A few days ago I finished the absolutely brilliant THE WICKED AND THE JUST by the wonderful J. Anderson Coats. [My review] It tells the story of two very different girls living in Caernarfvon in the Middle Ages.
As soon as I started planning Wythnos Cymraeg || Welsh Week, I knew I just had to ask Ms Coats to be part of it because if I’ve learnt anything from living in Wales it is that it is full of rich and fascinating history and culture. And who better to ask to help me out than the lady who has written one of the most interesting and unique historical YA novels that I’ve ever read?
Enough of me rarebitting… *cough* on… I’ll hand you over to the lady herself.
Writers love it when readers ask questions about their books. It means that whether readers loved the story or hated it or anything in between, something engaged them enough that they wanted to know more.
I’ve gotten a lot of questions already about THE WICKED AND THE JUST, but my favorite so far is “In the story, the town the characters live in is spelled Caernarvon, but it’s supposed to be Caernarfon. What gives?”
I like this question because it cuts to the heart of the story, and in a bigger sense, why I write historical fiction the way I do. There’s a common perception that history is simply a record of past events, and questions like this remind me that this is not the case.
After the fall of native government in Wales in 1282-3, the English filled the power vacuum and made north Wales into a principality directly administered by the Crown. They sought to ensure that the Welsh never caused trouble again, so they implemented an extensive – and expensive – castle-building, urban development and settlement program to maintain control of the area through extra-military means.
Caernarvon-with-a-v was one of the castle towns planted by the English, deliberately built on a foundation long associated with power in Gwynedd. A nascent Welsh settlement was leveled and Caernarvon-with-a-v was built on the site. It was to be the new capital of the Principality of North Wales, and it was built as an English town intended for settlement by English people to benefit the English Crown.
This was the town in which Cecily lived and which Gwenhwyfar loathed. One that imposed an English hegemony not only by force of law and force of arms, but also force of language and with an insidious eye toward cultural assimilation. Caernarfon-with-an-f represents the kind of social progress that had to come from many generations of coexistence and changing circumstance. It is not the place built by the English Crown in the thirteenth century.
Calling the place Caernarvon-with-a-v in THE WICKED AND THE JUST evokes the kind of work that the English Crown intended the town itself to do in the thirteenth century. The name alone reminds the reader – visually on the page – of the town’s origins and function. There’s a lot in that name.
A small codicil: The initial cover design of THE WICKED AND THE JUST didn’t feature the castle because the art department couldn’t locate a good picture of Caernarvon-with-a-v. Every image they found was a woodcut or a line drawing, something out of the distant past. After I told them to look for Caernarfon-with-an-f, they found a multitude of photos taken as recently as the day before and developed the lovely cover the book has now. There’s a lot in that name, too.
THE WICKED AND THE JUST by J. Anderson Coats will by published on 17th April 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
I would like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to Ms Coats for taking the time to write such a brilliant and interesting post!
Fun Welsh Word of the Day!Ffrwchnedd = Banana.Pronunciation = f – roo – ch – neth.