Sunday, 29 December 2013

Happy Marriages in SF

I've just finished watching the last episode of the last season of Babylon 5, and watching Delenn and Sheridan's heartbreaking farewell made me think that successful, happy marriages are quite rare in science fiction.
Captain Kirk famously has a few one night stands, but everyone knows that his heart belongs to the Enterprise (or possibly Spock, if you read some of the K/S fan fiction).
Picard, likewise, has fantasies of a happy family life with lots of children, but he too is firmly wedded to his ship and his career.
Sisko is a widower, and Janeway is unattached (I never got round to watching Enterprise).
The only happy, stable marriage I can think of over the whole of the Star Trek regular characters is that of Miles O'Brien and Keiko.
Star Wars, too, is noticably devoid of any married couples, let alone happy ones (unless you count Luke's uncle and aunt, and look what happens to them!).
In Firefly, there's Wash and Zoe, and in Doctor Who Amy and Rory are devoted to one another, but most SF shows involving space ships are based around a regular cast of unattached people thrown together by circumstances - like Farscape and Blake's Seven.
I'm not very familiar with the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, but in the original series, when Captain Apollo had thoughts about wedding bells, his bride-to-be was quickly killed off.
So it was lovely to see Delenn and Sheridan making a success of their relationship over the course of the series, and it would be nice to see happy marriages in other SF universes.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Women Warriors - the Soldaderas

In 1910, a revolution began in Mexico against the Diaz regime. About the only name I was familiar with before I started looking into it was Pancho Villa, and I didn't know a lot about him.
In England, women were chaining themselves to railings to get the vote; in Mexico, they were joining the revolutionary army and fighting for a better future.
Mostly, women with the revolutionaries seem to have had the role that women have always had in warfare - they were camp followers. But there were also women who disguised themselves as men to fight, and later women who openly fought as women. They were also used as spies and messengers.

Jim and Carol's Mexican Adventure, at has an excellent and very detailed post on the Soldaderas, and comments:

"Although generals on all sides eventually accepted the help of soldaderas in battle, they often tried to hide or minimize the important role the women played. But history shows the women everywhere, as simple soldiers, as commanders of all-female combat units, even commanding male units."

After the war was over, the women's units were disbanded, and many were denied the pensions they had been promised. The role of women in the struggle was minimised and glossed over - but they were there.

Friday, 27 December 2013

More Left-Handed Characters

Having failed to find a list of fictional characters in books who are left handed, I decided to look for actors, and that turned out to be a bit more productive.
Bruce Boxleitner (Sheridan in Babylon 5) is indeed left handed.
Over in the Star Trek universe, there are three members of the TNG crew who are played by left handed actors - Wesley Crusher/Wil Wheaton, Data/Brent Spiner and Worf/Michael Dorn.
In that galaxy far, far away, Mark Hamill is left handed, but I don't think that carries over to Luke Skywalker (I honestly don't remember which of his hands got chopped off - but it didn't seem to make much difference, artificial hands in that universe being pretty much indistinguishable from real ones). I've also seen it alleged that all the Stormtroopers are left handed - something to do with the way their armour and blasters were designed? It's not something that I've ever noticed myself, but I will be looking out for that next time I sit down to watch Star Wars.
Ron Perlman is left handed - so maybe Hellboy is too? And Vincent from Beauty and the Beast?
Peter Graves, the leader of the Mission: Impossible team in the 1960s, is left handed, and so is Martin Freeman (though Watson seems to be right handed, and I'm not sure about Bilbo Baggins).
Moving on to archers, Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye in Avengers Assemble) and Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen) are both left handed.
Angelina Jolie is left handed too, which presumably covers Lara Croft.
And, coming back to Game of Thrones (mentioned in the last post I was talking about lefthanders) Arya Stark is described as left handed in the books, but Maisie Williams is right handed, so she learned to swordfight left handed on screen.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley: Good King Wenceslas, Upholder of Patriarchy

Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley: Good King Wenceslas, Upholder of Patriarchy: "Bring me flesh and bring me wine, Bring me pine logs hither Thou and I shall see him dine When we bear them thither" The poo...

This was always one of my favourite carols.  I don't think I'll ever think of it the same way again.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Left-Handed Fictional Characters

I've been working my way through episodes of Babylon 5 over the past year. I'm now coming towards the end of season 5 - and I noticed something that hadn't caught my eye before. President Sheridan is signing a sheaf of papers before a meeting - and he's left-handed.
It reminded me that I had once belonged to a book discussion forum where there was a list being made of left-handed characters in fiction - but it's long enough ago that I can't remember what the forum was called.
I do know that I contributed to the list. One of my favourite characters in children's fiction was Drem, in Warrior Scarlet by Rosemary Sutcliff. He's a Bronze Age boy with a withered right arm, and therefore does everything left-handed.
I seem to remember that there was a character in one of the Darkover books by Marion Zimmer Bradley who was left handed, too - but she wrote so many Darkover novels that I'm not sure where I saw it now.
I'm not sure how much of a spoiler it is to say that a major character in Game of Thrones is also forced to become left-handed - but after that, my mind goes blank. The list I remember had a lot more characters on it than this, but googling has so far not been helpful.
In my own fiction, I wanted there to be a genetic component to the magical powers that some of my characters have, and also for the powers to be fairly rare, so I linked the powers to left-handedness. The characters are also allergic to cold iron, which gives them a disadvantage to go with their magical advantages over ordinary mortals.

Singing Tradition: Welsh Plygain Carol

A beautiful tradition that deserves to be better known.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Magus of Hay by Phil Rickman

Oh, this was fun!
I live in Hay, and I have lived in Cusop Dingle, where part of the action takes place. In fact, the first victim in the book is drowned in my favourite waterfall!
And Phil Rickman gets Hay. He understands what makes the booksellers tick.
For those unfamiliar with Hay-on-Wye, it has been a town full of second-hand bookshops for fifty years, and second hand booksellers are a peculiar breed. The pagan couple are typical of newcomers to the trade, hoping to get their stock from charity shops while selling their own private collection, but Phil Rickman also comments on how the trade is changing because of the internet and Kindles.
He said himself that he had to tone down the eccentricity of the town to make it more believable (even the neo-Nazis have a factual past in the area!). And of all the eccentrics in town, there are none more so than Richard Booth, the King of Hay, who has a minor, but important, part in the story (and about one line, which is "Bugger off!").
For the purposes of the book, he invents a few new bookshops and a bar, including an Indian character who is quite fun - it's pretty hard to include ethnic minorities in Herefordshire, because there just aren't very many of them, but Jeeter makes sense within the neo-Nazi storyline.
I'm a great fan of Jane (Merrily's daughter) and Lol (Merrily's boyfriend) as well - who hardly appear in this book, though Frannie Bliss the policeman has a large part.
The story also goes up to Capel-y-ffin, home of a medieval priory, a Victorian Anglo-Catholic community run by Father Ingnatius (with bonus vision of the Virgin Mary) and Eric Gill the artist and head of a dysfunctional family. It's up in the Black Mountains not far from Hay, and is part of the Vicar of Hay's group of parishes. Father Richard himself gets a mention, though he doesn't meet Merrily (he doesn't approve of women priests, though a man who has a standard poodle called Jimmy the Curate, and welcomes all dogs to his services, can't be all bad. He's even blessed my dog in the street, which she accepted quite happily, though she herself was a Buddhist (long story).
I saw Phil Rickman talk about the book at Hay Castle (which is also mentioned in the book) during the Hay Winter Festival, and he was fascinating and enjoyable as always. I always try to go and see him when he's giving a talk.

