Today my newest novel The Well of the North Wind was published by SPCK in London. The strange thing is that the story was written not on the island of Iona (where the novel is set) but in Arctic Norway. Last winter I was staying up north of the Arctic Circle to write another book entirely, about the Sami people of Northern Scandinavia. But this new story came into my head and during the four weeks that followed it came to be written. When stories blow into my mind in such a way I have no choice but to sweep away everything else and be there to listen to them. I find they come into being very fast: generally I write two thousand words every day, and as I write I hardly change a single thing.
The story follows the life of a young boy called Fian. He comes from a tiny community in the westernmost edges of Ireland, and he loves to draw in the sand more than anything else. One day he sees a kind and gentle man bending down to find out what he has drawn, and asking if he would like to learn to write beautiful things. Fian does now know what it means to write, but he nods, and over the next months the young monk teaches him to draw amazing things in the sand. In the end, he asks if Fian would like to travel over the sea to work on a special new book that is being created.
This is how Fian reaches the island of Iona in the high days of the Celts and becomes the ‘fourth hand’ working on the great treasure that will become the Book of Kells. But the story is as interlaced as any piece of Celtic knotwork; it is also about the many other characters living on Iona in those last days of the great Columba. It is about their struggle to find faith, and to find answers to all the great questions of their lives. Fian is both one of them and yet not; in the end it is only through losing everything that he finally finds his answers, and himself.