Friday, December 28, 2007

What I'm reading now...

Hadrian's Wall and its People, by Geraint Osborn. Published 2006 by Bristol Phoenix Press; 132 pages. $24.95 (paperback), $75.00 (hardback).

Chapter headings: Introduction, Why Build a Wall?, Military Life, Civilian Life, Hadrian's Wall and the End of Roman Britain, Conclusion: Hadrian's Wall and the English Sense of History.

Small, specialized, philosophical, uneasily poised between history and archeology, this book was an interesting read but ultimately disappointing. Considering its relatively modest size, too much space is spent on the archaeological history of Hadrian's wall and its defects, and on the effect of the idea of Roman Britain in 19th and 20th century British history. The maps provided are sketchy and look as if the author ran them up himself over a weekend; three line drawings illustrating Roman and British costume have the same amateur quality. The author's practice of referring to most of the Wall forts only by their modern British names is unhelpful to a non-British audience (a problem which could have been easily corrected by including the Roman names in parentheses, or at least putting them on a map key!). There is some good detail about staffing and conditions on the Wall, and about its relation to the rest of Roman Britain, and also lists of sites to visit and suggested further reading. The one thing that would have improved this book the most for me would have been better maps, in particular site maps. In addition, more detailed information on museums and interpretive sites on the Wall (including opening hours and location maps, or at least National Grid references) could have made this book a good companion to a tour of the Wall.

I bought my copy from David Brown, where it was half off at the time: reasonable value for money at that price, although the shipping puts it up a bit. If you think this one might be useful to you, I suggest you try interlibrary loan first.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Snow, snow, snow...

Denver is really wintry right now. In the last week we've had probably 14 or 15 inches, and it's still coming down. Not as bad as last year's Christmas and New Year's blizzards, which put down close to 3 feet of the stuff, but enough to make me glad I wasn't planning on any traveling this year! Christmas Day I walked the mile over to my sister's house rather than go though the sequence of remove snow from the vehicle, shovel area necessary to open back gate, drive down snow-clogged alley, pick way carefully along icy and/or snow-packed streets, then repeat sequence in reverse in the evening... At least it's nice dry powder, easy to shovel.

On the other hand, I've been getting some writing done. Over twenty pages so far over the break, and I'm starting the 5th chapter of The Ash Spear! Occasional pauses to research, to "let my head fill up again", etc, but good progress overall. So far the action is all in North Wales, though some of the later part of the book will take us into northern England again. I wish I could go over and take another look at the landscape, but for the moment I'm working on memories of past trips, reinforced with a little judicious web-surfing and research. Maybe next year...


Friday, December 21, 2007

Something seasonal and Welsh

I wrote this poem several years ago for the Colorado Welsh Society's Christmas celebration...

A December Song

Daw llewyrch lleu o dywyllwch mawr;
’n ôl noson hiraf daw y wawr.

From great dark will come bright light,
and dawn will follow the longest night.

Here we stand in the darkest month
before the turn of the year,
between the joy of returning light
and the night-time’s ancient fear,

in the dark month, in the Black Month,
at a time both bitter and sweet –
and both of these days should remembered be
wherever Welsh folk meet.

For twice a thousand years gone by
in the east a star burned bright,
and all our gifting on Christmas Day
recalls the Gift of that night.

Light out of darkness to light the world
and Joy out of sorrow came,
and still we meet to praise and pray
in Jesus’ holy name.

But bright and joyous though this month be,
old losses linger long –
so pray for Wales on Christmas Day
when you lift your hearts in song.

For seven hundred years gone by
in bitter days and sore,
last Prince of Wales, Llywelyn fell –
and the English won that war.

And many a man and woman wept,
and many a heart did break
in that December’s bitter dark
in the snows of winter bleak.

The wind and the rain so loudly roared,
the oak trees bowed in storm –
remember those days as here you sit
in your houses safe and warm.

But though in December’s dark he died,
Llywelyn died still free,
and while his people yet abide
some remember that liberty.

And remember here at the turn of the year
both the darkness and the light,
and labor on that a new dawn
may come from unending night.

And so on Christmas morning bright
as to church you blithely go,
pause for a moment and say a prayer
for Llywelyn in the snow.

And pray as well for those who fell
all down the course of the years,
fighting for Wales, for which they gave
body and blood – and tears.

And pray that the Language of Heaven may thrive
and gain all her own land back,
and not go down into scholarly dust,
lost in a library stack.

And as you gather now in this month
and your joyous carols sing,
remember December long ago
when Wales lost her earthly king.

As light out of darkness came before
in the light of the eastern star,
so let us pray for the dawn of Wales
as we look back from afar.

From great dark will come bright light,
and dawn will follow the longest night.
Daw llewyrch lleu o dywyllwch mawr;
’n ôl noson hiraf daw y wawr.


Friday, December 7, 2007

Moving On...

I haven't been posting for a couple of weeks, partly because I wanted to leave the two book blurbs at the top of the blog for a while, and partly because life has been, well, hectic. Hopefully things will slow down again soon and I'll have more time to write, review reference books, and do all those other things a blogger should do.

Regarding writing - I've managed two chapters of the next book - The Ash Spear - so far, and already the plot is acquiring unexpected dimensions. This is good, because it's exciting for me, and because it makes for a better book for you. I'm looking forward to having a couple of weeks off at Christmas and really making progress.