Category: Guest Articles
Potential Welsh writers: Some dismal observations and some encouragement - Ambrose Conway / David Hughes
By AmeriCymru, 2018-09-05
I have often been exasperated by the way booksellers classify my books. They tend to work to set parameters and the Reso can easily fit into several categories, so in some book listings it appears as fiction, young adult, in others as general fiction. I've even seen it in a section on social issues, young people!
In truth, all of these are technically correct. Others would be equally appropriate such as : fiction: Wales, fiction: historical (it is disconcerting to realise that what appears to you as your short life to date, is now generally considered as an historical timespan!) fiction:the sixties.
Unfortunately the way a book is classified can also have an impact on sales because readers tend to concentrate on the sections they know and will never find books in other sections, unless by recommendations. This is what makes recommendations so powerful and valuable. Thank you so much to all those people who took the trouble to write something on a website about how they enjoyed the books, it is biggest compliment you can pay to an author and keeps me positive and writing.
A back handed compliment which really frustrates me is the reader who tells me that they enjoyed the book immensely, and that they have passed it round the family and everyone enjoyed it immensely as well! I'm not looking to make my fortune from writing, so few people do, but I would like some recompense for the hundreds of hours spent researching, writing, re-drafting and publishing the books. If you love a book, any book, try and encourage the author a little more by buying a couple of copies for birthday or Christmas presents.
Regarding making my fortune from writing, a few statistics will soon disabuse that notion. If you take all the fiction books published in the UK in a single year it amounts to almost a million. The average number of copies sold per book is 18! That means from JK Rowling, who sells millions, down to me who sells a few less, 18 is the number of copies that the average book sells.
There are few fortunes to be made in publishing your writing - so it is best to write because you enjoy doing so or because you think you have something important to say about humanity. I am in the first camp.
The top selling books tend to come from established writers with agents, big publishing houses and massive marketing budgets. There are also the best sellers from 'celebrities' ghost written for them to give them another income stream and promoted shamelessly on television chat shows. Not that I'm bitter!
For the rest of us, it is rather like the lottery... you have to be in it to win it, but the chance of making a living, let alone a fortune from writing, is very remote indeed. I console myself with the thought that when I die, something will live on beyond me and will consistently fail to provide an income stream for the beneficiaries of my Will.
Having originally gone through a publisher to have a professional endorsement of my writing, I made the decision to self-publish through a company called Lightning Source, part of the Ingram Group. This allowed me to cut costs and to take out the publisher from the trough. Even so, I receive about 1.40 in pounds sterling for every book I sell, the rest is accounted for from set up and production costs.
There is a line of reasoning that suggests you should set the book cost level as low as possible so as to maximise sales. 5 pounds is often seen as a critical price point for fiction books, which is why so many retail at 4.99. However, this assumes that you have a budget to promote your book so that it can compete in the crowded 4.99 market. I don't have a marketing budget. I am in the Catch 22 situation of knowing that to maximise book sales I need to market the book but I can't market the book until I have generated enough sales to justify a marketing budget, which I can't do until... round and round it goes!
That leaves this blog and sites such as Linked In on which to promote the books. The secret here is to segment the market by exploiting the different categories a book will appear in. My books are timebound to the sixties, the seventies and the eighties respectively so I would do well to find niche markets for such writing. Similarly my books have a Welsh setting and there are active Welsh communities overseas to which my writing is recounting their youth, or making a wider cultural connection.
In this context, no-one has been more helpful than Ceri Shaw and the team at Americymru and Eto magazine for bringing my work to a large expatriate community in the United States and Canada. The Welsh appear to be great networkers so that the Americymru connection has led to Australian, New Zealand and South African sales - just leaving the Patagonian market to crack!
There is support for Welsh writers in the form of bursaries and writing camps under the auspices of Literature Wales, but these, quite rightly, focus on writers writing in Wales and debut authors. I wish I had known that when starting out on my debut book!
For the most part this has been a dismal article of trials and tribulations, so I feel I muse end on a positive note. Nothing quite prepares you to have people share their memories with you and tell you that you brought back to life things half-remembered or forgotten.
My favourite reader comment was from a Principal of a Welsh primary school. He could not have pleased me more when he said, 'I see a lot of young Dylan Thomas in your writing.' I assumed he was referring to stylistic qualities and not plagiarism!
Parallel Cymru: An Interview With Neil Rowlands
By AmeriCymru, 2018-04-29
AmeriCymru: Hi Neil and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce your online magazine Parallel.cymru for our readers?
Neil: Shw mae Ceri! Great to be here on AmeriCymru- gwych i fod yma ar AmeriCymru. I'd be delighted to share with your readers more about parallel.cymru. Parallel.cymru is a digital magazine that presents articles about Wales and Welsh life in a unique format- each article is bilingual, with side by side Welsh and English (in parallel) . There are many Welsh-language magazines and books, but only a proportion of Welsh speakers feel comfortable reading them. The parallel.cymru presentation makes reading Welsh accessible to all- even for those who don't speak Welsh!
I publish first-person perspective articles by people who are doing things that in some way relate to Wales. Lots of authors have contributed about how and why they wrote their books; there are many articles about the history and development of Wales and the Welsh language; scientists have explained their subject in an accessible way; Welsh learners have shared their experiences; I've also put resources such as grammar and pronunciation guides on it. Unlike traditional magazines I don't take content off, so there's heaps more to explore.
Some of the highlights for a North American audience include:
Diplomat Shelley Hughes: What the Welsh Government office in North America does
Duolingo: Welsh for English Speakers course celebrates 1 million users
New York state's Michelle Fecio: Resources for International learners
Aberystwyth's Nicky Roberts: Learning Welsh with Say Something in Welsh
The History & Development of the Welsh language
For those of you who are fluent in Welsh, the magazine will give you unique and interesting content to read; for those who are learning Welsh, it is the best way to improve your reading skills while based outside of Wales, and for those who aren't familiar with the language, the English adaptations will allow you to enjoy discovering more about Welsh life and culture.