Tawel Yw`r Nos/Silent Night - Janet Rees

Tawel yw'r nos; sanctaidd yw'r nos; Cysgu'n bêr nae Bethl'em dlos; Mair a Joseff yn gwylio 'nghyd; Lesu'r baban bach yn ei grud Gwsg ei nefolaidd hun Tawel yw'r nos; sanctaidd yw'r nos; Beth yw'r gwawl sy'n yr wybren dlos? Gwêl y bugeiliaid engyl glân Clywant eiriau y nefol gân Ganwyd y Crist o'r Nef Tawel yw'r nos; sanctaidd yw'r nos; Mwyn yw'r gwynt ar waun a rhos Llif pob gras o wedd Mab Duw Dydd ein hiechydwriaeth yw Moliant drwy'r nef a'r llawr

Nadolig Llawen - Merry Christmas!

Friday, 20 December 2013

UFP Con 1986 Part 2

The business meeting over ran by an hour. Several important points were debated:-

1. Should business meetings be abolished? Vote almost unanimously no.

2. Should all fans get a chance to vote on changing or doing away with the business meeting system, rather than just the ones who were at any particular con?

This was debated long and hard and it was finally decided that it would not be fair to put the whole future of Cons in this country into the hands of people who, for whatever reason, had not or would not in the future, go to them.

3. The term 'Official', as disapproved of by Paramount. It was decided that they would be renamed 'British' with the running number.

All in all, a very good, reasonable discussion, with no back-biting, bickering or other nastiness.

Finally the bid for Necon 87, from New Enterprise. This happened to clash with Conspiracy 87, the World SF Con, in Brighton. It was decided to defer the bid in an attempt to change the date.

David waited patiently through all this for his talk, and the entire programme was put back an hour. He told the leprechuan joke that supposedly got him thrown out of Ireland. He also read 'The Shaggy Dog Story', which was deemed too funny for the Twilight Zone. The computer printout manuscript was later auctioned for £50.

As Pat used to adore Ed Straker, we went to see 'Invasion:UFO', which appeared to be cobbled together from at least three different episodes. We noticed how 'terribly, terribly polite' Moonbase was, and the prototypes of Concorde and the Shuttle.

We watched the Klingon Hunt from the balcony for a while, while I was ceasing to be an elf and turning into a Tudor lady for the masked ball. Pat and Claire ended up feeding a pair of cheeky pigeons ginger biscuits while they waited.

The masked ball was simply amazing in terms of variety and elaboration of costume. Pat and Claire refused to even wear masks. However, Batman and Robin were there, together with Dangermouse, the Pink Panther, all of Parsec in pig masks, Elizabeth I and Lady Blackadder (could this be one of the first gender-bending cosplays ever?)
, Roj Peyton and co. in Andromeda paper bag masks, Janis and Kim in rather nice black and silver creations - and David Gerrold who, when he wasn't chasing Shona, the ScotPress dog, on his hands and knees, was wandering around carrying a masked banana. The infamous room party, by the way, was to be held later that night in Diane Duane's room, until whenever. (David suggested July).

Monday: Breakfasted in the main hall. Overheard in conversation: "I haven't been to bed yet. There was this room party...."

Pat's never even seen Planet of the Apes, and I used to think that Galen was wonderful, so we spent an hour watching Urko and Burke trapped in a subway station. It puts a whole new light on the thing when you know Mark Lenard is the gorilla.

As I was now out of costume, Pat complained she kept losing me in the crowd. I suggested a flashing light might help. She is now measuring me up for a Tardis costume!

Speaking of which, at very short notice John Levene (Dr. Who's Sergeant Benton) agreed to talk for twenty minutes, having arrived at the hotel the previous day on business. He came over as a very pleasant chap, who had hugely enjoyed his time as an actor, and who took great delight in answering questions in a very roundabout, and interesting, way.

He was followed by the Writers Panel, comprised of David, Diane, David's editor (who had been selling copies of his new magazine 'The Brass Cannon Report' all weekend) and a British writer who works for the Civil Service whose name I didn't catch. (A letter to the fanzine later, from Diane Duane, said that it was Peter Morwood, who she later married, and who is Northern Irish) 'The Brass Cannon Report' is a little bit of everything from computers to space to translating German. It came out during the panel that the woman who had written an excellent piece on the 'Challenger' tragedy is actually dyslexic, and it took the computer over five hours to correct the spelling.

