This novel is a virtual time machine that takes the reader back to 11th century England—the time of Saxon domination before and after the disastrous Battle of Hastings in 1066. Step directly into the footsteps of Cuthwin of Alnwick. There are few “great men or women” in this historical novel, but instead the story of an ordinary man and his wife who work to survive. Cuthwin, who dictates his story around his 85th year of life, scrupulously avoided people of great power and standing. As he told his wife, the fiery Cwenburh, “such folk as we, are pebbles and dirt under heavy merciless wheels of great men and women.” So, follow the real medieval life, and not that of fantasy and privilege. Via the combination of conscientious research and robust storytelling, “Cuthwin” is a historical novel dealing respectfully with its period and people.
For a thoroughly researched, accurate history and understanding of these medieval times, to discover the motives behind plot development, engage in character analysis, or unmask reasons for religious commentary conveyed throughout the telling of this tale…or if you’re curious as to why Warner felt compelled to write this book, please visit: CuthwinandCwenburh.com
“With impressive attention to detail, combined with the kind of narrative storytelling that attracts and holds the reader’s truly rapt attention from beginning to end, Irving Warner’s “The Life & Travels of Saint Cuthwin” will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to the personal reading lists of dedicated historical fiction fans, as well as both community and college/university library Historical Fiction collections.” -John Taylor, Reviewer for Midwest Book Review
Irving Warner is the author of five other books from Pleasure Boat Studio, including In Memory of Hawks and Other Stories of Alaska and The War Journal of Lila Ann Smith. He has traveled extensively throughout his life. He lived in Hawaii for nine years and spent thirty-three years in Alaska. There he worked in fisheries, fisheries science, and wildlife biology and as a teacher at a community college in Kodiak. After that, he settled down in in Port Angeles, Washington, where he has spent the past six years writing THE LIFE & TRAVELS OF SAINT CUTHWIN, and where he has resided for the past fourteen years.
Review quotes from prior work:
About In Memory of Hawks: “Irving Warner is a rare find. His stories are filled with the subtlety and power of the great American masters…He has the touch.” –Jack Olsen, The Pitcher’s Kid / About The War Journal of Lila Ann Smith: “…an unusually well-crafted book. Thoroughly researched, richly detailed, and exceptionally well written.” –David James, Fairbanks News-Miner / “…this book is hard to put down…Warner writes with great depth and intensity of the honor and bravery required for Lila Ann to triumph against the odds.” –Beverly J. Rowe, Women’s Status in Texarkana / About Crossing the Water, The Alaska-Hawaii Trilogies: “The strength…is its realism…masterly woven…unusual and exceptional.” –Teri Davis
Other books by Irving Warner:
In Memory of Hawks, and Other Stories from Alaska (1998)
Wagner, Descending: The Wrath of the Salmon Queen (2002)
The historical novel The War Journal of Lila Ann Smith (2007)
Crossing the Water: The Alaska-Hawaii Trilogies (2009)
The wicked in his pride persecutes the poor; let them be caught in the plots which they have devised. For the wicked boasts his heart’s desire; he blesses the greedy and renounces the Lord. –Psalm 10, ii-iii.
I narrate my life and travels in this year 1097 to good Iswhl-of-Ilchester with modest aims. At onset I remind all that I am Cuthwin the Fencebuilder, who has striven to build and mend fences along the boisterous coast of Kernowec these past thirty-odd years. I am nothing more than most hard-working freedmen, and certainly not a holy man, never having taken tonsure. I am an honest keeper of our Savior’s words, like most Saxon folk. And I am indeed Saxon both in kind and tongue which these last nearly forty years diminishes at court, in market, and croft. Fence-building has ruined my hands for writing or much else; hence Iswhl takes my words spoken, and commits them to writing, but admonishes me to read them over carefully, and I do. Countrymen throughout the hills and shores come to my hermitage and, due to my travels and age, have sought advice on many topics. Since I have knowledge of letters and words, I do my best to share that God-given fortune. Hence, over the years good people have mistakenly attributed age, experience, perhaps wisdom—for holiness. Too often of late I have heard my name uttered in the context of religious gift. So I write this to impart to all, for I will soon be gone: That I began life as a poor man who lived honestly, and will be taken by God in the same humble circumstances. This is what I desire to pass on to those reading of my life and travels.
St. Cuthwin commences the telling of his early life, including his place of birth, and the circumstances of how he came to Peterborough Abby; his youthful education and subsequent departure from Peterborough to commence his early wanderings.
