Wednesday, 11 December 2013

John de Breos, Lord of Bramber and Gower

Windsor Castle (Wikimedia)
Windsor Castle (Wikimedia)
This is the sad story of John de Breos (or de Braose), who was only 12 when his grandfather William was hounded out of the country by King John, and his grandmother and uncle were locked up in Windsor Castle and left to starve to death. 

This story is told in my book Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John. John was nicknamed "Tadody" by the Welsh who hid him in Gower, and he was later in the custody of Engelard de Cigogny (castellan of Windsor) along with his brother Giles.

Cigogny was ordered to give the two boys up to William de Harcourt in 1214. But John was not freed. Peter de Maulay, constable of Corfe castle was ordered to free John into the care of the bishop of Winchester and Hubert de Burgh in 1216. Peter was again ordered to release John and Giles in 1218. This time the order seems to have been carried out.

John disputed his uncle Reginald's claim to the Braose lands, sometimes resorting to arms. Llywelyn the Great helped him to secure Gower in 1219. In return he married Llywelyn's daughter Margaret. In 1221, with the advice and permission of Llewelyn, he repaired his castle of Abertawy (Swansea) or Seinhenydd. He purchased the Rape of Bramber, the original Braose family seat, from Reginald and his son, William, in 1226.

In that year John confirmed the family gifts to Sele Priory, near Bramber, and to the Abbey of St. Florent, Saumur, and added others. After the death of Reginald in 1228, John became Lord of Skenfrith, Grosmont and Whitecastle, the three Marcher castles, by charter from the king but he lost these in 1230 to Hugh de Burghat the same time as Gower became a subtenancy of de Burgh's Honour of Carmarthen and Cardigan.

He had four children: William, Richard, John & Llywelyn de Braose. William was the grandfather of Alina, the subject of my book Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth. John (the father) was killed by a fall from his horse at Bramber in 1232, and William inherited his estates.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The Angevins

The Angevins were named after their territory of Anjou in France. In the 12th century they became rulers also of the kingdom of Jerusalem. When Fulk the Younger went to Jerusalem, his son Geoffrey Plantagenet succeeded him as ruler of Anjou.

Enamel effigy on Geoffrey's tomb
Henry I's daughter Matilda married Geoffrey Plantagenet, and after a long period of conflict over the English throne following Henry's death, it was finally agreed that their son Henry would be the next king. Henry II came to the throne ruling over not only England, but extensive lands in France. The Angevin empire included more land in France than ruled by the King of France! The lands stretched from the borders of Scotland to the Pyrenees, and included Ireland, given to him by Pope Adrian IV (the only English Pope). He was possibly the most powerful monarch in Europe at the time. 

His marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine and relationship with their children was immortalised in the film The Lion in Winter, starring Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn.

Martyrdom of Thomas Becket
Henry II spent much of his time away from England fighting abroad, and living in his French lands. The most memorable event of his reign was the murder of Thomas à Becket by over-enthusiastic knights, for which he was forced to do public penance. He hoped to prevent disputes between his four sons by crowning his eldest son, Henry, as king during his own lifetime, and giving substantial lands to his other sons. 

Unfortunately this only made his sons want power sooner, and they attempted to oust him from the throne. Henry, the eldest son, died of a fever and Geoffrey died in a tournament accident, so when Henry II died he was succeeded by Richard. Richard may have earned the name Lionheart, but he spent nearly all his reign outside England and never learned English. His reign was only a success because he appointed capable men to run the government while he went on Crusade. 

The last of the Angevin kings was John, who was not trained or equipped for the job. Recent study has suggested he may have been autistic and/or bipolar, which would go a long way towards explaining his erratic behaviour. Time after time, he mishandled and misread situations and lost many battles. By 1205, six years into his reign, only a fragment of the vast Angevin empire acquired by Henry II remained.

He was also forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, which restated the rights of the church, the barons and all in the land. John died in ignominy, having broken the contract, leading the nobles to summon aid from France and creating a precarious position for his young son and heir, Henry III.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

What Have They Done To Swansea Castle Part 2


A while ago, I wrote about work on Swansea Castle. For years, the ruin has been fronted by a large grassy bank, and largely inaccessible.

The height of the bank was deceptive, because the soil had built up over the years, so the ground level was much higher than it would have been originally. So when the Council removed the bank, I was encouraged. I was not so encouraged to see concrete and paving replace it.


Now the barriers have gone and the Council workmen are putting the finishing touches to the site. It's not as bad as I feared. There are flower beds and seats. I'm withholding the final judgement until next spring when we see what is planted.


I'm also curious as to whether the Council will go on to the next phase and make the ruins accessible for the public. They've been talking about it, but will there be enough money?


