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On a hungover Friday morning, Mike McEwan's life of tea, pints, late mornings and the occasional essay comes to an abrupt halt. Consumed with guilt, grief and confusion, Mike haunts the ruins of St Andrews, rebuilding them in his mind and obsessing about the loss of someone he barely knew, unsure of his place in her life, or her death.
The discovery of an ancient plague burial site drags Mike back into contact with those around him. But life has changed, both for himself and others, and the burial ground holds more than the bones of those long dead.
Mike peels back the layers of earth and the darkness of its history and tries desperately to connect the victims of the past to the tumult of his present.
Student life around him continues at its own bizarre and drunken pace. Late-night parties, stolen golf carts and ridiculous drinking games go on for most as always. But others have been dragged in as well, and look on Mike with suspicion and rage.
Richard W H Bray
Richard W H Bray is an award-winning author (and is a touch smug about this). When not making wine in south-west France he writes books and tries to work out how to move back to Scotland. His first book, Salt & Old Vines, was published by Unbound and you should buy that too.
It is a town of stone. The three main streets are wide, criss-crossed by wynds, lanes and alleyways, layered in cobble and pavement. St Salvator’s chapel steeple rises above the homes, shops and pubs that line the streets. The university permeates the town; its quadrangles and buildings start at its heart and spread throughout.
Local, student and pilgrim brace against the wind that whips through ruin, street and wynd. It comes like a flood, filling the ancient streets and drowning all in the torrent of air. Most days it blows from the west, trying in vain to turn the sea back on itself.
Sometimes, rarely, it comes from the east, frigid, bringing the anger of the sea with it.
- 28th August 2018 Where we are
You all really deserve an update. It’s been awhile.
(I feel pretty much every update starts like that. Sorry.)
We have the draft of a cover. It needs a few tweaks, then I’ll be giving you a sneak peak.
The proofs have been read and corrections (minor) sent back. I’m pretty sure those corrected proofs are imminent. I hope.
My author portrait is one of me looking knackered in the middle…10th June 2017 We did it!
I'm sure I mentioned this somewhere before, but I started writing this book in October 2005. The idea for it came to me some time in 1999. So from one perspective, I've been working on it for 12 years, and from another, it's actually been 18 years.
There's nothing else in my life that I've worked on that long. Even working in the wine trade has only been 16 years. University was 7 (it took me a…12th March 2017 retracing steps
I missed a lot of trains in 2016. Of all the terrible things that occurred in that year, it's quite low on the list of disasters, but they linger on the mind for some reason. They also linger on the wallet. Train travel is obscenely expensive these days. Unjustifiably so.
So I gave myself plenty of time for last week's journey. It was quite a relaxed affair. Trains and writing go hand in hand for…6th January 2017 what's wrong with arbitrary?
I didn't so much stumble into the new year as I did cheer and dance and hug and sing my way into it. The stumbling came a fair few hours later, as I descended the staircase after only 4 hours unconscious, needing to take my MS meds with some food. The house was quiet: every one with any sense was still abed. Empty wine glasses, lowballs, highballs, beer bottles, cans, wine bottles, covered every available…21st November 2016 whisky season
When the sun's out, and that's been rare these days, it always seems to be setting. Clinging close to the horizon, its light is sharper, deeper. It brings the fire out in the turning leaves. For reasons unknown to me, colder air seems cleaner, fresher, more nourishing. I like autumn. I like the coziness and security of a thick jumper. The refuge of a pub with a burning fire and the nourishment of…24th September 2016 notes from France...
We drove back from the winery last night with the sea and sky like mother of pearl as we pass the Côte Vermeille sign on the way into Collioure. The greys became silver and the mirror water reflected them both as well as the pastel pinks and purples and blues in every shade that held the promise of night. I couldn't take my eyes of it for much of the drive. I grabbed my camera when we got to the house…11th September 2016 away for a bit
It's all a bit planes, trains, and automobiles at the moment, but in reverse order. Right now is the middle bit; the train. It's hurtling north and east of London, towards Stansted. From there I'll endure Ryanair to fly to Perpignan. It's harvest time, so I'm making the annual pilgrimage to make wine and avoid picking grapes at every opportunity. The days tend to run 12-15 hours, which doesn't leave…16th August 2016 Gaining pace...
