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Q & A with the Author

Q. Who is this book written for?

A. Musick for the King is for readers who love cracking good stories. It is for those who love historical novels, thrillers, intrigue, inspirational stories, novels about famous people, people who love music and reading about music, fans of classical music, fans of composers, fans of Handel and fans of Messiah.

Q. Why did you write this book?

A. I was intrigued by the incredible back story of this magnificent piece of music. I have attended many performances of the work but had no idea of the way Handel fell from the top of his profession to the bottom and then struggled his way back up with. Then, I learned about the story of his lead singer, Susannah Cibber, which seemed to mirror Handel’s own—falling from the top of her career to the bottom, then struggling back up. It was a story that cried out to be told!

Q. How much of this story is real?

A. About 80%! The story of George Frederik Handel and his struggles to survive his depression and failures is real. The story of how he came to receive the libretto (words) of the oratorio, the fact that he took only 24 days to compose the music, the fact that he spent a winter in Dublin performing concerts and debuting Messiah, is all real. The battle to debut Messiah in London against fierce opposition, is also real. The peripheral characters who sought to ruin him and the efforts they made to do so, are fictional. But even then, they too represent reality and truth.

Q. Who actually wrote the oratorio Messiah?

A. Handel wrote the music for a libretto (text) put together by a man named Charles Jennens. The entire libretto is merely an arrangement of biblical verses that Jennens wove into the story of God’s relationship and redemption of mankind.

Q. Did Handel really produce the music in 24 days?

A. Absolutely! Hard as it is to conceive, he produced the whole composition in that time. He ate little and slept little while composing it. 

Q. Is it true that the author of Gulliver’s Travels tried to stop the debut of Messiah?

A. Yes. Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s author, was an Anglo-Irish clergyman, poet, writer and social critic. He was also the Dean (head) of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. The church is the Cathedral for the Church of Ireland (Anglican). Handel had arranged to use the Cathedral choir members along with those from Christ Church Cathedral (just a few blocks away and the Anglican Cathedral for the city of Dublin). Swift, who was ill and suffering dementia at the time (he died less than a year later) changed his mind and refused permission for the choir to participate. Without singers, the oratorio was finished. Fortunately, Swift was persuaded to change his mind again and the singers were allowed to perform.

Q. Who was Handel’s lead singer and what was her story?

A. Susannah Cibber was an actress-singer who was the pop star of her day. She was the 18th century version of Lady Gaga, Madonna and Celine Dion together. She wowed her audiences as she performed in London’s popular operas of that day. She had the West End in the palm of her hand. A contemporary said that while others sang for the ear, Susannah sang to the heart. She could move people. She was married to a brute who physically, verbally, mentally, financially and sexually. She left him for a man with whom she had an affair. Her husband Theo sued for divorce and had her charged with adultery. The resulting court case was a very public scandal, covered every day by the newspapers of that time. At the end, while she was indeed found guilty, the court showed its scorn and disgust with Theo by granting him a pittance of five pounds as opposed to the hundreds he demanded. But Susannah’s career seemed to be destroyed. She too was at the bottom. And she too strove to resurrect her career.

Q. What does this Musick for the King say to 21st century readers?

A. I think it is a story of determination overcoming dire circumstances. As we face the Covid 19 crisis today, it shows us that even when things seem bleak, even when we are isolated, and even when we feel depressed, we can overcome. Through determination and just plain doggedness, we can meet the challenge head on and even in our own small way, achieve great success. It is a remind to us all, to never give up.

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Twenty-four Days to a masterpiece that changed music

