Apr 20, 2015

Welsh Week: The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats - Review and Giveaway

The Wicked and the Just
By J. Anderson Coats

According to Cecily d’Edgely, life can’t get much worse. Her uncle has returned from the crusades and is now lord of the manor that is rightfully hers, meaning she is stuck in Coventry. She feels like her life is over. That is, until her father tells her they’ll be moving to a town called Caernarvon. In Wales.

Upon arriving in the Welsh town, Cecily soon finds out that town life is very different from what she is used to. Add the fact that Welsh walk around, infidels who are probably ready to murder her at any moment, and you’ve got the new definition of Hell. Gwenhwyfar, Gwinny for the English, is such a Welsh. She works at Cecily’s new house, simply trying to get by.

The story follows both women, one English and one Welsh, as they go about their lives in the 13th century town. There simply couldn’t be a bigger difference between the two kinds of people. The English are privileged, the Welsh are shunned from society. So, this raises a question. Can there ever be true justice in the town of Caernarvon?

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Review by Eline*

When I first read the description of this book I thought two girls, money and drama sounded a bit cliché. Have I ever been so wrong.

Cecily is probably the most arrogant and spoiled character I have read a book about, and yet somehow I didn’t mind at all. Growing up as close to nobility as you can get, she is used to being catered for and getting everything she wants in the blink of an eye. Nobody has ever told her no, simply because nobody ever had to, and this clearly shows in her character. Gwinny is a bit of a mystery. She is sarcastic and witty and refuses to let the brat, as she refers to Cecily, get in her way. It isn’t until later that we start to uncover more about this mysterious girl, both about her personality and her past, and it all starts to make sense. She works hard and earns as much money as she possibly can, simply to be able to pay her taxes and take care of her mother and brother. No matter how much time she spends around the English, though, she remains Welsh and she is proud of it.

The thing I found absolutely fascinating about this book is the way the feud between the English and the Welsh is portrayed. There is a clear hatred between them, and through following characters on both sides, you get some valuable insights into what life must have been like in Wales in the 13th century. The story is historically correct and well researched, making it feel really authentic.

Another thing that truly speaks in favor of this book is the title. When you first look at it, it doesn’t say much. When you start reading, you will think at first that Cecily is the Just and Gwinny is the Wicked. Then we hear Gwinny’s side of the story, and the roles start to reverse. This goes back and forth until both characters start showing signs of being both. Cecily is not completely Just, nor is she completely Wicked, and the same goes for Gwinny. Thinking of the title whilst reading this book truly added another dimension for me, and I’m glad I didn’t just start reading without checking the title first.

The last thing that truly made this book for me were the other characters. A town isn’t a town without people in it, and these people sure know how to make themselves be heard. From the neighbor who just keeps on having kids to the annoyingly sweet daughter of one of the founding families, all the side characters truly had their own personality and purpose. The interaction between them and Cecily brought out the best and the worst in her, and I don’t think we would have seen any of these hidden layers of her personality had there not been such an amazing set of characters for her to interact with. 

All in all, The Wicked and the Just was a fascinating and mesmerizing read. Even I was being able to follow exactly what was going on, and I know literally nothing about Wales or 13th century England. All of it was new to me, and the book felt like a history lesson from that one amazing teacher everybody has had at some point. The story made me fall in love with Wales, which I did not expect to ever happen, and I would definitely classify this as an under-hyped book. I recommend this to anybody who likes history even in the slightest, or anybody who enjoys a book revolving around the term justice and likes to question what it actually means.

*This review has been written by our new reviewer Eline, who's 15 years old and lives in Haarlem (The Netherlands)

Author information

J. Anderson Coats owns 194 books about the middle ages.  This doesn’t seem like very many unless you consider the fact that she’s never had a real job.
Jillian grew up in a houseful of books alongside two cats and an older brother.  Her mother, a librarian, exposed her to the beauty and diversity of the written word.  Her father, a scientist, taught her to question it.  Both of them encouraged her to write, even when her stories were written in crayon and featured nothing but ponies.
At age thirteen, Jillian finished her first novel.  It was pretty bad, but fortunately no one told her that.  By the time she graduated from high school, she’d written six other novels, including one massive 500,000-word doorstop book with a sweeping, complicated plot and way too many characters.  None of these books was very good, but she loved every single one and learned something new with each.
Jillian studied history at Bryn Mawr College, where she graduated magna cum laude with departmental honors.  She also holds a master’s degree in library and information science from Drexel University and a master’s degree in history from the University of Washington.  She loves the smell of old books, and she’d set up camp in the archives if they didn’t keep locking the door at night.
Currently, Jillian lives in the Pacific northwest in a hundred-year-old house with her husband, teenage son, and a cat with thumbs.

