Time to say goodbye.

So much has happened since the first book in the trilogy, Leap the Wild Water, was published in 2013. I remember how it felt when the book ‘went live’. It was like diving into deep water, not knowing what lay beneath the surface. It was both terrifying and exhilarating. I published it on a hope and a prayer that someone, somewhere, would think well of it. I never imagined just how many people would be carried away, as I was, by Megan’s story, or the praise my writing would receive.

I am truly and forever grateful to all those readers who let me know, in person or through their reviews, how much they enjoyed my books. It is readers who decide if writers sink or swim and I have been blessed by the encouragement my writing has received. I am not a person who has a great deal of self-confidence or self-belief, so without that encouragement, the second book in the trilogy, The Calling of the Raven, may never have seen the light of day.

Now, two eventful years since I published The Calling of the Raven, I’m finally publishing the last book in the Megan Jones trilogy. I came close to giving up on it. The loss of Morgan knocked me off my feet and for a while I couldn’t think about anything else. I miss him so much and preparing the book for this step to publication has given me a focus.

With the last book in the trilogy, it is time to say goodbye to Megan, et al. Saying goodbye isn’t easy as I’ve come to know these characters so well they are like old friends to me. They have carried me along on a breath-taking journey across the centuries and into the intimate details of their lives and struggles. Megan is a woman with courage, compassion, and a capacity for forgiveness which many of us can only aspire to. For me, she is what every heroine should be; portraying the possibilities lying within each of us.

From the very first, I have felt these stories were not being told by me so much as by the characters who ‘speak’ through me. My role has been merely to shape their experiences into the form of a novel. So I am grateful to them, too, for choosing me to tell their stories. I shall never forget them.

Which brings me to the last book in the Megan Jones trilogy, and to celebrate the launch of Anywhere the Wind Blows, the new updated kindle edition of Leap the Wild Water will be FREE for 5 days from August 1st 2016.

Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow     The Calling of the Raven updated book cover     Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd

The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd

Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/73tq302Ov71

You can also follow the author:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/jennylloydauthor

Pinterest; http://www.pinterest.com/jennyoldhouse

 

 

 

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Angels, whores, and wives for sale.

While researching for my novel, Leap the Wild Water, I was shocked by the extent to which women in the 19th century were suppressed in all spheres of their lives, and the appalling double standards they were subject to. Generally, women were seen as either angels or whores, depending on their virginal status at marriage.

Women were generally regarded as the property of men. In 1824, a woman called Lydia Jones was produced for sale with a halter around her waist. In 1815, William Jones, a 79 year old pauper of Llanwrst, sold his wife for 3 farthings having been married for only 3 weeks; as late as 1863, a man in Merthyr Tydfil sold his wife to a fellow workman for the grand sum of £3. Not until 1870 were women allowed to inherit property without it passing immediately to their husbands.

Unmarried mothers, like Megan in Leap the Wild Water, suffered worst of all. They were publicly shamed and such was the trauma of this that many abandoned or killed their babies rather than suffer it. Up to 1834, the parish poor law authority would prosecute men for maintenance of the children of unmarried mothers. Then this law was changed so that the Poor Law Unions would start proceedings on behalf of an unmarried mother, only if she could ‘provide corroborative evidence of paternity’ – a practical impossibility, sex being a very private activity, and given the shame and approbation heaped upon a woman’s head were she to admit to engaging in sex before marriage – she would hardly be likely to do so publicly!  Such was the farcical nature of laws made by men in relation to women. The Poor Law Royal Commission was responsible for this change and it  was brought about to protect ‘ eligible but innocent bachelors and accused men of being coerced into unwanted marriages’.

The Bishop of Exeter warned against such a change in the law as he feared that it would lead to a great increase in numbers of babies being left at the workhouse doors. He said; ‘You will harden the heart of man and increase his selfishness to an intensity of which we have never yet believed him capable’. Similar sentiments were expressed by the Times newspaper and the poet, Coleridge. In 1864, John Brownlow expressed sympathy for these ‘basically decent girls’ who were seduced by promises of marriage, and spoke of how they were humiliated in open courts in front of a gawping male audience. Few were this sympathetic to the plight of these abandoned young women. To the puritanical chaplain in the New Forest, Rev. Herbert Smith, all unmarried mothers were ‘fornicators and adulterers’ and their children deemed ‘offspring of sin and profligacy’.