Local author releases novel based on true story

Midland–People today are not the only ones dealing with ways to overcome
extraordinary difficulties.
For 18 th century composer George Frederick Handel it was not Covid-19, but he
fought his own isolation battles as depression, poverty, illness and cultural
ostracism left him ready to quit everything. Instead his struggles led to one of
music’s masterpieces, Handel’s Messiah!
Author Barrie Doyle turned the incredible true story of Handel’s struggles into an
entertaining and powerful novel, “Musick for the King” which was released in
mid-April.
“While I have always loved the music, the back story was what intrigued me,”
Doyle says. “How could someone so crushed by circumstances turn everything
around? Although this was written before the Covid crisis upended all of us, it
seemed to me it was an example of not yielding to horrible situations but instead,
rising above them.”
In all, it took Handel only 24 days to write the music that today inspires people and
become a staple for orchestras and choral societies around the world.
Katherine Whyte, star soloist with New York’s Metropolitan Opera, says “What a
beautiful glimpse into the struggles and realities of the writing of Messiah. Barrie
Doyle captures its timelessness and helps the reader live the drama that birthed one
of the most celebrated pieces of our time.” She adds ‘As one who performs
Messiah every year I was intrigued by the dramatic story. It brings to life the music
I know so well”
The story has other aspects that mirror modern life. Handel’s celebrity soloist—the
pop star of her day—was embroiled and almost destroyed by a sex scandal that
rocked Britain. Hiring her to perform a sacred oratorio scandalized many and
created controversy that almost killed the debut in Dublin in 1742 and its London
premier a year later. Throw in the real-life opposition of the author of “Gulliver’s
Travels” Jonathan Swift who, as Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, tried to
scuttle the first performance, and you have cultural clashes galore.

“The parallels between society then and now; how we handle difficult emotional
and professional situations are a key element in this novel. Plus, you have the
added comparisons of how they and we handle pop star scandals,” Doyle added.
Barrie Doyle is the author of three previous suspense/thriller novels that have
enjoyed readership around the world and comparisons to Tom Clancy, Ken Follett
and Dan Brown.
“Musick for the King” is his first purely historical novel. It is currently available
online at Amazon, Chapters/Indigo and other retailers. It will be available on
Kindle, Kobe and other platforms in May. Brick and mortar booksellers will have
the book available once the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. At that point a major
book launch book signings in stores as well as readings will be scheduled.

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Book update Fall 2018

We’ve been busy!

 

Launching a book is no picnic!

Since June, when The Prince Madoc Secret launched, I’ve been involved in ten different events. I have been in various cities in Ontario as well as Washington DC, doing everything from book signings to presentations not only on the new book, but on its two previous siblings, and on the general topics of history and legends and how they are part of storytelling.

And there are more to come!

This fall I will be doing a number of presentations and workshops at various libraries across the province. If you are in Barrie, Springwater or Midland check out the schedule on the website (www.barriedoyle.com) and drop by.

I’ve also been doing interviews with media. Here’s a link to one:

https://www.simcoe.com/whatson-story/8616401-tiny-author-brings-old-legends-back-to-life/

 

Here are some shots from various book events we did over the summer.

 

The reviews are coming in

The most exciting aspect of writing novels is that you get to meet so many wonderful fans of the books. I am overwhelmed by the enthusiasm for the books and now, I am somewhat taken aback by the insistence of many readers that I continue the series. One told me “you can’t leave the story here. We have to know what happens to Stone, Mandy and the Templars!”

Here’s one from Gail Whyte.

Barrie Doyle serves up a flavourful broth of well-simmered adventure, intrigue and myth seasoned with enough history and plausible conjecture to keep the reader’s attention over the pages of this Welsh legend. In spots, the story is frighteningly too close to reality. Did this really happen in the darker history of Wales or is this an expose of current affairs in nations? Add to the plot the beautiful descriptions of people and places salted with his insights into human nature used to develop a cast of almost 40 credible characters and the pot begins to boil. Doyle’s research spices an already tasty story. Well researched information on aviation, history medicine, the military, religion, politics, geography and human nature, blend well to add interest and information to the stalk. The problem with this recipe is that the soup has an after taste leaving even the most satisfied reader wanting more.

Makes me hungry just thinking about it!  And here’s another from avid reader Gordon Bucek:

Mysteries on the global scale must necessarily be complex. The author of The Prince Madoc Secret has masterfully put together a series of subplots under a main story line that captivates the reader. Suspense at various levels. This book is a well researched, creative and enjoyable sequel to the two previous issues that easily fits into the best seller’s listings.

I’d love to hear your feedback as well. Send your review to me (good, bad or indifferent) at the email address excaliburparchment@gmail.com

 

The Excalibur Tour

A number of fans of the books have told me they are intrigued by some of the locations in Wales. They asked me about the possibility of me leading a tour.

I have since done some research with a Canadian travel agent and a UK tour operator. We have put together a tentative package for a tour in May 2020. Lots of time to save the shekels.

