Monthly Archives: April 2011

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DarkissReads reviews The Last Pendragon

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I hadn’t known they were going to review The Last Pendragon but am delighted they did!

From the review:  “Sarah Woodbury weaves a tale of Myth and Magic in “The Last Pendragon: A Story of Dark Age Wales.” The author brings together the Arthurian and Welsh myths, while adding her own style to this story. As a lover of historical fiction and fantasy genres, I quickly found myself immersed into the story that contains a bit of both. We see Cade the last of the Pendragon line trying to take hold of his destiny as King. The theme is non traditional and sets it self apart from most Arthurian legends and stories. . . .  I found myself getting caught up in the feelings of brotherhood, loyalty, friendship and the longing of love, all while facing the knowledge that they might not make it in the end. I could not put this book down and read every chance I had, even losing sleep to finish the story . . . ”

To read the rest of the review, please see:  http://www.darkissreads.com/2011/04/last-pendragon-story-of-dark-age-wales.html

Please download The Last Pendragon at:

Smashwords:  http://smashwords.com/b/25340  

Amazon.com:  HERE  

Amazon UK:  HERE    

Barnesandnoble.com:  HERE

Apple Ibooks:  The Last Pendragon

I’ve also made a paper copy available at Amazon.com here:  The Last Pendragon

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Anna Elliott: Georgiana Darcy’s Diary

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Today’s Inspiration Award goes to Anna Elliott! 

Anna is the author of the Twilight of Avalon Trilogy (book three comes out this September), and she has recently gone the indie route with the publication of her new book Georgiana Darcy’s Diary.   Welcome Anna!

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I’ve read Pride and Prejudice many, many times, and seen the various movie adaptations more times than I can even begin to count.  (Colin Firth is my favorite Mr. Darcy!).  I love Elizabeth and Darcy’s love story, of course–it’s a testament to Jane Austen’s genius that it truly stands the test of time and feels as compelling now as it did 200 years ago.  And yet, strangely, it’s always been Georgiana Darcy’s character that stays with me the longest, each time I read the book or watch one of the films. 

            Georgiana’s character is almost a plot device in the book–proof of Wickham’s villainy, since he tried to seduce her when she was only fifteen.  She’s described as ‘exceedingly shy’ and we never actually hear her speak a single line; any dialogue she has is summarized by the narrator.  And yet I’ve always wanted to know more about her–how did she really feel about George Wickham?  What was it like growing up as Mr. Darcy’s younger sister?  And most important of all, I couldn’t stop myself from imagining what might have happened to her after the close of Pride and Prejudice.  Did she ever find her own happily-ever-after?

            Georgiana Darcy’s Diary was born out of all my wondering.  I chose a diary format to tell Georgiana’s story, first because I’d never written a diary form novel before, and wanted to challenge myself to master the form.  But mostly that was just how I heard Georgiana’s voice in my head: a shy girl, pouring herself onto the pages of the private journal that—at the beginning of the story, at least– serves as  her only real confidant.  

           I absolutely loved writing Georgiana Darcy’s Diary, and I hope fellow Jane Austen lovers will enjoy spending a little more time in the Pride and Prejudice world.

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Mr. Darcy’s younger sister searches for her own happily-ever-after…
The year is 1814, and it’s springtime at Pemberley. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy have married. But now a new romance is in the air, along with high fashion, elegant manners, scandal, deception, and the wonderful hope of a true and lasting love.

Shy Georgiana Darcy has been content to remain unmarried, living with her brother and his new bride. But Elizabeth and Darcy’s fairy-tale love reminds Georgiana daily that she has found no true love of her own. And perhaps never will, for she is convinced the one man she secretly cares for will never love her in return. Georgiana’s domineering aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, has determined that Georgiana shall marry, and has a list of eligible bachelors in mind. But which of the suitors are sincere, and which are merely interested in Georgiana’s fortune? Georgiana must learn to trust her heart-and rely on her courage, for she also faces the return of the man who could ruin her reputation and spoil a happy ending, just when it finally lies within her grasp.

