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Where are the books set? And why? – Part Six: The Welsh Valleys

In the south of the little nation of Wales, not that far from the English border, is a series of valleys stretching up into the mountainous areas of the Brecon Beacons from the flatter coast plain that is called the Vale of Glamorgan. These are the famous Welsh Valleys.

          For many years they were associated with the coal mines that dotted the entire area. Books and movies were made documenting thevalleys, most notably the book, later a film “How Green was my Valley.” The coalmines closed—the last one in the early 90’s. The area became woefully depressed and poverty and joblessness was too often the norm.

Its not just coal! The Valleys have also given the world magnificent music, wonderful hymns, great physical beauty, some of the best rugby players in the world and a lively, friendly culture that transcends the difficulties and exhibits life in the full.

The names evoke pictures of coal-smeared miners, metal helmets with minion-like lenses, emerging from metal-crate elevators arising from the bowels of the earth: names like Rhondda, Taff, Ebbw, Cynon, Llynfi and others.

It is an area of resourceful people. Tough people. Caring people. It is an area of great beauty. Steep valley sides are dotted with rows of stone miners’ cottages climbing up the valley as it gets narrower and narrower. Once huge piles of coal slag are now emerging as green landscapes because of regeneration projects. Rivers flow. Trees grow. People who once looked out on scarred, coal smoked visages now enjoy verdant green settings and new forests emerging.

It was this setting that propelled the stories along. The area is rich in history, dating back well before Roman times and stretching into the post-Conquest Norman period. Warfare and rebellion are embedded in the psyche of the Valleys. Stories abound of magnificent victories over the English invaders. And magnificent losses. But ultimately it is a story of reconciliation and living together, however reluctantly and that marks the Valleys.  It’s why the Valleys are so important in the stories. They are stories about centuries-old Christian monks and modern-day faith seekers; stories about diabolical supernatural evil and stories about individuals struggling, reluctantly and sometimes without hope, to save what was important and protect the heritage they were given.

My fictional 12th century abbey, Cymllyn was set here. The courageous monks Thomas and Owain struggled through this rugged landscape. A hilltop church, based on the one at Llangynydd, becomes a focal point in the battle for Excalibur.

Just south of the Valleys are the cities of Cardiff, capital of Wales, and Swansea, packed with historic sites, great restaurants, museums and cultural icons are certainly well worth the visit.

But don’t stay in the cities. Explore the Valleys themselves and reward yourself.

Mountain tops. Villages. Row houses. Vast moorlands. Picturesque churches and farms.

The Welsh Valleys.

Well worth crossing the Severn River for.

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The Prince Madoc Secret – An Interview With Author Barrie Doyle

Original Article: https://americymru.net/americymru/blog/4922/the-prince-madoc-secret-an-interview-with-author-barrie-doyle

 

Interview


AmeriCymru:  Hi Barrie and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. What is your connection with Wales?

Barrie:  I was born in Maesteg, a small town in the Llynfi Valley of South Wales. It’s about nine miles up the valley from Bridgend and only 30 (give or take) miles from either Cardiff or Swansea. I left when I was 10 years old (taking my family with me, of course) and emigrated to Canada where I went to school, to university and then began my career. But I have been back many times since, visiting family. In both 2015 and 2017 though, I rented a flat in the seaside resort of Porthcawl for three months during which time I researched and wrote both The Lucifer Scroll and The Prince Madoc Secret. It gave me a base from which to go to places I wanted to use for settings in the books as well as to re-absorb the atmosphere and ambience. Oh yes, and the weather! During that time, we also welcomed Canadian friends and were able to show them Wales, something they’d never considered before the books. I hope to do the same again soon and am in the process of working with a tour agency to develop a specialized tour of Wales highlighting the places or prototypes for settings in the book. I never get tired of being in Wales.

AmeriCymru:  You have not always been a writer. When did you decide to take up the pen?