The closing ceremony went as usual, and David Gerrold was presented with a giant inflatable banana covered in autographs and messages ("Hey, this one says 'Yankee go home'!"). Roj Peyton auctioned off some special items that David had brought, the usual percentage going to charity, and the American guests now have a hazy idea of panto:-

Chris Chivers: "Where's Roj Peyton?"


Roj Peyton: "Oh, no he's not!"


David Gerrold was asked if he would write a book on the English sense of humour, to which he replied: "How can you write about something you can't understand?"

And on that note, we reluctantly returned to the real world.

Looking back on this Con, I think it's the one I remember the most clearly, and one of the ones that I enjoyed the most. I was with friends, and knew quite a few familiar faces among the other Con goers, and I knew what to expect from the programme, so I could just relax and enjoy everything. Also, there was the writing tutorial, which helped my writing a lot. At the time, I was writing Star Trek fan fiction, most of which has mercifully disappeared into oblivion, though I was quite proud of one or two stories.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

UFP Con 1986

Or: Anyone who walks around with a masked banana can't be all bad!

(This is another of the old Star Trek Con reports I found in the bottom of a cupboard).

Friday - Picked Pat up from school. (She was a teacher) I had one suitcase, one rucksack and a shoulder bag containing various weaponry. The taxi driver was fascinated. Pat, with her one small, efficiently packed bag, was rather scathing about the bulk of my stuff - it was only for a weekend, after all!

Picked up Claire at Euston, next stop Birmingham International. We navigated our way through the shopping complex and as we reached the open air, we all saw the water spout in the middle of the lake. We started looking for a) Geneva and b) The Champions.

After checking in, and seeing several familiar faces in the foyer, we dumped our bags and adjourned to the cocktail bar. The orange and lemonade cost £1.10, so I decided to take the swizzle sticks they gave us with it. I didn't bring my usual Andorian gear this time, so Pat and Claire made a suggestion. They looked quite good, if a little wobbly, stuck in my hairband, and gathered a few odd looks from 'ordinary' people sitting in the lounge.

Opening Ceremony: David Gerrold was introduced, giggling already (and he has a very loud and high-pitched giggle). A bonus was also announced - Diane Duane, who was at DragonCon in January. She was separated from her beloved Guinness long enough to say hello, and left chased by David, waving his inflatable banana. He was presented with one at the last British Con he came to, and has since gained another, since the original let out air, "for some reason" reminding him of Jim Pauley.

N.B. Jim Pauley, later to be seen singing with 'Chinatown', did a very good report in the Con booklet, on an American Con he'd attended. It sounded sort of interesting to experience - once! No wonder guests like coming to Britain.

Saturday: I put on my hooped Tudor gown, first seen as 'The Bride of Mr Kyle' at the Grand Hotel, Birmingham three years ago (time flies when you're having fun). Breakfast was in the Lakeside Pavilion, which literally is a huge marquee hung with drapery. I stole half my breakfast to eat later in the day. Pat threw a couple of bread rolls at me and asked innocently why I hadn't brought my bowie knife to butter them.

9am: Writers' Workshop, a major reason for wanting to come to this Con. The whole course cost £15, witha percentage going to the Con charity. First session was Story Structure. It was also 'character assassination' as far as Pat was concerned. David Gerrold had her in tears by the end. Of the eight of us, five escaped relatively lightly, myself among them. In spite of that, it was a good session and I think we all learned something. (David did admit that he is not a nice person fairly early on, but, judging by the number of times he had to repeat it, I don't think he was kidding anybody.) One girl has promised to write a novel within the year, and if she doesn't, David will come back and tear her left arm off. If he can't make it, he has deputised someone to draw a red line around the arm, with the words "David will be here later."

We came in on the end of the auction, and I madly bid £6 for Kraith volume III, which contains a real Spock-bonker. (Kraith was a rather good Vulcan oriented fanzine, and very desirable in the UK at the time)

The Drama Competition was next. Excalibur was represented by Kim Anderson and Janis Bowers, who were auctioning various items from the Enterprise, like Kirk's nightshirt and the remains of a security guard. The best, and most unbelievable entry, though, was the STAB Morris Dancing Team!