I forgot two things- all content is, and will remain, free for all to read; and it is available on any web browser, on any device, anywhere in the world.
AmeriCymru: What is the philosophy behind the site? What is its mission statement?
Neil: As an active Welsh learner, I found that making the step up from learner-specific materials to fully-fluent books and magazines to be difficult. When you have a limited vocabulary, constantly looking words up in dictionaries takes the enjoyment out of reading. Through speaking to many other users of the Welsh language, I realised that people experience the language on a spectrum of abilities; there isn't a black/white fluent/non-fluent division. However, it is not just learners who have a need for accessible content; many first language speakers don't use the language enough to read regularly, and also thousands of people all over the world aren't catered for by existing Welsh media. The digital aspect of the magazine and accessible presentation solves all of those problems.
The aim is to help everyone, whatever their ability, to enjoy reading in Welsh. The magazine contains good quality, interesting and unique content, and someone with a PhD in Welsh literature can read the same article as someone learning through AmeriCymru.
AmeriCymru: What resources do you provide for beginning Welsh learners?
Neil: Articles are arranged by the level of language. So they are grouped into the registers Simple, Informal, Formal and Literary, plus a section of items that are of specific interest to learners. This means that a relatively new learner can read a Simple article and not have to look at the English often. Welsh is traditionally written using an older form; spoken Welsh has evolved over the centuries and has a simpler and lighter approach. However not many publications reproduce spoken Welsh on the page or the screen; the Simple and Informal sections do this, so that people can read those without having to have learnt formal Welsh.
I've got a series of articles and news items that are in Simple Welsh only- without English- but with tooltips (i.e. hover over a word) to get the translation. I'm very pleased to host a grammar guide by Mark Stonelake . Mark has prepared Welsh for Adults courses in the Swansea Bay area for 20 years, and is an expert on the subject. He has also taught many courses in North America itself. I've presented his grammar work in bite-sized, themed sections that are sequenced in the order that they are taught. They have also been translated so that proficient leaners can read the Welsh version; there is also a search box to make it easy to find the item you want to learn or recap. This is not a course in itself, but it is a great supplementary resource to an existing learning method.
A volunteer, Huw Rowlands (no relation), also narrates many articles; those are denoted by the microphone symbol in the menu. This allows people to listen to the article and match how it is spoken to how it is written. This is particularly useful to people who don't have a lot of opportunity to hear the language, such as the enthusiastic AmeriCymru learners.
AmeriCymru: How might intermediate and advanced learners use the site?
Neil: For those with more confidence in the language the challenge is to read the Welsh and only check the English if there is a word or meaning that you don't understand. It is tempting to read the English and glance at the Welsh, as that feels much easier than taking longer to process and decipher the Welsh. However, being resolved that you will stick to the Welsh as much as possible will allow the content to be a learning resource instead of just a relaxing item to read. Most articles also have a PDF version to download at the bottom of each item, so people can print them off and write on them, share electronically, or use in a classroom setting.
There is a range of resources suitable for confident learners, such an overview of novels and books for learners , an online dictionary and pronunciation guide , themed glossaries and a weekly collection of Welsh-related weblinks .
AmeriCymru: For the general reader what aspects of Welsh life and culture are explored on Parallel.cymru?
Neil: Life itself is random and irregular, and parallel.cymru content reflects that. While common themes are grouped under menus with other, each article represents what one person or group is doing with the language. In the last week of April I published an article about an 85-year old skydiver , a new Welsh-language meditation app , an update from the Chief Executive of the National Eisteddfod ( 100 days to go until Cardiff Bay in August! ), a 1 10-question quiz by Cymdeithas yr Iaith (the Welsh Language Society), a sports column about a rugby game and an article reflecting on Swansea's contribution and losses in World War One .
AmeriCymru: How would readers go about preparing an article for the site? What is the selection process? What are the criteria?
Neil: One of the unique aspects of parallel.cymru is its emphasis on first-person perspective content, and this opens the content, style of writing, subject matter and access to being published to a much wider range of people than a traditional magazine can offer. There is a range of publishing options; most people write something from scratch; some may adapt other writings or create a concise presentation of their work; others will create a Welsh version of an item they have published in an English-language publication such as The Conversation .
Some people have interesting things to write about, but don't have the confidence to prepare a full article in Welsh; in that case I suggest they write what they can in Welsh to set out their voice and complete the English side, and I will organise a volunteer to complete the Welsh side. All articles are proofread prior to publication, so people don't need to be concerned about using perfect grammar.
The first step would be to drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org and say what you had an interest in writing about. The next step would be to consider what register of the language you'd feel comfortable writing in: Simple, Informal, Formal or Literary. I'd also suggest considering what do you want the reader to know or do after reading it- what are the key take-aways?
As this is an online-only publication, I don't have target publication dates or set word counts; this means that contributors can enjoy the process of writing, and whether that takes a week or 3 months is OK with me.
When receiving the article, I'd also like images to use and web links to your digital properties. I'll then format the article and organise proof reading, prepare an introductory paragraph and header image and then send a private link to you to look over. Once the article is signed off it will go live with a unique URL for you to share with your network!
You know, I don't have a particular selection criteria. While high-profile individuals and well-known organisations have contributed, all articles get the same home-page space. Learners who have never written in Welsh before have had an article published next to people with 100,000 Twitter followers. People who wouldn't normally have an outlet to share their work/experience/stories with the world have been read more than people who have published books and appear on TV/radio regularly, because what they have written about is unique and not available anywhere else.
So if you have ideas about preparing an item or writing a quiz, there's no reason to be shy- get in touch!
AmeriCymru: What's next for Parallel.cymru? How do you see the site developing?
