Kobo is currently offering Conquest I: Daughter of the Last King for a mere 99p. Conquest I is the first book in my trilogy about Nest ferch Rhys and the struggle between the Welsh and the Normans in the 12th century. It’s available at this price for a limited time in the 99 books for 99p campaign. Snap it up!
My latest newsletter has just been published. It includes news on my novel in progress, The Anarchy, depicting the continuing conflict between the Welsh and the Normans in the 12th century in the aftermath of the sinking of The White Ship, when King Henry I lost his heir.
The newsletter also includes items on my recent talks with writers and readers, my visual inspirations for writing from the Cluny Museum and news on two new guest blogposts coming up.
And finally there is a competition to win a free book by answering a simple question about Henry I.
If you don’t already subscribe to my newsletter you can sign up here.
Thank you to Pembroke Dock Library for such an enjoyable event last week when I presented my new novel, The Drowned Court, and talked with the audience about medieval life and the process of writing historical fiction. And thanks too, to Bob, my ‘muse’, for driving me around Pembrokeshire again, so that we were able to tread in the 12th century footsteps of Nest ferch Rhys and her husband Gerald FitzWalter.
We visited the splendid Bishop’s Palace at St Davids where Nest’s son was bishop, and the vast Bishop’s Palace at Lamphey (after a very fine lunch at Lamphey Hall).
The massive corn barn at Lamphey Palace stored a huge amount of grain which the Norman overlords took in taxes from the Welsh tenant farmers. The palace’s dovecote, deer park and four ponds supplied the bishop with meat and fish, and three orchards provided apples, and cabbages and leeks for his potage.
The Bishop’s Palace at Lamphey was where Nest’s wily husband Gerald FitzWalter left a faked letter tricking the Welsh attackers of Pembroke Castle into believing that he had plenty of troops and supplies to defend the castle when, in fact, most of his men had deserted and he had no food at all. The ruse worked and he was the only Norman lord who managed to hang on to his toehold in south west Wales during that round of attacks by the Welsh.
The date of my illustrated talk at Downham Market Library has been changed to Monday 11 December, 2-3pm. Booking essential on 01366 383073. (Tickets £3, includes refreshments.)
Publication Day for my new historical novel, The Drowned Court, is approaching. The novel continues the story of Nest ferch Rhys and King Henry I in 12th century Wales, England and Normandy.
A review of the first book in the trilogy, Daughter of the Last King:
‘As the drawbridge came down, I ventured in. In fact I remember nothing of what happened in my every day life until I came out at the end.
The level of detail and care and attention which has gone into this novel is spellbinding but it never gets in the way of the plot at all. It strengthens and improves it explaining how life must have been, how daily tasks were carried out to how the ward of a king must behave. The story of Nest is complex and multilayered but reads like a charm. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this book will be heavy going given the subject matter, it’s not – it’s a brilliantly woven tapestry of historical intrigue where I felt as if I’d been part of the novel, and part of Nest’s life and I missed her for a while afterwards.’
‘I had looked out upon the wide kingdoms of the Earth as if I were caught up in ecstasy, flying far and wide through words …. Now, however, I will return exhausted to my black-clad life,’ declared the monk historian, Orderic Vitalis, who lived and worked in a Norman monastery in the 12th century.
The Drowned Court is my new novel, published by Impress Books in October, and the second in my Conquest trilogy, focussed on the Welsh princess, Nest ferch Rhys, and the Welsh struggle against the Normans in the early 12th century. Nest had a very eventful life. As a mistress of the Norman king, Henry I, and the sister of Prince Gruffudd ap Rhys, who attempted to take his lost kingdom back from the invaders, she was unavoidably enmeshed in the conflict, and became a potent symbol for both sides.
Parallel to Nest’s story, which is based on fact, the novel recounts the activities of a Flemish nun named Benedicta (who is fictitious). Benedicta was given to the church as a child, grew up in a Norman convent and is a friend to Orderic Vitalis. King Henry, who is also Duke of Normandy, and his sister, Countess Adela of Blois, have an extensive network of spies operating in Normandy, and Benedicta is drafted into their ranks. They send her to Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou, where she finds one of the largest female monastic communities in Europe. Fontevraud is ruled by women, and is a hotbed of intrigue relating to the enemies of King Henry. The abbey’s founder, Robert d’Arbrissel, has been seen by some historians as an early feminist. He was rumoured to practice ‘syneisaktism’: sleeping with the nuns as a form of mortification of the flesh. Three of the count of Anjou’s rejected wives are at the convent, including the notorious former Queen of France, Bertrade de Montfort. Count Fulk IV of Anjou was ‘a man with many reprehensible, even scandalous, habits’, according to Orderic Vitalis. The wives of the Duke of Brittany and the Duke of Aquitaine, also find their ways to Fontevraud, disappointed by the behaviour of their errant husbands. Sister Benedicta’s scribing skills come in handy as a cover for her spying for King Henry amongst these illustrious and repudiated women.
I will be giving talks on my historical fiction in November:
Above is an artist’s impression of the Welsh fort at Carew that preceded the Norman stone castle occupying the site today. The sketch is based on findings from archaeology digs in the 1990s. The stone cross at the entrance to the site, inscribed with the name of the 11th century king Maredudd ap Edwin, is testament that Carew was an important centre for the royal family of the Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth. My novel series, Conquest, is concerned with the surviving members of that royal family, after the Normans invaded and killed the last king, Rhys ap Tewdwr, in 1093, along with two of his sons. Initially, three of the king’s five sons survived but one of those soon died in a Norman prison. The youngest son was born in captivity in Carmarthen castle and was maimed to prevent any claim from him. Another son, Gruffudd ap Rhys, was hidden by his kin in Dublin and returned when he reached manhood to challenge the Normans for his lost kingdom. My novels centre on the king’s daughter, Nest ferch Rhys, whose colourful life led her to be dubbed Helen of Wales.