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Whitworth English alumnus publishes first major novel

December 12, 2013

Whitworth alumnus Ned Hayes, ’90, will release his first major novel, Sinful Folk, in January 2014. Published by Campanile Books, the work of historical fiction, set in medieval England and based on actual events, features cover and interior illustrations by New York Times bestselling illustrator and author Nikki McClure.

Hayes’ love for medieval literature began when he was a student at Whitworth, where Professor of English Doug Sugano introduced him to the genre; Hayes attributes Sugano with his continuing interest in medieval literature and drama.

In addition to writing novels, Hayes is the director of product teams at Intel. He credits the Whitworth English Department for his success in both software and writing.

“My favorite aspect of the department continues to be the great and abiding passion that the professors bring to their work in literature and writing,” Hayes says. “Their active engagement with the minds of their students is a continuing inspiration to me.”

Sugano, as well as Whitworth English professors Vic Bobb, Leonard Oakland and Laura Bloxham, had a powerful influence on Hayes’ writing and his approach to literature, he says. “My worldview and my particular interest in medieval literature, in epic poetry, and in literary criticism were planted, nurtured and blossomed under their tutelage.”

Sinful Folk is based upon actual events surrounding a house fire in 14th-century England that killed five children. A small group of villagers traveled 200 miles across England, seeking justice for their children’s deaths.

“The same night I read of this incident, I couldn’t sleep—I stayed up and wrote the beginning to the story,” Hayes says. “But then I put the story on a shelf for nearly 10 years. One day, as I watched my children playing, I thought of the agony of child-loss. I wondered how far a mother would go to protect her child’s memory.”

Sinful Folk follows Mear, one of the victim’s mothers, who has a mysterious past of her own. A former nun, Mear has lived for a decade disguised as a mute man. As she seeks justice for her son’s death, she begins to reconcile her past with the creation of a new legacy. The novel offers profound insight into the medieval era.

Hayes wrote his first novel as a Jan Term project his senior year at Whitworth, under the guidance of professor Vic Bobb; since then he has written five unpublished novels, as well as the self-published novel Coeur d’Alene Waters, a historical mystery set in the Pacific Northwest. He is now at work on the historical novels Garden of Earthly Delight, also set in the Middle Ages, and A Mercy Upon Us.

Hayes is a candidate for an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop and holds graduate degrees in English and theology from Western Washington University and Seattle University. His scholarly and literary work have appeared in numerous literary magazines and anthologies, including the book-length anthology Divine Aporia (Bucknell, 2000), a collection of contemporary responses to post-modern theology.

He has served as an associate editor for the Bellingham Review and Jeopardy, and for several other literary magazines and journals. Hayes speaks regularly on theology and storytelling and teaches writing at universities in the Pacific Northwest. For more information, please visit

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian church. The university, which has an enrollment of 3,000 students, offers 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.