Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Inspirational Tours #3 - Manorbier Castle


Manorbier Castle, looking up from the road

On the southern edge of Pembrokeshire’s National Park area stands Manorbier Castle. The site, occupied in some form by castles, forts and cromlechs since Neolithic times, became the seat of Norman Knight Odo de Barri during the 11th Century. Its name derives from more than one possible meaning:

‘Maenorbyr’                - Maenor, meaning 4 Trefs, a Welsh form of land measurement

                                    - Byr, from ‘Pyr’ the 6th Century Abbot of nearby Caldey

                                    Island, or ‘Bier’ meaning corn or pasture.

‘Maen Y Pyr’              - Meaning ‘Stone of Pyr’, referring to the cromlech or tomb,

                                    overlooking the bay called King’s Quoit (although no skeleton

                                    has ever been found).

However the castle came by its name, it remained the home of the de Barris for over 250 years. Odo’s fourth son, Gerald de Barri is probably more famously known as ‘Gerald of Wales’, the witty chronicler whose 17 publications provide sources of folklore and personal experiences of his time. In 1188 Gerald described Manorbier as follows:

‘This is a region rich in wheat, with fish from the sea and plenty of wine for sale. What is more important than all the rest is that, from its nearness to Ireland, heaven’s breath smells so wooingly there...Manorbier is the most pleasant place by far.’

A sculpture in the gardens, honouring Gerald of Wales
Hardly surprising that Gerald bestows such love for where he was born, but it is indeed a beautiful place. In its heyday it had fruit and nut trees, an apiary, deer park, flour mill, dovecote, buttery, sheep grazing and wool and leather production and much more. What you discover when exploring the castle’s many rooms is that, from almost any vantage point there is a magnificent view to behold.

  

The former Guardroom is now a delightful and snug café and shop.


The chapel/crypt and an upstairs room are used for civil weddings, providing a grand and mystical atmosphere for the occasions.

 

By the end of the 14th Century, high running costs coupled with expensive and rare skilled labourers due to the Black Death, de Barri sold the castle and estate to two separate people. The ensuing confusion was resolved by Henry IV, when he granted the estate to the Countess of Huntingdon (mistress of Edward III) and other members of the royal family. Able to afford stewards to run the estate, the royal owners kept the castle until its sale to the local Bowen family in the 17th Century. In 1670 it was sold to Sir Erasmus Philipps for the sum of £6,000 plus his daughter for Thomas Bowen’s third wife. Since then, the castle has descended from Sir Erasmus.

It was a smugglers’ haven in the 19th Century and the barn was converted into a house in Victorian times and is used as a holiday home. During both world wars it was home to RAF servicemen and the castle has inspired several artists and writers, including Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw and Siegfried Sassoon. Today it is a flourishing tourist attraction that remains, as Sassoon put it, ‘wild, austere, and ocean-chanted’ and will delight visitors of any age. It is well worth exploration and admiration.

 

~ ~ ~
Acknowledgement:
Factual information courtesy of the Manorbier Castle site, and the guide book written by Caroline Dashwood.

All photographs copyright E S Moxon.

~ ~ ~



Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Hygge - the modern Mead Hall?


Since mid-December I’ve downed tools from writing book 2 in the Wolf Spear Saga series (mostly!) and taken a break from social media. Some might say it’s crazy, but it’s been marvellously refreshing. The day job had been hectic and I’d been scribbling away at my second novel, as well as reading up on some research material for books 2 and 3 in the series. When I broke up from the day job on 16th December, my brain disengaged from book writing and the outside world.