It was a brave young woman, indeed, who would make any attempt at obtaining justice. An example of the treatment women received in court is that of Agnes Roberts. In court, she said she had attempted suicide by throwing herself in the Llanelli dock, after being abandoned by the father of her unborn child. Thomas Ludford, the defence lawyer asked if she referred to the new dock, adding, ‘it has no water in it yet’. This was met with laughter from the all male audience and her case failed.  There was also the case of John Lewis, who in 1900 was up for three charges of rape against a 14 year old girl in the dock district of Llanelli. Judge Bingham threw the case out of court, claiming it was ‘ a trumpery of a case’ and that the girl in question had suffered ‘nothing more’ than an indecent assault.  He went on to say that such cases were scandalous – because they gave that part of the world a bad reputation!

Given the age of consent at the time, many of these young women so cruelly treated were no more than girls. The age of consent in Western countries during the mid-19th century was between 10 and 13 years old. In Britain, it was raised to the upper limit of 13 years in 1868 following a long campaign by William Thomas Charley, barrister and MP for Salford. He had campaigned for it to be raised to 21. Not until the end of the 19th century was it raised to 16.

Seventy-five percent of births in workhouses were illegitimate – being pregnant and unmarried meant absolute poverty for a woman. Turned out by their families, and shunned by their communities, many were forced to abandon their babies on workhouse or church steps rather than see their babies starve. The insanitary conditions of the workhouses were such that most of these babies died, anyway, of disease. In a society where women were regarded as the evil seductresses of men, it made no difference if a woman’s pregnancy was the result of rape – she was likely to be seen as having brought it on herself, and the man involved viewed as having been provoked.

In recent years, I’ve heard similar arguments brought against women who have been raped while intoxicated by drink. It seems to me that we’ve come a long way; we’re no longer chattels and we are able to be financially independent, but to what extent do sexual double standards still prevail?

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy, historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow     The Calling of the Raven updated book cover     Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd

The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd

Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/i1sy302jXXK

You can also follow the author:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/jennylloydauthor

Pinterest; http://www.pinterest.com/jennyoldhouse

 

Resources and interesting further reading on the subject of this blog;

Secret Sins by Russell Davies.

Hope and Heartbreak by Russell Davies.

Massacre of the Innocents by Lionel Rose.

The brutality beneath the rural idyll.

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There is a place not far from where I was born which is one of the most idyllic settings I have set eyes upon. It is reached by a narrow, winding mountain road where craggy rocks overhang on one side and a wild, meandering river follows the narrow valley on the other. It is not far from the famed ‘Devil’s Staircase’ which is now a popular tourist route; its popularity due to the rugged, untamed beauty of the landscape.  The house sits on the far side of a tumbling, mountain brook, set among majestic, Scot’s pines with the mountains rising up behind. It is a tranquil place with nought but the sounds of the breeze sighing through the pines and the brook babbling alongside. Standing there, it is hard to believe the brutality which occurred in this beautiful place.

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Ancestors, on my grandmother Annie’s side of the family tree, once lived in this rural idyll. Annie’s grandparents lived here for a time, and her father is the subject of this piece.

When I was a little girl, I recall visiting a relative’s house and seeing a dark and sombre portrait hanging on the parlour wall. The elderly man in the portrait was apparently my great-grandfather, Hugh Jones, and the image of him scared the daylights out of me because he had only one eye. Where his right eye should have been, his eye-lid was stitched together like this; +

It wasn’t until I began researching my first novel that I discovered the story behind the loss of Hugh’s eye. I was in the library, trawling through old newspapers, not looking for anything specific but generally searching for stories which would give me a flavour of rural life at that time. I wasn’t looking or expecting to find anything about my ancestor’s there, so when I came across a report of “A Shocking Brutality” in The Brecon County Times, my heart missed a beat when I realised I was reading about my own great-grandfather, the subject of that portrait which so frightened me as a child.  At the time of the assault, Hugh was just 25 years old. His assailant was another shepherd working for a large land-landowner living nearby.  Though few shepherds suffered such brutal assaults as my great-grandfather, disputes between landowners were commonplace at that time, following the enclosures by the large estates of the upland areas where people had hitherto been afforded grazing rights for generations. The shepherds employed by these landowners often became pawns in their ongoing disputes.

