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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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How did you do it? Writing and Creating “The Excalibur Parchment” and “The Lucifer Scroll”

How did you do it? Writing and Creating “The Excalibur Parchment” and “The Lucifer Scroll”

Interview with Barrie Doyle

Perspectives on writing

  1. What was the inspiration for your first novel, “The Excalibur Parchment”?
  2. I have always been intrigued by the legend of King Arthur, Merlin, Excalibur and Camelot. Historians—who once poo-poohed the idea of Arthur as a “myth’—are now acknowledging that a mighty warrior king galvanized the Celtic peoples of the post-Roman era in Britain and led them in battle against Saxon invaders. So I began to question who, what, where and why (my journalistic training) these people were. I devoured all the stories and novels. As the story of Excalibur Parchment began to take shape I added new elements. I postulated that Merlin was an arch Druid which was extremely likely given the nature of Druidic faith as well as the power and role of Druids in Celtic culture. The reality is that the “new” Christian faith was infiltrating Britain at the time and the old faiths, whether Druidic gods or Roman gods, were falling by the wayside. I was also intrigued by the current mood in societies around the world to break away from known national identities and rework themselves into more compact almost tribal entities. You see it happening in Canada in Quebec for example, as well as in Turkey with the Khurdish peoples, and many other groups in many other nations. So the concept of a rebuilt, rejuvenated, aggressive group determined to reassert themselves became a premise to develop. The result was modern Druids trying to re-establish their faith by destroying the one religion that defeated them back in the Dark Ages. Fold in some modern-day terrorism and link it to the existing stories of King Arthur and his iconic sword Excalibur and, voila! The Excalibur Parchment.
  3. So what then, was the inspiration for “The Lucifer Scroll”?
  4. With the end of “The Excalibur Parchment” there were still some loose threads. What would become of Stone and Mandy? Was the Druid movement finished? Did Huw recover from his wounds? I love history. I am fascinated by the past and how the tendrils of history waft around our modern day, impacting our culture and politics and worldviews in ways we don’t even realize. As I studied the Nazi era I was intrigued by the undertones of evil and the occult that permeated the Nazi system. The satanic rites and ethos of the SS, the determined searches for ancient icons such as the Ark of the Covenant and the Spear of Destiny—Die Heilige Lanze—and other religious artifacts that the Nazis believed would make them indestructible. The fascination with the occult driving Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and other Nazi leaders, underscored a rising, almost unstoppable evil. There are stories that the “spears” found in the Vatican and a museum in Vienna are fakes and this too underscored the allure of the Spear of Destiny. Fold in the stories of Nazi leaders escaping in U-Boats with art treasures and artifacts at the end of the war. At the same time, history also led me to Istanbul, the city that straddles two continents and two cultures and that for hundreds of years was the centre of the world. It was time to put everything together—the characters from The Excalibur Parchment, the intriguing history of the Nazis and the occult, and the rich history of Istanbul. The Lucifer Scroll brings them together in a unique way, I believe, and tackles the subjects of terrorism, the occult, and that hostility towards Christianity.
  1. Did you outline the books before you started writing?
  2. No. I never outline. It is, for me, too structured and constraining. I have heard other writers say the same thing, but I have now experienced this phenomenon myself: the characters drove the book and told their own story. I was often as surprised by a plot twist or development as any reader would be. I remember coming to a point in Lucifer where Stone Wallace and his American intelligence agent friend Chad Lawson were under attack. (Spoiler Alert): We were in Wales at the time and had plans for a little sightseeing that afternoon. I remember leaving the story wondering how on earth they were going to get out of the incredibly tight trap they were in. I had no idea. When I got back to them the next morning they very gently led me along and showed me how they did indeed escape. Similarly, in Excalibur, I had Brother Thomas and Owain lost on the Welsh moors in cold wet weather, or wading hip deep in frigid rivers, or hiding in caves. None of that was outlined. My characters told their stories and led me down paths I would never have dreamed of if I had outlined the book first. Outlining works for some novelists I suppose, but not for me.
  3. What made you set both stories largely in Wales?
  4. Wales is certainly an important location, but by no means the only or primary one. Wales is a beautiful, intriguing, musical, history-filled, castle-filled, legend-filled nation that sits quietly beside England and its raucous neighbours Scotland and Ireland. The Welsh are just as feisty, just as proud and just as vocal as their Celtic cousins. But Wales is also a largely ignored in the pantheon of literature, particularly South Wales and its valleys. So, as a Welsh-born writer, I had a virtual blank canvas to work with. The beauty of the land is astonishing. From the rocky cliffs of Glamorgan and Pembroke to the upland moors and narrow valleys, the countryside is breathtakingly beautiful. Add in the generous warm spirits and lilting accents of the Welsh and I can truly answer the question of why Wales is so prominent in the books with a question of my own: why not?
  5. What locations, other than Wales, are prominent then?
