A Christmas Game by Cheryl Hayden
Review by Frank Ruhrmund
IT MAY be a long way from Brisbane to Bodmin, but Australian author Cheryl Hayden bridges the gap and condenses time to take us from 21st to 16th century Cornwall with conviction in A Christmas Game.
The book is centred around what is surely the defining event in the history of Cornwall, the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549, one which set the scene for the demise of the Cornish language and, sadly, proved the veracity of the Cornish proverb "Bes den heb tavas a golhas e dir / A man who has lost his tongue has lost his land".
Employing a skilful, seamless mix of fact and fiction, she takes us back to an age when the storyteller Kerra wasn't the only one to "Curse everything that comes in from the east ... she means the real east, the faraway east, which is England" to a time when the arrival of the new prayer book was dreaded, to the moment when as Father Carmynowe says, "Well, 'ere 'tes, then, in all its English glory".
"The leather-bound prayer book thudded on to John of Tredannack's desk ... in silence Roger Bosinney opened it and three pairs of eyes stared in disbelief at the garish display of irreverence that greeted them. The language that filled their bewildered gazes looked as foreign as German. How it would sound on the hallowed air of the parish church did not bear contemplation."
It was just a dozen years ago that Cheryl Hayden became the first international student to enrol in the University of Exeter's Master of Arts degree course in Cornish Studies and became aware of Cornwall's history of rebellion.
An author with Cornish ancestors, she says: "Humphry Arundell, governor of the garrison on St Michael's Mount and the leader of the rebel army, is the true hero of the piece: a brave leader who made an army from the rag-tag hundreds who didn't want their religion anglicised and came very close to changing the course of the Reformation. They were all incredibly brave men and they paid the price."
With a wry smile she adds the salutary thought: "If this rebellion had occurred in Australia, there would be statues of Humphry Arundell in town squares, and streets and buildings would be named in his honour."
With only a handful of invented characters, namely Margh Tredannack and Jenna Rosewarne, she tells of the confusion of choices faced by the Cornish at that time.
Although it has little or nothing to do with Christmas and it's hardly a game, the book's title refers to the Archbishop of Canterbury Cranmer's comments on the new prayer book.
This is a gripping tale, of life and death, of loss and love, even a little lust, and of "the treacly paths of covert plotting and intrigue that entrapped so many" at the royal court of the day.
Cornish in every sense, but not for the faint-hearted, the battle scenes are particularly believable, A Christmas Game by Cheryl Hayden is published by Redruth-based Palores Publications at £12, and printed by the St Ives Printing & Publishing Company and is available at The Edge Of The World bookshop, The Terrace, Penzance, from where it was recently launched.