Me and The Monk

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.

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Nine is a Magic Number

Recently I launched my ninth book, The White Tower. It was a wonderful event with music and readings, storytelling and afternoon tea. People crowded into Cardigan’s, Small World Theatre, a favourite local venue, where the atmosphere was fabulous and there was a genuine appreciation of all the performances. Certainly the readings had the desired effect as the sales of signed books at the event exceeded expectations. It could also be that most of the people attending  were local and may know that I am diagnosed with inoperable cancer and that this could well be my last ‘event’ so this particular novel, perceived, perhaps, as my last book.

In the light of that possibility, it occurs to me that it might be a good idea to acquaint people with my previous books, to  recap on those novels which went before, since in the circumstances, the numbers of people likely to be interested may have grown.

With the publishing of the White Tower the number of my books, though in total now nine, splits into two types, those in print which rise to six and those only available online and Kindle, which number three.

Of  those printed and published three make up‘The Dreamstealers Trilogy’, for children 8 years upward,  produced by Welsh publishing house  Y Lolfa between 2003-2006. Each book has an exciting adventure with inter-dimensional characters, an element of magic and an over-arching story going through the three volumes. All the action takes place in and around the Preseli Hills, and the towns of Narberth and Cardigan. Publication of the trilogy was assisted by the Welsh Books Council, and they are still available from Y Lolfa, in book form or from Amazon on Kindle.

In 2009 the town of Cardigan celebrated its 900th birthday, a fine excuse for another book. So I wrote A Court in Splendour, the story of the Lord Rhys ap Gruffudd who held a grand party and contest between bards and musicians in the newly built Cardigan Castle. The event is now regarded by most in Wales as the First Eisteddfod.  A trip to Glastonbury and another to St Davids inspired the writing of a book about the grave of King Arthur. This was The Bardic Monk which came out in 2013. Both of those books were published by Llanerch. Three contemporary mysteries were also completed and put up on Amazon for Kindle users about this time.

The ninth, again published by Llanerch Press, has more significance for me than most of the others. The fact that it came to me after an encounter with a swarm of bees is already recorded in my last post, but perhaps the fact that the bees were thirty five years ago, and the book only just published, is less well-known.

I have waited for two weeks since the launch, to be well enough to write this and have been rewarded in that time by a positive flood of appreciative comments about the book from readers which has been quite thrilling. I cannot help feeling it is more likely to assist my health than any amount of prescribed medication! 

Euphoria of cheerful happenings

When a number of issues come to a conclusion together, it leads to a euphoria that is close to feeling like flying. Finally after weeks of filling in application forms for the ACW, finishing with it, and sending it off, and publication of ‘The Bardic Monk’ at the same time. A great pleasure to move with relief from a chore to a pure pleasure of a new book out!

The Bardic Monk, out in the world, going its own way without me holding its hand. What a weird thing it is, my thoughts will make new thoughts in the heads of readers, creating a world which, as Ken Follett said on BBC’s Great Welsh Writers last night, the reader for a brief moment, prefers to his own world. He’s right of course, otherwise no-one would get past the first few pages, but once they do, they are living two lives simultaneously. I’m more pleased with this book than anything I have written. I’m tempted to talk about analepsis again, but I need to think more about it before writing about it. Certainly, Walter Map has become a living person. I have him in my mind’s eye and will write about him again I think.

Will we really get to do a community musical drama on the castle? Will it be possible to get all sorts of people from the town to come and act, sing, perform poetry, build sets, create a wardrobe…if the Arts Council looks favourably on this phase one application we will at least have a script to work to, and more or less, the go-ahead to try for the rest of the money to take us to production. The restored castle with its entirely new stage in the round, will be a challenge to us all to make something wonderful to grace the space.To tell the story of the town’s history in an entertaining and accessible way, without losing the genuinely serious undercurrents will not be easy. To perform it with a cast of townspeople led by a small group of professionals and regular amateur actors, who know their way around a stage could be genuinely exciting. So now we wait. There could be six weeks before we know if this is a possibility.Cardigan Theatre are up for it, they have developed noticeable skills and I look forward to working with them. In fact I look forward to working with everyone who has signed up so far. So daily focus on the positive is not a bad way forward.