Enter this giveaway to win a paperback copy of The Wicked and the Just, good luck! 

Welsh Week: A Time for Silence by Thorne Moore

 When Sarah, struggling to get over tragedy, stumbles across her grandparents’ ruined farm, it feels as if the house has been waiting for her. She is drawn to their apparently idyllic way of life and starts to look into her family history only to learn that her grandfather, Jack, was murdered. Why has nobody told her? Sarah becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Gwen and Jack. But are there some family stories that should never be told...

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Review by Anniek

 Sarah thinks she has a perfect relationship with her fiancé, a job that will do and a mother in law who is controlling. When her fiancé is going out of town for a few months, Sarah takes the time to go visit her mother. During her visit she sees a little farmhouse for sale named Cwmderwen. When she goes to see the house and finds out it belonged to her family once she cannot resist and buys the house. Her journey to reveal the hidden past will then begin.

You meet Gwen when she is getting married to her husband John. Cwmderwen is John's house and that's where they will live. Gwen has an ill father and a sister named Dilys. She will tell her story about her journey during her marriage and the happenings which will be 'buried' and probably should have stayed that way in the first place.

I loved it that I could read about both Sarah and Gwen. When I was reading about Sarah I wanted to know what happened next with Gwen and when I was reading about Gwen I couldn't wait for Sarah to continue her investigation.

Thorne Moore's writing is perfect. You switch between the stories of Sarah and her grandmother Gwen. This book will keep you on the edge of your seat and is a real page-turner. I feel very blessed that Welsh Week has given me the opportunity to be introduced to the writing of
Thorne Moore, thank you!

Welsh Week: Butterfly Necklace Giveaway

Enter this giveaway to win a Kate Hamilton - Hunter Studio sterling silver necklace with butterflies pressed from beautiful tins. Good luck!

  I will contact the winner via email. If I don't get a reply within 60 hours the prize will go to someone else. All of my giveaways are international.     

Welsh Week: An Interview with Emma Kavanagh

An Interview with Emma Kavanagh

1) Could you tell my readers a bit more about yourself?

I am a police and military psychologist and for many years I trained officers in the psychology of critical incidents, helping them to understand what happens in the brain when we are in a life or death situation. I live in Swansea with my husband and my two young sons, aged three and seven months. Hidden is my second novel.

2) Where do you find your inspiration?

I am fascinated by psychology and this fascination is a tremendous asset when it comes to my writing. I often find inspiration from true crimes and the behaviour of people in real life situations. There is no behaviour so extreme that someone, somewhere hasn’t done it. What more inspiration could a writer want?

3) You've done a lot of research for this book, could you tell more about that?
I began by doing a huge amount of research into the psychology of mass killers and spree shooters. The shooter was always going to be the lynchpin for the entire novel and so it was tremendously important to me that I reflected this person as realistically as possible. I read up as much as I could on real life instances of this so I could begin to gain some kind of understanding as to what motivates these people.

4) The weather plays an important role in Hidden, especially the Welsh rain. That makes the story quite unique and it stands out when you compare it to other thrillers, because of conditions that just aren't there anywhere else. Did you build the story around that and was it a conscious decision to use it?

I think weather is important in a story. Throughout much of Hidden, there is a heatwave. The heat builds and builds and builds - a shock to a coastal town in Wales that isn’t used to such temperatures - and then, finally, ruptures into rain. I wanted that sense of a pot boiling that you get as the temperature climbs, because it is very much what is happening for the shooter as the world seems to push him closer and closer towards a truly horrific act.

