Present day. Dutch archivist Fenna van Wijk is helping architect Ned Thompson to sift through a stack of ancient papers kept in an untouched archive in an old English manor house in Lincolnshire.
Among manuscripts dealing with the holy Gilbert of Sempringham they discover a letter from 1275, written by Eleanor de Montfort, the young bride to be of Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. During their research, Fenna stumbles upon a mysterious child: Gwenllian. The English King Edward I had this infant locked away for ever in a cloister in … Sempringham.
When Fenna and Ned try to understand this harsh decision, they find more than they bargained for.
“Gwenllian: The Lost Princess” is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble as well as direct from Lulu.com (search on “Nicki Bullinga”) and through Google Books.
Copyright Nicki Bullinga (Standard Copyright Licence)
Edition First Edition
Publisher The Simon de Montfort Society
Published December 4th 2017
Binding Perfect-bound Paperback
Interior Ink Black & white
Weight 0.45 kg
Dimensions 14.81 cm wide x 20.98 cm tall
Drs Nicki Bullinga
Nicki Bullinga interviewed by David Snowden
“Tell me, Nicki …
Why did you write this book?
I wrote the book because I have been interested in Wales and Llywelyn for a long time. I started my studies with English at Utrecht University, and the courses I liked best were Old English and Middle English. After I passed my ‘propaedeuse‘ (foundation course), I switched to Medieval Studies, which is an umbrella study. Within Medieval Studies you had to choose two sub-studies for your certificate. Mine were Middle English and Celtic Cultures and Languages. I wanted to read the stories of the Mabinogion in their original language.
Where did you get your ideas and information?
I learned a lot about Europe in the Middle Ages, but I quickly concentrated on England and Wales and it must have been then that I first read about Llywelyn and Edward I. I discovered how harshly Edward had treated Llywelyn. My feelings about this are reflected in my character Fenna. I have always been opposed to feudal lords because of their arbitrary injustice, and Edward I was one big, terrible, mighty, selfish lord! When I came upon the story about Eleanor and Llywelyn’s only child being seized and carried off to Sempringham, I immersed myself even further into their story. As I was also an archaeology student, I even visited all the Edwardian castles in Wales and gave lectures about them in Holland.
Did you have any goals for Gwenllian when you began writing it?
In 2006 I was thinking about writing another children’s book and, at first, I wanted to write a story about the daughter of Eleanor’s handmaid. But with Eleanor’s story being as it was, I couldn’t make a child do everything that was needed to help Eleanor, so I dropped that idea. Then I thought: why not approach it from the other side? As the tale is set in history, an author can research the story and add his/her own fantasies. That is how I came to write the story of my protagonists as a quest set in the present day. When I first learned about Gwenllian, I wondered if she ever knew who she really was? Or did Edward I succeed in eradicating her past? I could not stand this thought which is why I made Gwenllian the main focus of the book. I bought the books which were relevant to her story so I could quote from them as I did in Gwenllian (for example Brut y Tywysogyon, The Chronicle by Robert Manning of Brunne and others). From the list of my own books in Gwenllian, you can see that I had several other books published before I continued writing about Fenna and Ned’s quest for this lost child.
Give us an insight into Fenna, your main character. For example, who is she based on?
Fenna is based on me, I think, in her actions. She works in the Regional Archives, as I once did; she loves old languages and books just like me, she doesn’t like the nobility either, and she is set on finding out what happened to Gwenllian after they find a fragment of a manuscript written by Eleanor. Ned is just a nice guy, Paul Archer and Cat are definitely based on people I know.
If Gwenllian were made into a film who would you like to play Fenna?
Honestly, I have no idea …
Is there a character in Gwenllian that you dislike? Why?
Well, actually there isn’t a character I do not like! I like the way Lewis mellows towards Fenna and Ned and that, in the end, he is a full member of the Waterville family history. He even serves coffee! I disliked Lord Waterville until he finally shows a sense of humour when he tells them about the training you need to do to become a lord. Even Fitzpatrick, he’s just a simple crook who bet on the wrong horse.
How much of Gwenllian is realistic or do you agree that fiction writing is ‘telling lies tinged with truth’?
All the historical facts are exactly that: facts. I obviously created Waterville Manor, all the parchment pieces and Sioned’s booklet, otherwise there wouldn’t be a story. Someone who read the manuscript said it was ‘fictional history’. I like that term. Isn’t that the way all authors write when they have the facts in their head? They come up with a story and place the facts within. I’m not sure about “fiction writing is ‘telling lies tinged with truth’ ”. I wouldn’t want to define fiction as ‘telling lies’, as it is something the author believes in. It is different when facts are twisted to match a story. Unless the author explains that he/she did so in order to get a story.
When did you realize that you wanted to be a writer and how old were you when you wrote your first book?
As most authors, it started at school. I wrote a fairy story when I was nine or ten, Snowdrop and the Stork (It’s on my website https://www.pasttimebooks.nl/nicki-bullinga/eigen-boeken-1. It was supposed to be a short story but it became a little longer. But I got a 9.5 (an “A”) for it, so I was very pleased! All my papers when at University were too long and my writing must have shown through already then. I had written my first ‘real’ book Het stein van Walraven (The Castle of Walraven) when my friend Henk Hardeman’s first children’s book was published in 1998. Then I thought: hey, that’s nice! And I sent my manuscript to the same publisher who actually published it. Ever since I have been writing even though not all of my books have been published.
How would you describe your writing style?
I write very easily. I write a lot without interruption, it just flows out of my fingers. The next day I look at what I have written and correct where necessary.
Are you inspired by other writers? Who?
No, I don’t think I write like anybody else. I have learned from every book I’ve written (ooh, I’ll never write like that again!), and the writing becomes better with every book.
When you are not writing what are your favourite history activities?
When I’m not writing, I read a lot, go to lectures. I am a member of several Dutch historical societies, and they have interesting lectures, excursions etc. Since 2013, I hone my skills as an miniaturist: I make little works of art from polymer clay which I sell online and at arts and crafts markets- www.thailaworks.nl (also in English.)
Have you any writing rituals or superstitions?
Nope, none whatsoever. I just sit down and type away.
And the inevitable question …
What is your next project?
I am not sure. At the moment all has stopped because I’m working along with Henk Hardeman on a Dutch translation from the German Das Kaisserreich. We’ll be busy till May, I think. I started to translate one of my Dutch children’s books into English as it will not be published in Holland, perhaps because it is more suited for a U.K. audience. It is my ‘stone’ book, about a mysterious stone circle (the Nine Ladies at Stanton Moor) and an old legend which is set in Derbyshire. Or… I could translate my other published book, a novel based and set in North-Yorkshire (Donkere Grond), where I dug for five years at the Wharram Percy Deserted Medieval Village. In Holland we have one saying: de koe bij de hoorns vatten, which translates as ‘to grasp the nettle’. Now that I have ONE book published in England, I might get the chance to publish another. ”