Barrie: In a sense, I always have been a writer. I studied journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto and began my career as a journalist with the Toronto Star. I have also worked for publications in the US and freelanced for American and British publications. I was based in Washington DC. I returned to Canada and modified things slightly by becoming a public relations executive for a number of major organizations and corporations, finally opening my own agency. During that time I was invited to become an adjunct professor in the School of Media Studies in the prestigious Public Relations Certificate at Humber College in Toronto. This was largely a post-grad course and I now have former students successfully pursuing careers in the US, Canada, UK, Australia and other parts of the globe. After years of telling other peoples’ stories and fiddling around a bit with fiction, I finally took the plunge and began to write the stories I wanted to tell, when I produced my first book, The Excalibur Parchment.

AmeriCymru:  Care to introduce your latest novel ‘The Prince Madoc Secret’ for our readers?

Barrie: I have always been fascinated by history—particularly Welsh history—and interested in legends (which I believe contain nuggets of truth and reality). As I was writing my first book, I came across the story of Prince Madoc, son of King Owen of Gwynedd and the legend of how he travelled across the Atlantic to Mobile Bay, Alabama some 300 years before Columbus, before vanishing into the mists of time. I was intrigued to find out that the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a plaque at Fort Morgan at the entrance to the bay, recognizing Madoc’s arrival. Further, there are stories of Welsh-speaking indigenous tribes in the American interior; so many that the Lewis-Clarke expedition was mandated to find them. It was enough for me. I began to research Madoc more thoroughly and consider a way in which his voyage in 1170 might have deadly implications for the modern world as it ties into the heroes and villains I had created in the first two books. I needed something that would make Madoc’s trip the focus of a 21st century quest. As I said, I love history. And I love to play with it when I am writing fiction, turning the tables and going against the “accepted viewpoint” so to speak. Thus, in the first book Merlin is cast as a baddie. In “The Prince Madoc Secret” I turned the table on the Knights Templar who are most often cast as criminals and murderers. Instead, I made them good guys fulfilling their ancient mandate of protecting the church. That leads to both the 12th century Templars and a modern incarnation of Templars, playing a crucial role in the book. What secret did Madoc take to America with him? What impact does it have on the modern day? How will our 21st century heroes and villains discover the secret and what will they do with it? It is a stand-alone story and can be read without having first enjoyed the other two. However, the main characters and themes appear in all the books.

AmeriCymru:  ‘The Prince Madoc Secret’ is the latest instalment in the ‘Oak Grove Conspiracies’ series. What can you tell us about the series as a whole?

Barrie: I was tired of reading novels that had basically the same cast of villains: Nazis, neo Nazis, Soviet or post-Soviet operatives or criminals, corrupt businessmen, politicians or church leaders and so on. I wanted a new, particularly nasty, set of baddies. So I went back to the legends about the Druids—making sure I differentiated them from the current embodiment of the term—and utilized their penchant for human sacrifice and the like to create a new brand of zealous, vicious, power-mad terrorists bent on twisting the world to their perverted sense of governing. My Druids worship the supernatural and have their own rituals and places, including sacred oak groves—which gave me the series name. Basically, historical events provide the impetus for cataclysmic clashes. In book one, Arthur’s sword Excalibur was never thrown into the lake but rather, was preserved for future generations and protected by a small abbey in Wales. From a 14th century Welsh abbey to a climax near Carreg Cennan in Carmarthen, the story progresses. My Druids believe it has supernatural power and covet it for their own push to seize power in the western democracies. A Welsh professor and an American journalist get drawn into the miry swamp reluctantly and seek to thwart the Druid plots. While a lot of the book is set in Wales, it also ranges from Venice to London to Washington and Canada. In the second book, the Spear of Destiny (also called The Holy Lance) is the legendary Roman centurion’s spear that was thrust into Christ’s side on the cross. Charlemagne, Napoleon and Hitler (among others) all believed that it would give unworldly power and that who owned the lance would control the world. Hitler and Heinrich Himmler spend much of the war seeking the lance and, eventually, creating a fraud while the real one was spirited away in a U boat along with other treasures in the last days of the war. That was the basis for the story in which the Druids are also aware that the real lance never disappeared in a sunken U boat, nor was it on display at the Vatican or in Vienna as a modern day exhibit. Again, the journalist and professor are drawn in reluctantly and this time the story ranges from Wales to Istanbul and across the southwest United States among other places. In each of the book, I try to explore the conflict of ordinary people struggling to do extraordinary things while doubting in their own strength and yet forging ahead regardless. I believe that history is changed not by the mighty leaders, but by individuals going above and beyond themselves in order to do the right thing and the books reflect that.

