Today, the Book Monsters are pleased to have Christine Brodien-Jones, discussing the research behind her latest book, The Glass Puzzle. Stay tuned at the end to enter to win all three of her books.
Tunnels, Pirates, Submerged Towns, and More:
Researching The Glass Puzzle by Christine Brodien-Jones
Researching my novel The Glass Puzzle meant digging up information on the historic seaside town of Tenby, Wales and nearby Caldey Island. I also delved into Welsh mythology and researched drowned villages, pirates and runestones. All intriguing topics! I was lucky enough to have a consultant: my husband Peter, who grew up in Wales and visited Tenby most summers as a boy.
In The Glass Puzzle, eleven-year-old Zoé Badger and her cousin Ian spend every summer with Granddad in Tenby. Tenby’s the one place where Zoé feels most at home; she loves it more than anywhere else the world. Here’s a sampling of what I uncovered while working on the book.
TENBY’S OLD TOWN. I’ve visited Tenby several times, back in the 1980s and 1990s. And although I haven’t been there this century, I get the sense that things haven’t changed much, especially in The Old Town, where the book’s action takes place. The Old Town is surrounded by an imposing stone wall and looks much the way it did centuries ago—although Tenby Castle, which once stood on the high rocky headland, is in ruins, save for a lone watch tower. Tenby lures summer tourists with tales of smugglers and pirates, haunted buildings (tours are available), and the labyrinth of tunnels running beneath its cobbled streets.
In The Glass Puzzle I combined real places in Tenby with made-up ones, and all are depicted in the book’s gorgeous two-page map drawn by Fred van Deelen. For accuracy’s sake, I relied on Google Map’s street view, an amazing technology that pulled me into the Old Town where I could “walk” along the streets as if I were actually there!
TUNNELS. The maze of medieval cellars and tunnels which lie beneath the Georgian buildings of Tenby are believed to have been used by smugglers. Tenby’s most famous tunnel underneath Tudor Square is said to have played a key role in British history by helping the future Henry VII escape from his enemies: the fourteen-year-old Henry Tudor was supposedly hidden in a tunnel below the town’s streets before fleeing to Brittany.
PIRATES. At one point in the book Granddad tells Zoé and Ian that Wales is known for its fierce pirates:
“‘Don’t get me wrong, real pirates were in no way romantic,’ Granddad went on, striding once more up the hill. ‘They were vicious and deadly—and a good number of them were Welsh.’”
He’s not kidding, either. Welsh author and researcher Dafydd Meirion says three of the characters from Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Treasure Island were based on the Welsh pirates Harri Morgan, Black Bart (John Roberts) and Hywel Davies.
CALDEY ISLAND. Zoé, Ian and their friend Pippin go to the monastery on Caldey Island to retrieve a missing piece from the glass puzzle. Caldey Island lies three miles out to sea, its name reputedly derived from the Viking Keld-Eye, meaning “cold island.” Reached by boat and closed for the winter and on Sundays, attractions include abbey shops selling hand-made chocolates and perfume for which the monks are famous. For more than 1,400 years this island has been inhabited by various orders of monks; the present monastery is Reformed Cistercian.
Caldey Island was a stopping-off point for pirates, including the infamous Henry Morgan. Smugglers hid their booty in Cathedral Caves, and Caldey was a refuge for the marauding pirate John Paul Jones and his sidekick Leekie Porridge. There’s also a dark legend, which history-fanatic Ian relates as they pass through St. David’s Church:
“‘Then there’s the story of the Black Monk of Caldey, who was walled up in the monastery along with his gold, back in the 1500s. I’d give anything to have been around in those days.’”
WELSH MYTHOLOGY. Zoé is fascinated by Granddad’s weathervane, named Arianrhod after the Welsh goddess.
“Who else in Tenby had a weathervane that was a Welsh goddess? Nobody, she was quick to say, just as she was quick to tell kids that Granddad consulted the goddess like an oracle, for everything from betting on the Triple Crown to predicting Tenby’s spring tides.”
The silver box containing the glass puzzle is also emblazoned with the goddess’ image. Although Zoé doesn’t know it yet, Arianrhod will have a major role to play when it comes to defeating the monsters that threaten Tenby.
The red winged dragon is the emblem of Wales and appears on their national flag. Steeped in mythology, the dragon goes back to the ancient tales of the “Mabinogion.” In my book the Welsh dragon appears on Arianrhod’s shield and is also carved into the top of the glass puzzle.
RUNESTONES. Caldey Island is the home of the sixth century Caldey Stone, which was excavated in the grounds. The stone is inscribed in the Celtic Ogham script and also in Latin. This gave me the idea of creating a magical runestone—a raised stone with a runic inscription—that must be found and translated if Zoé and Ian are to defeat the monsters that threaten Tenby.
“Zoé held the runestone, breathing in the smell of it: sweet, like honey, mixed with dust and light. Each time her eyes fell on the runes, she felt transported, as if she were dreaming her life instead of actually living it. Had this really been written by Arianrhod, surviving centuries of chaos and wars, pirates and plague—and the sinking of Wythernsea?”
SUBMERGED TOWNS. Many towns off the coast of Wales have slipped into the sea and legends are told about these sunken villages and towns: for example, during certain tides, the peals of church bells have supposedly been heard from beneath the waves.
Instead of a sunken town, I created a submerged island called Wythernsea. What Zoé and Ian discover is that the glass puzzle they’ve found is a portal to this parallel world.
“In 1349, the year the plague reached Wales, the island of Wythernsea—near Caldey Island, off the coast of Tenby—was submerged following a violent winter storm. It is said that at low tide the towers of Wythernsea’s ancient castle can be seen, and the bells of its church can be heard ringing in the fog."
I loved this book and especially Christine's research done into making the novel such a marvelously rich story. Thank you so much to Christine for sharing more with us about what made The Glass Puzzle such a fantastical read!
CHRISTINE BRODIEN-JONES is the author of three middle-grade fantasy adventure novels, The Glass Puzzle (Delacorte, July 2013), The Scorpions of Zahir (Delacorte, 2012) and The Owl Keeper (Delacorte, 2010).Booklist magazine praised her writing, saying “Brodien-Jones mixes fantasy and adventure in a way that would make Indiana Jones feel right at home.” Ms. Brodien-Jones studied writing at Emerson College in Boston and has worked as a reporter, an editor, and a teacher. She divides her time between Gloucester, Massachusetts, and Deer Isle, Maine. Learn more about her life and work and download additional free discussion guides for her novels at her website: www.cbrodien-jones.com. Visit her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ChristineBrodienJones.
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