It was Swansea Castle that led me to the medieval lords of Gower, and my two local history books, Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth and Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John. Also available on Smashwords. Print copies available from me for £4.99, postage free.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013


Inheritance in medieval times could be a very complicated thing. Here, for example, is the story of part of William II de Breos' inheritance.

In the early part of the twelfth century, William de Braose (or de Breos) married Bertha, the daughter of Miles of Gloucester. While this was an advantageous marriage in terms of links to a wealthy family, it was not expected to bring William any land. Miles was Earl of Hereford and lord over Brecon, Upper Gwent, the Forest of Dean and other lands. 

Miles had four sons, as well as three daughters. The tradition was for the eldest son to inherit when the father died, but if he then died it would pass to the next son. With four sons, one of them would certainly inherit when Miles died. 

At the end of 1143 Miles died unexpectedly, while still in his prime. His eldest son, Roger, became the Earl, but was deprived of the earldom of Hereford for treason in 1155 and died within a few months. Miles' second son Walter inherited, but died about 1170 in the Holy Land or on the journey home. Both died without heirs. 

Bronllys Castle (Wikimedia)
Bronllys Castle
The third son Henry was certainly married, but he too died without children. He was killed in 1175 by Seisyll ap Dyfnwal, the leading Welsh chieftain in Gwent Uwchcoed. The youngest son Mahel never inherited as he was killed in 1165 by falling masonry from the burning castle of Bronllys.

So the land passed to Miles' three daughters, Margaret, Bertha and Lucy. Margaret married Humphrey de Bohun, himself a wealthy and powerful man, and inherited Hereford. Lucy married Herbert fitz Herbert and inherited the Forest of Dean and other lands. 

Brecon Castle (Wikimedia)
Brecon Castle

Bertha's marriage to William de Braose brought him Brecon and Upper Gwent, which, added to Builth and Radnor that he already held, gave him a solid power block of land in the Middle March. His son William III took revenge on Seisyll ap Dyfnwal for his uncle's death, which caused public outcry, but William III later took over his father's lands and added to them, becoming the most powerful member of the family ever.

Until he fell out with King John.

For more on this story see my book Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John. Available in Kindle ebook and print on Amazon UK, Kindle ebook on Amazon US, and all other ebook formats on Smashwords. Or get the print copy direct from me for £4.99 postage free!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Ogre of Abergavenny

This is the story of how another William de Breos got named The Ogre of Abergavenny by his Welsh neighbours.

William II, the 3rd Lord of Bramber, married Bertha, daughter of Miles of Gloucester, who had four brothers who were expected to inherit. But they all died childless and the inheritance was split between the daughters. William and Bertha got Brecon and Abergavenny, which gave them a vast block of territory in the Middle March of Wales. William was close to King Stephen and was in the escort for the defeated Empress Maud. He served King Henry II and was part of many of the king's expeditions in France. He was appointed sheriff of Hereford in 1173.i

William's son, William III, was very anti-Welsh, and it caused a lot of trouble. It may have led to war, but Rhys ap Gruffydd, the ruler of Deheubarth, submitted to Henry II as a vassal and was appointed Justiciar of South Wales. This kept the Welsh in check, until Henry II's death in 1189.

Abergavenny Castle (Wikimedia)
Abergavenny Castle (Wikimedia)
In 1175, however, William III decided to avenge the death of his uncle, and caused quite a scandal. This was Henry Fitzmiles, third son of Miles of Gloucester, who was killed in battle by a Welsh leader, Seisyll ap Dyfnwal of Castle Arnallt, in 1165. William invited Seisyll and other Welsh leaders of Gwent to Abergavenny Castle. Some historians, including Gerald of Wales, say it was to hear the reading of a royal proclamation, some say it was to a Christmas Day feast of reconciliation. They all left their arms outside, as was the custom. William's men rose and murdered them all, including Seisyll's eldest son Gruffydd. Seisyll's wife attempted to escape with her seven-year-old son, Prince Cadwaladr, but William hunted them down and killed the son in his mother's armsii.

This resulted in outrage and hostility from the Welsh, whom the kings were always trying to pacify. They named William 'The Ogre of Abergavenny'. Gerald of Wales emphasised his subsequent great piety and generosity to the priories of Abergavenny and Brecon, presumably in an attempt to atone for his crime. Seven years later Seisyllt's surviving sons took their revenge by burning Abergavenny Castle down. The keep survived and William III built a new castleiii.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Land Ruled by William de Braose/Breos

William de Breos, third of that name, held more land and power than any de Breos before or since. 