Diane Duane then gave her talk - well, actually she just started chatting loud enough for everyone to hear her. She told us about her new, adult 'Wizard' book, which features a dinosaur in Central Park lake, a Malaysian Hissing Cockroach, and lines like "Don't worry, ectoplasm comes out with vinegar and warm water". (I'm ashamed to say that, 26 years later, I still haven't read it, but I do have all the juvenile Wizard books!) She's also planning a new Trek book, 'The Romulan Way', with everything you ever wanted to know about Romulans, plus a vocab in the back. (Now that one I have read, and I highly recommend it!)

David talked next, and gave a slide show of LA, his dogs, and the six MacDonalds within walking distance of his house. He refused to spread any rumours about the fourth film, but he did spend a day on the set. They were filming on the Klingon Bird of Prey, in uniform. The director was in makeup, and they're building something large in the Paramount water tank.

I went off then to watch 'Robin of Sherwood' with 'Forest', the official fanclub. Lewis Collins came to a gory end as a replacement Sheriff, or, as the original Sheriff put it, "a posturing catamite".

Then out came my weaponry for my elf adventurer costume. I now have a real bow, draw weight 30lbs, which comes in three pieces that screw together for easier transportation. A quiverful of arrows and a shortsword on my belt completed the effect.

I didn't win anything in the Fancy Dress, though I was invited to shoot Kim's brother. Non-Trek winners were Batman and Robin, who did a little sketch which ended with them hitting each other over the head with paper hoops labelled "Biff!" and "T'Pau!". The transvestite vampire was absolutely terrified before he went on - to great applause which he thoroughly deserved. In the Trek section was the 'middle-aged lady from Leningrad' with a sledge pulled by reindeer Tass and Pravda (the third one didn't have a label and I couldn't hear the script from where I was - something about inventing whisky). Finally, Industrial Light and Tragic, who brought us the unforgettable 'Destruction of the Enterprise' and 'Transporter Malfunction', costumed this time entirely in pink loo rolls, gave us "Mummy Chtorr, Daddy Chtorr, and the one with the beard is Baby Chtorr."

Sunday: How come elves in D&D never have trouble finding somewhere to put their bows at breakfast? (Eventually it went under the table). Pat started calling me Heidi when I nicked the bread rolls again.

9am: Writers' Workshop again; this time Character Formation. Pat suggested getting a badge saying "I survived David Gerrold's Writers' Workshop". It was actually a lot better than Saturday, with plenty of discussion back and forth. David made much of the English character being "terribly, terribly polite", and observed that the Vulcans are British - of course they are! We ran the gamut of emotion from Death to Enthusiasm, and finished a little early. Pat decided I was stuck on Appeasement, but that's because she hits harder. At the end, David was presented with a lovely little samovar. (He tells everyone in the States to bring an empty suitcase when guesting at British Cons, because of the generosity of the British fans).

the auction had got to the silly stage by the time we arrived. £87 was raised for Roj Peyton to drink a can of lager, we had great fun with an escaped balloon which had to be rescued from the ceiling, and a half-penny that David Gerrold contributed went for £2, to cries of "You're crazy people!" from David. Claire came away with a tribble and one of David's books.

(and that's where we'll leave it for now....)

Monday, 16 December 2013


On the Brass Goggles forum for Steampunks, there is a long discussion going on about what a person should do if they are heckled when wearing Steampunk attire. One of the contributors to the thread had this to say:

"I'm 6'4" - 240. People don't say anything to least not to my face, anyhow.

If they are insistent on making fun of me, I am able to make fun of myself. Anything they say just rolls off me like water off a ducks back. I am Practically incapable of being embarrassed and was born without a shred of modesty.

If you are unable to take a little good natured ribbing, you should probably avoid being amongst the general population in SP attire. Bring your outfit and change when you get to your venue."

