Lockdown inspires 90-year-old’s first published novel

A 90-year-old Leprosy Mission supporter has used lockdown as her inspiration for her first novel, published on her landmark birthday.

Margaret Williams’s The Leprosy Bell tells the story of Isaac, a well-respected citizen of Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee, who is struck down with leprosy. Although Isaac is a fictional character, his story draws upon facts recorded in the Bible and is set in the time when Jesus walked the earth.

Mrs Williams, a retired headteacher from Swindon, said it was lockdown that sparked her imagination to write her first novel. She said it prompted her to think of the isolation people with leprosy experience.

While leprosy is completely curable today, it remains a feared disease in many countries. People try to hide the early signs for fear of rejection from their friends, communities and workplaces.

Mrs Williams is donating half the book's proceeds to The Leprosy Mission, to support its work in reaching out to people left on the fringes of society. The other half will benefit her church, Christ Church in Swindon.

She said: “When we were in lockdown we experienced this isolation for the first time and people could not see their families. It made me think of people with leprosy who could never see their families.

"Victoria Hislop’s novel The Island, set on the island of Spinalonga off the coast of Crete, really inspired me as that was Europe’s last leprosy colony.

"I have visited Spinalonga and it was hard for me to comprehend that there were people living there, in my lifetime, that were banned from the mainland.

"I’ve also been fortunate to visit Israel and the sea of Galilee and it is just so beautiful. I could clearly see it in my mind when I was writing The Leprosy Bell.

"I love telling stories. I used to make up stories while I was headteacher to tell the children. Last summer was a nice summer so I just sat in my garden and wrote and wrote!”

While The Leprosy Bell is Mrs Williams’s first novel, her first-hand experiences of being the first woman Lay Minister in the Bristol diocese in 1974 were published in 2007 in Bridging the Gap. Mrs Williams was awarded the MBE by the Queen in 2014 for services to the Diocese of Bristol.

Trevor Grant, Community Partnerships Manager for The Leprosy Mission, attended Mrs Williams’s 90th birthday celebrations at Christ Church, Swindon, where The Leprosy Bell was officially launched (pictured above).

He said: “Margaret Williams is an amazing lady and it was a real honour to go to her special birthday celebrations at Christ Church. She is dearly loved by her church family.”

The Leprosy Bell is available for £5 from the Rainbow Bookshop in Edgeware Road, Swindon or from Margaret Williams at Christ Church, Swindon.