And so, as this festive season draws to an end, I finally get round to talking about Gaudete. It wasn’t even my first choice for a Christmas story this year. I’d planned to write something about steam trains, which would need me to head out into the local countryside to walk the route of my imaginary railway line. Unfortunately, when it wasn’t raining, work was manic, and I ran out of time to go walking. I shrugged and gave up on the idea of writing something Christmassy this year. It wasn’t until mid-July, as I wandered around Lichfield Cathedral, that it occurred to me that I could write a different Christmas story, and that I actually had all of the pieces I needed to write about music and cathedrals and tradition, including an idea.
That idea had its roots in last year’s Christmas shopping spree. I have a habit of looking around a place and trying to think of a story to go with it. I also do all my Christmas shopping in one outing to the nearest Christmas market, usually with my mum to keep me company. Mum likes to talk to people, and as she shares her life story with stallholder after stallholder, I tend to people-watch and play with stories in my head. Last year we went to Winchester, where the Christmas market is tucked into the Cathedral Close.
It’s always busy, with a nice mixture of Christmas food and drink, gifts and a little local craft market. Mum and I took the time to go for a tour of the cathedral as well, and even got to visit the library and see some of the manuscripts that are preserved there, most notably the Winchester Bible.
By the time we left Winchester I had a vague idea of a character, a stallholder at the market who was connected to someone who belonged to the cathedral. I also knew that these two had known each other as children, and that the other boy had been a chorister. I didn’t have any more than that, so I tucked it away as an idea to come back to in the indefinite future.
Sometime in April, I caught a wonderful BBC documentary about the choristers of Salisbury Cathedral. It’s called Angelic Voices, and gets repeated occasionally, so UK folks may be able to catch it (I recommend it). It caught at my imagination again, watching these young children sing such complex and beautiful music with such self-possession, and I found myself wondering what happens to these kids next. How do you go through life having done something so extraordinary at such a young age? Of course, being a writer, I also wondered how it could all go wrong.
For a glimpse at the life of a Salisbury chorister, watch this. It’s a long clip, aimed at parents of potential choristers, and if you skip to 5:21 you can watch some of the Darkness into Light carol ceremony which was the inspiration for the service that Callum goes to with his gran.
By the time I finally got home from my trip in July, I had all the ingredients I needed. What I didn’t have was time. I’m usually a slow writer, but I had until August 1st to finish and submit the story. At 8pm on July 31st, I had less than half of the story written. What I had I liked, though, and I didn’t have to go to work the next day, so I settled in for an all-nighter. 600 words an hour should see me through, I thought, and better to try and fail than not to try at all.
Just after midnight, I got the contract offer for Reawakening. I started my first fantasy novel when I was twelve, and had been dreaming for almost twenty years of getting that acceptance. It’s not every day a childhood dream come true, and for half an hour, I was so overwhelmed with joy that I couldn’t even think in coherent sentences.
And then I took a deep breath and sat down to finish Gaudete. The damn thing was finished on one great caffeine-fuelled rush of glee and disbelief, and I wrote the last word as the sun was coming up over the hills. At the time, I thought it was too sentimental and obscure to succeed, but I submitted it later that day anyway. It’s my good luck piece, I guess, because it made it out into the world against the odds.
There could only be one title for it, of course, from one of my favourite carols. Gaudete means “rejoice!” It’s the imperative form, and plural with it. Everyone, take joy in the world, the carol commands. So, to finish, here’s a upbeat take on it (there’s a kid on the end of the front row, with an enormous smile, who looks like I imagine Jonah at that age)
If anyone’s got any questions about the book, characters or inspirations, please ask! I’m more than happy to answer them.