I experienced several surprising coincidences and discoveries while working on “Cadi & the Cursed Oak.” In the beginning, all I had was a short passage about the Nannau oak while working on “Honest Labour.” To turn the tale into a children’s book, I wanted the story of the oak to be so much more than what happened on that fateful day in 1402, when Hywel Sele and Owain Glyndŵr went hunting, which is the tale that has long made the Nannau oak famous.
The longbows carried by Owain and Hywel on their hunt brought to mind an entirely different hunt – an Instagram post by Welsh stick chairmaker Chris Williams in which he was arm bow hunting with his daughter, Alice.
Couldn’t my main character, I thought, be a Welsh stick chairmaker’s daughter? Hence, Cadi.
I spent hours considering Welsh names. At the time, Cadi ranked No. 90 on a “popular names in Wales,” list. It’s one of the Welsh diminutives of Catrin (then ranked No. 82). Owain Glyndŵr had a daughter named Catrin, Catrin of Ferain (c. 1540-1591), a noblewoman known as “the mother of Wales.”
How do you connect a present-day character to a tree that no longer exists and an event that took place more than 600 years ago?
That’s one of the beauties of wood, and a good editor.
I discovered there were actual objects claimed to have been made from the Nannau oak, that still exist today, including some acorn-shaped cups (how fitting!). The acorn cup became the tie between past and present, and the reason for which the story of the Nannau oak was passed down to Cadi.
After reading my first draft it was Christopher Schwarz who told me that he expected a scene in which Cadi drank from the acorn cup. After seeing pictures of it, he asked, “How could anyone not?”
I researched the cup some more. According to Remy Dean, it had been said “that those who drank from the cups were plagued by ghostly apparitions and suffered nightmares for several nights afterward.”
Without giving too much away (the book is, after all, only 48 pages), Cadi, finds the cup, accidentally cracks it, drinks from the cup and hides it by stuffing it into her backpack.
There are two silver discs attached to the wooden sleeve of the cup. In my research, I discovered that there are inscriptions on each disc. One is an engraving of an oak tree with the words Ceubren yr Ellyll, and 1813. The other? A coat of arms and ASGRE LÂN DIOGEL EI PHERCHEN: a good conscience is the best shield.
Sometimes, when I’m in the thick of a project, I lose sight of the obvious. Months had gone by when I realized I had forgotten that the four acorn cups also have four inscriptions or toasts. (You can learn more about them here.) By this point, “Cadi & the Cursed Oak” had become longer and a bit more complex; the Nannau oak was also representative of stories that are passed down through generations.
Cadi’s grandmother pulled out a small pile of acorns from her coat pocket.
“These acorns may be from the same tree. Or different trees. They might be related to the blasted oak, holding its stories within. But each acorn has a different story, depending on where it grew on the tree, what it witnessed, where it fell – what it will be. All you can do is gather and listen. All of it, the bad, the good, the mundane, the thrilling, it’s all part of the acorn’s truth. And with time, the stories can change. In fact, they almost always do.”
Now Cadi was mad. She didn’t understand why things had to be so complicated. She didn’t understand why some stories could be so scary. Or sad. She didn’t understand why she had to be the one to find the cup and she didn’t understand why the cup had to crack – she didn’t want it to crack, she didn’t mean for it to crack. And she didn’t understand why the spirits’ stories were haunting her so.
“The worst thing you can do,” her grandmother said, interrupting Cadi’s angry thoughts, “is hide a story that needs to be told.”
They walked back to the car park, mostly in silence. As Cadi climbed into the car, her grandmother turned to her.
“Sometimes,” her grandmother said, “I hear the cries, too.”
Suddenly, Cadi realized what she had to do.
I fully expected the second inscription on the acorn cup to be something about a toast for a birthday celebration (which was the reason the acorn cups were made). Imagine my delight when I discovered the transcription:
Lle gwreiddio y Fesen, Llwydded y Dderwen: the oak tree may succeed where the acorn takes root.
It fit the story, particularly the already-written end, so beautifully.
Near the end of the production of “Cadi & the Cursed Oak,” we hired Dr Iwan Wyn Rees, lecturer and director of the Cardiff Centre for Welsh American Studies, to edit and correct the transcriptions, and create a simple pronunciation guide for the 20+ Welsh words and phrases we have scattered throughout the text. He was so incredibly thorough and patient and wonderful to work with. Also, as if it were meant to be, he said he remembers his Nain (grandmother) telling him that her own Nain was head housekeeper at none other than — the Nannau estate.