'Hygge'
I’ve been embracing Hygge, the Danish art of ‘being’ and ‘sharing’, and it got me thinking. This isn’t a new craze that’s never been tried before. This is something the Danish have been perfecting for hundreds of years. It’s something the human race has been practising for thousands of years. It’s simply a case of switching off from all the external distractions of life in our current world and curling up with those you love. It’s about downtime without artificial lights or modern technologies that interrupt us all the while. It’s time to switch off your smartphones, or in the case of our ancestors, leave the swords outside.
Leave your worries outside the door...
Some may argue that television is the modern equivalent to the tales of Scops or Skalds in the Mead Halls, except instead of listening to oral stories of brave heroes we are eagerly watching people dance or bake their way to glory. Here in the Moxon household we’ve had candles and fairy lights on and the whole tribe has been curled up on a sofa surrounded by cushions and blankets. There’s been reading, board games and knitting. I’ve almost completed a knitted tunic that I began in the spring, hoping to wear it for winter. This is now taking shape and I may still have the weather to wear it in. It made me think of medieval women combing raw wool as they sit by the fire. The ancient craft of nalbinding, or knot-making, was the precursor to modern knitting.
If I can just get this knot out...
Surprisingly, or not, all this Hyggelig behaviour spurred my writer’s brain into action. I’ve had plot ideas, promotional ideas and thoughts of exciting twists in future novels. We’ve planned holidays and daytrips or taken 40 winks, sent into slumber by the warmth of the dog beside us (not with the candles burning mind you!). The communal ‘downtime’ not only liberated us from modern society, but liberated our imaginations. It is easy to see how productive this socially engaging enclosure is and would have been to our ancestors in the Mead Halls. Campaigns could be formed and strategized; community disputes discussed and settled; plans passed for building and crop growing.
While the potage boils we'll write a few laws...
Like a warrior whittling runes into a horn cup, dreaming of heroic ventures as he warms his toes by the hearth, so we have been busy making and plotting in our own 21st Century way. There is a saying that ‘the old ones are the best’ and I think the Danes know this very well. Hygge is an old tradition and is still the best way to live, tapping into our past as we move into the future.
Do you Hygge?
The 'other' work in progress!
BE CANDLE SAFE – NEVER LEAVE A BURNING FLAME UNATTENDED
ALL PHOTOGRAPHS COPYRIGHT E S MOXON, OR PUBLIC DOMAIN VIA VISUALHUNT.COM
~ ~ ~

Elaine writes historical fiction as ‘E S Moxon’. Her debut Wulfsuna was published January 21st, 2015 through Silverwood Books and is the first in her Wolf Spear Saga series of Saxon adventures, where a Seer and one named ‘Wolf Spear’ are destined to meet. She is currently writing her second novel, set once again in the Dark Ages of 5th Century Britain. You can find out more from Elaine’s website. Elaine lives in the Midlands with her family and their chocolate Labrador.

Blood, betrayal and brotherhood.
An ancient saga is weaving their destiny.
A treacherous rival threatens their fate.
A Seer's magic may be all that can save them.
WULFSUNA

Monday, October 31, 2016

'MYTHS RETOLD' by Diana Ferguson - A REVIEW

'A vivid retelling of 50 well-known myths from around the world.'

image: courtesy of amazon.co.uk

And that is precisely what Diana Ferguson gives us. She talks of not only myth, but beliefs and religions, as recurring patterns and archetypes formed by humans over and over again. This is a collective work containing some real gems from throughout ancient history; some you may know and some you my have forgotten, while many more will be new to you.

She deftly explores the rich meanings and deep significance revealed to us, once we decode the symbols and imagery of these ancient tales. If we look hard enough, she tells us, there is a rich landscape of symbolic language. Shapes and designs reappear across cultures and continents. Gods and their legendary antics echo around the globe, though the gods may carry different names. This is true, for through my own research I have found this to exist when comparing the cultures of my characters and the gods known to each of them. Think of five-pointed stars, spirals, crescents or tri-cornered knots.

Lakshmi
Quite soon into 'Myths Retold' parallels are evident that span global civilizations. Take for instance the idea of virgin conception and woman as the great sea of life. These are visible through several manifestations including the Virgin Mary, also found as Nana of Asia Minor, Cerridwen of Britain, Coatlicue of Mexico, Aphrodite of Greece and Lakshmi of Hindu myth. Consider too the intense similarity between 'Odin' as known to the Norse in Scandinavia and 'Woden' revered by the tribes of Germania.

I enjoyed poring through this volume as repetition and archetypes formed the basis for my early design of my book series. I purposely sought parallels in belief to bring characters closer together and reading this book, the same could be said for humanity itself over time. Humans have sought to repeat and replicate ancient themes that can be best described thus as 'a treasure hoard of wisdom, of compassion, of beauty, [and] triumph of the creative imagination'.

Hercules, and the Hesperides guarding Hera's apples of immortality

I feel this Armenian saying, taken from 'Myths Retold', concludes it well:

'Three golden apples fell from heaven:
one for those who told the story,
one for those who heard it,
and one for all the countless many
who have cared enough to remember...'


What myths or legends can you recall that thread through our lives today?

What is your favourite myth/legend?

Does your writing contain, or has it been inspired by, myth and legend?



