The Normans in Wales

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Nest ferch Rhys, the 12th century Welsh princess, is the heroine of my fiction trilogy, Conquest. Nest was wife or mistress to a Norman king, a Welsh prince, and the Norman constables of Pembroke and Cardigan castles. Interpretations of the few facts known about Nest ferch Rhys vary greatly. In my novels I am attempting to imagine and tell her complex story from her perspective. I will be talking with bookshop visitors and signing copies of my books on Friday 28 July 11am at Victoria Bookshop, Haverfordwest.

Victoria Bookshop

And on Sunday 30 July at 1pm, I am giving a guided walk around Carew Castle, which was one of Nest’s main residences, built by her first husband, Gerald FitzWalter, the Norman steward of Pembroke Castle. I will be talking about the historical facts behind my fiction. Taffire Theatre Company are also presenting an outdoor performance on Nest’s life on the same day at 11am and 3pm.

Carew Castle events

Stepping into medieval London

Dunstable Swan Jewel from the British Museum
The Dunstable Swan Jewel

‘The only plagues of London are the immoderate drinking of fools and the frequency of fires’ wrote William Fitz Stephen in his account of the city in the 12th century.

On a recent trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts I came across a little book called Norman London in a second-hand bookshop. The book contained Fitz Stephen’s account of London written sometime before 1183, together with an essay by Frank Stenton and map research on 12th century London by Marjorie B. Honeybourne. The book was a silvermine for my research as a historical novelist and it is ironic that I travelled to a second-hand bookshop in Massachusetts (the wonderful Raven Books) to find it.

Last year my novel, Conquest: Daughter of the Last King, was published by Impress Books. It is the first in the trilogy charting the life of Nest ferch Rhys who was a potent symbol in the struggles between the Normans and the Welsh. The second book in the trilogy, Conquest: The Drowned Court, will be published this autumn. Nest was one of the many mistresses of the Norman king Henry I and parts of the novels are set in London.

Guildhall._Engraved_by_E.Shirt_after_a_drawing_by_Prattent._c.1805.

The complicated business of the great 12th century city was conducted by the aldermen of London in the Husting which met in the Guildhall every Monday. Husting is a Scandinavian word and it is likely that this city institution had its origin during the Scandinavian occupation of London in the time of King Alfred. The Husting was the court of civil business hearing pleas on debts, land disputes, land gifts, regulating foreign merchants, controlling weights and measures.

Stepping into Medieval Worlds is an illustrated talk on Norman London that I will be presenting at The Guildhall Library on 8 June. It will address the literary sources for my fiction, including Fitz Stephen’s account. It is exciting to be speaking on this topic at the site of the 12th century Husting in the Guildhall which is on a street, Aldermanbury, named after those aldermen in Norman London. I will talk about the range of medieval literary sources I employ to construct the fictional worlds of my novels including Orderic Vitalis’ chronicle of the ‘extremely unrestrained’ Normans, viking poems, recipe books, maps, and medical manuals from the Middle Ages, the songs of the female troubadours, and the lascivious writings of medieval archbishops and dukes.

Stepping into Medieval Worlds

Thursday 8 June 2017, 6-8pm

Guildhall Library, Aldermanbury, London EC2V 7HH

Tickets: £5.90 includes wine reception. Book at:

https://steppingintomedivalworlds.eventbrite.co.uk

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Carew Castle, Wales

I have more author talks coming up soon in Wales:

Fri 28 July 11am Victoria Books, Haverfordwest

Sun 30 July 1pm Carew Castle

Sat 23 September 10am-4pm Narberth Book Fair

Sat 30 September 11am Tenby Library in Tenby Arts Festival

Sat 14 Sept 10.30am Pembroke Dock Library for National Book Month.

 

 

 

Image credits:

The Dunstable Swan Jewel in the British Museum (Wikimedia photo by Ealdgyth)

The Guildhall, engraved by E.Shirt after a drawing by Prattent, c.1805 (Wikimedia)

Carew Castle, Wales (Wikimedia photo by Nilfanion).

 

Final rewrite

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At that satisfying stage again – ready for the final rewrite of my next novel, before sending it off to the editors at Impress Books. It is the second in a trilogy of novels on Nest ferch Rhys and the struggle between the Normans and the Welsh in the 12th century.

This new book, Conquest: The Drowned Court, concentrates on the action-packed events of Nest’s life and King Henry I’s reign between 1107 and 1121. The Flemish nun, Benedicta, took me by surprise in the writing and also plays a substantial role in this book.

The first book in the trilogy, Conquest: Daughter of the Last King is out now. This sequel will be published in the autumn. I am talking about researching and writing the Conquest series at a number of book events in Wales, London and France over the coming months. Next events:

21 April – The English Library, Villefranche-de-Rouergue

8 June – The Guildhall Library, London.

Considering historical fiction

Just back from Cluny Museum of the Medieval Age, Paris.

Talking on Sat 25 Mar 10.30am at Parisot Library, France on historical fiction.

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Does historical fiction try to impose today’s moral values on another era?

7th century Visigothic votive crowns. Cluny Museum, Paris.

 

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Historical fiction takes time instead of geography as an exotic arena for exploration.

14th century aquamanile. Cluny Museum, Paris.

 

 

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One of my lead characters, a nun, uses Ovid’s rather racy love poetry as the cipher for her spy letters.

13th century censor, Limoges. Cluny Museum, Paris.

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Bodice-ripping?

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Saturday 25 March

10.30am

Tracey Warr at Parisot Library, 82160, France

Is historical fiction bodice-ripping escapism, taking liberties with historical facts, or a genre putting flesh on the skeleton of history, and engaging with contemporary society? In this event Tracey Warr will discuss a wide range of historical fiction writers from Mary Renault to Bernard Cornwell, from Ellis Peters to Sarah Dunant. She will be presenting short readings from her latest novel set in the 12th century and consider the research and inspirations for her own writing.

Followed by aperitifs at 12 noon

Tracey Warr is the author of three novels, published by Impress Books. Her stories are set in early medieval Europe. She also writes for Historical Novels Review magazine.

Part of the LibraryLit series of authors’ talks

1,000 years back and 1,000 years forward

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Some readers of my posts may feel confused by the polarised nature of my activities: on the one hand writing early medieval fiction and the other hand writing future fiction about exoplanets and other life poetics. I get quite confused by this paradox myself!

However, the medieval historian Henry of Huntingdon, writing in the 12th century, was happy to address readers in the third, fourth and fifth millennia. ‘If mortal generations are prolonged so long as that’, he said. He addressed readers 3,000 years ahead of his own time – ‘I who will be dust in your time have made mention of you in this work, such a long time before your birth’ – because he believed in history’s redemptive potential for both the present and the future. So I guess I shouldn’t worry about my own polarities too much.

For more contemplation on the topic of history and the future see Amanda Jane Hingst’s excellent book on Orderic Vitalis, The Written World, which I was delighted to just buy in the wonderful Raven Secondhand Bookshop in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

 

My most recent historical novel is Conquest: Daughter of the Last King (Impress Books, 2016) set in 12th century Wales, England and Normandy. I’m working on the sequel now.

Last year I published a future fiction novella, Meanda, and am now working on a new collection of future fictions inspired by aquatic flora and fauna.

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Top image by Jean Le Tavernier, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74516

Bottom image: Algae in Iceland, Zooetics Future Fictions Summit. Photo: Nomeda Urbonas.