Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Tag: Mared Glyn Dwr

What used to be the Corbett Family Christmas Letter

This time last year my mum was given a few weeks to live. We all hunkered down for what looked to be a series of ‘last time’ events. As it turns out, Christmas 2017 has arrived and Mum is still with us. She has grumbled about this on-and-off throughout the year: I’m ready to go Elizabeth. But it has been a big year with many exciting moments and we are all glad she is still with us.

The Tides Between

I haven’t hit the best seller lists, or purchased a castle next to J K Rowling yet, but, the publication of my debut novel has probably dominated my year. It started with the announcement of a publishing contract in January and worked its way through professional author shots, cover designs, author panels, conferences, and late edits, to a fanfare launch at Hawthorn Library on 9 November. I’ve since done interviews and written guest posts, in Welsh and English, been reviewed, asked to refrain from posting on a few Facebook groups since, with the release of my novel I’d become a ‘commercial venture’ (ha,ha,ha says every mid-list author in the world). I have also received emails from both friends and complete strangers telling me how much they enjoyed, or have been touched, even healed, by my novel, how parts brought tears to their eyes. Those small messages have made the whole journey worthwhile. As did mum, proudly hawking copies from a recliner chair in her nursing home.

 

The Work in progress

In between birthing on the above magnus opus I have been doing the groundwork for my current work in progress. It will not be the sequel to The Tides Between for which I have so cruelly set you up. See, I’d got to the end of writing the manuscript and figured it wouldn’t be good for my mental health to be working on a second book while receiving rejection letters for the first. The concept for Stone Promises was born – a novel written from the viewpoint of Marred ferch Dafydd (the ignored-by-history wife of Owain Glyn Dŵr). I spent a couple of months in May/June visiting Glyn Dŵr sites and beavering away in Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru. I am now in the process of reading, noting, and creating a world out of what I unearthed. I will return to Wales for more research in August 2018 (because I can) and stay at the wonderful Stiwdio Maelor again. I hope to have a good first draft by this time next year (the sheer weight of research is making this a slow process) and will then get onto that sequel I have promised.

The Family

Andrew and I continue to enjoy post-family life in our timber cottage in Melbourne’s funky inner-North. Andrew has run seven marathons this year and also done a 100km ultra marathon. He continues to pedal his bike up horrible hills for pleasure and has also enjoyed some challenging walks in Tasmania. Oh, yes, in the absence of the above mentioned bestseller status, he also pays the bills.

Around this time last year, Jack, Ness, and Charlie welcomed baby Christopher into their midst in Southhampton. The whole family came back to Oz for two months mid-year. We all enjoyed watching Christopher make his first forays in to the world of commando crawling and hearing Charlie’s linguistically delightful stories. Strangely, at this point in the calendar mum went a bit quiet on the: I’m ready to die front. It was quite nice to see Jack and Ness too. 😁

 

Phoebe and Andy have also enjoyed a number of hiking trips, including the Overland Track in Tasmania. They are gearing up for a Swiss hike in the New Year. Phoebe represented the family at our AFS daughter, Alice’s, wedding in in October. Priya and her partner Evan moved house again this year (never fun). Priya also exchanged her aged-care job for a retail job which she finds far less stressful. Seth and Monique have had a successful year on both work and home-renovation fronts. But the big news is the arrival of their baby Genevieve Isabel born 22nd December just in time for Christmas.

 

The arrival of a brand new Corbett is a worthy conclusion to what used to be the Family Christmas letter. Needless to say, we are all looking forward to oohing and ahh-ing and getting to know baby Genevieve over the festive season and have all raced out to buy an extra present for under the Christmas tree. In fact, mum is so delighted, she’s glad she stuck around for another year.

