Dinas Ffareon is an Iron Age hill fort near Beddgelert which overlooks Lyn Dinas in Snowdonia. It is one of the more remote castles in Wales and “it was here that King Lludd ab Beli buried the two dragons which fought each other, as told in the Welsh epic the Mabinogion.”
Later tales (Nennius’ and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s among them) tell of King Vortigern retreating back into Snowdonia and choosing Dinas Ffareon as the place to build his fort.
Unfortunately for him, each night the ground was shaken such that the fort fell down. The King’s advisors stated that a fartherless child had to be sacrificed in order to stop the fort tumbling. Myrddyn Emrys (Merlin) and Emrys Wledig (Ambrosius Aurelianus) come into the story as well.
“Merlin prophecised that the Red Dragon represented the Britons and the White Dragon the Saxons and that the event meant that the Britons would be victorious over the Saxons. The Celts tended to refer to leaders as dragons (draig) so one could also read it as meaning the leader of the Britons being victorious over the leader of the Saxons, something which came to pass through Uther Pendragon and then Arthur himself.”
Dinas Ffareon, now Dinas Emrys (renamed, of course, for Merlin), sits atop a rock that is one of the strongest, natural fortifications in Wales. The remains of the medieval stone fort, possibly built in the 13th century by either Llywelyn Fawr or Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, still top it. Underneath, stones date to the Iron Age.
Modern archaeology reveals: “Dinas Emrys was occupied to some extent in the late Roman period, but that rough stone banks around its Western end are later. They were poorly built of stone two or three times and took strategic advantage of natural crags. Still less substantial walls were also discovered to the north and south. Broken sherds of Eastern Mediterranean amphorae, Phoenician red slip dishes and a pottery lamp roundel featuring a Chi-Rho symbol indicate that these features do indeed date to the 5th and 6th century.”
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!
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.
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/
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
Guest Post by Anna Elliott: A Conversation with Jules Watson.
Jules Watson writes amazing, lyric historical fantasy set in the Dark Age Celtic world. Her newest book, The Raven Queen, will be out next month. And she has an absolutely fantastic historical fiction workshop on her website. If you write historical fiction or fantasy, go check it out immediately, it’s one of the best resources for writers in the genre I’ve seen. http://juleswatson.com/fictionworkshop.html
Where do your ideas for a book start? With a known historical fact or myth? A ‘scene’ that pulls you into a story? A particular character? Or maybe none of those?
The Raven Queen and my previous book The Swan Maiden were inspired by the heroines of two ancient Irish myths. For The Swan Maiden, I had always adored the Celti story of Deirdre of the Sorrows, which is tragic, but so beautiful, too. Queen Maeve in The Raven Queen just sounded fascinating – a battle-queen who started the most famous war in Irish myth. Though in the original tales Deirdre and Maeve were very different – Deirdre a hapless pawn, Maeve a bloodthirsty ruler – I immediately saw their similarities. They were both at the mercy of a harsh male world, subject to men’s desire and lust for control. They both broke free to forge lives of their own and wield their own power. I could imagine two complementary stories about women taking charge of their fates and following their hearts against immense odds. My first series, The Dalriada Trilogy, was more inspired by history. I wanted to write books about the ancient Celts, and the Roman invasions in the first century AD provided a driver for the plot, plus lots of baddies to fight against my goodies.
All the research involved in writing historical fiction/fantasy can be overwhelming to contemplate when you first begin. Firstly, how do you recommend the beginning historical novelist start the research process? And secondly, how do you know you’ve done enough research and are ready to start writing?
Start with the general, and narrow down to the specific. If you dive in too far, you might drown in academic papers and never write anything. Also, you might do a whole load of research you don’t use. I studied archaeology at college, so had a general knowledge of the Celts. Once I decided to set my books in Scotland, I got more specific with research, narrowing it to the UK. Once I decided on the Roman invasion, I went after specific information about the Roman Empire and Scotland at that time. How much? Only enough to get an idea of the era, main characters and plot – then start writing, or you will procrastinate. Research triggers off plot ideas, and you do need to know the “daily life” of your characters, so that you don’t break the flow of a scene to check what food your heroine grabs while rushing out the door. However, once past that baseline…jump in! Get going on a great plot and engaging characters, because that will make the book a success. This saves time, too, because as you write, you discover the facts you need to finish a scene, and won’t get stuck on irrelevant details. The characters should not be actors in a play, walking about your beautiful, perfectly realized setting. History can drive the plot from underneath, but historical details should only be there to support an emotional roller-coaster of a story.
