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Friday, 15 November 2019

Local History and the Next Novel

After a hiatus following my relocation, it’s good to have the time to get back to writing.

One of the several things that drew me to north Wales, many, many years ago and before I’d even visited, was the region’s history.  This is particularly true of the early Dark Ages, which have always fascinated me.  The area is filled with myths and legends that are entwined with the stunning scenery. 

North Wales has lots of places associated with King Arthur and several of the beautiful collection of stories making up the Mabinogion are set here.  There are also a lot of local myths and legends – every hill, valley or lake seems to have its own tale.

There are also colourful characters who definitely lived post-Roman north Wales.  The tyrant Maelgwn, King of Gwynedd; Vortigern, King of the Britons (okay, Vortigern is shadowy historical); and many saints who are credited with bringing Christianity to western Britain all lived around this time.  Maelgwn and Saint Padarn played important roles in one of my north Welsh historical fantasies, ‘The Faerie Handmaiden of Annwyn’.

My own village lies in the middle of region and was (allegedly) founded around this time.  With a degree in history and archaeology specialising in north Wales I hope I know the context and background, and I thought it would be fun to research and then write a novel about our saintly founder and include other local stories for colour.

The reality is that research has been difficult.  I can find nothing early written about the village, and archaeology is sparse – a Roman road and holy well (see photo) are about it.  Stories say we were originally a religious settlement of Saint Gwyddelan who was a follower of the better known Beuno.  Beuno lived in the first half of the seventh century, which gives a tentative date for settlement in our valley.  However, I assume there were already people here to attract an evangelising saint and for the well to have been built up and paved.

I’d hoped to combine Gwyddelan’s story with the tale of Peredur to add some meat.  Peredur was one of King Arthur’s knights who slew a monster (the afanc) in a pool at the end of the valley.  Even if the story’s links with Arthur are ignored and we place the afanc episode after the king’s death, the Welsh Annals say Peredur died in 580 which is too early to combine with Beuno.  I could ignore the ‘facts’ and claim artistic licence, but the historian part of me doesn’t want to.

In my historical fantasies I like to fill in empty spaces by telling a story in the way I want to, which works brilliantly in my chosen period.  In this case, sadly, the canvas is a bit too blank to work with so I’ll have to pass on the idea.