After doing a lot of research in the library and online, I have finally plucked up the courage to talk to some real people, face to face. I met with Gerald Gabb last night. He is recently retired from Swansea Museum, and the lady who gave me his email address told me that no one else was a patch on him for local history, so I was quite nervous. I am really grateful that he was so nice to me, and seemed impressed with the extent of my research – I didn’t want to look like an amateur. I am also grateful for all the trouble he went to, providing me with books to check out and notes of other sources. I just wanted to pick his brains but he had done some research for me as well.
Apart from more information, the great thing about talking to someone is the chance to toss ideas around and discuss approaches to the subject. For instance, I have details of the daily life of a baronial household in the thirteenth century, but I wasn’t sure how much I could ascribe it to the de Breoses. We talked about how poor they might have been (or not) and where the money came from and where it went. I all helps me to get a picture of the context of Alina’s life. He also approved of my outline, which has helped me begin to shape the story I want to tell.
Another thing we discussed was their colouring. In an earlier post I surmised that the Normans would be blond and blue eyed, as they were descended from the Vikings who settled in northern France. Mr Gabb pointed out that there were knights from a wide area who came over with William the Conqueror, so they wouldn’t all be ‘north men’, and the Vikings would have intermarried with the local people. Once in England, and then Wales, they also intermarried with the English and the Welsh. Indeed, some of the earlier de Breoses married Welsh princesses. So, basically, anything goes for their colouring. I like the idea of blond and blue eyed for my heroine, it’s appropriately romantic!
Alina is interesting, not just because of the times she lived through because of her father and her husband, but because information about women is rare from those days. Still, Mr Gabb’s first comment about a biography of Alina was that it would only be half a page! It will be longer than that, but I will be including background, which will make it much longer and add colour and context. Still, I doubt it will be long enough to publish, and he also agreed that a historical novel is the way to go. But I want to write the biography first to get my facts straight.
I have other people to see too. I have an appointment on Thursday morning at the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust, which I found, to my surprise, is almost around the corner from where I live. I have submitted questions to them about Swansea and Oystermouth Castles and some other bits and pieces. I also contacted Roger Parmiter, the chairman of the Friends of Oystermouth Castle, who is going to get me a copy of his drawing of how Oystermouth Castle might have looked, and has agreed to meet me when he returns from holiday. So it’s all starting to come together!