Remains of Bramber Castle (Wikimedia)
Remains of Bramber Castle (Wikimedia)
In the beginning, the family was called de Briouze after their estate in southern Normany at Briouze-Saint-Gervais. Gillaume de Briouze came to England with William the Conqueror, who rewarded him with land at Bramber in Sussex. He anglicised his name as William de Braose, and the family were know as de Braose for many years. At some point the name was changed to de Breos, and this is the version I use, since there are traces of that version around Swansea and Gower today. 

In addition to Bramber, William I de Breos administered Knepp, Washington, Findon, Steyning & Horsham. He was succeeded by his son Phillip, who gained half of Barnstaple in Devon through marriage, and took Radnor and Builth in the Welsh Marches in 1095. The Welsh held out against the conquest of England, so the king granted that his barons could keep any land in Wales that they could take and hold. These were the first de Breos holdings in Wales, but by no means the last. 

Phillip's son William II gained control of Brecknock and Abergavenny by marriage to Bertha, the daughter of Miles of Gloucester. William III was William's son, and served King Henry II and Richard the Lionheart, and then served King John, who proved to be both his patron and his nemesis. 

By the time John became king, William III had inherited all the lands of his predecessors and added Elfael & Kington in Wales, Stratton St Margaret & Berewick in Wiltshire, and King's Arley in Staffordshire. He gained Tetbury & Hampnett in Gloucestershire through marriage to Matilda St Valery. He was already a powerful man. 

But it was under John's patronage that he rose to the greatest heights. In 1200 John gave William the right to take as much of the lands surrounding his barony of Radnor as he could. In 1201 John gave him the county of Limerick in Ireland. Lords with lands in north Tipperary and Limerick were then told to hand them to William, and Knocgrafan Castle. Between 1200-1202 John gave William Shoreham in Sussex and entrusted him with lands in Normandy, including Walter de Lacy's lands and Longueil near Rouen. 

Limerick Castle (Wikimedia)
Limerick Castle (Wikimedia)
By 1203 John had given him Glamorgan and Gower in Wales and the city of Limerick in Ireland (to go with the county he already had in his control). William then successfully fined for custody of Walter de Lacy's English lands, all the more surprising as Walter was his son-in-law. He also got lands in Gloucestershire, Hereforshire & Shropshire. In Devon he gained custody of the estates due to the heir of John of Torrington, and half the barony of Totnes. Also two knight's fees in Warwickshire and Leicestershire, and Buckingham Castle. 

By 1204 William had Carrickfergus Castle in Ulster, custody of some neighbours' lands, and temporary custody of William de Burgh's land in Munster. In 1204 all his lands in Normandy were lost, when King John lost Normandy to the French. But in compensation, John gave him more land in England and Wales. 

Grosmont Castle (Wikimedia)
Grosmont Castle (Wikimedia)
He gained Paddington in the hundred of Wudetun, half the village of Gumshall, and the honour of Winton in Dorset by 1205, and in December 1205 William was re-granted the castles of Grosmont, Skenfrith, Abergavenny & Llantilio in Gwent in Wales. In 1207 he gained Ludlow Castle on the agreement of his son-in-law Walter de Lacy. 

In Briouze William had the power to summon people to attend pleas concerning the ruler. As a Marcher Lord he also had power independent of English law. The combination of land and local authority in English, Marcher, Norman and Irish counties meant that William was crucial to the centralising government of the king and his exercise of national power. The large amount of castles that William was custodian of, by 1208, ensured that he acted as an administrator and a defender of the king's will in the localities. 

Approximate extent of William's lands in Wales (by Carrie Francis)
Approximate extent of William's lands in Wales (by Carrie Francis)
William was essentially a Marcher baron who had become a crucial member of the king's court but still maintained his position and presence in the localities and it was this situation that made him unique among his family. 

And then King John turned on him. 

For more of the story read my book Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John. Available in print from me for £4.99 postage free, or from Amazon UK. Available on Kindle from Amazon UK or US  and in all other ebook formats from Smashwords.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

How I Found My Niche Market

When I was thinking about possibly publishing this fascinating story I had discovered in Gower history, a publisher very kindly sat me down and explained why no publisher would touch it. The problem was that the market was too narrow. 

My book was about the Lordship of Gower in medieval history. Think of all the people interested in history, then divide it down to Welsh history, then divide that down to this little part of Wales – a peninsular on the south coast. Or think of all the people interested in Wales, then divide it down to Welsh history... you get the picture.

A publisher wants a chance of a return on his investment, and the market is not big enough. 

But my book meant a lot to me, and I thought that if I was fascinated by the story, then other people would be too. So I took a deep breath and self-published, as Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth. It was a gamble, because in order to attract the tourists it had to be a paper book. It is an ebook too, but I've not sold many. The sales have been nearly all in paperback. 

