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An Inspiration for the Happy Monk

Giacomo Pacchiarotto — “A young lady writing a hymnal”

The Song of Oswald, my unpublished novel set in 14th century England, 1 has three main characters. Richard is the dour monk, ejected from his abbey at the beginning of the story, a bit of a sad-sack. Oswald is Richard’s long-lost brother, a renegade, a “Robin Hood” character, the polar opposite to Richard.

Claire: Rough, unschooled, and unbridled

The third is Claire, a young woman, poverty-stricken, abused by her father. Despite her circumstances, she is the moral force of the story. You would think that Richard might be the learned, religious authority, but he’s not even that. Claire is like her name: she sees the world with clarity, past the dogma of the church, and class. She is rough, unschooled, and unbridled in her thoughts and actions, especially standing next to the two brothers.

I did not design these characters. They walked into the novel on their own steam. I wanted the story narrated by a monk, and Richard showed up. He was vague and unformed, at first, but he drew himself as he reacted to events. When Oswald appeared, he was clearly a wild man, dangerous, a Robin Hood-like character. His first appearance is dramatic. He’s steely, cold-blooded, and charismatic. A little like Errol Garner swinging from the ropes of a square-rigged hulk.

When Claire appeared, I had no idea she’d be an inspiration for the Happy Monk Baking Company! I’d long had an abiding passion for bread and baking, but Claire took me further into the baking world than I ever dreamed. Bread is central to her story. She even becomes a baker by the end of the novel with no prodding from me!

What’s a monk to say when faced with a woman?

Claire takes a while to reveal herself. At first, she’s weak and shaken. She’s been brutalized by a threesome of churlish monks. Richard is outraged, shouts them away, and takes her to the infirmary to recover.

This is an awkward situation, all-round. Women were not allowed on abbey grounds. They were believed to be evil temptresses with the power to addle and distract pious monks from their heaven-ward gaze. What was she doing there in the first place?

Moreover, Richard has barely spoken to a woman. He knows she needs help, but what is he supposed to say?

It is Claire who helps Richard

She begins to talk, slowly at first, telling Richard how she came to be on the abbey grounds. And as she tells her story, we begin to sense Claire’s power and clarity.

She is one of the poor townspeople, begging for alms at Richard’s abbey 2 one day 3. The abbey offers no alms on this day. Claire is afraid to return to her father empty-handed and manages to sneak past the abbey gate onto the grounds.

The gate locks behind her. She is stuck there until she can find a way out. She stays in the shadows, walking around, following her nose for food. She’s fearful of being caught, but she’s also enchanted.

“Like those bells were calling for me, too.”

It was so quiet, so peaceful! Not like Maidstone, where there’s always bangin’ or shoutin’ or mules hollerin’ away. No, in Boxley, the only sounds I ever heard were bells and singing from the church. Oh, and maybe the birds singing, too.

It was the bells that were most beautiful. Clear and simple and high sounding, not like the big ones at St. Mary’s Church. They sounded lonely, like, and I wanted to go to them like all the other monks did … like those bells were calling for me, too.

And I thought what it would be like to live there and pray and sing and think all day. And I wouldn’t ever go hungry like I was that day.

“I just sat there, looking at all that bread”

Claire is forced to spend the night in the woods within the precinct walls.

Before the sun come up, I could smell bread cookin’ in the ovens. I was so hungry, I had to get my hands on some o’ that bread, and I thought I would do anything to get it. I wasn’t careful, like before, an’ I ran along by the river, to the bakehouse, and stood outside behind a tree.

When the sun started comin’ through the wood, I saw a baker bring a big board outside. It was loaded with fresh-baked loaves, and he put it on a bench beside the window for cooling. He went back inside, and I just sat there, lookin’ at all that bread, and I was breathin’ heavy, and my mouth hurt, I wanted it so bad.

And soon as I thought it was right, I ran out and took one of those loaves into my arms. Just one! I was about to run back to the wood, but I was caught. A big hand grabbed my shoulder, an’ that very same baker got his arms around me an’ lifted me off my feet. An’ I dropped the loaf and began hitting and kicking to get myself loose, but it was no use. I was done for.

Claire’s life is beset with sad events and violence, but her luck turns by force of her will. She proves a valuable ally to Richard and Oswald on their adventure in France. Her courage and resilience earn her the respect of Oswald and the admiration of Richard.

She seems drawn to Oswald’s charisma and cunning, but it’s Richard she loves in the end. And Richard loves her, too. They go their separate ways, but years after their adventure, he finds her at the market.

It’s Richard she loves in the end

I first saw Claire at a distance. She tended a small table with loaves of bread laid out in baskets. There were two kinds, each with a pleasing crust and colour. I stood watching her tend to her customers and other vendors. She was cheerful, smiling as she did her business.