“Cadi & the Cursed Oak” is at the printer and will be available for $19 hopefully sometime in March.
In our forthcoming illustrated book, “Cadi & the Cursed Oak,” much of the plot centers on an acorn cup.
Once there was a cup.
But it was not an ordinary cup, for it was a silver cup with an oak sleeve turned in the shape of an acorn, one hand high, as if it had been crafted for a child.
And on a winter day in Dolgellau, a small town in northwest Wales, it was Cadi who found the cup, lodged between a stone wall and her grandmother’s oak coffer.
Cadi pulled the cup until she heard a quiet “pop” muffled by the coffer’s cobwebs. A tiny split opened in the wood, smaller than the breath of a bee.
“Oh,” Cadi whispered, fearing what her grandmother would say. Cradling the cup, she examined the two silver discs attached to the wooden sleeve. One had an engraving of an oak tree above the words Ceubren yr Ellyll, and 1813. The other was engraved with a coat of arms and ASGRE LÂN DIOGEL EI PHERCHEN.
It was so lovely and so unknown, Cadi thought she might cry. Although she had never seen the cup or heard talk of it, it was beautiful and important-looking. And the tiny crack grew heavy in her mind.
Cadi and her grandmother are fictional, of course, but this cup, made by John Reilly, exists at National Museum Wales. According to the museum, “On 25 June 1824 one of Wales’s grandest 21st birthday celebrations took place for Sir Robert Williams Vaughan, the son of Merioneth’s biggest landowner. Held on the Nannau estate in Dolgellau, 200 guests sat down to an extravagant banquet … Various items produced to commemorate the event are now in the collections of Amgueddfa Cymru, including two of the six acorn-shaped toasting cups made for the occasion. They were made from the wood of the Derwen Ceubren yr Ellyll, ‘the hollow oak of the demon,’ the ancient tree at Nannau associated with Owain Glyndwr.”
Many objects made from the cursed oak exist in Wales still today.
What happened to it, to the tree? Cadi asked.
“A terrible storm, in 1813,” said her grandmother, who began to walk again. “A man named Sir Richard Colt Hoare visited here. Sir Richard was a wealthy man, an antiquarian. He also loved plants. He collected exotic plants, he planted thousands of trees, and he loved to draw them. While at Nannau, Sir Richard became enchanted with the blasted oak. By this time it measured 28 feet around and was more than 900 years old. So he sketched it. That very night, lightning struck the tree and destroyed it. The remaining wood was collected and quite a few things were made from it – tables, candlesticks, picture frames and some lovely stirrup cups, set in silver and shaped like acorns. I own one of the cups, although it appears to have gone missing.”
Cadi dared not move.
“There are two silver discs on it, opposite each other. One disc says ceubren yr ellyll, the hollow oak of the demon. The other, ASGRE LÂN DIOGEL EI PHERCHEN, a good conscience is the best shield.”
Cadi’s grandmother turned and looked at her.
Legend says if you drink from it, the tree’s stories will haunt you.”
They walked a bit more and then Cadi quietly asked, “How do you get the dreams to stop?”
“You can’t stop stories, child,” her grandmother said. “Even bad ones. Every living thing has a story. And every story deserves to be told.”
This is the actual sketching of the Nannau Oak, by Sir Richard Colt Hoare, which is part of the Stourhead House collection (National Trust). The inscription on the top of the frame says “The Nannau Oak fell to the ground 27 July 1813. This frame is made of the real wood.” The inscription on the bottom of the frame says, “Sketched by Sr Richd. C. Hoare on the morning preceding the night on which it fell.”
This Victorian breakfast table, sold at auction by Bonhams in 2014, is said to be made from the Nannau Oak. It came with a printed etching of the tree and text about the tree as referenced in Sir Walter Scott’s poem, “Marmion,” framed in wood also said to be from the cursed tree.
Here you can see more photos by Philip Nanney Williams, author of “Nannau: A Rich Tapestry of Welsh History,” of a book slide made in 1848. It was reportedly made from wood from the Nannau Oak supplied by the third bart’s wife, Lady Vaughan of Rhug. Philip was of wonderful assistance to me during the research phase of this book.