5) What's your favourite place in Wales to visit? And would you ever use it for a story?
That’s a tough one. There are so many places I could pick. One of my favourite places is the Brecon Beacons. It is so exceptionally beautiful and rugged and wild. I certainly have considered using it for a story, although it would have to be something that could equal it in its ruggedness. 

6) Where did you learn to write and is there any advice you have for aspiring writers?
I have always written, so the art of it is something that I seem to have naturally understood. However, the craft of it - the actual physical putting together of a book - is something quite different. I learned to do that through writers’ guide books. I have dozens of them. My philosophy is, you never know all there is to know about writing. And that would be my advice - never think you know it all. You probably don’t, so always be prepared to keep learning. It will only make your writing better.

7) It must have been quite difficult to make situations that aren't part of your own everyday life, like being part of a police team, being part of a medical department, etc. feel like you know everything about them, how do you do it?
Much of the procedure involved in Hidden (especially in terms of firearms policing) comes from my own experiences within this field. But there are other areas of policing where my knowledge is far more patchy. For this I have a wealth of people to whom I can turn - my best friend is a police officer. That helps! For Hidden, I also needed an understanding of crime reporting and medical procedure. I have always found that people can be incredibly generous with their knowledge if you just ask. So I spent a couple of hours chatting over coffee with my GP and the crime reporter for The Evening Post in Swansea, which enabled me to get a clearer idea of where I needed to go. They were also kind enough to answer my follow up questions whenever they occurred to me.

Welsh Week Review

8) Are you working on something new and will that be a thriller again?
I am currently working on book 3, which has a working title of The Missing Hours. It is another psychological thriller, but this time set within the world of kidnap and ransom. Although, it does have police in it. Obviously.

9) Your tweets are really funny, is there a chance you'd use that sense of humour for a book?
This is the weird thing about crime writers - when you meet them in person they’re often really funny! I suppose you have to be when you spend as much time thinking dark, dark thoughts as we do. I have often thought that I’d like to write something a little more humorous, but at the moment the stories that keep coming to me are of the dark and twisty nature. Ah, well. Such is life.

Welsh Week: Back Home by Bethan Darwin

 t looks like Ellie has lost the love of her life, and along with him goes the bijou flat in Primrose Hill and the illicit 5* lifestyle. There's not much left but to decamp back to the rather more humdrum confines of her mum and grandad's house in Clapham.

Finding herself back home and loveless isn't all bad though. Ellie can always hit the backpacker trail again, or maybe even find a job that sticks – the solicitor's office she's temping in this time is at least trying to help out those having real problems – like keeping their kids, or a roof over their heads. And it's nice spending time with her grandad Trevor, drinking proper 'Welsh' tea from real china cups and looking out at the veg Trevor has coaxed from the London clay. And there is even a distraction from her broken heart in the shape of hunky landscape gardener Gabriel....

But just when it looks like everything is shaping up tickety-boo there's a knock on the door that turns Trevor's world upside down and takes them unexpectedly back to the Welsh Valleys in wartime…

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Review by Tanya

After a break up of her relationship in the main city Ellie Finds herself packing up and going back to live with her mum and Grandad, Trevor, in her granddads house where she was brought up. Grandad, Frank, has lived in the house since moving to Clapham from Wales after his wife died of TB leaving him with a young baby, Sarah. He worked hard to make a good life for himself and his baby daughter and subsequently granddaughter and he has achieved this. However he has never been to visit Wales since leaving. 
You hear about the history of his marriage with the parts that look back at his past life and find that the case of his wife dying of TB are not true and that there is a situation there that his daughter and granddaughter should really be made aware of. I was shocked by this and felt so much for Trevor. I do wonder how his wife could do this and know that I never could. 
Ellie always had a free spirit and liked to stay in UK only long enough to get enough money to go traveling again. This was until she met Robert and fell for him big time, she's even going as far as taking a permanent job. When things change and affect their relationship she is devastated and she cannot get away fast enough. Luckily her friends are great and forget about the months when she has not wanted to see them. Her best friend Gina encourages her to look locally for a job and to start to go out again. It is nice to see her confidence coming back and to see how strong her relationship is with her family and friends.