Because I found the market was not too narrow – it was a niche market! Tourists and locals alike love the castles in Swansea and Gower, and want to know about them. They see a slim book that is easily affordable and beautifully illustrated, and they buy it.

Oystermouth Castle (Wikimedia)
Oystermouth Castle (Wikimedia)
So far, in 18 months, I've sold over 300 copies! I covered all my costs and printed more, and had money over. Encouraged, I looked at my research and found another story. I published Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John in September, using the money from Alina and my own cash. Even though the tourist season is officially over, I've covered most of my costs already!

Swansea Castle
Swansea Castle
I managed to persuade some key local places to stock my book: the two museums, the two tourist information centres, bookshops and general stores in key places, and even inside Oystermouth Castle. And I put in the work to get in the local paper, radio and magazines and go to as many events as I could. 

So it is possible to sell to a small market – if you judge it right. All I've got to do now is crack it with fiction!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Princess Anne at Oystermouth Castle

Princess Ann at Oystermouth Castle (Wales Online)
Photo from Wales Online
Last Friday, 27th September, Princess Anne visited Swansea. Her first stop was Oystermouth Castle, where she was welcomed by a large crowd. The Wales Online article even mentioned that the castle is haunted by a white lady, which is the subject of my first local history book Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth (see right).

Princess Ann at Oystermouth Castle (Evening Post)
Photo from South Wales Evening Post
Here she is being shown around by Roger Parmiter, President of the Friends of Oystermouth Castle. There are lots more photos of Princess Anne's visit here 

The castle has recently had £2m worth of conservation works which have greatly enhanced the visitor experience. Work to stabilise and repair some parts has allowed entry to areas that it was not previously safe to go into, and the improvement of paths both inside and outside the castle has made access much easier, especially for disabled people like me or those with young children or prams. 


The biggest change has been the work on the chapel tower, built by Alina when she returned to Gower after her imprisonment in the Tower of London. A glass bridge allows access to the chapel floor without restricting the view from the ground.

Alina's family were Lords of Gower, and loved to live in Oystermouth Castle, using Swansea Castle merely as an administrative centre. In fact, enhancements were made to Oystermouth Castle, while Swansea Castle was in need of repair, and some of the towers were actually sold off. 

IMG-20130824-00501The chapel would have been brightly decorated, not plain stone. Traces of the paintings have been found during the refurbishment, and a graphic representation made of how it might have looked. I'm sure Princess Anne was impressed – I wish I could have presented her with my book! It's the only account in existence of Alina's life and the events surrounding her, which led to the toppling of Edward II from the English throne.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Broken Reed Book Launch

My book launch last night went very well.

It was held in the Oxfam Bookshop in Swansea. They like to encourage writers, artists and crafts people, and hosted my first book launch last year too. Several of the people who came to the launch, bought books before and afterwards, so it was mutually beneficial.

I kept it simple. We had orange juice with lemonade, tea and coffee, and my daughter made cookies. I thanked everyone for coming and spoke for fifteen minutes or so, and introduced my illustrator Carrie Francis, who talked about her illustrations. Then we took the money and signed the books. Easy!

Easy when you know how (I learned lessons from the first time) and when you're not nervous about standing up in front of people. Actually, I was a bit nervous. Although I used to give seminars, talks and training before I had my stroke, talking is an effort now and I'm a bit self conscious.


But the talk went well. I recapped on how this whole local history thing started, and my first book Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth (see here). The success of that book led to the writing of Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John. Then I told them the story of the book, and how amazing it is (see here).

Carrie explained how much research she did for each of the illustrations. She really takes her work seriously, and it's seriously good. The illustrations lift the books to a whole new level. You can see the first one in last Wednesday's post here.

Loads of people came and I sold a good number of books. So a good night all round!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Introduction to 'Broken Reed'

As part of the run-up to my book launch of Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John on Tuesday 17th September at the Oxfam Bookshop, Castle Street, Swansea, today I'm going to post the Introduction to the book. If you like it, why not buy a copy (see right)?


Behold, you are trusting in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff,which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it.(Isaiah 36:6)

Intro final small

Most people's knowledge of history is pretty patchy, and often influenced by the odd television documentary they might have seen and some frequently inaccurate films. Many of us didn't enjoy history lessons in school, especially the ones involving boring lists of kings and laws and wars. But history is about people – their lives, their loves, their decisions – and not always the kings and famous names.

Swansea and the Gower peninsular is a tiny area on the South Wales coast, currently an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. In the 18th and 19th centuries it was a major world centre for coal mining and metal smelting. But the area is full of Norman castles – Swansea Castle ruins are right in the city centre. Researching what life was like when these castles were in use led me to the story of the heir to the Lordship of Gower whose little rebellion ended up toppling Edward II from the English throne. That story, about Alina de Breos, was told in my book Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth. Now here's another astounding story about another de Breos and the fallout from his life a century earlier. Since so many of the de Breoses were called William, I have numbered them to distinguish between them.