Thursday, October 27, 2016

Inspiratioinal Tours Part #2 - Cotswold Lavender Fields

View from the car park

Inspiration can take many forms and be found in many places. My latest came this summer from the Cotswold Lavender Fields in Broadway, Worcestershire, UK. How can you fail to be inspired by a sea of lavender and wild flower meadows, set upon the brow of a hill deep in the Cotswold countryside? I left thoroughly inspired and exceptionally relaxed!

Coined 'the home of lavender growing' and at 1,000 feet above sea level, the third generation family farm commands breath-taking views of the Vale of Evesham. A stunning 450,000 plants occupy the limestone hill, containing over 35 varieties of lavender.

   

The farm has its own distillery where it extracts the essential oil from the plants using steam. The oil is then added to their own, British-made toiletry and gift products. You can inhale, wash and even eat lavender produce (the chocolate is potent, but amazing).

They have a fine tea room where you can partake in lavender Earl Grey tea and scones delicately flavoured with dried lavender flowers. There's (almost) something for everyone, providing of course you love lavender! I'd certainly recommend it for a good walk in lavender-infused fresh air, followed by some deserving naughties in the tea room. Go on, treat yourself.

Lavender Scone
(image: cotswoldlavender.co.uk)
Check out their extensive website, where you can buy most of their lavender merchandise online and learn about the health benefits and culinary delights of lavender! It will whet your appetites while you wait for the new season of lavender to begin in 2017 (the fields closed for this year on 7th August 2016).

I'll be back soon with more Inspirational Tours from my 2016 travels. Until then, bright blessings!

xXx

Friday, August 12, 2016

Guest Post - Mark Noce, author



My guest at Writers' Grove today is US historical fiction writer Mark Noce whose novel 'Between Two Fires' is released on 23rd August 2016. Paula Brackston, NYT Bestselling author of 'The Witch's Daughter' has this to say about it: “A spirited ride through a turbulent slice of Welsh history!”. Aside from being a writer of historical novels, he is partial to putting pen to the odd short story and is also a mariner, gardener and keen traveller. His debut is published by Thomas Dunne Books (an imprint of St. Martin's Press and Macmillan) and is the first in a series of historical fiction novels set in medieval Wales.

He has graciously agreed to answer some questions about his writing and debut novel, and I'm thrilled to be his host for the day!


From where did your original idea for 'Between Two Fires' stem and did it become the book you originally set out to write?


For me, the core of a story stars with that first line. In this case, “Today I will marry a man I have never met.” That line haunted me because the moment it entered my head I knew who Branwen was and the story I wanted to tell. At that point I pretty much had no choice. Funny as it sounds, I simply had to write the story as she was speaking inside my head. I’m also always interested in “dark ages,” not just a backward or apocalyptic time, but an era that has left very little trace for modern archaeologists and historians. This gives me as an author a chance to bridge the gap with a plausible story that can extrapolate just a little further than a historian might feel comfortable doing. Plus, I just love a good medieval romantic story.


That's fascinating Mark, and I know exactly what you mean. Once those characters enter our heads, we are held captive at their will until all the words are written! I would also have to agree with you about the so-called "dark ages" and the excitement, as an author, of being able to illuminate them with our own creativity.


Are you a 'schedules and spreadsheets' writer or is your approach more organic?
I have to say, I used to be a planner and now I’m a total panster. I certainly do plenty of research, but I need the organic approach in order to make the plot flow the way I want and get the tension just right. And since I’m a big history buff, I’m pretty much always researching a dozen different eras that interest me anyway, so when inspiration strikes for one particular subject, I’m usually all ready to go anyways.

Yes, I consider the best approach to be a balance of good underlying planning, but then a free-flow of creative ideas. As you say, researching a variety of topics cannot fail to inspire and tug your plot in different directions. Often the best work arises from those unexpected moments.


'Between Two Fires' is the first in a series. What might we expect to see in following tales?
I actually already have the sequel written and in the hands of my publisher, as I originally signed a two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press when I started. The sequel entitled The Long Defeat, chronicles the Welsh kingdoms dealing with a new threat, that of the Picts, and how they present problems entirely different from those that they encountered with the Saxons. We’ve no firm release date as of yet, but I’m hoping to have it out by late next year. Fingers crossed.


An intriguing time, Mark. I very much look forward to 'The Long Defeat' when it is revealed to the world.

