This novel is set in England, or Angleland, in the time following the Norman Conquest, it tells the story of Buccmaster of Holland, a farmer in Lincolnshire where the Fens are alive with myths and monsters, and tales of invading foreigners – Vikings and Normans. It’s written in language which is based on old English, but made easier so that people who don’t know Anglo-Saxon can understand what they are reading.
Paul Kingsnorth sought crowdfunding to get the book published and Mark Rylance – one of today’s finest actors – was one of the 400 subscribers who originally pledged to enable the book’s publication. He has also optioned the film rights and it will be interesting to see the book translated onto the big screen.
It was a thrilling, almost magical event. I hadn’t encountered Mark Rylance before this year when I saw him act in the BBC dramatisation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, so I was keen to see him in real-life and his rendering of the book scenes didn’t disappoint. I was impressed also with Paul Kingsnorth’s knowledge about the historical times about which he was writing and I learned for the first time that for 300 years following the Norman Conquest, the English kings spoke no English. I’m sure it is a well-known historical fact but it had slipped past me even although I studied Medieval History for two years at university in the 1980s!
Martin Shaw was quiet for the first half hour or so, while Paul Kingsnorth and Mark Rylance took the stage, but when he came on board the event moved into the magical storytelling realms of olden days. There is something remarkable about a live performance of story-telling, drumming and humour and monsters and magic and myths and of course the energy, not only of the story-teller but of the audience also.
As I queued to get my copy of The Wake signed I thought about what questions I might ask the talented trio – I discovered that Paul Kingsnorth is writing a trilogy about England and The Wake is the first. I assumed that the second and third books would follow directly on from the first. However, the second in the trilogy is set in the present day and the third (not yet written) will be set 1000 years in the future. I’ll be fascinated to follow this and see what Paul Kingsnorth envisions for 30th century England.
I wanted to ask Mark Rylance if he would be doing an audio version of The Wake, as I’d love to listen to the story in his rendering of it, but I confess I was a bit overwhelmed and can’t remember what I asked him, if indeed I asked anything. I did thank him for the photo opportunity and tell him it was a “once in a lifetime opportunity”. I meant for me, of course.
Martin Shaw was last in line at the signing desk but there were a number of children drawing at the desk alongside him. I asked him if they were his and he said they were Paul’s. I was imagining what it might be like to have a parent who could tell stories in the way that Martin Shaw could and did during this event. It would be amazing!
And here is a link to hear Mark Rylance reading from The Wake …