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A Novelist’s Sense of Place
by Margaret Grant
I am a retired English and drama teacher turned novelist who recently self-published her first novel. Forced to retire from teaching due to ill health, I researched the novel I always wanted to read.
It needed to be historical, spiritually nourishing and, of course, have an edgy romance. It would have to answer unsettling questions about the sacred mountain where we had lived whilst bringing up our children on the island of Anglesey in North Wales.
Severely disabled, I grasped the opportunity life afforded and began painstaking researching Romano-Celtic history following the slaughter of the Druids on the shores of Anglesey.
The novel Where Rowans Intertwine is about the fortunes of a novice Druid priestess, pledged to the healing and guidance of her Celtic tribe, during the testing period of Roman occupation.
I wrote in short bursts, supporting myself on a kneeling stool. As my health improved, I was able to spend more time writing and seriously improved my research by visiting the places mentioned in my story. I took time to absorb the atmosphere and ask all the relevant questions to fill out the background of the characters I had created.
Knowing I could not compete with serious historians such as novelists Philippa Gregory, Elizabeth Chadwick or Sharon Penman, I purposely chose a period of history shrouded in mystery 2,000 years ago. I had enlightening conversations with museum curators and long debates with people claiming to be the descendants of Druids. Happenchance led me to so many revelations. I felt like a detective. Everywhere I went I delved and questioned local people and archeology enthusiasts.
Many writers tell of the strange experience of their characters taking over the story, but in my case it was extraordinary. I had done the research to the best of my ability and finished outline planning of characters and storyline. However, each morning as I began my work, I would hear the voice of Ceridwen, the novice Druid priestess in my story, telling me to pause, look and listen. “This is how it really was,” she would tell me, and I would have to revise my planned story, as she presented to my inner eye a film-like version of her life.
I became convinced she had been a real person who had lived on the site of our house many centuries ago, and I was determined to tell her tale as authentically as possible, redressing the Roman “spin” against the Druids.
I finished writing the novel in 1998, but then came the task of finding an agent and a publisher. They made encouraging noises, but nothing materialized. Losing patience, I decided to go down the route of self-publishing with Amazon’s CreateSpace before I “popped my clogs.” With the right support from a professional formatter it took another few years.
I found that, even though I had farmed out the manuscript to two editors, I was still finding errors in the manuscript. I would suggest that you publish your eBook first and edit again after re-reading on your Kindle. When you are satisfied with your e-version, publish in paperback and do another final edit once you receive your free sample book from CreateSpace before going to general publication. There is nothing so telling as the first draft in print. You spot so many more errors.
So far I have been lucky enough to have five star reviews on Amazon and am now busy doing local book signings here in Lincolnshire in aid of the Nepalese orphanage the novel supports. Last Easter, a long awaited trip back to North Wales to do book signings at venues such as Caernarfon Castle, was a wonderful opportunity to rekindle my deep love of Wales and the inspiration its beauty and history arouses.
Margaret Grant attended drama school in London, where she won the best actress award the year following Helen Mirren. She became a drama teacher and wrote many customized plays for her pupils. Eventually she and her family moved to the Anglesey in North Wales. It was during her years there, living on the beautiful mountain of Mynydd Llwydiarth, that she became fascinated by the Druids. You can find her online at www.margaretgrantauthor.wordpress.com .