How do you set about creating characters who are authentic to your historical world?
Confession…I don’t try to! My previous characters sprang from themes I wanted to explore about love, lust for power, or forgiveness. One reason I wrote about first-century Celts is that we know so little about them, so I could (mostly) make them behave as I wanted them to. I therefore made my first heroine Rhiann a noblewoman and priestess so she had enough freedom to get into some risky and exciting scrapes. I molded her to fit my book, not history. In the Irish books, I did need to work around what is set down in myth. In the old tales, Maeve from The Raven Queen is a warrior, but a real woman would not be as physically strong as the men around her. To believably win sword-fights I had to make her rely on her intelligence and agility instead. She is a ruling queen, but that would have been rare in the Celtic world, so I had to figure out good reasons why her people might choose her. This is not as easy in well-recorded time periods, but the most compelling characters flout the rules, anyway. Rebellion and conflict maketh a plot – toeing the line does not.
Your books have such a rich wealth of historical detail and yet completely avoid the dreaded info-dump. How do you manage the balance?
Thanks! The thing to remember is that you are an author, not a historian. You are hoping to entertain people with a great yarn, so the story comes first. Despite your reams of research, only put historical details in if they advance the plot or develop the characters. Keep the pacing up and slip bits and pieces of historical detail in among exciting action. Have your heroine stomp into her father’s chamber and get involved in a terrible argument, whereupon she grabs a paperweight off his desk and throws it at the window. Her mother puts down whatever she is doing and gets up, nervously smoothing her dress. The focus is on the argument, but as your heroine storms about you get to describe what she is wearing, what her father has on his desk, and even what kind of windows they have (glass she shatters; shutters the paperweight bounces off; or stone openings through which the paperweight soars?).
You also show your readers, without pausing to describe them, that your heroine is fiery and unafraid of her father, and that her mother is timid. Take the minimum amount of historical information readers need to engage with the story, and drip feed it in when something else is happening, so they hardly notice: they just absorb.
Celtic Britain is one of those periods about which we know comparatively little for certain, which means that the historical novelist is forced to fill in the blanks at least bit. What strikes me most about your books is how seamlessly you blend the historical facts with your own expansion of the known details. How do you pull that off? How do you make that leap from the often scanty historical and archaeological record to a fully-realized historical world that lives and breathes?
The key is to immerse myself fully in the details of the Celtic world I am evoking. In every scene, if I can see, smell, taste, and hear everything around my characters, then history and fiction will merge – because I believe it, the reader will. If you can’t “feel” that, then you may need to do more research, or try another era. I also use logic to extrapolate from fact to fiction. For example, in poor, rural areas of Scotland, the way of life did not change much from the first to the nineteenth centuries. A native herb used by a farmer’s wife on an isolated Scottish island in the nineteenth century was most likely used by ancient Celtic housewives, too. Of course, in the UK, some plants and animals are native, and others came with the Romans, Saxons, Normans, or later peoples. You need to know those things when working backwards, but you have more information than you think you do. There are only so many ways to skin a cat – or a sheep!
14 September 2010!
from Simon & Schuster (Touchstone)
She is a healer, a storyteller, and a warrior. She has fought to preserve Britain’s throne. Now she faces her greatest challenge in turning bitter enemies into allies, saving the life of the man she loves . . . and mending her own wounded heart.
The young former High Queen, Isolde, and her friend and protector, Trystan, are reunited in a new and dangerous quest to keep the usurper, Lord Marche, and his Saxon allies from the throne of Britain. Using Isolde’s cunning wit and talent for healing and Trystan’s strength and bravery, they must act as diplomats, persuading the rulers of the smaller kingdoms, from Ireland to Cornwall, that their allegiance to the High King is needed to keep Britain from a despot’s hands.
Their admissions of love hang in the air, but neither wants to put the other at risk by openly declaring a deeper alliance. When their situation is at its most desperate, Trystan and Isolde must finally confront their true feelings toward each other, in time for a battle that will test the strength of their will and their love.
Steeped in the magic and lore of Arthurian legend, Elliott paints a moving portrait of a timeless romance, fraught with danger, yet with the power to inspire heroism and transcend even the darkest age.
* * *
Read the Prologue of Dark Moon of Avalon
BUY it today at Amazon.com or your local bookseller.
Women in Celtic societies had more freedom and autonomy than women in feudal Europe. It is not surprising, then, that women play an important role in Celtic myth, beyond the wives, lovers, and mothers of male gods.
Within Celtic myth, warrior goddesses such as Babd, Aoifa, and Scathach have a significant role; Don (Danu in Ireland) was the mother goddess, giving birth to male and female goddesses such as Gwydion and Arianrhod. The Irish word, Tuatha de Dannan means “Children of Danu”, the equivalent of the Welsh “Sons of Don” as popularized in Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three series. Note that their children are not referred to as “Sons of Beli” or “Bile”, who was her husband and the god of death.
Also among the Welsh is Cerridwen, keeper of the cauldron of knowledge. Within Irish mythology, the Morrigan, herself a triple goddess with Nemain (Venomous), Badb (Fury), and Macha (Battle), encouraged fighters to battle madness.
Below is a listing of the some important Celtic female goddesses:
Adsullata: (British) A goddess of hot springs who came to Brittany from Celtic Gaul. She is the origin of the Anglo-Celtic sun Goddess Sul, and was most likely a minor sun goddess in her own right before the time when the Celts relegated the majority of their sun images to male deities, and moon images to female ones.
Arianrhod: Her name means ‘silver circle’. This major Welsh goddess is the goddess of reincarnation, the Wheel of the Year, the full moon, fertility, and a primal figure of female power. Some Celtic scholars believe her story represents the shift from woman-centered clans to patriarchal power.
Blodeuwedd: Blodeuwedd was created from the flowers of oak, broom, and meadowsweet by Gwyddion and Math as a wife for Gwyddion’s nephew Llew. This arose because Llew had been cursed by his mother, Arianrhod, that he would never win a bride of his own people.While Llew was away one day Blodeuwedd saw Gronw hunting in the woods and the two fell madly in love at first sight. She and Gronw made plans to kill Llew, but because he was no mere mortal, Gronw asked his lover to discover for him the secret of his death. Blodeuwedd coaxed the information out of Llew, and not only passed the information along to Gronw, but tricked Llew into being at the right place at the right time. At the moment of his death, Llew turned into an eagle and flew away. Gwyddion sought out Blodeuwedd to seek revenge, and for her punishment decided he would turn her into a bird, on which only lived by night, a carnivore whom other birds shunned and feared. Thus she became an owl.
Brigit: (Irish) A fire deity and midwife and protector of woman and children. She also ruled over agriculture, healing, divination, occult knowledge, poetry, prophecy and metal work. Other spellings of her name include : Brid, Brig, Brigid, Brighid and Brigindo.
Cailleach Bheur: (Scottish, Irish, Manx) She is a great goddess in her Destroyer aspect; called “Veiled One”. Another name is Scota, from which the name ‘Scotland’ comes. In parts of Britain she is the goddess of winter. She was an ancient goddess of the pre-Celtic peoples of Ireland. She controlled the seasons and the weather; and was the goddess of earth and sky, moon and sun.
Cerridwen: In Welsh legend, Cerridwen represents the crone, a darker aspect of the triple goddess. She has powers of prophecy, and is the keeper of the cauldron of knowledge and inspiration in the Underworld. She has two children: daughter Crearwy is fair and light, but son Afagddu (also called Morfran) is dark, ugly and malevolent.
Rhiannon: Goddess of birds and horses. Enchantments, fertility, and the Underworld. She rides a swift white horse. Rhiannon is believed to be the Welsh counterpart of Gaulish horse goddess Epona. Her son, Pryderi, succeeded his father Pwyll as the ruler of Dyfed and of the otherworld.
She is the wife of Pwyll, and mother of Pryderi. Unjustly accused of destroying her newborn son (who had been kidnapped by a nameless Fiend; see above), She is compelled to take on the role of a horse, until her son is unexpectedly returned to her. She is also considered as an aspect of the Irish Morrigan.
Scathach: (Scottish) A warrior goddess and prophetess who taught martial arts healing and protection. She was also known as Scota, Scatha, Scath, Scathach Scathach Buanand, Skatha. Her name means she who strikes fear.
Dera owes Britain’s former High Queen Isolde her life. But as an army harlot, the life she leads is one of degradation and often desperate danger, with small hope for the future either for Dera or for her small son.
Through a Britain torn by war with Saxon invaders, Dera makes her way to Dinas Emrys, last stronghold of Britain’s army, to beg Queen Isolde’s help once more. Isolde offers Dera a new life, both for herself and for her child. But when Dera and Isolde uncover a treasonous plot, Dera must leave her little boy and undertake a dangerous mission, the outcome of which comes to her as a stunning, but wonderful, surprise.
And as she risks her life, Dera also draws nearer to Queen Isolde’s most closely-guarded secret: one that Britain’s courageous witch-queen may be hiding even from herself.
See the following links for download:
Need another format?
.rtf,.lrf,.pdb,.txt — Smashwords
It is a stereotype that women in the Dark Ages (and the Middle Ages for that matter) had two career options: mother or holy woman, with prostitute or chattel filling in the gaps between those two. Unfortunately, for the most part this stereotype is accurate. The status and role of women in any era prior to the modern one revolves around these categories.
This is one reason that when fiction is set in this time, it is difficult to write a self-actualized female character who has any kind of autonomy or authority over her own life. Thus, it is common practice to make fictional characters either healers of some sort (thus opening up a whole array of narrative possibilities for travel and interaction with interesting people) or to focus on high status women, who may or may not have had more autonomy, but their lives did not consist of drudgery and child care from morning until night.
This is not to say that men in the Dark Ages weren’t equally restricted in their ‘careers’. A serf is a serf after all, of whatever gender. Men as a whole, however, did have control of women, of finances, of government, and of the Church, and thus organized and ruled the world. Literally.
There are obvious exceptions (Eleanor of Aquitaine, anyone?).
But that is one woman out of thousands upon thousands who were born, worked, and died within 5 miles of their home.
At the same time, within Celtic cultures, women had the possibility of higher autonomy and place. In Ireland, as one example, the Roman Church had less influence. Women had a viable place both within the Druid religion and within the Celtic/Irish Church.
“Both men and women were included in the pagan Druid priesthood, having equal status, and this equality was kept in the Irish Christian Church. Besides the priesthood, the pagan Druid religion also had an order of wandering poets and prophets, called filid, who taught their religion to the common people. The Celtic Christian Church enthusiastically adopted this ministry. Ordained to the office of “bard,” men and women had the duty of proclaiming the messages of the Catholic gospel in songs and ballads. In pagan Ireland, as Elaine Gill describes, Beltane celebrated the balance of female and male energy in sexual, spiritual, and emotional ways. This idea was embodied in the dual monasteries, where men and women had separate accommodations, but shared a common concern for the well-being of the entire community. The acceptance by the Catholic Church at the time of the idea of equality in Ireland also probably contributed to the swift embrace of Catholic beliefs, in that the two ways of life, pagan and Catholic, were very similar. In that sense, the Catholic way of life was not completely foreign to the pagan Celts, but was adapted by them to their own customs and traditions. (Robert Van de Weyer, Celtic Fire: the Passionate Religious Vision of Ancient Britain and Ireland (New York, Double Day, 1991)
Peter Tremayne, of the Sister Fidelma series, has an extensive essay on his treatment of women in his books–as of equal status to men in many, many ways:
In this way, the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages were not a seemless period of time. Before the Middle Ages, Wales too was less subject to the restrictions of the Roman Church (see Myth and Religion in the Dark Ages: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?page_id=24; the Pelagian Heresy: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?p=323 and Religious Non-Conformity in Wales: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?p=464). As in Ireland, women had a higher status in Wales than in Christendom as a whole, including the right to divorce her husband and societal acceptance of illegitimate children.
