Why I Write Novels Set in Medieval Wales, by Sarah Woodbury

Before I let you read Sarah Woodbury’s guest article, I have to take a moment and tell you something about me: I love medieval history, with a sweet spot for 13th century British history.  People in my day-to-day life who know me well accept this as a quirk and go on with life even if they don’t quite understand it.  After discovering the “Welsh trilogy” by Sharon Kay Penman years ago, I fell in love with what most Americans would consider a fairly obscure period of history.  Obscure only because most of them don’t know about it, though if they did, they perhaps might see it as  just as much of a turning point in history as other well-known events.  I’m talking about the attempts of the last native-born Welsh princes to remain independent from their next door neighbors, the mighty England.
I discovered Sarah Woodbury a number of years ago when a mutual history-loving friend and Welshman, Owen Mayo, recommended her.  While Sarah has written other books, I admit to only having read her altnernate history books telling the story of what might have happened if Welsh-born native prince Llewelyn the Last (Llewelyn ap Gruffudd) had not been killed in a minor skirmish near Cilmeri, a modern village in Powys, mid-Wales, two and a half miles west of Builth Wells on the A483 to Llandovery.  A lowly English knight who was likely part of a scouting party, and at the time, unaware of the prince’s identity, killed him then sent his decapitated head to the English King Edward.  For anyone interested in the sad history of the real events, here is a good summary.  The story of the last princes of Wales is high-drama at its finest, and a perfect example of why sometimes history is the best story-teller.  You can’t make this stuff up.
THANK YOU, Sarah, for agreeing to visit my page.  So without further ado, I give you Sarah Woodbury, in her own words:

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One of the questions I get most often about my writing is why I like history so much, and even more, why on earth have I chosen to set my books in medieval Wales?

The answer involves a bit of a journey, both in time and in my own life. My parents are historians—my father with Ph.D.—so I lived and breathed history while growing up. My own Ph.D. is in anthropology, which combines elements of history with a more concentrated focus on culture. I was 27 years old when I finished my degree, but I didn’t start writing fiction until I was 37 years old—nearly thirteen years ago now, when, as I often say, the stories inside me began bubbling up and I had to write them down.

My interest in Wales, in particular, began when I attended University of Cambridge in England during the late 1980s.  My visits to Wales coincided with a growing interest in my own Welsh ancestry, and long before I started writing fiction set in medieval Wales, I read everything I could get my hands on about medieval Wales. I started with the historical fiction books of Ellis Peters and Sharon Kay Penman and ultimately branched out into serious non-fiction, the kind of research which, as an academic, came naturally to me.

The After Cilmeri series, in particular, which follows the adventures of a time traveling American family, was prompted by a dream I had where I drove my minivan into medieval Wales and saved the life of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Prince of Wales. His death had always hit me hard, because it was one of those moments where, if things had fallen out differently and he’d lived, the world might have been a very different place. To have the future of an entire country hinge on one event seemed so improbable and tragic, I couldn’t get it out of my head. It is no wonder that many Welsh patriots still feel strongly about his death, even more than 700 years after it happened.

That dream ultimately became Footsteps in Time, the first book in the After Cilmeri series.  I wrote Prince of Time next, and then Daughter of Time, the prequel to the series.

Some people have asked why in particular I chose to use time travelling as a backdrop to writing historical fiction in medieval Wales. One of the reasons is that incorporating modern characters in a story set in medieval Wales can make the Middle Ages more accessible to a modern audience.  That era is so startlingly foreign to how we live now, that seeing that world through the eyes of a modern woman can take the reader into that time more concretely than trying to find common ground with a medieval character.  That’s the challenge of historical fiction, in general, as well as anthropology—to make accessible a society that at first glance appears so very different.

Partly too, there’s something inherently mystical in the Celtic world that makes anything to do with magic or other-worldly events go well with stories set in that time.  Perhaps it is the standing stones and the ancient traditions and rituals that have been handed down through the ages that inspire these stories.  These traditions definitely have influenced my story-telling, not just for the After Cilmeri series, but also for The Last Pendragon Saga, a series of novellas set in the 7th century, and The Lion of Wales series, which is my take on the King Arthur legend.

I love the straight history too, however. While the After Cilmeri series involves time travel, my Gareth & Gwen Medieval Mysteries, incorporate no otherworldly elements at all, and are set solidly in their time period of twelfth century Wales.

About the Author

Although an anthropologist by training, and then a full-time homeschooling mom for twenty years, Sarah began writing fiction when the stories in her head overflowed and demanded that she let them out. She even convinced her husband to give all four of their children Welsh names.

Sarah received her Ph.D. in anthropology in 1995 and switched to writing fiction in 2006. Since 2011, she has been the author of 25 novels and 15 novellas, including the bestselling AFTER CILMERI series, the GARETH & GWEN MEDIEVAL MYSTERIES, the LION OF WALES series, and the LAST PENDRAGON SAGA. With over 800,000 books sold to date, Sarah Woodbury is an active member of Novelists, Inc,; the Historical Fiction Society Cooperative; the Historical Novel Society; a founder of the innovative collaborative science fiction series the Paradisi Chronicles; and a member of the PAN network of the Romance Writers of America (RWA).

Sarah makes her home in Oregon.

To learn more about Sarah and her books, visit her website www.sarahwoodbury.com, join her Facebook book club, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.   Purchase Sarah’s books here.