The Fourteenth Century by May McKisack

I have been doing some plotting for my work in progress – an historical novel written from the point-of-view of Mared Glyn Dŵr. Meanwhile, I am working my way through the reading materials I amassed while in Wales. In addition to plundering the National Library’s wealth of resources, I took advantage of the UK’s cheap postage and somehow managed to get a pile of second-hand books home without paying excess baggage. The Fourteenth Century: 1307-1399 by May McKisack is my current tome of choice.

I am slowly gaining a better understanding of the the Hundred Years War, the tensions on the Scottish border during this era, war and chivalry in general (like society was built around the need to go to war, sound familiar anyone?). I also have a rudimentary understanding of the crisis and revolution that occurred during the reign of Edward 2nd, which finds its echoes in some of Richard 2nd’s later attitudes. I have also read about trade, industry and towns (all that stuff I learned about guilds as an undergraduate makes sense now) and the changing dynamics of feudalism. I am about to read about The Good Parliament, the Peasants Revolt and then the usurpation of Richard 2nd. There is so much to learn, so much more to read. But I am beginning to get a clearer understanding of this era in general. Meanwhile, is a segment about the Statutes of Kilkenny (1366) that caught my attentions, just to get your red-hot, revolutionary juices flowing. 🙂

‘… the English colony is limited to the district that was coming to be known as the English Pale and ‘Irish enemies’ becomes the official designation of the native Irish living beyond its borders. They are excluded from ecclesiastic office; the king’s lieges have nothing to do with them; they are not to parley with them, nor to marry them, nor to sell them horses or armour. But the concern of the statutes is less the ‘mere’ Irish than the descendants of the English settlers, and their principal intention is to arrest the process of ‘degeneracy’ in the areas of English influence. Recourse to Brehon Law is forbidden; Englishmen may not entertain Irish minstrels, story-tellers, or rhymers: all Englishmen and Irishmen dwelling inter anglicos must use English surnames and the English language and follow English customs; Englishmen are to forsake Irish sports such as hurling and quoits and are to earn the use of the bow and ‘other gentle games’ which pertain to arms.’

Edward 1st, issued similarly race-based statutes at Rhuddlan in 1284. Royal Castellated Boroughs (like Caernarfon where I recently did an SSiW bootcamp) were established as bastions of Englishness. The Statutes of Rhuddlan became more racially restrictive after the revolt of Madog ap Llywelyn. I have a copy of the later additions in Latin which I intend to type into Google some time (unless anyone out there reads Latin?). The Statues of Wales were applied to varying degrees throughout the fourteenth century and reinforced by Henry IV after revolt broke out in 1400. In 1432, the marriage of Sir John Scudamore to Glyn Dŵr’s surviving daughter, Alys, came to the attention of the King Henry VI. Scudamore was subsequently stripped of his honours (for having secretly married a Welshwoman). The Statutes remained in place as a constitutional basis for the government of the Principality of North Wales until 1536.

Anyway, back to the Good Parliament.

Hwyl!

The wrap up – affirmation, extreme generosity and the Welsh language

Over the last two months, I have stayed in London, Bowness-on-Windermere, Caernarfon, Corris, Llangollen, Y Bont Faen, Llandysul and Y Borth. I have worked in the British Library, the National Archives and Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru. I’ve received so much help and affirmation. I have also crossed the line which all Welsh learners yearn to cross – having friends with whom I relate solely in the Welsh language. But how to sum it all up?

Let’s start with the generosity.

I caught an inkling, Mared, wife of Owain Glyn Dwr, would be the subject of my next novel while living in Wales. My friend Aran lamented that there had not been a major film about Owain Glyn Dwr.  I read some books, realized he’d had a wife, and thought, what would it have been like to be that woman? The idea for a novel was born. I set about reading everything I could get my hands on. I also wrote to academics. One of them, Dr Gideon Brough, was particularly encouraging.

At the time, his affirmation was massively important. See, back then, I wasn’t sure I had a right to tell Mared’s story. This uncertainty has been borne out during a number of my recent meetings. From people tentatively asking: so, Liz, what made you want to write about Mared? Er…you do realize this is a contentious topic? Or simply the startled faces of people who have recently moved to Wales: Oh, God, what barrow is she trying to push here? 

