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).

 

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.

Castle Escapes

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My blogpost on Gerald FitzWalter, a Norman frontiersman in south Wales in late 11th and early 12th centuries, has just been published on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog.

One of Gerald’s many colourful exploits included an escape down a latrine chute during a Welsh attack in 1109 on his castle of Cenarth Bychan. The latrine chute may have resembled the one shown above, and Cenarth Bychan was very likely the castle in Wales now known as Cilgerran.

Gerald is one of the main characters in my recently published novel Conquest I: Daughter of the Last King, and I am writing more about him now in the sequel, Conquest II: The Drowned Court, which will be published by Impress Books next autumn.

[Photo above of Peveril Castle via Wikimedia Commons. By Dave.Dunford]

Blog Tour: Conquest – Daughter of the Last King

pembroke-castle
Pembroke Castle, Wales, where one of the characters in my novel, Gerald FitzWalter foiled Welsh attackers who were besieging the castle. He made an insouciant pretence that he had a limitless supply of food inside the castle, by throwing half-eaten pig carcasses over the walls and leaving a faked letter where the Welsh rebels would find it. That’s a true story about him. He was a wily guy!

Latest blogpost published today in the blogtour for my new novel:

Portobello Books Blog

Earlier stops in the blogtour last week:

The Writing Desk

Jorie Loves A Story

The Mad Woman in the Attic

And others coming up soon with Wee Reader, The Cosy Reader and more. Thanks to the bloggers for hosting me and to my publicist at Impress Books, Natalie Clark, for organising it.

A bit sad that, at the moment, I can’t be in the UK and France (where I have lots of loyal readers!) to celebrate the launch of the book in person. I’m currently on a writing residency on a Finnish island and will be going to Iceland after this (so not so bad!). Looking forward to book launch events soon (more news on that coming later). It’s great, however, to be connecting with bloggers and readers all over the place via this Blog Tour.

The new novel, Conquest: Daughter of the Last King, is set in England and Wales at the turn of the 11th century. It focusses on the tumultuous experiences of a young Welsh noblewoman, Nest ferch Rhys, who is caught up in the struggle between the Welsh and the Normans. She is symbolically significant to both sides and the book aims to evoke her torn affections and loyalties and her efforts to regain control of her own destiny. The book is the first in a trilogy about Nest.

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New historical novel – proofs arrived

nestandhenry

Proofs for my new historical novel, Conquest: Daughter of the Last King, arrived today. Very exciting. The book will be published by Impress Books in September and is the first in a trilogy, telling the story of the 12th century Welsh princess, Nest ferch Rhys, and the struggles between the Welsh and the Normans.

 

Image: Nest ferch Rhys and King Henry I from an illuminated manuscript by Matthew of Paris in the British Library

Here is a brief account of Nest’s extraordinary life.

New novel – Daughter of the Last King

 

Hedwig BeakerAt the exciting stage now of writing my next novel where it is a 300 page brick on my desk. It’s still undergoing transformations as I try to make the characters more alive and increase their tensions and interactions, try to introduce more pace and drama, search for inconsistencies and anachronisms, try to enhance the sensory world of the story. I enjoy this phase a lot. I think of it as being like a sculptor working on a lump of stone. I’ve got the raw material there – the words, the text – and I’m battering and chiselling to try and get the beautiful thing to really emerge …

This is my third historical novel and the first in a trilogy entitled Conquest telling the story of Norman incursions into 11th and 12th century Wales and the Welsh resistance. It’s based on the life of the real woman, Nesta ferch Rhys, daughter of the last independent king in Wales and a hostage at the Norman court.

It doesn’t get any easier writing a novel with practice since each one, in my experience, evolves in a different way. It took me a long, long time to get to grips with this one and then I realised Nesta would fill three books, and not one.

As always with my writing, places and things inspired me. The places were the castle sites at Pembroke, Carew, Cardiff, Cilgerran, Narberth, Kidwelly and Llansteffan in Wales and the triple river estuary emptying into Carmarthen Bay. The objects included the 12th century Norman beaker (above) in the British Museum.

Conquest Book I: Daughter of the Last King should be published by Impress Books around September this year, with Conquest Book II: The Drowned Court and Conquest Book III: Return of the Princes, following soon behind. Writing this series of novels has been supported by the Literature Wales Writer’s Bursary I was awarded last year.