Check out Anna’s blog and her other books:  http://annaelliottbooks.com/

Georgiana Darcy’s Diary is available at Barnes and Noble:  Georgiana Darcy’s Diary  Amazon US:  Georgiana Darcy’s Diary and Amazon UK:  Georgiana Darcy’s Diary

And thanks to Suzanne Tyrpak for my own Inspiration Award.  You can find her at:  http://ghostplanestory.blogspot.com/2011/04/big-thank-to-my-fellow-author-and.html

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Things Fall Apart–the End of an Independent Wales

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Categories: Research, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Things Fall Apart is the name of an excellent book written in 1958 by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, describing his main character’s fall from grace where he loses his power, his family, and ultimately his life (he hangs himself).   It is an equally apt phrase for defining what happened in Wales immediately after the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. 

J. Beverley Smith writes:  “By the beginning of 1283, but not very long before, Llanrwst and Betws became bases for English operations in the upper Conwy valley, and it seems that a crossing of the river had been forced by then.  The Welsh forces faced an advance made in two directions.  One army moved upstream along the Conwy and Lledr valleys to Dolwyddelan, a key position in the defensive preparations of the princes.  By 18 January the castle was in the king’s possession  . . . another army moved down the Conwy valley to Aberconwy.”  (Llywelyn ap Gruffydd p. 574-74)

Edward made his base there.  The crossing on a refurbished bridge of boats from Anglesey to Bangor had already been accomplished before the end of 1282, allowing the King to advance towards Caerfarnon and Criccieth.  By April, Dafydd ap Gruffydd was hemmed in on all sides, having lost Ceredigion and Powys as well.  Castell y Bere fell with no resistance on 25 April 1283. 

According to reports at the time Dafydd sent his wife to plead to the King, along with Roger Clifford, but the Edward would have none of it.   “It was in Snowdonia, at Llanberis and right at the foot of Snowdon itself, that we have the last glimpse of the last cohort of the princes of the principality of Wales.  Dafydd was probably captured in this area, finally betrayed, we are told, by his own men.” (Smith p. 576)

Smith has this description of Dafydd’s death:  “He was tried and sentenced to death for treason, and the judgement was executed, in a barbaric manner, on 2 October.  Dragged to the scaffold at the horse’s tail for betraying the king, he was hanged alive for homicide, he was disembowelled and his entrails burned for his sacrilege in committing his crimes in the week of Christ’s Passion, and his body, quartered for plotting the king’s death, was dispatched to the four corners of the kingdom.  His head was displayed beside the head of Llywelyn in the Tower of London . . .” (p. 578-79).

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Tintagel Castle

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Was Arthur conceived at Tintagel Castle?  That Geoffrey of Monmouth claimed he was is reason enough to doubt the veracity of the legend, but that’s not to say that the castle doesn’t have a fascinating history.

Geoffrey writes:  “They then went their way toward Tintagel, and at dusk hour arrived, swiftly unmade the doors, and the three were admitted. For what other than Gorlois if Gorlois himself were there? So the king lay that night with Igrene, for as he had beguiled her by the false likeness he had taken upon him, so he beguiled her also by the feigned discourse wherewith he had issued forth of the besieged city for naught save to see the safety of her dear self and the castle wherein she lay, in such a sort that she believed him every word, and had no thought to deny him in aught he might desire. And upon that same night was the most renowned Arthur conceived, that was well worthy of all the fame he did achieve by his surpassing prowess (Monmouth, 148-9).”

Tintagel Castle, as it exists today, was begun in the 12th century by Earl Reginald, brother to Robert of Gloucester.  Geoffrey wrote the History of the Kings of Britain in 1139, which is the approximate time that Earl Reginald began his castle, but it is not clear which was the impetus for the other.  The remains of the castle that exists today was built in the 1230s by Prince Richard, the Earl of Cornwall.  http://www.britannia.com/history/arthur/tintcast.html

That there are far, far older remains underneath these later castles is indisputable.  In the 1930s, twenty plus stone buildings were uncovered, dating to the medieval period, but along with these finds were amphora dating to the 5th and 6th centuries.  “There was more pottery than the total haul from all other Dark Age sites in Britain: huge Tunisian oil jars, Carthaginian dishes, Aegean amphorae and distinctive Byzantine jars.”  In the 1980s, a series of bush fires swept across the island, revealing the remains of a total of 50 structures.  http://www.britannia.com/history/arthur/tintcast.html

