Sometime during the mid-noughties I stood on top of a 12th century earth mound on the Northern edge of Cardiff, eating a banana, and wondering what would be the worst outcome if I simply threw the banana skin into the brambles when I’d finished with it. The obvious answer is that it might be eaten by an animal which then got food poisoning – but my mind doesn’t work in that way. I’d recently read a news report stating that bananas had been producing fruit without the need for pollination for hundreds of years. ‘Bananas haven’t had sex for centuries’ the headlines joked, and I wasn’t the only one to think, ‘I know how they feel.’
The ancient mound – known as twmpath motte – had been built by the Normans, and the field in which it still stands was the site of a fierce battle between the Normans and the Welsh in the 11th century. It’s claimed that a nearby stream ran red with blood, giving it the name it still bears – Rhyd Waedlyd, the bloody ford. http://www.railwaybridge.co.uk/twmpath/twmp2.html states that there are a couple of legends relating to the twmpath, but it was probably built by Norman troops attempting to hold onto the local area.
I began to develop a story where throwing the banana on the ground was the final act needed to break a spell cast during those times. In the version of the story I developed that day, the spirit of a magician who’d been present at the battle was put in stasis, waiting for his innocent young sister (herself a magician) to break the spell with a kiss and a drop of her blood. The sister was thwarted in this task, but years later a descendant accidentally broke the spell with a touch from a banana skin (a kiss from a virgin) and a drop of her own blood, shed when she caught herself on brambles. Not the greatest plotline ever, but I liked the idea of someone in the 21st Century accidentally breaking a spell and having to manage a long-dead, Welsh-speaking medieval character and their transition into the modern age.
I was working on various other story ideas at the time – mostly scripts rather than novels, as I find dialogue easier than description. But I kept chipping away at this idea, and when I realised I could use the same characters in two other story ideas I’d generated, I knew I had the makings of a trilogy. There were a few stumbling blocks, though. For a start, I had to work out how my medieval characters would survive long-term in the 21st century. Communication wouldn’t be such a problem if one of my modern characters could speak Welsh – despite existing for over 1500 years, the language has evolved without dramatic change. But there was the central question of all stories: ‘What does the character want?’. I couldn’t really find a motive for a reanimated medieval spirit. But when a sweary fairy left the surreal sitcom in which he’d been born and joined the cast of this story, it all came alive.
I stopped writing completely for a few months in 2007, due to two major bereavements. I picked up my pen again sometime in 2008, and by the time I left for an extended tour of Europe and Turkey in March 2009, I had 6700 words on my laptop. It wasn’t even 10% of a full novel, but I already had Blackbird’s back-story, of betrayal, exile, and loss. I kept working on the story as a way of passing the time on long bus journeys, or quiet evenings in hostels with no-one to talk to. Tefyn got his name from the town of Tefenni in Turkey. I remember composing the sequence where Vicky saves Blackbird’s life, and learns how he lost his wings, whilst recovering from a long overnight journey in Bergama (formerly Pergamon, a town inhabited for over 3000 years) in Turkey.
I returned to the UK and bought a mobile home on the edge of Swansea. Purchase took 3 whole months, so I spent summer 2009 living with my widower Dad and my cat, Scamp, in a northern Cardiff suburb. I had some part time work, but also a lot of free time, so what better way to spend it than roaming the woods, fields and hills nearby in pursuit of the story. Rhiwbina and the Wenallt became Tanybryn, and Rhiwbina’s branch library and Cardiff’s new Central library provided working space, resources and inspiration. (It’s not surprising that Vicky and Heledd are reunited in the library).
The characters grew and developed. The ideas became a story. Rhiwbina morphed into Tanybryn easily enough, but creating Annwn (the name comes from Annwfn, the Celtic underworld, but the landscape is Alpine) was a hell of a challenge. I still can’t believe I’ve finished it!
Follow this link to read the first three chapters. Contact me if you want the whole book.
I don’t actually believe in elves, fairies, telepathy or the kind of magic which can confound cause and effect. However, I did once have an interesting conversation which debated the idea that angels, demons, fairies, aliens, and others are humanoids who’ve popped into our universe from another, parallel one. I do love a good story, and hope I’ve managed to write one. Also, there is something inherently appealing about a man or woman with wings.