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tod wodicka 'all shall be well…' interview
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The trials of Middle Age.Julian of Norwich was quite a woman (yes, woman). Despite spending much of her life voluntarily walled up in a cell, the 14th-century anchorite mystic developed a strikingly optimistic philosophy, writing "All shall be well; and all shall be well; and all manner of things shall be well."
Julian's saying lends itself to the title of the first novel by American writer Tod Wodicka. Its protagonist Burt Hecker may not be an anchorite, but he practises his own retreat as a medieval re-enactor, donning a tunic, humming plain chant and even brewing his own potent mead. Initially comic, Burt's insistence on avoiding anything OOP (out of period) soon takes on greater significance as the worldview of a melancholy widower whose distant, resentful children no longer want to join him in crafting medieval instruments and authentic food.
"There's a lot of me in Burt, I fear," Wodicka says. "I'm not a medieval re-enactor, but we're both impractical, obsessive, tend to drink a little too much and love music. Neither of us feels too at home in our own skin. But I don't think this is so uncommon these days."
"I actually started the week or so after my now ex-wife kicked me out of our flat in Prague," Wodicka, now Berlin-based, explains. "I'd been researching for over a year before that though, trying to get into Burt Hecker's head. I read dozens of medieval history books, drank a lot, listened to medieval music and even went up to the Abbey St Hildegard in the Rhineland, where the novel begins." The research had its limits, though: "I don't actually like mead too much, believe it or not."
Burt isn't the only character in All Shall Be Well… strongly drawn to the past. After the culture of her mountain-dwelling Lemko ancestors is wiped out, Burt's combative Polish-American mother-in-law, Anna Bibko, sets about reviving it with unhealthy single-mindedness. "It's a scary thing, thinking about temporality and life lived perpetually in the present moment, and history is a comforting, necessary thing," Wodicka says. "But it's problematic when our relationship with it obscures the 'now' buzzing all around us."
For all his love of the past, Burt can currently be found tarting himself around cyberspace through his MySpace page. "There's still something in the back of my head that tells me the whole thing is sort of undignified, for me and for Burt," Wodicka admits. Such are the demands of book promotion, however. But the medievalist is in good company: "It's great for Burt Hecker to make friends with Wolf Eyes and Tolstoy and random dead Beach Boys." Now what would Julian of Norwich make of that?
All Shall Be Well… by Tod Wodicka, out now published by Jonathan Cape.
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