The Pilgrim was one of the most intense and gripping novels I read last year, so when the author, Joy Margetts, offered to tell me about how she came to write it and her experiences doing so, I jumped at the chance to learn all about it. I found it fascinating and I hope you will too. Thank you for your time today, Joy.
Thank you for having me on your blog today, Val.
As you know, in March 2021 I was very fortunate to have my first novel published. I had written a book that was based a large part on my personal faith journey, but set fictionally in the medieval world. I was so thrilled with the response to my novel, The Healing. I loved how readers engaged with the story and the message behind it, and how they engaged with the characters. One of the characters that seemed to chime with many people was a Cistercian monk called Brother Hywel. In The Healing he was the man who acted as a spiritual guide to my central character, and I had created him to be a likeable, wise and funny man.
I wanted to write a second book even before the first was published, and then I had the privileged encouragement of readers who wanted more from me, and a publisher who believed in my writing. The obvious choice was to write a book where Brother Hywel became the central character. I had alluded to his back story in The Healing so it seemed it was a simple thing to build on that and tell his own faith journey. Which is when I found myself writing a sequel that wasn’t actually a sequel. A second book, certainly, but one that was actually a prequel. The action would start about 25 years earlier, before Brother Hywel became a monk, before he was even called Hywel. The story would take a young man, destined for the church, but not ready. It would see him make poor choices and cause heartache to many. It would describe how the weight of guilt and shame he carried would threaten to derail his life. And then it would tell his story of redemption in receiving and walking in God’s forgiveness.
I was warned that prequels were difficult to write and not always well received. But I believed in my story and persevered. After all the Star Wars films did prequels successfully (in my opinion)! The problem that I soon encountered was that I knew how the story would start – with a wealthy nobleman’s youthful indiscretion. And I knew how it would end – with my character looking somewhat like the godly, gentle, funny monk I had created him to be in The Healing. What I really struggled with was how to get from one to the other, convincingly. He had to go on a journey. So suddenly I came up with the idea to take him on a physical journey; to take him on a pilgrimage.
I am very blessed to live on the beautiful North Wales coast where I am surrounded by ancient spiritual sites. A famous pilgrim route, that thousands of travellers have walked for centuries, runs very close to my home. The North Wales Pilgrim route that travels from Holywell in the east to the Island of Bardsey in the west was one of the most popular of the pilgrim routes of the medieval period. Three pilgrimages to the Holy Island of Bardsey was deemed to be the equivalent of one pilgrimage to Rome. Many of those who trod the path did so because they actually wanted to end their days on Bardsey, the island of Saints. The area also has links to even earlier Celtic Christianity. There are a plethora of churches, holy wells, and ancient religious sites that the pilgrim route would have taken in. I know and love many of these places.
So my book became The Pilgrim, as I took Brother Hywel step by step, physically visiting the pilgrim sites and encountering God along the way. Just as I believe pilgrims have done for centuries. Hywel reaches Bardsey eventually and it is there that his redemption story is completed when he realises the power of forgiving yourself. The book ends with him dedicating himself to the life that had been chosen for him, and to the service of others.
Writing a prequel definitely had its challenges, especially in shaping and developing the characters. There is continuity to think about. Places have to look the same as they did in the first book, dates have to fit. But I was happy with the result, and my readers have concurred. And as a bonus I got to revisit some of my most favourite places in researching those pilgrim sites. I have used journeys as devices in both of my published books.
The third, that I am working on now, is different again. It is also a prequel, based on another of the characters that appears in the first book. (It seems I did not learn). This time around my central character cannot travel far, so her journey is far more about the people that come into her life and the difficult and joyous things she experiences. Hers is an inward journey just as transformative as Hywel’s physical pilgrimage.
Joy Margetts has loved writing for as long as she can remember. She also has a lifelong interest in history, and loves nothing better than visiting ancient monuments or burying herself in archive material. She was brought up in the South of England but for the last twenty five years has made her home on the beautiful North Wales coast.
Her debut novel 'The Healing', a work of historic fiction, was published by Instant Apostle in March 2021 and her second novel ‘The Pilgrim’ published in July 2022. Her third novel ‘The Bride’ is due for publication later this year.
More information on Joy and her writing, and her personal blog, can be found here www.joymargetts.com