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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

ENGLAND 2014: A FEW DAYS IN LONDON

I always love visiting London. When I first arrived there Sept 1, I stayed at my favorite place, the Indian YMCA, a centrally located, reasonably priced hostel-type hotel near Warren Station.  I always enjoy browsing the area. Right across the square is the former home of Virginia Woolf and various other members of the Bloomsbury Group of writers also lived in that area.  Just down the street is the Fitzroy Tavern where writes such as Dylan Thomas hung out while in London. Naturally, I like to stop in there just for the writerly atmosphere.
 
Dylan Thomas and Others

George Orwell

The well-stocked bar


 
The Fitzroy Tavern, London

My main purpose for spending time in London on this trip was to attend the Historical Novel Writer's Conference (Sept 5,6). So after my 3 days visit in Wales, I returned to London and took up residence in a student dorm at the International House in Waterloo,  on London's south side (across the river). It was conveniently located near a tube station in order for me to reach the conference which was at the Marlybone Campus of the University of Westminster.
 
 

 
 Statue of Sherlock Holmes across from the University
 
I went to the meet-and-greet and registration of the first day (Sept 5) and enjoy myself meeting lots of other historical writers. My biggest thrill that day was running into renown writer Margaret George, whose work I admire. I had spoken to her at the Surrey International Writer's Conference two years ago when I attended one of her workshops, and I'd explained my concern over the length of SHADOW OF THE LION.  She had told me "Just don't worry about the length. Keep on writing!" Imagine her surprise (and delight) when I told her that I'd listened to her and now I had a two-book contract, with volume one already published. 

That evening we went for a dinner at a nearby restaurant for the Hardy's Historical supper  and enjoy some good food, wine and camaraderie with a group of the writers.


The next day I attended the all-day sessions of various workshops. And I made sure I went to one that Margaret George was participating in.  I also enjoy hearing from  the keynote speakers and a couple of other presenters who were successful historical fiction writers.  I met one of the writers from Oxford who is a good friend of Robin Lane Fox whose book about Alexander the Great I referred to for some of my research for SHADOW.



My last day in London I chose to go on a London Walk. I love these walks and this time decided on the Dickens & Shakespeare Walk.  The American professor who was our guide proved to be entertaining as well as informative. 


We strolled around all the parts of town where Dickens was inspired to write several of his books such as "Pickwick Papers" and "Great Expectation."
 





We also visited the district near the Jewish Quarter where Shakespeare lived with a Huguenot family and penned many of his famous dramas.  There is a memorial to him and a plaque to his two friends who 'rescued' Shakespeare's folios after his death and saw that they were published. Otherwise we might not have had the privilege to enjoy his work.

 
Monument to William Shakespeare
 

Guildhall
 

Smithfields Market

 

We also toured the noted areas of that time, such as the Guildhall (from the 1400s) the Smithfieds Market that had signs depicting the cruel punishments meted out of people those days, the place nearby where William Wallace (Braveheart) was slaughtered as well a number of other fascinating old London sites.



After the walk, which took about 2 hours (or longer) I went to see St. Paul's Cathedral. By that time I was tired from the walking and headed back to the Indian Y where I had chosen to stay for my last night in London.  The next day, I headed out to Heathrow for my flight to Greece. 





NEXT: GREECE: My first stop: THESSALONIKI.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

ENGLAND 2014: FIRST STOP, CAERPHILLY, WALES!


 
Caerphilly Castle

My father, Rev. Fred Filer, grew up in the town of Caerphilly, Wales (Caerffili) and ever since my very first trip overseas in 1973, I have made it my first destination. When I first began visiting there my two old uncles, George and Reg, were still living in the family home on Windsor Street.  Every time I go to Caerphilly, I pass by the house where my father and his 6 brothers and 1 sister were raised.
Windsor Street

 I still have cousins living in Caerphilly and the nearby towns so it is a family reunion each time I'm there. These days I stay with my cousin Andrea and her husband Paul in their grand old mansion that was once a mining boss's house. Down the street from Andrea's house is St Martin's church where some of my relatives are buried in the church graveyard. Unfortunately Andrea's mom, Sheila suffered a major stroke a few years ago and is confined to a care facility.

 
St Martin's Church



Caerphilly has a long and interesting history. When dad grew up there it was mainly a mining town. Dad worked in the mines at nearby Bedwas from the time he was 14 yrs old until he was in his 20's. When the mining strikes began in late 1920's - 1930, he lost his mining card because he was a union organizer, so her immigrated to Canada as a farm worker. Later he became a Baptist minister.
The town is located in the Rhymney Valley and gave its name to Caerphilly cheese which originated in the area.
 
