Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Hope Rises

Yesterday another publisher emailed me and asked to see my book, and due to the post being messed up by the snow, he wants it electronically. So I sent it off last night.

Now I have two publishers reading the manuscript. Hope rises...

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Publisher, possibly

I finally plucked up the courage to begin contacting publishers about the book. All the advice seemed to say 'Don't email publishers, they don't like it' and 'Publishers will keep you waiting weeks for a reply, so be patient.' Wrong on both counts.

I began by searching 'The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook' for suitable publishers and made a list. Then I checked out each of their web sites and eliminated a few. There were several which gave email addresses for initial contact. So, using the advice from the yearbook, I composed an enquiry letter and emailed it off with my Introduction, which contains a synopsis, and a chapter list with brief details. Most non-fiction publishers expect a proposal, and you will only write the book once they have agreed. I made it clear that the book is already written and substantially edited.

So yesterday morning I sent the emails and went out. When I came home I had a reply from one publisher asking to see the book! So today I printed it out and wrote a cover letter, and it will be posted tomorrow!

Watch this space.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The Haxey Hood

I have just discovered this story of an event which still happens every year, commemorating Alina. It's nice to know she is not completely forgotten.

When Alina was married to John de Mowbray, some time before 1322, she was out riding one day and passed through the village of Haxey. A sudden gust of wind blew her hat off, and the villagers chased after it. She rewarded those who returned her hat with strips of land and silly titles.

In remembrance, every January 6th, the event is re-enacted in a scrummage between the local public houses, called the Haxey Hood. My thanks to the Hambo Central blog for putting me on to it, where there is also a photo.

According to the North Lincolnshire Council web site, she named the person who returned it to her 'The Lord of the Hood', and the man who actually caught it but dared not hand it to her 'The Fool.' The rest were called Boggins, apparently because each time the hood changed hands during the chase she squealed in delight " It’s boggined again." She directed that the happening be restaged every year. All were to wear red jackets except The Fool, whose appearance was to be similar to that of a harlequin.

The event takes place on the Twelfth Night of Christmas, January 6 in a field in Haxey. It is believed to be Britain’s oldest traditional tussle. Proceedings are launched by the Fool from his stone in front of Haxey Parish Church, usually around 2.30pm, and include the ’smoking’ of the fool. He then leads the crowd up the hill for games for the children and the start of the main game at 3.30pm. The Hood, a long leather cylinder, is thrown into the air to launch the proceedings. When it falls the participants (regulars from the local public houses) swarm around it and attempt to sway the hood out of the field, through the streets and back to their favourite hostelry for a celebration and the honour of holding it for the coming year.

The game is refereed by the Lord of the Hood, helped by his Chief Boggin both dressed in scarlet hunting coats and hats decorated with flowers and plumes. The ceremonial Fool, and a bunch of Boggins in red sweaters keep order.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Latest Draft and a New Title

Well, it's finished. For how long, I don't know. The book ended up over fifteen thousand words long, with over two hundred endnotes. Some references I couldn't find so I rewrote the passage, but I found some new stuff as well. It's hard to know where to stop. I have found a sweet story about Alina since, and I don't know whether to put that in as well. Maybe I'll blog it.

I have also amended the title to better reflect what it is about. It is now called 'The White Lady of Oystermouth and the Fall of a King'.

Anyway, for now, it has gone off to the kind people at the Historical Association for comment, and to my husband, who has not read it before. He is my sternest critic. So watch this space.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010


It has been a big job, adding endnotes to something already written, and it's not finished yet. I have been through all my research notes and the books I bought, and even got some new ones out of the library, but I have not been able to find everything yet.

Strangely enough, it is the basic history which eludes me. Unfortunately when I began this project it was going to be a historical novel or historical fantasy novel, so I didn't bother to note down where I found my information. Once it turned into popular history I thought a bibliography would be enough. But I have come to see that although it is not destined to be an academic work, it is still important to establish my sources.

The trouble is that I want it to be more than dry historical facts, and have managed to ferret out all sorts of interesting details to bring the story to life. But they came from many different books, and I have to retrace my steps. So many books only tell the bare bones of the story.

