Here's a sneak peek at the novel I'm working on now, The Pilgrim Soul. It's the first in a trilogy about love and loss, based around the lives of the poet, WB Yeats, and the mother and daughter he loved, Maud and Iseult Gonne.
The time is Christmas Day, 1893 and WB, or Willie as his family like to call him, is at Christmas lunch with them. In his late twenties, he is still living at home but beginning to make a name for himself as a poet of Ireland, a mystic whose childhood days in his mother's home county of Sligo inspire lyrical celebrations of mountain and cloud, lake and moon, wind and stars.
Below the extract is one of my favourites of his poems from those early years, for its dreamy imagery and what it tells us about his attachment to sorrow. Were alienation and separation ever more lyrically expressed?
It began harmless enough, with Papa starting a Christmas speech on the state of the family, of how Jack was soon to marry and become a substantial man, with a cheerful kind-hearted wife and an open-handed welcome for his friends. This was a less-than-subtle hint towards what they all know, that Jack’s fiancée is tying up her money so Papa won’t be able to get his hands on any of it.
Papa's self-serving cheerfulness was already wilting Willie’s spirits, even before he turned his glass on him. “And Willie will be famous and shed a bright light on us all, with sometimes a little money and sometimes not.” Papa drank, deeply and with significance, then sat, signifying the end of the toast. Lolly’s face reddened and his other sister, Lily, reached over to pat her hand, a gesture that only doubled Lolly’s fury. Papa noticed then and hastily stood back up. “And Lolly will have a prosperous school and give away as prizes her eminent brother’s volumes of poetry.” This, naturally, only enraged her the more. At that moment, Maria arrived in and plunked the plate of potatoes on the table.When he reached for one with his fork, his belligerent sister turned her wrath upon him: “You might wait for grace, Willie. You might