Back Home is full of interesting twists and turns and fantastic descriptions. In fact I actually showed my daughters the descriptions and the reminiscing in the first few pages to describe to them how it sets the scene. I really could imagine myself in the tall terraced house in Clapham.
This story is told in two parts, a story taking place in the present day in Clapham and one that took place towards and after the end of the Second World War in the valleys of Wales. These stories overlap in some way, namely the shocking event for Ellie and her mum, Sarah. It’s fantastic to see what happens after the shock has gone. I’m so pleased the story ended as it did.

Welsh Week: I Love Days In Design! + Giveaway

I love Days In Design. The textile art in this shop is absolutely brilliant.

I can't stop looking at the beautiful art work and jewelry.

Everything has been handmade by Chloe. She uses different kinds of fabric to create her images. 

Chloe sells art prints, jewelry and originals. 

 I love Chloe's style. Her designs are so cheerful and vibrant.

Everything in this shop is affordable, especially the prints and the jewelry. Even a lot of the originals, which are a lot of work to make, aren't very expensive.

Chloe has an amazing website. There you can read more about her and visit her gallery. There's also more information about commissions. Chloe can make a work of art using a picture of your house for example.

I love how Chloe can make something come to life just by using different kinds of patterned fabrics. She makes the most beautiful compositions.

I'm completely in love with this shop.

Chloe also organizes workshops. I think that's a really great and fun idea.

You can find her work in several different shops/galleries in Wales.

Enjoy shopping in this wonderful Etsy store!

One very lucky reader of my blog will receive a fantastic prize. 

Chloe will send a £12 voucher to the winner of this giveaway, good luck!

  I will contact the winner via email. If I don't get a reply within 60 hours the prize will go to someone else. All of my giveaways are international.    

Welsh Week: The Magic Side to Wales

The Magic Side to Wales

By Valerie-Anne Baglietto

Wales is an ancient land of mystery and mythology, with more than its fair share of castles. Before I moved here over a decade ago, I hadn’t written a fairy tale since I was a child, although I’ve always been a huge fan of them. Then, all of a sudden, a few years ago, I found myself writing modern, grown-up, magical realism. Contemporary romances, with just a hint of comedy and a strong twist of make-believe. I’ve since decided there must be something in the Welsh water influencing me.
Not that I’m complaining. I may have started writing them anyway even if I hadn’t moved here from Essex, but I honestly don’t think they would be the stories they are now without all the Welsh folklore and ‘magic’ around me. They’re richer for having a setting that deserves more attention and respect than it currently attracts. The villages and characters in my stories may be fictitious, but the backdrop of Wales is very real and ever present.
My family moved to North Wales for practical reasons, although my husband is part Welsh. Apart from visiting a few times as a child, I didn’t know much about the country beyond daffodils and dragons, but after marrying, I found myself with a Welsh surname - although I use my maiden name for my writing - and it didn’t take me long to realise I had ‘come home’. It’s often the way my heroes and heroines feel, whether they’re originally from Wales or not. Currently, we’re based near the border with Cheshire, a stone’s throw from the picturesque, historic town of Chester. So I often use that in my stories, too, especially my new release, FOUR SIDES TO EVERY STORY. Most of the action takes place in a border village, on the English side, but for the more magical aspect of the book, the characters find themselves in Wales. It just seemed appropriate!
Snow-topped mountains, calm blue lakes, heather-clad hills and those mandatory sheep dotting the lush green fields. There’s something about the Welsh soil (and the water) that works its way through me and leaks out in my words and stories. I don’t retell old fairy tales, though, I have to write completely new ones, as if everything around me demands it. A sense of place is vital in any story, and the setting can become a character in its own right. I don’t have to go far to stir my creative juices. From crumbling castles to tumbling waterfalls – inspiration is right there on my doorstep, and I’m perpetually grateful for the fact.

I was born in Gibraltar but came to England when I was three. I wrote and illustrated my first book when I was four, pure fiction about a little boy whose mother's nose was incredibly long and spiral shaped. With that, the writing bug had bitten.
To begin with, I had a Day Job, working in London as a graphic designer in my young, free and single days, but I always wrote in my spare time, sometimes into the small hours of the morning - when I still had the stamina to get up at 6.45 to catch my train!

