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Researching 'The Quest Of The Summer King' - Bringing Welsh Myths To The Courts

Towards the end of last year I began drafting Book 2 in my children's book series 'The Courts'. Even when I was planning the first one, I knew that there was going to be a Welsh connection - although the boys are told from the start that they are connected to Robin Hood on both sides of their family, their mother is Welsh, so I knew at some point I was going to have to explain how that connection came about. Mrs Huntingdon is descended from the Welsh kings and it is this part of their heritage that Book 2 focuses upon. If Arthur wants to claim his throne, he must complete a quest to prove his worth and this quest takes the boys to various locations around Wales.

The series sits right on the border between magical realism and light fantasy, but the second in the series definitely moves it closer to fantasy, as the boys are drawn more into the world of The Courts. There are tough choices for all of them to make over the course of the book and they have to learn much about their Welsh heritage in order to succeed in the quest.

However, for me as a writer, this book was an absolute joy to write because it allowed me to really get stuck into the research into Welsh mythology. When I started writing it, I made the decision to start draft one, even though I still wasn't completely clear on precisely where the quest was going to take the boys. I had a really good idea of the story, but wanted to allow for a degree of creative license to see how the finer details worked themselves out as I wrote. It didn't take long for things to start falling into place and I found that as an idea for one section occurred to me, my research for that section inevitably led to another interesting piece of information, which allowed another piece of the jigsaw to fall into place.

A holiday to Llandudno in 2016 is where this book had its genesis. There were so many snippets of information that I picked up on that trip that I knew I wanted to use in a story at some point. For example, the Pillar of Elisedd, which once listed a long line of Powys kings, had an empty burial site at its base; Cymer Abbey once held in its keeping the Welsh Crown Jewels, until they were stolen by Edward I. From there, the Seal Matrixes of the Welsh Royals were melted down and possibly used to create the Dolgellau Chalice. The Crown of Llywelyn also disappeared from history. It may or may not have been melted down during the English Civil War. It was this section that caused the most hilarity amongst my friends, as it involved me emailing the Welsh tourist board to ask how to go about breaking into one of their sites at night. Much to my relief, they were happy to answer my questions rather than simply sending the police round!

Then there is Derwen Ceubren Yr Ellyl - a supposedly haunted tree which no longer exists. Legend has it that it was haunted by the spirit of Owain Glyndŵr's cousin, who was allegedly murdered by the Welsh Prince and concealed in a hollow in the tree. When this is added to the fact that Glyndŵr disappeared and is said to be waiting to ride to the rescue of the Welsh people whenever he might be called upon, there is huge scope for the fiction writer. Other myths that inspired the book were that of Tegid Foel and the city that was lost beneath a lake and the Forest of Bala - an ancient woodland whose remains are exposed at low tide.

The last piece of the jigsaw came from the author Robert Graves. When I wrote The Reign of the Winter King I based the battle between the two courts on the pagan figures of the Summer and Winter Kings. In The Quest of the Summer King, those two symbolic figures are given new life because of Graves' Holly and Oak Kings. Whilst the kings themselves appear to have been an invention of Graves, what they represent is much older and I made the decision to make them a male-female pairing.

However, the thing which ties the whole book together is a rather beautiful piece of music called Pais Dinogad. I stumbled across it when I did an internet search for ancient Welsh folk music. While there is some debate as to whether or not it is truly 'Welsh' in the modern sense, I decided that ultimately, it didn't matter. I was writing fiction and so I changed things where I needed to, to make it work for the story, simply because I'd instantly fallen in love with the song and knew it was exactly what I needed for the book. If you want to listen to it, I would highly recommend this version of it.

The final thing I had to do was to actually visit the locations I'd written about and I managed to achieve this under the guise of a family mini-break (part of which also took place in Cornwall). It seemed fitting that I had gone full circle: from the initial visit to Wales in 2016 and the germ of an idea, to going back in 2024 armed with a proof copy of the book to take publicity photos in anticipation of the launch.

Cymer Abbey nr Dolgellau Merlin's Cave, Tintagel Llyn Tegid

Don't forget - if you haven't read 'The Reign of the Winter King' yet, it's not too late. You can order it here, or it will be on sale, along with 'The Quest of the Summer King' at the Herne's Arrow 2024 Robin of Sherwood event on 18th-19th May.

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