I get this tension. When a country has been conquered, annexed and incorporated, when it’s language is fighting for its life, when academics drop in for flying visits and act like they know everything, when Owain’s name has been hijacked by various political causes, or when you’ve simply moved to Wales and want to feel welcome, the idea of an Aussie interloper coming in and stirring the pot is alarming. Yet, Gideon, never once questioned my right to tell the story. He simply said: go for it! This project is long overdue. He also spent a whole day of his kids’ half term holiday (like all day) answering my lame questions.

The day I spent with archaeologist Spencer Gavin Smith and his wife Megan (also an archaeologist) was similarly incredible. I wrote asking a for information and ended up being given a full guided tour of the Glyn Dwr sites (during which I asked an alternate string of lame questions). Because of Spencer, I spent my last day in the library trawling through the Transactions of the Denbighshire Historical Society, unearthing all manner of articles by Derek Pratt. I braved English roads and drove to Lower Brockhampton so that I could see the type of home in which Mared would have lived. I also faced octopus-on-steroids roundabouts in South Wales and learned that SatNav’s work best when you are paying attention – not when you are re-writing story scenes in your head. But that is another story…

In Llandysul, I spent a day and a half with Dr John Davies, a man with an impressive beard, an even more incredible library, and a keen interest in Owain Glyn Dwr’s mother’s family. John drove me around the borders of Owain’s southern estates, answered multiple questions, gave me CDs and memory sticks bursting with information. He also gave me the precious gift of assuming my Welsh was up to the task of discussing history – which it was. An incredible milestone.

Add to the above, the countless people who made time to catch up with me – too many to list but you know who you are – my friend Lorraine who listened to me ‘think aloud’ for a week in Llangollen and, of course, the incredible Veronica Calarco who, through setting up Stiwdio Maelor, has made it possible for me to spend extended periods in Wales. I stayed overnight with my friend Carolyn in Y Borth more times than was polite, took my brand new friend Anne up on her offer of accommodation in South Wales, had the fascinated company of Dee and Iestyn on the John Davies’ magical history tour, got shown around the Senedd Dy by Neil McEvoy and met up with an amazing group of SSiWer’s in the Mochyn Du.

On top of all this, my friend Aled in Australia suggested I catch up with Carys Davies (wife of the late Sir Rhys Davies, author of the incredible The Revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr) and Gruffudd Aled Williams (author of Dyddiau Olaf Owain Glyn Dwr). I felt nervous about phoning the above. I hate cold calling people – especially in Welsh. Added to which, this was Cymru Cymraeg and all the old doubts about my right to tell this story came flooding back. But I took a deep breath, dialed their numbers (rather than confess a lack of courage to Aled), and, as a consequence, enjoyed two lovely dinners in Caffi Pen Dinas. With Carys, I chatted about my mother’s family, how I’d learned Welsh, and my recent Say Something in Welsh Bootcamp. Before long, we were chuckling over the pictures of me clambering onto that pillar on top of Twt Hill (thanks Aran). After lunch, we attended a lecture in the Drwm where I was introduced to people as, Liz, who is writing a novel from the point-of-view of Owain Glyn Dwr’s wife. I thought: okay, maybe, this is going to be alright.

While having lunch with Gruffudd Aled Williams a few weeks later, we discussed history and winced over some of Glyn Dwr’s more anachronistic portrayals – like taking tea with his family in the fourteenth century and Iolo Goch drinking blood from a skull. At some point, I don’t know when, I decided it was safe to share the outline of my story. It is a fragile thing, a story concept, without the build up you put into developing it on the page, and not easily shared but, for some reason, it all came tumbling out. In Welsh. But strangely I didn’t need  language to understand Gruffudd’s response. I saw it in his eyes, the way he smiled, leaning back in his chair. O, hyfryd…

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén