Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Review of "Guardian Angel"

I hadn't realized that this review had gone up on the Gwales web site:

This is the sixth novel in the hugely popular Martha Morgan series. It begins with Martha’s death, but if you are a fan of the character, don’t be put off, as I'm sure you'll like the new heroine just as much.

As a prologue to the main story, there is a very entertaining chapter of how a long forgotten manuscript is found in offices of the London publishers Pickersniff and Jebson. This script is by a Susanna Ravenhill, and it is set in Newport and on Carningli or ‘Angel Mountain’, the setting of the other novels. Susanna Ravenhill is an assumed name, but who is the attractive older woman determined to protect the mountain at all costs?

It is hard to describe the main plot without giving away the first big surprise of the novel. The book is as warm-hearted and heartfelt as all of Brian John’s series. It is at its best on the mountain and in the tight knot of Martha Morgan’s family and community. It is a little less convincing when it leaves there, but there is also a good sequence in Paris and an excellent section where Susanna goes to live in the poorest community of Merthyr Tydfil, a slum area called ‘China’, trying to help the desperate people living there. John really brings to life the hell on earth of the Victorian industrial revolution for the poor fighting to survive.

If you are new to the Carningli series, I would definitely recommend beginning with the first On Angel Mountain. I’m sure it will make you want to read the rest. Guardian Angel is an entertaining addition to the series for fans and I hope it won’t be the last.

Janet Thomas

A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.

"Sacrifice" Reviews

Here are a couple of reviews of "Sacrifice" -- these days, it is incredibly difficult to get any reviews at all, so one must be grateful for smallish mercies! But I do get lots of letters from faithful readers, and today I was really pleased to get a long letter from a lady from Hertfordshire who has read all of the novels, and who wrote: "I can honestly say that they are the best books I have ever read, and I don't want to finish them...."

Makes it all worthwhile!

"This is an excellently paced narrative that focuses on interesting characters. The epistolatory format allows a vivid recollection of events that moves the story on and engages the reader's attention......... The book cover grabs your attention with connotations of murderous intent, and the back cover blurb succinctly sets up the expectations awaiting the reader -- the story justly covers these expectations. ........ Overall, it made me want to read more of the Angel Mountain Saga. The book is good value for this cracking good read." (Self Publishing Magazine, Spring 2010)

"Set in the rough, rugged country of Wales during the years of 1808-1809, Sacrifice is the seventh novel in Brian John’s “Angel Mountain” series. The series reads as a fictitious journal kept by the story’s heroine, Mistress Martha Morgan of Plas Ingli. .............. Mystery, intrigue, secrets, and lies are all bound into this stunning work of literary art. The author, Brian John, has a way of connecting readers to the characters’ emotions that thoroughly enhances the reading experience. I enjoyed the fact this book contained a nice Celtic atmosphere all the way through and stayed true to the Welsh heritage. Although I did feel a bit lost at times due to the fact that this is an addition to a series that actually falls into the middle of this popular saga, I did not feel hindered in any way from understanding the plot or the characters. For me, Sacrifice was an alluring read that held my interest throughout its 348 pages, and the addition of the Welsh language added to the pleasure. (Angela Simmons, Historical Novels Society, Spring 2010)

The Battle in the Sky

I'm often asked about the strange battles in the sky which Martha sees -- on several occasions during the course of her life -- and which she always takes as premonitions of terrible things to come. By way of explanation, here is an extract from Ch 9 of "Martha Morgan's Little World":

The Battle in the Sky

This is something which is not unique to Wales. There are stories of battles being seen in the sky from all over the Western world, and it appears that those who see them are always very frightened by them. Their descriptions of what they have seen and heard are often very detailed, with specific mentions of the sounds of weapons flashing, men screaming, horses neighing and falling to the ground, and clouds of arrows flying through the air. There are not very many stories of battles in the sky actually being observed in Wales, but in my researches I have come across three stories from North Pembrokeshire. All three of them come from the area around Mynydd Morfil and Puncheston. Interestingly enough, in each of the stories the battle was observed by more than one person, and on one occasion the battle was seen above Morfil by two gentlemen who were very frightened by it and who sought refuge in a nearby house. They were given shelter as the battle continued in the sky, observed by the two refugees and by the householder. A feature of these phantom battles is that they seem to be quite prolonged, maybe continuing for more than two hours, whereas most supernatural phenomena appear to come and go within a few minutes or even seconds.
It is difficult to tell from the literature whether phantom battles are spiritual recordings of something which has happened in the past, or whether they are omens or signs of some tragedy to come. When Martha encounters her battles in the sky in the stories, she is in no doubt at all that they are supernatural indications of some tragedy which will soon affect her or those whom she loves -- and of course she is right.
There is much speculation about the occurrence of the battle in the sky in the heavens above Mynydd Morfil, but historians now seem to agree that the location is precisely right for a famous and bloody battle which occurred in the year 1087 when two Welsh armies met. The conflict was really just part of the internal power struggle within Wales following the Norman invasion. The Normans were already moving into Wales, and if the Welsh princes had then united instead of fighting each other, the history of the Norman invasion (and of Wales) might have been quite different. One army, which included many mercenaries from Ireland, landed at Porthclais near St David’s and marched eastwards for one day. The other army, assembled by an alliance of Welsh princes, was marching westwards from Cardigan. Thousands of soldiers fell in the battle, which had no obvious victor -- so it was ultimately quite futile. It was called the Battle of Mynydd Carn, but no historian has ever found its location, and no traces of weapons or burials have been found. Maybe one day archaeological evidence will be discovered to confirm that the battle of Mynydd Carn did indeed take place on Mynydd Morfil or in one of the adjacent valleys.

DO Lectures 2010

I've been invited to give one of the Do Lectures 2010. Click on the title above to go to the site.

That will be fun -- I shall not talk about Mistress Martha and Carningli, but about Stonehenge and the bluestone transport theories.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Try out the Search.....

The search facility on this Blog is now working -- it has taken Google a couple of weeks to get it functioning properly. So on this site you should now be able to find whatever you want -- within reason, and as long as it is something already dealt with...

The interesting thing is that the "Pages" section does not seem to be searchable -- just the blog entries themselves. That's a bit of a quirk in the system, and I suppose there is a logic to it, known only to Google.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

What did Plas Ingli look like?

I am often asked what Plas Ingli looked like. Well, in my mind's eye it was something like this. This is a "model" early nineteenth-century farm. In West Wales the minor gentry farms will not have been as tidy and well-organized at this, but Llanerchaeron is a good example of the orderly farm of that period.

In the case of Plas Ingli, I imagine that the farmyard was not entirely enclosed. the barn was on the downslope side of the yard. There will have been an opening at the far corner of the yard, and that is where the duckpond and dungheap will have been located. For other details, read the books....

Angel Mountain walk

Bank Holiday walk tomorrow (30th AUGUST) on the mountain, start 2 pm and finish 5 pm. It looks like being a fine day -- hoping for a good turn-out, and hope that not too many people turn up at 10 am (wrong time advertised in the local paper.....)

Friday, 27 August 2010

What did Martha look like? (2)

Found this one somewhere. Who could it be? Anyway, she fits the bill much better than the other pics I put up a few days ago -- those ladies, sweet as they were, were far too timid and demure for the REAL Mistress Martha. In my mind, she was not only beautiful but feisty and forceful, capable of charming all the men she came into contact with, but also pushing some of them into the darkest sorts of depravity.....

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Another reprint coming up

Well well -- I have just discovered that the sixth printing of "On Angel Mountain" has virtually run out of stock. I'm on my last box, and currently have just a few copies left for stocking up the shops. So here we go again -- printing number 7 coming up......

Saturday, 21 August 2010

What did Martha look like?

What did Mistress Martha of Plas Ingli look like when she was eighteen years old? Well, we know that later on, she was reputed to be the most beautiful woman in Wales, and that she had black hair....

I found these old photos of famous beauties in the early days of photography. Does any one of these fit the bill?

About the Cave

The Cave

Martha’s cave (there is obvious sexual symbolism here) is her sanctuary and her altar. Caves are revered in many societies (such as the old Guanche society of the Canary Islands) as symbols of fertility, and are even associated with fertility rituals. Martha describes hers in some detail which decorum forbids me to repeat just now. But if you must, look at page 55 of the first novel!

The cave is also, in a sense, the womb, her special place of darkness and peace, which is why she is so outraged, in On Angel Mountain, that Moses Lloyd has defiled it. It is the scene of her most terrifying physical ordeal, and the place where, somehow, she finds the superhuman strength needed to defeat and even kill her tormentor. For months and years after that, she cannot return to the cave, but at last (with Joseph’s help) she does find the strength, and thereafter it is restored to its proper sanctity. The only other people who ever find the cave are Daisy, who is led to it (by the angels of the mountain?) when she is lost, and Iestyn, at the climax of Dark Angel. He is also led to the cave by an angel, and this time the angel is Martha.