I also have a problem that I have written two general chapters on daily life and marriage in medieval times, and relied for a lot of it on internet research. Academics don't approve. Sometimes I have looked at one web site and assumed it was accurate, whereas I should have cross checked the information.

The academics from the Historical Association who kindly read the draft pointed out some valid things and made some very good suggestions. I am rather pleased though that one person disagreed with one of my statements and I have managed to find the source and corroborate it!

In addition to doing the endnotes I have listened to advice and thought about the structure of the book, and as a result have moved a lot of chapters around and reworked things into a more logical order. I must remember that having decided to base the story around Alina's life, it has to always relate to her. I have a habit of going off into an interesting bit of history that doesn't actually have anything to do with her. For example, I did a lot of work on a chapter on the pacification of the Welsh, which I am very proud of (posted in three parts on this blog in Dec 09 and Jan 10). Unfortunately it happened before she was born.

Every time I don't think I can do any more to the story I get some advice that lifts it to a new level, so I am certain it is worth the effort. I may never get it published, but I have certainly enjoyed it, and learned a lot.

Monday, 23 August 2010


The wonderful people at the Historical Association have reviewed my book and given me some really good feedback. I'm going to take their advice, but two things have become clear:
  1. I am going to have to do more research. Some parts of the book are based on just one source and are being questioned and other references suggested. I obviously didn't look far enough.
  2. Although I have been avoiding it, I really have to do endnotes. If I had done them as I went along it would have been relatively easy. Doing it afterwards is going to be like writing it all again. I have my bibliography and all the research notes I made, but it's a big job. But I can't avoid it.

So here we go...

Monday, 9 August 2010

Historical Association

Last week I saw a poster for the Swansea Branch of the Historical Association and on impulse I emailed them about my Alina book. To my surprise I got a reply straight away from the Vice-Chairman, who asked a few questions and offered to read it and give me advice. There have been further emails, and now four other people from the association have also agreed to read it. This is a real breakthrough for me, as I am totally inexperienced in history and publishing. I hope it comes to something.

Thursday, 29 July 2010


On Tuesday night (27th July) I uploaded my book to the Authonomy website. It is a place for authors to showcase their work and for readers to find new writing and comment on it and rate it. I wondered whether anyone would read it and what the comments would be.

I was stunned to find the next morning that I already had 17 comments and all positive! Several people have backed it. Today there are a few more comments and again they are all positive. I am amazed and really encouraged.

If you want to read it and leave comments, go here.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Re-Think, Re-Write

I have done a lot of thinking about this book while I have been in hospital with my stroke, and with some distance from the initial creative spurt have begun to re-think things. My thoughts were confirmed when my daughter-in-law, the historian, returned my manuscript with copious notes. She had come to the same conclusion.

I have become fascinated by this period in history, and although I say that I am using the life of Alina de Breos to hang the story from, I have actually gone and written about everything, with occasional reference to Alina. So it doesn't work.

I am very attached to what I have written, like most writers, and have to make a hard decision: Do I revert to a straight history of the period, or do I cut out the stuff that is not relevant to Alina? I have concluded that a straight history would not have the appeal that 'The White Lady of Oystermouth' would, especially with the opening of the visitors centre in Alina's chapel at Oystermouth castle next year.

So I have the painful job of rejecting large chunks of my history (though I won't delete it - you never know when it might come in useful), re-writing some with more relevance to Alina, and adding a lot that I have researched about daily life to tell more of her story. It is harder than I first thought because there is actually very little on record about Alina, or indeed any women in that period. They were considered inferior and just used to make prestigious alliances by marriage.

Wish me luck, and watch this space. I might drop some tidbits about life in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.

Sunday, 4 July 2010


For anyone thinking this blog has died, I had a stroke on 11th May. See my other blog for details. During my forced inactivity I have had lots of ideas for improving my Alina book, but it will take some time. So, patience please, and wish me well.

Friday, 19 March 2010

The Friends of Oystermouth Castle

Great news! I contacted the chairman of the Friends of Oystermouth Castle to tell him I had finished the first draft of the book, and he invited me to their AGM last night. I also sent him a copy of the book, which he said he would look at before the meeting.

I was the last item on the agenda under 'Any Other Business', but the meeting itself was very interesting, and I have a copy of the plans for the refurbishment and development of the castle over the next few years. They hope to have up to £2.2m to spend, and the plans, especially for the visitors centre in Alina's chapel, are fabulous.

