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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

From Legend to Fiction

Occasionally I get asked about my thought process for writing fiction based on myth, and in particular how I go about fleshing out the bare bones of stories and characters.

Anyone who knows me will know how much I love the wild moors and mountains of north Wales, and the ancient, gentle legends that abound in the region – it seems that every hill, river or town has a host of Celtic stories attached to it.

I’m toying with rewriting one of may favourite Welsh myths – the story of King Math of Gwynedd and his footholder, the beautiful Geowin.

In the story, Math is tricked into leaving Geowin unprotected, where she is ‘taken’ (to be tactful) by his nephews.  Math finds out, and makes Geowin his wife to maintain her honour, while banishing the nephews.

So, among the questions the writer needs to ask…

What did the characters look like?

What does a footholder do?  (I don’t subscribe to the view that the king needed a virgin to hold his foot otherwise he would die.  I prefer something more straightforward, like hiring a nursemaid to look after an old wound that needs continual treatment.)

Was Geowin an unfortunate victim of circumstances who became queen by luck?  Or was she a manipulative young woman who seduced two impressionable young men and was prepared to see them banished in her drive to be queen?

The story of Math is a particularly complicated one, with sub-plots and war and magic.  Most of the places mentioned in the story are easily identifiable, and I know some of them very well.

I may or may not ever decide to turn this into a novel.  If I do, one of the fun bits will be filling in the blanks left by the ancient storytellers!