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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Welcome Sarah Woodbury!

I'm pleased to welcome author Sarah Woodbury today, giving great answers to my interview questions. Her latest release is entitled, The Good Knight: A Medieval Mystery.

The year The Good Knight: A Medieval Mystery is set is 1143. Your previous works range from 6th to 13th century, running the gamut of early and high Middle Ages. What factor (s) of these periods attract you? Why did you set this particular novel during the High Middle Ages rather than earlier? Have you ever considered writing a Renaissance work?

Wales in the middle ages has been a focus of my research and passion as an anthropologist, writer, and amateur historian for the last ten years.  One of the joys of working within this era is the extent to which history is stranger than fiction.  Medieval Wales provides a wealth of opportunity for story-telling, with all the drama and excitement a novelist could want—without even having to make it all up. 

For The Good Knight, I was particularly attracted to the combination of security and wildness that characterized 12th century Wales.  The book is set against the backdrop of the rule of Owain Gwynedd, one of the most powerful and stable monarchs of north Wales in the middle ages.  He was fortunate to have ruled during a time in which England, which had been trying to conquer Wales for a hundred and fifty years, was torn apart by the rivalry of two claimants to the throne:  King Stephen and Empress Maud.  Owain, in the fine tradition of Welsh royalty, took advantage of the strife in England to consolidate his rule and bring the other Welsh dynasties under his control.

In doing so, however, he engendered animosity among the other lords of Wales—and within his own family.  With two wives, multiple mistresses, and a dozen sons, many of whom fought among themselves for power and favor, he created a legacy that would last until the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd at the hands of the English in 1282 AD.

I have considered writing a book set later in history—and earlier for that matter.  I’ve only been fiction seriously for five years, so who knows what books I might or might not have in me in the future!

Most historical writing requires research. What are some of your most interesting research finds? How closely do you adhere to tradition—do you use it mostly for flavor and style or do you works provide the reader with an accurate trip back in time?

I work very hard to adhere as close to the actual history of the era as I possibly can.  Particularly for The Good Knight, which is a medieval mystery and not an historical fantasy like some of my other books, I felt that the scope for invention was much less.  That said, what we don’t know about this era in Welsh history could fill volumes.  We don’t even know King Owain’s birth date!  One of the most interesting—and outrageous—finds in researching The Good Knight was that the basis for the book is true:  King Anarawd was ambushed and murdered on the way to his wedding, and the man who did it … well, I don’t want to give away the story J

Your heroine, Gwen, finds herself alone on a dangerous mission. What problems does that cause her given the male-dominated society of the times? Does she have to hide her female identity to be accepted or face grave perils? She uncovers a conspiracy but, as a female, is anyone willing to listen?

Writing a self-actualized medieval female character who is also grounded in her own time is a challenge.  Fortunately for Gwen, she works for a powerful man who trusts her.  She has come through for him in the past so he doesn’t ignore what she has to say just because she’s a woman.  Gwen was a wonderful character to write and while she is atypical for the time period, certainly, Welsh women weren’t quite as oppressed (in modern terms) as other women in Europe.  Welsh women could choose their husbands, divorce, own property, etc.  Gwen, however, can’t hide her identity, nor is she handy with a sword.  Even while I was writing the book, I was terrified for Gwen that she wouldn’t survive her mission in one piece.


Intrigue, suspicion, and rivalry among the royal princes casts a shadow on the court of Owain, king of north Wales…

The year is 1143 and King Owain seeks to unite his daughter in marriage with an allied king. But when the groom is murdered on the way to his wedding, the bride’s brother tasks his two best detectives—Gareth, a knight, and Gwen, the daughter of the court bard—with bringing the killer to justice.

And once blame for the murder falls on Gareth himself, Gwen must continue her search for the truth alone, finding unlikely allies in foreign lands, and ultimately uncovering a conspiracy that will shake the political foundations of Wales.

Author Bio: 

With two historian parents, Sarah couldn't help but develop an interest in the past. She went on to get more than enough education herself (in anthropology) and began writing fiction when the stories in her head overflowed and demanded she let them out. Her interest in Wales stems from her own ancestry and the year she lived in England when she fell in love with the country, language, and people. She even convinced her husband to give all four of their children Welsh names.  She makes her home in Oregon.


Links to my books: 


Chapter One

August, 1143 AD

Gwynedd (North Wales)

Look at you, girl.” 

Gwen’s father, Meilyr, tsked under his breath and brought his borrowed horse closer to her side of the path.  He’d been out of sorts since early morning when he’d found his horse lame and King Anarawd and his company of soldiers had left the castle without them, refusing to wait for Meilyr to find a replacement mount.  Anarawd’s men-at-arms would have provided Meilyr with the fine escort he coveted. 

“You’ll have no cause for complaint once we reach Owain Gwynedd’s court.” A breeze wafted over Gwen’s face and she closed her eyes, letting her pony find his own way for a moment.  “I won’t embarrass you at the wedding.” 

“If you cared more for your appearance, you would have been married yourself years ago and given me grandchildren long since.”

Gwen opened her eyes, her forehead wrinkling in annoyance.  “And whose fault is it that I’m unmarried?”  Her fingers flexed about the reins but she forced herself to relax.  Her present appearance was her own doing, even if her father found it intolerable.  In her bag, she had fine clothes and ribbons to weave through her hair, but saw no point in sullying any of them on the long journey to Aber Castle. 