The website nannau.wales, created by Ian King, provided a wealth of information while working on this book. There I found a transcription of a 1960s tourist guide, which included an image of candlesticks and more cups made from Nannau oak.
Philip writes about these candlesticks, made from the Nannau Oak, in Chapter 3 of his book. Made in 1840, they are modeled on the chimney of the Archdeacon’s House, Bangor, where Owain Glyndŵr met with Henry Hotspur during the rebellion.
And according to Woolley & Wallis, this folding table has a 19th century veneered top with “Ceubren yr Ellyll,” inscribed underneath on a later turned folding base.
Tell someone you’re working on a children’s book, and you can anticipate a few common responses – expressions of delight, followed by a short list of favorite titles and hope-filled questions such as “Will there be pictures?” People generally assume that books intended for children will be simple affairs, often with some type of moral instruction on the importance of kindness, taking responsibility when things go wrong, or learning about such hard-to-face topics as pimples and poop. Odds are, you won’t get a lot of questions about research.
But when author and editor Kara Gebhart Uhl sent me a PDF of her forthcoming book as a personal preview, the most compelling questions I wanted to ask concerned the research that underlay the work. How had she come up with the topic, a tale centered around an ancient tree in Wales, a place that Kara herself has not (yet) even visited? How had she found an illustrator whose work may well make this book a contender for a Caldecott Medal? And is it OK to have scary stuff in a book meant for kids?
Perfect for this spooky time of year
Let’s start with the last question, which struck me as I was reading the part of the book about witch trials that took place beneath the tree:
“Witch hunters strapped suspected witches to an oak armchair and dunked it into the water,” reads the story a few pages in. “If the woman survived, she was deemed a witch and executed.”
“And if she was innocent?” asks Cadi, the story’s young protagonist.
It’s one thing to terrorize kids with images of cackling, bony-fingered witches in pointy hats (even though most of us beyond the age of, say, 5, recognize those depictions as cartoon stereotypes). Far more disturbing is the historical reality of witch trials, in which women suspected of practicing sorcery were “tried” by what we today would call torture. If they were innocent, they died, thereby proving that they lacked a witch’s superpowers; if guilty, they lived, only to be put to death. I can think of few things more disturbing than the absolute injustice of being damned whether you’re innocent or guilty. And at 62, I’m far from a child.
Knowing Kara as I do, I felt confident that she’d done the necessary research.
“As I think back to the stories I connected to as a child, there was some deepness to them,” she began in response. “I think of ‘Charlotte’s Web.’ I remember when Sophie [Kara’s 13-year-old daughter] was reading it…she was getting to the end and she started crying. And yet she loved the book, and I loved the book. But it is sad. But also not, in many ways!” Sounds like life to me – endlessly faceted, with meanings that shift according to your perspective. How is this not a valuable lesson for children?
It’s also helpful to note that Kara plans to pitch this book to “older children” – say, age 8 and above, though Kara hesitates even to state an age range, aware that the tolerance for sad or scary content varies from one child to another. She sent a list of articles and essays she’d consulted on the advisability of telling kids sad and scary stories:
She’d done the research. As Cadi’s grandmother says, echoing one of DiCamillo’s points, “There will always be sad stories. Scary stories. Heavy stories you wish had never happened. Sometimes the only way to lighten the load is to share them.”
Kara also sent more than a page of information about other aspects of the book, with illustrative references. Some of this material makes for an intriguing read in its own right. Take this excerpt, for example, which is full of references to idiosyncratic features of Welsh culture:
“Detailed images and descriptions of the plasterwork scene(and the restaurant) can be found in this Standing Building Report commissioned by the Snowdonia National Park Authority here and also in an article here. Legend states that frieze depicts the Nannau oak and even features actual branches, but this is almost certainly not true. It is likely the armorial was constructed as late as the 19th century, perhaps when it was used by the Dolgellau Cricket and Reading Club, and the tree was constructed as part of the 1758 restoration of the hall, as the subject’s clothing matches that time period. Y Sospan is still an operating restaurant located in Dolgellau – pictures can be found on their Facebook page here. Breaded chicken goujons [are] on the children’s menu.
“A gaol is a jail. According to the Standing Building Report this building was first built in 1606 as Shire Hall with House of Corrections (gaol) below. Images of a ducking (sometimes called cucking) stool.”