  6. I lived for a number of years in Washington D.C. which is a city loaded with intrigue, history and excitement. London, England is my favourite city in the world. I love to walk its streets and soak in the history and the culture. Venice and Istanbul are locations I chose particularly because of their historic nature and also because of their scenic uniqueness. Only twice in my life can I say that my breath was truly taken away by a sight: once was my first view of the Grand Canyon. The other was walking out of the railway station in Venice onto what seemed to me to be a medieval stage set. Istanbul, or Constantinople, is also one of those cities whose influence and historic nature transcend the centuries and the ebb and flow of various cultures. It is a city I believe everyone should visit—modern terror activities notwithstanding—in order to comprehend who we are as a people and as a culture.
  7. Those are all major cities. Anywhere else?
  8. Absolutely. In Excalibur there are a number of locations—some identified by their real names and others by fictional names such as Llanfyron—across South Wales. Careg Cennan in particular is a lonely, brooding castle ruins in the Brecon Beacons near Carmarthen. Then we travel to upstate New York on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, the New Forest in Hampshire, England and the Broceliande Forest and Paimpont in Brittany, France. As I wrote Lucifer I included a number of other locations that enabled the story to be spread over a wider scope even than Excalibur. So we wind up exploring the English Lake District, the Austrian Tyrol in the area around Zell am See, north Wales and in particular, the island of Anglesey. In North America I was enchanted with the small New Mexico town of Truth or Consequences. It is a small unprepossessing place in the desert and was named after a long-gone television game show. But its name elicits all kinds of delicious irony as the location of an isolated prison. In Canada, the real beauty of the Georgian Bay area with its blue waters, thousands of islands and picturesque towns had to appear. So the books really reflect my own travels as well as the places I’ve lived and enjoyed. I hope readers will vicariously enjoy these many different and captivating locations and, perhaps, set out on their own journeys of discovery as a result.
  9. How accurate are your locations in both books?
  10. Hopefully very accurate. I love to travel and have visited all these places. I have walked the streets of London and Istanbul that are described in the books. I have visited many of the sites identified in them such as Haghia Sofia in Istanbul, the Lido in Venice, and The Houses of Parliament in London. I have taken trains from Euston station, ridden boats in Georgian Bay, driven through the New Mexico deserts, walked the Tyrolian Alps and sailed around Lake Zell in Zell am See. I was speaking with one reader who cornered me in Wales and said “I know the spot where Brother Thomas sat and prayed.” She pointed at a particular spot on the side of the valley and I had to confess that yes that was indeed the place I had in mind when I wrote that scene. Hopefully those who’ve gone to Venice had the same breathtaking experience I had when they saw the Grand Canal for the first time. The same for readers who walk inside Haghia Sofia and take in its immenseness and grandeur even 1,500 years after its construction. And hopefully they will agree that I have indeed captured the scene well.
  11. What motivates your characters?
  12. The antagonists of the stories, the vengeful and zealous Druids, are motivated by greed and lust for power but as well by a determination to revert to an ancient pagan faith. To them, modern day religions such as Christianity have too long influenced society, culture, politics and governance. They see a world that is failing. They see society breaking down. They see “religion”, especially Christianity, as something to be despised and disposed of. For them, a return to the pagan gods of the earth, fire, war, and the underworld is the motivation. They believe if Christianity is destroyed along with the other one-god religions of Islam and Judaism, the door will be open for them. As pagan worshippers they will step into the gap they created and bring the world back under the domination and power of their ancestors. As believers in the gods of war and the underworld, they are immune to concepts like mercy and pity. So compromise and accommodation is unacceptable. It is total war for them with a goal of annihilation of the Church. Nothing more and nothing less. And that leads to various terrorist attacks and plots, all of which are allowed, even though it means mass deaths of innocents.
  13. Sounds like something out of today’s headlines.
  14. Absolutely. It is this type of philosophy that motivates ISIS and other terrorist groups. They extrapolate real or imagined insults or actions into motivation for mass murder. Murder is condoned, even promoted as in jihad, because the greater good in their eyes outweighs the pain and suffering of some. It is a total rejection of any sense of humanity, replaced by an evil lust for power and domination. Concepts of peace, justice, love, harmony and friendship are anathema. Instead, anarchy is encouraged as a weapon to destroy whoever is in your way so that in the end the strongest—you—will survive. A friend of mine read Excalibur and blurted out that to him it seemed the story was ripped from the headlines. He was quite surprised when I told him that the bulk of the story was written long before a group known as ISIS was created. And I believe that ISIS is a deadlier, even more evil incarnation of Al Qaeda with its tendrils snaking through our communities and recruiting vulnerable people. Just as the Druids do in my books.
  1. Okay, that takes care of the bad guys but what about your heroes?
