These events and experiences take me back some years. It was a summer sailing voyage. We were a few days out from Largs, on the west coast of Scotland, and heading westwards across the north Atlantic. It was night time and I was on watch with a fellow crew member. We had the mainsail half reefed down, a foresail set at the prow of the boat, and all seemed quiet, with a fresh but steady following wind. No doubt we were both half asleep, lulled by the quiet rush of waves past the hull, and gazing up at the stars as bright as they could be, seen from the middle of the ocean. Then, suddenly …
Then, suddenly … What happened next is told on the opening page of my latest book, The Voyage of the Kresala. In the book, of course, it is Prince Gentil on watch with his friend Alick, both of them novice sailors. The squall that strikes them in a dramatic surge of wind and water over the cockpit is about to set in motion a sequence of events that will take them into danger and even close to death.
Like all those on board, each for their own reasons, Gentil is already fleeing from the collapse of order back home, and is now headed across the ocean on a mission of vital importance, though at this stage he has no clue about the significance of their voyage. Only with the emergence of Itxaso, a young woman who mysteriously spends the first days of the sailing hidden away in her cabin below decks, will the real purpose of their journey become clear.
A reviewer of the book commented that: “Its world and characters feel entirely real, and convey the sense of deeper realities that comes from really living in this one.” This, of course, is precisely the bull’s eye that this book, and its companion volumes in The Seven Songs, are aiming for.
The storyteller’s work is to carry the reader into that world of the imagination yet make it “really” happen. In the case of the royal children, their engagement with the real world arrives late for them, as they have never lived in the real world (see King Abba). It is this “coming to know the world” that takes each of them, and it is hoped, the reader, on a hero’s journey.
The act of writing, or telling orally, is an act of participation in the event, about which you cannot dictate the outcome. Rumer Godden, an immensely successful writer with a huge following, is said to have never accepted an advance from a publisher because, as she explained, “how do I know what I’m going to write until I’ve written it?” In Henri Bortoft’s terms, then, writing has to be an “upstream” activity.
As you write, you have to laugh or cry, feel tense, angry, exhausted ‒ whatever is called on you to be as begetter of the narrative. These feelings have to be spontaneous; they cannot be planned. A neighbour of Charles Dickens in London is supposed to have observed the writer laughing uproariously or weeping as he penned his novels at a desk near the window. I can well believe this. If you don’t feel the events you are writing about, how can you expect your reader to feel anything at all? In other words, you have to take the reader “upstream” with you.
I hope as the series develops, that the worlds which the royal children individually “come to know”, they will know in the fourfold way that Heidegger describes. Their mission in life is to find that fourfold whole and set it up as a standard against which to measure all knowledge. Moments of such all-involving “knowing” have been identified in spiritual and literary accounts for as long as humankind has stood on earth and looked around.
It is clear that in itself, knowledge is a mystery, one that provides the very first question in the mind of Prince Fion in the opening book of the series, King Abba. “Where does knowledge come from?” the young prince wants to know. “And where is it before it is known?” There is no easy answer to this, as he finds out.
From a purely practical angle, writers are always advised to write about what they know. In The Voyage of the Kresala, I have drawn from journeys at sea where all the supreme elements of nature are present. I will always remember that night of the storm, those minutes that I spent at the helm of the yacht, holding her steady as my fellow crew members struggled to stabilise the chaos around. The squall hurled the boat forward and all I could do was to try to keep the craft on an even keel. Any deviation in that wind would have meant disaster. It was, strangely, in spite of, or because of, the danger, an exhilarating and glorious moment, an epiphany. This is what Gentil experiences, too. There are no more intense moments than these, when one could hardly feel closer to Heidegger’s “thing” in which “earth and sky, divinities and mortals are all gathered in the presencing.”
The Voyage of the Kresala is the fourth book in The Seven Songs series. Previous titles are King Abba, and Behind the Mountain. Book 3 is planned for next year, to fill the gap between Book 2 and Book 4.
The Voyage of the Kresala on Amazon: www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00TXWJSE0