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Here is what the newspaper reported of Hugh’s testimony on the 21st June, 1875;

On the 24th of May last, about noon, I saw Rees Williams driving some sheep that I look after. I went to meet him, and asked him where he was going to take them. He began to curse, and accused me of coursing his sheep that morning. He was on a pony. He came onto me and asked me to strike him, and brushed his pony against me. I touched the pony with the stick that I had in my hand. He then got off the pony and pulled out a knife and threatened me. The knife he put back into his pocket and pushed against me again, and I tripped him up. When the defendant got up he struck me down with my stick. I was quite insensible for a time. When I came to myself I found the defendant was trying to gouge out my right eye with his finger. I was then on my back under him. He bit my two cheeks. He had hold of my right ear for some time, and tried to tear my lip. I bit his finger when he put it in my mouth (defendant’s left hand bore severe marks as of biting). He gouged my two eyes till I was quite blind with blood. I tried to get up, but defendant prevented me. He put his finger in my mouth again to tear my lip, and I bit it as hard as I could. He then begged of me to loose him and said he would go away. I loosed him, but instead of going away defendant struck me again in the face with his fists repeatedly. I was covered with blood and had great difficulty in getting home, because I was almost blinded. A doctor was telegraphed for, and he attended the same night.

Hugh survived the terrifying assault, though his right eye was lost.  But he appears to have been hounded by ill luck, thereafter. Four years after the assault, he married a young woman who worked as a maid on the farm where he was employed. They had only been married a year when both she and their baby died in childbirth. Some years later, he married Annie’s mother but this wife also died of pneumonia when my grandmother, Annie, was just six years old.

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow      The Calling of the Raven updated book cover      Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd

The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd

Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/73tq302Ov71

You can also follow the author:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/jennylloydauthor

Pinterest; http://www.pinterest.com/jennyoldhouse

 

Some things you may not know about Leap the Wild Water.

Sometimes, when we are carried away by a story, we may miss the hidden meanings within the text. As a writer, I love symbolism. The sound of the word itself is rich and resonant. Some of the names I used in Leap the Wild Water are symbolic in themselves.

Carregwyn, where Morgan and Megan live, literally translates from Welsh as White Rock. It represents the unbending ‘purity’ and harshness of the religion they must live by. There is no room for error, no forgiveness or compassion for women like Megan. They had to be pure in all things. They were either angels or whores. They were angels if they kept themselves pure until marriage, whores if they did not. Those who found themselves pregnant and unmarried were shunned and turned out by their family and community. In Leap the Wild Water, a young girl called Sian is cruelly shamed and humiliated in the chapel, and with nowhere to go, and her future in ruins, she resorts to a heart-breaking act.

Sian appears in a scene with Megan, where she confides how she was seduced and abandoned by Iago. They are picking their way around the ruins of an old house where Megan and Morgan had played as children. The ruin itself was a symbol of the loss of innocence.

Dinasffraint, the market town where Megan goes to sell her wares; translated into English it means Freedom Town . It was the place where Megan found freedom from constraint and familial duties, unfettered by the overbearing demands of her selfish Mam. In Dinasffraint, Megan learned there were other ways of living and believing, and that there were people in the world with more compassion than she’d ever known.

Nesta Harding – this was a bit of fun. Nesta is the woman who neglects and abuses the child she is paid to care for. A nest is a place for nurturing young. Nesta’s home was a hard nest indeed.

But it is the title, Leap the Wild Water, which is most symbolic of all. The Wildwater river runs through the lives of the people and the narrative alike. Its destructive power and force are objects of fear for any who go near. The Wildwater symbolises the fear and turmoil in the lives of the characters.

The title of Leap the Wild Water was taken from a scene in the book where Megan dreams that she and Eli drown while trying to leap the Wildwater river.  In the dream, Megan pulls Eli along, as she runs from the truth which she fears Morgan is about to tell Eli. There is nowhere left to run and they must leap the wild water or perish. In her dream, they perish because she runs from the truth instead of conquering her fear of it. Megan thinks she must deceive to survive but the telling of lies, like the Wildwater river, are a destructive force in her life.

So, there we are, now you know!

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow     The Calling of the Raven updated book cover     Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd

The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd

Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/73tq302Ov71

You can also follow the author:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/jennylloydauthor

Pinterest; http://www.pinterest.com/jennyoldhouse

 

 

 

A journey in search of a stolen life.

 

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This cross was hand-carved by my daughter to mark my grandmother’s grave.

My grandmother, Annie, died in 1959 and the marking of her grave also marked the end of a journey which began some years ago; a journey to discover the truth buried beneath the wreckage of Annie’s life.

I requested and obtained permission to view the records that were kept by Talgarth Mental Asylum when my grandmother, Annie, was incarcerated there for 18 years of her life, from 1930. The victim of terrible domestic violence, her husband had Annie committed for depression. Annie was taken from her nine children, one of them still a babe in arms. The records show that she tried to escape to get home to her children but was captured and taken back.

