Finding the Story in History

Research is a constant, ongoing process while writing historical fiction. Sometimes a fascinating tidbit surfaces that might be of particular interest beyond its use in a novel. As I continue to work in the historical fiction field, I will post those occasional points of interest here. Occasionally I muse on the writing process as well along with news to keep readers informed of what’s going on with my books and other writings. 

Some of the following posts are drawn from my old blog that I will be shutting down eventually.

Homesick for Wales 

(Originally posted May 21, 2006) Yesterday I had the pleasure to chat a bit with a gentleman who originally came from Wales, near Aberystwyth. We talked about the different Merlin traditions, how there is a south Welsh tradition as well as a northern one that emerged out of the border area of lowland Scotland. This tradition perceives of Merlin as a madman lost in the wilderness. I’ve drawn on that tradition for how I portrayed him in “The Anvil Stone.” I didn’t quite make him into a “madman”—he is anything but that. Rather he intentionally wears a mantle of black feathers (think of Alan Lee’s drawing of Merlin) to make himself appear as a “wise man of the woods” while he secretly mentors the young Arthur. It was such a pleasure to speak with someone with knowledge of the Merlin traditions.

Then the talk turned to locations in Wales, among them Dinas Emrys. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the opportunity to go back to this lovely country. Dinas Emrys sits along the Afon Glaslyn, a stream that runs down from the mountains around Snowdon. The last time I was there, I had a picnic on the banks of the stream. This is one of the most peaceful places I have ever been and gave me a strong sense of feeling at home there more than anywhere else. The homeland of my characters is not far away, just up in the pass to the northeast. The Welsh have a word, hiraeth, which doesn’t translate into English, but my understanding of it is that it encompasses a melancholy longing for one’s homeland, for an unfulfilled dream of the way things should have been, a need to return to the ancient culture and people of one’s heritage. Whatever it truly means, since our talk, I’ve been struck with what feels like homesickness. The hiraeth has been sleeping inside me for a long time while I’ve been caught up in everything else going on in my life. The conversation woke it up yesterday. The man I spoke with also wishes to live once more near his birthplace. I sense he is drawn back in the same way.

If I ever find the chance, I will go back for an extended stay. For now, my photographs, my memories, and my writing about the place will have to do. Sigh.

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