Paperback: 384pp

Published: Lightning Books (October 2024)

ISBN: 9781785633362

Let These Things Be Written

Fiona Whyte

£9.99

LONGLISTED: Exeter Novel Prize

Cast out for a crime

A holy hermit his only protector

Seven-year-old Wilfrid lives a privileged life as the eldest son of the warmaster to the King of Northumbria. But his life is turned upside down when he is given away, without warning, to the monks of Lindisfarne.

There he is taken under the wing of Cuthbert, the eccentric prior, who tries to cure him of the demons that torment him. But everywhere the boy goes, he seems to bring ill-fortune: to Fergus, drowned in the freezing North Sea, or to Sigi, his brother, struck down by plague when Wilfrid finds his way back home.

As he comes of age and major events erupt around him – war with the Picts, religious schisms and the queen’s desperate measures to conceive a son – he pieces together his own family history and the ageing Cuthbert’s part in it.

Vividly conveying the hardships and compensations of monastic life in a brutal age, this richly evocative tale of seventh-century England – based on the chronicle of the real St Cuthbert – offers some startlingly modern lessons about trauma and guilt.

OUT OCTOBER 2024. AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER NOW

Extracts

Such ugly misshapen lettering the scholar had rarely seen. He was shocked to find it here on Lindisfarne, of all places: a work crafted in so ragged a scrawl, so infested with inkblots, that some savage bird might have pranced with inky talons across its pages. Nevertheless, he had to admit that the clumsiness of the hand was in marked contrast to the quality of the words. The Latin was plain and solid, the structure was sound, rooted in the exemplars of the venerable fathers, and the investigation of the facts was rigorous, demonstrably based on trustworthy sources; indeed this writer had the supreme fortune of having been a direct witness to the deeds of the blessed Bishop Cuthbert.

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Extracts

Such ugly misshapen lettering the scholar had rarely seen. He was shocked to find it here on Lindisfarne, of all places: a work crafted in so ragged a scrawl, so infested with inkblots, that some savage bird might have pranced with inky talons across its pages. Nevertheless, he had to admit that the clumsiness of the hand was in marked contrast to the quality of the words. The Latin was plain and solid, the structure was sound, rooted in the exemplars of the venerable fathers, and the investigation of the facts was rigorous, demonstrably based on trustworthy sources; indeed this writer had the supreme fortune of having been a direct witness to the deeds of the blessed Bishop Cuthbert.

Still, it would not do. It would not do at all.

When first they had sent word to him at Jarrow, he hesitated. He was a poor traveller – the prospect of a two-day ride to Lindisfarne filled him with dread – and horses made him nervous. Moreover, he was mired in his own latest undertaking, an ecclesiastical history of the English people, which would take years to complete, even if his attention were not diverted to a new project; the very thought of being parted from his monastery library made him queasy. Should he agree to this request, the necessary inspection of documents, the examination of witnesses, would require days, if not weeks. Then he must write the thing and read it before the elders of Lindisfarne for their approbation. God alone knew when he might return to Jarrow.

Yet something in the subtle allusions of the letter the emissary brought made him suspect that God willed him to this endeavour. It appeared that one of the monks on Lindisfarne had already composed a Vita. Its essential veracity was not to be doubted. But a careful perusal of the work would, the letter suggested, uncover shortcomings: omissions, indelicacies of emphasis with regard to certain controversies, which must be corrected, preferably by one whose commitment to the unity of the church was steadfast and avowed. There was none so suited to the task as he, the letter said, appealing to his sense of brotherly duty. Surely the glorious life of Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, beloved of God, was worthy of the pen of the great Father Bede himself?

Now that he held the narrative in his hands, he understood those concerns. An unfortunate tendency to emphasise the man rather than the saint. Worse, somehow the text whispered between the lines that Bishop Cuthbert had been equivocal on the issue that had rent the church asunder: the Easter question. The merest hint of such a position must be eradicated. A new Life was required to temper the deficiencies of this one and ensure that Cuthbert of Lindisfarne would be remembered as a man who preached and upheld the practices laid down by Rome.

Bede tried to calculate how long the task would take. He must interview those in the community and any others who might bear first-hand witness, of course; but this document would steer him steadily in his endeavour – he could copy whole passages from it without compromising his own purpose – and the task might be completed sooner than he had first anticipated. Who could say? Perhaps if his humble testament was pleasing to its subject, St Cuthbert himself might intercede with God for the success of his other work.

He laid the manuscript on a desk. Yes, it was an admirable work, and no doubt its author would be gratified to have planted the seeds from which a whole new book would spring. Father Bede fetched a pot of ink, prepared a quire of parchment, and sharpened his quill. He made the sign of the cross, prayed God to aid his hand, and began.

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ABOUT

Fiona Whyte

Fiona Whyte has a PhD in creative writing from University College, Cork. Her short fiction has appeared in a wide variety of anthologies. Let These Things Be Written is her debut novel.

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