When, over twenty years ago, I decided to write a book, I chose a genre that fit my love of history and, inspired by the King Arthur tales of Mary Stewart and Rosemary Sutcliffe, set it in dark age Wales. At first I floundered, trying to find my story. But then in my research I came upon a sixth century Welsh warlord named Maelgwn the Great and everything started to come together.
There’s actually much more historical evidence for Maelgwn the Great than there is King Arthur, and in northern
the name is still common. But unfortunately, the best account we have of
Maelgwn and of the time period he lived in was written by one of his
contemporaries who appeared to despise him. Writing in 543, Gildas the Monk
calls Maelgwn a “tyrant among tyrants” and general disparages his character. He
also refers to him as “O, thou dragon of the island”, a wonderfully evocative
description that became the title of my book. Wales
I imagined Maelgwn as a fiercely independent man, as raw and untamed as the land he ruled. In Roman British princess Aurora, I gave him a heroine who could match his tempestuous nature and more than hold her own. As their story unfolded, the themes of treachery and betrayal naturally wove themselves into the plot, along with warfare, violence and a soul-consuming passion. By the end, the world I had created seemed as real and alive to me as any place I’d ever been. And when I finally visited
ten years later, I wasn’t disappointed, as I was still able to catch glimpses
of the wild, majestic, mystical world I had envisioned. Wales
Since Dragon, I’ve written fifteen more books. But none of them stirs my blood the way this first one did.
Some scenes from Maelgwn’s world: