My middle grade novel Wolfchild is based on the Cornish legend of the Lost Land of Lyonnesse. Lyonnesse was the name given by romantic poets to the stretch of land between Western Cornwall and the present day Scilly Isles. It was previously called Lethowsow by the Cornish. Charles Thomas in his book, Exploration of a Drowned Landscape, describes the record in the Saxon Chronicle which states that in the year 1099 there was a high tide which flooded villages in Southern England and goes on to suggest that many researchers believe this may have also flooded the stretch of land between Land’s End and the Scilly Islands leaving only the peaks showing. Trevelyan on his white steed was the last man to reach the coast of Cornwall alive and the Trevelyan family still have on their coat of arms a white horse emerging from the sea. This research intrigued me and not only because my maiden name is Trevilyan.
In Wolfchild it is 1099, and twelve-year-old Morwenna lives with her family in Lethowsow. Raw is a runaway serf who must stay hidden for a year and a day to become free, or he will be executed. He hides in a cave in the high places believed to be Arthur’s resting place. The weather at this time is merciless. The previous year had been one of famine and this year will be little different. In the evenings around the fire, stories are told. Morwenna’s uncle is a fisherman; he can see the changing weather patterns and has a few theories about it. Towards the end he warns the family to flee before it is too late.
The novel is imbued with Cornish atmosphere, the sea and weather, the people’s love of storytelling, Morwenna’s singing and feyness, the mix of superstition and religion. Cornish superstitions are included: ‘Red sky this morning,’ Eselda says when she knows bad weather is coming. When Cadan has stiff joints, Morwenna tells him ‘Eselda would fry you a toad’s liver’. Raw and Morwenna relate the legend of Drystan and Eselt, the familiar story of Tristan and Isolde.
Author and Reviewer Karen Brooks wrote in the ABR (2003): The reader is drawn into the mythic and real world of the ninth [sic] century. The burgeoning Christian faith, blended with mystic paganism, is beautifully drawn and captures the essence of the austere world of Morwenna and her family.
The story takes its structure from the passing of the year and I gained insight from Lacey & Danziger’s The Year 1000. The lives of the medieval Cornish were ruled by the calendar, as were those of the Anglo-Saxons. There have been many interpretations of Lyonnesse ranging from Malory’s epic and poets such as Tennyson and Hardy, to modern fantasy novels about beautiful warrior women, yet Wolfchild shows Lethowsow the way I imagine a medieval Cornwall would have been, based on historian Elliott-Binns’ research and Charles Thomas’s of the drowned land.
Yet it seems it will take a while before the world accepts the recognition of Cornwall as a national minority group apart from England: despite all this Cornishness displayed in Wolfchild, one reviewer described the novel as ‘an intriguing mix of English folklore and medieval history’.
Its exciting Wolfchild will be republished this year with a new look.