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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Holmén

A Raven Made Me Do It!

Two large ravens at the Tower of London
Cedric II and his mate, Munin at the Tower of London, (2002)

I had a dream the night before I was going to take an oil painting class. I thought I needed something in my life besides just being a teacher. I was 30 at the time, and I knew I wanted to be more than just my titles; mother, teacher, wife, sister and friend. None of the titles seemed to explain who I was, or what I felt was itching in the background for me to do more .

The dream was very strange. I had three separate dreams about Ravens, and all were books about a raven as the main character. The dream was vivid, and I remembered it in detail, which doesn't always happen.

I woke up and got ready for the day. I forgot to check the mail the day prior and opened the box. To my surprise, I pulled out one of those postcards that was marketing a publishing house, "Do you think you can Write?" It had a drawing of a person writing outside, and a raven was on the tree nearby. I laughed walking back to the house, but a thought came to mind. "What if you're not meant to paint, but to write?"

So, I decided not to talk myself out of the message and go on a whim instead. I drove to Borders and walked into the store. As I walked through the first aisles, I looked to my left to see a woman putting up a small sign for a meeting of the Sierra Nevada's Writers Group. "Huh?" I mused. "That's convenient!" I went back to the shelves to look for books on how to publish a book, but the woman intrigued me.

I decided to walk over to her and ask what her group was about. She introduced herself as Ellen Hopkins, a local writer. We spoke for several minutes, and I told her about my strange dream. She laughed and invited me to stay and share my ideas with the group.

Introductions were made, and Ellen let me share my ideas. I stood up and began to tell the group about the three books. They were so receptive to me and encouraging, but I wasn't sure which book I should do, until the woman to my left told me to stop talking! Susie Williams, another amazing local author, started to laugh and told everyone to look outside the window at the grass.

Five large ravens landed on the grass and were foraging! One member thought they were crows at first, but Susie, being an avid animal lover stated, "They are ravens without a doubt! Look at the mustache on those huge beaks!" The group was in awe, and I was full of goosebumps.

It was then that the group said to pick the story I was sharing when the Ravens arrived. That was the day, Churchill's Raven was born. It was November 2001, and I dove into the research of writing a book about a secret mission Churchill flew to save the Raven's at the Tower of London.

Raven Master holding raven
Raven Master (Retired) Derek Coyle at the Tower of London

I was about two months into writing when I realized I needed to go to England to do my research. I had spent countless hours looking for grant money to no avail. I was about to give up when I received a phone call from my parents.

I was driving home from church depressed and almost in tears about not having the resources to get myself to England. I couldn't justify the expense, yet I knew to write this historical fiction, I had to go to England.

My cell rang just as I was approaching my house. I pulled over so I wouldn't accidentally drop the call. They were both on the line and knew right away I was down. My mom spoke first and said, "Honey, we know how hard you've been working on your manuscript, and we want you to stop worrying. We just sent you a check in the mail, so you can't say no. We'd like to send you to England to finish the book."

I started to cry and just happened to look at my home. Suddenly, out of the blue, I saw five ravens land on top of the roof of my house. I blurted it out to my mom and dad, and they began to laugh and cry at the same time. My dad then said, "Well, that's a Sign honey you are meant to go!"

By March 2002, I was in a plane flying over the Atlantic with a brand new passport in hand to spend three weeks in England. I was invited to the Tower of London as a VIP, with a lanyard that allowed me to walk freely around the castle. I met with the Raven Master, Derek Coyle who gave me so much for my story. He even shared the story of a special raven named Cedric.

Days later, and needing more intimate detail about Churchill, I went to the Imperial War Museum only to realize I needed a six-month background check to get upstairs to the archives and Reading Room. I approached a docent who made a phone call. Suddenly, the elevators to the Archives opened up, and I was escorted in! The curator sat me down in front of his microfiche as I told him how I needed the whereabouts of how Churchill harvested the Ravens. I told him about Cedric, and the gentleman quickly turned around. He began to laugh which got the attention of several Cambridge professors pouring through some old leather bound book with white gloves on.

The curator exclaimed, "Gentleman, this American just pieced together a mystery about our Winston!" They stopped their perusing to listen further. The curator went to his computer to pull up a castle that his grandfather used to be the Gillymaster for, and his grandfather's name was CEDRIC! He was the man that personally harvested the Ravens for Churchill! We both sat there dumbfounded until one of the professors broke the silence. "A damn Yank figured it out!"

Later that week, I was on the phone with the grandson of the castle telling me amazing stories of what occurred during the war.

I completed the book and entered it into the Nevada Arts Council Fellowship Award, and it won Honors in Young Adults, the first YA book to win. Although the story won awards, I decided to rewrite it with a special character my editor and I fell in love with. To be continued, I guess!

The Ravens stayed around my home for nine months often visiting on the hill making a raucous. It was truly a magical time for me experiencing the synchronicity that can occur when you allow yourself to listen to those little whispers that can lead you onto your true path.


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