Tag Archives: Pendyffryn: The Conquerors

Wicked Women, How We Love Them!

What is a story without a wicked woman? Any villain adds depth and conflict to a tale but those evil women knock us for six. We love them. And those of us who create them, have so much fun doing so.

Three of my wicked girls are among my favorite characters. We all know the behaviors that are considered evil. Exploring the motivations for wickedness requires a bit of soul-searching and an admission that, as writers, we must delve into the dark within our own conscientiousness to create these monsters.

Disney is renown for his wicked women, Maleficent is the most enduring as well as the one who has courted the most recent attention. Though she is also the wicked stepmother as was Cinderella’s nemesis, Maleficent captures our deepest longings for approval and everlasting beauty at the cost of perpetual wretched jealousy. Until recently, this wicked creature was my desktop wallpaper and I give full credit to the artists at Disney Studios (decades before Pixar) for creating such a compelling, iconic image of female malevolence.

How can we resist such power and determination?

Salvation: Book Cover

Morgan Cwmdu comes to the fore at full strength to win Maides’s loyalty.

Of all my characters, Morgan Cwmdu, of Pendyffryn: The Conquerors, comes closest to epitomizing the depths and heights of what wickedness can be achieved given full reign.

She is a villainous vixen whose obsession with destroying Caryl Gernant, as well as the lives of everyone close to her, costs Morgan the one goal she strives to achieve. Caryl is both the obstacle to that goal and Morgan’s determination to rid the world of her is the cause of Morgan’s failure to gain her cherished prize. So enthralling is Morgan Cwmdu’s efforts, she appears in some form in all five of the books of The Conquerors and returns to do her worst in the forthcoming The Inheritors series.

Another of my wicked girls is Alys Talgarth, Heledd Banawg’s nemesis in Traitor’s Daughter. Alys has self-esteem crises. Her jealousy of her cousin plays well with her own father’s fear that Heledd will discover the truth about her father’s death. These combine to encourage Alys’s petulant and cunning tricks meant to destroy her cousin. Alys will appear again in Vengeance’s Son, as determined as ever to ruin any chance of happiness that Heledd has grasped since their last meeting.

Book Cover Image: Traitor's Daughter by Gwiboz

Heledd has two malevolent females to battle.

The third is Llinos Cenfyn, also a character in Traitor’s Daughter. Where Alys departs, Llinos enters. She fears that her brother, Huw Brodawel, has plans to disinherit her sons in favor of Garmon, the commander of Huw’s war band. Tormenting Garmon is her favorite pastime but encouraging her sons to pester Heledd adds considerable enjoyment to her annual sojourn to the well-ordered and peaceful enclave between the Taf and the Tawel rivers, beyond the Tywi. Llinos is an expert at “innocent” comment, sharp and snide beneath the thin veneer of civility.

Creating wicked women, as I wrote at the outset, requires an intimate knowledge of such women and a personal understanding of their motivations. I confess I am as guilty as any writer in finding wickedness both engaging and delightful to explore. Creeping into the depths of evil to discover a method to destroy it is a worthy effort. Although we are pretending to slay the worst among us, the discoveries along the path to that end often help conquer the realities that overwhelm us in the real world.

This is the reason we gravitate toward scary movies and horror stories. We can confront the demons we know are real from a safe distance. And there is liberation in expressing our darkest thoughts and desires through fiction and make-believe.

Writers can explore depravity and devilish conduct, delve into our own psyches, acknowledge that we are capable of great harm, take secret revenge on our own nemeses, face our foes and construct happy solutions—with words.


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Filed under Classic Literature, Rhamant/Romance

Medieval Music for Inspiration

Tintern Abbey RuinsAt Hearts Through History’s blog, Seduced by History, this month (September 2014), Ruth A. Casie has written a post about the medieval wandering poets.

My favorite version of Carl Orff’s oratorio, Carmina Burana, that made these poems famous in our time is with Thomas Allen and Sheila Armstrong singing the leads of Blanziflor and Helena, with the London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by André Previn.