My mother grew up believing Annie didn’t want to come home to them because that was the lie their father told them.

The records made for harrowing reading. I spent a day in the archives, faithfully recording every entry in that massive, leather bound tome, and did not allow myself to weep until the journey home. I vowed I would write her story one day. It is a promise I intend to keep. I didn’t write it at that time because it was too close to my heart, too harrowing, just too overwhelming in every way.

My day at the archives was the end of a long journey which had begun with researching my family history and ended with a burning passion to write fictional stories portraying the real difficulties faced by women in the past, the culmination of which is my three novels in the Megan Jones trilogy.

Here is an extract from my journal, recorded on the emotional day I went in search of Annie’s birthplace;

At the end of the farm lane I saw a signpost and my heart leaped with hope because I’d imagined the old place would  be no more than a derelict pile of stones in some isolated place. As I drove up the track, with the wind blowing and the April sun breaking through the clouds, a flock of crows rose up, as one, from the field. Flying against the wind, they twisted and turned overhead before soaring away and my spirits soared at the sight of them. The mass of the Eppynt mountain loomed ahead as the lane steepened towards a brow in the hill. I felt a tug of the heart and a sob rose in my throat – on the edge, as I was, of arriving at the place where dear Annie’s life began.

Sadly, on my arrival I was to discover that nothing remained of the house where Annie was born. It had been demolished to make way for cowsheds. It is symbolic, in a way, because the life my granny Annie expected to live was raised to the ground, obliterated, as surely and ruthlessly as the house where she was born.

My family history, like all history, is liberally sprinkled with women whose lives were blighted; by the inequalities of society or through the neglect, stupidity or downright cruelty of others – a pattern I’ve seen repeated in my own life.

Most of what I know of Annie comes from the stories of other people who knew her, and from the medical records of the asylum.  The medical records state bald facts, which in the light of all else I know, are all the more distressing.

My granny had beautiful black hair of which she was very proud. By day, she wore it plaited and rolled into a bun at the nape of her neck. At night, she undid that plait and let her hair fall down. It was so long, she could sit on it and with the help of her little girls, it was given 100 brush strokes, every night before bed.

When she was carted away to the asylum, she believed she was going to have a short rest. Her nightmare began on arrival. The first thing they did was to chop off her hair, her beautiful long mane of glossy, black hair. It was a standard procedure; head lice being rife in such institutions, long hair would pick them up and spread them like wild fire.

She must have been a stunner, Annie, before hard toil, nine children, and a poor diet ravaged her. It was noted in their ledger that she had grey eyes; a stunning combination with that long black hair. She was underweight and undernourished and had an overactive thyroid. She was on her last legs when she entered that place and they all but knocked her legs from beneath her.

What hellish place must she have thought she’d been brought to? This was no rest home, no holiday, this was hell itself. She tells them a mistake has been made and they must let her go immediately; home to her children who would be worrying where their Mam had gone.

She tells them why she has been unable to cease crying (the reason given for her admission); that her husband knocked her about and threatened to kill her. The following are some of the comments written in their ledger, repeated year after year.

“She is suffering from delusional psychosis. States that prior to admission, her husband desired to get rid of her and had made several attempts on her life.”

“Her delusions change little as time goes on. She still believes her husband was trying to get rid of her and made serious attempts on her life.”

“She remains much the same mentally. She gives a very poor account of herself. She continues to state that her husband used to knock her about a great deal and several times threatened to kill her.”

For eighteen years, every time she was interviewed by a psychiatrist, Annie told them the same story about her husband. Every time she told it, it was seen as evidence of her delusional madness.

The tragedy is that she spoke the truth. Her husband was a brutal man and he had, indeed, knocked her about for years, and attempted to murder her, strangling her by the throat in one of his rages. He would have succeeded if he had not been dragged off by his oldest daughter and two sons.

It was her husband who was the lunatic, and he had succeeded in carrying out his threat to get rid of her, not by killing her but by having her incarcerated in the asylum he should have been in himself. The reason for her committal was her continuous crying. One of the psychiatrists described her, unsympathetically, as emotionally unstable, confused, and lachrymose. I’m sure if he had been in her shoes, he would have been all those things himself, would not have diagnosed himself as insane but as showing a normal response to the irrational and abusive treatment meted out by her husband.

Annie suffered a most terrible injustice. She should have been protected but instead she was locked up in the asylum in 1930 and did not get out until 1948. Cold blooded murderers do less time. Annie suffered what she did, for as long as she did, because she spoke her truth.  She had no idea that in speaking the truth, she was providing them with the ‘evidence’ to back up their misguided theories as to her mental state.

