I have had lots of questions about why I chose Wales as the setting for my novel, instead of the Scottish Highlands, which feature in many time travel novels. So here is the answer.
I knew I wanted to write, time-slip historical romances. Twilight Sojourn started life as a short story, actually chapter nine, Enchanted Place, though it has gone through many renditions since I first wrote it.
I already had the rough outline for my story, though as yet it was mostly written on sticky notes. Mairwen and Rhain needed an authentic medieval event in history to become part of.
From the very beginning things seemed to fall into place. Here were the key elements I needed. A battle or conflict, Vikings, A genuine motte and bailey castle on the Welsh/English border, Marcher Lords, and Norman soldiers. Quite a tall order.
One of the first historical event I happened to stumbled upon was a perfect match. A piece of Welsh history that had two larger than life heroes. Gruffudd and Rhys. Although Gruffudd ap Cynan plays only a minor role in the story, his Viking ancestry added an extra flare, who wouldn’t want an ancestor by the name of Sigtrygg Silkbeard.
Gruffudd, determined to fight for his rightful place as the king of Gwynedd (a principality in north Wales) sails with an army of Danes from Ireland. A Viking army of some 600 strong arrive in Porth Clais in a fleet of longships to join forces with Rhys ap Tewdwr the king of Deheubarth who has been driven from his castle at Dinefwr, by three princes of rival principalities, one of whom holds Gwynedd’s throne. Rhys has been forced to take sanctuary at St David’s Cathedral. The two form an allegiance and strike out to do battle the very same day, with the army massing just north of St David’s. The battle of Mynydd Carn: “Gruffudd the foremost warrior advanced like a hero” “scattering his opponents with his gleaming sword.”
So, in this historical extract, I had the battle I needed and the Viking army. The more I read, I was amazed to discover that the Marcher Lords had made a deal with the three rival princes to bolster their ranks with Norman soldiers. This gave me all the key players and the locations.
My husband and I booked a flight to Ireland from the US. I wanted to visit the places that would feature in the story. We flew from Cork across the Irish sea, looking out the window during the one-hour flight to Bristol, I thought about the fleet of Viking ships sailing from Waterford, my own hero Rhain ap Cunadda sailing with Bjarke Strongarm. We flew over the coast of Wales and I eagerly looked for the bay the longships would have sailed into.
We rented a car in Bristol and drove into what used to be Deheubarth but is now Carmarthenshire. We had booked ourselves into a lovely old manor B&B, where we planned to stay for a week, not far from Dinefwr castle. From here we could explore the surrounding area and make day trips to places further afield. I had done my research before leaving home for possible locations to feature in the novel.
The first place was a special find, I remembered reading a wonderful children’s story called “The Gauntlet” by Ronald Welch, about a boy who slipped through time and ended up on a castle high on a crag. It was the castle I had come to find.
Not more than five miles from our B&B, in a beautiful rural setting was the most romantic castle ruin you could wish to find. Carreg Cennen Castle. We could see the castle, perched on top of a Limestone crag, its battered grey walls, imposing against the blue sky from some distance away. As we drove closer, I just knew that this was the perfect setting for the beginning of the story. The castle is built literally on the edge of the crag, the south curtain wall, drops 300 feet to the valley floor. Not only was there a public footpath that dropped down through the woods into the valley, but the highest point of the crag, beyond the castle walls cried out to be the rocky circle through which Mairwen slips through time.
Another day we drove to the coast, planning to visit Porth Clais, where the Viking longships dropped anchor, bearing Gruffudd to within half a mile of St David’s cathedral. The inlet was long and narrow with high headlands at the entrance. I tried to imagine the inlet packed with longships, over 900 years ago. Many times, over the previous centuries, Viking ships had slipped into bays and coastal villages raiding Wales, for slaves to sell in the Irish markets. This time Gruffudd headed an army that would sweep north to reclaim his throne.
We picnicked on the headland overlooking St Brides bay, before going to look at St David’s cathedral where Rhain went to meet with Rhys, the day of the battle.
The last trip we took was north to find the site of the eleventh century motte and bailey castle near the border town of Montgomery. We tried for a while to find the site of the old Norman castle, Hen Domen but gave up and went into the lovely market town of Montgomery for a pub lunch. Everything was falling in to place, if we could just find the old site. Walking around the center of town we discovered a small museum.
Another surprise, there was a whole room devoted to the excavation of Hen Domen done in the 1960’s, with a lovely scale model of what the motte and bailey castle would have looked like. Leaving there armed with directions we went back to searching the roads. Nothing. We finally stopped and ask at a farm. “Oh, it’s just over there in the field.” Dodging cow pats we trooped across the field, forced our way through some brambles, to find ourselves in the old moat. What a thrill to walk all around this ancient site, we stood on the hill where the keep would have been, and thanks to the scaled model in the museum we could picture the lay out of the building.
It had been a magical week, and left me with a feeling that Rhain and Mairwen’s story wanted to be told. Why Wales, because it is a truly a beautiful part of the British Isles with an amazing history.
Other books set in Wales: Elizabeth Kingston’s series “The Welsh Blades.”
Book one. “The King’s Man”
Book two “Fair, Bright, and Terrible.”
Book three “Desire Lines”
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