Hey there, folks. I hope you're all enjoying the summer and have read loads of books in the sun. With any luck, you'll have gone somewhere nice. I just wanted to drop a quick line to say thank you for bearing with me. I wasn't expecting this project to take so long to get funded, but I feel there's real momentum now. It's much easier to get people to contribute when you're at 68% than when you're…12th August 2016 A different project.
I'm sorry it's been so long - I actually have been writing quite a lot of things to post here. My desktop is littered with semi-completed text documents waiting for the final few sentences. For those new supporters, and there are several of you (thank you, thank you, thank you), welcome to the shed. This will be an atypical post as it's nothing to do with this book and everything to do with a different…21st June 2016 solstice
For years at the solstice we’d build a bonfire on Castle Sands to stay up and watch the sun rise. It was, technically, the sunrise on the day *after* the longest day of the year, which, in sober retrospect, didn’t make much sense. We probably should have stayed up the night before, welcoming in the longest day, but perhaps that level of organisation was beyond us at that age. It wasn’t a pagan thing…8th April 2016 paperbacks
There’s a new book shop in Key West. This is a good thing for so many reasons, but the one I keep settling on is that it offsets my sadness that one of my favourite bars shut down recently.
It’s not a huge catalogue library of a bookshop. It’s small, well-formed, and stocked wisely. It smells of books and air conditioning. The building it’s in has some sort of remit that all the traders must be…8th February 2016 Head in the clouds
In Cathedral's Shadow takes place as the nights are getting longer. In the dark ages. Well, there's a flip side to that. Remarkable summer nights that never seem to end. The sun lurks just beneath the northern horizon and casts a warm glow for the few hours it can't be seen. Sometimes, on a clear-ish night, cirrus clouds climb high into the upper atmsophere, so high that they can still see the sun…22nd December 2015 thinking of the rain while sitting in the sun
It was dark when I arrived, but warm. Wind blew in from the east without even the hint of a chill. Palms swayed and whispered loudly, like they were trying to tell a secret in a crowded bar. A few of the houses we drove by wore more Christmas lights than entire neighbourhoods back in London. It seemed the garishness of the winter wonderland stood in inverse proportion to the existence of actual winter…6th December 2015 not just the wine guy
“So, it’s another wine book, right?”
“Nope, it’s a novel.”
“Oh. So not another wine book?”
“No, really, it’s a novel.”
“Oh. But you’re the wine guy. So why not another wine book?”
There are so many different reasons why not another wine book. There are so many different reasons I wanted In Cathedral’s Shadow to be my next book. Laziness, for one, as I’d already written it.
“Because…26th October 2015 the dark ages
The return to Greenwich Mean Time isn't often celebrated in St Andrews. Sure, there's an extra hour, though it's frequently wasted, hungover, under a duvet. But that is cold comfort in the face of the coming of the dark ages. The dark ages are that stretch of autumn, winter, and spring in Scotland that isn't quite the eternal night one finds north of the Arctic Circle, but it isn't far off. Daylight…6th October 2015 watching the sunrise
Mornings in St Andrews were often greeted directly from the night before, without any stopovers for sleep. I snapped this after an evening of revelry in April 2008. The lone vessel cutting the water is a lobster boat. It was some night, the night before. Not sure how it turned into the day as well; there are parts that are hazy. But I do remember that sunrise, and the loneliness of that boat as it…1st October 2015 eclipses and a pyrrhic battle royale
Things that do not involve writing, or funding, books have encroached on any quality shed time of late. In an effort to keep my vocabulary from atrophying completely, I wrote a little personal blog about the lunar eclipse this week. Please have a read. I don't do comments, but if you like it, or anything I write, it's best to shout at me on Twitter. You should check that blog out in general, especially…18th September 2015 sat in a hotel in Wales
The trains to get here were uneventful but crowded. The landscape rolled by sometimes bathed with sunshine and sometimes showered with rain. I read and listened to music and tried to keep my elbow off the middle armrest for the nice lady sat next to me. The carriage seemed full of folks travelling for the mundane. No one looked terribly excited to be heading west. I probably didn't look terribly excited…8th September 2015 back over the bridge
I got back from France on Saturday. I was there to make wine - something I wrote about in another book which, if you haven't read, you should. It got some lovely reviews and not all of them were by my mom.
