Reintroducing Guinevere / Ginevra for #WIPpet Wednesday

It’s been a mostly good week writing wise for me, with an effortless 1,000 word day last Thursday. The last couple of days have been a bit slower, what with lots of garden work on the weekend, and then the news that my friend Jay Lake has been admitted to hospice. That’s been eating my brain a bit. 😦

Anyway, back to writing. I mentioned a while back that I was doing some of the exercises in the Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook right now to flesh out the middle of A Wasted Land and help with my focus for the novel. While working on a completely unrelated exercise, I realized I really need a pov character back in Caer Leon (Caerleon), while Kustennin and his buddies are duking it out with Cerdic on the border of the British-held lands. I just can’t have all the events going on in the area of present-day Wales being brought to them via messenger.

And then it occurred to me that I have a main character from the last book, Shadow of Stone, not far away: Arthur’s widow Ginevra, who is in a monastery there in penance for her sins.

Guinever / Gwenhwyfar / Ginevra

After banishing Ginevra to her monastery along with most of my predecessors, I wasn’t intending to bring her back, but as soon as the idea occurred to me, my mind was racing. I don’t know yet what exactly her character arc will be and how it will fit into the rest of the events of the novel, but I’m having a great time figuring it out. 🙂 It’s fresh off my fingers, though, so hasn’t been though any editing passes. I intend to make it the second chapter, after Kustennin and Bedwyr inspect the ruins. So please, be as brutal as you care to be! I’m particularly interested in feedback on whether I’m providing too much backstory all at once.

My math today: 5 + (2+8=10) / 5+1 = 6, six paragraphs from the first scene with Ginevra:

Ginevra hurried along the path from the house of women to the abbot’s residence. Spring flowers bloomed along the pathway, and several pupils from the school were working in the herb garden. Most of the buildings of the monastery had originally been part of villa built before the Roman troops pulled out of Britain, and the foundations were of massive stone in the Roman style. But the site had been sacked in raids by Pictish, Erainn and Saxon warriors during the reign of the legendary British high king, Ambrosius Aurelianus, after which it had been abandoned for many years. It was not rebuilt again until Arthur enlisted his cousin Illtud to reestablish the school on the grounds of Cor Teudwys, the “college of Theodosius”. Many of the original Roman structures in the central complex of buildings could be saved; what couldn’t be fixed was torn down and the stones used to repair less damaged buildings. Destroyed roofs were replaced with wood and thatch.
The house of women stood outside of the main complex and was a newer building of wood in the style of a long house, simple, functional, less massive. Ginevra didn’t mind. She didn’t pine for her former life, which had been so full of selfish mistakes. She welcomed discomfort: the cold of winter and the heat of summer that crept much more quickly through walls of wood than walls of stone; her simple room with its simple bed; the many manual tasks she had to perform throughout the day.
Ginevra had found refuge in Illtud’s monastery after the battle of Camlann. At first, it was very nearly an imprisonment, with at least two British warriors always on site, monitoring her movements, ensuring she would not run away to some imagined freedom. When the first snow fell, Illtud had chased them away, saying that if Arthur’s widow fled now, it would surely be her death sentence. In the spring, the guards had failed to return.
Since then, Ginevra had spent much of her time in her small room in the house of women, where female guests would stay when visiting their relatives, or women were lodged who came to Illtud’s church for shelter. With time, she had become what amounted to administrator in the house of women. One thing she knew how to do was manage a household, and this was not so different — only without servants. The women had to do the work themselves, cleaning, cooking, harvesting, bartering for what else they needed at the local market, just as the boys and men in Illtud’s school did.
Someone had to organize that work, however. For that, Ginevra’s experience managing hill-fort and town house had come in handy. By necessity, she had also begun to learn how to tend the communal gardens and heal common ailments using the herbs grown there. The last struck her as particularly ironic — it had been Ginevra’s insistence that Yseult tend her ailing son with her knowledge of herbs and medicines that had nearly led to Yseult’s murder at the hands of Medraut. But even after Yseult told her the fate she had seen in the minds of Medraut’s guards, Ginevra had refused to believe that her new consort could possibly intend to kill her friend.
And so the evil she had ignorantly unleashed continued unchecked — until the Battle of Camlann, where so many had died.

