Kevin Crossley-Holland's CROSSING TO PARADISE is the American edition of his book GATTY'S TALE. It is a standalone followup to his Arthur trilogy, which brilliantly combined Arthurian legend with an incredibly rich medieval coming-of-age tale. It is the story of Gatty, a peasant plucked from the fields for her beautiful singing voice and chosen to accompany a fine lady on her pilgrimage to Jerusalem. And it is simply glorious writing -- character-driven, sensuous, atmospheric, with a poet's eye and ear for detail and language and a historian's appreciation for the nuances of medieval life and behavior.
(The Arthur trilogy + CROSSING is also one of the most Christian faith-full series I know, interestingly, not in the sense that the characters proselytize or preach, but in that they have genuine deep religious beliefs that influence and guide their behavior, and they struggle thoughtfully with those beliefs when they're challenged by events or other faiths.) (CROSSING also traces Gatty's awakening to the power and desires of her own body wisely and very subtly -- though when I told Kevin how much I appreciated his inclusion of this thread and its subtlety, he, as a true Englishman, seemed very embarrassed even to be talking about the subject. Nonetheless.)
These are two of my favorite excerpts from CROSSING, one from the beginning of the book, before Gatty sets out on her journey, and one from the end, at its pinnacle, in the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (My absolute favorite scene is the last one, but that would be telling.) You need to read the entire Holy Sepulchre scene to get its full beauty and effect, but I hope this might give you a sense of Kevin's descriptive language. And as for his characters. . . . Note that in this first excerpt, you learn everything about who they are and what they want solely from their dialogue, with no fancier dialogue tag than "replied." CROSSING TO PARADISE has received three starred reviews and was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal earlier this year. If you'd like to find out more or order the book (hint, hint), check out its page on the Arthur A. Levine Books website.
In the afternoon, Gatty found Oliver in the church vestry. He was sitting at his sloping desk, his feet on a footstool, writing on a piece of parchment.
“There you are!” said Gatty.
“In the service of the Lord,” Oliver replied.
“Oliver, can you write a message for me? Please.”
“Can I or will I?’
Oliver looked dimly at Gatty. “To whom?’
Oliver smiled. “There’s a surprise,” he said. “Well, you’re in luck. I’ve one small piece of parchment left over from my labours. My morning labours.”
“Who are you writing to?” asked Gatty.
"Lady Gwyneth’s priest.”
“Why? What about?’
Oliver completed the character and then the word he was writing. Then he rolled up the little scroll and gave it to Gatty.
“Keep it safe and dry,” he said. “This letter could make all the difference.”
“You’ll find out,” said Oliver. “Now! What’s your message?’
“Ready?” asked Gatty. “Where are you today I keep wondering. I often talk to you and see you easy.”
“Easily,” said Oliver.
“No,” said Gatty. “Easy.”
“Easy is wrong,” said Oliver.
“Not for me,” Gatty replied. “Please Oliver! Write what I say. Then Arthur will hear me.”
Oliver pressed his lips together. “Go on, then,” he said.
“You got the sky on your shoulders,” Gatty dictated. “You remember when I said let’s go to Jerusalem? I can’t explain but somehow I thought it, I believed it, and now I’m going. You and your singing will keep us all safe, Lady Gwyneth says. Arthur, when are you coming back? I haven’t forgot…’
“Forgotten,” said Oliver.
Gatty gently shook her head and then, very boldly, she laid the flat of her right hand on Oliver’s back.
‘…I haven’t forgot going upstream. You promised. Or you can ride to Ewloe. Them bulls, and me wearing Sir John’s armour and rescuing Sian from the fish-pond and going to Ludlow Fair, and everything… It’s true! It is. Best things don’t never get lost.”
Oliver looked up at Gatty, so eager, her eyes shining. He knitted his brows. “Just what are you to Arthur?” he enquired.
“Me? To Arthur? What do you mean?” And then, with a smile and a little shrug, Gatty said, “True.”
“Yes,” said Oliver. “True.” He wrote four more words, and voiced them as he wrote.
“By your true Gatty…’
“There you are!” said Oliver. “That’s your letter.”
“Will you keep it and give it to him?” Gatty asked. “When he gets home.”
“If he gets home,” the priest replied.
“He will,” said Gatty.
“Some do,” the priest said. “Most don’t.”
“I know what,” said Gatty. Then she untied the violet ribbon she wore day and night round her waist, the one Arthur had bought for her with his last farthing at Ludlow Fair. She doubled it, tore at it with her teeth and bit it in half.
“Really!” said Oliver, wrinkling his nose.
“Half for him, half for me,” said Gatty.
So Oliver rolled up the little piece of parchment and Gatty secured it with the violet ribbon.
Gatty took a deep breath, and noisily blew out her pink, freckled cheeks. “There!” she exclaimed. “Writing and all!”
She smiled brightly at Oliver and then she wound her half of the violet ribbon round and round her left wrist.
For a long time Gatty stayed in the rock passage, alone. The shouting became more distant, more occasional. Then she heard a thud as the great doors were closed; she could even hear the crunch-and-scrape of the key in the lock.
After this, there was nothing but the sound of silence: that, and the rock’s husky voice when Gatty rubbed a shoulder against it, or wiggled the heel of her boot against it. The double thump of her heartbeat. A slight whistling in her right ear.
Poor Snout, she thought. He’s lost me again! He’ll guess, won’t he? He’ll understand.
Still Gatty bided her time, brave and cautious as a hare. Then at last she tiptoed down the twisting passage and a few steps out into the hall of night-sky, heart of the warren, chamber of echoes.
Around her head, this massive building soared and stood like plates of armour, grand and unshakable. Gatty craned her neck and looked upwards and sideways; she looked all around her; and after a while this church, Holy Sepulchre, began to seem more like a mantle than armour. A strong cloak to shelter and protect her.
And yet, she thought, it’s all incense smoke, all candlelight. Shimmering and trembling. As though it scarcely exists.
Text (c) 2006 by Kevin Crossley-Holland.