AmeriCymru: Writing a book is quite an undertaking, requiring many hours filled with some frustration and much doubt. What was the motivation for writing Rhydian's Quest?
Vivienne: Originally I had no intention of writing a book, the book sort of happened after the story was finished. It had been written in episodes over several months, giving me a lot of pleasure in the telling of it. When it came to an end several of my friends who had been following the “saga” suggested I made it into a book. Some had not joined the story until halfway through and wanted to read the whole thing. I had always been a keen writer and several times started a novel and had written short stories when younger, purely for my own satisfaction, so I thought why not? I asked my husband – who is a just but honest critic – to read the finished manuscript. He said “Do I HAVE to?” and then read it over two nights and said he had actually enjoyed it and thought I could certainly have a go at getting it published!!
AmeriCymru: Your choice of subject matter, Welsh Mythology and history, requires an in-depth knowledge of both. Were these subjects known to you before you started writing, or did you have to spend much time in research? If so, why choose a topic requiring that much time and effort?
Vivienne: I had much of the basic knowledge of many of the main strands, for instance Llewellyn the Great, and of course Merlin and Arthur, although they had been Cornish and Somerset based. Some of the Roman occupation of Wales was also known to me, but as I delved deeper into the myths and legends of Wales the interest grew and I found it so fascinating how the same legends, with a slightly different slant could be found in many cultures. Some were almost certainly inventions by the storytellers of the time, others have come from folk memory, embellished and changed over the years. A good example of this is the drowning of Cardigan Bay, almost certainly an actual event, but not as recent as some stories tell. There are submerged forests that can be visible at very low water and one possible reason is low lying land that suffered a major Tsunami some time in the ancient past.
I researched as I went along, having a rough outline of the next phase of my story I read and studied online as well as drawing from existing tales before taking my hero onto his next adventure. Sometimes I wanted him to go in one direction, but he seemed to have a will of his own and took me down a different pathway! I had for instance wanted him to go to the Preseli mountains home of the bluestone rocks possible used at Stonehenge, but he went northwards instead, and I just gave him a bit of the stone purported to have healing qualities in the ring and cup of Emrys!!
The research was certainly was a labour of love, not a chore!!
AmeriCymru: How long did it take you to write Rhydian's Quest - from the time of inception to sending it to a publisher?
Vivienne: That is really two separate parts, the writing of the saga took about 18 months, then the editing and publishing took about another year. I certainly rejected some of the original episodes, including the opening poem, which was very bad and kicked into my recycling bin!
AmeriCymru: It is not common to find a modern book written in verse in the U.S., is it more common in the U.K.? What made you decide to write your first book in verse?
Vivienne: The original idea was given to me by a friend from an online poetry group, so it started in verse, and carried on in that format. Because it was written in parts the rhyming style was not always the same, sometimes each line rhymed, sometimes every other line did, and a few were blank verse. When I decided to make it into a book I did consider various options, such as re-writing it in prose, but that would have taken away a lot of the feel of the story, which I had written much as a wandering troubadour would have in the time it was set. I also considered rationalising the verse, so it was all the same, but I did not think this was necessary or important, each part could stand on its own, as the final format of the book is set.
As for this being a common format for a book, the answer is a resounding no, and one which will make it a niche market and almost certainly lessen its chances of selling in any great numbers!! On the book website www.rhydians-quest.co.uk there are some excerpts from the book read by Philip Knighton and this shows how it does in fact read more like prose than verse.
I did find that writing in this format meant I was giving more attention to each word used being relevant and having more meaning, it stopped me being woolly and rambling. Sometimes I wished I had more scope to expand and describe, but overall I am pleased with the tightness that I feel it has given to the story.
AmeriCymru: You used changes of verb tenses to emphasize an action or event. Was this an intentional tool?
Vivienne: I was delighted that you picked this up, yes I found it was a good tool to use, I also use it in places to indicate a change in time, during his dream sequences for instance. I could also speed up or slowdown the narrative using this.