AmeriCymru:  Are there any further episodes in the pipeline?

Barrie: I had originally planned one book. Then my publisher pushed me to make it a trilogy. Now my fans are demanding a fourth, believing there may be a few loose threads.. So we’ll see.

AmeriCymru:  Your plots are fantastically complex. How do you construct them? What is your process?

Barrie: When I was a reporter I once interviewed a famous author who told me the plot was conceived by the characters and that he merely wrote it down. I thought “yeah, right” and dismissed him as a whacko. Well, guess who joined the whacko club! I start with a vague thought in my head about where the story starts and equally vague ideas about how and where the story will end. Then I start writing. I do not outline, I just start writing. It is done in fits and starts. I struggle at times with “where am I going with this?” and then realize that my characters are telling their story; I listen to them. I think about them and how—as I have created them—they would react to the twists and turns of the plot. I let my bad guys tell me what awful things they plan and I listen to my good guys as they face the crisis and try to stop it. It sounds simplistic and silly (see my comment above) but in fact it is a very time-consuming, worrying, difficult way of writing. Outlining, like JK Rowling does, is probably a lot easier. But there are times my characters have come up with plot twists that make it just as exciting for me as for any reader, because I am experiencing them at the moment they occur just as a reader does.

AmeriCymru:  Where can readers purchase your novels online?

Barrie:  They can be purchased on the Amazon platforms, Barnes and Noble in the US, Chapters/Indigo in Canada and Waterstones in the UK. More importantly they can be purchased online directly from AmeriCymru I believe. If people want a signed or personalized copy they can go to my websitewww.barriedoyle.com and shop there.

AmeriCymru:  Who do you read for pleasure? Any recommendations?

Barrie: I am an eclectic reader, enjoying both fiction and non-fiction. I love history, as I said, but I also like science fiction, thrillers, and mysteries among the genres. Every year I try to read one of Tolkien’s magnificent works and am currently working on The Return of the King. I love Ken Follet and Tom Clancy and am flattered that a number of reviewers and fans have compared my work to those giants.

AmeriCymru:  Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?

Barrie: Wales is a magnificent country. It’s rich heritage, landscape, history and legends make it a unique place in all the world. I am proud to be Welsh. I believe there are so many stories emanating from Wales that would make tremendous stories and they’re just waiting to be told. I challenge people to consider writing these stories. Fiction allows one to delve into the nation’s psyche and history in a way non-fiction cannot. I would love to write—or read—about Owain Glyndwr, or the magnificent King Hwyl, or St. David, or Llewellyn or any others, famous or not, who dot the tapestry that is Wales. Many stories to be told, so few doing it.

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Where are the books set? And why? – Part Five: London

Samuel Johnson famously once said that if a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.

     What applied in the 18th century also applies today in the 21st. London is a vibrant city that fires the imagination just by its very presence; you cannot get tired of London because you cannot explore all the city has to offer—history, architecture, art, culture, dining, diversity, markets, business, parks, pageantry—and a whole lot more.

          London is a major world city. Its influence and attraction extends beyond the white cliffs of Dover. It is a centre of intrigue, passion, excitement, busyness and colour. You find the world living and vibrating on its streets.  It is the heart of democracy—from Magna Carta to the current constitutional monarchy—and is an example to the world of how to “do” democracy—with all its flaws, corruption and failings. (Former Prime Minister Winston Churchill said that democracy was the worst form of government—except for all the others!)

          No wonder London is a prime setting in all three books. It is the heart of government—a government that is under attack from terrorists of all stripes, including my evil Druids. From the pomp and ceremony of the opening of Parliament (The Excalibur Parchment) to the machinations of an egotistical self-centred politician concerned with his own agenda instead of public service (The Prince Madoc Secret), the stories cannot be set in any city other than London. It brings together the “good guys” and the “bad guys” and gives them a stage to operate on.

