Ceri Shaw



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Category: Author Interviews


Nine Tales Front Cover for webs.jpg Ever wondered how the town of Denbigh in north Wales got its name? Well, look no further than Jude Johnson's Nine Tales From Wales for the answer. The story of Siôn Bodiau and the Gwiber is one of the fables included in this superb collection.

Intended for children, this book would make an excellent Christmas stocking filler for any youngster who wants to be acquainted with the rich archive of traditional Welsh folk tales. Divided into three sections the book includes stories about dragons, mermaids and fairies ( three on each ). The titles are listed below. Whilst many of these tales will be familiar to people with a knowledge of Welsh mythology, they are all retold in Jude Johnson's inimitable style and humorous details and embellishments are inserted into the narrative here and there to make them more approachable and entertaining for a modern audience.

Some Welsh vocabulary is included ( although not enough to be off-putting) and there is a short glossary of relevant terms at the beginning of each story. As Jude explains:

"These stories were written and compiled mainly for an American reader who is unfamiliar with old Welsh folk tales. It was a deliberate decision to limit the amount of Welsh vocabulary used, but if you get anything out of this book, at least you can learn how to say, “Good Morning,” “Thank you,” and “Yes, certainly.”

There is also a short appendix which lists the three Welsh folk songs ( Calon Lan, Suo Gan and Ar Lan y Môr ) referred to in the tales, together with the lyrics in Welsh and English.

All in all we can unreservedly recommend this book for the younger members of your family who have not yet begun to explore their Welsh heritage. An introduction to the folk tales, language and traditional songs of Wales is not a bad start and all are featured in this delightful volume in such a way as to promote and encourage further exploration.

Dreigiau [Dragons]

Sian Bodiau & the Gwiber
Llyn Ar Afanc 
The Dragons of Dinas Emrys

Môr-forynion [Mermaids]

Pergrin's Catch
Llyn y Fan Fach 
Nefyn the Mermaid

Y Tylwyth Teg [Faeries]

The Faerie Bride 
The House With the Front Door at the Back 
Dewi Dal


Jude Johnson AmeriCymru:  Hi Jude and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce your new book, Nine Tales From Wales for our readers?

Jude: S'mae, Ceri, and thanks so much for this opportunity to talk about my book, "Nine Tales From Wales: Dreigiau, Môr-forynion, & Y Tylwyth Teg [Dragons, Mermaids, & Faeries]". (We'll just call it "Nine Tales" for short.) It's a collection of stories primarily for American readers, or those who maybe aren't all that familiar with Welsh folklore. My main thought was to provide something for parents to read aloud before bedtime, short and fun. And what's better for a bedtime story than something with magical creatures? 

I also wrote it for children to read to themselves as they feel more confident in their reading skills. I don't think there is a particular age group per se as reading level. My personal feeling is that books are doorways to adventure, and if a child feels ready to learn new words they should go for it and not be limited to their age group. Read to them every night and let them learn to love books and reading. I am absolutely gutted when I hear a someone say they hate reading or that reading is stupid. I can guarantee this: that is a person no one ever read aloud to as a child, and their life is so much poorer for it. Studies have shown that children who are encouraged to read - and especially to read fiction - are more empathetic and compassionate adults. 

There are Welsh words in every story, which I list at the beginning with a rudimentary pronunciation guide for someone to sound them out. I deliberately limited the amount of Cymraeg I used so children - or adults for that matter - wouldn't be intimidated by all those consonants and mutations. As much as I love the language, you have to admit it's difficult. At the very least, someone will learn how to say, "Y Ddraig Goch" and "Bore da".  
AmeriCymru:  There are nine tales in this book - "three of Dragons, three of Mermaids, and three of Faeries" . Care to tell us which Dragon tales are featured?

Jude: I start with Siôn Bodiau and the Gwiber - or the story of how Dinbych / Denbigh got its name. Storyteller's license here: I made it a bit less bloodthirsty than the traditional version and tried to throw in more humor. Kids love fart jokes.

Llyn Ar Afanc has always stuck me as a weird story - I mean, Afanc does mean Beaver but the Monster in all the versions I've read is large and fierce and scary, much more like a water dragon or Nessie. I've never been scared of a beaver, no matter how big it might be. So in my telling, the Afanc is a combination - dragon in the front, Nessie in the back. Like a Ford assembled on the Monday after the Superbowl. Plus introducing Hu Gadarn and Yr Ychen Bannog might remind Americans of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox just a little bit. (If they still tell that one in elementary schools. I know Disney did a version long long ago but I haven't seen it in years.)

Of course I had to include The Dragons of Dinas Emrys - most children have heard of Merlin the Magician but most American children have no clue he was Welsh. (Yes, he was - and I'll not hear a word of argument about it from the Cornish contingent, thank you very much. With a name like Myrddin Emrys? C'mon now.) Most American children have never seen the Welsh flag, so my hope is that once they read the story, they'll go looking it up just to see if it really does feature a dragon. And maybe keep looking up other things about a country with a flag that features a mythical beast.

AmeriCymru:  What governed your selection process? Of the many folk tales from Wales, why these 9?

Jude: I wanted to attract American kids and their parents. Most of them know about dragons, Ariel the Mermaid, and Tinkerbell. Though I make it plain on the back cover and in the book description that these are not Disney creatures. They bite. They are tricksy. They might even be real if you know where to look and how to treat them with respect. So it was a choice of ready-made familiarity with fantastic creatures.

I also wanted to choose stories that weren't as well known to the majority of Americans. Some might have heard something about dragons and the Saxons but they probably couldn't tell you the particulars. Most people only know one mermaid story, and most of them don't know how it actually ended before Disney got hold of it. And generally, American children think fairies are happy and harmless. 

