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.

Poetry – a High Calling

At times in my life I have wished I was a poet. I have even gone through periods where I tried to be a poet, where I wrote poetry constantly, day after day after day. The results of two of those periods stuck together are somewhere entitled ‘my collection’ amongst my files of reject material. They are the least bad, which I have kept to remind me that I did my best. But the truth is, I do not have it, the talent, the voice. One of my lecturers a long time ago, told me that poetry was a high calling and the preserve of the truly deep thinker. If so then I am demonstrably shallow as anyone who has experienced ‘my collection’ might witness. This makes me indescribably sad sometimes. It isn’t that I don’t like shallow people, I just don’t want to be one.

Writing for me is a variable pleasure and though poetry has figured here and there in my scribblings, stories have always been my thing. My favourite writing is when I am creating a good story, or novel, where characters, plot, expositions, landscapes, and the rest, are down to me. I want them to have depth, but I hear in the things said about my work, that it is, in fact shallow.

‘You do great dialogue’ says one. ‘You don’t waste time on describing too much,’ says another. Dialogue and lack of observational description are how we live our lives in a world full of activity and people, but they are not deep characteristics. They are, in a sense an avoidance of deep, as they are experienced through extroversion, not the silent thought of introversion, which, let’s face it, is the natural demeanour of the poet. I adore poetry, and have to regularly pass on books of it to others, not only to introduce them to new pleasures, but because I want to read new stuff, and if my bookshelf is weighted down with Yeats and Graves and all my other dead poet friends, I will keep lifting them out and revisiting them, not moving on and making room for the new which I am always interested to find. Only recently have I begun to understand that at the touch of a keyboard I can read new poetry and return to it as often as I like. So, I am currently following the blogs of two poets. They are Paul Steffan Jones on wordpress,  and Jackie Biggs, ‘a writer’s life’ on blogspot, both are distinct voices, quite different but equally not lacking in depth and quality – poets who have the good fortune to live with what might be termed a high calling.