Book launches are special parties – I think of them as somewhere between a baptism and a booze up. For a book must be born and as anyone who has written one knows, there is most definitely a labour – and then that joyous moment when you hold your baby in your hands for the first time.
Atlantis Bookshop, London 2019
SOPHIA’S TALE is is important to me as it was written when I was in recovery from brain injury and I looked to Sophia, the ancient (and heretical) goddess of Wisdom for guidance. I’d been researching the ancient manuscript with the extraordinary story of Sophia (Wisdom in Ancient Greek) before I had the accident and in my mashed up, brain injury state she seemed to manifest and speak to me across the ages. I promised Sophia that if I could write again I would write her story which the orthodox bishops attempted to destroy in the 4th century AD. In a way Sophia healed me.
So Tuesday 17th September 2019 was a very special day for me as I delivered on that promise and I was very excited to read a short snippet from SOPHIA’S TALE to the throng of people who squashed into The ATLANTIS BOOKSHOP in LONDON as well as raising a glass to the “re-birth” of Christian Goddess of Wisdom. Some I’d not seen for ages and let’s face it it’s a good excuse for a party, so I donned a party frock and high heels!
Those of you who joined me to celebrate the birth of RUFIUS – this is story in the book he ran round Alexandria in 391 AD trying to save from the Bishop of Alexandria’s pyres as the Alexandrian Library burned. As you know Rufius saved a copy and it turned up in Georgian LONDON and for centuries was housed at the end of Museum Street in the old home of the British Library – the British Museum.
And so it felt right and proper that the baptism of Sophia was on Museum Street. Museum means Temple of the Muses in Greek and so it feels appropriate that a new goddess coming to London Town was welcomed in Museum Street in the oldest esoteric bookshop in London. It’s 91 years old and family run – and has a rather heretical history itself.
Do pick up a copy at the Atlantis Bookshop on Museum Street, Boon Books in Lewes, or order it into your local Waterstones – or even better buy a copy on Amazon and add a review. Reader reviews really matter.
A Big Thank You!
If anyone would like to read my thank yous at the Launch, here’s the mini speech I read on the night and a reading from Sophia’s Tale:
THANK YOU all so much for coming to the launch of Sophia’s Tale in this wonderful bookshop. I’m going to read a couple of extracts from the book, but first I want to say some thank yous and give you a bit of background to how I came to write SOPHIA’S TALE.
This book is an adventure. It is a retelling of an ancient story about the journey the Goddess of Wisdom went on to become wise. It has also been part of my journey since 2003 when I first discovered the ancient manuscript of the Pistis Sophia(one of the heretical gospels that didn’t get into the Bible) in the British Library.
Thank you Cristina Vanza. I finished the first draft of the book in 2006. In January 2019 my extraordinarily talented designer and photographer friend Criss sent me a cover with the message – “now you have no excuse not to publish it.” This cover is pretty much the same as that original design. Thank you Criss. If it wasn’t for you we all wouldn’t be standing here today.
Thank you Tom Walker. Tom is an artist whose work I love. So I’m hugely grateful that his beautiful drawing of Sophia on her journey through the desert in The Land of Impermanence is at the beginning of each chapter of the book.
Thank you to my proof reader, my brother,Miles Walton.
Thank you to my Mentor, Martin Goodman, novelist & Director of the Philip Larkin Centre in the University of Hull.
I realised as I researched the ancient manuscript that it’s a universal story relevant to everyone who has dared to live life according to their own rules. I know think that the draft of SOPHIA’S TALE sat in a drawer gathering dust for 12 years – until I learnt the lessons I needed to learn to finish it. Because this is a story about making mistakes.
So I’d like to thank some friends who have been on the journeywith me:
Thank you Leanne Shapiro – especially for your support in the 80s perm years! Thank you Gary Mandel – Like Sophia, I’ve made some bad ass romantic mistakes. Thank you for being my knight without the shining armour.Thank you Roy Chapman. You have a noble heart. If I hadn’t dared to make those mistakes I’d never have met such a noble heart as yours.