We’ll spend time in London and Bath, but we’ll spend most of our two weeks travelling all over Wales. We’ll see some of the places mentioned in the books from the Welsh valleys to Carreg Cennan Castle to Worms Head to the University at Aberystwyth to Tintern Abbey and lots of others. We’ll visit quaint villages, spend time clambering over castle ruins, explore the rugged coastline and the equally rugged Snowdonia mountain range. When not engaged in the books we’ll ride two of the many Little Railways of Wales behind quaint vintage steam locomotives. Plus lots of friends—old and new—good times and good food.

And all along the way I will be placing the books into their places in the scenery, reading small portions, and explaining why these locations were so vital to the stories.

If you’re interested in exploring this idea, contact me at this email address:

excaliburparchment@gmail.com  At this point, we’re only looking for people who might be interested. There is no obligation involved right now. (That will come when details and costs are finalized in 2019).

Christmas is coming

After an absolutely fantastic summer up at Georgian Bay, the sad reality is that it is now over. Fall is upon us and pretty soon it will be Christmas.

I know a lot of friends who’ve bought copies of the books for loved ones at Christmas.

They are available via our online store at www.barriedoyle.com

Each book is $25 + shipping/postage.

As a special offer, you can get all three in a packaged gift set for only $65 + shipping.

All the books will be signed and, if you wish, personalized to the person receiving the gift. Make sure that information is noted in the order.

 

Happy reading!

Barrie

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The Excalibur Tour

The Excalibur Tour

Award winning communicator and author Barrie Doyle has created a riveting series of thriller novels under the general title, The Oak Grove Conspiracies. While the books cover many parts of the world including Washington DC, Venice, Istanbul and various parts of the United States and Canada, a large portion of the story is focused on the small nation of Wales, situated on the western end of the island of Great Britain and forming part of the United Kingdom along with England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Wales is a nation of stunning scenery: the rugged South Wales coast from the capital Cardiff, west to the county of Pembrokeshire; North Wales and the gorgeous mountains of Snowdonia; to the verdant agricultural cornucopia that is Mid Wales It’s an ancient land, home of the early Britons. Wales’ Celtic legacy has led to a rich musical, poetic and writing heritage. It has more castles per square mile than any other nation in Europe. History oozes out of the land from the coast to the mountains. With its history and legends—including the stories of mighty King Arthur—as well as its unique settings, Wales was the ideal place to base the stories of fierce zealot Druids, modern day conspiracies, and struggles to preserve society as we know it.

Yet Wales is a land less known and visited than its Celtic neighbours Ireland and Scotland and its Anglo Saxon neighbour, England.  Repeated requests from fans of the books have resulted in our consideration of a tour of Wales with the author.

This is a preliminary outline of the proposed tour of Wales in 2020. It will take guests on a delightful journey through one of Europe’s oldest nations. It will feature history, legend, stunning scenery, friendly and welcoming people and as much as possible, visit some of the locations and features the books of author Barrie Doyle, including places mentioned in The Excalibur Parchment (EP), The Lucifer Scroll (LS) and The Prince Madoc Secret (MS). Throughout the tour the author will be present to discuss the various location chosen and read pertinent excerpts of the books.

 

The 14-day tour is tentatively scheduled for May 2020.

Please note: This information is preliminary and subject to change.

We’d love to have you join us!

 

Tentative Itinerary

Day 1 Arrive in London after overnight flights from North America. Transfer to a common meeting place in the London area. Travel to Salisbury, then a group get acquainted dinner to meet participants.

Day 2 Tour Salisbury Cathedral. One of the highest spires in Europe. Brief journey to Stonehenge where we visit the ancient mysterious ruins. Travel on to Bath and an afternoon visit to Jane Austen’s house. Overnight in Bath.

Day 3 Visit the Roman Baths and then travel to Chepstow. In the afternoon visit the romantic ruins of Tintern Abbey (model for Cymllyn Abbey in EP) and the town of Monmouth, home to Henry V and Charles Rolls, founder of Rolls-Royce. Travel to Cardiff. (2 nights)

Day 4 Enjoy a city tour of Cardiff, the vibrant capital of Wales with lots of free time to explore the large indoor market and the many shopping arcades and pedestrian areas. In the afternoon, a tour through the famous Vale of Glamorgan. Return to Cardiff for the night.

