You should know one important thing: Ned Hayes tries, as much as possible, to create characters who have “sensibility and a voice that is realistic for the time period and their station in life”. Due to this, “Sinful Folk”, a story based on real events from the 14th century, is not just another historical fiction that does not actually show how people thought differently at that time compared to how we think now. For example, the heroine of the book, Mear/Miriam, rejects being a woman within a society where women don’t matter, and pretends to be a man (a woman like this was not as rare then as one might think). She is a renegade, but at the same time, without question, she wholly accepts the Christian worldview, even though if she was living today, her background would mean that she would find that worldview antithetic to her heritage. (To know why – read the novel.)
In the story, a small group of parents from a distant village lose their children in a fire and set out to reach the king to demand justice. All this really happened – but the mystery of what happened exactly, and why, is what inspired Hayes. He paints an evocative picture of this journey in the middle of the worst winter of the age. The reality of medieval England (based on solid research) described in the book is so harsh that it is difficult to bear it sometimes - and this is just a soft version, in response to reactions from the very first readers. We see how brutal and dangerous life was back then, but we also gradually discover the truth about Mear (one of distraught parents) and the crime – Hayes is the master of suspense.
This novel was written on the train that took Hayes to his work in Seattle and then back home every day. After one year he had the first draft. This commuter train is his favorite place to work on books, with “the sun rising over the misty meadows and forests outside the window”.
He found it fascinating to write about Mear, someone who Hayes is fundamentally quite different to. From time to time he asked his wife how a woman might respond in this or that circumstance and it helped him to portray events accurately. Generally, he loves having the opportunity to “visit” past places and cultures, and see the world through different eyes:
I find the whole process of getting into another time to be endlessly fascinating. I feel that my humanity – and the humanity of my readers – is deepened and enriched by experiencing a very different time and place.
Most popular reviews:
“…a beautiful and bleak tale - a murder mystery and a journey of personal revelation - of English commoners making an unimaginable journey of two hundred miles to seek justice and answers. Ned Hayes takes the reader on a time machine trip to the harsh and hopeful life that ordinary people really lived.” - William Dietrich, novelist, journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner
''A pilgrim tale worthy of Chaucer, evocative, compelling and peopled with unforgettable characters artfully delivered by a master storyteller. Be warned: Dress warmly before beginning this perilous journey across a winter-blasted, medieval landscape of fire and ice. Your heart will shiver and not just from the cold. An excellent novel, “Sinful Folk”. A wonderful book.'' - Brenda Rickman Vantrease, best-selling author of “The Illuminator” and “The Mercy Seller”
“…a work of art. I found the story fascinating, approachable, and powerful. Miriam's story is a raw and brutal and passionate tale, but her story touches the reader because it's a timeless story -- the struggles of parents, and of justice for their children. She makes it all very human regardless of the time period, and it's a wonderful portrayal of medieval life. Highly recommended - 5 out of 5 stars.'' - Kathryn Le Veque, bestselling author of “The Dark Lord” and “The Warrior Poet”