Neil: As I'm working full time and operating parallel.cymru in my spare time, I have a limited amount of time available to work on the site. My main aims over 2018 are to continue sourcing unique content and to make the magazine more well-known. I've been working with the National Centre for Learning Welsh , the Conversation and the Welsh Books Council recently, so I'll be enhancing those and seeking more partnerships. I've recently started putting quizzes on the site , and would like to do more inventive things where language and technology intersect. I could use a couple more volunteers to help with translation and ensuring high standards of Welsh language. From a content point of view, I'd like to establish regular columns on subjects such as sports, cookery, healthy & beauty, travel etc (but no politics). I've lined up going to lots of events to promote the site such as Welsh for Adults courses, Cardiff's Tafwyl and the National Eisteddfod in Cardiff Bay. I'm working on an iOS app at the moment and I've registered the venture as a non-for-profit company. The long term goal is to develop commercial partnerships that allow me to devote more time to the site.
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?
Neil: The number of people in North America with an interest in Welsh life, language and culture is large, and the enthusiasm for this small and damp, yet beautiful and charming part of world is remarkable. On behalf of everyone in Wales, thank you for your time and interest in us; and particular thanks to those who are learning the language through AmeriCymru or other methods. If you are learning Welsh, don't get worried about mutations and other grammar complexities; just use the language as much as you can, and if you ever get a chance to pop over here and visit, go for it!
Please enjoy reading parallel.cymru, and if you have suggestions or ideas for contributions, do get in touch with me on email@example.com .
On Welsh Nationalism - An Interview With Meredith Efken
By AmeriCymru, 2018-03-15
AmeriCymru spoke to author Meredith Efken about a recent piece she published in Nation Cymru in response to an earlier editorial. This interview discusses nationalism in a Welsh context amongst other topics. Meredith is an author, blogger, Welsh language learner and founder member of the Texas Welsh Society. Her website can be found here:- Meredith Rose Books
AmeriCymru: Hi Meredith and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. To begin with can you tell us a little about your Welsh roots?
Meredith: I am... (counts on fingers) 5th generation Welsh-American. My great-great grandfather was a coal miner from the Aberdare area in Glamorgan, and he and my great-great grandma came to America in the 1870’s I believe, and ended up in What Cheer, Iowa, which was a coal mining town with a substantial Welsh immigrant population.
Being Welsh was always something my mom’s side of the family was quite proud of. My mom gave me a Welsh first name and always told me how much she loved the Welsh culture of music. She was a piano teacher, and I play piano and sing, so I guess I got a good dose of Welsh genes! She also said that the few times she had heard spoken Welsh, she loved it and thought it was so beautiful. So I always wanted to learn it, from the time I was little. It seems the language died out in our family pretty quick after arriving in America, though, so now that I’m a Dysgwr Cymraeg, it’s the first Welsh being spoken in our family in maybe a century!
AmeriCymru: You wrote an article for Nation Cymru in response to a recent editorial which appeared on the site. It seems almost redundant to ask, but, why do you think that it is important for the global Welsh to see Wales celebrate its history and heritage?
Meredith: Well, in terms of the opinion article I was replying to, Welsh history should be important for the global Welsh because that’s the point of divergence for many of us. I’m here, I exist here, in America, because of events that happened in Welsh history. So when people like the man who wrote the opinion I replied to says that celebrating and studying Welsh history is looking backwards and is unproductive, it’s a kind of erasure of all of us who are here because of that history.
And beyond that, something I didn’t really bring up in that article is the fact that at least here in America, white people tend to think that being white IS being American. Everybody else gets a hyphenated heritage. Chinese-American. Mexican-American, African-American, etc. So non-white people get categorized twice—first by their skin color, and then by their cultural heritage. A 5th generation Asian person is still considered Asian-American, while a 5th generation white person like me is just “American.”
Some scholars think that some of this racial bias could be challenged by getting white Americans to become more aware of their own cultural heritage and how different the various regions in Europe are. Instead of us finding our ethnic identity in the color of our skin, which can contribute to racism and ultimately even white supremacy, the idea is that we rediscover the mix of diverse cultures that both bring us together and set us apart as distinct.
I’m German, English, Walloon Belgian, and Welsh, and probably a smattering of other cultures I haven’t traced back yet. Some of my ancestors rode in on the Mayflower and signed the Mayflower Compact. Others didn’t arrive here until the early 20th century. How did that mix of cultures shape my family and its history? What impact has it had on who I am?
What does it mean to have both English and Welsh heritage, given the often-contentious history between the two countries? How do I feel about my German heritage in light of two world wars? And why is it that I feel so much more connection to my Welsh great-grandma, but not as much to my Walloon great-grandpa who married her? Is it because of my mother’s pride in our Welsh heritage combined with not really knowing as much about what it meant to be a Walloon? My great-grandpa was killed as a young father in an accident. Perhaps if he had lived, he could have passed down more about Belgian culture to my grandma and my mother. What does all this say about how cultural identity is formed—or lost?
And how does all of this affect who I am as an American? I’m not saying that pondering these kind of questions will fix racism in America. If only it were that easy. But I do think that when we start exploring the mix of cultures in our backgrounds, it may be able to help us stop thinking in terms of a skin tone equating “American.”
To bring that back around to Welsh heritage in particular, there are a lot of people with Welsh heritage who either don’t even know it or have no idea what it means. So to move away from a skin-tone based identity, we need to know and understand how diverse these European cultures that we come from really are. That’s not so hard with a dominant culture such as German or English. But it’s easy to overlook lesser-known cultures such as Welsh or Walloon. Global Welsh need to be able to connect with Welsh culture and history in order to better understand how they have impacted our own unique families and personal identity.
AmeriCymru: It seems to me, after reading the editorial that the author makes some valid points but his distinction between 'forward' and 'backward' looking nationalisms is tenuous to say the least. Is it possible to celebrate your nation's heritage without reference to its culture or its past?
Meredith: I think the answer to that is in the word “heritage” itself: Something that is handed down-- from the past. How can you celebrate something that was handed down to you from the past without referencing that past? It’s nonsensical.
