Spies and intrigues in the 12th century

HenryBlois
Henry of Blois, Abbot of Glastonbury and Bishop of Winchester

I am currently hard at work on the final book in my Conquest series about the Welsh and the Normans in the 12th century. The trilogy is centred on the life of Nest ferch Rhys, the daughter of the last Welsh king of the south-west kingdom of Deheubarth. The final book is called The Anarchy and will be published by Impress Books in 2019. I’ve been rereading the first two books to get thoroughly immersed again in the characters’ lives. The advantage of writing the final book in a trilogy is that your characters’ backstories already exist in your own previous novels. In the new book, I’m enjoying developing the role of Breri, a travelling Welsh bard and a spy, and I am writing in an intrigue involving the Vatican and the Bishop of Winchester.

My latest newsletter with updates on all my writing including historical fiction, future fiction and art writing has just been published. If you don’t already subscribe you can sign up here.

Gendering Modernism

Gendering ModernismMy review of Maria Bucur’s book, Gendering Modernism, has just been published in Times Higher Education.

In this book, we learn that the Royal Academy was established in 1768 by a group of artists, including two women, but no other female artists were admitted until 1936 and that 88 per cent of the funding for the 1913 Armory Show in New York came from female art patrons.

The book grapples with the paradox that Modernism challenged gender polarisation and misogyny, but also reinforced and amplified them.

 

The Normans in Wales

1024px-Carew_Castle_(6811)

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

Carew_Castle_(6816) copy
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).

 

Bodice-ripping?

3-impress-books-cropped-no-name

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

Welsh Castles

Llansteffan CastleAerialCarmarthenshireCastlesHistoric Sites
Llansteffan Castle, overlooking the triple river estuary of Carmarthen Bay

A review of Conquest: Daughter of the Last King and interview with me by Lisa Redmond has just been published in the February issue of Historical Novels Review.

I told Lisa that ‘Conquest was sparked by my travels back and forth by train across the spectacular triple river estuary at Carmarthen Bay, with its string of Norman castles including Llansteffan, Laugharne and Kidwelly.’ Her review: ‘The detail about daily life at court, in Norman castles or in convents is always interspersed with great character development, engaging dialogue and page-turning action.’

2017 Book Events: I am talking about the history behind the novel at Carew Castle, Wales, on Sunday 30 July as part of a day’s events celebrating Nest ferch Rhys, the heroine of my story. Other events in Wales that I am participating in include: 28 July Victoria Bookshop, Haverfordwest; 23 September Narberth Book Fair; 30 September Tenby Library as part of Tenby Arts Festival; 14 October Pembroke Dock Library for National Libraries Week.