This is the first in a series of blogs sharing the stories and research behind the story in my forthcoming book Across the Crystal Sea – my first published fiction.
In the 1970’s I was a regular attender at St.Mary Magdalene church in Oxford. The services there are ‘High Anglican’ – rather like Roman Catholic services they include ‘bells and smells’, and lots of candles. But no Latin.
It was at ‘Mary Mag’s’, as it is fondly called by regular attenders, I heard some words in a hymn, Alleluia, sing to Jesus!, by the famous Victorian hymn writer William Chatterton Dix, that stuck in my mind:
Where the songs of all the sinless
Sweep across the crystal sea… (William C Dix 1837 -1898)
The last four words became the title of my young adult book, Across the Crystal Sea, which will be published in December this year, after many years of revision. (My adult readers have been saying they couldn’t put it down, so I’m hoping you will read it, for enjoyment and spiritual inspiration.) When I originally sent my manuscript around to publishers and agents, I was told ‘there’s no room for fantasy in the children’s market’. This was, of course, a long time before the Harry Potter books!
But I have never regarded Across the Crystal Sea as ‘fantasy’. It is about a mystical experience – and that is definitely NOT ‘fantasy!
The reason the words caught my attention was because I had already experienced transcendental states of awareness, and I knew exactly what Dix meant by ‘the crystal sea.’ I also knew that someone could cross that sea without having to die to this material world.
When I researched the author of the hymn, to check whether he might have had his own personal experience of crossing ‘the crystal sea’, I discovered that William, at the age of 29 had a ‘near fatal illness’. According to the Wikipedia biography, the illness lead to a period of depression, but this was exactly the time when William began to write the hymns for which he is famous. I strongly suspect he might have had a near death experience. Although generally speaking people come back from such an experience full of new joy, the loss of that connection with pure bliss consciousness can lead to depression and introversion. However, I know from my own personal experience, that the event will have opened the spiritual channels for the divine to express itself, through poems, hymns and other artistic possibilities.
Thank you William, for inspiring me to write my story! More about the ‘crystal sea’ shortly.