Name 3 of your favourite books/authors of all time.
My three favorite authors in terms of their writing style and storytelling would probably be Lawrence Durrell, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Marion Zimmer Bradley. But honestly, the list goes on and on for me. I love the classics, everything from Homer and Shakespeare to Hemingway, London, and Dumas, so nailing it down to three authors is pretty difficult for me.

Thanks Mark. An interesting collection. Thank you for being my guest on Writers' Grove today and the very best of luck with 'Between Two Fires'.

Thanks again for having me here, Elaine! 
 ~ ~ ~
 'Between Two Fires' is released 23rd August 2016, by Thomas Dunne Books
(an imprint of St. Martin's Press and Macmillan).


'Saxon barbarians threaten to destroy medieval Wales. Lady Branwen becomes Wales’ last hope to unite their divided kingdoms when her father betroths her to a powerful Welsh warlord, the Hammer King.


But this fledgling alliance is fraught with enemies from within and without as Branwen herself becomes the target of assassinations and courtly intrigue. A young woman in a world of fierce warriors, she seeks to assert her own authority and preserve Wales against the barbarians. But when she falls for a young hedge knight named Artagan her world threatens to tear itself apart. Caught between her duty to her people and her love of a man she cannot have, Branwen must choose whether to preserve her royal marriage or to follow her heart. Somehow she must save her people and remain true to herself, before Saxon invaders and a mysterious traitor try to destroy her.'


First in a series of historical fiction novels set in medieval Wales, you can purchase it from the following locations:-
 
You can keep up with Mark Noce via the following links:-

 Mark is also running a Thunderclap campaign for the release of 'Between Two Fires' You can help support him here:-

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Inspirational Tours Part #1 - Hanbury Hall

Inspiration is a common topic of discussion for writers it seems. I have blogged about it myself before now. With a few weeks of summer delivered to us here in Britain, I decided to explore some of our local heritage sites. The idea was to blow away some cobwebs to clear my mind for writing the second WIP. This is part one of a few of my adventures!


The National Trust says: "Hanbury Hall, Worcestershire, UK is a William and Mary-style country house, garden and park. Built in 1701 by Thomas Vernon, a lawyer and whig MP for Worcester, Hanbury Hall is a beautiful country house."


Countryside view.
 You enter Hanbury Hall through tall, filigree wrought iron gates into a courtyard entrance of formal, close-clipped lawns interrupted by gravel pathways of cotswold stone. The majestic eighteenth century country home greets you with a brick facade replete with Georgian windows. The centre, with stone-pillared entrance is flanked by two protruding wings. Behind the many panes of glass squares awaits a plethora of rooms including a Gothic corridor and majestic staircase, adorned with restored paintings by Sir James Thornhill.

Through one of two side gates you find yourself amid the 20 acres of recreated eighteenth century gardens and 400 acres of parkland. The garden boasts an intricate parterre from where you can sit and admire the view from within several brightly painted blue seated arbours.
Lake view from one of the arbours.
Emerging from the clipped and abundant gardens you can stroll through the fruit orchards, kitchen garden and then take in some of the 400 acres of park. Yet more arbours are found beside the bowling green and if you don't fancy a game there's always a meander to the orangery to see how the lemons are doing! It recently had its windows restored as much of the glass had fallen out and they had not been able to grow citrus fruits for some time. It was nice to see young saplings inside again.

The Orangery.
You can also find an arboretum, with plenty of hideaways and secret groves to entertain young and old alike. I had a go at some forest art!



Walking through the house and estate, the one recurring theme is the care and attention taken to retain the view of the gardens and surrounding countryside wherever you may be. I spent several minutes staring into oblivion from one of the bedrooms, wondering what the guests thought about when they shared the same view. It's easy to imagine yourself as one of the ladies in gowns taking an afternoon promenade past rows of roses. Hanbury Hall is exquisite and well worth a visit.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Finding my way through the writing wood...



There are so many ‘How To’ articles for all things in life (or so it seems). For writing in particular there are blogs and articles, self-help books and writing tip hashtags – everyone, everywhere appears to have found the answer. This post is not about me offering suggestions on how to write, when to write, what (or what not) to write. This post is about me sharing my own recent experiences after having lost my way creatively.

If anyone ever says that writing is easy, they haven’t been at it long enough to know what’s around the corner. At some point, often several times, a writer will struggle to find words. More importantly, they may struggle to find time to write those words. In modern society there are numerous distractions, interruptions and consequences that repeatedly vie for our attention. It can be difficult, as a creative, to shut these out or walk away.