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Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Too Much Research?

I’m back off holiday now. We (me, wife and child) had a really relaxing week in our favourite haunt, north Wales. We climbed Snowdon (well, we got part way up until fatigue and my thing about sheer drops defeated us), had refreshments from an award-winning ice-cream shop in Beddgelert, and we generally unwound.

As an aside, writers might enjoy the legend of Gelert, which gives the village its name – it’s got a great plot!

Anyway, a bonus reason for going to north Wales was so I could do some more research on my 5th century story I have set there (working title: ‘The Doe and the Dragon’). Having lived in the area I know most of the places I’ve used pretty well, and my background in the place’s history and archaeology gives some confidence that I can get the background right.

The only place in the story I’ve not visited is Carn Fadryn, a little-known hillfort on the Llyn Peninsula. I need the hillfort as it’s associated with Sister Modrun, (legendary) granddaughter of High King Vortigern. She plays a prominent role in the story, so I wanted to get Carn Fadryn in there!

I had assumed the fort would be similar to Tre’r Ceiri, another fort in the area. Tre’r Ceiri has been described as the best preserved hillfort in Britain. This is mainly because everything is of stone. In one place, you can even walk through the rampart through a gateway, under the original lintel – and this is two thousand years old! Also, some of the huts survive to about waist height, again due to them being made of stone, as opposed to the turf/wood combination in the lowlands.

Sadly we didn’t make Carn Fadryn’s summit – a combination of my sunburn and wife’s wobbly legs, both results of the assault on Snowdon the previous day. It looked vary steep. And imagine my concern when from our distance we saw no ramparts, and a very steep, uneven slope – not the smooth, easy-to-run-across fort I’d hoped for, based on several walks up Tre’r Ceiri.

Would this scupper my story? “Do American publishers know the topography of obscure Welsh hillforts?” I asked wife and child, in a panic.

Both assured me that it was unlikely. And I decided that maybe I was doing a little too much research, and would allow myself some license…

The good news is, that I’ve looked on Google Earth and surfed for pictures. Thankfully, the view of Carn Fadryn from below is deceptive, and there are huts and ramparts, even if it’s a little rougher than my ideal. I got some good pointers, though – I need to change my draft to take into account the steep approach, for example. And the way the hill just sticks out of the ground in an area of otherwise gentle hills makes it visible from miles around.

We go up to Wales again in August, and this time we won’t attempt Carn Fadryn the day after Snowdon. And in future, I’ll do my research before writing.

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