Day 5 Tour the Welsh Valleys and visit the hilltop village of Llangynydd and the market town of Maesteg (Llanffyron and Maesgwinfi in EP); Travel through the Vale of Neath (LS) and on to the haunting ruins of Carreg Cennen Castle (EP and M). Travel on to the beautiful Gower Peninsula—the UK’s first designated Area of Outstanding Beauty—and overnight at Oxwich Bay.

Day 6 Tour the Gower, taking in the famous Mumbles on Swansea Bay and Worm’s Head (M). Travel on after lunch to Laugharne and visit the Dylan Thomas Boat House where the famous Welsh poet (Child’s Christmas in Wales; Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night) wrote many of his masterpieces. Overnight at Milford Haven on the scenic Pembrokeshire Coast.

Day 7 Enjoy a tour of Pembroke Castle, birthplace of Henry Tudor—founder of the Tudor Royal Dynasty—and the smallest city in Europe, St. David’s to visit St. David’s Cathedral (M) and free time in the village. Then onwards up the Welsh coast to overnight at Aberystwyth. (2 nights)

Day 8 Visit the Old College (M) and the National Library of Wales (M). In the afternoon we ride the quaint Vale of Rheidol Steam Railway—one of the many Little Trains of Wales—to the scenic Devil’s Bridge. Return to Aberystwyth for a second night. Free time in the evening to explore the castle ruins, the shopping precinct or just stroll the seaside promenade.

Day 9 We explore the magnificent mountains of Snowdonia before arriving at the enchanting Portmeirion, a unique Italianate village designed by the eccentric architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. The afternoon and evening are free to explore the village, magnificent gardens and stunning seaside views. (2 nights)

Day 10 Visit the island of Anglesey, the ancient Yns Mon (EP, LS, M). On the island we also visit the place with the longest town name in Europe: Llanfairpyllgwyngyllgogerichwyndrobwlllantysiliuoogogogoch. (By the time you leave, you’d be able to pronounce it). Then on to the magnificent Caernarfon Castle, built by Edward 1 to contain the rebellious Welsh. After the castle tour it’s a ride on another of the ‘Little Trains’, this time the Welsh Highland Railway before returning to Portmeirion.

Day 11 Before leaving Wales behind, we visit the music festival town of Llangollen then travel to Stratford-on-Avon, home of William Shakespeare. Here we will visit Shakespeare’s birthplace and Ann Hathaway’s cottage with plenty of free time to explore the town.

Day 12 Travel to London (featured in all three books) where we will enjoy a tour of the city. After the tour you are free to explore London on your own with the use of the included ‘Oyster’ card which allows free travel on London buses and the famous Tube. (Sitting on the top deck of the Double Deckers is highly recommended). (2 nights).

Day 13 Free day to explore London using your Oyster Card. Possibilities including attending a West End show, visit Piccadilly, Regent Street, Oxford Street, the Tower of London or watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, see St. Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey.

Day 14 Transfer to airports for return flights to North America

 

Interested? Please let us know.

At this juncture, there is no obligation. Lots of time to make plans and to save your pennies. We will be sending out updates as the time for commitment and deposits draws near.

Below, you will find basic tentative information on costs and what’s included. Please bear in mind, however, that we will be tailoring some of the tour to the books, so some tweaks may be made to enrich your tour. One idea we are exploring, for example, is that of a musical night with one of the world-famous Welsh male voice choirs.

The cost of the tour includes:

  • 13 nights in quality 3 or 4-star hotels.
  • Breakfast daily
  • four dinners on tour
  • one dinner in London
    • three lunches
  • Driver and Guide for duration of tour (except London)
  • Travel in modern coach
  • All admissions and tours listed in itinerary (including railways)
  • Oyster card for travel on London buses and underground services
  • Author commentary, readings & discussion throughout tour

 

Estimated cost approx. $5200 per person (Canadian funds) sharing a room. A single supplement will apply for individuals not wishing to share, Air fare extra.

Mail your response to excaliburparchment@gmail.com by simply cutting and pasting this part to an email message.

YES! Please add me to the update email list and keep me informed.

NAME _____________________________________________________

 

EMAIL _____________________________________________________

 

PHONE______________________________________________________

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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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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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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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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