At the end of Flying with Angels the cave becomes a tomb, for Martha decides that that is where the body of Amos Jones will be laid to rest. The menfolk from the Plas take his body there, in a slow funeral procession, and after placing him inside a big stone is rolled across the entrance. That is another obvious symbol! Martha says that she will never visit the place again, nor does she.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Carningli Portrait (2)

I came across this one some years ago in an art dealer's catalogue online. Can't remember now who the artist was. Does anybody know? Anyway, I like it, in spite of the watermark......

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Carningli portrait (1)

Carningli is much loved and much painted. This is one of the most effective paintings I have come across -- by Pembrokeshire artist Evan Jon. To see more of his work click on the heading of this post.

Laurence on the Summit

Thinking about the sacred qualities of Carningli, I did a bit of digging about, and came across this splendid photo of Laurence Main on the summit. Laurence is a Druid and a dowser, and has made a long study of the spiritual connections between Carningli and other sacred sites.

Not being an expert on either Druid ritual or dowsing, I am not sure what is going on here. And the lady -- what is she doing? Is she participating in the ritual? Is she in a trance? Or is she just a passing tourist, wondering what on earth is going on.....?

Monday, 16 August 2010

How sacred is Carningli?

The other day I was looking on the Wikipedia site, with a view to checking the entry for "Carningli Hillfort", when I noticed that a note I had put on some time ago had been deleted by the site watchdogs. It was a comment about the "long tradition of sacredness" relating to the mountain -- the editors complained that this statement was unauthenticated or unverified. Well, as we all know "sacredness" or sanctity is very difficult to measure or quantify. The only thing, in the end, that establishes a sacred status for a particular site is PRACTICE over a prolonged period of time. Thus the Mount of Olives and St David's Cathedral become sacred because people believe that they are associated with religious figures or saints -- and then reverence and religious practice take over.

The tradition of "specialness" goes back a long way on Carningli -- and many writers have commented upon the tradition of St Brynach communing with the angels on the mountain top. Lawrence Main of course believes that Carningli was sacred even in pre-Christian times, and that it was revered as the home of the Earth Goddess. I don't know about that, but I do know that the tradition of sacredness is alive and well. I sometimes wonder how many urns of ashes are scatted on the mountain each year, and how many wreaths, bouquets and posies are left there, in memory of the dear departed? Ashes and flowers -- the photo above was taken in the spring of this year.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

The Carningli book

This is the cover of my little book on Carningli, which is full of information on the landscape and archaeological remains -- with some info also about legends, land-use and other things. It's proved very popular, and needed to be reprinted recently. It's available from many local shops, and also from my own web-site, using the PayPal facility:


Prehistoric Carningli

A map of the Carningli Hillfort

Thinking about my last post, I was reminded that Carningli is not just a place of bluestones and literary characters, but also a place of great prehistoric significance. The Iron Age hillfort is of course the most prominent feature -- but there are also scores of other traces of prehistoric habitation -- old stone walls and enclosures, partly finished earthworks, hut circles apparently dating from the Bronze Age, ancient trackways, enclosures and paddocks, sheep folds, drainage ditches and traces of old quarrying activity. Many of these features are described in more detail in my little book called "Carningli - Land and People" and published a couple of years ago.

Friday, 13 August 2010

An intriguing confluence of ideas

Carningli, with beautiful mellow evening light and deep long shadows -- just a few days ago

I'm increasingly intrigued -- and even exercised -- by the thought that two of my great interests in life, namely the Saga of Mistress Morgan of Plas Ingli and the Mystery of the Stonehenge Bluestones, should both bring the little mountain of Carningli into sharp focus. It goes without saying that Carningli is the focal point of the stories -- but I'm fascinated that in the "bluestone story" Carningli is now becoming more and more important. A decade ago it was never mentioned in the bluestone / Stonehenge debate, but now it turns out that at least two of the bluestones at Stonehenge have come from the flanks of Carningli, and that the mountain lies slap bang on the route followed by the ice of the Irish Sea Glacier on its way to Wiltshire and Somerset around 450,000 years ago.... What is more, cosmogenic dating from the Carningli summit is helping to unravel the mysteries of WHEN the ice did all its work of transporting assorted stones from here (North Pembs) to there (Stonehenge). A very strange business.

Joseph Harries, Wizard of Werndew

Joseph didn't have a beard, but he did have a tall hat and a black robe.......(This is actually the Wizard of Christchurch, in New Zealand, but that's another story.)

Every now and then, I'll feature one of my favourite characters from the stories. Let's start with Joseph Harries......