I would like to be able to say that such injustices were few and far between, but in truth they were all too common. As recently as 2007, a lady of 85 years of age was finally traced by her family, 70 years after being committed to an asylum in 1937, under the 1890 Lunacy Act. She was 15 when she was committed for the ‘crime’ of stealing half a crown from the doctor’s surgery where she worked as a cleaner. The money was later found, but too late for this poor girl. She spent the rest of her life being shunted from one mental institution to another, until she was moved to a care home in her old age.

Many of these dreadful places were closed down towards the end of the 20th century. Stories abound of how these elderly ladies then being released had been placed there as young girls of fourteen or fifteen, for the ‘crime’ of having illegitimate babies. Yet, no man was ever imprisoned for having fathered one.

So many lives were never lived. Such cruelties were commonplace. Before her death in 1797, Mary Wollstonecraft was writing a novel entitled Maria; The Wrongs of Woman. The novel’s heroine, Maria, has been placed in a madhouse by an abusive husband who seeks to control her money and her liberty for his own ends. In those days, it was only too easy for a man with money to have his unwanted wife committed to a privately paid asylum.

The parallels between Annie’s story and Wollstonecraft’s heroine, Maria, are obvious. Both were sent to the madhouse by duplicitous husbands and for spurious reasons. I’m sure Mary Wollstonecraft must have hoped that one hundred and fifty years after her death such things would not still be happening. In Annie’s case, it seems that her continued incarceration for so many years was due to laziness on the part of those who could have properly helped her; they chose not to investigate whether what she was saying was true, and chose instead to reaffirm their own misguided beliefs.

There is no changing the past. What is done cannot be undone. But I hope that in the telling of Annie’s truth some small piece of justice will finally be hers.

Incidentally, the mental asylum that played such a part in the demolition of my granny’s life, was itself demolished in 2011.

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow      The Calling of the Raven updated book cover      Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd

The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd

Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/i1sy302jXXK

You can also follow the author:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/jennylloydauthor

Pinterest; http://www.pinterest.com/jennyoldhouse

 

 

Treasures amid the ruins of past lives.

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A passage from Leap the Wild Water;

We had reached the ruins of Hafod by then, and I remembered how, years ago, Morgan and I had played in this ruin as children. We’d ride over here on our ponies. Back then, there were still remnants of a roof and the outside walls were intact. We’d light a fire in the hearth, though the chimney was full of crow’s nests. Sian talked as we picked our way round the crumbled walls of the house, stepping over roof slates overgrown with weeds, and stooping to pick up bits of broken china cups and such.

A ‘ hafod’ was a summer dwelling or place. My earliest traced ancestors lived in a place called Hafodeidos. Its English translation conjures up an 18th century rural idyll – the summer place of the nightingales.

The name of Hafod has ancient origins, harking back to a way of living which was practiced by the early Welsh people. They lived according to a semi-nomadic system of transhumance. In summertime they lived in summer dwellings called ‘hafod’ which were situated up in the mountains. Their animals grazed on the rough mountain pasture while the family lived in the ‘hafod’, which was no more than a roughly built hut but served as adequate shelter through the summer months. They lived off the milk and cheese they acquired from the freely grazing cows and sheep. Loving to roam the Welsh mountains as I do, this seems to me to be the most idyllic of existences in summertime.

Only when winter drew near would the family make their way down the mountain to live in their winter dwelling. This was called a ‘handref’ and provided better shelter from winter weather while offering some protection for people and animals from the wolves which then roamed the Welsh countryside.

I failed to find anything but ruins of many of the homes of my ancestors. Long abandoned, due their remoteness or inaccessibility when transport became motorised. Many of the old tracks remain, now marked as bridle-paths or footpaths, when once they would have witnessed the weekly trundle of cartwheels, carrying the family to market or chapel.

If you walk anywhere in the Welsh countryside, you will still encounter the occasional ruin, tucked away on some remote hillside. Often, as in the photos above, the only thing still standing is the chimney wall, complete with beam-topped fireplace. Slate tiles litter the ground amidst the fallen stones, and the remains of broken china lie scattered about among nettles and grass; a cup-handle here, a shard of plate there. As I walk amid the ruins of long-since crumbled homes, I am always left wondering how many children were raised or died within that house; how many couples lived, loved and died between its walls?