My first novel THE WRONG SORT OF GIRL won the Romantic Novelists' Association's New Writer's Award in 2000.

In total I had four books published by Hodder & Stoughton before motherhood took over my life. I've lived in North Wales with my family for over a decade, and while my youngest was very small I experimented with different writing styles and genres, whenever I had a chance. I even wrote a children's book, to fill the void after I turned the final page of the last Harry Potter novel (possibly a sad reason to do it, but it was fun to write and I learned a lot from the experience).
Although I love children's literature - the imagination and the energy of it all - I wanted to return to adult romances again, and with ONCE UPON A WINTER I married both loves to create a contemporary adult fairy tale. It's common knowledge that the early fairy tales weren't exactly suitable for children - by today's standards - and now grown-ups seem to be poaching them back again. But I don't 'retell' the classics, I write completely new ones. Well why not? They were all original once!

Welsh Week: Earthbound Organics - Review & Giveaway


I received this Earthbound Organics Eye Gel to try. I really like this Welsh brand that is completely natural. The scent is soft and herbal. I love the chamomile in this product and its soothing effect, it's wonderful. I'm very happy with this eye gel, it definitely relaxes the skin around my eyes. 

The gel comes in an easy to use bottle. It will last a long time as only a small quantity is needed to do the job. The floral labels look great and so does the overall style of both the brand and the website. I'm definitely going to use more Earthbound Organics products in the future.

About the brand

Earthbound Organics is based in Wales and makes Organic skin care products such as; Facial Creams, Soaps, Body Oils and toners. Most of the ingredients used are certified organic and wild crafted; all of them are natural. We hand pick some of our ingredients from the hedgerows and the Welsh countryside including: Plantain, Ivy, Comfrey and Hypericum. Those not indigenous to Wales are bought from approved organic herb suppliers.
Jo believes that organic skin care is extremely important and that what we put on our skin is pure and natural since it will be absorbed into our bodies. Thus it is the high quality and purity of our ingredients that are the most important part of our production.
Significantly we don't add in any chemical preservatives such as any of the parabens. All our ingredients are listed and will be recognised as ingredients found in any kitchen and herb garden. It is this and the simplicity of her recipes that feed and nurture the skin leaving it glowing with health and vitality.
The main oils used are cold pressed, organic sunflower and cold pressed, organic olive oil as well as Organic Jojojba oil organic cold pressed organic rosehip oil and borage oil. They are rich in vitamins and minerals which are beneficial and enrich the skin. Most of the herbal oils e.g. Carrot, Hypericum, Calendula, Chamomile, Arnica and Lemon balm are made using cold absorption which ensures maximum infusion of the properties of the plants.
Beeswax is used in all the creams and is from a special bee keeper living close to Jo in the welsh hills. The Rosewater Lavender water and Orange water act as mild antiseptics and are believed to help in the battle against the onset of wrinkles.              


One lucky reader of my blog will receive this little organza gift bag filled with small jars of Earthbound Organics products. It's the perfect way to try them. 

Good luck!

   I will contact the winner via email. If I don't get a reply within 60 hours the prize will go to someone else. All of my giveaways are international.   

Welsh Week: Elen's Island - Review & Giveaway

When her parents send her to stay with a grandmother she hardly knows for the summer, Elen is furious. Gran lives on a tiny island and doesn’t want her to stay either – it’s not an easy start.
Gran’s idea of childcare is to give Elen a map and tell her to explore. Who is the odd boy on the beach with a puffin? After saving Gran in a storm, Elen finds a picture that she’s sure is a clue to hidden treasure. She investigates – and finds a very different treasure from the one she expected.

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Elen's parents are spending the summer without her. Elen can't go with them on their travels and has to stay with her grandmother instead. Gran has a house on a small island and isn't very accommodating. Elen feels very alone. The only thing she can do is some exploring with the map her grandmother has drawn for her. While she's doing that she meets a strange boy who has a puffin. They initially don't get along very well and they keep running into each other. When there's a big storm and Elen's Gran hasn't come in, she has to go outside to find her. She managed to locate her Gran and what she also finds is a clue to a hidden treasure. All of a sudden the island becomes a lot more interesting, what exactly is this treasure and will Elen be able to find it?