The Laws of Women (part of the Laws of Hywel Dda) in Wales which framed the status of women in the Dark Ages included:
“Rules governing marriage and the division of property if a married couple should separate. The position of women under Welsh law differed significantly to that of their Norman-English contemporaries. A marriage could be established in two basic ways. The normal way was that the woman would be given to a man by her kindred; the abnormal way was that the woman could elope with a man without the consent of her kindred. In this case her kindred could compel her to return if she was still a virgin, but if she was not she could not be compelled to return. If the relationship lasted for seven years she had the same entitlements as if she had been given by her kin.
A number of payments are connected with marriage. Amobr was a fee payable to the woman’s lord on the loss of her virginity, whether on marriage or otherwise. Cowyll was a payment due to the woman from her husband on the morning after the marriage, marking her transition from virgin to married woman. Agweddi was the amount of the common pool of property owned by the couple which was due to the woman if the couple separated before the end of seven years. The total of the agweddi depended on the woman’s status by birth, regardless of the actual size of the common pool of property. If the marriage broke up after the end of seven years, the woman was entitled to half the common pool.
If a woman found her husband with another woman, she was entitled to a payment of six score pence the first time and a pound the second time; on the third occasion she was entitled to divorce him. If the husband had a concubine, the wife was allowed to strike her without having to pay any compensation, even if it resulted in the concubine’s death. A woman could only be beaten by her husband for three things: for giving away something which she was not entitled to give away, for being found with another man or for wishing a blemish on her husband’s beard. If he beat her for any other cause, she was entitled to the payment of sarhad. If the husband found her with another man and beat her, he was not entitled to any further compensation. According to the law, women were not allowed to inherit land. However there were exceptions, even at an early date. A poem dated to the first half of the 11th century is an elegy for Aeddon, a landowner on Anglesey. The poet says that after his death his estate was inherited by four women who had originally been brought to Aeddon’s court as captives after a raid and had found favour with him. The rule for the division of moveable property when one of a married couple died was the same for both sexes. The property was divided into two equal halves, with the surviving partner keeping one half and the dying partner being free to give bequests from the other half.”
Why I love Arthurian Stories
In the Spring of 2007, I woke up from a very vivid dream of telling my mother that I was going to write a book about the daughter of Modred, son of Arthur and the great villain of the Arthurian cycle of tales. I’d been writing historical fiction and sending books around to agents and editors, always coming close to being published but never actually getting a book sold. I was four months pregnant with my first baby at the time, and had been starting to think that as much as I loved writing, maybe a professional career wasn’t going to happen for me–or at least not for some time.
Something about this dream, though, just wouldn’t let me go. I had been an English major in college with a focus on Medieval literature and history, and had fallen in love with the Arthurian world and the Arthur legends then. I started to do some preliminary research, reading books that explored the possibility of a real, historical Arthur–who if he existed at all would, scholars agreed, have been a 5th century British warlord, possibly one who made a victorious stand against the Saxon tribes invading Britain at the time–a far cry from the king of Camelot who’s come down to us in the tales.
At the same time, though, I was reminded of why I’d fallen in love with the Arthur stories in the first place. The world of the legends is a recognizably historical one, part of our own past–and yet it’s also a world that has the wonderful potential for magic and enchantment. So as I was reading, I started to build my own version of that world in my head–one that was a blending of legend and late 5th century British history, truth and tale.
In my dream, I’d known only that the main character of my book was going to be Modred’s daughter. It was only when I was looking over name lists trying to decide on one for my heroine that the name “Isolde” leaped off the page at me and made me turn back to the story of Trystan and Isolde. The Trystan and Isolde legend is a later addition to the Arthurian cycle, very much grounded in a courtly, chivalric, 13th century world. And yet it, too, has its roots in earlier legends and traditions that still echo faintly in the story as it has come down to us today. I started to wonder what those earliest traditions might have been, what the story might have looked like at its first inception during the chaos and violence of Dark Age Britain, the “real” Arthurian age.
That was how the story started to frame itself in my mind as a trilogy: Twilight of Avalon, Dark Moon of Avalon, and Sunrise of Avalon. Three books that would weave together the scraps we knew of 5th century British history with the earliest versions of both the Arthurian and the Trystan and Isolde tales.