Joseph Harries of Werndew is one of the key characters in the story. He was born in 1761 and died in 1826 at the age of 65. In Martha’s time, wizards (or “knowing men”) were greatly respected. Joseph Harries really did exist -- there are a number of folk tales about him. In reality, it seems that he might not have been a very nice fellow! And he did live at Werndew, just above the village of Dinas on the north side of the mountain ridge. The cottage was, and still is, within walking distance of Carningli and Plas Ingli. But in my mind, and in the stories, Joseph is a herbalist, mystic, apothecary, surgeon, phychiatrist, sleuth, diplomat, cousellor and master of the arts of observation and deduction. He is a scientist, as well as being a man of culture, for he knows several foreign languages and is familiar with many of the esoteric books on which the world’s great religions are based. On occasion he retreats into his cottage before emerging, exhausted, with answers to very complicated questions; but there is always the possibility that he is a “confidence trickster” with a superior intellect and an ability to observe things and make deductions in the manner of a prototype Sherlock Holmes. Whether or not he is familiar with the denizens of the spirit world, he certainly does have a vast range of abilities, acquired during years of careful study under a variety of great teachers, whom he mentions every now and then. We cannot doubt that in some way he is the inheritor of the wisdom of the Druids, who were reputed to be active in this area at the time of the Roman invasion and who might have had a grove in Tycanol Wood.

Joseph is a stout and loyal friend to Martha, and a friend to many others as well. Sometimes he charges for his services, or over-charges in certain cases, on the basis that his services provided to the poor are generally not charged for. So as well as being a Sherlock Holmes, he is also by Robin Hood figure, loved by the poor and hated by the rich. He is also Martha as night in shining armor, who rides to her defence from his place across the mountain whenever he senses that she is in distress or in mortal danger.

But while Joseph is always good humoured, eccentric, witty and supportive of others, he is also a tragic figure. As the stories unfold he reveals very little about himself and his family background, for as he explains to Martha, it is in his own interests to maintain an air of mystery about who he is, where he has come from, and where he will go to when his task on earth is done. But in one sensitive moment he admits to Martha that he was once married and that he lost his wife and child in childbirth. He is mortally wounded in a horrible accident, bored by a bull during the course of a routine visit requested by one of the estates. There is an irony as well as tragedy in that, since Joseph says many times that he loves working with animals. He also loves Martha from the the very beginning of the stories. This might be suspected by the reader, but Martha never realizes it until Joseph confesses it to her when he is on his death bed. Even then he can try to make light of it, and when he has gone to his grave Martha finds the situation very difficult to bear, blaming him for his foolishness in allowing his emotions to get the better of him, and her for her blindness as the reality of the situation.

Joseph knows, before he dies, that his love for Martha will never be requited, because she is a member of the gentry and he is a disreputable wizard with nothing but a small cottage and a pretty garden to his name. In any case, he is almost old enough to be her father. So he loves and worships her from a distance, gaining comfort from their close and easy relationship, and some physical pleasure from their frequent embraces.

He is quite a mysterious figure, and I am very fond of him! Might even be worth a story or two, when I have finished with Martha......

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Literary Picnic today

The top of the Carningli Mountain Railway

The first of my two August "Literary Picnics" today -- involving a three-hour ramble on Carningli and a picnic lunch on the summit. Perfect weather -- dry, with sunny intervals, and pleasantly cool for walking....

On these walks I never know who is going to turn up, since my advertising is a bit haphazard! Sometimes I get up to 20 Mistress Martha fans, and sometimes (if it's raining and blowing a gale) the only one who turns up is me. Actually it's quite pleasant walking on the mountain all alone in the rain. You should try it some time.

If others do choose to come along too, we amble up the mountain and back down again, stopping quite frequently to discuss points of interest -- either relating to the Angel Mountain books or not, as the case may be. There are PLENTY of things to talk about....

By the way, the starting time is 10 am, from the car parking area on the Dolrannog Road.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

In Conversation

Next Friday (13th Aug) I've been invited to participate in the Artsfest 2010 at Tregwynt Mansion, near St Nicholas and Abermawr on the North Pembrokeshire coast. Amanda, who is organizing it, asked me to hold a "conversation" about the Angel Mountain saga between 2 pm and 4.30 pm. That will be great fun -- I always enjoy chatting with readers of the series, and answering whatever questions they may have about the creative process, or about any other aspect of the stories. Hoping for a good turnout...

Further details and booking arrangements here:


Monday, 9 August 2010

A Very Strange Episode.......

The cover of the first edition of "On Angel Mountain"

Over the course of the last forty years I have written more than 70 books, but before 1999 I never had any great urge to write fiction. My wife Inger had often encouraged me to “write a novel”, but I had always refused on the grounds that the world of fiction is alien territory in which I would probably feel out of place and even hopelessly lost. Then something happened which was very strange indeed -- and almost spooky.............

