Bards, Saints and friendly people.

Bards and Saints and Friendly People

Last evening I went to Hanes Aberporth, (Aberporth History Society) at their invitation to talk to them about Bards and Saints. These two topics, both of which hold a genuine fascination for me, are connected and interwoven throughout both of my historical novels. The first of these, novels, A Court in Splendour, which I wrote in 2009 for the 900th anniversary of Cardigan town in 2010 is about the First Eisteddfod and the bards in it are shown, on the whole to be poets of the minstrel or tenant variety. These were the men sometimes musicians themselves, or even accompanied by a musician who could be female; who either travelled with their poems from manor to manor, or became cheerfully ensconced in a big house with a uniform and a regular pay, treated somewhere between staff and family.  There were others too in those days, the Pencerdded, who was the chief bard, the one who taught in the bardic colleges and, even after these closed, continued to lead gatherings and hold positions of authority. The most important of all however, was the Awenyddion – central to The Bardic Monk, my second historical novel.

This role equated to the ovates of Rome, who were known to speak in a trance-like state where they would foretell the future or relate historical matters from ancient times. Plato talked about Atlantis though he had not been there, so if ever there was a historic figure who fitted the role of Awenyddion, Plato qualifies. Undoubtedly special people, they might simultaneously carry up to 350 poems in their heads along with a multitude of stories and songs and knew everything there was to know about the state of the current royal household, the religious leaders, the high families and the outcome of the intrigues which raged between tribes. It was the Awenyddion who might also take on the role of a monk, or a priest, as the capacity to enter the world of spirit through visions and trance, meant that the protection of a religious role was extremely valuable, if not essential.

Though Saint Caradog is represented in The Bardic Monk my knowledge of saints generally is that they are canonised for a wide variety of reasons, and some of them are not canonised at all! Two new ones during the past month have illustrated the fact that no-one has a perfectly clear picture as to what the qualification is exactly.

These were the matters I talked on last night, and I must say that the gathering of extremely friendly people who welcomed me and asked intelligent questions at the end of the evening, gave me a really enjoyable experience and I trust they too enjoyed it. Researching and writing are both solitary occupations, and though I do not consider myself a ‘historian’ I am a lover of history, as the riches of the past are such fertile ground for fiction. There is a great pleasure to be had from sharing such a love of the past and its stories with others who show genuine interest and appear to enjoy it as much as oneself. So thank you to Hanes Aberporth, perhaps when my lastest book appears on the shelves I will go and talk to them again, next time about the role of the bards in the sixth century, seen from the Romans’ point of view.

Back and Forward in Time

Writing historical novels has been a great experience, both A Court in Splendour and The Bardic Monk, pushed my concentration to get under the skin of characters out of history, either those imagined or those who came from history as we know it.My narrator in both books, Walter Map, was a contemporary of Gerald of Wales, and his own book de Nugis Curialum (Courtiers’ Trifles) is full of odd stories, but only offers small clues to his personality. Research is as necessary to a historical novel as the act of writing it, and I enjoyed it all, but I am also really happy to revert to writing material based in fairly current times, the modern idiom is more straightforward, and no matter how many people tell me that the historical books have a ring of the period about which they are written, I am equally happy writing something from the 20th or 21st century.
Suddenly with the third book in my Grace Series, A Fall from Grace, I am back in my own time, and feeling an ease and spontaneous pleasure with seeing the pages filling up with words, the ideas spilling out and the characters moving toward a satisfying conclusion.
It seems that several people are enjoying the Grace books, and of course for me it would be great if several became more, but I had an email from one of those who has read both those which are available on Amazon Kindle (or Kindle app.for phone or tablet) The Rules of Heaven and A Thorn in the Flesh. This email came with the assertion that in the reader’s opinion that it would make really good television, and they would like to see Grace played by Eleanor Bron, with which I entirely agree, and it has increased my enthusiasm for the work. Could this be the future I ask myself? From thinking I had become a writer of historical novels, to developing the work with a character I originally invented at least fifteen years ago, might there be more of them ahead. I’ll say it here. I would like the Grace series to run to ten books! If I have time of course.

Sifting Poetry Books

I have already mentioned that I part with some of my books from time to time. I do not want my home to be a place where no-one can move for books on every surface. I have three decent sized bookshelves, and that, it seems to me is enough.  The process of sifting through the books, thinning them out, as I was today, often throws up something I have forgotten entirely, especially very slender volumes, almost booklets, which have been swallowed up between bigger, fatter books. Poetry often comes in little books like that. Some of my favourites are written by relatively unknown poets and one of them I came across today was The Town Beyond the World, by my late poet friend Dot Clancy. Dot was a committed poet and this particular book was a love letter to New Quay where she lived as did my family and myself. It is in two halves, Summer and Winter and as I read it the acute memory of the seasonal extremes under which we lived rushed back to me.  Several hundred people live there throughout the year, making up what is called the population, but many thousands spend the summer there and their presence transforms everything. This she captured brilliantly in her book.

Somewhere in the world is a collection of Dot’s poems though I cannot trace it and she wrote several poems to me, which would not be included in it. When my late husband died after a long illness, she sent this one to me. It is typical of the flavour of her work and I am moved every time I read it. The simplicity of the words, the conjured image of a journey, the sense of new beginnings whilst clutched in the pain of an ending, and the undeniable lingering breath of sadness at the brevity of it all make it, to me, a perfect short piece.

The Life Train stopped

and Marsh stepped off

into new horizons

and only we left behind

heard the ticking time

and felt the mirrored pain

while destination bound

we picked over the pieces

and built his memory

to share and heal



A Riot of Readers and Writers

At a pre-Christmas event held in the town for Cardigan’s writers yesterday, a sizeable group gathered to share tasters of current work either in progress or newly published. Reading aloud from poetry and novels, short stories and synopses, the writers offered some splendid material. I opened the readings myself, by sharing a passage from my new novel ‘The Bardic Monk’ which is due for release in January by Llanerch Press. So much for historical fiction! Beyond that we had poetry, contemporary, observational and scathing. thanks to Jackie Biggs and Dave Urwin of the Cellar Bards. In prose we had adventures of a hybrid outsider in a science-fantasy currently doing the rounds of the publishers, The Order of Light by Euian Rogers. The travels of a celebrated grandfather who brought back one hundred animals for the London Zoo, hopefully to be released before too long, by Jonathan Guinness. The gauche attempts of an English land agent attempting to settle into a Welsh village in the 1950s, Mr Tim by Peter George and a story of the exactitude of flying expeditions in Going Tactical by Huw Baumgartner.

Thanks to the presence of partners and friends in the audience – all readers and lovers of books, who laughed, sighed and paid appropriate riotous appreciation of the feast of words laid before them, it was a local but sensational small gathering, much enjoyed by everyone.