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A Densely Woven Tapestry of Fiction Transcript
[Title music: slow, bluesy jazz.]
Monstrous Agonies presents: A Densely Woven Tapestry of Fiction.
[The music fades out, replaced by the sound of a radio being tuned. It scrolls through pop music, a voice saying “-yes, we were too slow on that one-”, a voice saying “-OK-”, and more pop music before cutting off abruptly as it reaches the correct station.]
-find a healthy compromise you can both be at peace with.
Up next on the Nightfolk Network, a special segment for fans of our monthly book club. Tonight we hear from one of the literary luminaries of the liminal world, Adelard de Grenville.
Adelard's complex, character-driven novels have earned him an undeniable place in the liminal literary canon. Any random selection of his 38 novels to date is likely to include a host of prestigious awards and accolades.
And yet, despite this prodigious output, far and away his most well-known work remains his debut, 'Aaron Under the Mountain', a labyrinthine masterpiece which took over 700 years to complete. We spoke to Adelard himself about this remarkable piece of work.
Adelard de Grenville
I never set out to write a novel, you know. I set out to write a hagiography – an account of a saint's life, St Enoda in this case. Only I couldn't really find much out about the chap. This was the 1300s, remember – you couldn't just go Googling! [laughs]
Instead, I did what any self-respecting young friar would do in my position. I made it up! It was pretty common practice back then, to tell the truth. After all, who was going to check your sources? There were only about 15 people in the country who could read.
But after I'd started, I found I couldn't quite stop. Enoda, or the version of him that I had created, became almost like a friend to me. I carried him around in my head, imagining all sorts of adventures he might have, clever conversations he'd get into with other saints or with monks like myself – or even with God.
I thought about him constantly. It seems silly now, getting so obsessed with this person I'd all but invented. But I was a young man in a desperately quiet world. And I... Well, I-I... I suppose I was lonely. I don't know why I should be embarrassed to admit that now. It was a very long time ago! But, uh... But there you are.
In just a few short years after beginning his hagiography of St Enoda, however, Adelard's “quiet world” turned utterly upside down. At the age of 32, while climbing a ladder to perform some repair work in the monastery, Adelard's foot slipped from the rung, and he fell to his death.
But that death soon proved short lived. Four days later, he awoke, much to the amazement of his fellow monks. They – and Adelard – interpreted his recovery as a miracle.
Adelard de Grenville
Well, what was I supposed to think?! One can only interpret the world according to one's context, and in my context, “God did it” was a far more reasonable explanation than, “You've been a creature of the night your whole life and never noticed! Oh, and by the way, your mum might not have been quite as honest as she could have been about who your father was.”
Oh, I knew creatures existed of course, I wasn't completely ignorant. But people of the night weren't part of my world, not in any real sense. They occupied a similar sort of space in my mind as, as, uh saffron, or lions, or London! They were things that happened to somebody else. So, my monkish little brain did what it tended to do with things it didn't understand, and it blamed God.
And let me tell you, there's nothing like the hot breath of the Holy Spirit on the back of your neck to get the ink flowing! [laughs] I wrote like my life depended on it. And, indeed, I-I believed it did. The idea lodged in my mind that God was only keeping me alive so that I could finish this great work. [laughs] Fantastically arrogant, of course, but that's the prerogative of the young, isn't it?
But you can't keep that kind of fervour up forever. Time passed, and I died again. And again. [laughing] And again. Oh yes. And again and again and again and again... [trails off with a sigh]
Well. [pause] It gets a little wearing, doesn't it? I lost everyone and everything I knew, I watched it all just... crumble away. I stopped ageing. I was a rock, sunk deep into the river mud, unmoved and unmoving. An ancient, irrelevant insect, suspended in amber.
My writing changed. Enoda changed. He didn't have so many rip-roaring adventures or witty back-and-forths with handsome blacksmiths. [pause] More and more, I wrote him talking to God. At God, really. God never answered. I could never make God answer.
By the 18th century, Adelard's one-time hagiography had transformed into something far more like the novel we know today; a densely woven tapestry of fiction that shifts and turns under its readers feet, now offering one perspective, now another, with Enoda himself as the story's only constant.
The work was nearing completion, and Adelard knew it. In earlier interviews, he has described this knowledge as a “sickening revelation, as if looking over a wall and finding nothing beyond but the void of space”. But the book was eventually finished, and published in 1933 to widespread acclaim. Adelard explains how he overcame his fears, and set his great work down at last.