          The Houses of Parliament rise majestically on the banks of the Thames River (if you go, the best view is from the London Eye across the river) and has been the target of numerous terrorist attacks from the days of Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up Parliament (1605) through to the attacks in 2017.

          Not far away is Buckingham Palace, a reminder of the stability of the British monarchy, but also the symbolic home of the Queen and the Royal Family, themselves often threatened by terrorist plots from foreign sources and homegrown alike.

          Beyond the historic sites like the Tower of London and magnificent churches such as Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral, there are many more interesting corners, hidden treasures and fascinating places to grab the visitor’s attention.

          London is such a magnet that the “real London” often merges in the mind with the fictional London from the thousands of books set in the city or the thousands of movies and television programmes that have been shot on its streets. Baker Street is real—but also, at 221b, the home of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. Notting Hill is a real village in the heart of the city, but also where Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant met in a bookstore. The list goes on.

Do you fancy shopping or street markets? By all means go to Regent St. and Oxford St.–the main shopping streets/ But don’t miss out on the smaller sites. Try Petticoat Lane or Portobello Road. Or go to the Borough Market, Spitalfields Market and Covent Garden. Are shows your thing? The West End theatres feature top hit shows and lesser-known—but equally enjoyable—productions. Don’t miss Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, for example, which opened in 1952 and has run continuously ever since to packed houses.

         Seeking peace and quiet? How about the many parks where you can rent a deck chair and relax surrounded by green and away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Hyde Park, Green Park, St. James Park, Regents Park, Hampstead Heath—all free and all inviting.

          There’s the popular sightseeing London—Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s, the Tower, Buckingham Palace and so on. But there’s also the literary London, the artistic London, the musical London, the shadowy London—whatever interests you have, London provides a bountiful plethora of places to go, things to see and things to do to meet your own particular areas of interest.

          In short, Johnson was right. There is so much to do and see in London, you can never get bored. Since Roman times it has been a hub drawing people from all over the world and all walks of life.  In other words, a perfect setting for a myriad of stories—mine included.



          You owe it to yourself to visit this great city.

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Tiny author brings old legends back to life

Original Article – (Simcoe.com)

‘The Prince Madoc Secret’ part three of a trilogy

Historical legend is the pearl in the oyster of a Barrie Doyle novel.

The Tiny Township resident published his third novel, The Prince Madoc Secret, this month and is planning book signings across the region this summer.

“All three books are modern-day thrillers with their roots in legends,” said Doyle.

His first book, The Excalibur Parchment, published in 2015, revolves around the legend of the Excalibur sword.

His second book, The Lucifer Scroll, published in 2016, is based on the legend of the Spear of Destiny that was thrust into Christ’s side when he was on the crucifix.

The Prince Madoc Secret is built on the legend of Prince Madoc of Wales who settled in America in 1170, bringing Christian antiquities with him.

While the books are part of the Oak Grove Conspiracies, they can be read individually.

“It’s the same basic characters. I’ve written them to be three standalones, but there are times in each book that refers back to something that happened in the previous one,” Doyle said.

The retired journalist and public relations professional said he spent his career “telling other people’s stories.”

But it wasn’t until a family crisis — one of his two grandsons was having heart surgery and had a 50/50 chance of survival — that he began writing his own stories.

“I had to sit down and get my mind off the operation and I started writing the (first) book.”

Fortunately, his grandson survived and is doing well. The publisher at World Alive Press in Winnipeg suggested Doyle create a trilogy.

“I thought ‘good grief I have to come up with more stories’. Then I thought, there’s lots of legends out there.”

Doyle, 71, went back to his birth land of Wales to provide an accurate setting for The Lucifer Scroll. His villains are druids seeking antiquities as a means to political power.

“They are zealous, power-mad druids who will kill for power. My druids are terrorists.”

The books sell for $25. They are available at Georgian Bay Books in Midland, The Reading Room in Penetanguishene, Chapters, and online with Amazon.

For more information go to Doyle’s website at www.barriedoyle.com or email him at excaliburparchment@gmail.com.

 

 

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Where are the books set? And why?: Part Four: St. David’s Cathedral

Tucked away in the far south west corner of Wales is Britain and Europe’s smallest city, St. David’s.