 
 

Around AD 75 the Romans built a fort there during their conquest of Britain. Following the Norman invasion of Wales in the late 11th century the area remained in welsh hands. In the 12th century the area was under control of the Welsh chieftain Ifor ap Meurig. His grandson Gruffyd ap Rhys was the last Welsh lord in the area. In 1266 the English nobleman Gilbert de Clare took the area and  began the construction of Caerphilly Castle on April 11, 1268.
 
 

I love this castle as I grew up hearing stories about it. My father used to play in the castle when he was a boy. So I call it "my castle" (which amuses my cousins), and every time I visit I make sure I take a tour there to check on things. Caerphilly Castle is the largest castle in Wales, second largest in Britain (after Windsor) and one of the best preserved. There is an interesting story about the castle. It is said to be haunted by 'the Green Lady', who was the unfortunate wife of Gilbert de Clare.  You can read about it here: http://www.europeupclose.com/article/the-green-lady-of-caerphilly-castle/

I love to explore the castle and imagine what it was like at the time of Gilbert de Clare. Every time I go there are new displays. It's certainly well worth a visit especially if you like castles!



 
 
Take a stroll around the moat and lake and visit the Druid stone circle.
 


Originally, Caerphilly was just a small settlement south of the castle. Now the town has grown, almost become a bedroom community of Cardiff to the south.  During the 1700s it was a market town. Today it's a bustling, pretty place, surrounding the castle. I always enjoy my walks through town and that breathtaking view you get of the castle.

 
 
 
 

 A good place to enjoy it is at the Old Courthouse Pub where you can sit out on the patio with a fabulous view while you eat your fish and chips and have a pint of beer or a glass of wine.


There are some good pubs around the town and I always get together with my cousins. This time there were just a few of us but we had fun, and I was able to sign a copy of my book for Nicola.


 

I'll be back again next year, if possible. Caerphilly is like a second home to me!

NEXT: Back to London for the Historical Fiction Writer's conference.





































Sunday, August 31, 2014

OFF ON ANOTHER ADVENTURE

Tower Bridge
 
 


Here I go today, August 31, off on another adventure.  My first stop is London where I always stay at the Indian Y.  Right across the park is the home of Virginia Woolf. And it's close to walk lots of places for sightseeing.
 


Virginia Woolf's House
 

I'll only spend 1 day there and then I'm off to Wales, on Sept 2.  Going to visit my Welsh cousins in Caerphilly. And of course, my usual inspection of my castle.


Caerphilly Castle
 

Then it's back to London for the Historical Fiction Writer's conference on Sept 5, 6.  This trip is part book promo and this is a great opportunity for me to make myself known and show of my copy of SHADOW OF THE LION: BLOOD ON THE MOON  (I'll be staying in a univ. dorm near the new Globe Theatre.


Then I'm back to the Indian Y one more day and I'll take one of my favorite walking tours. (Not sure which one yet)

Flying to Greece on Sept 8.  I'm looking forward to seeing all the gang at To Kati Allo and my friend Carol where I'll be staying at her Villa Olympia funky B&B.

The To Kati Allo Gang



On Sept 10 I'm heading up to Thessaloniki by train to attend Manolis Angelasaki's poetry presentation and to drop in on the Society of Macedonian Studies with my book.  I intend to visit the archaeological site of Pella,  the Royal City which is one of the settings in SHADOW. 

 
ALEXANDER
 

Then I'm going to a beach resort at Asprovalta from where I can take a short trip up to retrace my research of Amphipolis, where much of the second volume of SHADOW takes place. Here is where they have just discovered an amazing tomb, likely one of Alexander' generals. I plan to snoop around but probably won't be able to get too close.  The Lion of Amphipolis that stands by the roadside is thought to have once guarded the tomb.


The Lion of Amphipolis


Then it's back to Athens on Sept 14 and lots to do there seeing old friends, revisiting favorite sites, and exploring new gentrified areas and venues to add to the Athens Guide e-book I'm working on.



I'm doing a reading of my book at the Athen's Centre on Sept 24.  Then I'll take the train up to Larissa, Thessaly for another reading at the World Poetry Conference Sept 27.  Looking forward to meeting new friends at these. 



From then on to Oct 8 when I leave Greece, I will play it by ear,probably visit an island or two and just have some fun.
 

View from my friend Chris's house in Salamina
 

Oct 8 I arrive in Frankfurt and will meet up with my friend Patrick and spend some time with him at Meinz where he lives.  Flying home Oct 11 with lots of travel adventure tales to tell you