The de Breos Lords of Gower were involved in virtually every major event in English history for three hundred years after the Norman conquest, yet their name very rarely appears in historical accounts. When Richard the Lionheart was fatally wounded in 1199 while besieging a castle in France, William III de Breos, 4th Lord of Bramber, one of the foremost Norman warriors, was there among his fighting barons. At Richard's death William immediately switched his allegiance to support the claim of Richard's brother John to the throne. In fact, John's return to England was via William's port of Shoreham in Sussex.i He was richly rewarded for his support. John's gifts made William one of the richest barons in England — yet history hardly mentions him.

In medieval times power came through land, and a system of fealty where a vassal would pledge faithfulness to his lord in return for protection. The more powerful barons would often rule many estates, with the individual estates ruled by lesser lords. Some lords ruled more than one estate as a vassal of different barons. If those barons fought, their vassals found themselves in a difficult position. Which baron should they support? If the wrong baron won, they would be counted a traitor.

The Angevin kings ruled England and territories in France and were historically vassals of the king of France, though they claimed to rule in their own right. The King of France was continually trying to bring them to heel, either by direct conquest or by subverting their vassals. So there was a constant battle to keep power. Lands were given to people as rewards, for favour, or in an attempt to balance power so no one vassal held too much land.

King John gave William lands for all these reasons, and favoured him in land disputes with other barons, trusting him as one of his inner circle. He was the only one of the de Breos line to unify their lands and to hold such a vast number of estates. He profited under Henry II and Richard, but it was under John he rose to greatest prominence. Yet it was under John he fell, suddenly out of favour and hounded to death. One writer called him 'a broken reed'ii.

History depicts Richard the Lionheart as the handsome hero and his brother John as an ugly tyrant, but that's not the whole picture. Tall, handsome and heroic Richard may have been, but out of his whole ten-year reign he spent less than six months in England and never bothered to learn Englishiii. Yet he was charismatic enough to win the people's loyalty, such that they raised enormous sums of money for him to go on crusade, and to pay his ransom after he was captured on the way home. And he chose able men to look after his empire while he was away.

His brother John on the other hand was a stocky, red-haired man of medium height and no hero. He failed to win the trust and loyalty of the most powerful men in the land, which had disastrous results. His behaviour was unpredictable, and he could be childish and cruel. But he was highly intelligent and shrewd, and an able governor and administratoriv. One wonders how popular Richard would have been if he had had to stay and rule England in person, and how successful John would have been with the barons on his side and a more stable temperament.

And where might William III have been, and his descendants, if he had stayed in John's favour?

ii Boulter, Matthew The Career of William III de Briouze in the Reign of King John: Land, Power and Social Ties
iii Erickson, Carolly Brief Lives of the English Monarchs p.67
iv Erickson, Carolly Brief Lives of the English Monarchs p.69

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

News, Views and Interviews

My new book Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John, is now a reality!

Ann Thomas Lords of Gower_Front Cover

I went to the printer's this afternoon and inspected the proof copy, agreed it, and gave the go-ahead for the print run. They let me bring the proof home, and told me that it was accidentally printed on heavier paper, so it's more substantial, and I treasure it.

In the last two days I have uploaded the ebook version to both Smashwords and Amazon, and successfully passed the vetting. The Smashwords versions are available now on their site, and will be sent out to the major distributors over the next week or two. The Kindle version is being processed at Amazon.

I have also produced a new ebook edition of the first book Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth. I've worked out how to do endnotes and added them in, as well as changing the ebook to mirror the print version. This has also been uploaded to both Smashwords and Amazon.


I have booked my book launch, at the same venue as last time, the Oxfam Bookshop on Castle Street in Swansea - actually only a few yards from the ruins of Swansea Castle. The launch is on Tuesday 17th September at 7pm. Now I have to prepare the publicity.

As part of the online publicity I updated my Smashwords profile and discovered that they now do interviews. You can read my interview here. I also did an interview recently for the Welsh-American Bookstore, which has some of the same information, but some different things too.

Now I have to post the new book in the same online places as the first one, and contact all the stockists of the print version. Lots to do!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Review of The Lost King books by Martin Lake

My local history books look at characters descended from the Normans who came to England with William the Conqueror. Consequently, I was very interested when I came across a trilogy of books on Kindle by Martin Lake about events right after William's victory at the battle of Hastings.

Like most people in Britain, I knew about William, the outcome of the battle, and King Harold getting shot in the eye. But I knew nothing about any resistance to the new self-appointed king, nor who should have been king on Harold's death.

