology did. Radiocarbon analysis dated the hazel charcoal to between 540 and 650 A.D., contemporaneous with the earliest monastery on Iona—Columba’s monastery.

Since hearing the news, two things have stuck in my mind. The first appeals to the novelist in me. And that is what a great story this is, in and of itself.

Imagine it. You’re an archeologist. You love Iona. You specialize in Iona. You hear that a revered colleague, the eminent archaeologist who carried out THE dig on Iona 60 years ago, has artefacts from that excavation squirreled away in his garage (or, to be fair to Professor Thomas, meticulously preserved in his garage).

You go, you have a chat, maybe you’re downplaying your eagerness to get your hands on what’s in those boxes. Because you know it could be big. Very big.

He takes you out to his garage, pulls the boxes down off the shelf, dusts them off with loving care, gingerly opens them to the light of day—and your eyes alight on the same little object, a seemingly insignificant dusty old lump of charcoal.

Because you know, as does he. You know that we now have the technology to get to the bottom of this mystery once and for all. A radiocarbon test, commonplace now, could tell us very easily: did this piece of wattle walling come from a building that Columba might have worked in, helped to build?

Yes. Yes it did.

What a fabulous whodunit. It makes me want to run out to my own barn and root around in the stuff I have stored there in the hopes of uncovering my own game-changer, my own, very big, little bit of history. (If you have anything like that in your garage, I encourage you: have at it. Right now.)

The second aspect of this wonderful news excites the historian in me. And that is just how good a piece of evidence this is.

It tells us that, on a site where a first-class primary source (Adomnán’s Vita Columbae) suggests Columba’s hut may have stood, there was a wooden building when Columba lived. That’s evidence of a very high caliber. Considering that so very little survives from the 6th-century monastic occupation of Iona, this is nearly as good as it gets. (Better would be proof that the hut was indeed a scriptorium and not just an ancillary building of the monastery. Or proof that Columba himself used the hut, though it’s hard to imagine what kind of evidence could yield that kind of proof.)

Cathach of St ColumbaThink about it. That building, that writer’s studio, could be where Columba conceived of illuminating manuscripts (the Cathach, above, an illuminated Psalter of late-6th or early-7th century date and likely written on Iona, possibly by Columba, being our earliest example of Irish writing, as well as the first example of the art of manuscript illumination which was later to flower in such masterpieces as the Book of Durrow and the Book of Kells, both also products of Columban monasteries).

Or where he thought it would be a good idea to start keeping note of important events that had transpired in his immediate political sphere, thus creating what we call the Chronicle of Iona, a core text of a number of later medieval annals which form our main source of information for the early history and society of Ireland and Scotland.

In other words, where two of the fundamental genres of early medieval writing and historiography may have been dreamt up.

As historians and writers, or simply people who have an interest in the past, we make assumptions about how people lived their days based on the evidence we have to hand. We build up pictures in our minds, and populate them, and animate them, like movies made just for us. And that’s fun, and necessary, but whether our inventions come anywhere close to the truth as it was lived is almost always impossible to say.

But here we have proof that at the time hagiographical sources, archaeological analysis, and received wisdom tell us that Columba was working in his own private writer’s studio set a little apart from and above his burgeoning monastic foundation on the island of Iona—work that resonates to this day and for which we have much to thank him—he probably was.

 

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Posted by: pauladefougerolles | April 29, 2016

Here’s “Kroniki Iony: Wygnaniec”

iona okladkaDear 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!

Posted by: pauladefougerolles | April 26, 2016

Polish fans!

Great news! “Exile” is set to be published in Poland this week!  I’m very honored and am delighted to be working with so many talented new friends in Poland. Watch this space for more information!

Posted by: pauladefougerolles | April 1, 2016

Thank you Northern Ireland!

Inner Bay, Dundrum, County Down, Northern Ireland

Inner Bay, Dundrum, County Down, Northern Ireland

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.

Inner Bay, Dundrum, County Down, Northern Ireland

Inner Bay, Dundrum, County Down, Northern Ireland

Next up, the magical town of Portaferry on Strangford Lough, and the beautiful Ards peninsula …

Hi Folks,

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.

Aren’t they?

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 …

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.

http://www.donegallibrary.ie/news/topreads/

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 …

More soon!

Posted by: pauladefougerolles | October 29, 2013

Check me out on Slam101fm.com in Barbados, today at 11 a.m. EST!

Check me out on Slam101fm.com in Barbados, today at 11 a.m. EST!

Friends:  Very excited to be interviewed this morning by DJ NV from Slam101fm.com in Barbados!  (You can hear a live podcast at the link above at 11.a.m. EST.)  We’ll be talking about my novel, “The Chronicles of Iona: Exile”.

I love Barbados.  It will actually feature in another historical-fiction series I’m working on.  

Lots of other news in the works as well, which I’ll blog about when I get a minute: Book 3 is coming along nicely, there’s a screenplay of Book 1 underway, and I’m moving to Belgium!

 

 

Michael Dresser Show

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.

www.MichaelDresserShow.com or www.BlogTalkRadio.com/MichaelDresserShow 

SW-webheader-2012

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!)

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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.

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