Why the Nannau Oak?
For years, Kara had wanted to write a children’s book. Like many of us, she started writing long before she got a contract, coming up with ideas, and then developing them as she could make time around the edges of her regular work. Most readers will know her as a managing editor at Lost Art Press, but she freelance writes and edits for other clients, including magazines, universities, ad agencies and companies. A wife and mother of three kids – her twin sons, Owen and James, are 11 – she shares the diverse demands of family with her husband, Andy, and has little time for personal creative endeavors. As she points out, “It’s hard to find the time for something you’re not getting paid for unless it ends up happening.” You have to go out on a limb, balancing your passion and determination to see a project through against the energy required to honor the responsibilities and opportunities of everyday life. Even with a contract, there’s no guarantee that your project will become anything more than a bunch of words in an electronic file, perhaps to be printed out and read to your own family someday. (In fact, many – perhaps most – publishing contracts state that the contract does not guarantee the piece of writing will be published, though most of the time that is what happens.)
But Kara kept writing. At one point she had a literary agent. These days you pretty much have to have an agent to break into the world of big-time publishing, and just finding an experienced agent willing to represent you can be its own challenge. Kara’s agent got the manuscript for one of her books all the way to the acquisitions department with HarperCollins, but the finance department said no.
“You get rejections,” she acknowledges. And how. “Agents and others are so overworked. Rejections come at all times.” She recalls one particular occasion, when Sophie was having a piano lesson. In came the email. Kara ran to the bathroom, where she stuck her face in a towel and cried. Then she went downstairs and “carried on mothering.”
The idea for “The Curse of the Nannau Oak” grew out of Kara’s work on “Honest Labour,” a collection of essays by Charles Hayward published in TheWoodworker magazine, which Hayward edited from 1936 to 1966. She looked through every page of every issue, collecting the “enticing tidbits” that Hayward scattered around the pages – fun information related to woodworking, such as “The Diary” that took her into deep, fanciful rabbit holes. “In one of them he talked about the Nannau Oak, the story of it being haunted,” she said. “I immediately thought, that could make a really cool children’s book.” She made a note and started doing research whenever she could make the time. After six months she mustered the nerve to pitch the idea to Christopher Schwarz by email. She was relieved when he responded, “Hell yes this is cool.”
They set up a meeting, several weeks later. By the end of the discussion they agreed that the germ of the tale would require elaboration. She dug back in with research and writing for another five months.
Once she had a rough draft, she got a contract.
She says she “broke about every single rule” when it comes to writing a picture book for children. As the former managing editor for Writer’s Digest magazine (and currently a contributing editor), she’s familiar with publishers’ expectations. The book publishing industry generally prefers picture books for children to be no longer than 1,000 words, with around 500 words being preferred, which translates roughly to one full page of single-spaced text on a standard sheet of 8-1/2” x 11” paper. (By comparison, a manuscript for a nonfiction work aimed at adults is typically a minimum of 60,000 words.) At the end of her rough draft, she was at 2,000 words. Another publisher would likely have turned it down, or told her to take a buzz saw to it. Not Chris Schwarz. Instead, he told her, “Don’t be afraid to flesh this out,” based on readers’ responses to “Grandpa’s Workshop.” “He doesn’t care what the traditional publishing world thinks,” Kara says. Instead, he told her, “We should make this what it needs to be.” By the time Kara’s manuscript was finished, it came in at around 4,000 words.
The unusual subject brought with it other challenges. Children’s books are usually written to be read aloud, typically by a parent to a child. But so many of the words in “The Curse of the Nannau Oak” are Welsh, which Kara doesn’t speak. There would have to be a glossary. (Those working on the book are hoping to add a guide to pronunciation.)
As she got deeper into the writing and received feedback from others – she specifically cites the value of constructive criticism from researcher Suzanne Ellison – the story became more complex and layered. Storytelling itself, which is integral to Welsh culture, became part of the story. Her original draft hadn’t even mentioned “The Mabinogion,” a classic of Welsh literature that popularized mythical tales such as those about King Arthur and Merlin. “I think it was while in the process of fleshing the story out, I decided to dive deeper into one of the central themes of the book which is the concept of ‘story,’ given that storytelling is so important to Welsh culture. And over and again I kept going back to ‘The Mabinogion’ in my research, or it would pop up on its own. While complex in nature, I felt like it was an important piece to include.”