That is the pull of old ruins, for they hint at the stories lost to history, leaving us writerly souls to fill the gaps with our imaginations. As I trample among them, I fancy I hear the sound of children’s laughter, and their footfalls chasing about boarded rooms that no longer exist. I imagine glimpses of petticoats, pinafores, waistcoats and breeches; always just around the corner, hidden from sight.

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A family of eighteen children were raised  in the house above, within living memory.

As a child I often played amid the ruins of an old chapel which lay a few fields away from our house. Its roof was gone but its walls remained, and it was said that the roof had been struck by lightning when the congregation were singing inside. The roof caught fire and the congregation fled. A Baptist chapel it was. They must have thought that God himself had finally come to smite them down for their sins…

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Opposite that chapel, was the ruins of what was once the chapel house. Damson trees grew behind what remained of its walls and we’d clamber up those trees in autumn, to harvest their purple fruit. There is nothing but grass and weeds to be seen there now. The earth has swallowed its remains and covered them over as if they had never been.

The same has happened to the cottages which were once said to exist below our old farmhouse. Not even a grass-smothered outline remains of one of them. Nature has gathered them all into her bosom, obliterating man’s attempts at permanence, and returned the fields to her beloved green.

The extraordinary is to be found beneath the ordinary. Within the lives of ordinary people, extraordinary stories can be found. Inscribed on ancient tombstones, between the lines of census entries, or beneath the scattered slates and stones; dig deep enough amid the ruins of the past and there is treasure to be found.

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow      The Calling of the Raven updated book cover      Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd

The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd

Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/i1sy302jXXK

You can also follow the author:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/jennylloydauthor

Pinterest; http://www.pinterest.com/jennyoldhouse

Have you had your oats today?

Oats were once the main staple in the diets of rural people in upland Wales. Part of the research for my novel, Leap the Wild Water, involved finding out what the rural poor ate in the early 19th century. What I discovered was a diet dominated mainly by oats and milk. The only variations in the oats and milk diet were subtle variations in the preparation, invented no doubt to relieve the monotonous boredom of eating the same bland foodstuffs every day.

Oats were used to make oat bread, oatcakes, to thicken vegetable broths, in milk broths, and mixed with milk to make a fairly tasteless, porridge-like substance. Oatcakes seemed to have been eaten at almost every meal time. The most common recipe consisted of mixing fine oatmeal with bacon fat, boiling water and a pinch of salt. This mixture was then kneaded well. After rolling out and cutting into circles, the ‘cakes’ were then cooked on a hot baking stone placed over the fire.

Cawl llaeth was a milk broth eaten at breakfast time and very like the porridge we eat today; made with skimmed milk, oatmeal, water and salt boiled together.

An inventive variation on the oats for breakfast theme was to serve Cawl -with crushed oatcakes added; the downside of having this for breakfast meant that you would be eating the same meal at breakfast as at dinner – Cawl being the main meal of the day. Cawl is a Welsh broth, made by adding vegetables to water in which salt beef or bacon is being boiled, and then thickened with, yes, you have guessed it, oatmeal.

‘Shot’ was a common supper dish. It was basically oatcakes steeped in buttermilk.

For a little variety ‘Sopas’ was eaten at breakfast in summer time; this was made by heating buttermilk to blood temperature, then rennet was added and the mixture placed in a cloth covered bowl. This less than delightful sounding mixture was then left for several hours before being mixed and served. At least it didn’t have oatmeal in it, though it is more than likely that oatcakes were served up on the side.

Even the mid-day meal did not escape the addition of oats, as the bread served with the home-made cheese and butter would have likely been oat bread.

The mind numbing monotony of the rural Welsh diet was the direct result of there being nothing to eat which could not be grown. Thus, Cawl was made from the bacon of one’s own pig and the vegetables grown in the garden. Your cow would provide the milk to drink, and for making cheese and butter. If pudding was eaten at all it was likely to be stewed apples or whatever other fruit was in season in the garden or the wild.

Upland Wales was not a conducive climate for growing cereal crops but people had to grow a certain amount of oats, rye and barley to feed themselves and their animals. What came to be known as ‘Radnorshire’ oats was able to survive the cold and wet Welsh climate.

Though sheep were the predominant animal in upland Wales, they were not reared for meat but for their wool. However, after lambs were weaned, their milk was often added to cow’s milk to make cheese. A typical recipe for cheese was a gallon of ewe’s milk to four gallons of cow’s milk, to which rennet and salt were added. I imagine this would be similar in texture and taste to Swiss Gruyere and provided a tasty addition to an otherwise bland and monotonous diet.