King Owain Gwynedd’s daughter was due to marry King Anarawd in three days’ time.  Owain Gwynedd had invited Gwen, her father, and her twelve-year old brother, Gwalchmai, to furnish the entertainment for the event, provided King Owain and her father could bridge the six years of animosity and silence that separated them.  Meilyr had sung for King Owain’s father, Gruffydd; he’d practically raised King Owain’s son, Hywel.  But six years was six years.  No wonder her father’s temper was short.

Even so, she couldn’t let her father’s comments go.  Responsibility for the fact that she had no husband rested firmly on his shoulders.  “Who refused the contract?”

“Rhys was a rapscallion and a laze-about,” Meilyr said.

And you weren’t about to give up your housekeeper, maidservant, cook, and child-minder to just anyone, were you?

But instead of speaking, Gwen bit her tongue and kept her thoughts to herself.  She’d said it once and received a slap to her face.  Many nights she’d lain quiet beside her younger brother, regretting that she hadn’t defied her father and stayed with Rhys.  They could have eloped; in seven years, their marriage would have been as legal as any other.  But her father was right and Gwen wasn’t too proud to admit it:  Rhys had been a laze-about.  She wouldn’t have been happy with him.  Rhys’ father had almost cried when Meilyr had refused Rhys’ offer.  It wasn’t only daughters who were sometimes hard to sell.

“Father!” Gwalchmai brought their cart to a halt.  “Come look at this!”

“What now?” Meilyr said.  “We’ll have to spend the night at Caerhun at present rate.  You know how important it is not to keep King Owain waiting.”

“But Father!” Gwalchmai leapt from the cart and ran forward.

“He’s serious.” Gwen urged her pony after him, passing the cart, and then abruptly reined in beside her brother.  “Mary, Mother of God…”

A slight rise and sudden dip in the path ahead had hidden the carnage until they were upon it.  Twenty men and an equal number of horses lay dead in the road, their bodies contorted and their blood soaking the brown earth.  Gwalchmai bent forward and retched into the grass beside the road.  Gwen’s stomach threatened to undo her too, but she fought the bile down and dismounted to wrap her arms around her brother.

Meilyr reined in beside his children.  “Stay back.” 

Gwen glanced at her father and then back to the scene, noticing for the first time a man kneeling among the wreckage, one hand to a dead man’s chest and the other resting on the hilt of his sheathed sword.  The man straightened and Gwen’s breath caught in her throat.


He’d cropped his dark brown hair shorter than when she’d known him, but his blue eyes still reached into the core of her.  Her heart beat a little faster as she drank him in.  Five years ago, Gareth had been a man-at-arms in the service of Prince Cadwaladr, King Owain Gwynedd’s brother.  Gareth and Gwen had become friends, and then more than friends, but before he could ask her father for her hand, Gareth had a falling out with Prince Cadwaladr.  In the end, Gareth hadn’t been able to persuade Meilyr that he could support her despite his lack of station.

Gwen was so focused on Gareth that she wasn’t aware of the other men among them—live ones—until they approached her family.  A half dozen converged on them at the same time.  One caught her upper arm in a tight grip.  Another grabbed Meilyr’s bridle.  “Who are you?” the soldier said.

Meilyr stood in the stirrups and pointed a finger at Gareth.  “Tell them who I am!”

Gareth came forward, his eyes flicking from Meilyr to Gwalchmai to Gwen.  He was broader in the shoulders, too, than she remembered. 

“They are friends,” Gareth said.  “Release them.”

And to Gwen’s astonishment, the man-at-arms who held her obeyed Gareth.  Could it be that in the years since she’d last seen him, Gareth had regained something of what he’d lost? 

Gareth halted by Meilyr’s horse.  “I was sent from Aber to meet King Anarawd and escort him through Gwynedd.  He wasn’t even due to arrive at Dolwyddelan Castle until today, but …”  He gestured to the men on the ground.  “Clearly, we were too late.”

Gwen looked past Gareth to the murdered men in the road. 

“Turn away, Gwen,” Gareth said.

But Gwen couldn’t.  The blood—on the dead men, on the ground, on the knees of Gareth’s breeches—mesmerized her.  The men here had been slaughtered.  Her skin twitched at the hate in the air.  “You mean King Anarawd is—is—is among them?” 

“The King is dead,” Gareth said. 

~ ~ ~
Marsha A. Moore is a writer of fantasy romance. The magic of art and nature spark life into her writing. She is the author of the novel, TEARS ON A TRANQUIL LAKE, the first in a trilogy. Part two, TORTUGA TREASURE is contracted for release in January, 2012. Look for her first of an epic fantasy romance series, SEEKING A SCRIBE: ENCHANTED BOOKSTORE LEGENDS ONE, to be available early 2012.


Penelope Crowe said...

The book sounds amazing! Thanks so much for the terrific interview. It is surely on my TBR list now. ( I have GOT to read faster...)
I would love to know the Welsh names chosen for the author's 4 children.

Sarah Woodbury said...

Thanks so much for the interview, Marsha!

My kids' names are: Brynne, Carew, Gareth, and Taran :)

Stacey Joy Netzel said...

Wow, great interview and the book sounds really good!! I'm loving finding new authors from IWU.