During the time I was working on the Pendyffryn: The Conquerors series, I listened to CARMINA BURANA continuously, in the original Latin and Early German. For passion and romance, there is no more evocative secular Oratorio, except for the poetry of Dafydd ap Gwilym. “O Fortuna” was also used as part of the musical score for the film, The General’s Daughter.

Thank you for this lesson in the poetry’s origins, Ruth.

Though I have sung this oratorio with a choir and “In Trutina” is one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve ever attempted, I’m most fond of listening to Orff’s work in its entirety. I return to listening whenever I want passionate musical inspiration.

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Naming Names

One of the first of many customs we notice when we visit Cymru(Wales) is that there are two names for most larger towns and cities (and the country itself): the original Cymraeg(Welsh) and an English approximation or replacement.  For example:  legend has it ‘Swansea’ is a Nordic word brought by the Viking invaders corrupted by usage from ‘Swan’s Eye’, possibly a proliferation of aquatic birds or, as likely, not a corruption at all but a description of a sea port with lots of swans flying around. The Cymraeg name of the city is Abertawe, meaning the estuary of the Tawe River.

Salvation: Book CoverFurther up the river, we find Pontardawe, meaning Bridge on/over Tawe (‘ar’ is a participle that causes a soft mutation but we will go into the language and its secrets at another time). In my novel, Salvation, Christophe Maides, a foreign invader, demonstrates his understanding of place names when he is guessing where Caryl might have been born.

Another example is the Dulais River. Pontarddulais, Aberdulais and Blaendulais will all put us in a geographic location along this river. If we know the name of the river, we will know where we are along its route when we come to Bryndulais.

We might also recognize Aberdeen – that well known city in the north of Scotland – Dee being the river and Aber signifying the estuary into which it flows. This is evidence the Brythonic Celtic language known now as Cymraeg(Welsh) was the predominant language throughout the four countries of the main island of Britain: Cymru, Yr Alban(Scotland), Kernyw(Cornwall) and Lloegr(England). The Celtic language of both (Kernyw)Cornwall and Llydaw(Brittany) are closely related to Cymraeg.

Until the Anglo-Saxon invasions of the Dark Ages and the final push in the 8th Century that drove a terminal wedge through the mid-section of Britain, Cymraeg was spoken in every region from Land’s End to Wick. The proximity of the most northerly region of Iwerddon(Ireland) facilitated a cross-flow of language and culture between Yr Alban (Alba in Scots Gaelic), and its Gaelic Celtic neighbor. In fact, there were ample opportunities for the Cymry(Welsh people) and the Gwyddelod(Irish people) to comingle in many ways.

Following the Anglo-Saxon invasion, many of the Cymry remained in Lloegr and assimilated the Saeson(English people) or were assimilated themselves but traces of their language abound still. With no access to their Brythonic Celtic cousins in Yr Alban, a void allowed the Gwyddelod to encroach further into Alba, eventually subsuming the native people and their language with a variation of the Gaelic Celtic language, taking as well Ynys Mannaw(Isle of Mann) with them.

As the Saeson moved westerly and northerly, they accumulated and assimilated as necessary, changing names of geographical locations or adopting an Anglified version, such as Llundain became London and Baddon became Bath. In Cymru, the capital city, Caerdydd (meaning Day Fort), became Cardiff – a meaningless simplification and unnecessary.

By far, the worst example of approximation is the small town of Llanilltud Fawr. Illtud was a saint in the early middle ages, during the period of Christian conversions (circa 400-600AD) throughout the British Isles. Llan means ‘church land’ and mawr means ‘great, powerful, big’. This particular town was named for the church of the saint’s name. (Mawr mutates to ‘fawr’ when it follows a feminine noun; Illtud was a woman – a great and powerful one at that.) This town in English has suffered the ignominy of being approximated to Llantwit Major.

I have never understood why that was allowed.

