Saxon’s Bane Acquired by Solaris Books

I’m delighted to announce that Saxon’s Bane has been acquired by Solaris Books, an imprint of Rebellion, and will be released in September 2013.  Solaris Books’ press release, excluding the blurb and bio that is already posted on this site, is:

Acquisition announcement:

Debut author finds Saxon treasure beneath 21st Century England 

COMING IN SEPTEMBER 2013: Saxon’s Bane by Geoffrey Gudgion

Solaris is proud to announce a 2013 debut novel that brings the Dark Ages crashing into the 21st Century.

Geoffrey Gudgion’s historical supernatural thriller, Saxon’s Bane, will be published in September 2013.

A contemporary novel with a thrilling historical heart, Gudgion’s first novel is set in the 21st century but grounded in the Dark Ages, with a Saxon legend at its heart.

The past invades the present in this beautiful, lyrical and frightening tale, inspired by Gudgion’s love of ancient, ethereal places, and his eye for signs of the distant past in the English landscape of today.

“It’s a rare occasion when a submission comes in that I have to read right the way through in one go,” said Jonathan Oliver, editor-in-chief of Solaris. “Saxon’s Bane was such a book. Discovering a new writer is always a thrill, and Geoffrey’s novel is of such a high calibre that I can’t wait for people to read it.”

For all press enquires please contact Michael Molcher

on +44 (0)1865 792 201 or press@rebellion.co.uk

http://www.solarisbooks.com/

The Lost Village of Nether Haddon

I’d have made a very bad historian.  That’s a surprising admission, perhaps, for a writer whose plots are grounded in English history, but I’m much more interested in the lives of ordinary people that are caught up in great events than I am in the events themselves.  Talk to me about how the generals manouevred to win a battle, and my eyes will glaze fairly rapidly.  Show me a private soldier’s letters home and I’m hooked.  It’s history on a human scale.

This week, I visited Haddon Hall in Derbyshire while researching my next book.  If you like old English manor houses, and haven’t been to Haddon Hall, then I can thoroughly recommend a visit.  Unlike so much of our architectural history, it has survived relatively unscathed through every threat from the English Civil War to the concrete catastrophes of the late 20th century, and is now being lovingly restored by the same family that has owned the place for about eight hundred years.

But if you go, allow some time to look Westwards, towards the cow pastures on the opposite slopes of this beautiful valley.  The turf carries the imprint of a road, rising towards the skyline.  Hummocks in the hillside show where dwellings once stood.  The discerning eye, I’m told, can see the outline of enclosures for cattle.  This is Nether Haddon, mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 and in 13th century documents, but at some time in the Middle Ages, the village disappeared.  English Heritage (who list Nether Haddon as an Ancient Monument) speculate that the decline might have begun with famines or the Black Death of the fourteenth century, or even the creation of a deer park by the lord of the manor in 1330.

But these forgotten people left their mark.  Even after seven hundred years, the strip patterns of medieval fields still flow across the hillsides above; regular, gentle undulations of the ground like the slow-breathing waves of the deep ocean.

They also left their mark in Haddon Hall, whose chapel was their parish church.  See if you can sit there alone, in between the guided tours.  It is small enough for the aisle to seem crowded when a party of fifteen washes into the space, flowing round the box stalls and monuments, their heads turning in unison at the intonation of their guide, but each flood soon recedes.  Wait a while.  The atmosphere seeps back into the chapel the way a mouse will creep back into a room it thinks is empty.  Sit still, be aware, smell the centuries.

They decorated their church, the people of Nether Haddon.  The walls are covered in their wall paintings, probably dating from the early 15th century.  Entire walls are decorated in leaf designs and stories from the lives of saints.  Enough people had survived for this still to be a living church, and their exquisite artistry lasted until the Reformation.

Did I say ‘survived relatively unscathed’?  God save us from zealots of all faiths, and the desecration that they do in His name.  After the English church broke with Rome, the wall paintings were plastered and lime-washed over.  Only now are they being restored, and only to pale suggestions of their former richness.

But still, there’s a link.  A road to nowhere between old earthworks, a strip piled into a ridge by an ox-drawn plough, and a simple faith that painted miracles into plaster.

There’s a story in there, somewhere.

Thursbitch by Alan Garner

This is the first book that I have begun to re-read immediately, i.e. turned directly from the last page back to the first. It needed that second reading to understand its nuances.  I enjoyed it even more, and found its ending more deeply moving, on the second reading.

Thursbitch is a beautifully written story of a present-day couple and an eighteen-century community whose lives echo across the centuries near the remote valley of Thursbitch in  Cheshire.  At times it seems that the landscape itself is sentient, aware, and interacting with the people passing through it.  It is written in a clean, pure style that sometimes reads more like poetry than prose, and like poetry, you need to think about it and over-read it before the layers of complexity can be appreciated.

Garner has written some of the book in eighteenth-century Cheshire dialect, which presents some challenges to the modern reader.  The challenge is not as great, say, as reading Chaucer in the original Middle English, and there is an almost-musical cadence to the language, but you still need to think.  Most meanings are logical given their context, for example a ‘four-went-way’ is clearly a crossroads, but I had an occasional need to resort to a dictionary.

Garner makes no compromise for the modern reader, which I suspect is deliberate.  In using the old language of the fells, without a glossary, he puts the reader into that place and time rather than simply telling us about it.  However that may mean that some richness is deeply buried.  I live in a semi-rural community, so I could guess that a ‘second bite off his head’ meant a second hay crop, but I’m sure I missed other meanings.

Similarly, there is an exquisitely-written scene where couples jump through the flames of a bonfire, drive their cattle through its ashes, and take the smoldering turfs to their homes, but their actions are not explained.  It took my own, separate research for Saxon’s Bane to teach me that this was a pagan betrothal and fertility custom.

For all its challenges, I’m now a convert to Garner.  I’ve already ordered another of his books and will undoubtedly read more.  Thoroughly recommended for anyone who likes atmospheric, quality writing.