Anyway, I was nervous that they would say that it had been done before, or not be very interested, but the members were great. They all thought it was a great idea, and 12 people have offered to read it - I emailed it to two, and the rest will have photocopies from the chairman. Several people stopped to give me encouragement, and one was a Swansea Councillor, who said he would give me every assistance, and just to ask him if there was anything he could do. He offered to pass the manuscript on to the project manager for the castle development, in Swansea Council. So who knows what will happen.

The chairman was impressed with the book and made some useful comments (like the fact that I spelled 'peninsula' with an r at the end!). I will wait for comment from the others before I start revision. I am much more confident now than I was before.

Monday, 8 March 2010

William at War

Here is a brief list of William's service in war:
1277 & 1282 William served the king during the wars in North Wales
1286 William served with the king on the Continent
1287 Swansea Castle damaged by Rhys ap Meredith. Sacked and burned the town. Castle badly damaged.
1288 Blockade of [Newcastle] Emlyn started 1st Jan. 10th Jan William's siege engine arrived. 20th Jan castle fell with no man lost
1294 William served in west Wales where English settlements were being devastated by the Welsh.
1295/6 Served as 'keeper of the peace' in West Wales
1296 Served in Scotland
1296-98 Served in Flanders
April 1298 William was appointed a commissioner of array, to raise infantry from Gower to fight the Scots in Carlisle
June 1298 Fought at Falkirk – helped defeat William Wallace
July 1304 Reward for service in Scotland, the king granted a charter in October to William for royal jurisdiction
1310 William fought in Scotland
1314 William fought in Scotland at Bannockburn
1317 Another Scottish campaign

Sunday, 28 February 2010


I have just finished the first draft of Alina: The White Lady of Oystermouth! The chapters are all different lengths, and it's only the first draft, but I've got it all down, and I am so relieved. My daughter-in-law is going to read it for me, and now I can contact the people who I hope will be interested in publishing it.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The Story of the Book

Notes from The Story of the Book, by Agnes Allen:
By this time, the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, books were not used only in monasteries and churches. Wealthy people liked to possess beautiful illuminated books, or to give them as presents to other people – but they had to order the book they wanted, and then wait a very long time while the scribe wrote it out, and the illuminator painted the pictures and the binders bound it, and such books were very expensive.

During the thirteenth and early part of the fourteenth centuries one of the most popular books was the Apocalypse. That is the name which is sometimes given to the Book of Revelation… It gave the artists a fine chance to use their imaginations, and they produced some wonderful books full of lovely pictures.

Another kind of book that was very popular about this time was called a Bestiary, and it was a very odd sort of book indeed. It was a kind of natural history and book of morals combined. But the natural history was not like anything we learn today. In the Middle Ages very few people had been far from their homes, so they were ready to believe that absolutely anything was possible in far-away lands. They had no difficulty in accepting dragons that breathed out flame and smoke, centaurs that were half men and half horses, salamanders that could live in fire, ant-lions that had the forepart of a lion and the hind-part of an ant – and other surprising creatures.

In the Bestiaries the strange ways (sometimes true but often quite imaginary) of real animals, and of these other fantastic creatures, were described, and a moral lesson of some kind was drawn from them. For instance, the reader is told that an elephant which has a load on its back cannot rise without help; and that in the same way man, who carries a load of sin, cannot rise without Christ. And he is told that the salamander can live in fire, just as the Christian can resist the fire of temptation.

The artists who illuminated the Bestiaries had plenty of opportunity to use their imaginations, and they created some really extraordinary and fearsome creatures, with the strangest habits.