          It has a population closing on 2,500 residents, a few shops, some restaurants and pubs and, hidden in a small valley below the city, the immense and impressive St. David’s Cathedral.  The village (because that’s what it really is) is called a city because of the Cathedral. Ecclesiastic law and history determined that no matter how big or small, any place that had a Cathedral was declared a city.

          St. David is known as the Patron Saint of Wales and has an incredible story—worthy of a book—of his service to Wales in preaching and teaching Christianity. Legends suggest that St. Patrick, of Ireland, was taught by David. His preaching was renowned. Thousands gathered to hear his sermons. Miracles were apparently done in his name.

          And so, the Cathedral was built to honour him and to hold his tomb.

          It’s nestled in a narrow, sheltered valley for a reason. In the so-called Dark Ages (mid 500’s and on), Viking marauders attacked and destroyedchurches along the coastline, killing all the monks and sacking nearby villages and enslaving its inhabitants.

          St. David’s hidden location saved it from such deprivations and allowed it to prosper. By the time of William the Conqueror (1066), such was the fame of the Cathedral that a Papal decree dictated that two pilgrimages to St. David’s was the equivalent of one pilgrimage to Rome. William himself made a pilgrimage to the Cathedral in 1081.

          Beside the Cathedral itself are the massive ruins of the Bishop’s Palace, indicative of the wealth of the Cathedral in medieval times. During Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries it suffered heavy damage but survived and serves today as an active church and diocesan centre for The Church in Wales (part of the Anglican Communion),

          The best view of the Cathedral is from the old stone gateway and bell tower atop the hill by the village. From there you can see the sweep of the valley and the church’s strategic placement.

          Stained glass windows and decorative features abound in the Cathedral. If you’re lucky and it is not church service time, you still might hear the organist or even catch the Cathedral choir practising.

          In The Prince Madoc Secret, the Cathedral plays a key role. But I postulate that, at the critical time in the novel, the Church and the cultural community have gathered to create a special memorial place for Welsh writers, artists and musicians might have their own ‘Poet’s Corner’ such as found at Westminster Abbey in London.

 

          That is one piece of fiction I’d love to see become reality.

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The latest, but hopefully not the last, of the Oak Grove Conspiracies series

Original Article – artsconnection.ca

As Micheal Corleone said, in The Godfather: Part III, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

In The Prince Madoc Secret, book three of the Oak Grove Conspiracies series by Barrie Doyle, just as journalist Stone Wallace and the historian father-daughter team of Huw and Mandy Griffiths think they’ve rid themselves and the world of the Druids, they discover otherwise.

Two deaths set the stage for the rest of the book’s events: the successful assassination of a key political figure in Wyoming and an unsuccessful attempt on Wallace in London, England. And, while seeming unrelated, Wallace and the Griffiths are offered an assignment from the BBC to produce a documentary about a long-forgotten Welsh royal, Prince Madoc. Research into the prince, who supposedly discovered America before Christopher Columbus, leads the trio to discover a Druid plot behind Prince Madoc’s disappearance and their current circumstances.

Author Barrie Doyle has the ability to surprise the reader with unexpected twists and turns.

As with each of the books in the Oak Grove Conspiracies, once the Druids are involved, danger, seen and unseen, abounds. Doyle is one of the best action adventure writers there is. I agree with the the reviewer compared him favorably to Tom Clancy (creator of the Jack Ryan stories): Doyle has the ability to draw a reader into the plot, cheer for the heroes and hiss at the villains. He has the ability to surprise the reader with unexpected twists and turns. As cliched as it may sound, The Prince Madoc Secret is a page-turning, keep-you-up-at-night novel that you just have to keep reading until you’re finished.

The Prince Madoc Secret can be read as a stand-alone adventure, but it really helps to have read the other books in the series: The Excalibur Parchment and The Lucifer Scroll. The background of the previous Druid plots isn’t essential because Doyle fills in gaps, but if you enjoyed The Prince Madoc Secret, you’ll want to find out what happened before.