From the first, I’d known that my story was going to be a kind of sequel to the Arthur tales, a chance to explore what might have happened after the battle of Camlann, after Arthur was wounded and carried away to be healed on the mist shrouded Isle of Avalon. And that idea, too, held tremendous appeal for me, in that it gave me a chance to see a different side of the Arthurian story.
I think one of the most captivating, the most moving aspects of the Arthur stories is their ability to show us the highest potentials for human nobility, human honor and courage. And yet the story always ends in tragedy, with the battle of Camlann where Arthur falls, betrayed by all those he loved best.
His legend though, still lives, still gives us an ideal to strive for. That was the feeling that stayed with me in reading the original Arthur stories–and the feeling I wanted the characters in my trilogy to have, as well. The title of my book is Twilight of Avalon, because in many ways it’s set at a turning point, the end of the age defined by Arthur the king. But I wanted my Trystan and Isolde to be able to hold onto the ideals of the Arthurian world, even if that world was forever gone. Because even in the wake of tragedy, life goes on–and there’s always the possibility that someday those ideals will end in victory instead of defeat. For me, that was one of the joys of writing Twilight of Avalon: to know that this time, in my small corner of the great Arthurian tapestry, the story didn’t have to end at Camlann.
Anna Elliott, who posted on this blog not long ago, has just released a video for her book Twilight of Avalon, the first in a trilogy. The next book, Dark Moon of Avalon will appear in May 2010. In the meantime, enjoy her video and buy her book!
Twilight of Avalon: She is a healer, a storyteller, a warrior, and a queen without a throne. In the shadow of King Arthur’s Britain, one woman knows the truth that could save a kingdom from the hands of a tyrant…
Ancient grudges, old wounds, and the quest for power rule in the newly widowed Queen Isolde’s court. Hardly a generation after the downfall of Camelot, Isolde grieves for her slain husband, King Constantine, a man she secretly knows to have been murdered by the scheming Lord Marche — the man who has just assumed his title as High King. Though her skills as a healer are renowned throughout the kingdom, in the wake of Con’s death, accusations of witchcraft and sorcery threaten her freedom and her ability to bring Marche to justice. Burdened by their suspicion and her own grief, Isolde must conquer the court’s distrust and superstition to protect her throne and the future of Britain.
One of her few allies is Trystan, a prisoner with a lonely and troubled past. Neither Saxon nor Briton, he is unmoved by the political scheming, rumors, and accusations swirling around the fair queen. Together they escape, and as their companionship turns from friendship to love, they must find a way to prove what they know to be true — that Marche’s deceptions threaten not only their lives but the sovereignty of the British kingdom.
In Twilight of Avalon, Anna Elliott returns to the roots of the legend of Trystan and Isolde to shape a very different story — one based in the earliest written versions of the Arthurian tales — a captivating epic brimming with historic authenticity, sweeping romance, and the powerful magic of legend.
Today, Anna Elliott, the author of the wonderful Twilight of Avalon (Touchstone: May 2009) is here to talk about blending history and fantasy when writing historical fiction. Welcome, Anna!
Ever since I wrote Twilight of Avalon, based on the Trystan and Isolde legend in the larger cycle of Arthurian tales, I’ve often been asked for thoughts on the enduring appeal of the King Arthur story. Why should that legend, perhaps more than any other in Western culture, have captured our imaginations for more than a millennium, have engendered countless retellings and reworkings of the old tale?
The answers are legion, of course. But for me, the unique enchantment of the Arthurian legends lies in their blend of fantasy and history. The world of the legends is a recognizably historical one, part of our own past. Many scholars have explored the possibility of a real, historic Arthur–who, if he existed, was most likely a Celtic warlord of the mid fifth century, a warrior who led a triumphant stand against the incursions of Saxons onto British shores. Trystan, whose existence as a real historic figure is suggested by a memorial stone in Cornwall, was likely a roughly contemporary warrior, possibly the son of a Cornish petty king, whose cycle of tales were eventually absorbed into the legends growing up around Arthur and his war band.