On top of this, the fires revealed pottery dating to the Roman period, indicating that the island was a trading post.  “No other Roman site is present anywhere in this area with similar architecture or Roman pottery.”  http://www.legendofkingarthur.co.uk/cornwall/tintagel.htm

The most exciting find for Arthurophiles, is the ‘Artognov’ inscription–carving (or graffiti perhaps) on a slate slab.  There are two inscriptions.  The deeper one, in Roman lettering, reads “AXE”.   The fainter one reads:  PATER COLIAVIFICIT: presumably FICIT is the Latin FECIT – ‘made this’. And then, ARTOgNOV which may (or may not) be a form of Arthur.  At the bottom right the words COLI and FICIT are repeated.  http://www.archaeology.co.uk/the-timeline-of-britain/tintagel.htm  In Cornish/Welsh, “Artognou,” is pronounced “Arthnou.”

Another perspective:  “The stone apparently bears two inscriptions. The upper strongly incized letters have been broken off and are sadly indecipherable. The lower inscription, though fainter, clearly reads “Pater Coliavificit Artognov”, which Professor Charles Thomas of Exeter University has carefully translated as “Artognou, father of a descendant of Coll, has had this built”. Possibly written by a Gaulish hand, the style of writing is certainly 6th century, a date confirmed by surrounding fragments of 6th century Mediterranean pottery already well known from the Tintagel site. Also found nearby was the remains of the only Spanish glass flagon known from this period of Britain’s history. Chris Morris, who has been leading the Scottish based excavation team for the past eight years, believes that the dedicatory “Arthur Stone,” as it has already been christened, was placed in the wall of a 6th century stone building which later collapsed soon after it was built. The slate was then reused as drain cover a century later.”

Even without the Arthur link, Morris states that we shouldn’t make too much of the obvious link with King Arthur’s traditional birthplace. He believes the stone’s importance lies in the fact that it is “the first evidence we have that the skills of reading and writing were handed down in a non-religious context”.

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The Poetic Tradition

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Tonight the hall of my lord is dark,
With neither fire nor bed.
I will weep a while, then still myself to silence.

Tonight the hall of my lord is dark,
With neither fire nor candle.
Who will give me peace?

Tonight the hall of my lord is dark,
With neither fire nor light.
Grief for you overtakes me.

Darkness descends on the hall of my lord
The blessed assembly has departed, praying
That good comes to those of us who remain.

This poem (interpreted for my own purposes from the original:  http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/sechard/492llyw.htm) is from the Welsh poem Canu Heledd.   The poem tells a story of  Cynddylan, or Cynddylan ap Cyndrwyn, a seventh century ruler  of a sub-kingdom of Gwynedd.  His father allied with Penda of Mercia, but died before 642:

“In the aftermath of victory Penda and Cynddylan seem to have fallen out and Cynddylan, allied with Morfael of Caer Lwydgoed (Lichfield), defeated an Anglo-Saxon army with bishops under the walls of the town, possibly in 655. According to the poems, Cynddylan and his brothers stood and fought at the ford of the River Tren.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynddylan

It is a modern conceit that ‘poetry is dead’; with the present state of publishing, authors of poetry have potentially a far more discouraging experience trying to get published than authors of fiction (whose experience is often plenty discouraging).

This observation, however, is far from the truth–or rather, only a particular kind of poetry is ‘dead’.   Our world is as full of poetry now as it was in the Dark Ages, in which, taking the poems of Taliesin as an example, poetry was of vital importance.  In a hall, with an illiterate population and one without the distractions and technology of today, every lord desired to have a court bard to help pass the long winter nights.  As with the bards of the twenty-first century, however, that poetry was sung, not spoken.

Up until 1282 and the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Welsh poets traveled the length and breadth of Wales, some to great reknown. Aneirin and Taliesin are the most famous poets of the 6th century, but their legacy flows down to the ages to Llywelyn’s own court poet, Gruffydd ab yr Ynad Coch, whose eulogy to Llywelyn was sung throughout Wales (below is my own interpretation of its translation from Welsh to English):

The wind rushes;
the rain falls
The sea crashes upon the shore;

The branches in the old oak thrash.
The sun hurls itself across the sky;
The stars fly from their moorings
And foolish men cannot see that the world is ending.