Honestly, I think we see the problems of that with American culture and history. There’s a lot that we celebrate as Americans without really understanding where it came from, or we celebrate it with a warped understanding of how it came to be. I’m thinking about things like how we’ve mythologized Thanksgiving (and a bunch of other holidays), or how we say we value “boot strap independence” without understanding the vital role community life played (and still plays) in our very survival as a nation. Losing our understanding of our past makes us less empathetic and honestly less efficient, less just, less healthy as a society.
One of my high school history teachers had that quote across the top of the chalkboard all year: “Those who don’t learn from the past are destined to repeat it.” That’s always resonated with me. I think we have to look backwards, not just to avoid repeating mistakes, but also to gain perspective, context, and a bit of wisdom. Otherwise, I don’t know how we move forward in a way that is just and productive for as many of our fellow humans as possible.
AmeriCymru: Nationalist movements which exist solely to celebrate their history and heritage are easily distinguishable from others whose main goal is to foment hatred of 'foreign' cultures. Would you agree?
Meredith: Definitely. However, I think that healthy nationalist movements can go deeper than just “celebration” which implies happy, positive emotions. Shouldn’t the goal really be to have as full an understanding of that culture as possible?
A focus solely on celebration forces us to gloss over or ignore the darker moments and the failures and downfalls of that culture—things we should mourn and wrestle with, instead of celebrate. If we forget those dark moments, we risk creating a culture of pride and a belief in our own superiority and infallibility. And that will lead to harmful nationalism or ethnocentrism.
And going in the other direction, there are points in a culture’s past where great harm was done to us. Or maybe the damage is currently being done. Oppression, injustice, inequality—these leave impacts on a culture for centuries. And they create emotions that we have to wrestle with, emotions that are often not socially acceptable. How do you express anger about the pain caused by systemic injustice or exploitation in a way that won’t be taken as hatred toward the oppressor? How do you make sure you don’t allow your justifiable anger to morph into something destructive?
When we only allow celebration of culture, we force people to ignore those darker emotions and not deal with them constructively. Wounds will only fester and rot that way.
So I would suggest that a truly nationalist movement needs to be as honest a movement as possible—allowing for celebration as well as mourning, pride as well as humility, joy as well as anger. It needs to be firmly committed to exploring the complexity of that national experience in a way that promotes healing and greater justice instead of hatred or a sense of superiority.
The only way to do that is as full and honest an understanding and appreciation for that culture’s history as possible.
AmeriCymru: You are currently learning Welsh. How are things progressing? What can you tell us about your experience so far?
Meredith: I’m studying Welsh through the Americymraeg course here that John Good teaches. I started with the very first term back in May of 2013, just 3 months after my mother died. The timing on that was total coincidence, but I definitely feel like my language study is a tribute to her.
I’m in the Intermediate level, and I love my classmates and my teacher so much. A lot of times, I feel like I’m not progressing as fast as I wish I was. Most of that is due to me not studying as much as I need to. I think a lot of adult learners—of anything—struggle with that because of the demands on our time and the fact that our brains are not going to absorb language with the ease of a young child.
But then there’s little things that remind me of how much I really have learned and how far I’ve come. Like when I can understand most of a tweet in Welsh or respond in Welsh on a FB comment without looking any words up. Or when I’m able to hold a 30 minute conversation, no matter how halting, with my study buddy, Susan. Those moments are exhilarating!
I listen to Radio Cymru on a radio app on my phone. The speed is too fast for me to keep up with, but I can tell when they’re giving the weather report, and I know when it’s sunny in Wrexham. And sometimes there are words that I know that I know, but I can’t recall fast enough. But still—five years ago, I wouldn’t have known any words at all!
So I think for me at least, the key to learning Welsh is to be as consistent as possible and take opportunities to practice and push myself, but also be kind to myself and focus more on how far I’ve come instead of how much I should be doing.
I really want to do a long language intensive in Wales. I think an immersion experience would be amazing. But I am incredibly, profoundly grateful for our Welsh course—it’s helping me fulfill a lifelong dream, and I love every minute of it.
AmeriCymru: You are also a writer. Care to tell us a little about your 'Empire Alchemy' (link) series?
Meredith: Gladly! I’ve been a published novelist since 2005, and I write mostly fantasy these days—both for adults and young adults. Currently, I’m working on book 4 of a steampunk fantasy series set in an alternate Victorian world where everyone is obsessed with the theater. My characters are young theater apprentices who end up using their art to confront an increasingly unjust empire and fan the flames of a revolution. I was inspired by the “Velvet Revolution” of the Czech Republic where theaters were instrumental to that non-violent change of power, and the series explores the tension between a desire for justice and a commitment to non-violence.
My protagonist’s love interest is Welsh and speaks Welsh (I call it Cymric in this world). It’s not the focus of this story, but where I can, I enjoy working tributes to Wales in any of my books.
I’m also working on a non-fantasy pastiche of a very well-known series, and I’ve made my version of the narrator Welsh. I’m being a bit coy about this because I’m not ready to announce it yet, but I’m having an absolute blast and can’t wait to go public with it.
Link: My amazon author page: amazon.com/author/
AmeriCymru: Together with Susan Floyd you have founded the Texas Welsh Society . I know your first meetup was on the 11th. How did it go? What are the society's goals or mission?
Meredith: I met Susan a little over a year ago when I discovered she is also an Americymraeg student and lives in Austin. We’ve become great friends, and we try to get together once a week to practice speaking Welsh and just encourage each other with our studies.
We noticed that there didn’t seem to be a lot for active Welsh culture groups in Texas, so this year we decided to form a Welsh society.
We want the Texas Welsh Society to be an advocate for Welsh culture and serve as a point of connection for people with an interest in Wales. TWS is non-political and focused on building connections and friendships as well as providing resources and learning opportunities. We like the idea of reaching out beyond Texas as well to find ways to support and be allies for the people of Wales.
We just had our first meetup on the 11th, and we plan to hold monthly meetups the 2nd Sunday of each month. Once we build some consistency there, we hope to expand to other events and projects. We have a ton of ideas, and we hope that as our group grows, we’ll have lots going on.