The whey from cheese making was used to make ‘Gwyneb Maidd’. The whey was brought to near boiling point when fresh milk and buttermilk were added. This mixture would then curdle, at which point bread was added. I vividly remember my mother making a similar dish for us as children, liberally sprinkled with salt and pepper, which we ate before bedtime. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. My mother made all her own bread, butter and cheese on the farm where I grew up in Wales, until well into the 1960’s, by which time it ceased to be economically necessary or viable. Even now, the faintest whiff of buttermilk has the power to transport me back to my mother’s white-washed dairy.

We have such a varied diet these days; it is hard to imagine the monotony of the self-sufficient diet of earlier times. Back then, bad weather and failed crops could mean starvation to a family. We all know about the Irish famines, but Wales too suffered famines on a regular basis; though people did not die in such numbers as in Ireland because they were not so reliant on potatoes.

I have experimented with growing my own vegetables organically, as part of the research for my novel. It is time consuming and sometimes soul destroying work when the results are far less than hoped for. The past years of unusually cold, wet summers did not help.

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow     The Calling of the Raven updated book cover     Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd

The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd

Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/73tq302Ov71

You can also follow the author:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/jennylloydauthor

Pinterest; http://www.pinterest.com/jennyoldhouse

19th century knitters

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Research can lead a writer down some unexpected avenues of discovery. While researching my novel, Leap the Wild Water, I bought a spinning wheel and taught myself to spin wool. I wanted to see just how much time it would take for one of my characters to knit a pair of stockings from raw wool. I got to really like spinning wool, its very relaxing, but I failed to master the art of knitting stockings.

It’s astonishing to think that such a laborious task as stocking knitting once played a big part in the Welsh rural economy. In fact, wool manufacture was the most prolific industry in Wales from the Middle Ages to mid-19th century.

Unlike today, when the cost of producing wool outweighs the price it fetches, wool was once a prized commodity, and the textile industry in Wales provided an income of sorts for countless households. From the poor cottagers employed in carding and spinning wool, to the enterprising farmers who housed weaving looms in lean-to sheds, called ty-gwydd, on their farms; there were few who were not involved in some way.

Many women of rural Wales were proficient spinners and highly skilled in the art of knitting. They were able to produce knitted garments for their own family’s needs. Despite the time-consuming labour involved in carding (usually done with teasel heads) and spinning the wool into yarn prior to knitting, many were able to support themselves by knitting and selling stockings. Such was the demand for their knitted stockings that a Walter Davies, in 1799, estimated that annual production ran to approximately 192,000 pairs.

Many stocking knitters sold their wares at local markets; some would stand along the stage-coach highways to sell to passing travellers; others sold to the local ‘stocking man’ who would collect from them each week. These ‘stocking men’ travelled far afield and over the English border to sell the stockings in the markets of large towns.

It was a common sight to see women knitting as they walked along the country lanes or hilltops. Great distances had to be walked in those days and the time taken was usefully spent on knitting. Yarn hooks were often used. These were s-shaped hooks; one side would hang from their apron strings while the spool of wool was attached to the other. Knitting sheaths were also popular; suspended from the hip, they bore the weight of the garment being knitted. These were handmade and carved, and given as love tokens, much as the Welsh love spoons were.

Farmer’s wives had an abundant source of wool for knitting, but poor cottagers had to source their wool by gathering the waste wool lost from the sheep amongst the gorse and bracken of the hilltops, or rubbed off along stone walls. This too was a laborious and time-consuming task but to have enough wool to meet the family’s needs, or to make a little extra money, was essential.

There is a scene in Leap the Wild Water when the wool gatherers arrive from the coast to gather waste wool from the mountain tops. The arrival of the wool gatherers was a much anticipated annual event. They would travel many miles with enough provisions to last them a week. Their journey entailed sleeping under the stars or sheltering in derelict barns by night, on route to their destinations. I would have loved to travel alongside them.

The knitting circles which have become so popular in recent years aren’t a new thing. Knitting evenings were a common event for past generations. Candlelight being expensive, numbers of people would take turns to congregate in each other’s houses of an evening; to knit, and gossip, and entertain each other with stories from times gone by.