Hwyl am y tro,


PS: Cymru, Cymry, Cymraeg, Cymreig, Cymro, Cymraes are all the appellations for, in order,  the country, its people, their language, their culture, a man, a woman. The terms Wales and Welsh are those used by the Angles and Saxons to differentiate the Cymry from themselves and mean ‘foreigner, stranger.’ I don’t use these terms because they imply that the Cymry are strangers in their own land.

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Filed under Cymraeg/Welsh Language, Hanes Cymru/Welsh History, Y Cymry/Welsh People

Reconciliation: From Chapter Four

LilyDewaruile_Reconciliation_200Pendyffryn: The Conquerors, Book 5, Reconciliation, Chapter Four

‘…The wound would heal well-enough, he was not crippled. He huffed with a brief self-deprecating smile. Had his brother also twisted the blade as he thrust, the damage would have been irreparable. He wiped his hand over his face and pushed to his feet. The boys also stood, their gaze fixed on him. Jedeh smiled to reassure them, though wary of the silence of the buarth, awaiting an ambush from every corner. Anger and hatred stared back at them.

‘Though no one had made them prisoners, the boys had not dared stray from their uncle’s side. Jedeh was reviled with disgust and contempt, but they were safer suffering his humiliation than facing violence on their own.

‘“What will you do, Uncle?” Vahan, the younger of the boys, who had come so far to begin his training as a warrior with the Sharkeyn mercenary, hung his head. “What happened to make him want to kill you? You said nothing to him before he struck that was not true.”

‘“Are we leaving here?” Sevnyn studied the ground but his gaze wandered to the door of the kitchen. “We have not eaten since our uncle’s wife gave us food. She invited us into the house. She told the women who cooked to welcome us, but no one has been hospitable since he struck her.”

‘“Christophe did not intend that she be hurt,” Jedeh assured them. “The physician believes she will mend. I will stay to face her husband, to make amends. Nothing will happen to either of you, either from these men or your uncle. The fault was mine. He will know that.”

‘Vahan wiped tears from his cheeks and swallowed hard. “We should go home,” he said, “my mother did not want me to come.”

‘“You are still a little boy, Vahan, sitting by your mother laying your head on her shoulder,” Sevnyn said. “You wanted as much as I wanted, to know this man so many call Demon. We have heard his name cursed in every place that has felt his wrath. He is a great warrior.”

‘“A man who strikes his brother and his wife with such hatred in his heart is not a man from whom I want to learn to be a man, or a great warrior,” the younger boy declared.

‘“Who better?” his cousin laughed….’

Reconciliation is the final book in the five-book series about the mercenary warriors, Jehan-Emíl deFreveille and Christophe Maides. During the 9thC in Europe, soldiers of fortune traveled from all corners of Europe, Scandinavia and the East in search of employers and land. Gilles de Maides finds his humanity and his future in the love of a woman from a landlocked country, on the silk trade routes from the Far East to the Mediterranean, between the Black and Caspian Seas, the battleground of the Ages. Reconciliation will be released this month, January 2014.


Filed under Eraill/All Else, Hanes Cymru/Welsh History, Rhamant/Romance

Barbari, Ghormeh Sabzi & Reconciliation

I am very fortunate to have friends from many countries around the world who are willing to help me with the niceties of research. One to-die-for perk of writing is research. If, like me, you can’t get enough of new knowledge, this profession is for you. Scrounging about for tidbits is all-consuming, lose yourself stuff.

While I should have been editing and revising Reconciliation (which is scheduled for release this month), I seized the opportunity to question my friends, Gisa and Kamran, about food from their homeland, Iran. Although Reconciliation isn’t set in any particular Middle Eastern country – especially since the borders have changed in the past twelve hundred years or so – I wanted to add some depth to Rizah’s talent for making bread.

I’m partial to Middle Eastern food in any case so having the opportunity to write about it is a double blessing. One year, we were very fortunate to have a Syrian friend prepare all the food for our Christmas party. Abir was five months pregnant at the time and made enough food for our 70 guests. This was truly a generous gift and I will be forever grateful to her. We dined on Syrian fare for a week.