It’s common knowledge that children’s books are among the most gorgeously illustrated literary genres, and this book is no exception. The illustrations by Elin Manon Cooper are fluid and lush, with layered detail. Nothing here is dumbed down for kids. Rather, the illustrations pull you in, inviting you to explore. Not only is this dimension of the book appropriate for adult readers whose children are long gone from home (or who never had them in the first place); it also expresses a respect for children’s potential to sense vastly more complexity and nuance than adults sometimes give them credit for, in addition to elevating the standard of what we think of as “child-appropriate artwork.”
Finding an illustrator proved more difficult than Kara anticipated. “It was important to me that my partner in this be Welsh,” she says. Even though Wales is a small country, she spent a lot of time searching online for an artist who would be a good fit. Instagram proved helpful; she searched hashtags such as #welshart, #welshillustrator and #welshfolkart. Adding to the challenge, she found that hashtag searches in Welsh turned up many more hits, so she tried a few of those as well. She contacted a few artists, among them Elin Manon Cooper. “Elin seemed so perfect for the book, with her fondness for trees and folktales,” Kara explains. “She even worked at St Fagans,” Wales’s National Museum of History. And she speaks Welsh. Things looked promising until Google published Elin’s Google Doodle commemorating St. David’s Day on March 1, 2021, prompting Kara to worry that Elin would be beyond the reach of a publisher such as Lost Art Press. Google Doodles don’t just happen; the internet search engine giant commissions them well in advance, and they’re seen by millions across the globe who use Google to search for anything on a given day, from paper clips to insulin syringes, translation tools from English to Latvian or what to do if you find a deer in your car. (For real.) “Oh my goodness, she’s going to be too popular!” Kara thought. “She’ll never say yes!” They talked about schedules, which initially posed a challenge. So Kara was extra-thrilled when Elin signed a contract in May to illustrate the book. “She’s worked so quickly,” Kara adds. “She thought she could finish the illustrations by the end of October and she’s well on her way.”
In the meantime, Elin has sent her illustrations-in-progress to Chris, who is designing the book. He takes each set and flows the text onto the pages, hugging the illustrations’ contours, then sends Elin and Kara an updated PDF.
The sophistication of Elin’s work is all the more striking considering that she’s just 23. (Then again, she is Welsh, and the Welsh are known to have special powers.)
Although this is Kara’s first book, it’s worth mentioning that “A Lesson I Hold Dear,” “This I Believe,” was published in the book by the same name. Kara graduated with a B.S. in magazine journalism from the Ohio University. After starting out in environmental pre-law and taking a variety of courses, she found she loved to write. She eventually switched majors to magazine journalism. She wrote a personal essay column for the college paper and has been writing ever since.
The shelves in Kara’s home office hold lots of illustrated books, along with books published by Lost Art Press. To this day, she says, she’ll come into the room after being away for a while “and there will be picture books scattered around. I don’t yell at [the kids] for not putting them away, because I’m intrigued by the ones they chose. It gives me insight into what’s going on in their world.”
It’s easy to imagine young readers returning time and again to “The Curse of the Nannau Oak” for reassurance that trees, which provide us and our fellow creatures with so much – from oxygen and shade to edible nuts and fruits, not to mention the primary material for woodworking – can live a very long time. During its long life, a tree may witness tragic events and terrible acts; sometimes the tree itself may even be used in those acts’ commission. But the same world that visits pain and injustice on so many holds hope for something kinder, better and more lovely, a truth that young Cadi shares through her own story, which forms the book’s conclusion.
One of the most difficult parts about writing the “The Curse of the Nannau Oak” (an illustrated book forthcoming from Lost Art Press) was being so far away from where it all took place. Time and money aside, the pandemic made a trip impossible.
Much of the story could have been written anywhere, but several scenes in the story, I felt, needed the eyes of someone physically there. One scene features detailed plasterwork in a restaurant in Dolgellau, a small town in northwest Wales. The other is a walk the main character, Cadi, takes with her grandmother.