Elen's grandmother is used to living a solitary life and when Elen comes to stay with her she doesn't really make it easy for her. Elen is angry with her parents for leaving her behind. Even though she isn't happy with her situation the island is interesting enough for her to fill her days. While at first she doesn't like it she's slowly falling in love with it. I loved seeing that transformation. When it's complete Elen opens her heart for her surroundings and everyone around her.

I loved the description of the island and could totally picture the beauty. The main characters are all likeable and fun and I adored Gran. I enjoyed reading this book very much. I would have loved the story when I was a child and I highly recommend it. There's a map, Elen has a lot of exploring to do and there are new people to get to know. This book has so many good ingredients. Together they make a fabulous book with a wonderful ending.  

Author information
Eloise writes words. Lots of them. Sometimes in particular orders. She also does a bit of Drama and the odd spot of acting.
   Sixer of Pixies. Child of the 70’s. Survived encephalitis, pizza thrown in face, a decade as an actress, school, endless years of Heavy Metal abuse from younger sister’s room.
    Likes confetti, bluebells, memories of Gran and Grampa, family, cwtches, the way ladybirds shelter in beech nuts, collecting seaglass on misty days, comfy jeans, stories about interesting    things.
  Spent too much money on ill-fitting clothes, too much of the 80’s planning marriage to John Taylor and/or George Michael, lovely times in Europe, one cold week in New York.
Lives in West Wales. Lives for the sea, love, repeats of ‘Murder She Wrote’, for as long as she can.
 Has dog called Watson Jones. Has husband called Guy. Both of whom are handsome devils


I will contact the winner via email. If I don't get a reply within 60 hours the prize will go to someone else. All of my giveaways are international.    

Apr 19, 2015

Welsh Week: I love Personalised Jewellery / Jewelry Personalized! + Giveaway

I love Personalised Jewellery and Jewelry Personalized. I like the huge collection of pretty jewelry. Most of it is sterling silver and some things are gold plated or gold. I also like the combination of gold and the use of gemstones. A lot of the jewelry can be personalized. That's something else I think is brilliant. There's so much choice for both men and women and there's a children's section filled with many cute pieces.

The jewelry is well made and I love the designs. Everything comes in a lovely box and it's easy to find the perfect gift in this webshop.

It's not hard to find the pieces that can be personalized as they all have a clear indication. I think these hearts are so romantic. I also love the idea to combine them with a pretty key. Being able to create something with your own name or message is wonderful. It makes a gift much more personal and thoughtful.

There are dozens of items in this shop that I like. I tried to make a selection to show as much of it as possible, to give an idea of the variety of what's being offered. It's something that makes this shop stand out, the selection of beautifully designed rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, etc. 

If you're in Wales you can visit Personalised Jewellery, it's in Conwy.

The Welsh jewelry is fantastic. There's a great selection of all kinds of fabulous pieces. Here you can find the entire Welsh dragon collection. One lucky reader of my blog will receive an amazing prize. A pair of sterling silver Welsh dragon earrings and a matching sterling silver necklace will be for the winner of this giveaway. 

Enjoy shopping and good luck!

   I will contact the winner via email. If I don't get a reply within 60 hours the prize will go to someone else. All of my giveaways are international.  

Welsh Week: An Interview with J. Anderson Coats

1) Could you tell a bit more about yourself?
I own over two hundred books about the middle ages. I’ve dug for crystals, held Lewis and Clark’s original hand-written journal, and been a mile underground. I have a cool surgery scar unrelated to childbirth, I read Latin, and I’ve been given the curse of Cromwell on a back-road in Connemara.
2) You've studied history. How do you use that in your stories?

Historians are trained to be part garbage collector, part treasure hunter, part psychologist, and part microfilm wrestler. Since so much of what interests me hasn’t been recorded or has been lost, I often have to read between the lines of the sources I do have access to and make inferences and educated guesses when there are gaps. I’ve also been taught how to behave myself in Special Collections and the archives.

3) What's your favourite Welsh legend?