Now, he's a well built, white male, so it's easy for him to say that he can cope with a little good natured ribbing. I bet his attitude would be rather different if he were female, or disabled, or a different colour (or any combination of those things). Especially as someone further up the thread brought up the case of Sophie Lancaster, who was walking along minding her own business when she was set upon and killed simply because she was wearing Goth clothing.
I'm a middle aged white woman, who can put on a cut glass accent when I have to, and have long practice in "looking Vulcan" in order to intimidate and impress. Even so, I've had experiences when I've been walking around minding my own business that I bet any money that 6'4" white male has never had to deal with.
A kid has thrown stones at me while I was out walking the dog along the riverbank (I told him he was a rotten shot - and added that I, on the other hand, was a good shot - he ran away before I was able to demonstrate!)
A group of teenaged boys, after dark in a residential area, followed me and tried to look intimidating (I called them cowards - not one of them would look me in the eye - and they shuffled away).
Another kid, with his gang of mates behind him, threatened to rape me (I suggested he came a bit closer - it's not something you can do at a distance - he ran away , too).
I would add that almost all of the people who have heckled or tried to intimidate me have been male, and white - and usually young enough to be my son. And none of them have known a damn thing about me except that I was female and on my own.
I don't live in a dangerous part of the world - this is a very safe place compared to many others - but it is something that happens occasionally. It's something you learn to deal with - and that's the point. Women have to learn to deal with this sort of thing as a matter of course - all these things happened to me when I was wearing ordinary clothing, and just walking along minding my own business.
White men don't generally have to deal with that sort of heckling. They don't have to deal with a stranger in a lift trying to invite himself to their hotel room (there was a highly publicised case recently - Richard Dawkins was involved, and not to his credit - where a woman who was a speaker at a conference found herself in that situation, and when she wrote on her blog "Guys - don't do that" she found herself getting rape and death threats.)
I follow a blog called Rolling Around In My Head, which is written by a man who uses a wheelchair - he writes a lot about the difficulties wheelchair users have from day to day, and one post was about the time that a complete stranger threw a garbage can (he's in Canada) at him, simply because he is a fat man in a wheelchair (it missed, fortunately). This is something able-bodied people don't have to put up with, and therefore don't think about when they go out. It's something that nobody should have to think about when they go out.
Also recently, I read a piece by a large, well-built black man, who was talking about the way nobody would ever sit next to him on buses, and how people reacted to him with fear, just about every time he went out, simply because he was a large, black man. And there was nothing he could do about his appearance - people felt threatened just because he existed, and nothing he could do seemed to be able to minimise that.

So, "good-natured ribbing" is one thing, but there are a lot of people in the world who have to deal with far worse than that. And they shouldn't have to. They should be just as free to go about their business without being heckled, or stared at, or attacked as the man I quoted at the top of this post.

(There - that's enough ranting from me!)

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Another Woman Warrior

I found this picture on Facebook today - this is what sensible armour looks like on a woman!

Friday, 13 December 2013

Women Warriors - Ellen Gethin

People who don't like the idea of women warriors might criticise my last post by pointing out that Gwenllian was a Princess, and she was leading troops in the place of her husband, so maybe she didn't really count as a woman warrior in her own right.
That's why I'm fond of Ellen Gethin.

Here she is, on her tomb in Kington Church, in Herefordshire, next to her husband Thomas, the Black Vaughan. She looks quite demure, doesn't she? Yet her name means "Ellen the Terrible".

Family feuds were quite common in the late middle ages, and Ellen's brother was murdered by one of his cousins. There was no police force in those days, and no-one was going to do anything about the murder. So Ellen found out that the murderer was going to take part in an archery competition nearby. She disguised herself as a boy, and went off to take part in the archery competition. When her turn to shoot came, she turned from the target and shot her murderous cousin dead - and she got away with it!
Later she married another cousin, Thomas, who was known as the Black Vaughan and reputed to be a magician. He was executed after the Battle of Banbury in the Wars of the Roses in 1469. After his ghost was seen, sometimes in the form of a black bull or a black dog, twelve clergymen with bell, book and candle were recruited to imprison his soul in a small box which was thrown into the pool at Hergest Croft, which had been his home. It's supposed to be still there.