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?
Meredith: Just that I’m so very grateful to be a part of the the global Welsh community, and I think it’s a pretty special group of people. Cymru am byth!
Margam Mountain by Bee Richards
By AmeriCymru, 2017-11-12
Hi all, Beryl Richards here.. As you know I live in South Wales, in the heavily industrialised town of Port Talbot. I have long been interested in Welsh history, but the early Bronze and Iron age, I sort of dismissed as being a 'long way off' and probably not relevant to me or where I live. I had seen pictures of iron a forts or enclosures but in no way were they associated in my mind with smokey ol' Port Talbot. Which in a roundabout way brings me to the subject of my new novel which has a working title of 'The Mountain', and the thought process which led to writing it.
I picked up in a second hand bookstall a copy of a slim volume entitled “Antiquities of Margam Mountain” which immediately aroused my attention. It is written by a gentleman called Bill Howells and sponsored by the Llynfi Valley Historial Society. It is a very interesting book illustrated with some airial photos of the mountain and some taken by the author. There are illustrations of prehistoric tracks burial mounds ancient farms and forts all over the mountain. The realisation suddenly dawned on me that outside my own front door were the vestiges of an advanced urban society. Further research led me to another book written in the thirties by Cyril and Ailen Fox entitled “Forts and Farms of Margam Mountain' documenting the same information that Bill Howells so graphically highlighted with new technology.
A frail little book called Tir Iarll (The Earls Land) which I again found in a thrift store seems to have been published as a child's textbook on local customs also gave some account of the site of Margam Mountain, I wrote to the Glamorgan and Gwent Archaeological Trust on various statements in this book but some of it was discredited as Iolo Morgannwg's (a self styled Bard of Glamorgan) rantings. Apart from the old Ordnance Survey maps which confirm a lot of the evidence I have found for Iron age inhabitation on Margam, this is about the only written evidence I have been able to find on this subject. But the actual site speaks for itself.
There is no direct evidence of the Roman influence on Margam Mountain. The Glamorgan and Gwent Archaeological Society give no credence to this. As the site has not been excavated there is according to them no direct evidence that the Romans trod Margam Mountain. However other sources state that the Romans had a presence there and some indications of this can be found in the old place names such as Mynydd Ty Talwyn, and further west at Rhyd Blaen y Cwm. One of the locations is named Cwm Lladfa, Valley of the Slaughter where it is claimed that the last battle between the Romans and the Silurians was fought locally.
There is physical evidence of a Roman Fort at Neath (Nidum) and remnants of what is known as marching camps is strewn across the uplands. The Old Ordnance Survey Maps indicate some of these geographical features as scenes of battle fought between the local tribesmen and the Romans. As there is not yet archaeological evidence of any of this we can only wait until the whole mountain is excavated properly. Its all shrouded in Celtic mist!!!!
The Silurian tribes or familial groupings range from Eastern Wales down as far as Loughor in the West. A well organised rural/urban system stretched across these hills. It was thought by many early historians, that the iron age celts did not have the ability to build such a complex system of roads/tracks settlements on the mountain tops and the thinking was that they were Roman. But archaeological excavation has proven that these were Bronze/iron age sites built and engineered by the indigenous population, who also had codes of religion law making and customs particularly their own. The term 'forts' is a label for the many enclosures found scattered across the West Walian hills and also throughout the British Isles. Many of these enclosures were of obvious strategic importance and could also have been used as enclosures for cattle and people in times of strife.
Much emphasis was placed on the oral memory of history and of healing techniques by the Druids, who had a great influence over Celtic Society. They were priests, law givers, healers and were often used to negotiate in times of war between two or more rival clans. The Celts loved to fight and argue, today this takes place on the Rugby field. Celtic myth propagated by the Victorians portrays them as blood thirsty human sacrifice fiends. Human sacrifice,was practiced but to a much lesser degree than the popular celtic hocus pocus will have us believe. Although they used the innards sometimes of animals for divination (ugh!!!)
Celtic dress was flamboyant and colourful. Men would wear homespun trousers, a simple tunic and sometimes a cloak held by an ornamental pin, the more decorative indicated a higher social status. Women wore a long robe which was also homespun and dresses were secured with a sort of a celtic safety pin, very often beautifully decorated. They loved jewellery and ornaments. The ruling classes often wore huge intricately decorated gold torques and arm rings. They loved colour, bangles rings and much of what has been internationally excavated such as the golden cauldrons found at various locations place them in the realms of high art, and not the ignorant savage portrayed by the Romans. (Early racism??). Tribal chieftains and kings were often elected by the clan. Often there was a familial line from which they were elected.
There were many festivals held at the quarters of the year, which also acted as an agricultural calender were used to foretell the advent of winter, summer, autumn. Festivals such as midscummer and the advent of winter played a huge part not only in the gathering of crops but fertility rites, the drinking of wine of which they were very fond and the really spooky time when it was said that the veil between the dead and the living was the tiniest, today celebrated as Halloween.
The Silures were a tribe which lived in familial and village groupings in South Wales and fought off Roman occupation for some 25 years longer than in other parts of Britain. The Romans recognised them as worthy opponents. Their method of guerilla warfare locally continued until early medeavil times as was documented in the annals of Kenfig Castle, now covered by sand, but thats another story!
I am trying to answer the question of the underestimation of the Silurians. They seems to have had a quite sophisticated urban society with laws and customs which did not die easily with the onslaught of roman occupation. The remains on Margam Mountain which as I have mentioned contained the traditional enclosures or hill forts at strategic points along the hilltops, have not been archaeologically excavated but further east there are many sites which have yielded a definite identity, which did not seem to have been undermined by Romanisation. The end seems to have come unfortunately with the advent of Christianity when the Celtic identity was melded into what we now recognise as the Celtic Church with numerous monasteries, and hermitages being established along the South Wales coast and also inland.