A Behind the Scenes Look at the Making of The Mallory Saga, by Paul Bennett

My interest in history began in the early 1960’s and can be partially attributed to movies such as, Spartacus, The 300 Spartans, Ben Hur, and the like.  A purloined, rolled up, weekly food store newspaper advertisement made an excellent gladius; the handle held together with only the finest rubber bands; my best friend and I exchanged blows as Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis battling it out for Olivier’s pleasure.  In quieter moments, at the Monteith Branch of the Detroit Public Library system, I read about Heinrich Schliemann and his discoveries at Mycenae, and at Troy.  I was hooked on history from then on. All through my educational phases, up through 3 years of college, I was far more interested in history classes, or other classes that delved into our past.  At Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, I majored in Classical Civilization, basically the study of ancient cultures from the Mesopotamian Crescent through the Roman Empire, and that required the learning of Ancient Greek, so I must have been serious about it.   I also minored in Physical Anthropology.  After I left college, needing a break from 18+ years of school, the last 5 of which included working full time, I found myself free to read what I wanted.  Mary Renault got me hooked on historical fiction.  The King Must Die was the first book that showed me that historical events could be rendered into fiction, albeit in this case mythological history.  Colleen McCullough’s First Man in Rome series sent me searching for more.  Boy what a treasure trove of books to choose from.  What an eye opener, and one that propelled me into a voracious frenzy of reading and learning; a situation that has not abated over the decades.  Indeed, the number of talented historical-fiction authors I have come across over the years is truly astounding.  Through the medium of social networking I have become friends with many of those authors, and it is partly because of them that I not only started a book review blog, but also began my journey to producing Clash of Empires; the first book in my series, The Mallory Saga.

The French and Indian War seemed to me to be the perfect historical event to begin my ambitious idea to portray the history of this country through the eyes of a fictional family, the Mallorys. This was a worldwide, cataclysmic event; indeed some have called it the real First World War as it was fought not only here in America, but also in Europe, and The West Indies.  At issue was control of the rich fur trade, and to control that required control of the Ohio River.  The French, through a series of forts strategically placed along the main waterways in the western frontier, formally laid claim to the territory.  None was more important than Fort Duquesne, modern day Pittsburgh, situated at the headwaters of the Ohio.  The British fur trading companies were being systematically pushed out by patrols of French soldiers and their native allies.  This was also halting the westward progress of the American colonies.  More and more settlers were crossing the mountains seeking new lives and fortunes.  Clash of Empires is the story of that war, one that had enormous consequences for all parties involved.

A Brief Synopsis of Clash of Empires

In 1756, Britain and France are on a collision course for control of the North American continent that will turn into what can be described as the 1st world war, known as The Seven Year’s War in Europe and The French and Indian War in the colonies. The Mallory family uproots from eastern PA and moves to the western frontier and find themselves in the middle of the war. It is the story of three siblings, Daniel, Liam and Liza and their involvement in the conflict and the emotional trauma they endure. The story focuses on historical events, such as, the two expeditions to seize Fort Duquesne from the French and the fighting around Forts Carillon and William Henry and includes the historical characters George Washington, Generals Braddock, Forbes and Amherst. The book also includes the event known as Pontiac’s Rebellion in which the protagonists play important roles. Clash of Empires is an exciting look at the precursor to the events of July 1776; events that will be chronicled in the second book as I follow the exploits and fate of the Mallory clan.

The second installment in the Mallory Saga, Paths to Freedom, continues the Mallory family story as they navigate the years leading up to The American Revolution.  Many paths open up with the changing situation between the British and the Sons of Liberty, and between settlers and increasingly pressured Indians.  It is also time for the Mallory children to become more involved.  In Paths to Freedom, Thomas, the eldest son of Liza and Henry, travels east to Boston where he joins up with such historical revolutionary luminaries as Paul Revere, Sam Adams, John Hancock and Dr. Joseph Warren.  Paths to Freedom ends with the Battle of Lexington and Concord – the famous ‘shot heard round the world’, meaning that book three will cover the years of the war itself.

While the main intention to writing this saga is to entertain, there is also a focus on telling the history of this nation, or at least parts of it; parts that may or may not be taught in school text books, especially concerning the ‘near genocide of an entire people,’ as quoted by the journalist interviewing Jack Crabb in the movie Little Big Man.  I’m not quite sure yet, but have a feeling that figures like Andrew Jackson, or George Armstrong Custer might get a bit of a rough going over in the respective volumes of The Mallory Saga that they may appear in.  Though if you go by an alternate history short story of the battle of Gettysburg that I wrote in which Custer is killed, maybe I do have an idea of their future treatment.

About the Author

 Paul’s education was of the public variety and when he reached Junior High he discovered that his future did not include the fields of mathematics or science.  This was generally the case throughout his years in school as he focused more on his interest in history; not just the rote version of names and dates but the causes.

Paul studied Classical Civilization at Wayne State University with a smattering of Physical Anthropology thrown in for good measure.  Logically, of course, Paul spent the next four decades drawing upon that vast store of knowledge working in large, multi-platform data centers, and is considered in the industry as a bona fide IBM Mainframe dinosaur heading for extinction.

Paul currently resides in the quaint New England town of Salem, Massachusetts with his wife, Daryl.  The three children have all grown, in the process turning Paul’s beard gray, and have now provided four grandchildren; the author is now going bald.

His book can be purchased on Amazon or Amazon UK.

Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.