In 1999 Inger and I travelled to Gran Canaria for a short holiday, and en route I picked up a strange virus on the aircraft. I felt ill even before we landed, but on arrival I experienced classic flu-like symptoms, including a high temperature, headache, heavy limbs, and episodes of shivering. I went straight to bed when we arrived at the apartment, and I spent the whole of the night wide awake, feeling horrible and sweating gallons. During this strange delirious episode, a story came into my head -- of a feisty and passionate woman called Martha Morgan. (At first I thought her name was Mary, but then I realized that only Martha would do.) As I lay there in the warm darkness, gazing at the bedroom ceiling, I tuned in to dates, places, characters, and a storyline covering the whole of Martha’s exciting life between 1796 (when she was still a teenager) and the time of her death in1855. Somehow or other, individual episodes came into my head, and I even picked up on key conversations in considerable detail. I knew that the story had to be told in the words of Mistress Martha, not retrospectively but with immediacy, through diary entries.

In the morning, not having slept a wink, I felt better, but the story was fixed firmly inside my head. (If the story had come to me in a dream, it would certainly have disappeared from my memory by breakfast time.) I told Inger about this strange experience, and she said “Well then, you’d better start writing!” So I did.........

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Seven Ravens Rollicking

Yesterday, in the delightful company of Callum and Finley, I saw seven ravens rollicking around the summit of Carningli. It was a warm and cloudy day, with wisps of low cloud coming in from the sea and rolling across the summit. Suddenly, there they were -- it must have been a family group, since there was no aggressive behaviour. I have noticed such large family groups before -- but the most I have even seen before is five, again in August, some years ago. By next month the parents will get fed up with the adolescents, and will send them packing.

I always use the ravens as symbols in the novels -- and as readers will know, the largest and wisest of the ravens on the mountain is Mistress Martha herself, in another incarnation........

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Andy's other painting

Found it! This charming painting is on Andy's web site:
It shows Plas Ingli with a coach and horses in front and the silhouette of Carningli behind.
it would be interesting to know whether any other readers of the saga have been inspired to produce artworks of Mistress Martha, or Plas Ingli, or the mountain........

A Birthday Treat

One of the pleasures of reaching the age of maturity (ie 70) is that you get to celebrate the event with several birthday parties. Another pleasure is to discover that one's grandchildren are quite surprised that people of this age are still capable of walking without a zimmer frame and even climbing the odd mountain! And yet another pleasure is to receive an unexpected gift (courtesy of Christine, and Martin and Alison and the boys) of a very charming painting od Mistress Martha at her desk. It was done by Andy Searle a few years ago -- reproduced above.

Andy did another painting too -- I'll look it up and put it onto the site later on.

Friday, 6 August 2010

The new jacket designs

Readers of the Saga will have noticed that with every reprint of one or another of the titles, we are moving towards a more consistent "house style" created by my son Martin. I think the new covers are great. On every jacket from now on, the raven will appear as a symbol, and we will always have a highly ornamented letter A (or S as the case may be). In most cases we will also bring in the "watermark" effect of old handwriting at the base of the page. The new covers all have a much greater clarity and better colour balance than the old covers, which were knocked off by me on the basis of very little expertise in photo manipulation.....

The Man Booker Prize Long List

Sadly, I didn't make the Long List of the man Booker Prize for this year. The seventh novel in the series -- entitled SACRIFICE -- was submitted, but not for the first time the judges have shown a complete lack of common sense and have opted for novels written by others! The consolation is that the Booker prize-winning novels over the years have included some that are good, some that are mediocre, and some that are almost unreadable. Some have sold incredibly well, and others have disappeared without trace! And some absolutely splendid novels which have sold in their millions have never had a mention on any Booker Prize long lists or short lists. Sour grapes? No, not really. Of course I am disappointed -- like more than a hundred other authors. And I wish the successful authors all the best -- it's a tough old trade, and each of us in the business needs all the support he or she can get.

Literary Picnics on the Mountain

I'm just back from 6 weeks in Sweden, and my first bit of news is that there will be two literary picnics on Carningli, on Thursday 12th August and Friday 20th August. All the details are on the web site, here:


The *Literary Picnic* walks are about 2 miles long -- easy going, for those who are reasonably fit. Bring stout shoes, waterproof clothing (well, this IS Pembrokeshire!) and a picnic. The walks start at 10 am and finish about 1.30 pm. No booking necessary -- just turn up. Charges - 4 pounds for adults and 2 pounds for children -- all proceeds to charity.