I did get carried away with the idea of a prologue chronicling the seven year wanderings of the community of St. Cuthbert from Lindisfarne to their new home at Chester-le-Street (Kuncacester). The draft is now posted as a page. It undoubtedly needs some rewriting to expand characters and dialogue and loosen it up a bit. I have been told more than once that my writing, academic and fiction, is very “dense.” That is usually the way my early drafts are, and then I need to untangle everything. For now, though, writing the prologue has helped me see how the succeeding chapters covering Aldred’s era almost a century later might be sequenced.
Some of the issues that came up in trying to construct the wanderings are well known to scholars of the events, others are peculiar to historical fiction writing.
The dating and itinerary are a nightmare. What both the Historia Sancto Cuthberto and Symeon of Durham (and other intermediary sources) narrate is impossible, so I have taken liberties. I did make use of Richard Hardwick’s St. Cuthbert’s Final Journey route (thanks, Richard!), based on places with St. Cuthbert memorials suggesting “Cuthbert slept here.” But clearly the community once it left Lindisfarne in 975 spent months, or even years, at a time in one location, probably major monastic estates, and them made forays out into other areas. So I made some guesses as well as tried to correlate with known events that might cause them to move (I have a master timeline, such as it is). I really tried to get the Strathclyde Britons in there, Senchus.
I have them spending three years in Northumbria, two at Carlisle after moving west to Cumbria, and then two securing the move to Crayke and then Chester-le-Street. I fudged on the last year, having them move from Crayke to Chester-le-Street in 882 but delaying the installment of Bishop Eardulf to 883 on the grounds they would need to get the place set up first.
I also used the liturgical calendar as well as the seasons to place them in the timeline at different locations. Some events correlate with St. Cuthbert’s two feastdays, others with Easter or Advent. I did have to use a calculator to find out when Easter occurred in 881, using this helpful site from the Astronomical Society of South Australia, although this site on the Ecclesiastical Calendar will do it for you.
Place and people names are an issue. I did opt to have them go to Morecambe Bay to retrieve the Gospelbook, but am struggling with what it wwas called then. Or can I get away with modern place names if they have some semblance of sounding like they date back to the early Middle Ages? With Workington, I opted for “Derwentmouth.” The same name issues occur with people groups–like Sally Wilde, I am wondering whether to use Cumbrians or Britons vs Anglians, Northumbrians and Southumbrians. Then there are the wretched vikings–Irish Norse, regular Norse, Danes, or just call them Scandinavians.
St. Bega made it into the itinerary of the Gospelbook, but I wasn’t able to develop her much, yet. I do want more female characters. When the community got to Crayke, I did decide to go with the minority view that the otherwise unknown “abbot” Geve of Crayke was an Abbess Geva presiding over a double house (Hadley, Northern Danelaw, pp. 259-60).
Once I started moving the group toward Chester-le-Street, I got carried away with their making the viking Guthred king of York. The story is so full of possibilities that I made up all kinds of things. One difficulty is that the alleged ceremony took place on “Oswydune,” an unidentified place name, but it suggests someplace where the seventh-century King Oswy stopped. Taking some literary license, in order to make the narrative work, I made it Crayke hill itself.
Any way, for those diligent enough to work their way through the thickets of the Prologue, feel free to make comments there or here. Much appreciated.