Adelard de Grenville
I heard somewhere once that, if you fall from a great enough height, there's a point where you simply can't be afraid any more. Your body won't allow it. The initial panic wears off and then you're just... falling. It's astonishing, what a person can get used to.
If I finished 'Aaron Under the Mountain', I would die. Of this, I was convinced. A final, permanent death. I'd have completed the work I'd been set on this earth to do and God would have no further use for me.
When I realised the story was ending – and it was a realisation, not a decision, by the way. Stories are like that – they insist on having things their own way. So, when I realised I was reaching the end of Enoda's story, I was horrified. I didn't write a word for fifty years. I couldn't.
But when I say stories insist on having their own way, I mean it. It nagged at me, gnawing at the back of my brain. I finished 'Aaron' with the inevitability of Jonah walking through the gates of Ninevah. It was always going to end that way. I was a fool to think I had a choice.
I'd already arranged with a friend who owned a publishing house that the book should be printed and distributed after my inevitable demise. And sure enough, just two days after setting down my pen for the final time... I was unceremoniously mashed into the concrete by an oncoming omnibus.
'Aaron' got published in a whirlwind of gossip and intrigue – I tell you, there's never been a marketing campaign quite like it. “Read the incredible story that killed it's author!” “A divinely inspired work to rival the prophets themselves!” [laughs] Oh... People went doolally for it.
Except... I suppose God has a sense of humour after all because not long after, I woke up. [pause] I'd rather not dwell on the next few years, if you- if you don't mind. It was worse than the first time. Worse than any of the other times. Not physically, I-I was used to that by now, but... [trails off]
Uh. Hm. [clears throat] I had a lot of rethinking to do. [laughs weakly] I'd built my whole life around this piece of work. I-I didn't know who I was without it. It took a long time for me to realise I didn't have to be without it. It was a part of me, and it always would be.
After that, writing was easy! [laughs] I couldn't possibly be more afraid of the next book than I had been of the first! Uh, that said, it was a relief when my next novel, 'In the Marshes of Insh', was, uh, well-received. A bit of reassurance that I'm actually rather a dab hand at this writing lark, whatever the subject.
The floodgates opened, and Adelard began his career as a novelist in earnest. He soon became one of the most well-respected British authors of the night in history with works such as 'A Turn of Silver', 'The Minotaur's Tale', and 'The River Where We Hatched'.
But there remains the mystery of his identity. While the fact of Adelard's liminal identity is beyond doubt, to this day we are left wondering exactly how he came into our midst. Not that the question concerns Adelard overmuch.
Adelard de Grenville
No, I never did find out what genus I am. I've met others with similar experiences, but they all... Ooh. Well, not to put too fine a point on it, they all look rather different than I do. I pass as sapio right up until the moment someone brains me with a shovel and I pop up again 3 days later. I think it comes of being half sapio myself – just enough of my mother in me to confuse matters. [laughs softly]
It's never really bothered me, though. I'm here and I'm alive and that's good enough for me. And good enough for God, it seems. He always did have a use for me, I-I think. It just wasn't quite as specific as I'd thought.
That was Adelard de Grenville. His latest book, 'The Sky-Seen City', is now available for pre-order.
Time now for the news.
[Background music fades into static as the radio is retuned. It scrolls through classical music, pop music, a voice saying “-I didn't really feel well-rested-” and dance music before fading out.
Title music: slow, bluesy jazz. It plays throughout the closing credits.]
A Densely Woven Tapestry of Fiction was written by H.R. Owen and performed by H.R. Owen and Rhys Lawton.
Rhys plays Elder Findlay in The Secret of St Kilda, whose second season is on the horizon. He also has roles on the upcoming podcasts Technostress and Ethics Town. For more information, visit rhyslawton.com or follow the social media links in the show notes.
Submissions for letters and prompts are now closed for Season Three, after we received over 70 letters in less than two weeks. Enormous thanks to everyone who wrote in. We are still accepting adverts, however, so send them in through the website, via email at email@example.com, or get in touch through our Tumblr account, @MonstrousAgonies, and on Twitter @Monstrous_Pod.
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This podcast is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. The theme tune is Dakota by Unheard Music Concepts.
Thanks for listening, and remember - the real monsters are the friends we made on the way.
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