Martin's books, collectively called The Lost King, tell the story of Edgar Atheling, the thirteen year old descendent of Alfred the Great. As William marches on London, the great council of the kingdom chooses Edgar to be the new king. The inexperienced youngster has to rely on his friends and learn quickly if he is not only to save his own life, but lead an uprising to defeat the invaders.

Resistance coverThe first novel, Resistance, tells of the early struggles, including Edgar's time as a 'guest' of William. The second, Wasteland, tells of his attempt to form an alliance with the Vikings, who control the north of England – and have their own agenda. The third, Blood of Ironside, has just come out, and I can't wait!

I gave both the books 4-star reviews. They are really good historical novels. Having tried to write historical fiction from my first book, I know how hard it is. These are well written, with believable characters, especially as we watch the young Edgar grow into maturity. I recommend them, not only to those interested in the history, but for those who like an exciting read and a well-told tale. Links to the books on Amazon UK are on their titles above.

Martin writes other books too. You might want to check out:
  • Outcasts, about the fate of the commoners who were knighted in an attempt to save Jerusalem during the Crusades 

  • Artful, the further adventures of the Artful Dodger 

  • Mr Toad's Wedding, the winner of the 2008 Kenneth Grahame Society's international competition to write a short story in the style of the Wind in the Willows 

  • The Big School (Our Eric), about the trials of school with a big brother who is always plotting and getting into scrapes 

  • Nuggets, a collection of short stories 

  • For King and Country, three stories about courage and cowardice in the first world war 

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

King John's Castle at Limerick, Ireland

Limerick Castle (Wikimedia)

At the end of June Limerick Castle re-opened after a €5.7 million redevelopment. They are now offering a three-hour tour of the castle and grounds, and it is set to be a tourist attraction that will rival the Titanic centre in Belfast.

The site uses multimedia technologies for visitors to interact with, with CGI and 'ghostly projections', and costumed guides to act out castle life. In all it now has a staff of twenty-two.

The project has been four years in the making and includes the display of an archaeological dig in the grounds and a glass entrance hall housing the tourist centre. The work has been done in time to capitalise on Limerick City of Culture in 2014. You can find out more on the Shannon Heritage website King John's Castle page

John's first contact with Ireland was inauspicious. John was made Lord of Ireland by his father Henry in 1185, hoping that he would be satisfied with that portion of the kingdom. He shared the rest out between his other sons and hoped they would rule as a coalition after his death. It was not to be. The older sons wanted it all, and they wanted it now.

As for John, his father spent a huge amount of money equipping him with ships, trappings and a huge retinue befitting a king. The Irish nobility came to meet him, and instead of regal behaviour, they got a court jester. John pulled the beard of one noble, and his friends set about making fun of them and playing jokes on them.

The nobles, who had decided to accept John in order to keep peace with King Henry, promptly kept away from him and paid him no homage. John was called home a few months later, having made enemies of all those his father had worked hard to win.

Once John became king in 1199, things changed. Between 1200 and 1212, he planned and built Limerick Castle. It used many pioneering techniques that were unique in its day. There was also a mint there, where John had his own coins minted as Lord of Ireland. In 1211 he mounted a successful campaign to subdue the barons in Ireland who were defying his authority.

Of course, King John is most famous for Magna Carta, which he was forced to sign on 15 June 1215, by the barons of England who had had enough of his misuse of power. The thing that finally drove them to such an extreme was his cruel treatment of William de Breos and his family. This story is told in my new book Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John, out soon.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

A Series and a Brand

When I became fascinated by local medieval history, I had no idea where it would lead. I wanted to know what Swansea Castle was like when it was in use. Why was it built? Who lived in it? What was it like?

I discovered the de Breos (or Braose) family, who were lords of Gower, and very interesting characters. I found out that, far from Gower being a backwater as I had supposed, the Lords of Gower were involved in every major event of British history for 300 years after the Norman Conquest. 

Alina e cover

I became particularly interested in the story of how a little rebellion which started in Swansea Castle eventually toppled Edward II from the English throne. The story was not told in any one history book I could find, I had to piece it together from dozens of sources. So I took on the challenge and wrote the story. 

Only then did it occur to me that if this story fascinated me, it would surely fascinate others, so I decided to publish. That's a long story (documented on this blog), but I learned how to publish and how to promote. All this time it has been about this one book, Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth.

Ann Thomas Lords of Gower_Front Cover

Then late last year I was looking at my research and found another great story that deserved wider exposure. Soon there will be a second book to publish and promote, Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John. But amidst all this, something has happened. I now have a series. This opens up a whole new area of thinking.

When you have more than one book, you can use one to promote the other(s). I can broaden the appeal because those who are interested in the subject of one book, can be led to the other. The opportunities for promotion are wider.

