Lili Wilkinson talks about ‘Angel Fish’

wilkinson_liliIt’s 1212AD. The Crusades aren’t going so well if you’re on the Christian side. There’s a lot of annoyance among the people of Europe – the farmers and servants and peasants whose taxes are paying for the Crusades. Why isn’t it working? Why is the Holy Land still in the hands of the Saracen?

So one day, a 12 year old shepherd boy called Stephen gets a message from God. And he leaves his sheep behind and decides that the only thing that’s going to save the Holy Land is the purity and innocence of children. So he visits towns and villages and cities all over France and raises an army of 10 000 children.

They march over France, over the Swiss Alps where many of them die because they don’t have Important Hiking Gear like, you know, shoes. And they end up in Genoa, in Italy. Stephen tells them that he’s going to part the ocean with his magic, and they will walk across the ocean floor to the Holy Land. There are a couple of flaws with this plan, but the biggest and most important flaw is this: it doesn’t work.

But before the kids have time to get angry, two men turn up, called William the Iron and Hugh the Pig. And they tell the children that they are rich merchants who totally believe in their mission, and that they have chartered seven merchant vessels to carry them to the Holy Land. And Stephen says “yes, well, when I said I was going to part the ocean? That’s what I meant.”

Except William and Hugh aren’t rich merchants at all. They’re pirates.


That’s the basic story of the Children’s Crusade, and the backbone of Angel Fish. Did it really happen? That’s a complicated question. The best answer I can give you is maybe. Something certainly happened, at that time. Was there really an army? Yes. Were they really children? There were certainly some children. But history is a slippery thing. Just like a fish.

One of the really interesting and challenging things about writing Angel Fish was portraying medieval Christianity. The Crusades were probably the moral low point of the Christian religion, and I wanted to be able to portray that realistically, without making the reader hate the characters (and also not offending anyone who is a Christian). When I planned the book, it had a very different ending. But once I got there and had done a lot of research about the time and what it was like being a Christian in France, compared to being a Muslim in Jerusalem – I just couldn’t see how I could end the book how I’d planned. – Lili

Thanks Lili!

Lili has just returned from overseas where she was a guest of the The Edinburgh International Book Festival Outreach Programme.

outreach 015

You can visit Lili’s website at

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