I have been asked more than once why The Bardic Monk is my own favourite of the books I have written, and as I am going into Awen Teifi, one of our local bookshops this week-end to sign copies of it, this is a good time to say why it’s important to me.
My compulsion to tell the story began when I read of a figure cloaked in mystery who appeared in a number of history books. The role attributed to him is that he was the man who spoke to King Henry II , giving him precise instruction where he might find the grave of the long dead King Arthur. This whispering in the King’s ear is not always agreed upon by historians. Perhaps the whole idea of the majestic visitor to St Davids, holding confab with an unknown character, is a bit much for the historian, who would like us to think that the King made up this mythical figure, to disguise the fact that he had already buried some remains where he could find them and say ‘Here is Arthur.’ Why he would do such a thing is anybody’s guess.Regardless of the historians opinions I fell in love with the story of the mystery man, who persuaded the King to ride to Wales, whispered his secret to him and maybe even drew him a little map, like something out of Blyton, and sent him off to Glastonbury. There again the historians dispute the location. They usually say that the monks of Glastonbury only claimed it was there in order to make money.But I read Gerald of Wales, and he tells it like it was, with all the detail of the Glastonbury Abbey graveyard, and the size of the bones that came out of the ground, and the cursed monk with the urge to touch the golden hair of Guinevere. This was a story which once read I had to believe, and was dying to get on with writing. I also wanted to give the man who spoke to the King his finest hour of being recognised for what he did. He may be wearing a monkish gown, but he is no ordinary monk, he is a Bardic Monk, and they were few and far between. Gerald gives us two distinct descriptions of the King’s informer. One of them is ‘an unknown soothsayer’ and the other is ‘a Welsh monk’. In Christopher Snyder’s book The World of King Arthur he tells us it was a ‘British Bard’. I have seen him elsewhere described as a ‘Breton and monkish’ and I have revealed him in my book as an Awenyddion, or Bardic Monk one of the high cast Awenyddionau, whose poetry and lyrical writings were composed through vision and deep meditation. It is St Davids Day on Sunday, and though the monk in the story is not St David himself, much of the story takes place at the cathedral, and its presence is relevant throughout.
So I love the book because it happened in the 12th century which I had enjoyed writing about so much in A Court in Splendour. I also love it because I took a figure out of history who was nameless and faceless even though he talked with a King, and I gave him a voice and name. And last it is my favourite because so much of it occurs at the cathedral in St Davids and I feel privileged to have created a personal connection with it.