We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sand of time.
I have a confession to make!
I've written another book - about the Camino.
I keep asking people not to write about their Camino - unless it has a fresh or unique angle, perhaps about a different route (there are dozens of books written about the Camino Frances), or if it was an unusual journey. Perhaps they walked with their dog, or with their children. Maybe they walked as a mendicant in medieval garb - that would make interesting reading.
There are so many books being published about a walk on the Camino Frances that although they can be inspirational, they have become almost formulaic and could be told in 10 lines. They have the same landscape, same villages, same albergues, same experiences, same food, same pilgrims. If you have read as many pilgrim books as I have, you'll know what I mean.
I first had the idea for this book in 2001 when I joined the Confraternity of St James in the UK and bought a little metal scallop shell brooch. It is a replica of a 15th century souvenir of a pilgrimage to Santiago, made of pewter, which was recovered in the banks of the river Thames near London Bridge.
It features St James, dressed as a pilgrim, against the scallop-shell emblem. When I first saw the brooch I wondered how on earth such an intrinsically sentimental, valuable pilgrim badge had landed up in the river. A pilgrim, presumably from England, had made the long and dangerous journey to Spain in the Middle Ages, bringing back this beautiful little souvenir. He must have valued it greatly and yet it was dug up on the bank of the river.
By the end of 2003 I knew my characters intimately and I had a synopsis of the full plot of the story. The crux of the story starts with a mystery - a question in a recurring dream. My characters go on a penitential pilgrimage to Santiago from April to August in 1178. They ride to Dover, get a boat across the channel and ride to Paris. From there they ride to Santiago and back. In between are plots and sub-plots, Knights, highwaymen, thieves, murderers, a forbidden love affair, a poisonous night that changes their lives forever. The ending provides the answer to the dream.
In 2004 I visited London and made an appointment with John Clark, curator of the medieval gallery in the Museum of London. He showed me a tray of Santiago souvenirs and other pilgrimage artifacts. I also got to see the original pewter brooch which was the inspiration for my story. I felt as though I'd owned that souvenir!
In June and July that year I walked from Paris to Roncesvalles, in the footsteps of my characters. They were with me all the way and I tried to see things through eyes - no mean feat when half of the monuments, churches, bridges, castles and so forth described in 'The Pilgrim's Guide to Santiago de Compostela" are no longer there! But it was a wonderful experience and once again I sent home bundles of envelopes filled with leaflets, brochures and booklets on the places along the way.