By the end of the thirteenth century another kind of book had become very popular. It was the Psalter, or book of Psalms. Psalters had been written from the earliest days of Christianity… for in the church services of the Middle Ages the whole of the psalms were said, or sung, every week. But the Psalters of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries contained more than just the psalms, and they were the most generously and elaborately decorated of all the books made during the Middle Ages. The first part of the book was a calendar of the Church’s year, showing the saints’ days and the festivals of the Church…

Next, very often, came several pages of pictures, sometimes of scenes from the life of Christ. Then came the beginning of the psalms, and the page on which the most care and labour was lavished. It is called the Beatus page, because the first words are ‘Beatus sit’ (Blessed be the man). The psalms are divided into sections for each day’s worship, and there is usually a richly ornamented page at the beginning of each section. Next come the canticles, or sacred songs of the Church, which also formed part of the daily services, and sometimes a number of litanies and prayers.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The Hanged Man

There is a strange incident which happened to William de Breos' father (William) and step-mother Mary. The following was taken from a display in Swansea Museum:

William Cragh and Trahearn ap Hywel were hanged on Gibbet Hill in 1289. (Cragh meant ‘scabby’ , he was really William ap Rees).
Williams was accused of rebellion. The gallows broke and they were strung up again (Trahearn was a big man). People in the castle, at Swansea’s West Gate (near our Dragon Hotel), and on the town wall saw it all. William’s body was eventually carried to the house of a burgess in High Street.

“His whole face was black... his eyes had come out of their sockets (which)... were filled with blood. His mouth, neck and throat, and also his nostrils, were filled with blood... his tongue hung out of his mouth the length of a man’s finger, and it was completely black and swollen and as thick with the blood sticking to it... (as)... the size of a man’s two fists together.”

And yet that night Williams started to breath and stir! Lady Mary de Breos, wife of the Norman Lord, had prayed to St Thomas de Canteloup to bring William back to life. Some days later, with William de Breos, father and son, and the revived William Cragh, she travelled to Hereford where the resurrection was proclaimed a miracle.

This authentic account is based on Professor Robert Bartlett’s very well researched book “The Hanged Man” (Princeton University, 2004)
I have read the book "The Hanged Man" and it is fascinating, not only in telling the story, but in giving lots of details about life at the time. I strongly recommend it. This was before Alina's time, but would likely have left a deep impression on her father.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Castle Building

When Edward I finally pacified Wales, he could not simply go home and expect the Welsh to meekly behave themselves. Even the imposition of new laws and enforcing officers would not be enough. He needed strong bases from which he could operate in case of any further uprisings, so he embarked on a huge programme of castle building.

In South Wales where the Marcher Lords ruled there were already strong, stone-built castles at Caerphilly, Cardiff, Pembroke, Cardigan and Carmarthen. He also took over the castles of the former Welsh princes at Dinefwr and Dryslwyn. But in the north, where Llewellyn had reigned, he had to start from scratch. He built huge stone castles at Rhuthun, Denbigh, Holt and Hope, all started by 1282, followed by Conwy, Harlech and Caernarfon. In 1295, after another uprising in the north, he began Beaumaris castle on Anglesey.

The cost was immense. Most of the castles were finished by 1301, by which time the cost was over £80,000. Today that translates to about £60 million. Materials like stone, lead and iron, and craftsmen, were brought to North Wales from all over Britain.

Not only were the castles themselves a deterrent to uprising, but the Welsh were not allowed to live or work anywhere near them. They were run by Englishmen, who brought their own laws and their own men to run them and govern the area. This created a marked feeling of inferiority in the Welsh and superiority in the English that changed the face of the country, and persisted for centuries.

For photos of Welsh castles, see here.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Great Progress

I am in a quandary - I want to share my work on the White Lady of Oystermouth, but I understand that putting it here my count as publishing, and affect my attempts to get it published on paper later. So all I can share right now is my progress report.

I have really got stuck in recently and have written a lot. I now have the introduction and five and a half chapters out of eight, and the end is in sight. This is only the first draft, and is about seven thousand words so far. I am trying to keep it short and sweet.

I do have a lot of research material which could be used to make it longer, but my initial hope is that it might be picked up to publish as a tourist pamphlet. Oystermouth Castle has received over one million pounds for improvements, which include a new visitors centre built inside the chapel which Alina de Mowbray traditionally built. A pamphlet about her would be great. Once the first draft is finished I will be contacting the Friends of Oystermouth Castle.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Pacification of the Welsh 3

To emphasise the end of Welsh independence, Edward went on a triumphal progress through Wales, from Chester to Chepstow. On the way he stayed at Oystermouth Castle (we assume that Swansea Castle was still in disrepair). In addition, he took to himself the symbols of Welsh princely power - Llewelyn's coronet and seal, the jewel or crown of Arthur, and the most cherished relic in Wales, the piece of the True Cross known as Y Groes Naid. Edward did the same to Scotland when he removed the Stone of Scone.