My first taste of Middle Eastern food was very early in my life. We lived then in a cosmopolitan city with a strong sense of community. Every year, the neighborhood council held a pot luck dinner. Every possible dish was there to be tasted. As a 10-year old, I had no inhibitions regarding food – still don’t! (Ever tasted deep fried grasshoppers?) Later, while I was in college, the snack shacks dotted around campus offered a plethora of ethnic foods. I learned to love falafel, pita and tabouli.

More recently, we were introduced to Ethiopian food – fermented bread is divine!

Now then, Persian fare is, from Kamran’s perspective, also divine. Give a man an opportunity to talk about food or football… After just twenty minutes, he was in a state of abject starvation. Every dish he described brought delightful memories of deliciousness. Gisa, on the other hand, being the cook, was more clinical. This was this and that was that. And they have given me another great gift – their time and their traditions.

Tareh, middle eastern herb/vegetable

Kamran is particularly fond of this vegetable!

When Kamran described tareh to me, I thought it was something like okre or green onions. I wasn’t far off. In the recipes I’ve found, onions may be substituted for this vegetable. As you can see in the photo, it appears to be in the leek family (very Welsh, you know!)* but the way Kamran described it was somewhat far from the actuality. Obviously a consumer, not the chef!

While we talked about Perisan dishes, Gisa told me the Anglicized Farsi spelling and Kamran described how wonderful they were. From my experience, Syrian and Persian food are among the most pleasurable for all who enjoy the culinary arts. Here is one of the recipes similar to one that Gisa and Kamran described to me.

Ghormeh Sabzi (Iranian Vegetable Stew)
1 bunch fresh spinach
1/2 bunch fresh dill
1 bunch fresh parsley
1 bunch fresh cilantro
1 bunch scallions (green stems only)
1 fresh tareh (leek)
1 bunch fresh chives
1 fennugreek
1 lb. stew meat (beef, lamb, veal, etc), cubed
4 lemons, dried or 1 tablespoon lemon, dried
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
3 tbsp cooking oil
1 tbsp lemon juice (optional)
1 cup beans pre-soaked or canned (drained)
sprinkle of salt, pepper and red peppers

Wash and cubed the meat, drain. Remove root end of tareh and scallions, wash thoroughly along with the rest of the vegetables (except onions) and drain. Chop all vegetables fine, place in pot, heat setting on heat and stir until all water is evaporated. Add 2 tbsps of oil and stirfry until vegetables turn a reddish color (about 15 minutes), add more oil if necessary. Take off heat and put aside.

In a separate pot, add 1 tbsp oil and cook chopped onions until golden brown. Add meat, add salt, pepper, turmeric and let the meat fry with onions for a few minutes. Add  pre-soaked dry beans. Poke a hole in the dried lemons and add to meat mixture or use powdered lemon). Add about 16 fl. ozs of water, place lid on pot and boil for about 15 minutes.

Add the fried vegetables, turn down heat to medium-low and let cook, about an hour. Half way through this period, if using canned beans, add them now. When meat falls apart when poked with a fork, the stew is ready. Serve over rice.

(From Authentic Middle Eastern Cookbook, Alicia Clark.)

Ghormeh Sabzi is a dish Rizah would have known and prepared for her family. I’m certain Gilles de Maides would have relished every morsel.

I’m heading for the nearest Ethiopian restaurant (or to Gisa & Kamran’s home if they’ll have me). Enjoy!

*Leeks have been a staple of Welsh cuisine for centuries. During the middle ages, soldiers in the armies of the Welsh fighting the English kings wore a leek on their uniform and ate the vegetable raw. Today, on St. David’s Day (March 1st), many Welsh choose to wear a leek rather than the daffodil (a Victorian affectation a la Charlotte Guest) to show their support for Welsh independence.

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Filed under Cymreig/Welsh, Rhamant/Romance