The Secret Testament of Julian, my new novel, is now available.
It’s historical fiction… and both those words are important, because there’s a lot of both within.
I imagine the life of Julian of Norwich, who you may be familiar with – the first woman to write a book in English, a stirring story in itself in our #metoo climate.
She also wrote those famously hopeful lines, ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.’
Julian lived in the 14th century, in the cosmopolitan city of Norwich – a trading centre with Europe and the 2nd largest city in England.
She shared the planet with Chaucer and Langland. But unlike them, she lived inside a cell for forty years, as an anchoress.
There are very few solid facts about her life; though we know some. And I always felt she gave away much about herself in her remarkable book, The Revelations of Divine Love.
The Secret Testament of Julian is written in the first person, as autobiography. And its 14th century setting means it cannot always be pretty. It was the roughest and most heartless of times.
But then none of our lives can always be pretty due to the circumstances we find ourselves in; and the circumstances we find in ourselves.
It was the same for Julian; and in my novel, her path is some way from a serene walk. The skies are sometimes dark and troublesome.
My excellent editor, Karl French, had never heard of her, which was a bonus for me. He brought fresh eyes to the narrative.
But having been ignored for six centuries, Julian is suddenly famous, finding a large following in the 20th and 21st centuries.
There are meditation books which use her writings; and there are Julian groups all over the world, gathering around her distinctive fire.
And such interest and appreciation is utterly deserved; she wrote remarkable things, which (and this I am in awe of) were quite out of tune with the prevailing theologies of her day, which built mainly on guilt and fear.
I’m not sure anyone has equalled her since in the grace implicit in her writing.
And I am familiar with her writing. Indeed, a few years ago I produced my own edition of her work, Revelations of Divine Love, published by White Crow.
But I wished to know her better, understand her better; and so, drawing on the self-revelation in her writing, I have imagined a life for her in a stark 14th century setting in which she knew love, fear, joy and terror.
Why as a child did she pray for a near-death experience? Why did she hide herself away in a cell?
And where – amid the ruin of plague, famine, misogamy, religious bigotry and political oppression – did she find such hope?
It’s called historical fiction because there’s much of both.
But beyond these categories, my hope for the book is the ring of truth; for that has been my experience of sitting with Julian.
I wish it for you as well.
The Secret Testament of Julian is published by White Crow and available from all the usual suspects.