Why doesn’t the sea cover the land?
Why should we linger?
No counsel, no clasp, not a single path is left to us.
Our anguish is complete
For Llywelyn, our warlord, our dragon-king
Our Prince . . . is dead.

While generally not as tragic as this, the legacy of poetry is felt throughout our culture, most specifically in poetry set to music, available by the millions at I-tunes or on Youtube.   Spoken poetry is, in fact, the later development.  Shakespeare, for example, wrote poetry to entertain in the late 1500s, much of which he meant to have spoken, not sung (at the same time, much of his poetry that he wrote into his plays was also set to music).

Speaking poetry insteaded of singing it emerged as a real force in the 18th century with romanticism, as a product of the enlightenment.  The age of the romantic poets brings us the household names of Woodsworth, Keats, Burns, Shelley, Lord Byron and many others.    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romantic_poetry

It is ironic that the reason we think poetry is less popular than it used to be is because this latter form of poetry is less common, rather than realizing that lyrics as poetry has continued within our culture in a long, uninterrupted stream.

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The Fictional King Arthur (rant)

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Yes, I have some issues with King Arthur as a fictional character.  And the new series on STARZ called Camelot does absolutely nothing to help:

King Arthur, as usually written, comes off as either as a flat character, someone whom the author employs as a backdrop to explore the personalities of other characters (Merlin, Guinevere, Lancelot), or as unheroic and human, tripped up in the end by the overwhelming burden of his imperfections. Arthur is either a pawn, buffeted by the winds of fate, or so flawed, one has to ask how he was remembered as a hero in the first place.  In the Camelot series, at least the bit I’ve watched, it is inexplicable that Merlin would come to him as the hero (in a totally deserted castle) and expect anything good to happen.

There is a simple reason for this: it is very hard to synchronize the different aspects of Arthur’s story into a complete whole because the essential, heroic element of Arthur’s story—his defeat of the Saxons for a generation—has been grafted, at both the beginning and the end, to a romantic tale told for reasons having more to do with the medieval authors who were telling the story, and the time in which they were living, than with Arthur. In so doing, his character is incomplete and inexplicable, one who reacts instead of acts, and who never has a say in his own destiny.

Instead, it is Merlin who is the active character. It is he who sets the whole plot in motion, whose behavior acts at times like a ‘get out of jail free card’ for Arthur, who manipulates everybody else, but who is powerless to stop Arthur’s downfall in the end.  In the classic Norman/French tale, it is through Merlin’s actions at the beginning of the story that Arthur becomes high king, and because of Merlin’s abandonment at the end of the story that (in rapid succession), Arthur loses his wife, his best friend, his son, and his life.

In the Welsh tales, on the other hand, Arthur is nearly super-human.  He may have a few flaws, yes, but he is a ‘hero’ in the classic sense.  He takes his men to the Underworld and back again, he finds the 13 treasures of Britain, and he rescues his friends and relations from danger and death.   It is these tales, however, that are rarely told in modern fiction.  Why is that?  Why do authors have an easier time grafting sorcery (of the Merlin and Morgane kind) onto a tale of the gritty, Dark Age Arthur than the mythology that is far older and ‘authentic’ for the period in which Arthur actually lived?

As one of my grad school professors once said, ‘the English have a lot to answer for’ :)  As posted here (http://tinyurl.com/673mxrh), there are other reasons Camelot is a mess too.  Too bad.

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Writing and re-writing: A Novel of King Arthur

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I normally blog about dark age and medieval Wales, and just touch on the writing that has preoccupied my life for the last five years.

But I’ve just put up my new novel, Cold My Heart:  A Novel of King Arthur, and I thought I’d talk about the process that created it, particularly for my long time readers and followers who will have seen a blurb to this book in another form not long ago.

The most important thing I’ve learned in writing fiction over the years is, of course, never give up.  The second most important thing is that no book is ever set in stone.  It’s really hard to see that when you’re in the process of writing it, but every single one of my books has gone through a transformative process from when I first began writing it, to when I finally published it at Amazon and Smashwords in 2011.

