Today, my dear friend A.L. Lester is here to talk about Celtic myths. Welcome, Ally ❤
Firstly a big thank you to Ofelia, for inviting me visit today! I thought I’d talk a bit about the inspiration for my Reworked Celtic Myth short stories.
I live in the UK and although I’m Somerset born-and-bred (that’s a county in the south-west of England and traditionally we are all expected to wear farming smocks, hobnail boots, chew straw and talk with a very rural accent) I have spent quite a bit of time living in more Celtic-rooted Wales, another of the countries that make up the United Kingdom.
Wales is a small, hilly country with a beautiful language, that is full of lovely people, wonderful countryside and lots and lots of fantastic myths. Many of them are to do with the Christian church, many of them are to do with ancient Welsh history. Welsh, Cornish and Brittany in north-western France all have Brittonic languages that are broadly similar. They’re all forms of the Celtic Languages. The areas also share traces of a Celtic Christianity that is separate from the Roman Church that was brought to Britain by St Augustine in the sixth century AD. So there are lots of minor saints that might originally have been pre-Christian deities. In addition, many secular ancient oral tales were written down in The Mabinogion in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries after being handed down for centuries from person to person.
In addition, Scots, Irish and Manx (spoken on the Isle of Man) all share forms of Gaelic and likewise have a deep seam of ancient myths.
For writers looking for inspiration, the stories are rich and plentiful.
But they’ve been there all the time I’ve been alive. Why did I suddenly decide to start writing about them now?
Well. A little while ago during lockdown I started trying to make more professional links online; and so I joined the UK Romantic Novelists’ Association. There are various chapters. The Welsh one is called Cariad, the Welsh for love. And because of my connection to Wales, I was allowed to join their online meetings.
In January, we talked about celebrating St Dwynwen’s Day on the 25th of the month with relevant stories. St Dwynwen is a Welsh saint who over the last few decades has become known as the Welsh St Valentine. I read up on her and found I had a story to tell. Playing Chicken is the first in the series and I had great fun playing with a retelling in a contemporary setting. St Dwynwen’s story is actually a bit random and not in the least romantic—a chap hits on her and she freezes him into a statue before unfreezing him and forgiving him and ends up with a chapel in north Wales with a magical well full of eels. It’s all a bit confusing, so I picked out the interesting bits and wove a story from them.
Before I began writing with Ofelia and Nell Iris in the Online Office in the mornings (horrifically early for me, because 6am Swedish time is 5am UK time), I didn’t really think I had a handle on short stories. But with their encouragement I was confident enough to try and the story came in at just under ten thousand words. Because I had such fun, I thought I’d have another go and this time I picked St Kevin, patron saint of crows. He’s Irish rather than Welsh, but I transplanted him (sorry, Kevin) and gave him a lonely cottage on the Welsh coast instead of a damp cave in the Irish hills. Again St Kevin’s legend is a bit gruesome—he nearly drowns a woman who tries to seduce him, and when he doesn’t, quite, she’s so grateful, or likes him so much, or is into rejection…or who knows?…that she becomes a nun. Again I took the bits I liked out of the legend…the crows!…and made a story, As the Crows Fly.
Then I had to take a couple of months and write an actual full length novel I’d set a date for at the beginning of the year and had been looking forward to for ages (The Fog of War, coming on the 10th of July from JMS Books!). Once I turned that in a couple of weeks ago, though, I began to think about the next myth.
This time I’m going with a tale from The Mabinogion about Brânwen, sister of King Brân of Wales. Her brother marries her off to Matholwch, King of Ireland, but the marriage goes bad for complicated reasons to do with horses, and he banishes her to the kitchens. She tames a starling and sends it with a message to her brother and there are battles and a resurrection cauldron and warriors hiding in flour bags and all sorts. I knew I wanted to write about the starling, but to begin with I was trying to hitch him up with Brân. And then I realise that it would be a better story if it centred the Brânwen character, who is very much an object to be moved around in the original story and is very much not so in my own version.
I’ve also cut out the battles and the resurrection cauldron. Sorry.
Anyway. I don’t have a name for it yet, but if you’re interested in the other two, you can find a bit about them on my website. I’ll be posting buy-links to the starling story there as soon as I have a cover sorted. I’m really enjoying having a contemporary side-line to my usual historical stories and I can see myself adding to them as and when I have the time!
About A. L. Lester
Ally Lester writes queer, paranormal, historical, romantic suspense and lives in the South West of England with Mr AL, two children, Morris the badly behaved dachshund, a terrifying cat, three guineapigs, some hens and the duckettes.
She likes permaculture gardening but doesn’t really have time or energy these days. Not musical, doesn’t much like telly, likes to read. Non-binary. Chronically disabled. Has fibromyalgia and tedious fits.