The Descent of the Lyre

The Descent of the Lyre
The Descent of the Lyre, Roman Books 2012

The Descent of the Lyre is a novel about music, myth and violence set between Bulgaria and Paris in the early nineteenth century.

The book was listed as a Bookseller’s Choice for August 2012 in The Bookseller magazine, and was shortlisted for the 2013 East Midlands Book Award. Available in paperback, hardback and ebook formats.

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“This is a book that is memorable for all the right reasons. The story is gripping and highly original, and it is beautifully written” — Louis de Bernières.

It is the early nineteenth century, and the Bulgarian village of Gela, the legendary home of Orpheus, is suffering under the heavy taxation and arbitrary justice of Ottoman rule. When his bride-to-be is abducted the night before his wedding, Ivan Gelski takes to the hills and turns to banditry to seek revenge. But a chance encounter with a travelling guitarist, and the bloodshed that follows, set him on a musical journey through fame, martyrdom and legend. This reinvention of the tale of Orpheus, plunges the reader into the music and folklore of Bulgaria, in a parable about storytelling, sainthood and myth-making.

The Descent of the Lyre is published by Roman Books in the UK and USA, and is also available in Bulgarian translation.


“Blends history and myth… lyrical and well-written.”

The Bookseller


“A powerful literary novel.”

The Sunday Telegraph


“This is a book that is memorable for all the right reasons. The story is gripping and highly original, and it is beautifully written”

Louis de Bernières. 


“Do not mistake this for a mere retelling. This is masterful storytelling.”

Historical Novel Review.


“A unique, timeless and enjoyable work of literature.”

Left Lion Magazine.


“It’s just a good novel, a very good read, and a highly memorable tale told simply. Buckingham also writes compellingly as a guitarist, the descriptions of the music also sounding like music, in how the words sit on the page and how the phrases are paced, as well as their effect on the characters… I enjoyed this novel very much for its feeling of being a fable, a handed-down tale, constructed from bits and pieces of fact and fiction, blended back into myth.”

Vulpes Libris


“You find yourself admiring this book very much: the fluid, flowing prose and fierce, colourful historical detail… This stark, sad story somehow makes you feel a bit better about life, but not in any way that’s false or facile. It’s different from anything you’ve read in ages, and a fine, humane, intelligent work.”

Jean Morris on the Tasting Rhubarb blog.


The author has a deft touch with imagery and color, helping to evoke the times and places. The chapters are quite short, so it’s easy to read just one more, and then maybe another, and …There are very few novels whose protagonists are classical guitarists (Like a River of Lions by Tana de Gámez is perhaps the best-known example), and it’s a pleasure to report that this one is a most enjoyable read (especially if you’re a guitarist).

David Grimes in Soundboard Magazine Vol 39, Issue 1.


“Seasoned with knowledge of philosophy and storytelling as well as a deft touch and lyrical beauty… it feels totally original.”


“And as well as having a really fascinating story, throwing off all sorts of questions and ideas, is also extremely well written. You feel the cold, you taste the raw spirit, you fear the guns and knives and you believe in the love, the lost-love, that haunts Ivan Gelski. I read it in a weekend because each of its short chapters just asked to be read immediately. The learning – of which I suspect there is much – is lightly worn, but you come away with a sense of an extraordinary place at an extraordinary time. It is a really lovely, glorious piece of fiction.”

 Jonathan Davidson, Chief Executive of Writing West Midlands and author of Early Train.


“Beautiful… a wonderfully conceived piece of work.”

Maria Taylor, author of Melanchrini.


“Really thrilling reading material… Make the unorthodox choice of buying this novel about an orthodox saint that nobody has ever heard of”

Radio Bulgaria

The Descent of the Lyre — extract

Listen to the opening section of The Descent of the Lyre, telling of an encounter with a strange saint in a hillside chapel in Bulgaria.


The music for this podcast is Gavin Bryars’s Marconi Madrigal, courtesy of

All other content © Will Buckingham 2012


I researched The Descent of the Lyre in Bulgaria between 2005 and 2007, making three trips in all. On my final journey to Bulgaria, I was funded by the UK arts council to undertake the research. I took my guitar with me and headed overland to Bulgaria, by train and by bus, to explore the sites associated with the ancient myths of Orpheus.

The Descent of the Lyre draws on my life-long love of the classical guitar, an instrument that I have played from an early age.

Произходът на лирата
Произходът на лирата

В началото на XIXвек населението в българското родопско село Гела, родно място на легендарния Орфей, страда под зловещото османско робство. Когато турците отвличат годеницата му точно преди тяхната сватба, Иван Гелски поема към планината и се присъединява към четата на Богдан войвода, за да търси отмъщение. Но случайната среща с пътуващ китарист и последвалото кръвопролитие го изпращат на вълнуващо пътешествие през света на музиката, славата, мъченичеството и раждането на една легенда. В това забележително преоткриване на мита за Орфей Уил Бъкингам се потапя в музикалното богатство и фолклора на България, за да създаде една притча за историята, свeтостта и силата на митовете…

* * *

„Сполучлива комбинация от история и митология… поетична и чудесно написана книга.“


„Въздействащ литературен роман.“

„Съндей Телеграф“

„Тази книга е забележителна с това, че притежава всички важни характеристики на доброто четиво: оригинален и увлекателен сюжет, чудесна идея и красив стил.“

Луи дьо Берниер


За автора

Уил Бъкингам е роден през 1971 г. в Норич, Англия. Той е романист, философ и преподавател в Лестър, Англия. Пише книги в областта на художествената литература, философски книги, както и такива за деца. Води курсове по творческо писане в училището по хуманитарни науки към университета „Де Монтфорд“.

Последните му книги са: детската „The Snorgh and the Sailor“, романът „Произходът на лирата“, книга за самопомощ, която се казва „Introducing Happiness“, и монография, посветена на философа Еманюел Левинас. В момента подготвя – „A Book of Changes“ – книга, посветена на 64-те хексаграми от Идзин, както и поредица книги за деца.

„Sunday Times“ поставя блога му, където са публикувани над 300 статии, в топ 100 на блоговете за 2009 г.Научете повече за автора на


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