When I was choosing a name for my medieval re-enactment character, I had to go for Ellen Gethin. I'm also an archer, and I have been known to make up the numbers in a skirmish (I die very quickly).
It's worth bearing in mind that Ellen Gethin must have been a good archer already - accurate shooting takes quite a bit of practice with a longbow.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Women Warriors - Gwenllian

I've become involved in a conversation on Facebook about realistic armour for women in fantasy role playing games and so on - and one chap said (I'm paraphrasing here) that it didn't matter if women were dressed in chainmail bikinis because the whole idea of women warriors was unrealistic anyway.
But, I countered, orcs and elves and dwarves are not real, and they are given sensible armour that protects their bodies.
And once you start looking, women warriors are everywhere, so I thought I'd highlight a few here.
Since it's the anniversary of the death of Prince Llewellyn of Gwynnedd in 1282, ambushed just outside Builth Wells, I thought I'd start in Wales.

In medieval Welsh history, the Welsh would often use as their battle cry "Revenge for Gwenllian!".
Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd was a Princess of Deheubarth in the 12thC - she died in 1136. She was the daughter of Prince Gruffydd ap Cynan of Gwynnedd, who was responsible for having the Mabinogion written down - this is the major collection of Welsh myths and legends that has survived from that period, and includes some of the earliest stories of King Arthur (back when he was a Celtic warlord, stealing pigs with Kai). Memories of the stories kept Gruffydd going during his long captivity in Chester castle, a prisoner of the Norman Earl Hugh of Chester.
For some time, Gwenllian lived virtually as an outlaw in her own lands, with her husband Gruffydd ap Rhys, fighting the Norman invaders. In 1136, while Gruffydd was in Gwynnedd in North Wales seeking an alliance with her father against the Normans, Gwenllian raised an army to defend Deheubarth's Welsh from Norman attacks. After a battle outside Kidwelly Castle, she was captured and beheaded. Two of her sons, Morgan and Maelgwn, also died. News of the deaths led to a general uprising against the Normans.
Her youngest son went on to become one of the greatest leaders in South Wales, the Lord Rhys.

Monday, 9 December 2013

If I Won the Lottery....

Everyone has these daydreams about what they would do if they had squillions of pounds in the bank. New house, world cruise, that sort of thing.

I want to buy a castle.

When I was a kid, we used to holiday in North Wales, at Pensarn near Abergele. Looking down on us from the hillside was a Victorian mock castle, a huge affair, called Gwrych Castle. At the time it was a sort of medieval theme park. There was jousting every afternoon in the summer, a miniature railway, pony rides, a potter, and I'm sure there were lots of other things that I don't clearly remember.
We went to a Sealed Knot battle re-enactment there, which was very exciting, and the first time I'd seen a full scale Civil War battle. That's one of the influences that got me to join Gilbert de Houghton's Regiment of Foote at college, and started me off as a re-enactor.
In the eighties, though, the castle was sold, and quickly became derelict. The Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust has been trying to renovate it and turn it into a 90 bedroom 5 star hotel (I said it was big!), but they're not there yet.

So my daydream would be to renovate the castle, using alternative energy and incorporating geodesic domes and rooms that had huge maps on the floor and Narnian wardrobes and beds that look like Viking longships, and I'd have craftspeople working there, like that potter in the seventies, and a brewery, and a huge library, and artists and writers, and re-enactment weekends.
It's all completely impractical, and I never even buy a lottery ticket, but it's great fun to daydream sometimes.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

English Historical Fiction Authors: What did the Vikings and Saxons call the Stars?

A fascinating look at alternative names and shapes of constellations in history.

English Historical Fiction Authors: What did the Vikings and Saxons call the Stars?: by Richard Denning Image from Timothy Stephany's Myths, Mysteries and Wonders site The Norse and Anglo- Saxons looked at the wor...