Longbowgirl is set in the Brecon Beacons and in the Black Mountains, the mountains of my childhood. Every year I go back.
I decided to write about longbows and Welsh ponies and mountains when, some years ago, I came across a shocking but fascinating fact:
In 1541, King Henry V111 issued an edict ordering that all Welsh ponies below the size of 15 hands, give or take, be destroyed. I imagined the terrible scenes where smaller ponies were hunted down. Interestingly, a law of unforeseen consequence kicked in whereby the hunting of these ponies ensured the survival of the fittest and the fastest and the cleverest. Welsh ponies had interbred in years gone past with Arab horses, brought home by victorious Crusaders from the Middle East. This Arab blood made the Welsh ponies particularly fleet and they still carry strong hints of the bearing and the ability of the Arab horse.
Since I would be playing with history in Longbowgirl, I wanted to draw on the incredibly rich, vivid and vivid, and magical history that still lives in these parts of Wales.
I’ve interspersed the novel with this history, legend and mythology:
Maen Llia, the Neolithic standing stone said to be warm to the touch implying it holds still the energies of ancient lives who have passed by and touched it; Sarn Helen, the Roman road constructed by an Emperor for his Welsh love so that she could travel to see her family faster and in a direct route across the wild mountains. Sarn Helen, Emperor Magnus Maxiumus and his Welsh wife Helen, are all featured in The Mabinogion, a collection of eleven prose stories collated from medieval Welsh manuscripts. The tales draw on pre-Christian Celtic mythology, international folktale motifs and early medieval historical traditions. Some of the tales feature Welsh versions of Arthurian tales. The current scholarly consensus suggests the tales date from about 1060 to 1200. The Mabinogion is a fascinating piece of history, myth and magic and, to my knowledge has never been used in children stories….but it inspires part of Longbowgirl.