A Writer’s Day: Working on the Lost Book of the Grail (Part I)

Skylight Press will be publishing The Lost Book of the Grail: Restoring the Voices of the Wells, Gareth Knight’s new translation of the 13th century Elucidation of the Grail with commentary by much respected Arthurian scholars and teachers, Caitlín Matthews and John Matthews. The Elucidation is a 13th century French poem that has lain virtually forgotten since its discovery in the mid19th century. It contains some of the most powerful and revealing clues to the nature of the Grail to be found in any of the many texts relating to this most mysterious of sacred objects.  While working on the book Caitlin decided to keep a diary of her thoughts and impressions, which we will present in weekly sections on this blog.  This is a new idea and we hope you enjoy her fresh insights on preparing an ancient manuscript for publication.  You can find out more about the Matthews’ work here.  


By Caitlín Matthews


22 January 2015  OUTPUT

A writer’s day 1 on Book 70. (Its title isn’t yet settled.) This has been a day of great output. I finished an 8000 word article for a collection for which there was no advanced payment, although there might be some kind of miserable royalty many, many months down. I then sent a story of 12,000 words I wrote in 1993 and today freshly revised to a publisher for their website, free of charge for ‘publicity.’

With the decks clearer, I started work on the new book. It will be about 60,000 words and which will take me 3-4 months to complete, I estimate, if I get lots of joined up writing time.


A writer’s day 2  

  1. translated 140 lines of old French.
  2. assembled a bibliography.
  3. read Bliocadrin (interesting but inconclusive because it stops just as the narrative gets interesting.) 
  4. argued about the book title with co-author
  5. created a new reference book pile
  6. read an academic article in which the word ‘diegetic’ appeared rather too often – discarded it.
    Result: 4 pages of notes and a new file.


A writer’s Day 3 on Book 70.  I created a Burn’s Night feast (it has to be tonight for reasons of company, besides which literary feast days are somewhat thin on the ground, unless you create a whole new calendar!) with rumbledethumps, forfar bridies with  haggis inside them and a Queen Mary Tart with cranberries and sundry fruits. Gravy will be made much later.  Cleaned the floor and cooker as this many preparations can go a long way! So I didn’t get to my desk till very late. 

Another 100 lines of Old French translated. A bit more added to the introduction. Also waded through the linguistic breakdown and sources of the text: even though the  reader won’t need to know so much about this, I myself do, if I am to serve the reader well.  Don’t worry – this won’t appear anywhere in the book being the invisible presence!  I notice that I am beginning to slow down in translation as the text begins to give up what Robert Graves called ‘rabbit bolters:’ tendrils of text that set my associative mind racing along tracks that will eventually lead to whole chapters or sections of the book. Chasing these is what makes a book come to life.


A writer’s day: day 4 of Book 70. No work on the book was done today due to the necessity of creating a whole day course and 2 sessions for the Tarot Guild conference in Melbourne later this coming August, all of which have to be advertised soon. Getting this right now is essential if my offerings are going to appeal to anyone then, or intrigue them enough to show up.

I also prepared for the coming shamanic healing clients this week: this requires me to journey to check the spiritual sat nav for the work, and to put any rituals into readiness. This is not therapy, so it’s not a matter of ‘your hour is up,’ and all preparatory work is essential so that, however the work plays out, the clues and prompts given by the spirits are not missed.

26 January  ON THE EDGE

A writer’s Day 5 of Book 70. Today I finished the last 130 lines of Old French translation, which brought its own revelations. Now all the dogs are following the rabbit, as they say.

A whole episode of the Grail legend is now a lot clearer to me and has consequences that are deepening away. As I translated, I really caught the stance of the original but unknown, medieval writer: his sense of excitement about the story, as well as his lack of entitlement, where he stood in the order of things. He certainly knew that what he was telling would shatter the mould and he was right!

Now I know that I have a book that will be as revelatory as King Arthur’s Raid on the Underworld where I translated the 9th century wonder of Preiddeu Annwfyn. So, as in this picture when I was in Iceland, I’m on the edge of discovery!


A writer’s day 6 of Book 70 (Yes, I will sort the title when possible – it’s often in this mode for a long time. Part of this is about the many good titles I’ve had changed arbitrarily by publishers so often, but with this one I can be certain it will be THE ONE, so it needs to be right.)  I checked over the translation in its entirety to ensure it makes sense and reads well. Medieval writers weren’t very good at distinguishing who is doing what to whom, so judicious brackets will be necessary to waylay these unclarities for the reader, who will otherwise get lost in a welter of his, him, theirs, thems!                                                                                                                      

I can tell that the book is taking hold of me as I am dreaming of it: it comes as a black blanket whose white pathways I am uncovering like an archaeologist, slowly and carefully, restoring its proper trackways. Sometimes I am stitching like an embroiderer; sometimes, it is simply brushing back what has overlaid it.  This chimes with the sense in the text that it ‘has been secret,’ but is now going to be ‘teaching the people freely.’  This bringing forth is very delicate and deeply exciting. It reminds me of the folk story when the hero/ine is given a tablecloth and told not to unfold it until they feel they are in the exactly right place. Usually curiosity causes them to unfold it too early and out of the magic tablecloth develops a castle and its whole demesne,  – oops,rather unfortunately!  This text comes with warnings about not unfolding things all at once, but of allowing it to show itself a bit at a time.

Throughout this week the clean January light has been really helpful: concentration has been total. But today, after doing the weekly shop this morning, I am very tired. At fall of dark, I grow very sleepy. The light is fading as fast this afternoon as at midwinter, so maybe there is some snow coming. I can usually smell it, but haven’t detected the unmissable blood-sharp tang of it. There is not a breath of wind.


A writer’s day 7 of Book 70. Today, the text was given another go over – you can never do this too many times, I find. Discrepancies happen in every ms. but in medieval French the scribal errors never got caught by an editor!  I also set up chapters and lobbed bits of writing that have been happening into them. I cannot be made to write a book from A-Z but always write everywhere at once, as the ideas strike. This splatter technique has served me well in the past, since a text comes at you all at once from all directions, I find, and you cannot be goalie by standing in one place. This book has its recognized themes, which become the chapter headings – not happy about some chapter titles of my co-author which were proposed at the outset but which will have to change as the themes develop, but we can negotiate.      

The dreams are showing a different face of this text: last night the blanket was white, not black, and in its texture were raised, somewhat like braille. I had to read it with my fingers and they were widely spaced.  I realize that this text, with its emphasis on giving up the secret to all, has its counterpart of ‘not all at once.’ It comes with health warnings about going too quickly, lest it fail to absorb.  At the same time, I have the gathering excitement that this lost text will also come through us to you and will be told ‘to all the people’ as it prophesies – that means you! (small, excited wriggle!)

Caitlín Matthews
Courses, books and events: www.hallowquest.org.uk
Divination blog: http://caitlin-matthews.blogspot.co.uk/

About Daniel

Writer & Musician
This entry was posted in British History, British Literature, Esoteric, Literature, New books, Recommended reads and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s