Rhys ap Meredudd, in the south west, had defected to the king during the early fighting, but was unhappy with the settlement and rose in rebellion in 1287. It was put down, in part, with the help of the great siege engine owned by William de Breos mentioned in chapter 2. It was used to capture Dryslwyn and was then instrumental in winning the siege of [Newcastle] Emlyn without any loss of life. The whole bill for the engine, the men to maintain and man it, and the siege works, came to over £18. In addition to the siege engine, William had seven mounted knights and sixty three foot soldiers in his personal following and raised an additional twenty one horse, twenty one crossbowmen and four hundred foot. In total, an army of over 25,000 men was mobilised to crush this rebellion.

The last great Welsh rebellion, in 1294, was more serious because it was more widespread. In addition to the oppression and exploitation by Edward's officials in administering Wales, the whole country was called to provide men and funds for Edward to fight in Gascony for his land there. Those Welsh leaders who did raise bands of knights and foot soldiers gave them arms which they then used against the English, and many of the lords were already away preparing to sail for France.

Once again Edward was forced to march armies into Wales, and by March 1295 the Welsh resistance was exhausted. Edward's castles had proved their worth, and sucked up the Welsh assaults and drained their strength. Ifor Rowlands in the book 'Edward I and Wales' summed it up well: "Three campaigns within twenty years had deprived the Welsh of their natural leaders, drained them of resources and destroyed their capacity for resistance. An economically under-resourced, militarily backward and politically divided people - ever a volatile element within the Plantagenet dominions - had been ground to submission by an infinitely more powerful neighbour."

To cap it all, Edward's son (also called Edward), born in Caernarfon in 1284, was invested as Prince of Wales in 1301.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

The Pacification of the Welsh 2

In 1277 Llewelyn was forced to come to terms in the treaty of Aberconwy and pay homage after Edward I defeated him, but the peace did not last long. Dafydd had been settled on territory in North Wales, and made peace with Llewelyn, and became just as unhappy with the officials of the king. In March 1282 he attacked Hawarden castle and captured its English commander. This provoked other rebellions along the border of Gwynedd, and Llewelyn was forced to mobilise or lose his authority. This time when Edward assembled his armies he was determined not merely to bring Llewelyn to heel, but to completely disinherit him. What began as a 'just war' against a people unfaithful to the king, became a war of conquest.

Once again Edward mobilised three armies, but on a much larger scale than in the previous war, and men from Gower served again in the south. Possibly while they were away, Rhys ap Maredudd launched a surprise attack on Gower, burned and sacked Swansea, and laid siege to Oystermouth Castle. When the castle fell, it and village were also burned and the church looted. Ships from Swansea were also used to bring supplies to the north. As Edward's armies closed in on Snowdonia, Llewelyn broke out southwards towards Builth in an attempt to rally support from the south. It was a tragic move, as he met a small band of soldiers outside Builth and was killed on 11th December 1282.

The war continued for several months, until Llewelyn's brother Dafydd was betrayed by his own people and handed over to the English, who executed him in 1283. Edward linked the advance of his armies with castle building to secure the territory he captured and provide for containment of the Welsh once peace was restored. Some castles had been built or remodelled in 1277, but many more were built from 1283. The cost was enormous - £90,000, and the total cost of the two wars and the castles was almost £175,000, a sum equivalent to over one billion pounds today. New boroughs were laid out around each castle, and the best land given to faithful Englishmen. The creation of these castles totally changed the balance of power and allowed Edward to control north Wales in particular.

Llewelyn had no heir and his daughter was sent by Edward to a nunnery. Without leadership, the internal rivalries of the Welsh lords rose to the surface, and they were easily conquered individually. The Statute of Rhuddlan was issued by Edward on 19th March 1284, to lay out the governance of Wales. Welsh territories were converted to English shires, the main ones being Flint, Anglesey, Caernarfonshire, Merionethshire, Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire. Several new Marcher lordships were also created, such as Chirk, Denbigh and Ruthun. The process of introducing the English justice system was begun by appointing a justiciar for Wales, Robert de Tibotot.