Home-made dyes came from the surrounding landscape. Here are just a few, should you fancy experimenting for yourself;

  • Lichens were an abundant source, giving colours from pale green to deep pink, depending on whether they were picked from the mountain rocks or trees. In the 19th century, both women and children made money from gathering and selling lichen to merchants. In 1816 it was being sold for one and a half pence a pound. It was believed that lichen-dyed socks would prevent the feet from sweating.
  • Bruised sloe berries boiled with the wool gave a rose colour.
  • Elderberries with an alum mordant gave a bluey-green.
  • The roots of bedstraw and tormentil, which grow in abundance in spring-time on the upland hills of Wales, were some of the few plants which would produce red.
  • Gorse bark, flowers and young leaves produced yellow.
  • Bracken, another abundant plant on Welsh mountains, gave brown.
  • Dandelions produced magenta.

Just imagine how much time went into making one pair of stockings or a shawl! Yet, the domestic industry of stocking knitting only began to decline in the mid-1800’s with the advent of the railways and advances in knitting machinery. Then, machine-made hose became cheaply available in village and town shops and it was no longer economically viable as a living.

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow     The Calling of the Raven updated book cover     Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd

The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd

Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/73tq302Ov71

You can also follow the author:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/jennylloydauthor

Pinterest; http://www.pinterest.com/jennyoldhouse

What would you do if you had to walk in this man’s shoes?

Like most writers, I am fascinated by what makes people tick. If you have read my novel, Leap the Wild Water, you will know Morgan is one of its central characters. He is trying and failing to do what is right, and living with the consequences of having acted against his own conscience. He knows he has done his sister a great wrong and the consequences of that wrong are on-going. Yet, it is only following the death of his mother that he comes to fully realise the enormity of what he has done. Before his mother’s death he did not have to take responsibility for the consequences of his actions; he could tell himself that he was powerless against his mother’s authority. When she dies, he can no longer shift blame and responsibility onto her and is robbed of a means by which he can absolve himself. Only then, too late, does he decide he must make amends.

There have been many studies investigating the reasons why people act against their consciences and do terrible things. Most of these studies took place in the 1960’s in an attempt to try to understand how the atrocities of the holocaust of WW2 could have happened. One of the best known studies is the experiment done by Stanley Milgram, who set out to prove that anyone is capable of obeying orders to harm others under certain circumstances. He found people were most likely to obey orders if the person issuing the order had legitimate authority, and if the person obeying the order would not be held responsible for the consequences. A person wishing to disobey was more likely to do so if there were others supporting him.

Those who obey orders to inflict harm on others, as Morgan did to his sister Megan, will seek to justify their actions. Lerner(1980) claimed that people need to believe the world is just and fair and everyone gets what they deserve. Lerner called this the ‘just world hypothesis’. This is what Morgan does; after doing what his mother asks of him, he shifts blame onto his sister Megan, tells her and himself that it is Megan’s own fault that he has done what he has; that she has brought it all on herself by going against convention.

Prior to doing his Mam’s bidding, Morgan saw himself as a good, kind and decent man. Afterwards, he finds it hard to live with himself. Festinger (1957) called this internal conflict ‘cognitive dissonance’; this happens when a person’s actions contradict their personal beliefs about themselves and their feelings about what is right and wrong. In Milgram’s experiment, many of the participants experienced cognitive dissonance and dealt with this internal conflict by derogating their victims, just as Morgan did in order to preserve his self-esteem.

From the moment Morgan’s mother attempts to draw him into her plans, all the odds are against Morgan acting according to his own conscience. His mother exploits her authority over him; when asking him to do what he cannot bear to, she calls him ‘boy’. She fuels his anger at his sister’s betrayal, uses this to her advantage, and encourages him to believe it is his sister who is to blame for what they are ‘forced’ to do; thus giving Morgan a ‘hook on which he gladly hangs his own guilt’.

By the time Morgan realises his moral failings it is too late, and  any attempts to right the wrong will only further harm his sister. Knowing this, he procrastinates until an escalation in events forces his hand, with catastrophic results.

It would be far too simplistic to think of Morgan as a weak man unable to stand up to his own mother. The shocking truth which Stanley Milgram offered the world was that it is not only the weak or the morally corrupt who can be led to commit cruel acts against others, but people like you and me, and Morgan, otherwise kind and decent human beings.

Few of us are forced to choose between two people we love. Morgan chooses his mother over the sister who has lied to him and betrayed his trust. His decision was greatly influenced by his anger at his sister.What do you think you would have done in Morgan’s shoes?  Do you feel compassion or contempt for him and his dilemma? Many who have read Leap the Wild Water tell me they begin by feeling contempt for him but end with feeling compassion, which is what I hoped.

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow     The Calling of the Raven updated book cover     Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd

The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd

Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/73tq302Ov71

You can also follow the author:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/jennylloydauthor

Pinterest; http://www.pinterest.com/jennyoldhouse