  2. In Excalibur there are two protagonists in the story that’s set in the 1300’s and there are two main heroes in the Twenty-first Century story. Brother Thomas, the monk who saves Excalibur, is a particular favourite of mine. He’s a man who wants to do the right thing but is constantly insecure about his abilities and unsure of his own strength to carry out what he’s called to do. He falters and fails. He questions God and the direction he has to protect Excalibur from the Druids. He leans heavily on and admires his companion Brother Owain’s calm assurance and strength. The motivations of both are complex and yet simple. Owain loves a girl and wants to leave the abbey and return to a secular life. He’s what we would call today a “streetwise” individual, smart in the ways of the forest and willing to loyally support his friend Thomas even if he doesn’t have all the information he needs to make a rational decision. But at the same time his motivation is simple. Even at the end, his motivation is much more prosaic. He wants to be with his love. Thomas is simple in that he just wants to be left alone, content with where he is, wanting to experience life but actually unwilling to put forward the effort. His goal is an unremarkable life serving God in his abbey. The complexity of his motives become apparent as he wrestles with the desire to serve God and tries to learn how to trust God at a time when every solid thing in his life is stripped away. He struggles to understand God’s call upon him, to learn how to pray and how to yield to him which, in turn, leads to great growth. He becomes the man he wants to be: faithful, courageous and even strategic. I think that anyone who seeks to be a practicing Christian struggles with exactly the same things. How do you know what God wants? Can you truly trust God? Indeed, is there really a God at all?
  3. That’s okay for the monks of the 1300’s, but what about your modern day protagonists?
  4. Stone Wallace goes through the same kind of questioning except that he never even starts with the premise that there is a God or that he even wants to believe in him. Rather, Stone has been deeply wounded by life and loss and so seeks to wrap himself in his career as a journalist. The workaholic mindset has left him alone with no family and few friends. As he gets involved in the search for Excalibur he too undergoes a metamorphosis. He wants to do the right thing but doesn’t know how. He looks to the one person who, in some senses, has been a father figure. Huw Griffiths is a man Stone admires. He’s mentor as well as friend. Most of all Stone admires Huw’s solid faith despite the losses in life Huw has sustained. From the sidelines Stone is slowly drawn in to the point where he has to let go all the concepts and ideas he’s held about religion and faith and look at the impact Huw’s beliefs have. Stone will struggle and slip and slide as he works his way through these issues and is soon motivated by a simpler aspect of humanity, the glimmering of love as he works with Huw’s daughter Mandy. For Huw it is much simpler. He is motivated on one level by his professional curiosity as a historian, archaeologist and theologian. He is driven to know, to dig deep until the mystery is solved. At the same time, Huw has the more complex motivation of guiding his younger colleague out of his self-imposed armour and learn to allow himself to be hurt, to be vulnerable as he grows into a deeper more rounded person.
  5. Both Stone and Huw appear in “The Lucifer Scroll” as well. Are they still struggling or are they content with the answers they got in “The Excalibur Parchment”?
  6. Certainly Stone is still struggling. He finally comes to terms with his father’s untimely death and visits the grave for the first time since he was thirteen. His mind is still swirling, struggling with what’s he’s learned in theory about God and about prayer but still unable to fully trust and still unable to practice what he now seems to want. It is then that bullets fly by his head and the whole nightmare starts again. Huw is just as blustery and determined as ever, seeking to get to the bottom of every mystery put before him. For all that he is a professor though, Huw finds it much easier to “tell” both Stone and Mandy how to deal with life, love and faith than he does to model it. So he too, especially I think in Lucifer, is more vulnerable and therefore more human. He doesn’t have all the answers but plugs on regardless. And I happen to think that that is a huge strength of anyone, fictional or otherwise. To me, success in life is the ability to plug on regardless, not having all the answers and not always being successful, but doing it anyway.
  7. Excalibur and Lucifer are part of a trilogy, “The Oak Grove Conspiracies”. What’s next and how did you come up with that title?
  8. The centerpiece of most Druid ceremonies—their temple, if you will—was the Oak Grove. So that explains the trilogy title I hope. What’s next is something tentatively called “The Madoc Treaty” which explores the story that a Welsh prince, Madoc, sailed to North America in 1170, landing in what is now known as Mobile Bay. In fact the Alabama chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution raised a plaque to that effect and had it placed on the outer banks of that bay. Add to that, one of the underlying tasks President Thomas Jefferson gave the Lewis and Clarke expedition was to seek out the truth of a Welsh-speaking Indian tribe. These facts alone were enough to put the story into motion. But, as I said earlier, where the story goes is in fact up to the characters to decide. It’s their story. And I will be interested to see where it leads. Won’t you?
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Arts Connection for Monday, June 6, 2016 – Barrie Doyle – “The Lucifer Scroll” book

*** Post courtesy of Arts Connection ***

At the end of The Excalibur Parchment, modern Druids had been thwarted in their attempt to gain control of the world by finding Excalibur, King Arthur’s legendary sword. Tonight’s guest carries on the zeal of the Druids for world domination as they search for another ancient relic in his latest book The Lucifer Scroll. Barrie Doyle weaves another tale of intrigue, mystery and suspense as historian and archeologist Huw Griffiths, his daughter Mandy and American journalist Stone Wallace try to stop the Druids.. Barrie’s on the phone with us from his home office in Midland, Ontario to talk about another tale of a mythical relic, a sinister force and the quest that crosses centuries in a battle for global power.

Interludes feature music from Isobelle Gunn.

Tune in to Arts Connection each Monday at 9 p.m. ET on Faith FM 94.3 (Waterloo Region). You can also listen to the live webcast at www.faithfm.org.

 

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Interview date:
June 6, 2016 – 21:00
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