I like to think that the spirit of the Celts remains in the gritty character of Port Talbot as it exists today. The realisation that such a society existed here has prompted me to write another novel which is a work in progress.
Every so often I get fascinated by something I read, or an aspect of local history of which I was not aware (which are many) prompted me to write a novel entitled 'Golconda' which is in part based on the facts about the early copper industry based in Castell Nedd (Neath) West Glamorgan. The story concerns a young American woman named Holly Darby who attempts to find her Welsh roots. I created a real stinker of a villain named Edward Hawksworth who seduced, cheated and plotted his way to achieve wealth. Holly and her friend (with benefits) trace the story from Castell to the states of her Welsh heritage. I have endeavoured to draw on a number of historical facts and blend them in to this story, in order for Holly to find closure in what can sometimes be quite a fast paced but rather sad story.
Discover Wales Through It's Stories - And Ignite Your Imagination
By AmeriCymru, 2017-10-09
An Interview With Philip Thomas - Beyondstorytime
AmeriCymru: Hi Philip and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to describe Beyond Storytime for our readers? What inspired you to create the site?
Philip: Beyond Storytime is a streaming service for stories – a sort of ‘Spotify for stories’, if you will. Some of the best storytellers have visited Beyond the Border International Storytelling Festival over the years, but not everyone is able to make the trip to Wales to hear them. We have created Beyond Storytime so anyone with a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone can log in from wherever they are in the world and listen to stories the way they should be heard – told by the best storytellers!
Beyond Storytime is an online library of stories suitable for children of all ages that we hope will promote storytelling and the storytellers who have kindly donated these stories. Maybe hearing these stories will encourage some listeners to make the trip to Wales to experience the Beyond the Border International Storytelling Festival for themselves. We hope so.
AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about the Beyond the Border Wales International Storytelling Festival? How long has this event been held? When is the next one?
Philip: Beyond the Border is a wonderful and vibrant three-day festival of stories and music from Wales and across the world. Our mission is to bring the world to Wales and take Wales to the world. Our home is the stunning medieval castle of St Donats, overlooking the beautiful Glamorganshire coast.
The festival is a feast of storytelling, poetry, music, singing, theatre, circus, puppets and films for all ages, and much much more including:
World food stalls
Real ale bar
Bigger craft market
Workshops for all ages
Open mic stages
Expect at BTB 2018:
Kidzone - dedicated area for performances and activities for young people and their families
Improved campsite with free camping
Full-time festival shuttle around the site
Plus lots more opportunities to take part
We like to think it is one of the best festivals in the world. If you want to find out more you can head to www.beyondtheborder.com and keep up to date with what is happening. 2018 is the 25 th anniversary of the very first Beyond the Border in 1993 and David Ambrose has been its Artistic Director throughout supported for many years by Co Founder and storytelling superstar Ben Haggerty. The next festival is planned for June 2018 (confirmed dates will be on the website).
The festival is run by a charity, set up to create, encourage and promote traditional storytelling for contemporary audiences. We want to bring storytelling to everyone. We rely on the generosity of people who care about storytelling, and the festival, to make our work happen. Beyond Storytime is one of the ways we raise funds to support our work.
AmeriCymru: Care to introduce some of the storytellers on the site?
Philip: It’s difficult to choose. We have over twenty tellers involved in the project as of now.
David Ambrose has been at the forefront of the storytelling revival in Wales for more than 25 years, as a promoter, a performer, and as Artistic Director of Beyond the Border Wales International Storytelling Festival.
Tamar Eluned Williams won Young Storyteller of the Year in 2013 and has gone on to tour story clubs and festivals across the UK. In 2016 she was awarded the Esyllt Harker Commission for a new work to be featured at the next festival.
We have the cream of Welsh storytellers including: Guto Dafis , Megan Lloyd , Cath Little , Carl Gough and many more.
Kamini Ramachandran is a storyteller based in Singapore with a wide Asian repertoire of stories.
Judi Tarowsky is a storyteller from St Clairsville, Ohio. Her repertoire includes folk tales, ghost stories, and original historical narratives. She is the first American teller to join us.
Morgan Schatz-Blackrose is a storyteller living in Brisbane, Australia. She grew up in Wiradjuri Country at the foot of the Snowy Mountains, in New South Wales, Australia.
Bevin Magama comes from Zimbabwe and now lives in Cardiff. He brings the sights and sounds of his native Africa to our collection.
See what I mean? It’s a long list of tellers from around the world! Check out the full story at http://www.beyondstorytime.com/about-our-storytellers/
AmeriCymru: What subscription plans are on offer?
Philip: There are a number of ways to find out what Beyond Storytime has to offer:
Listen to a FREE story! – Go to www.beyondstorytime.com and click on the special offer box. You can hear a full story for free with no obligation. We are sure you will want to know more so….
A Full Year’s Subscription costs just £11.95 (currently that’s about US$15 – just 28 cents a week! Payable by PayPal or credit card through PayPal)
A Gift Subscription – We have made it easy to buy a gift subscription for children of all ages (we have story listeners in their seventies and older). The perfect gift with Christmas coming soon.
3 Month Trial Subscription – If you want to ‘dip a toe in the water’ to see if Beyond Storytime is for you, take out a 3 month trial subscription for just £5 (currently about US$6.50). But be careful! Once you have tried Beyond Storytime you will want more!
AmeriCymru: What's next for Beyond Storytime?
Well, if your readers are quick enough they will be able to enjoy our latest project which will be available for subscribers only.
On 1 st December 2017 we are creating an Advent Calendar! 24 new stories, one for each day of advent, each with a Christmas or winter theme and much healthier than chocolate! Just the thing to get you and your family in the mood for the Christmas festivities.
And in 2018? Well, we already have stories ready to be added to the collection. We have just celebrated the first birthday of Beyond Storytime and plan for the collection to grow and grow as we head towards birthday number two and beyond!
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?