I'm currently working through a great course called Blogging For Authors by Jonathan Gunson of Bestseller Labs. It's really helping me to think about what I'm doing and where I want to go with all this. One thing I have learned is that my books and my blog need a unique identity. I need a Brand.  That means I need a picture and a tagline.

So far, I'm toying with the tagline 'Stories of Medieval Gower' or 'Stories of the Lords of Gower', and pictures of Swansea Castle, as the capital of Gower. Any comments and suggestions would be great and watch out for changes to my blog, as I work through the course. You can help by answering two questions:

What do you think of this picture?

Swansea Castle
Swansea Castle
Which do you find more attractive:

  • Stories of Medieval Gower
  • Stories of the Lords of Gower

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Broken Reed Cover!

At last I have a cover for my new book.

Ann Thomas Lords of Gower_Front Cover

Since it is a companion to Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth, which you can see in my sidebar on the right, I wanted a similar look. I used an illustration of Swansea Castle from Alina and my printer's design wizard put it together.

Now I can produce my promotional material and get ready for the launch. All I need now is my illustrations, and I'll be able to order the printing. It feels like a real book now.

What do you think?

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Preparing My Ebook File

Last week I wrote about preparing my book file ready for the printer. This week I have been producing a file ready for submitting as an ebook. That makes three files: the original, which is just an A4 text file; the print book file, which is formatted to the page size, and with front matter, headers & footers etc; and the ebook file.

Any idea you have that the ebook file is like the print book file, forget it. It's not the same as the original file either, though it is similar. The ereader used to read the book will format the pages depending on the font and page size selected, so you have no control over that. You can force a new page for a new chapter, but that's about all.

The front matter is different too. All you need is the title, your name, publisher, copyright, and a paragraph about the ebook edition licence which Amazon or Smashwords will give you. I put the ISBN in too. And they go one after the other with just a blank line in between, nothing fancy. Then you have the Table of Contents (TOC), if you're using one, and then the book starts.

The TOC can be set up using bookmarks and hyperlinks so that the reader can click on a chapter in the TOC and go straight there, and click on a chapter heading and go straight back to the TOC. It's a bit fiddly, but not hard to do, once you know how to create a bookmark and a hyperlink.

Don't use fancy fonts and formatting unless you're really sure what you're doing, it's best to keep it simple. Especially don't use tabs for paragraph first line indents (use a paragraph style in your word processor), or lots of blank lines. Also, in a print book you should hyphenate long words if the word wrap leaves a big space at the end of a line and justify the text (straight right hand edge). For an ebook you don't know where the end of lines are going to be, so no hyphens and don't justify.

Separate each chapter with a blank line and four asterisks, like this:

At the end of the book, put three hashes, like this:


There are things you should put at the end of the book, like your short bio and contact details (remember that hyperlinks work in an ebook, so they can click and go straight to your website or other page, if their reader can handle it). If you have other books you could put an advert for them and a link, or even a sample chapter. You might also want to include a polite request for a review, although Kindle automatically asks for a review when they reach the last page - but in case they don't page through your extra stuff at the end, you might want to put in your own request immediately after the end of the book.

For detailed advice read the Smashwords Style Guide (which you can download and keep) and the similar advice on Amazon for Kindle. Double- and treble-check your manuscript for spelling and grammar errors before you submit it, and always check the converted version thoroughly. Smashwords includes an automated checker that will pick up some conversion errors, so even if you're not using Smashwords, it's worth submitting the book and getting it checked and then taking it down again.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it's really not, especially compared to formatting for print. Kindle is slightly different to Smashwords (which converts to all the other formats) so you will need two ebook files, one for each, if only to change the licence notice.

One last thing: they told me you can't get pictures into an ebook, or at least it's extremely difficult. My book, Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth, has a beautiful line drawing at the beginning of most chapters. I put the pictures in my ebook files and submitted them to see what would happen, and they converted with no trouble at all. So if you have pictures, give it a try.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Preparing My Book File

You know, some days just get away from me. Do you feel like that? Where did Wednesday go? Here I am posting on Thursday - sorry if you wondered where I was.

I mentioned last week that I'm clearing the clutter so I can see the wood for the trees. I've also been preparing my book file for my new book Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John. I finished editing it, and, using a copy of my other book file, pasted it into the right format. It was then I discovered it was eight pages longer than the first book.

I spoke to my printer, who gave me a quote. Too much. I want to charge the same price, since this is a companion to my first book, Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth. So if the printing costs are higher, I have to absorb them and cut my income. I think printing costs have gone up since last year anyway, so there's only so much I can absorb.