And yet the world of the Arthur tales is one steeped in magic, as well. It’s a world filled with the voices of prophecy, with enchanted swords and Otherworldly maidens and the magical Isle of Avalon, where Arthur lies in eternal sleep, healing of his wounds, waiting to ride once more in Britain’s greatest hour of need.
That combination of historical truth with the wonderful potential for magic was what most of all drew me to the Arthur stories when I first studied them in college. And it was what delighted me about living in my own version of the Arthurian world while writing Twilight of Avalon and the next two books in the trilogy.
The fifth century, when scholars agree a historic Arthur might have lived, was a brutal, chaotic time in Britain. Roman Britain had crumbled; Rome’s legions had been withdrawn from this far-flung outpost of the empire, leaving the country prey to invading Pictish and Irish tribes from the west and north and to Saxon invasions from the east. It was in many ways also a crucible in which the British identity and sense of place was forged. And it is against this backdrop that Arthur appears, a war hero who led–or at least may have led–a victorious campaign against the invaders, driving them back for perhaps the space of a man’s lifetime and so inspiring the roots of a legend that still captures our imaginations today.
I was fascinated by this possibility of a real King Arthur, and fascinated by the world in which he might have lived. So I decided to set my story there, to make my particular Arthurian world grounded in what scraps of historical fact we know of Dark Age Britain. And yet I wanted, too, to honor the original stories and their magical, legendary world–a world that after centuries of telling and re-telling, is as real in its own way as historical fact.
It was a bit of a balancing act, I discovered.
My Isolde is the granddaughter of Morgan (sometimes known as Morgan le Fey in the original Arthur stories; a healer and enchantress of great renown). Isolde is gifted through Morgan with both the knowledge of a healer and with the Sight, which enables her to receive visions and hear voices from the Otherworld. All of which fitted in with what I’d read of both the legends and historical accounts of Celtic spirituality, pre-Christian Celtic belief, with its emphasis on the powers of herbs, on trances and dreams that transcend physical boundaries and touch an Otherworld that is separated from our own by only the thinnest of veils.
And yet, too, there were those elements of the original Trystan and Isolde tale that were harder to fit in with any degree of historical verisimilitude. There were those cases where I could take a more symbolic approach to the legends—as with the famous love potion, which in the original legend causes Trystan and Isolde to fall helplessly in love.
I decided that a love potion like the one Trystan and Isolde accidentally imbibe can be viewed as a metaphor for the overwhelming, all-consuming nature of passionate romantic love. So in the second book of the trilogy, Dark Moon of Avalon, Trystan and Isolde do journey together by boat, as in the original tale, and it is over the course of the journey that they deepen and develop their relationship, which again is true to the original legend. But the purpose of their journey is based on what scraps of historical fact we can gather about the shaky political situation of sixth-century Britain. And they don’t need a literal draft of a magical potion to fall in love–only the magic of their own powerful emotional bond.
But then there were other cases when honoring the legends seemed to me to demand a factor that simply did not exist in 6th century Britain. For example, the fortress at Tintagel, where Twilight of Avalon is largely set. The Tintagel of my novel is pretty much purely anachronistic. Recent archaeology suggests that there was some sort of important fortification there during the 5th century–one belonging to a powerful Dark Age chieftan, to judge from the remnants of expensive imported wine jugs that have been found. But that the site ever had the remotest connection to Arthur is unlikely in the extreme. And certainly that Dark Age chieftan’s fortress would not have resembled anything in the nature a castle as we think of such places today. But one of the elements of the Arthurian stories I found I simply couldn’t do without was a brooding, majestic castle perched on the crumbling edge of Cornwall where the land meets the sea–and where Arthur, son of Uther the Pendragon, was conceived and born. An authentic Dark Age wattle and daub and thatch dwelling just didn’t feel the same to me, and so I allowed the anachronism to creep in.
Again, it’s a balance. I try to be honest about the historical liberties I take in my author’s notes at the backs of the books and on the FAQ’s on my webpage. And I try to do my utmost to limit those historical liberties to cases like the above when it’s a matter of being true to the legendary basis of my story. I hope it’s a blend that works, one that echoes, a bit, the mixture of history and fantasy that first made me fall in love with the legends and the Arthurian world.