The Nannau estate is about three miles north of Dolgellau. In our book (which I wrote and is illustrated by the brilliant Elin Manon Cooper) Cadi and her family eat in a restaurant in which there is a frightening and detailed plasterwork scene of a large tree on the wall. The waiter tells her it’s the hollow oak of the demon – the Nannau oak. This plasterwork scene is real and exists, as does the restaurant, called Y Sospan. Legend states that the plasterwork has actual branches from the Nannau oak embedded in it. From what I gather, the armorial (another plasterwork scene next to the tree, also featured in our book) was constructed as late as the 19th century, perhaps when the restaurant was used by the Dolgellau Cricket and Reading Club. The tree, on the other hand, was possibly constructed as part of the 1758 restoration of the hall, as the subjects’ clothing in the scene matches that time period. As far as branches from the Nannau oak actually being embedded into the plaster? Who knows! It’s one of the perks, I suppose, of writing heavily researched fiction.
A detailed Standing Building Report commissioned by the Snowdonia National Park Authority was instrumental in helping me describe this scene accurately, and find a place for it in the story, without actually being there.
I think I’ve watched maybe a dozen total videos on YouTube in my life, a fact that is shocking to my children. But I was thrilled to find the delightful Margaret Hall, who lets viewers walk with her through the Nannau Deer Park. It was the next best thing to taking the walk myself, and being able to listen to her speak Welsh while reading the English subtitles was wonderfully instructive as well.
But then I found Elin Manon Cooper, who is now my partner on this project and who is producing the most gorgeous illustrations. This summer she went to Y Sospan. And she walked through the Nannau Deer Park. She saw Coed y Moch (a lodge on the Nannau estate); Aran Fawddwy, Aran Benllyn and Cader Idris from a distance (southern Snowdonia mountains in North Wales); and Yr Hen Ardd (the Old Garden, built in the 1790s).
“Cadi knew this was land that held secrets and stories.”
Elin tried to find the stone pillar that marked where the Nannau oak once stood, but it’s now in someone’s private garden. While wandering, a deer jumped out right in front of Elin and her family – a magical sight, she says.
“Despite not being able to find the exact spot of the oak it was an incredible place to walk around anyway,” she says. “You got a real sense of time and story all merging, swirling and stretching together.”
With many traditional, big-name publishers, such a close partnership and collaboration between author and illustrator would have never happened. Often, a writer and illustrator never meet or speak. And so to have this experience, I’m grateful.
I first learned about the Nannau oak while working on “Honest Labour: The Charles Hayward Years.” Flipping through every page of every issue of The Woodworker magazine, I skimmed a lot of text. But a lot of what Hayward wrote slowed me down, like this entry in the Diary, a regular smattering of bits and pieces of news all somewhat related to wood that I loved to read.
Old Welsh Oaks
The unexpected fall, about six weeks ago, of the giant oak tree in Powis Castle Park, Welshpool, recalls other historic oak trees in Wales. There was the Nannau oak, near Welshpool, which fell suddenly after a great storm in 1813. As the “haunted” tree it was long an object of superstitious dread. The legend goes that in a quarrel Owain Glyndwr slew his cousin, the Lord of Nannau, and thrust his body into the hollow trunk of the old oak. Not far from the Nannau oak is another which is connected with Owain Glyndwr, and is called Glyndwr’s Oak or The Shelton Oak. It is now a gnarled old specimen, and the story tells that from its branches Glyndwr watched the fate of his ally, Henry Hotspur, at the battle of Shrewsbury, in 1403. Owain was unable to reach Hotspur, on account of the swollen state of the Severn, the bridges being held by the King. The tree is now so hollow with age that several persons at a time can stand inside its trunk.
–– Charles Hayward
Still we read about the falls of great oaks, such as as BBC’s coverage of the estimated 1,000-year-old Buttington Oak, which fell two miles from Welshpool, Wales, in October 2018.
The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about an obituary for the Salem Oak in June 2019.
The New York Times covered the 2017 cutting down of the 600-year-old “Old Oak Tree” in the churchyard of a Presbyterian church in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.
How can you write 500 words, 1,000 words, on the death of a tree? Turns out, once you become an old-enough tree, you become the topic of (or, perhaps more often, the setting of) legends. True, untrue, it doesn’t matter. It’s difficult to read about a centuries-old oak that has died without also reading some fantastic tale associated with it. And once I started researching the Nannau oak, I realized there was just so much story to work with, which led me to “The Mabinogion” itself. How to turn this into something? I had no idea. But I couldn’t let it go which I suppose is the way most somethings begin.