Philip: Beyond Storytime has stories and storytellers from all over the world but, like the Beyond the Border International Storytelling Festival of which we are a part, we are proud of our Welsh roots. Most the tellers featured on the site have been featured at the Beyond the Border Festival and many are based here in Wales. We have begun to feature stories in the Welsh Language and some of the stories have their roots in Welsh history and tradition. If you have Welsh ancestry we think there is no better way to help your family make and keep contact with their Welsh heritage that through a subscription to Beyond Storytime.
If you would like to explore visiting the festival as an individual or maybe with a group then please contact us and we will be pleased to help if we can
If, as a business person or individual you feel you would like to support Beyond Storytime or the Beyond the Border International Storytelling Festival in other ways then we would, of course, be pleased to hear from you. All things are possible. Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope you enjoy listening to Beyond Storytime and maybe we will see you at the festival next year.
A Welsh Western?
By AmeriCymru, 2017-10-09
What? A Welsh Western?
I have called All Through the Night (my new book) a Welsh Western for the simple reason that I think, only half tongue-in-cheek, that cowboys were as much invented in Wales as in Wyoming.
My story is about a group of men who drive a large herd of cattle a great distance, through a wild landscape, across rivers and over mountains, threatened by rustlers and ne’er do wells (sounds familiar?).
The bond between these drovers (cowboys!) is strengthened by the shared experience of overcoming the various threats they face on their journey. Basic human decency can win through in the end (even more familiar?).
It is not that fanciful to think that, amongst the many thousands of Welsh people who emigrated to North America from the time of the Welsh Quakers settling in Pennsylvania in the 1600s onwards, that there would have been men who had worked as drovers, driving cattle to market from Wales to England and London in particular. I like to think of some of them later bringing their skills to bear in a new country, rich in opportunity for those with the courage to forge their way in the tough challenges of cattle driving.
It is for this reason that All Through the Night , my story of a Welsh cattle drive in the 1790s, should appeal to lovers of Westerns: those fictional exploits of cowboys which examine the fundamentals of human nature. Westerns form a rich cultural body of work comprising countless books, films and TV series. Maybe crossing the Menai Strait in Wales with a herd of cattle is not as romantic sounding as fording the Rio Grande, but maybe, perhaps, a few Welsh cowpokes did both?
We also know, interestingly, that, for example, the James gang, the most famous cowboys of Welsh descent, were led by the brothers Jesse and Frank James. Their family had originated in Pembrokeshire in Wales and, as others from amongst their forbears were Baptist ministers, they clearly were the disreputable side of the family. Maybe some of their ancestors in Wales had been outlaws and, as alluded to in my book, could have inspired their exploits.
We don’t know for sure quite how many, or in what way, the Welsh, from the country that the nineteenth century author George Borrows called Wild Wales , went on to help shape the Wild West, but it is fun to speculate.
My book too is very much a homage to Wales and its music and culture - it even quotes Welsh songs. I see that aspect, in a way, as part of the tradition of Westerns with their familiar harmonica, guitar, honky-tonk piano or banjo music. These and other elements of Welsh cultural traditions in the book will appeal to the many, many thousands of US people with Welsh ancestry.
The Welsh diaspora to America began in the 17th century, peaking during the 19th century, and today there are over ten million people in the USA and Canada with Welsh surnames. Many Welsh North Americans still treasure their Welsh heritage and actively help to preserve the rich traditions through joining Welsh societies and organisations, by celebrating St David’s Day, organising events, festivals and eisteddfodau, and hosting choirs and entertainers that visit from Wales.
Other examples of all this are:
americymru.net which is a website devoted to welsh cultural heritage from North America
The North American Festival of Wales which is held annually over Labor Day and attended by numerous delegates from the USA and Canada; and
Ninnau & Y Drych which is a monthly newspaper servicing the Welsh-American community with news and articles about Wales and North America.
You only have to search the internet for a few seconds to find numerous entries for famous Welsh Americans. For example, you will find famous US Presidents with Welsh ancestry listed as including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, James A. Garfield, Calvin Coolidge and Richard Nixon (!)
An example of the importance of this (to me, at least!) is that on a plaque mounted on the east facade of the imposing Philadelphia City Hall, the following inscription is found:
Perpetuating the Welsh heritage, and commemorating the vision and virtue of the following Welsh patriots in the founding of the City, Commonwealth, and Nation: William Penn, 1644-1718, proclaimed freedom of religion and planned New Wales later named Pennsylvania.
Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826, third President of the United States, composed the Declaration of Independence.
Robert Morris, 1734-1806, foremost financier of the American Revolution and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Governor Morris, 1752-1816, wrote the final draft of the Constitution of the United States.
John Marshall, 1755-1835, Chief Justice of the United States and father of American constitutional law.
More recently a ‘Friends of Wales Congressional Caucus’ was formed on Capitol Hill in Washington DC to help further develop business, academic and cultural links between Wales and the USA.
My book is another Wales/US link, maybe the missing one, between cowboys and cowboyos!
Neil Thomas, 2017.
Beyond the Border – Wales International Storytelling Festival
By AmeriCymru, 2017-06-22
A beautiful new online collection of audio stories suitable for children of all ages from Beyond the Border – Wales International Storytelling Festival
In the autumn of 2016 we were really excited to announce Beyond Storytime - a way of providing families everywhere with beautifully told stories in their own homes. It is a small taste of our wonderful festival, available all the time, wherever in the world you live.
Beyond Storytime is part of Beyond The Border – Wales’ International Storytelling Festival which happens biannually in the Vale of Glamorgan in South Wales (The next is in July 2018). The festival has a mission to ‘…take Wales to the world and bring the world to Wales’ and we do this by showcasing the finest stories and storytellers we can find. Beyond Storytime means that your whole family can connect to your Welsh heritage from the comfort of your own home.
This online streaming service has a growing collection of stories from Wales and the wider world, told for English and Welsh speakers and carefully chosen for us by some of the best storytellers in the world, to be suitable for children of all ages…grown-ups tell us they enjoy them too. More stories will be added later so Beyond Storytime becomes a collection of treasured tales that grows and grows.
