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.

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