…At the beginning of King Cnut’s long reign, God keep his soul, I was born to a house scull belonging to the Manor of Pilson-of-Withernsea, then an under-tenant to a thane of a Great Lord. There is nothing known of my father, save he was one of many pitiless Danes who ravaged Withernsea. The woman violated was Sarah, keen for the joys of fellowship and good ale, and much less for the hard work of kitchen and hearth. For these trespasses, I was told later, she was oft punished. Because of her ill- balanced humors, I had many brothers and sisters, for I was the eleventh of fourteen. Most of my siblings were rescued in early infancy from this troubled world by merciful God. It was aired even in my person that my father, the Dane, violated territory oft yielded voluntarily or secured trespass in less-than-bad spirited circumstances. It was some weeks after being delivered of her fourteenth child that my mother departed this earth. I was told she died shriven, for her ways oft had been contrary to one of steady faith. I have only vague memory of this poor woman, my mother, but to this day pray for her soul as any true son would. I was raised at commonality in the Manor of Pilson-of-Withernsea until not yet a stripling. I do remember the Lord of the Manor as a largish Saxon with great strands of red hair. He often drank to excess, falling off his horse onto whatever earthly circumstances lay beneath. Working at livery, I would greet the animal as it arrived without its besotted rider. Joined by the Master of Horse’s boy and others, we would search in all directions until we found our Lord. The lad finding him was rewarded with a ha’pence, after which we struggled at litter returning Pilson-of-Withernsea to the Manor proper. This Manor was meager, unlike Norman manors current, though boards always were sufficient of necessity for keeping body and spirit served. At about the time a lad begins finding his staff, I and several serfs were transacted to Gilbert-of-Wharram Percy by our previous master to satisfy debt. Wharram Percy was several leagues from my birthplace and upon soks much different. The Manor House of Gilbert was larger, and I was put in service to one of his trusted housecarls named Alwystle, He was a harsh master for any lad, of loutish nature, quick with cruel hand and foot, a man of colic temper. Thankfully he was slow of wit and easily hooded even by young boys…
3 sample Book Club Questions from the website about The Life & Travels of Saint Cuthwin
2. Cuthwin’s prime motivation for dictating his life to the monks of Cornwall (modern region’s name), was to show contemporary and later people how he was not a saint. The standout example was his inability to forgive. This alone is heretical, but are there others as well?
6. As readers we see Cuthwin make an extraordinary transition from his youth in Peterborough Monastery, to the closing years of his life. First off, we have a transition from the work in the stable, to that of a commercial scribe, to the grueling (comparatively) unskilled labor building stone fences. How did these transitions enhance the fundamental moral compass Cuthwin had?
10. There were many places in the novel where Cuthwin and Cwenburh actions flew in the face of eleventh century (and modern!) Christianity’s basic tenets. In fact, their relationship and child are begotten prior to marriage; her youthful pregnancy didn’t seem to bother Cwenburh one bit. Isn’t this a form of “shopping cart” religion, i.e. that you select here and there bits and pieces of a religion that meet your approval, then ignore others that do not? Does this not limit the serious spiritual standing of Cwenburh and Cuthwin? (Reminder! Cuthwin even ‘forgives’ Cwenburh’s adultery—a most grievous sin both ways.)
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This book: Edited by Jack Estes / Book & Cover Designed by Lauren Grosskopf
John Taylor, Reviewer for Midwest Book Review –
With impressive attention to detail, combined with the kind of narrative storytelling that attracts and holds the reader’s truly rapt attention from beginning to end, Irving Warner’s “The Life & Travels of Saint Cuthwin” will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to the personal reading lists of dedicated historical fiction fans, as well as both community and college/university library Historical Fiction collections.
Jack Estes, Formerly publisher of Pleasure Boat Studio –
The Life and Travels of Saint Cuthwin is a unique and powerful book in many ways. It is a story of deep love and desperate survival in 11th Century England, a story told by a man named Cuthwin, born a peasant, who faced horror after horror in order to live for 85 years, at which time he told his story to a young monk who wrote it down. He wanted to tell his story – warts and all – since he had been informed that the Church was considering naming him as a Saint, an honor which Cuthwin absolutely denied. He attempted to discredit any such thoughts by revealing what he considered to be very UN-saintlike thoughts and actions.
The accuracy with which Warner details life in this tumultuous period of history Is remarkable. He creates characters who come alive on the page, characters that a reader can truly imagine lived in this violent and deeply religious period and who struggled through the bloody invasion of the Normans in 1066.
The Life and Travels of Saint Cuthwin is literature in its truest sense, i.e., a deep and compelling story with strong and clearly developed characters told by a master of the craft. I’m no longer the publisher of Pleasure Boat Studio, but I can say that this is one of the very best books Pleasure Boat Studio ever released. It’s a book any press would be proud of.
This book is available in hardback only and only from the publisher (e.g., not from Amazon). The standard edition is $35, and the special deluxe edition (a beautiful collectors’ edition, only 100 copies printed, all signed by the author on colophon, hand printed on ivory deckled paper in black slipcase) sells for $75. Go to http://www.cuthwinandcwenburh.com/shop to make your purchase. If you appreciate fine literature, you will not be disappointed. (I’d love it if you wrote me to tell me if you liked it.)
Barry Grosskopf –
I thought St. Cuthwin was an excellent book. The book reminds me of Gulliver’s Travels, how his adventures all made neat compact stories as you go on. The book pleasures more reading on and it’s so artfully done. Internally consistent with a good beginning, middle, and end. So many books falter with the ending. St. Cuthwin did not. He encompassed an entire life and gave me a feel for what it was to live under the rule of tyrants. What St. Cuthwin had to live under was the active horror of tyrants’ ruthless pursuit of increasing their own wealth and power. Warner spoke of the lot of an exceptional, ordinary man and drew out his character and those he loved with the fond distance of Cuthwin’s own voice. Cuthwin is a truly fine book and was beautiful to hold and to read.
