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.

Preparing for the Distance

I am not good at looking too far ahead. When I was a student and they asked us where we wanted to be in ten years, or twenty years, I just said ‘alive, hopefully’. I take on projects that have a reasonably short life, not because I don’t want to accomplish something of quality, but the restless energy that motivates me to take on projects is fickle. It’s a bit like a fire, in fact it’s a lot like a fire; burns hot, hot, and gradually slows down. Fuelled by adrenalin of course. So two years ago, when I took on the idea of turning my novel about Cardigan Castle’s historic First Eisteddfod, into a cycle of plays I began to burn for it to happen. I knocked on a few doors, talked to potential funders, sought support and all in all, two years on was in the exact same position as I was at the beginning. I’ve written already that on the point of abandoning it I found the support I needed from the external world  – and I am currently looking forward with a mixture of excitement, and terror, because this project does not even come to fruition until June 2014. It is a long time off, and I feel I should be in training for the distance. But the extraordinary thing is, I had an idea of the dream-team of local people to work with and here they are. They all said yes!  Sarah Jane Absalom has agreed to be Musical Director, Marion Vare – co-Director, Malcolm Gwyon – Set Designer, Heather Tomos – Wardrobe Mistress – somehow with this group around me I know more than ever that it is going to happen. Our first meeting will be at the beginning of February when we will consider the way forward.  Sharing the distance with others makes all the difference to its feasibility and I am genuinely looking forward to the process.


Writing a Play

During the Penfro Book Festival in September I attended a play writing workshop run by Derek Webb of (amongst other things) Pint-sized Plays. It was an enjoyable experience, and more than a little interesting for me, as I didn’t really think there was much for me to learn about writing plays as I had been doing it on and off for fifty years. My purpose in attending the workshop was to re-invigorate my enthusiasm for playwriting because I had gone off it as a form and moved more or less permanently into novel writing,  but knew that during the coming year a play was waiting to be written, and I really didn’t think I could do it. Well the workshop did the job, and worked to re-invigorate, but also gave me new clues to refining my construction, and improving any effort to write a play, so I really did learn something. Now the time has come for the play to be written. The suggestion made to me two years ago, became more pressing. This is a three-parter, a cycle of plays in fact, not a one-off. The aim is to use it to launch the restored Cardigan Castle in 2014, to recreate the events of Christmas 1176 when the Lord Rhys held a contest between musicians and poets. Now I am living with it daily, it is a continually evolving thing. The plot is already laid down, it is history. The First Eisteddfod. But the how and the why, and the who was there and the musical content, and all of the rest of it is crowding into my imagination and I know, that in spite of the doubts earlier in the year that I would not be up for it, I’m loving doing it. So thank you to Derek, to Glen and to Brenda, and to anyone else who was there at the workshop that day at Rhosygilwen, where my spirit was engaged again with the idea that I really could write a play, and would write a play, and am, in fact, writing a brand new, never seen before play!