Thursday, December 18, 2014

THE OBLATE'S CONFESSION: 5 Questions for Author William Peak

Please join me today in welcoming author William Peak to Books & Benches! 

Praise for The Oblate's Confession
William Peak's masterful prose--its sentences as skillfully made and enduring as the abbey at Redestone--is what makes this book so compelling. I read it twice--once for the intricacies of character and plot, then again for the pure pleasure of Peak's writing.
- Sue Ellen Thompson, poet, Pulitzer Prize nominee, and winner 2010 Maryland Author Award      

A stunning debut...I look forward to more!
-Amy Abrams, author, Schenck in the 21st  Century and The Cage and the Key

The Book
The Dark Ages, England: a warrior gives his son to a monastery that rides the border between two rival Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Growing up in a land wracked by war and plague, the child learns of the oath that binds him to the church and forces a cruel choice upon him. To love one father, he must betray another. The decision he makes shatters his world and haunts him forever. This quietly exotic novel places us compellingly in another time, another place, where chieftains fear holy men, holy men fear the world, and prayer has the primal force of fire. While entirely a work of fiction, the novel's background is historically accurate. In the midst of a tale that touches the human in all of us, readers will find themselves treated to a history of the Dark Ages unlike anything available today outside of textbooks and original source material.

Extended Summary
England, the 7th century. Petty Anglo-Saxon kingdoms make war upon one another and their Celtic neighbors. Christianity is a new force in the land, one whose hold remains tenuous at best. Power shifts back and forth uneasily between two forms of the new faith: a mystical Celtic Catholicism and a newer, more disciplined form of Catholicism emanating from Rome. Pagan rites as yet survive in the surrounding hills and mountains. Plague sweeps across the countryside unpredictably, its path marked by death and destruction.

In keeping with a practice common at the time, an Anglo-Saxon warrior donates his youngest child to the monastery of Redestone, in effect sentencing the boy to spend the rest of his life as a monk. This gift-child, called an oblate, will grow up in the abbey knowing little of his family or the expectations his natural father will someday place upon him, his existence haunted by vague memories of a former life and the questions those memories provoke.

Who is his father, the distant chieftain who sired him or the bishop he prays for daily? And to which father, natural or spiritual, will he owe allegiance when, at length, he is called upon to ally himself with one and destroy the other? These are the dilemmas the child faces. The answers will emerge from the years he spends in spiritual apprenticeship to a hermit who lives on the nearby mountain of Modra nect.

While entirely a work of fiction, the novel’s background is historically accurate: all the kings and queens named really lived, all the political divisions and rivalries described actually existed, and each of the plagues that visit the author’s imagined monastery did in fact ravage that long-ago world. In the midst of a tale that touches the human in all of us, readers will find themselves treated to a history of the “Dark Ages” unlike anything available today outside of textbooks and original source material.

Publication date December 1, 2014. Distributed nationally in hardcover by AtlasBooks. Click here to order from AtlasBooks. Click here to order from Amazon.  Available as an e-book through all major online retailers.

5 Questions for William Peak

What is your favorite scene in The Oblate’s Confession?
I would be hard-pressed to pick a favorite, but certainly one of my favorites would have to be the novel’s opening scene.  In it, my first-person narrator relates one of his earliest memories: he is a child, perhaps four or five, and for reasons he cannot fathom, he has been abandoned by his father in a place full of dark men wearing dark clothes (it is, in fact, a monastery, but the child is too young to understand that).  The scene opens with the little boy so terrified he has hidden himself behind a large door.  One of the dark men finds him there and, taking him by the hand, leads him out onto the cloister garth.  It is snowing, and the exchange that then takes place on the garth between these two characters—a middle-aged monk and the small child—snow falling all around them, has a sort of enchantment for me.  I hope it will for my readers as well. 

What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?
In a way, the writer of literary historical fiction gets to experience the ultimate adventure.  However vicariously, through the medium of his craft, he is able to travel to and inhabit another time.  And this, of course, if he’s any good, is also the opportunity he affords his readers.

What has been your greatest pleasure in writing The Oblate’s Confession?
I think I would have to say the gift of the story itself.  When I set out to write the book, I had a very different story in mind.  But as the characters developed, I kept finding myself thinking—indeed, they seemed to keep telling me—that they would behave differently from the way my story-line as originally conceived demanded they behave. At first, of course, I fought this.  But eventually I realized the battle was hopeless and began to let the story lead me where it would.  And what developed, what appeared day after day on my computer screen, now struck me as right and wonderful and, in a way, almost miraculous. 
I don’t know if there is a God, but I certainly hope there is.  One reason I have such hope is the story that came to me as I wrote this book, the story that became this book.  I would love to claim I thought it up, that it was my genius that created this tale, but I can’t say with any certainty that that is true.  At any rate, the fact that it exists, the fact that this story came to me in the way that it did, does make me wonder.  And, I must admit, it gives me hope. 

How much research do you do?
Never enough.  That’s what it feels like when you’re writing a book like this, that you can never do enough research.  But before I began to write The Oblate’s Confession, I did read everything I could get my hands on about monasticism and 7th century Britain (and the plagues that ravaged 7th century Britain) and contemplative prayer and early European pagan beliefs and any number of other things … all in preparation for imagining The Oblate’s Confession into existence.  Still, as I said, it never felt like enough.  And of course, as any professional historian or archaeologist will tell you, the moment you set pen to paper the history you’re writing becomes dated.  New discoveries will inevitably cast new light upon your subject matter.  My wife is a professional historian, and if there is anything living with her has taught me it is that the past is a moving target.  No one ever strikes it dead-on.  I only hope and pray ongoing research into the world of 7th century Britain will justify at least most of the artistic decisions I had to make if I was ever to quit researching and actually begin writing my novel. 

Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
There isn’t enough time in the day to read all that I want to read, so I read whenever I can, and I always read for at least one hour each morning, and again for another hour at night before going to sleep.  I can’t imagine any writer who valued his craft answering no to the question, “Do you read much?”  A writer who didn’t read would be like a pianist or ballerina that didn’t practice.  When he wanted to write, he would find there was no ink in his pen.  It is from reading—massive, unending amounts of reading—that we gain the fluency required to write.     

As for my favorite authors, if forced to pick among the many I love, for prose I would choose Virginia Woolf (I think To the Lighthouse far and away the best novel ever written), Wendell Berry, Graham Swift, Wallace Stegner, Annie Dillard, and Thomas Merton; for poetry: Philip Larkin, Jack Gilbert, Sue Ellen Thompson, Jane Kenyon, and Billy Collins.  Every Xmas, my wife and I re-read Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales, and its language and rhythms have long since become my own.  But then where to place Shakespeare, where the multiple authors of the Bible?  In both cases, the influence upon all writers of English has been so extensive as to be immeasurable and, probably, unknowable.  Finally, I suppose I owe every author I’ve ever read—both the good and the not-so-good—a great debt.  I thank them all.  


Author William Peak spent ten years researching and writing The Oblate’s Confession, his debut novel (if you are interested in ordering the book click here).  Based upon the work of one of the great (if less well known) figures of Western European history, the Venerable Bede, Peak’s book is meant to reawaken an interest in that lost and mysterious period of time sometimes called “The Dark Ages.”

Peak received his baccalaureate degree from Washington & Lee University and his master’s from the creative writing program at Hollins University.  He works for the Talbot County Free Library on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  Thanks to the column he writes for The Star Democrat about life at the library (archived at, Peak is regularly greeted on the streets of Easton: “Hey, library guy!”  In his free time he likes to fish and bird and write long love letters to his wife Melissa.

Where can readers connect and discover more about you and you work?

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