I began writing fiction five years ago on April 1, just to see if I could.  I wrote a straight-forward fantasy novel called Dark Legend (which I still think is a great title and I swear one of my books is going to be called that in the future), which will never see the light of day.  I wrote it in 6 weeks, edited it for a month, and started sharing it.  I tremble at what people must have thought and they were very kind about it, but . . . no. 

Almost immediately afterwards, I began what eventually became, Footsteps in Time.  It took me four years and five more completed novels to get it in a condition where it was publishable.  In those four years, I tried to sell it for two, I wrote two more books in the series, and through it all, I was ripping the book apart and putting it back together.  At one point, a third of the book was from Meg’s viewpoint.  At one point, it was in first person (which a Goodreads reviewer guessed, so kudos to her!).

The point is that until you’ve published a book (and with ebooks, maybe not even then) a book isn’t done.  It’s important not to lock yourself into one idea or one avenue, even after you’ve typed ‘the end’ and then edited it a dozen times.   Especially if you are seeking representation, and ultimately an editor.  The good think about ripping apart a book and putting it back together in the computer age, is that you can save the old version.  There is no risk.  Except your heart, of course.

Which brings me to Cold My Heart.  I started it in November of 2009 for NaNoWriMo.  I wrote it in about 5 months, setting it in the 13th century, the same time period as my After Cilmeri series.  I did that because I loved the time period, loved the people, but I couldn’t sell Footsteps in Time, and thus, if I was going to write about that era, I was going to have to write a different book.

A year and a half later, I’d gotten these rejections: 

“There is alot of good material here but after much consideration I think I will have to pass on the project.  I kept thinking that this was neither fish nor fowl kind of book that wouldn’t fit comfortably in either the historical or fantasy slots.  I do think she is a very talented writer however and would love to take a look at anything else she is working on.”

“Its very nicely done, but I find I’m not falling in love with it, partly because I don’t feel optimistic about the market for this kind of medieval romantic historical.”

“I actually liked it alot– this is one of my favorite time periods– and Sarah has a talent for writing a story that stuck with me.  This said, I think we’d have trouble making it work.  We haven’t had alot of luck in this particular time period, and I think the fantasy element might make it harder, given that we don’t do any fantasy.”

So  . . . what to do?  It would never be published in this form.  Not traditionally, and maybe, just maybe, I was beginning to think not ever.

It didn’t take long to come up with an answer and my writing partner and I had the exact same idea, almost simultaneously.  She knows me well enough to understand that rewriting an entire book from top to bottom is daunting, but not impossible.  I’d done it before.  I’ll do it again.  I set it 700 years earlier, with different characters, different history (obviously), and a whole new impetus for being.  I wrote a novel about King Arthur.

And the truth is, I love this book.  I love it more than the old one.  I am so glad I got those rejections that made me reconsider.  I hope you love it too.

Cold My Heart:  A Novel of King Arthur is available at Amazon ( http://tinyurl.com/67v6cfl), Amazon UK, and coming soon to everywhere Smashwords distributes.

It has been featured at the New Book Journal here:  http://newbookjournal.com/2011/04/new-release-in-historical-fantasy/

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Links to Interviews, Guest Blogs, and Posts :)

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Categories: Research

A couple of links that came up this week:

Interview over at Kindle Authors on Thursday, talking about The Last Pendragonhttp://kindle-author.blogspot.com/2011/04/kindle-author-interview-sarah-woodbury.html

Interview over at The Inner Bean on Friday, talking about writing Historical Fiction: http://jennybeans.net/2011/04/08/guest-blog-sarah-woodbury-on-writing-historical-fiction/

Interview over at Katie Klein Writes on Friday about Footsteps in Timehttp://katiekleinwrites.blogspot.com/2011/04/ya-indie-spotlight-sarah-woodbury.html 

Daughter of Time listed on the Indie 500 booklist:  http://thebookorbust.blogspot.com/2011/04/apr-4-new-this-week-on-indie-500.html

Interview with me about writing (4/11) over at Parlez-moi blog:  http://parlezmoiblog.blogspot.com/2011/04/forfrom-indie-authors-sarah-woodbury.html