AmeriCymru: Rhyming couplets appear throughout the book, but don't seem to have a particular purpose or order. I found that they caused me to stop and go back over the passage to get a better understanding of the sense and meter. Was that their intent?
Vivienne: Again this was sometimes the story independently dictating the form, it was as if it gathered momentum and so changed the rhythm as the story progressed. Certainly some of the original verse form was a bit “Tum-de-tum” and quickly replaced with a less obvious rhythm. It is probably not a purist piece of writing, and I do not claim to be a real poet, but it is a form of writing that I enjoy and find I can express my feelings in.
AmeriCymru: You used places which actually exist or did exist whether in Mythology or History. I have begun to gather the places and plan to travel the route through Google. Was this your intent?
Vivienne: All the places are real, some have almost completely disappeared now, for instance Castell Du is difficult to find and nothing is known for sure about its history, who build it or when – so I could take author liberties with it!! Some are only found by looking at place names, whilst others have grown and are now large thriving communities. To say nothing of becoming a tourist place such as the Gold Mines, or still remain a spiritual retreat, like Bardsey Island is.
I would love my story to have given people the desire to look the places and their history up, maybe even visit them on a Rhydian’s Quest Trail!!! Some places I already knew others I have since visited and some hope I to soon, but they are all within a lovely country and well worth visiting. I found the roman road to Y Pigwen especially atmospheric and I could well imagine souls from long ago still to be found there. The Glaslyn Estuary is now land, with the wall built across from Porthmadoc, but imagination can fill in the sea and rebuild castle walls, bringing alive every place along the trail!!
AmeriCymru: Most fables have a moral or object lesson, and Rhydian's Quest certainly follows this mold, so I wasn't disappointed. How would you summarize the "moral" of this work?
Vivienne: I suppose it is that a person must remain true to themselves and have the courage to take a different route to others if that is what they truly believe. But also to realise that your ideas can change and to keep your mind open to what is important in life.
It was not started as a morality tale, although I suppose that is what it became, though not I trust a sanctimonious or preaching one. That is far from me as a person and not what was intended.
However, I do believe that there is a need and a place for a tale told without the input of excessive violence or blatant sex. Will not do it much good on the bestsellers list though!!
AmeriCymru: We are both fans of Rhydian Roberts, one of Wales' rising vocal stars, and you have given clues about him in the pages of Rhydian's Quest. At what point during the writing of your book did you decide to include Rhydian Roberts?
Vivienne: You have found me out!! The circle of online poets that encouraged me in the writing of my saga are all supporters of Rhydian Roberts, and the original poem came during a quiet time when nothing much was happening. One member, who my book is dedicated to, gave all the poets a task to do, all in fun, and knowing my passion for them I was given the job of looking after his horses. Now to the best of my knowledge Rhydian has no interest in horses [can’t be perfect] so instead a young man from medieval Wales rode into my mind and the story took shape.
Naturally my hero being Welsh could sing, and luckily there was a castle site in modern day Rhydian’s home village. However I must stress that this book is not about Rhydian Roberts, although according to my husband I have idealised what I would have liked him to have been in medieval times, it is simply a story and nothing should be read into it.
It is fortunate that his name is three syllables and so lends itself to a good cadence, not sure if I could have used some names in the same way.
AmeriCymru: Your first published book has been a real hit with me and my family; from wife to grandchildren. What are your future literary plans?
Vivienne: It is very rewarding to hear people have enjoyed my tale, I want people to have a smile on their face at the finish and say – Ahh I enjoyed that, hopefully enough to re-read it and gain more from the story on a second visit.
In my wildest dreams I would like Rhydian’s Quest to be set to music, but I cannot write music and realistically I know that will remain just that - a wild dream!!
I would very much like to write another book, I have an idea running around my head right now; I just need the time to sit down and do it. The next one will not be in verse, but I hope with have the same attention to the writing and meaning of words.
Interview by Howard Evans
Read our review of 'Rhydian's Quest' here