Visit www.beyondstorytime.com for a chance to hear a full story completely FREE. Having decided you like what you hear you can subscribe to the service for a whole year for just £11.95 (currently about $15 - less than £1/$1.25 a month). You can trial Beyond Storytime for three months for just £5/$6 Find out more, listen to some extracts, subscribe to the site for yourself or buy a gift subscription.
If you want to find out more about visiting our festival in summer 2018 you can contact us via our website at www.beyondtheborder.com We can help you make arrangements for families or larger groups to visit.
We welcome approaches from organisations that would like to sponsor or otherwise partner the festival. Contact us through www.beyondtheborder.com to see how we can work together.
The Journey of the Taf
By AmeriCymru, 2009-04-27
In 2009 we received the following communication from Mike Jenkins ( excerpted ) "Dear friends, Here is a poem which I recently wrote , which you can use on your site if you wish.". We proudly present Mike's poem below.
Jumping forward to 2018 we are also excited to include a short film based on the poem. 'Journey' is an Al Jones Weird Unit Film. 'Journey' will be premiered at the Cardiff International Film Festival on October 21st.
Journey of the Taf - Mike Jenkins
It begins in the centre of a mountain, waters breaking.
Nobody can say
I come from :
parents Earth and Water
and the midwife Air.
Soon Fire, the sun
I feed upon.
This place of summits
called a watershed :
tears as light
stings my eyes.
I am just a stream
a nant, a toddler
finding my way
downslope, over the edge
of my mother
and with my father's constant
push of rain.
One like many others
till I start to cut teeth,
to haul stones
to erode the bed
and banks into a gorge.
I'm moving quicker
with steeper gradient,
my veins pulse
with the thrust of water
like a salmon at the point
of a journey across the world.
Soldiers with back-packs
and booted outward-bounders.
fight against my movement,
believing it's a challenge.
The children who paddle
squeal, splash and fling
their stones, sound like
an echo in my bones.
The Sun, my teacher,
comes and goes
and then, dips down low;
so any season
I could be bellyfull
or parched to a trickle.
Sheep sip clear water
heads bowed as in prayer
to a lost mother ;
or they're dead weight,
blood mingling with light,
soon a veil of flies.
Winding and wending around
scarp and spur
I reach a sudden drop,
a ledge of resistant rock:
the descents of childhood
then youth when greys
and blues and browns
become a frothing white ;
into the devil's punchbowl
and a whirling might.
Here secret swimmers come
to shed their many skins
and exuberant leapers
plunge into a scream
and come out laughing.
I am joined by others.
by brothers and I'm 'Fawr'
to their 'Fechan',
they emerge on the scene
driving deep into chasms
before we're all lost
in a man-made lake :
they term it 'llyn'
but it is reservoir,
a store of water
we are schooled into
( even in most vivid reflections
we wear our grey uniforms ).
I straighten, I widen,
my girth held by bridges
and above are viaducts
which span into another age.
Rocky islets - trees and bushes
growing from them - bring doubts
as I begin to be fixed,
my route determined by walls
and a weir which parodies
the earlier waterfalls.
Now salmon struggle upstream,
as I welcome the many heron
whose measured wing-beats
are like the peace I strive for
and the returning colours
of the kingfishers diving
like winged rainbows.
All this, as I am dumping-place
for trolleys, cans and bottles
like some cess-pit of the past,
some cholera-infested slum.
My parents seem so far away :
mountains aloof, quarried or conifered
and clouds that drop their load
then move on. They call me Taff
but I much prefer my Welsh name
(its what I call myself
and sounds like a stones edge).
Sometimes I seem to slumber along
all controlled by sluice and gate ;
sometimes Im far too busy
to notice those who gaze
like seagulls on the bars,
or those who cavort in heat ;
too busy with the flow, the downward trek.
I have too many shadows :
rail and trail, the once canal,
higher up the road obeys the curve.
Each shadow more purposeful
to traffic and trade;
I begin to wonder
why I move in such haste
and whether I will be
beyond it all, lost.
There are so many white weeds
hanging in the trees,
fluttering like flags of surrender
sometimes falling and filling
into tumours on my surface.
Just as cormorants are fishing
so I begin to sense the sea.
Silt accumulates in my bed,
slows me down after years
of scraping and scouring;
I begin to meander,
to waver across the floor,
the buildings start to ignore
my presence and there are outpourings
secretive and poisonous
which seep into my limbs.
Becoming sluggish, my murky waters
of blurred vision in the suburbs.
I try to remember stretching terraces
where the only vines were children
spreading tendrils of imagination.
The mud is gathering,
the flood-plains a resting-place
for birds on their journey south.
Anglers wade out to tempt
the fish with threaded flies.
I yawn into the city
past a parkland of lovers
and solitary office-workers,
I am broad and straight now
without the energy of gradient.
The grand stadium looms
as if it were a ship of state,
but finds no reflection.
I have almost forgotten
the distant mountains I came from,
the fact I am water at all.
Afon is a slow way of saying ,
it seems to suit me better
than the rip of river.
Already I can feel the saltiness
creep into my body
and seagulls mocking calls
hover then swoop all day.
At the Bay, Im trained and tamed.
On calmer days feel stagnant;
when theres a restless breeze
I begin to wave and voices
of my ancestors come back :
Once you were black, all thick
with dust like a colliers throat.
Once this was flats of mud
where waders and dippers
would pick for worms.
Now I am becalmed,
waiting for the gates to open,
where I will lose my name.
It is a different sun,
one that threatens to burn up,
to leave me dispersed
into the Channel and after.
A roof of slate, faade of glass,
the twirling pipes of a carousel
all bring back reminiscences
of pebbles carried, reflections borrowed,
stirrings under a waterfall.
It is night-time and the moon
is whole and crying out
like a barn-owl over moorland.
I must go and never know
what will become of me.