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Sunday, September 18, 2011

RETURN TO CAER GWYN

author's drawing of Caer Gwyn

Caer Gwyn is a fictional Iron Age hill fort, circa. 4th Century BC, located where today's Old Sarum is near Salisbury, England.  There have been settlements in this area since the Bronze Age.  Old Sarum is a Roman name for this ancient site. 

Back in the late '70's, a voice spoke to me.  It was the voice of a young girl named "Olwen".  The story she told me, which I began to write, titled "Dragons in the Sky", tells of her life growing up in a place called Caer Gwyn.  She had been a foundling, left at the great Stone Circle (Stonehenge) and taken in by a Druid she called "Grandfather Maelgwyn" and a priestess/healer named Essylt, who she called "Auntie".  Olwen was an acolyte of the goddess.  They were members of the Raven clan, a tribe of people who lived on the Salisbury Plain. 

I wasn't sure of the location of Caer Gwyn until my first visit to Salisbury after a visit to Stonehenge, when I happened to notice a sign that said there was a hill fort just outside the town. I was killing time waiting for a bus back to London, so I decided to walk there and see what it was like.  As I hiked down the highway, the closer I got to Old Sarum, the stronger the feelings of deja vus and by the time I got there, I realized that this was exactly how "Olwen" had described her village to me.  This was Caer Gwyn!

Old Sarum
In the next couple of years I made two trips to the site and each time those feelings of deja vus grew stronger and Olwen's story became clearer to me.  I had been on my way to visit Greece on that second trip to Old Sarum, and as I traveled I became aware of Olwen's story unfolding, and how there was a Greek connection for her as well as for me. 

I worked on that novel for several years, including during the 5 years I lived in Athens.  But previously, when I'd first started writing it, a writing instructor kept insisting it should be told as a third person narrative, rather than a first person account in Olwen's voice.  I tried switching points of view. It wasn't working.  And after I returned to Canada, when I resumed attending writer's workshops, the critiques I was receiving proved quite discouraging.  So after finishing half the novel I shelved it in order to work on another, "Shadow of the Lion", which is about the fall of Alexander the Great's dynasty.

It took me many years to finish this massive work but now it's ready to go out to a publisher and I want to resume writing Olwen's story.  So far I am just retyping it as the early work was written on a manual typewriter and I must record it on the computer.  But I'm work shopping the chapters as I retype them, and my writer's critique group is loving every bit of it!  I realized when I started working on it again what an unusual and enchanting story it is:  historical fiction but almost 'fantasy' too.  It is written using some Bardic verse and very poetic prose. I recall trying to capture the Welsh lilt to the voice of Olwen and once I'd given it to my Welsh dad to read to see if I had the cadence correct.  Now, in re-reading it, I can hear the voice clear and strong.  But I can't remember how I wrote all those words. Where did they come from?  How did I do it?  I know, for sure, that I was 'channelling' this girl from long ago, and maybe "Olwen" is even me in another lifetime.
Was this the site of Caer Gwyn settlement?

The last two times I went back to England and Greece, I stopped at Old Sarum again to try and conjure up Olwen's spirit.  This last summer when I was there I had a chance to stroll around on my own and absorb the feeling of the place.  I even learned a few more details about the Iron Age settlements that I didn't know before.  And for some strange reason, the first times I had been there I didn't even go to the top of the earth mound where the remains of the fortress walls are (though these are Roman period ruins). 

Young students at the site of Old Sarum

I'm excited about working on "Dragons in the Sky" again.  I realize that it's a unique story and that the first person point of view is necessary for it to be told the way it is in Olwen's voice.  This is her story and it is a compelling story of a young girl's coming of age, her first love, and an adventure led her to another world where she learns to survive and find herself.  As I retype it I am getting in touch with her again, listening for her voice to guide me as the story unfolds.  It's an exciting revelation and I am so glad that I didn't give up on it even though it's taken me many years to retell.

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