Alina is £4.99 and that price is important. Because it's particularly aimed at tourists, at under £5 it's an impulse buy. Any more, and they stop and think about if they can afford it or are willing to spend that much. But at 'only' £4.99 they are more likely to spend the money.

So, eight pages too many. And the pages are printed four at a time, so I have to lose four or eight. I went back to editing, and managed to save four pages. Then I realised that I didn't need a front title sheet like they have in most books, because it's only a slim volume. Suddenly, I have saved six pages! But six pages is two too many or two too few.

Then I remembered the advice to advertise the first book in the second. So Broken Reed now has the introduction from Alina in the back! And I amended my Contact the Author page in the front to mention it as well.

With a few other tweaks, my book file is ready. All I need now is the illustrations and the cover, and it can go to the printer. I even put the new ISBN in, since you have to buy them in blocks of ten, so I have a few to use up as I write other books. I still have to prepare the ebook file, but that's much more straight-forward.

Now you see why I don't know what day it is!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Don't Die of a Surfeit

King Henry I famously died of a surfeit of lamphreys, and the humourous history book 1066 and All That took up the theme and had several people die 'of a surfeit' just because it was a curious phrase.

As I prepare my plan for publishing and marketing my new book, lately I have realised that I'm in danger of 'dying of a surfeit' - a surfeit of good advice and opportunities. It's easy, as you browse the internet, to come across web sites and blogs with good advice or opportunities about writing, publishing, self-promotion, marketing etc. I used to bookmark them for later use.

Recently I came to realise there's so much out there on almost any subject, you can't read it all. As a beginner, I used to be worried I'd miss the best advice or the best opportunity. But I've finally had to bite the bullet and start deleting things. I had so many bookmarks I was never going to use them. I'm registered on so many sites it would take all my time to keep them updated, I'd never get any writing done.

So I'm taking the time to check a few out, sometimes with just a cursory glance, and if they're not instantly attractive, if they don't say anything new, if I don't find anything especially useful, it goes. I need to be able to see the wood for the trees. [It's a good job this isn't a novel with all those cliches!]

So take my advice, and cut down your bookmarks to manageable levels - and then use those sites to your advantage.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Lots of News

For the last 8 weeks I've been posting the talk I gave about self-promotion and self-publishing, in the hope it will help others. I learned all this in the process of self-publishing my first book, a local history book called Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth. It came out at Easter 2012 and by October had sold 250 print copies in local shops.

Lots has been happening during the last 8 weeks, so here's the news:

  • I took part in the Firepole Marketing Great Online Marketing Scavenger Hunt, had a great time and learned a lot – see my posts at the start and the end. As a result, I've improved this blog, including adding a very important page.

  • I've ordered another 100 copies of Alina and contacted all the shops for the new season. Unfortunately the Friends of Oystermouth Castle decided to sell only their own books in the gift shop, so inside Alina's Chapel there's no book about Alina. It doesn't make sense to me, but the nearest bookshop is delighted, and ordered extra copies.

  • I've finished writing and editing my new book, Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John. I formatted it the same as Alina and it's 8 pages longer.

  • I talked to my printer and he quoted me for printing, so now I have to decide whether to shorten it or absorb the extra cost, as I want both books to be the same price. I think I might compromise and reduce it by 4 pages – but where?

  • My cover designer is working on the cover, and I met with my illustrator and decided on the illustrations. I'm trying not to be impatient as they're working for free again.

In between my husband's had the flu, I've had the flu, the family has visited, and life in general has been busy. I missed one or two blog posts because of it. Now all I have to do is:

  • Shorten the new book.

  • Finish writing my media kit, which I just found out how to do.

  • Design posters for the launch of the new book.

  • Arrange the book launch.

  • Prepare the ebook.

  • Contact other possible outlets.

  • Prepare to spread the word through all my new online connections.

  • ???!!! Help!

Friday, 29 March 2013

End of the Firepole Marketing Scavenger Hunt


Five weeks ago I blogged about the Firepole Marketing Great Online Marketing Scavenger Hunt here). The hunt finishes today. I couldn't do everything I wanted, as I've been unwell, but I did manage to complete a lot of the challenges. It's been fun, but, as they promised, I've learned a lot.

They promised: If you start and stick it through, by the end of the hunt – even if you don’t win a prize – you will have expanded your reach online, made new connections, deepened existing relationships, learned new skills and generally leveled up your business.

I've gained 7 blog followers and 45 new Twitter followers, and made some friends. I've had my blog critiqued by several people, and revamped my About page. I finally got to grips with finding free images online that I don't have to worry about using. I've had some writing practice and some researching practice.

But I think the greatest reward I've had is to bite the bullet and actually GET ON WITH IT, and that's worth a great deal to me. Thank you Firepole Marketing. Whatever my points score, I'm a winner.