Home | The Waste Land | The Flowers of Evil | News | Contact | Simon Acland's Non-Fiction

Simon Acland

The Waste Land: the true story of the Holy Grail?

The Waste Land CoverThe Waste Land chronicles the adventures of Hugh de Verdon, monk turned knight, during the extraordinary historical events of the First Crusade. He journeys from the great Benedictine Monastery of Cluny to Constantinople, Antioch and Jerusalem. He encounters the Assassins, endures a personal epiphany and discovers the truth behind the Holy Grail.

Hugh de Verdon's tale is retold by a group of desperate Oxford Professors, who discover his autobiographical manuscript in their College library. Their humorous - and murderous - story also provides a commentary on the Eleventh Century events and shows that they are perhaps not all they seem.

The Waste Land is Simon Acland's first novel.

For every copy bought directly from this site (via Amolibros), £1 will be donated to the One to One Children's Fund, a charity helping traumatised children in areas of conflict to which religious differences have contributed, such as Israel/Palestine and Kosovo.

To download for free the prologue to The Waste Land, click here. (92k PDF)

To watch a video of Simon Acland talking about The Waste Land (dressed in Michael Palin style crusader costume) click here

Reviews of The Waste Land:

" It is exciting and thrilling and Simon Acland is steeped in this period of history and really knows his stuff. Hugely enjoyable, engrossing and engaging from start to finish. I loved this book and it will be going on my list of Best Reads of 2010."  
Random Jottings 7th July 2010  For the full review, click here

"To produce a good piece of historical fiction requires a delicate balancing act between credible period colour and going gloriously over the top. In The Waste Land, Simon Acland pulls this off brilliantly."
Pursewarden 29th May 2010  For the full review, click here

"Whether in the depiction of Hugh’s loneliness at Cluny, or the gory battle scenes of the First Crusade, Mr. Acland excels at showing Hugh’s development. Each scene and location is remarkably detailed, and the historical figures are equally fascinating."
Historical Novel Review 12th July 2010 For the full review, click here

Books Choice
Oxford Times 23rd July 2010 For the full review, click here

"This first instalment is terrific and we eagerly await the follow-up."
Brother Judd 24th July 2010 For the full review, click here

"A witty grail quest thriller with a difference...Hidden in the guise of stirring adventure is a clever play on the paradox of duality. Hugh is a man of both peace and war, intellect and action, and his quest is a metaphor for the psychological and spiritual journey of the individual. The Crusade's bloody slaughter in the name of the Prince of Peace and its bitchily squabbling Greek chorus of academics together form a tragicomedy with links closer than we realize: in the past lies the present. The Waste Land is legendary entertainment indeed."
Historical Novels.info October 2010 For the full review, click here

"Not only does Acland write extremely well, his research is meticulous...Rather brilliantly, he includes very helpful maps and a list of the real characters both of which helped me navigate the excellent and compelling plot. Acland describes the book as ‘an entertainment’ and that it is." 
Professor Magellan, 7th January 2011  For the full review, click here

"Acland depicts medieval warfare in all its gory detail but also paints a relistic and sympathetic picture of a sheltered young man trying to find his place in a violent world. The historical details ring true, from the progression fo the Crusades to the manuscripts Hugh uses to complete his quest. The Waste Land would appeal to anyone enamored of the holy grail mythos or interested in the Crusade."
Historical Novel Society, February 2011  For the full review, click here



What other writers say about The Waste Land:

"Highly original and a most enjoyable read."
Tim Waterstone

"The Waste Land will be thoroughly enjoyed by anyone with a taste for rollicking adventure laced with a subtle dose of literary learning."
Douglas Hurd

"Sex, violence and more than a dash of romance: Simon Acland's gripping First Crusade mystery thriller rivals the Da Vinci Code for interest and suspense."
Stanley Johnson

"I found it utterly gripping."
Giles MacDonogh

"Simon Acland's debut novel is a potent cocktail: take one part First Crusade historical romance, one part modern academic satire - and add three jiggers of coming-of-age, Grail-questing, spur-winning Knight's tale. A rollicking, galloping read from a highly individual story teller."
Juliette Mead

"An intriguing tale..."
Catherine Bailey

Simon Acland on the Genesis of The Waste Land

The Waste Land brings together a number of obsessions of mine - or perhaps obsessions is not quite the right  word. A better way of putting it would be to say that various bits of reading seemed to coalesce when I was thinking about writing the book.

The first ingredient is the Grail. Like the Best-Selling Author in The Waste Land, I was a bad student at Oxford, but one term I did work hard and became enthused by my subject. That was when I was studying the French grail romances of the 12th and 13th Centuries, and Chretien de Troyes in particular. Later, I watched and read with interest and enjoyment the popular Grail books as they emerged - The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Leigh, Baigent and Lincoln, Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, Kate Mosse's Labyrinth and so on. But it seemed to me that there was something missing - a link back to the original medieval poems. I thought that it would be fun to write a Grail tale that tried to make the connection.

One of the things which obsesses Grail scholars is how the legends originated. Many of the myths that emerge at different times in different cultures have the same roots. After dinner one night I found myself reading The Waste Land out loud to my children - the real Waste Land, the great Waste Land, that is, T.S. Eliot's, not mine. The blend of Grail imagery with other myths, and with Ovid in particular, drove me back to re-read Jesse Weston's From Ritual to Romance, and to Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough, and then to Metamorphoses itself. Somehow this resulted in the idea of tying the Grail legend together with Ovid in a story set in the First Crusade. Using the same title for my book, and allusions to it in my chapter titles, and in various places in the text, is really a homage to the great poem, as well as adding a little literary joke to the novel. (There are 23 allusions to the poem in the text if you are looking for them).

I wanted the First Crusade tale to read a little like the adventure stories that I was brought up on and still re-read often - Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda, John Buchan's Greenmantle, Henry Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines, for example. If you know those books you may recognise genuflections to each of them in my story. To please my children I also promised them a reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But medieval French is less well known and I did not want to lose the connections to the Grail legends.

That's why I came up with the device of the Dons' story. Some of the friends who read the book before I published it liked the Dons. Some did not. If you don't, just ignore the Saint Lazarus's College sections and read Hugh's story. It stands by itself. But I decided to leave the Dons in, because for me they add another dimension. I thought that if they were commenting on some of the literary origins of the story they could talk a little about the history behind it. I have read many historical novels where I have asked myself part way through 'did it really happen like that?'. Some of the events of the First Crusade are so extraordinary that they are hard to believe and I wanted the Dons to point up some of the background. I also wanted them to inject a bit of humour into the story and dilute some of the blood and battles. In part some of the parallels with Hugh's story poke gentle fun at the 'time slip' novel genre. And in part they are meant to confirm that Hugh's story should not be taken too seriously.

For other Oxford novels see: www.dailyinfo.co.uk/guide/oxbooks.html

© Copyright Simon Acland 2021