A little background regarding my sources for the novels of the Pendragon Chronicles. There is no Lancelot in my tales because I am trying to avoid the inventions of the French writers of the 13th century and later. Lancelot is one of those, a new character added in the Age of Chivalry. I’ve tried to stay closer to the Welsh legends of Arthur and the first “historical” accounts, such as Nennius and Geoffrey of Monmouth. I’ve also tried to avoid French versions of the names, which wouldn’t fit very well in my 5th and 6th century setting. For that reason, I chose Ginevra, the Latin version of the name. It is in the Celtic Arthurian tradition that I found the tale of Arthur’s wife running off with his nephew Medraut / Mordred rather than his champion. So if you’re a huge Lancelot / Guinevere fan, my books probably aren’t for you. 🙂

Also, for those who find it odd there are women at a monastery school, the strict separation of the sexes was not instated until the high middle ages. Nor was it a closed system where those in the monastery were cut off from everyday life. You can read more about Celtic Christianity here, if you’re interested.

WIPpet Wednesday is the brain child of K. L. Schwengel. If you’d like to participate, post an excerpt from your WIP on your blog, something that relates to the date in some way. Then add your link here — where you can also read the other excerpts.

8 thoughts on “Reintroducing Guinevere / Ginevra for #WIPpet Wednesday”

  1. I think adding in Ginevra’s perspective sounds like a great idea. The first paragraph felt a little back-story heavy, but the rest felt good to me. The use of the word “administrator” pulled me out a little; it felt too modern and out of place.

    Overall, the excerpt definitely piqued my curiosity! I’m a big fan of Arthurian myth, so retellings always capture my interest. 🙂

  2. Oh, I am SO NOT a Lancelot fan. I think I’d like your books. 🙂 I really like that Ginerva actually welcomes discomfort as a contrast to her days of selfishness. How lovely.

  3. Sorry to hear about your friend. 😦 But it sounds like the writing is going well, especially when a character comes roaring back from oblivion. I’m sure you’ll figure it out. 🙂

  4. It’s clear you’re trying to get out a lot of “why” Ginerva is in the story out in this first paragraph, Ruth. The history is nice, but a lot was packed into this piece without a lot of connection to Ginerva as a person. And, as a POV character, I want to know her head.

    Nice touches further on though…

    And so many, many hugs, hon. I heard about Jay earlier today when I caught up on his blog. Definitely will be thinking bout you and Jay’s family.

  5. I absolutely love how much you know about the context and the legends. There’s so much I didn’t know, like about the French influence. Not that your WIP wasn’t good, but I find myself really drawn to the other things you’ve said in this post. Also, I absolutely love the name Ginevra. Much lovelier than Guinevere. 🙂

  6. Really interesting. I’ve been looking for a fun chapter-book version of some of the Arthur legends for my guys. Any suggestions for elementary age? I didn’t know about Lancelot coming later either. Sorry to hear about your friend in hospice. Very sad…

  7. This is interesting. I like how well you’ve set the scene with explaining how Ginevra came to be in the monastery. My only gripe with it would be that it would work well if there was some dialogue to break it up a bit, maybe a flashback to a conversation Ginevra had had before that was pivotal in some way to the plot. Just a thought… 🙂

  8. Sorry to hear the news on Jay. My thoughts are with you.
    This does came off a little dry for me. Not extremely so, but I wonder if there would be opportunities to relay some of her position and a few of the other points through interaction with other characters? I guess that will depend how far you are going to expand her part of the tale.
    No Lancelot? *gasp* 😉

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