Beautiful Bardic Monk

My day has been made again today by having been stopped twice by people who have fallen in love with The Bardic Monk.

‘He is a beautiful character,’ said one of them. ‘In spite of his funny looks!’ Considering he is regarded by some of the other characters as a changeling, and the description of him by Walter Map is so unkind, I think that ‘funny looks’ is a bit of an understatement.

But I will not complain, since the compliment to the character is also one for me, and though I know it is a small book, and will probably only ever find a small readership, due to my love of obscure material, I feel immensely happy about the quality of feedback I have received about it.

The second person asked me whether I had ever spent time in a monastery of any sort, since the description of the Bardic Monk’s early life there, struck such a chord of genuine awareness of the conditions. The truth is of course, I have never spent time in a monastery. I visited Buckfast Abbey in Devon and saw round the place with a monk as guide once, a long time ago, but as for the life they live, I only know what I know from research of course.

Sometime in the next couple of days I will write about Banjo, the wonderful book of poetry by Samantha Wynne Rhydderch whose work is not only well researched but amazingly descriptive and a total joy to have beside the bed.

The Grave of King Arthur

The location of the grave of King Arthur has been the subject of several novels in recent years. Between Ariana Franklin, Phil Rickman and Peter Ackroyd, to name but three, it seems that this is a subject which has become, if not fashionable, certainly worth a place in historical fiction. The proliferation of other books on the same subject had nothing to do with why I chose it to write about. It was in fact a shock to me to find that others had been moved to write about the same thing as myself soon after I had begun mine. But I like to think anyway, that my take on it, like all the rest, is a little different and in its own way, displays a unique angle.

Most writing, both in recent fiction and in long-standing documentary history books, suggests that the location of the grave is not at Glastonbury Abbey, where King Henry believed it to be. They have good reason to think so, though no proof exists either for their rejection of the location, or Henry’s acceptance of it. Thanks to the dissolution of the monasteries, and the passage of time, there are no remains, which is a great pity, because we will never know for sure. But when the King sent his people to investigate, and to dig up the contents of the grave, there was a certain amount written about it, and it is my contention that whether today we can see reasons for doubt, those who were present at the time, genuinely believed that what they had found was exactly what they were looking for, the bones of the mightiest of all the Kings that Briton had ever known, Arthur himself. When they exhumed the ancient remains of a large man and a small woman, buried with a lead cross bearing the legend in Latin, ‘Here lies Arthur King of all Briton and his second wife Guinevere’, they believed that it was telling the truth.

Most historians sneer at the idea that the grave was actually that of King Arthur, positing that the bodies which were brought to the surface were quite other, and the whole thing was a hoax on the part of the monks of Glastonbury to increase their income. It is true that the abbey at Glastonbury had suffered serious setbacks due to a fire some years earlier, which burnt much of it to the ground but that does not prove they lied about finding King Arthur’s grave.

Besides, for those who found it, if we take Gerald of Wales as our significant text, since it was written at the time; the find was quite genuine. It was King Arthur and Guinevere, who were found, and the description of it in Gerald is so touching and mysterious that we cannot read it and reject it. We are drawn instead to believe with them, that here lay a giant man who had once been a king, and the woman who was his final companion, in life and in death. Gerald even describes how he was allowed to stand King Arthur’s femur bone beside him and by measuring it was able to estimate Arthur’s height to be well over the height of even a fairly tall man.

Of course Gerald is not beyond exaggerating for a good story, and Geoffrey of Monmouth who wrote so elegantly of a King Arthur introduced us to a template which simultaneously excites our admiration and reassures us of protection.

To find his remains in Glastonbury was at the time a great, important moment, and though historians have set it aside as irrelevant fantasy, to those alive at the time, it was a confirmation that he had lived. My latest novel The Bardic Monk, follows their quest to find the grave and stays with them in their belief that it was indeed Arthur. That way it fits with everything I experience on a feeling level, about Glastonbury and its history.

Narberth Museum

I noted in the press today that Narberth Museum is in the shortlist for an award for the best new museum. I went to see it when it first opened last year and was seriously impressed. It is a genuinely splendid attraction for the town, and without the enthusiasm and hard work of volunteers it would not be there. The article that follows was written by me for the Tivyside Advertiser after that first visit.

Quilters at Narberth’s New Museum


The recently opened museum in Narberth is currently hosting a lavish exhibition of quilts, the work of the Landsker Quilters and friends. This is an inspired choice for a first show alongside the permanent exhibits; some 1,500 items of historic interest from the surrounding area.

From decorative wall hangings, to extravagant silky king-sized  quilted throws for beds, the designs and colours add much to the atmosphere of the museum. Quilting is an ancient skill, and there have been quilts made in Wales since around the 15th century. They have often played a part in family history, and were made traditionally for weddings and for christenings. They are still made, more often than not, for giving within families, and now and again they are made for commissions. This show is a brilliant opportunity to observe the scope and range of styles in the individual quilters work.

The new museum itself is less than three weeks old and the new building is beautifully designed to make everything on show readily accessible and yet also displayed with great attention to detail.The internal arrangement follows a well-matched series of themed items and interesting stories of local characters, who have influenced history, like Stanley Lewis, whose father introduced radio into Pembrokeshire in 1923 when for the first time local people could tune in. There is a potted history of what a Bonded Store was and how grant funding from the Heritage Lottery was used to raise Narberth’s derelict Bonded Store from steep decline into this marvellous museum which is also a centre for the community. There is a coffee shop, a bookshop, an education suite and research facilities, computer-interactive facilities, and hands-on experiences to be had, and a splendid room for conferences. Show. Like the quilting exhibition, there will be regular space made for all aspects of local arts and crafts, reflecting today’s makers alongside those of the past.

What would be nice would be a new and lovely museum in Cardigan town, but that looks like being another millenium away before there is the enthusiasm or the commitment to make it happen.