I like the story of Bedd Gelert. It goes like this: Prince Llywelyn ap Iorwerth had a beloved dog named Gelert. One day, he went hunting without Gelert, and when he came home, Gelert ran to greet him covered in blood. Alarmed, Llywelyn searched the castle and found his infant son’s cradle overturned and blood all over the linens and floor. The little boy was nowhere in sight, and Llywelyn freaked out, assuming Gelert had killed and eaten the baby.
Llywelyn went into a rage and killed the dog on the spot, and only when Gelert was dead did a child start crying. When he searched, Llywelyn found his son alive and well, and also the body of a wolf that Gelert had slain to protect the baby. Llywelyn was grief-stricken with what he’d done so heedlessly, and he buried the faithful dog in a beautiful, peaceful spot that became known as Bedd Gelert - the grave of Gelert. It still exists and there’s a little monument there.

4) Could you tell a bit more about the history of the Welsh language?

Welsh is a Celtic language sprung from the Indo-European family, strongly influenced by the Brythonic languages of the native British tribes. It developed along a chronological timeline like English did (having Early, Old, Middle, Early Modern, and Modern incarnations), and became standardized in written form in the 1580s. The spoken language struggled during industrialization and the introduction of compulsory education taught in English, but Sunday schools taught in Welsh helped keep the language vibrant well into the modern day. Right now, the language is a required subject in Welsh schools, and the internet has connected active communities of learners and speakers worldwide.
In spoken form there are a number of local variants, but for simplicity’s sake these can be roughly grouped into regions: Northwest (Gwynedd), Northeast and Mid-Wales (Powys), Southwest (Ceredigion and Dyfed), and Southeast (Gwent and Morgannwg).

  © Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Wrecsam

5) What inspired you to write The Wicked and the Just?

Medieval Wales doesn’t get a lot of attention despite the fact that it was a complicated, dynamic place. The native rulers managed to resist outright conquest by their English neighbors until 1283, but then the victorious English fast-tracked a series of castles and walled towns to maintain control of the area and the people.
What interested me were these questions: Even when granted a lot of special privileges - including significant tax breaks - how did English settlers live in a place where they were outnumbered twenty to one by a hostile, recently-subjugated population, and how did the Welsh live so close to people who’d done the subjugating, especially given the burdens placed on them by their new masters?

6) Without too many spoilers, tell us about the book.

The Wicked and the Just takes place in 1293-1294 in north Wales, ten years into English rule. Cecily is an unwilling transplant to the English walled town of Caernarvon, and she’d like nothing better than to go home. Gwenhwyfar, a Welsh servant in Cecily’s new house, would like nothing better than to see all the English go home. The ruling English impose harsh restrictions and taxation on the Welsh, and conditions in the countryside are growing desperate. The rumors of rebellion might be Gwenhwyfar’s only salvation – and the last thing Cecily ever hears.

7) How were the Middle Ages in Wales?

It very much depended on when and who you were. Cecily’s Wales was a pretty attractive place. English burgesses who were citizens of the town of Caernarvon didn’t have to pay any taxes, and the rents for the houses and lands were very low. There were all kinds of special privileges attached to being a burgess, too. Gwenhwyfar’s Wales, on the other hand, wasn’t so nice. The Welsh had to make up for the taxes that the burgesses didn’t pay, and they had a lot of restrictions placed on what they could do and say and where they could go. Life in north Wales in 1293 was pretty good. If you were English.

8) In a lot of books Welsh weather has been used as an important element of the story. Has it always been an important part of Welsh history and stories?

The weather certainly played a part in Welsh history, especially before the fall of native government, and there are a number of instances where Welsh princes and barons withdrew to the mountainous interior to let snow and storms dissuade their enemies from advancing. Medieval warfare was very much a summer sport.

9) In your book nothing is certain. Roles can shift. What's the message that you want to give people who are in similar situations?

Be kind, be strong, and do the right thing. We’re all humans in the world, and most of us are trying to do the best we can with what we have.

10) You started writing at a very young age. Is there any advice you can give young people who want to write?

