Monday 27 November 2023

The Castle at Painscastle

Last time my blog post was all about Cariad Chapter's wonderful first retreat in Painscastle, a small village just a few miles away from Hay-on-Wye. We'd all seen the photos on the website but nothing compared to actually seeing the Grade II listed building where we were going to be staying. Named The Castle, the beautiful house, set on a working farm, has been tastefully renovated yet very much in keeping with the time it was built. The creaky floorboards as well as the sloped ceilings and beams of the attic rooms were ideal for writers' imaginations to come alive. Who once lived there? What secrets did the families hold?

It was even more fascinating when we ventured outside. After walking up through the garden, we travelled back hundreds of years when we came to the ramparts of the castle that gave the village its name. The castle site is on enclosed farmland with no public access so we felt privileged to be able to wander up from the house and see it for ourselves. All that remains now is a series of earthworks. The now grassy mounds show where a major stone castle once stood in a prominent position in a small village. Its location seems to be off the beaten track but it does, in fact, stand on one of the major routes from England into Rasdnorshire. 

The castle was built in the twelfth century by  Payn Fitz John, one of King Henry 1's men, and after whom it was named. It was rebuilt in stone a century later due to repeated attacks by the Welsh. Painscastle castle had a chequered history; one of its most remarkable events was when three thousand Welsh men were slaughtered in a pitched battle between the English and the Welsh. It became the bloodiest massacre in Welsh history  It was said that the River Bachaway ran red with blood.

On the east side of the castle is a derelict house that played a part in Painscastle's history. A white-washed manor house of lordship status, Upper House sits adjacent to the castle bank and is thought to date from the mid-fifteenth century. It would suggest that there was now a shift of power from the fortified castle to a nobleman's home which was undefended. The fact that the hall juts into the outside ditch suggests that by then the castle had lost its military role. Walking around the castle ruins with the panoramic views of the beautiful Radnorshire landscape all around made me think of all that had gone before and was part of the history of that small village we were staying in for a short time.

Thank you for reading. I hope you've enjoyed hearing a little more about the place where the Cariad Chapter spent its writing retreat. How do places with a lot of history affect you? Have you been inspired to write by a location with a lot of history? If you have, I'd love it if you left a comment saying where it was. Thanks.

The Radnorshire countryside features in all my novels. Even on a misty November day when this was taken, I hope you can see why. 


Yesterday I attended the launch of Worcestershire Lit Fest and Fringe Flash Fiction Anthology 2023 in which I was delighted to have three flashes included again this year. 
For the first time, it was good to see several members of the Blackwood Library Writing Group reading out their excellent flashes there as well. The group is run by my friend and librarian, Helen Beckett. Here I am reading out my shortlisted Flash Body Beautiful.
Copies are available from Black Pear Press

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Monday 13 November 2023

A Cariad Retreat


Last week members of the RNA Cariad Chapter travelled to mid-Wales for our first-ever residential writing retreat. As a thriving (and ever growing!) group of writers, we meet in person on the first Tuesday of every month in Cardiff and also on Zoom every third Thursday evening of each month. Before the pandemic, we had enjoyed some day-long retreats and knew how much we felt we benefited from these. During COVID, these were replaced by online retreat days organised by Jessie. It was then we began to think about how wonderful it would be to spend some days away when we could just write without interruption and chat about writing with other writers.

After gauging the interest within the group, it was down to the diligence of Sue's searching and researching that she found a wonderful Grade 11 listed farmhouse in Painscastle, a small village in mid-Wales, not far from Hay-on-Wye, big enough to accommodate those of us who were committed to go. It has nine separate bedrooms and six bathrooms. It is extremely well-equipped and even boasts a hot tub!

To see inside the house for detailed photographs, please click on the link:

As the house would not be available until the afternoon, we
arranged to meet in Hay-on-Wye for lunch first at The Castle Cafe. It was there we met 
Jacqui and Nadine, who was visiting from Canada, for the first time. As writers, there was no way we could leave the book capital of Hay without a wander and visit to Richard Booth's Bookshop before travelling the short distance to the farmhouse.  

Even though we'd all looked at the farmhouse online, on arrival, nothing prepared us for how beautiful the property was. After a wander around the house and allocating rooms, we met together in the large sitting room to talk about schedules for each day, writing plans and ground rules. We also decided on a rota for preparing meals and who would be making morning coffees and afternoon teas. By sharing this, it meant we could all spend maximum time writing or editing. Thanks are due to Imogen for her amazing organisational skills.

So how did it go? My main aim was to continue with NanNoWriMo which I began on November 1st. writing the start of the first draft of novel five. With a working title of The Silent Sister, the story is partially set in Kefalonia at the time of the 1953 earthquake and mid-Wales, and again in 1973 at the time of the twentieth anniversary of the disaster. Nothing was written on the day we arrived so my main aim on Wednesday was to try to catch up. Sitting alone at the huge dining table, I was able to immerse myself in the story without distraction. Over the day, I wrote 2868 words and another 2332 the next day. When it came to leave early on Friday morning, I was behind where I should have been in the NanNo scheme of things but I'd gained so much more than the 5200 words I'd written since arriving. In the evenings, we had a variety of things to do concerning writing; these included penning a seasonal flash fiction piece of 250 words, character development questions to answer and the step-by-step stages of starting a newsletter. 

However, it was at meal times and coffee and tea breaks where I felt I gained most. I enjoyed making new friends, strengthening existing friendships, sharing book recommendations and listening to others talk about their books. Regarding my own novel-in-progress, I valued opinions about the three possible prologue Ideas I had and received advice on a possible plot idea where I was concerned my main character may lose sympathy with the reader. 

In my WiP, I'm still in Kefalonia at the moment but when I come to write about the mid-Wales locations, I know that being in the heart of the Radnorshire countryside last week will inspire my setting. Who knows? A beautiful old farmhouse with an intriguing history and creaky floorboards may make an appearance. 

Huge thanks to everyone who made the retreat such an inspiring experience. I loved every minute of it and can't wait for the next one!

Thank you for reading. Have you been on a writing retreat? If so, what did you gain from it? I'd love it if you left a comment below. Thanks. 

Next time, I shall be blogging about the history of the farmhouse and Painscastle Castle from which it takes its name. I hope you'll call in. 

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To find out more about me and my writing, please visit MY AMAZON PAGE.