I rented a car, searching for just the right setting for the story I had in mind. The moment I drove into the Vale of Ewyas I knew I had found Colin’s home. This graceful green valley had everything I had imagined—an abandoned priory, an ancient hill fort, steep ravines and spectacular vistas.
Unfortunately, the geographic elements in the real valley were more scattered than would work for my story. I took the liberty of rearranging them and calling my fictional valley Honddu Vale after the River Honddu that runs through the original. (The DD in Honddu is pronounced like the TH in 'the' and the final U is like a long EE. HON-thee.)
On Sunday I stopped for lunch at Queenshead Inn (inspiration for Colin’s King’s Head). A friendly widow joined me. After all, I had taken “her” table by the fire. She and her friends sitting at the bar encouraged me to explore Patrishow Church—well worth the incredibly steep and windy road.
My husband and I later returned to the valley for a romantic weekend at the B&B in the remains of Llantony Priory. We stayed in the tower room at the top of the winding stair that I assigned to Catherine in my story.
Walking the hills of Wales, exploring its historic sites, reading what its people had to say, gave me invaluable insights into my characters and setting. I am grateful for the privilege.
[Don't miss the Settings of Honddu Vale video.]
Take advantage of local sources whether via the Internet or in person. Emotional history is not written in the seats of power. Cardiff library had whole shelves of books from a Welsh perspective that I hadn’t found elsewhere. Most historical societies and cultural museums have staff or knowledgeable volunteers who are more than happy to answer your questions in person or by e-mail. And they can refer you to other sources. The docent I talked to at Cardiff Castle referred me to someone at a sixteenth century manor house who gave me a personal behind-the-scenes tour and answered my many questions. Even when you are inventing your setting, having something real in mind is a lot easier than making it all up.