As usual when I go to France, noble determination to write every day evaporated as the exhaustion of the work took hold and nightcaps served in part to wash down the super strength ibuprofen…30th August 2015 one of those places
Last night the moon rose so large in the south that for a moment it looked wider than it was tall. Not a perfect circle. It had that slight orange tint that folks tell me is pollution in the atmosphere messing with the light. It was quiet in Collioure, especially compared to Friday. Friday the streets heaved late into the evening with tourists licking ice cream cones and wandering from restaurant…22nd August 2015 unlikely view
For a time in St Andrews there was a beach bar named Catch. Catch was originally the café of the Sea Life Centre (now called the St Andrews Aquarium - referred to by an old friend who worked there as the fishy prison). I worked in that place for awhile, and it was feast or famine. When it was busy, it was like people were drinking to prepare for the apocalypse. When it was quiet, there seemed no way…17th August 2015 new beginnings
There's a balance to strike between nurturing and tending to something already written and venturing forth and starting something new. For a long time, In Cathedral's Shadow was the only thing I'd let myself work on - all other projects were shelved or put on hold. It was only when I started on Salt & Old Vines that I realised it didn't have to be that way. That sometimes you need step back from edits…3rd August 2015 Bit dusty in here...
It's been some time since I've wandered back into the shed. Apologies for the absence. Summer has been such that pauses for reflection have been brief and quickly scribbled in notebooks rather than shared widely. One exception being a bit of a personal post at my similarly-neglected blog in which I talk about not being chatty in hospital waiting rooms. It received a lovely response, and while I can…5th June 2015 torchlight
St Andrews enjoys its traditions. Some are older than others, but with a university six centuries old, it's actually kind of easy to create or 'resurrect' a new tradition and find some sort of tenuous link to the past. In my later years living there, it became a tradition to leap from the end of the pier into the water after your last exams were finished. That tradition did not exist when I started…31st May 2015 braced against the wind
In Cathedral's Shadow opens on a dark and stormy night. I don't think I'm ruining anything by giving that away, and by writing the phrase "dark and stormy night" here, I'm able to fulfill my need for cheesy, clichéd lines without polluting the prose of the book. Storms are different on the east coast of Scotland. It's as though the sea and air forget their natural boundaries and join forces to hammer…25th May 2015 sights, sounds, smells
I run in the mornings, before I go to work. It's a nice route; a loop that goes between Barnes Rail Bridge and Hammersmith Bridge. If you'd told me during the period when In Cathedral's Shadow is set, Autumn of 1996, that I'd be a runner some day, I would probably laughed at you. All my friends would have laughed at you too, I imagine. That was more a time of fried food, packs of Marlboro Lights,…19th May 2015 old work space
This was my entrance and escape from St Andrews; the view from my old flat. I took this one late morning when I was meant to be writing. I love it. I love how the sea and sky share their blues and how the sun makes the horizon an illusion. I look at it every once in awhile, if I need a jolt back in time and space. If I need to be there. If there's a detail missing or forgotten or just out of reach…10th March 2015 first visit
I first visited St Andrews in that quiet week between Christmas and New Year in 1993. I was 17. My father had driven us from Linlithgow, where we were staying with friends for Hogmanay. It was a peculiar visit, in that as it was out of term time. I didn't have a tour of the town but instead had a chat with an English literature lecturer in Kennedy Hall. It wasn't an interview, just a chat in an office…3rd March 2015 getting lost elsewhere
I'm in the midst of rewrites at the moment - taking out bits and pieces, inserting new bits and pieces, and going through each word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter to make sure everything is how I want it. This process sometimes loses me in the past. While the book is a work of fiction, and in no way an allegory for my time in St Andrews (I lived there for 15 years over an 18 year period), it is…
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