When I interviewed Doyle at the release of The Excalibur Parchment, he said he planned on a trilogy. With this third book, and a few cryptic curves thrown in, I’m hoping for a fourth installment…and maybe even more. As a fan, I say let the Oak Grove Conspiracies adventures continue.

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Where are the books set? And why?: Part Three: Istanbul

In The Lucifer Scrollan archaeological dig unearths a tantalizing document that hints at the existence of a revered icon, the Holy Lance also known as the Spear of Destiny. It was the spear that a Roman centurion thrust into the side of Jesus Christ at the crucifixion. But it became a spear immortalized by future generations as an icon that allowed its holder to rule the world.

Certainly, Charlemagne and Napoleon believed it and sought it. Adolf Hitler lusted after it. He sent his occult-loving SS chief, Heinrich Himmler, on a search for the spear. Hundreds of thousands of Deutsch Marks were spent on the search, even in the middle of World War II.

One of my protagonists, Professor Huw Griffiths, flies to Istanbul to help an old friend excavate and interpret and old church building they’d discovered in the midst of a huge industrial dig to create a new subway line in the city.

Istanbul is an incredible city, layered with history and tumultuous events, magnificent structures dating from Byzantine times as well as Ottoman. The city straddles the Bosporus, a sea channel connecting the Black Sea and the Aegean. The Bosporus also divides Europe from Asia.

Huw’s church dig symbolizes the city’s violent past, dating from its destruction during the Ottoman invasion of 1453. Hidden beneath the marble altar he finds the provocative document that sparks the new hunt for the spear.

 

Istanbul is a city of contrasts. Modern high rise office towers sit side by side with white marble mosques. Crowded city streets open into magnificent park-like squares. Modern shops on modern streets lead to the tumult and noise of the Grand Bazaar or the Spice Market. It’s noisy and bustling. And it is quiet and reflective.

High above the old city, on the south side of the famed Golden Horn lies three of the city’s most historic and amazing structures.

Hagia Sophia, an enormous Byzantine Cathedral draped in magnificent décor and once the largest building in the world. Still amazing to see and walk through some 1500 years later. It passed from the Byzantines to the conquering Ottomans who were so awed by the building they turned it into a mosque. It now exists as a museum, open to the public and delicately showing off both the incredible mosaic work of the Byzantines and the scrollwork art of the Muslim tradition.

Hagia Sophia sits between two superb Muslim creations: Topkapi Palace and the famed Blue Mosque which is sparkling white marble. (It’s called the Blue Mosque because of the predominant blue and turquoise décor inside the structure).

Topkapi was the palace of the Ottoman emperors until they moved in the late 1800’s to a newer, more modern structure further north along the Bosporus, called Dolmabahce Palace.

Linking Topkapi, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque is the park-like Sultanahmet Square which itself also takes in

 part of the old Byzantine Hippodrome.

History. Culture. Museums. Clashing faiths. Istanbul was an easy choice for a somewhat mysterious, challenging, evocative location to begin the hunt for the Lucifer Scroll.

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Where are the books set? And why? | Part two: Tintern Abbey

Set in a meandering section of the Wye River valley about ten miles north of the border town of Chepstow, the skeletal ruins of Tintern Abbey evoke a peacefulness and solitude that is at odds with its turbulent past.

Tintern was the model for the fictional Cymllyn Abbey in The Excalibur Parchment. My monks Thomas and Owain were at the abbey, as was the traitorous Gethin—a Druid leader infiltrating the Christian church.

Tintern itself was abolished by Henry VIII in his dissolution of the monasteries. The lead roof was removed for its value, but the stone skeleton was left. Over the years the magnificent old church deteriorated but still retained a stark beauty. In 1798, the poet William Wordsworth wrote his famous poem “Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey”. Interest in the old site picked up and it is now a well-restored ruin and a major tourist attraction.

In the abbey ruins you see the outlines of the various supporting outbuildings—the Abbot’s residence, the infirmary, the monks cells and others. It stands on the banks of the Wye River in a fairly flat area surrounded by hills. It is rich agricultural land and, as you walk around the site, you can easily imagine the hustle and bustle of the monks and lay workers as they tended the crops and animals. You can also understand how this became one of the wealthiest Cistercian monasteries of its age—a wealth Henry was determined to seize.

