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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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 Kingis 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
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.