Thursday, 21 December 2017

What's in a name? Author Mari Griffith tells us about a Welshwoman of great spirit.

Mari Griffith
The latest in my series of guest-posts by writer-contributors to Distant Echoes, a wide-ranging anthology of historical short stories, is by Mari Griffith, who sheds light on a little-known episode at the end of the eighteenth century, when England dreaded the invasion of Napoleon's armies ...

Meghan. It’s a name on people’s lips on both sides of the Atlantic: and just wait until the fifth in line to the English throne and his American fiancĂ© are well and truly wed and start producing children! Unimaginative parents everywhere will be naming their babies after the newest, most glamorous member of the royal family. That’s what happens. Just think of all the Victorias, the Alberts and Alices. Now Meghan will be the name of choice and I wonder how many people will realise that it’s a Welsh name – incorrectly spelled in this case but at least it’s correctly pronounced and Ms. Markle won’t end up being known as Princess Mee-gun. That really would make Welsh toenails curl!

I was particularly amused to read that even the royal corgis immediately took to Meghan. I wondered whether anyone told her that she was patting the head of a Welsh dog?  The name derives from the Welsh ‘corach’ meaning ‘dwarf’ and ‘ci’ meaning ‘dog’. And, while we’re on the subject, spare a thought during this festive season for the Christmas song we now know as ‘Deck the Halls’ – yes, that too is Welsh. It was a 16th century carol for New Year’s Eve, or ‘Nos Calan’. Wales is pretty much everywhere, if you care to look for it.

But back to the name. It’s pure coincidence, of course, that I had chosen it for my short story ‘For the Love of Megan’ which is included in the HNS Anthology Distant Echoes. It tells the tale of Jemima Nicholas, a woman of formidable stature who was the town cobbler in Fishguard on the coast of West Wales when, in 1797, England was bracing itself against the threat of a French invasion. Panic-stricken people withdrew their gold from the banks, forcing the issue of promissory notes – what we now call bank notes – for the first time ever. And yes, some 1,400 rag, tag and bobtail members of the Legion Noire did land - not in England but in West Wales. These undisciplined conscripts plundered farmyards and ate undercooked chickens washed down with bootleg brandy from a shipwreck. Suffering from hangovers and food poisoning, they were hardly in any state to defend themselves against Jemima’s pitchfork as she rounded them up before turning them in. She wasn’t going to let any nasty ‘Froggies’ ruin the life of her brand new niece, baby Megan. Jemima then went on to coordinate the women of the town in forming a convincing ‘defence force’ to intimidate the invaders. A memorial stone to record her achievements was erected outside the church of St. Mary’s in Fishguard and still stands to this day.

Jemima’s is just one of many, many Welsh stories which are totally unknown outside Wales and this has a great influence on my work as a writer. Belonging, as I do, to a nation with such a rich and diverse history, I really want to share it with my readers and if either Megan or Meghan can help, that’s fine by me.

Thank you, Mari!

About Mari Griffith: Mari turned to writing historical fiction in retirement after a working lifetime of producing, promoting and presenting programmes in Welsh and English on BBC Wales. Her first novel, Root of the Tudor Rose became an Amazon bestseller. She followed that with The Witch of Eye, the story behind the most sensational treason trial of the 15th century. Mari's website is here.

Distant Echoes is published by Corazon Books in ebook and paperback and is available here . This anthology contains winners and runners-up of the past two Historical Novel Society’s short story competitions. 

I have also written about Distant Echoes and the small lives on the fringes of great events of history on the Historical Novel Society’s website here.

Previous guest-posts from contributors are here and here.

Are you a writer - or do you want to be? Visit my website to download your free guide to living a productive writing life.

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