Standing inside the ruins of the magnificent church with its ornate stone decorations and window shells, you can also let your imagination run wild. I deliberately loaded some medieval chants onto my iPhone, plugged in my earpiece and let my imagination wander the monks deep melodious singing hymns accompanying me as I strolled down the nave.

But in my mind, I was not at Tintern. I was at Cymllyn Abbey with Thomas and Owain as they served and then found themselves challenged with the discovery that the Abbots of Cymllyn had hidden and protected a tremendous icon for more than 700 years—the mighty Excalibur, King Arthur’s sword.

From the ruins, I could see the river down which they escaped. And not too far away, the forested hills into which they fled and, beyond that, the open moorland they had to cross, pursued not only by vengeful Druids but by the soldiers of Lord de Tuberville.

All in all, and evocative, peaceful and contemplative spot.

 

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Where are the books set? And why? | Part One: The Old College, Aberystwyth

The Old College in Aberystwyth was the first university in Wales. Its first home was an old former hotel that had been built on the seafront and then extended, before passing into the hands of those who wanted Wales to have its own institute of higher learning. It became known as The Old College or, in Welsh Yr Hen Goleg.

It is a key location in The Prince Madoc Secret.

Interestingly, it was a forward-thinking university from its inception, offering women the same opportunities for higher education that were offered to men—a distinct change from the normal gender-based thinking of Victorian times. It was also developed partly thanks to the efforts of Non-Conformist ministers across Wales who collected “pennies of the people” to develop a starting fund of five thousand pounds—an enormous sum in those days.

As time passed, the university outgrew the existing building. A new, sprawling modern university was constructed in the hills east of the town and today is a renowned school of higher learning. The charming seaside town is also home to the National Library of Wales.

But the quirky old building on the seafront remains. At the invitation of some of the university’s leaders—who told me that ‘my professor’ (Huw Griffiths) had to do some of his research at the university. I agreed. And I went to the Old College to take a look when I was researching and writing The Prince Madoc Secret last year.

I found a delightful, quirky building that really is an amalgam of architectural styles and construction. A magnificent triangular limestone leads into the substantial wooden doors at the entrance to the College. Inside, a massive grand stone staircase leads up to narrow halls. Circular metal staircases clash with wooden staircases. Halls go nowhere except to another set of stairs (stone, wood or metal) which lead to other halls and other staircases (stone, wooden or metal) leading down half a flight to yet more halls. Rooms, professors offices and lecture theatres feed off the main halls.

Along the seafront side is a set of rooms occupied by Prince Charles when he was a student here learning Welsh and preparing for his investiture as Prince of Wales.

The Old College is mostly devoid of students now. They’ve moved up to the main campus east of the town. Instead, there are plans to revive the Old College as a place for special events and concerts among other things.

But it was just the right place for Stone Wallace and Mandy Griffiths to use as a base for their research into the legendary Prince Madoc. It’s a building steeped in history and yet timeless; a place imbued with a sense of learning and Welshness, set in a magnificent location beside the old castle which dates from 1277.

History, culture, legend, idiosyncratic styles are all gathered at The Old College. It is worth a visit and worth a prominent place in the book.

The Old College

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LAUNCH CELEBRATION

“The Prince Madoc Secret” was officially launched at an invitation-only event on May 5.  Guests enjoyed meeting with Barrie, getting some of the low down on how the book came about as well as learning a little about the legend of Prince Madoc. “For the full story, you’ll have to read the book,” Barrie told one guest. Almost 30 people came, enjoyed the event, looked at the displays and bought the book (and some even bought both of the previous novels as well.

One reader who reviewed an early pre-publication copy said “(Barrie) does a great job of giving life and personalities to his characters. While this is a novel, it often sounds like something from the evening news. The story is really gripping and my mind goes back and forth thinking it’s a TV news segment to realizing I’m just enjoying a well told story. It is a wonderfully rich and intertwined story richly and enjoyably told.”

The next scheduled event is a book signing on May 19 at Georgian Bay Books in Midland, ON between 1 and 3 p,m.