She once glanced in my direction but did not take note and carried on with her business. A moment later, she returned her gaze and looked at me more closely. We two stared at each other, foraging through the lines of our faces and our changed body forms. Her face shimmered and beckoned. A strand of hair fell across her brow. Her smile was familiar, ever lustrous, like a bright polished chalice on the High Altar.

Claire held up one of her loaves as I approached.

“Here you are, Brother Richard,” she said. “A beautiful loaf that will satisfy your hunger. Crisp on the outside and soft inside and tastin’ very good, if I say so. I made it myself.”

It was the last of her loaves. She would not take a ducat when I reached for my purse. I was awkward and could speak only to offer my gratitude and how pleasant it was to see her. I made to leave, even though I wished to stay in her presence a while longer. My eyes averted to the ground, as I would have done in cloister, and I turned to walk away.

“Hold, Brother Richard. Should we not say hello to each other?”

I owe gratitude to Richard and Oswald, the two brothers in The Song of Oswald. But Claire was my particular inspiration!


The Song of Oswald is still alive! It is far from being relegated to the bottom desk drawer. I have a strong desire to see it published and gracing the front window of the Talisman Bookstore here on Pender Island and many others! I’m making revisions when I have time from baking so that a literary agent can represent it to publishers. To learn more about The Song of Oswald, click here.


See you in the morning, Mildrith!
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#woodfiredovens #woodfiredbread #woodfired #sourdoughbread #baker #bakersofinstagram #bakersoven #woodfiredovenlove #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southpenderisland #penderisland #penderislandbc

See you in the morning, Mildrith!
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#woodfiredovens #woodfiredbread #woodfired #sourdoughbread #baker #bakersofinstagram #bakersoven #woodfiredovenlove #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southpenderisland #penderisland #penderislandbc
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Making this Olive Loaf is almost as delicious as eating it. Marinated Kalamata and Haldiki with zested lemons and spices. 
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#wildyeast #michaeljamesbakes #tivolirdbakery #naturallyleavened #artisanbread #realbread #rusticbread #woodfired #woodfiredbread #sourdough #sourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany

Making this Olive Loaf is almost as delicious as eating it. Marinated Kalamata and Haldiki with zested lemons and spices.
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#wildyeast #michaeljamesbakes #tivolirdbakery #naturallyleavened #artisanbread #realbread #rusticbread #woodfired #woodfiredbread #sourdough #sourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany
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Breadcrumbs
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Breadcrumbs
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#innomine #sourdough #sourdoughbread #happymonkbaker #happymonkbakery #bread #breadcrumbs
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Bread love 🍞 ❤️ 🍞 

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Bread love 🍞 ❤️ 🍞

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#countrybread #countryloaf #salishsourdough #sourdough #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #bread #breadlove #breadlabcollective #bbga #breadstagram #breadsofinstagram #artisanbread #baker #bakery #happymonkbaker #happymonkbakery #happymonkbaking #southpenderisland #southpender #penderisland #southerngulfislands
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Intense little Seed loaf!
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#seedbread #sourdough #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #bread #breadlove #breadlabcollective #breadstagram #breadsofinstagram #artisanbread #baker #bakery #happymonkbaker #happymonkbakery #happymonkbaking #southpenderisland #southpender #penderisland #southerngulfislands

Intense little Seed loaf!
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#seedbread #sourdough #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #bread #breadlove #breadlabcollective #breadstagram #breadsofinstagram #artisanbread #baker #bakery #happymonkbaker #happymonkbakery #happymonkbaking #southpenderisland #southpender #penderisland #southerngulfislands
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A hint of brotgewürz, bread spice. A mix of caraway, anise, fennel and coriander lifts this seedy Mountain Rye into a different realm.
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Rugbrød going out Sunday morning, for smørrebrød at lunch! For all to enjoy, but especially for my two Danish friends who have been clamouring for this Danish style rye for weeks! And @ellasharpmorton just back from Denmark, triumphant from her artistic conquests and rugbrød in her tummy!
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#rye #ryebread #rugbrød #danishrye #danishryebread #smørrebrød #openfacedsandwich #openfacesandwich #openfacedsandwiches #woodfiredovens #woodfiredbread #woodfiredryebread #breadhead #happymonkbakery #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakingcompany #bbga #southpenderisland #southpender #penderislandbc #penderisland
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  1. See the earlier post, Sad Monk, Happy Monk

  2. Boxley Abbey, near Maidstone, Kent

  3. Alms are food, money, or goods given to poor people. It was in the charter of all medieval monasteries to offer alms to the poor. The monk in charge was called the almoner.

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