Tuesday, June 15, 2021

It Started with a Druid and a Nun Having a Conversation, an essay by A. M. Linden, author of The Oath

The setting of early medieval Britain has always interested me, and so does the topic of A. M. Linden's guest post, which discusses how she conceptualized and researched her novel The Oath, which is out today from She Writes Press.


It Started with a Druid and a Nun Having a Conversation
A. M. Linden

The Oath
is the first book of the Druid Chronicles, a quasi-historical fiction series set in Anglo-Saxon Britain and based on the premise that a secretive and secluded Druid cult has persisted into the eighth century despite the otherwise inexorable spread of Christianity. The start of the story that turned into a saga—and one which took over more of my life than I ever intended it to—was an image that came to me when I was toying with the idea of writing a medieval murder mystery.

I did not have a particular plot or an exact time in mind, but pictured a tall, dark-haired Druid and a short, nervous nun having a conversation in a small underground chamber. While I didn’t yet have any idea why they were there or what they were talking about, I was certain that the nun was Saxon and that the chamber was underneath a Christian shrine. Those “facts” set the story’s timeframe, fixing it between the completion of the Saxon conversion to Christianity in the late 600s and the Viking invasions that began a century later—something I can say now, although I will also say that I began this work with what was at best a sketchy understanding of early British history.

Rather than being taken up with the big picture of characters contending with ethnic and religious conflicts in the Middle Ages, I was curious about who these two people were, why they were in the chamber, and what happened to them after that. Somehow it seemed that the only way to find out was to start writing, so I spent the next several months dashing off what was to become the Druid Chronicle’s first draft and didn’t begin any serious research into the period until I knew how things came out.

At that point I put the manuscript’s draft aside, and started to read whatever I could find at the library, in my local bookstore and on-line about Celts and Saxons, life in monasteries and convents, medieval farming and folktales, cooking over firepits and treating medical problems with herbs and incantations, as well as accounts of the Anglo-Saxon takeover of what is now England by writers on both sides of that struggle.

While the Anglo-Saxon period is generally counted as starting with the withdrawal of Roman forces at the end of the fourth century and ending with the Norman invasion in 1066, it quickly became apparent that to understand the people I envisioned as living in a hidden valley and continuing to practice a pre-Christian, polytheistic religion, I had to go back to the European Iron Age, a period during which our understanding of Celtic culture relies on a mix of archaeology, linguistics, and a limited number of accounts by foreign commentators. Then, in order to have a plausible explanation for how the small outcast cult could have sustained itself over the eight centuries between the last report of a Druidic center in the first century AD and the time of my “chronicles,” I needed to gain a reasonable grasp on the subsequent Romano-British and Anglo-Saxon periods, including the conversion first of the native Britons and later of the Saxon kingdoms to Christianity.

It was during this phase of my research that I traveled to the United Kingdom with my husband and the Ordnance Survey map of ancient monuments in Great Britain, Scotland and Wales. Already entranced by the early history and archeology of the British Isles, we started each of three trips at the British Museum. Then we rented a car, unfolded our map, and set out across country, taking in several of the well-maintained and highly informative heritage sites—including the awe-inspiring Stonehenge—but also following back roads, stopping at local museums in small towns with amazing displays of finds from nearby excavations, and taking advantage of the UK’s system of public access walkways to visit the vestiges of iron age hill forts or secluded standing stones in the company of grazing sheep. Beyond the wealth of knowledge gained from those trips, we had the experience of sitting in a pub in northern Wales and hearing teenagers in a nearby booth talking to each other in one of the oldest extant languages in Europe.

The reason that I didn’t do the historical research before I wrote the first draft was fear that the vibrancy I sensed in those two characters might not survive the rigors of dry documents and academic controversies. While I still think I made the right decision, the opportunity to immerse myself in the richness of a past age accounts for whatever depth and color I have been able to instill in their story.

About the book: The Oath opens a few months after Caelym, the youngest of his shrine’s remaining priests, has left their hidden sanctuary in search of their chief priestess’s sister, who’d been abducted by a Saxon war band fifteen years earlier. With only a rudimentary grasp of English and the ambiguous guidance of an oracle’s prophecy, Caelym manages to find Annwr living in a hut on the grounds of a Christian convent. Annwr has spent her years of captivity caring for the timid Aleswina, a Saxon princess consigned to the cloistered convent by her cousin, King Gilberth, after he assumed her father’s throne. Just as Caelym and Annwr are about to leave together, Aleswina learns that Gilberth, a tyrant known for his cruelty and vicious temper, means to take her out of the convent and marry her. Terrified, she flees with the two Druids, beginning an adventure that unfolds in ways none of them could have anticipated.

More information about this series can be found on the website www.druidchronicles788ad.com.

About the author: A. M. (Ann Margaret) Linden is currently completing the final book in the Druid Chronicles. Retired from a career as a nurse practitioner, she lives with her husband, two dogs and a cat. Books that have been influential in her research are included on her Goodreads Author page.


  1. This one sounds really good - I too enjoy stories of early medieval Britain. And what a rewarding second career for the author!

  2. I agree - and the research trip sounds fantastic!

  3. Anonymous4:55 PM

    Hasn't 2021 been proclaimed "The Year of the Nun" in books? MATRIX, THE REBEL NUN . . .

    Sarah Other Librarian

  4. Interesting - does Mary Sharratt's Revelations count also?