Today, my friend A.L. Lester is here to remind us that is’s soon St Dwynwen’s Day, and about her book, Playing Chicken, that’s inspired by this day. I’ve read it, it’s fabulous (short review here), so if you want something short and down-to-earth, with chickens and tea, and a quiet romance, I warmly recommend this book.
Thank you so much for having me here today to visit, Nell! Happy New Year to you and all your readers.
I am popping in to remind everyone I have a short gay romance inspired by St Dwynwen’s Day, the 25th of January. This is the first of the Celtic Myth retellings I wrote and it began as a bit of a joke to cheer myself up. It’s a meet-cute bit of fluff that I accidentally made as a distraction from Real Life ™ early last year. It’s a nine-thousands word contemporary story set in Wales.
I am a member of the UK Romantic Novelist’s Association and during the lockdown the Welsh chapter (called Cariad, Welsh for love) had online meetings. During the December one, there was a discussion about stories suitable for bringing to reader’s attention for St Dwynwen’s Day in January. Dwynwen is often talked about as ‘The Welsh St Valentine’, although her story is a bit grim–and there are various versions of it.
They all begin with Dwynwen being one of the twenty-four daughters of the fifth century King Brychan Brycheiniog, King of Brycheiniog or Brecknockshire/Breconshire. She fell in love with Maelon Dafodrill, but her father wanted her to marry someone else.
In the most well-known version of the story, Maelon was so angry when she told him she couldn’t marry him that he raped her. She ran away to the woods, where she begged god to make her forget Maelon and when she fell asleep she was visited by an angel who gave her a potion to erase her memory of Maelon and turn him into a block of ice.
God also gave her three wishes:
- Her first wish was that Maelon be thawed, which was very generous of her, considering.
- Secondly she asked that god meet the hopes and dreams of true lovers. Again, generous after her own bad experience.
- And thirdly she wished that she would never marry. I can get behind this.
All her wishes were granted and in thanks she devoted her life to god.
I loathe this version. I feel that if someone raped me and I had the good luck to get him frozen, I wouldn’t be immediately unfreezing him, however saintly I was. So I like to think this is the misogynistic version of the story I prefer—that they were in love and slept together, but when her father found out, Dwynwen panicked and said it had been without her consent before she ran away. Poor old Maelon still gets frozen, but it would explain why she unfreezes him so quickly.
There’s a bit of a fashion for modern fairy-tale retellings at the moment, but I really didn’t intend to make one. However, this is now is the first of four that I wrote over the course of last year once I realised how much I was enjoying myself. To begin with as I was writing, the story wasn’t tied to the myth at all; it was a meet-cute set on Christmas Eve. But it really wasn’t working for me and after a bit of a think it seemed that tying it to St Dwynwen’s Day was a natural fit. And I ended up making poor, frozen, unjustly accused Maelon one of my main characters, because he deserved a happy ending!
🐓 Playing Chicken 🐓
Obviously cock jokes were out. The telepathic chicken didn’t like it.Quote from Playin Chicken by A.L. Lester
Marc returns home from London to his isolated Welsh cottage for good, having found his ex boyfriend shagging someone else in their bed. Who’s the thin, freezing cold man with the bruised face he finds in his barn? Will the tenuous connection between them grow, or fade away?
A 9,000 word short story to mark the Welsh St Valentine’s Day, St Dwynwen’s Day, the 25th of January. With chickens.
Excerpt from Playing Chicken – Rudimentary First Aid
His first aid kit was rudimentary but covered the basics. Antiseptics, dressings, butterfly strips. It should do the job. He hauled it out from under the driver’s seat, eyeing the squeezed-in boxes disfavourably. That was going to be today’s job, he supposed.
He was so taken up with his mission that he forgot there should have been a chicken in the porch until he turned back toward the house. He blinked in disbelief. She had a friend. Two friends. They were sat in a row on the back of the garden bench underneath the parlour window. As he watched, they jumped down, one by one and stood in a line, as if waiting for him. The two new ones were very clearly the same breed as Chicken Number One. Big, fluffy, orange. One had more exciting headgear than the other two and was a bit bigger, so he guessed that was a boy-chicken. Cockerel. Cock. He sniggered quietly and then stopped himself as the first chicken…he could tell it was the original one because it had a bit of black in its tail and the others didn’t…looked at him disapprovingly.
Obviously cock jokes were out. The telepathic chicken didn’t like it.
“Sorry,” he said. “I was just getting the first aid kit for Mal. I’ll stop.”
He performed a shuffling dance around them to get back indoors. “You’re like the Midwich Cuckoos,” he told them. “You are not coming into my house. Stay outside. It’s bad enough having a porch full of chicken shit.”
Mal was on his feet looking at him in alarm when he stepped through the parlour door, and the dog was standing beside him, hackles up.
“Who were you talking to?” he asked in a panicked voice. “Is someone out there?”
Marc shook his head. “Chickens,” he said. “I seem to have chickens living in the porch. It’s fine. He narrowed his eyes. “What makes you think there might be someone out there? Who hurt you?”
Mal sat down on the edge of the chair and ran his hands over his cheeks, pulling a face. The dog sat beside him and put her chin on his knee, staring up at him, and he absently began to pet her ears. Marc knelt beside him and opened the first-aid box.
“My ex’s dad,” he said, quietly, after a moment or two. We’d split up anyway. Ages ago. But he saw me in Welshpool a couple of days ago and wanted to drive the point home.’ He shivered. “I’d only gone down into town to pick up some food and bits.” He winced as Marc turned his face toward the light and began to wipe the cut against his hairline with antiseptic. “I’d left Anghared up here, else he wouldn’t have got near me.”
The dog gave a small woof as she heard her name.
“Would he, girl? Stupid man.”
“So how did you end up in my barn?” Marc said, gently fixing butterfly strips over the cut. It had come open again and was bleeding a bit, but it looked like it would be fine. “Come on, let’s look at your ribs too, while I’m at it.”
“They’re fine, honestly. Only bruised.” Mal pulled away and Marc just looked at him. Mal sighed. “All right, all right.” He began to unzip the big hoodie he was swamped in and winced again. Marc raised an eyebrow, silently asking for permission and then reached out to help when Mal nodded. There were a lot of layers to get through and it took a while to gently extract him. The cold was still coming off him in waves and he was shivering badly as he said, “I’ve been staying up in the woods. But I felt too bad to get home. Anghared found me, didn’t you girl? And we needed somewhere out of the cold. I’m freezing, still.”
He was shuddering, which was probably a good thing in retrospect, Marc thought. He hadn’t been shivering at all when he’d first come inside. Incipient hypothermia. He had a quick look and a gentle feel of the ribs. They were badly bruised but he couldn’t feel anything shifting around, so he’d call that good. Mal’s skin was icy cold under Marc’s fingers.
“Bath?” he said. “Or body-heat?”
“Ugh,” he screwed his face up. “Do I have to?”
“Yes,” said Marc firmly. “I don’t want you to die on my first day home for two and a half years. If that’s all right.”
About A. L. Lester
Ally Lester writes queer, paranormal, historical, romantic suspense and lives in the South West of England with Mr AL, two children, a terrifying cat, three guineapigs, some hens and the duckettes.
She likes permaculture gardening but doesn’t really have time or energy these days. Not musical, doesn’t much like telly, likes to read. Non-binary. Chronically disabled. Has fibromyalgia and tedious fits.