Bath Literature Festival

This past week I was honored to have an invitation to the prestigious Bath Literature Festival next spring to discuss The Lake of Dreams, which has already sold in England, as well as in Germany, Italy, Brazil, and Holland. Started in 1995, the Bath Festival is described as “presenting the very best in local, national, and international writers,” and the 2011 event promises to be the best one yet.

I’m thrilled to be going. Bath is such a beautiful historic city, with its ancient ruins and marvelous architecture.  On my last trip, I also attended a Jane Austen evening at the Bishop’s Palace in nearby Wells Cathedral, which is described on its website as “a prayer in stone and glass.”

In fact, I love the whole Somerset area of England. Four years ago, my husband suggested that we take a bike ride along a canal near Langport. We ended up at the ruins of Muchelney Abbey, a Benedictine monastery that was mostly destroyed by Henry VIII in the 1500s, though the foundations are still visible and some of the walls still stand. The area is low-lying and used to flood annually, leaving the Abbey cut off from the world for weeks at a time. The “ney” in Muchelney means “island,” I’ve been told. When the floods came—the “summer sea” it was called—the Abbey must have been a beautiful and tranquil retreat. The ruins felt timeless, and I found myself trying to image the daily rhythms of the monks who had walked on those same stones and paths centuries before. Later, we biked back to Langport, where I bought fruit and flowers at an outdoor market.

That summer day eventually made its way, transformed, into The Lake of Dreams, when one of the characters visits Muchelney Abbey in 1909, a year before Halley’s comet soared through the sky above her. I didn’t even suspect that our bike ride, made on the spur of the moment, would become important to the novel I’d been imagining and writing for so many years. This is one of the continual surprises and pleasures of writing—the characters take on their own lives, and there’s no predicting, when you start a book, where you’ll find yourself as the story takes shape.

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