Read. Read widely. Read new books, old books, articles. Read the back of the cereal box. Immerse yourself in language. Listen for how different writers sound in your head. Read in the genre you want to write in. Read outside of it. Read things that are praised and things that are panned. Read. Everything. It all has something to teach you.
Write. Write every day, even if it’s a scribble on a grocery store receipt you pull out of the bottom of your backpack. Give yourself permission to write crap. Everyone’s first drafts suck. Your favorite writer? Her first drafts suck. Your other favorite writer? His first drafts suck. It’s more important to just write. Get it on the page and repeat after me: “It’s a first draft. It’s supposed to suck.” You can fix things in a crappily-written first draft, but it’s impossible to fix what doesn’t exist.

Her book - The Wicked and the Just - will be reviewed tomorrow.

Welsh Week: We Love Penlanlas Cymru Soaps! & Giveaway

Tanya has tried the wonderful Penlanlas Cymru soaps and she's interviewed the owner of the shop.


Suzanne asked me to try these soaps for her and I was so pleased to help. I spoke to Kate, the owner, on the phone.  She is lovely to chat to and you can hear in her voice her passion for her products and belief in them. She very kindly sent me quite a few samples and I'm going to give some of them away to a reader of this blog.
My oldest daughter decided we should use the Strawberry one first and WOW it is lovely. You get a lot of lather from a little bit and the smell is divine. My skin felt so soft after using it and the scent of the strawberries lasted for ages.  When you walk into the bathroom it reminds me of a lovely bowl of strawberries although I don’t recommend you actually eat the soap!
The oat and honey is also gorgeous and has a much more masculine smell and my husband likes this one the best. I have to say that I like both equally. I am looking forward to trying the seaweed and sea salt one knowing it is all locally sourced and will be very good for my skin. I think this would be the one I put in my caravan as it will be such a great smell in there. 
Kate also sent me a beautiful rose scented bath creamer and my youngest, Ffion, used this as I can’t get in the bath easily with me disability. As you unwrap it from its beautiful packaging you are immediately hit by the gentle smell and an attractive glittery item with a dried miniature rose on the top.  We enjoyed feeling it fizz in the water and watching the water turn all sparkly. Ffion’s skin after the bath felt smooth and soft but not greasy like some bath products can leave it. We loved how her skin and mine, when I dipped my hand in, glittered.  She has already told me that she is putting this on her Christmas list as she wants the party skin again.  I really want to try this for myself and think it would be worth the pain of getting in and out of the bath. 
I am certainly going to buy these items for myself and as gifts for my family. In fact I would love to arrange to go to Aberystwyth and see the farm and buy some from Kate direct. Her postal service is quick and the items were packaged really well.

About Penlanlas farm

by Kate

I was brought up on Penlanlas farm and spent an idyllic childhood roaming the fields and exploring hedgerows. I am married with two children and now divide my time between London and Wales. However my ties to Wales remain as strong as ever.

Penlanlas farm which is farmed by my brother is managed using environmentally responsible methods and aims to provide a more natural and unspoilt habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. We decided to produce artisanal soap as a way to diversify the farm and make the most of the fantastic natural ingredients growing around us.  

The pure local ingredients that go into Penlanlas Cymru soaps include: spring water from our own bore hole, home grown strawberries, lavender, calendula, chamomile, honey from beehives on the farm and seaweed gathered by hand from nearby beaches. The natural botanical oils used in the soaps are infused with dried flower petals and fragranced with pure essential oils. All the soaps are 100% natural and not tested on animals.

All our packaging is as environmentally clean as the soap it wraps - made from recycled and recyclable materials.

Our mission statement is: Home grown, handmade … and 100% naturally gorgeous

I am working on expanding the range of soaps, for instance - a new Goats Milk Soap with lavender and chamomile will be available shortly - however the soap is handmade in small batches to maintain the highest quality.  I also make 100% natural bath creamers - rose and lavender which are embellished with dried pressed flowers.

I would not consider moving anywhere else - I have a strong heritage from this part of Wales and the ethos of Penlanlas Cymru Soaps is based around the farm itself and its abundant natural resources.


One very lucky reader will receive two delicious Penlanlas Cymru soaps

 I will contact the winner via email. If I don't get a reply within 60 hours the prize will go to someone else. All of my giveaways are international.  
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