Comments from readers at Book Sirens, on Goodreads and Amazon –
Let me start this review before I summarize it by saying oh I absolutely loved this book! This book is exactly as a title says about the life and Times of Cuthwin. He was born Cuthwin of Almwick and to be known through his adult as Cuthwin The fence builder. He is a man who lived so long people wanted him to become a saint and would come from long distances to seek his elderly wisdom, but before all that our guy had him some adventures. As a young boy left on a form as a lacking to a very mean foreman and to escape another brutal beating him and another boy from the farm ran away. Only to be woken up days later and questioned as to who he was, what was his business and before they could even get to his friend next to him the boy cut off and ran away leaving Cuthwin to his own fate alone. Little did our friend know he would be given to a kind, but strict priest who will teach him many things including his lifelong trade a fence building. He had many adventures and always lived as an upstanding God-fearing person. I absolutely love this book the stories in it it is almost like this is the medieval version of Seinfeld because most of the stories we’re just every day life for Cuthwin if you are like me and love your Storico books that in mid evil times and before you’ll love this book. It was entertaining from beginning to end. I learned so much and laughed and felt sorry for him and so many other emotions just like a good books to do. I highly recommend this book. I was given this book from book sirens and I am leaving this review voluntarily. -Janalyn
The Life and Times of Saint Cuthwin is a fascinating read that I thoroughly enjoyed. Set in the 11th century, it starts in the years before the Norman conquest and tells the story of Cuthwin of Alnwick, as he grows from a young runaway to an 85-year-old curmudgeon. Along the way, he has more adventures than Superman, though they do not end as well for him most of the time. This is the story of the common people, who are the fodder when great men struggle for power in a violent and lawless period. Told from Cuthwin’s point of view as he dictates his story when an old man, he tells what he is not as well as who he is. His many adventures, and that of his unruly and fiery Cwenburh, are fascinating. The characters of the many individuals who play a part in their lives are well rounded, the trials they encounter believable for the times, and the pace is excellent. The author has evidently researched the period extensively, yet neither the language nor the history detract from the story itself. -Keira
It is masterfully researched and written, and if you are a history buff, it is a work of art. There is not a plot as such, just the autobiography of the main character, Cuthwin of Alnwick. There is much language and customs to become acquainted with, and at times I spent as much time looking up words as reading. The depth of detail of 1100 AD England is amazing, and the hardship and struggle of the people during this time period is at times overwhelming and I have no idea how people survived the time period with any hope in Church or society. The book was researched seven years and took six years to write, and it’s very thought to critique such a labor of love. However, at times it is like watching paint dry or grass grow. It is meticulously written and at times that makes for difficult reading. It was entertaining and one of the period pieces I think I’ve ever read. Recommended reading. I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily. -Lee
Actually a really great book. I was surprised by how carefully researched every aspect of the setting was. It tells the story of an ordinary man in medieval England in first person narrative style. I appreciate how the book shows the effect of major historical events on the lives of individuals. Books with medieval settings usually focus on nobility, but here the cast is mostly peasants. Cuthwin and his wife are exceptional characters; both flawed as people tend to be but compassionate and loving despite all the horrible things they suffer. The story was a bit slow here and there but never really boring. I’m very impressed by the detail and accuracy of this depiction of life for the average person in 11th century England. I received a free copy of this book from BookSirens and am leaving this review voluntarily. -Giana
KIRKUS – July 7, 2021 –
An ordinary man of extraordinary decency weathers the evils of worldly life in Warner’s historical novel set in 11th-century England. Cuthwin is born in Alnwick as the 11th of 14 siblings—his father a nameless Dane and his mother a woman who was the target of many “mean words” from judgmental townsfolk. As a boy, he witnesses a gruesome murder and runs away from home but is taken captive and forced into labor at Peterborough Abbey for 8 years. He manages to teach himself to read and write—a prideful offense for which he narrowly escapes brutal punishment. Cuthwin also learns a valuable lesson during those years about the hypocrisy of piety: “the world inside cloister and walls of a burh are no more cursed or blessed than the world outside.” He falls in love with a woman, Cwenburh, and she becomes pregnant; as a result, he finally escapes the abbey, and the couple’s adventure together begins as Cuthwin becomes a “traveling scribe,” and they become guardians to Eadrig, a late friend’s child. Warner presents a moving story in these pages, and its thematic heart is Cuthwin’s inviolable goodness in the midst of evil as well as his fervent desire to avoid the corruption of worldly success: “coin and station are a curse to man and woman. When riches and manners intrude, the chances to enjoy the wisdom god intended…go forever.” Cuthwin is a memorable protagonist who possesses a selfless wisdom, untainted by guile or cunning. Warner’s knowledge of the historical period is simply remarkable, and he brings to life the tumult and moral depravity of the era. Overall, this is an engrossing novel that’s unusually original despite being grounded in familiar history.
A compelling look at a vanished time as well as an exploration of simple human goodness.