Thank you to ATLANTIS bookshop – Geraldine & Bali – a huge thank you for hosting. This bookshop is 91 years old, older than any of us here today. In a digital world it’s a survivor. Please do support by buying a book (signed copies in Atlantis – I love saying that!
MUSEUM STREETis the perfect location to launch this book as the manuscript of the PISTIS SOPHIAwas bought by the British Museum in 1785. It is possible the book was hidden at some point in 4thcentury Egypt, heretical texts were condemned BY THE BISHOPS. The book contains Jesus’ secret teachings to his disciples after his resurrection on the Mount of Olives and the story of Sophia, or Divine Wisdom’s fall into matter, and her journey back home. Sophia means Wisdom in Ancient Greek. And wisdom, or self-knowledge was what the early Gnostic Christians saw as their goal in life.
In 2003 I found the manuscript in the British Library. I requested access and became obsessed it. There are several sentences or phrases in the Askew Codex that are a mystery even to scholars. I have a background in linguistics and wondered whether the groups of vowels might be mantra (like Hindu or Buddhist mantra).
I had a strange experience during months spent studying the Coptic manuscript’s translucent pages in the Oriental Reading Room in 2004. As I chanted the Gnostic mantra to myself I had a vision. The goddess of Wisdom appeared to me and I believe she was guiding me to write her story – for the modern heart.
What initially struck me about the story of Sophia is the stark contrast to the representation of women in Orthodox Christian stories. Mary Magdelane is a teacher, and there is a Goddess who makes the sort of mistakes me and my girlfriends made. Although nobody has an 80s perm in the book – so not quite so drastic!
Sophia’s is a down in the dirt, messy spiritual journey that maps to the soul journey of any modern woman (or man) who dares to live life on her own terms, make mistakes, pick herself up and wise up. The message in the story is that experience is not transferrable. Sophia must feel the pain to wake up. She’s not a stoic virgin denied the freedom to grow. She’s full of desire and daring. And when she screws up she doesn’t give up. Sophia’s story is a testament to the strength of the feminine spirit and courage that exists in all of us who dare to live fearlessly and make mistakes. Sophia is not presented in her divine form as female. She’s genderless. This story is gender inclusive.
Orthodox Christianity presents us with an impossible virgin and a prostitute. It splits the feminine: virgin or whore.Conversely the Gnostic gospels present female teachers, healthy and whole female characters whose sexuality is part of the learning process through life.
Banished from the Bible in the 4thcentury, my previous novel, RUFIUS showed the burning of books and the battles on the streets across the Roman Empire as Paganism fell and along with it the Gnostics. It showed how the PISTIS SOPHIA was saved from the pyres. So tonight we gather to witness SOPHIA, the Christian Goddess of Wisdom, SILENCED for 1600 years getting her voice back.
So how to make an ancient story, written in the 2ndcentury AD in an ancient version of Coptic accessible to the modern reader? I decided on a fairy tale – and like all good fairy tales, it starts like this: Once upon a Time …
Here’s me reading chapter 1:
Thank You Everyone who supported SOPHIA’S TALE in 2019. You Rock! And if you read the book, I hope you feel a little wiser! I feel wiser for writing it!
You can find signed copies in ATLANTIS BOOKSHOP in London & Boon Books in Lewes & Museflower Spa in Thailand. Or online at all AMAZON market places.
It’s got some great professional reviews as well as brilliant reader reviews – thank you so much everyone who took the time to add an Amazon review.
Sophia’s Tale is a novella. So it’s short. Novellas tend to mostly get published if you’re Russian, famous or dead – and as I’m none of those things, I decided to self-publish this one. I’m thrilled that I dared to self-publish. I enjoyed it so much, I intend to do it again to the sequel to SOPHIA’S TALE – DARK KNIGHT OF THE SOUL. The idea of the book came to me on the Soul Bliss Writing Retreat I co-facilitate with my soul friend, Tania Ho. Watch this space …
Categories: Creative Writing