I first began writing romantic fiction about Wales after my first visit. I little understood the country or the culture – definitely not the language – but I was inspired by the astonishing fact that, in a country which is so little known outside its borders, a vibrant culture in a Celtic language that has been thriving for many, many centuries and all in a very modern country. This is not a tribal community untouched by modern technology. This is a 21st Century land that has held onto its culture and language with so much success and yet, few people know that Wales exists.
I fell in love with the language and that led to falling in love with the people and their culture. I don’t write factually based historical fiction. I think the best way to describe my novels about 9th and 10th Century Wales is Cultural Romances – love stories based on cultural and social circumstances upon which I can build a fictional existence for my characters.
I see no reason why History cannot lend itself to fiction in the same way that we accept contemporary stories have no basis in factual events. I use my imagination in combination with cultural, linguistic and social understanding and knowledge to create a story which is as real – in terms of the ‘human story’ as Euripides and Homer writing about their historical past.
I’m not comparing my writing to Greek classics, just making the point that the imagination is as valid as fact –more so in many circumstances. Shakespeare was writing about his society and the historical past with little concern for fact. Again, I’m not comparing myself to Shakespeare! Another example: Jeffrey Archer – admittedly a dubious choice if only for his utter disregard for truth in his own existence – still he wrote/writes stories that have no relationship to reality/fact/truth.
Until I actually lived in Cymru (Wales), I had no compunction about distorting facts. Until I became part of the culture, learned the language, began to feel what my compatriots felt about their history and culture, I used what little I did know with fantastical arrogance. After all, who cared if I used another culture to hang my stories on? Does it matter that historical fiction is so loosely based? If you enjoy what you’re reading/writing, who gets hurt?
Once I grasped the opportunity to live in Cymru, I was silent. I wrote only non-fiction, absorbing all I could of the country’s vibrance and tenacity. I became imbued with the strength of its nationalism. I did not become Cymraes (a Welsh woman), ‘go native’ as some of my immigrant contemporaries did. My awe and respect was deeper than pice man and pibau. I kept my mouth shut and learned.
When I could no longer contain my feelings, I began to write again, but without the arrogance. I couldn’t prevent myself from writing, I could only prevent myself for ‘going public’, which I did for most of the years I lived in Wales. Only when I decided to publicly accept being a writer did I have to make the decision to acknowledge that I write about my second homeland.
Ricardo Montalbán had one rule about playing any role as an Hispanic/Chicano/Latino character. He never played a part that brought shame on his origins. That is similar to my rule for writing about Cymru. I don’t distort facts, I select those that have meaning or bearing on my story and use them to my story’s advantage.