So my selection process was it couldn't be so gory or heavy that I couldn't tell it differently. For instance, kidnapping a female to make her your wife is ever so 5th century, you know? But I stayed true to the gist and morals of the tales. 

I didn't want to redo the most familiar tales in The Mabinogion, though I love them. There is a plethora to choose from there, and again, I was aiming for instant familiarity with the creatures I chose. The hope is that people will go looking for more. The folklore of Wales is rich and fascinating and has an undertone of great tragedy about it. Then again, reading the original Grimms' tales or knowing what is coming at the end of Camelot is a rather dark ride as well. But that's reality, isn't it? That's what these stories were told for from the start: how to deal with life, its twists, and the inevitable end.

AmeriCymru:  What inspired this collection?

Jude: Despair. Seriously, I despair talking to people who seem so very proud of NOT READING. If I can get a few children and/or parents, aunts, uncles, etc. interested in these stories, maybe they will search for more. Maybe a spark will be struck and a fire of wanting to read more will catch. 

It doesn't have to be paperback. Ebooks are fine, too. Whatever captures your fancy and takes you into another experience for a few moments or hours is what the joy of reading is all about. 

These tales have been told and retold for centuries now, maybe even a millennium. But they are new to someone in every generation, and if that encourages some to keep reading keep going, keep learning, and keep retelling how a dragon still sleeps beneath Dinas Emrys, or mermaids warn of storms, or ticked off faeries can make your life miserable, then that's a golden ticket.

Plus to be honest, I hadn't felt the muse urging me to write since my last publication in 2016. I had just finished re-reading a collection of legends of North Wales and the idea clicked that I maybe could retell some of the lesser known tales in my own voice, and if I limited the number of stories and didn't get too carried away, I might be able to cobble a little book together that I could have ready in a month or two for the Tucson Celtic Festival and Scottish Highland Games [http://tucsoncelticfestival.org].  Then I learned the Welsh League of Arizona was not planning to be there; our ranks have been decimated over the past two years and no one seemed to have the opportunity to man the booth outdoors. Myn bran i, I couldn't let that happen. You can't have a gathering of Celts without Cymry! So long story short, it may just be me and one or two more, but we'll be there with Y Ddraig Goch flying high. And my books, wrth gwrs.

AmeriCymru:  Where can readers buy this book online?

Jude: Right now, it is available online through Amazon - .com, UK, DE, FR, ES, IT, CA, and AU - in both paperback and ebook. You can find all of my books (fiction and nonfiction) on my Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Jude-Johnson which should also be available on the other country sites listed. 

Wrth gwrs, if you're in Tucson, Arizona November 6 & 7, I'll be at the Celtic Festival with paperbacks ready to autograph. 

Jude: I should be able to mail signed/personalized copies in the continental US for the holidays; sorry I can't do overseas at this time, the postage is ridiculous. You can find me on Facebook and message me here: https://www.facebook.com/JudeJohnsonAZ Or contact me through my website: http://jude-johnson.com 

I'll check with the USPS on what postage and time allotments we'll be dealing with and have that information ready by November 10th for special orders; probably want to order to ship before December 5, I'm thinking. Everything is moving more slowly these days...

AmeriCymru:  Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?

Jude:  Diolch yn fawr iawn for keeping a warm welcome in the community for me. And for all the wonderful stories and legends you all have shared with me through the years. I hope I did you proud with "Nine Tales From Wales".

Pob hwyl!

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bloodmoon.jpg AmeriCymru: Hi Beryl and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. How would you describe your new novel The Bloodmoon Prophecy ?

Beryl: Thank you very much Ceri for interviewing me.

AmeriCymru: How would you describe The Bloodmoon Prophecy?

Beryl: The novel was inspired  by the hills around Port Talbot.  From where I live I can see two burial mounds outlined against the sky.  Port Talbot is heavily industrialised and I had an epiphany moment when I realised that the romans had been here in their struggle to subdue the local tribe the Siliurians.  I started researching and found traces of many prehistoric tracks and dwellings, burials and a late roman gravestone. There are circles and other sites that have not been excavated but go way back.  Some of the Welsh placenames are said to have commemorated battles between the local tribes and the Romans.

It is with this in mind that I undertook to write The Bloodmoon Prophecy, using the historical locations as my muse.  Gradually a story of Celtic magic, aggression, conflict and honour let itself be known to me. The two women involved in telling the story live 2,000 years apart.  I still don’t know if it is magic or real.  I leave you, the reader to decide.

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about the ancient Welsh Tribe, the Silures?

Beryl: Wales has an ancient history and culture which will compares more than favourably with world culture.  It took the Romans 25 years to finally subdue the Silurians who occupied mountainous territories in the Southwest of Wales They were considered as the most hostile and brave tribe,  They were fearless in battle, but did not have the discipline, training or equipment of the Romans which was their ultimate downfall.  The Silurian launch of Guerilla tactics confused the Romans, which was a qiick onslaught and an even quicker disappearance into the hills, initially confused them.  Ultimately, they were outnumbered and when Caractacus was captured their resistance broke down. They inhabited the hilltops and farmed, raised cattle and made weapons out of a new metal called iron.    The Silurians were not just an isolated confederation of tribes.  The lived in a complex, highly organised and sophisticated society.  Women had substantial rights.  If they got divorced they took whatever dowry they brought to a marriage plus the profit it had earned.  There was a complex religious system headed by the Druids, who were responsible for negotiating between fights between the clans (there were a few), law making, bardic traditions and healing.  They were volatile, intelligent and creative, and on occasions violent. The ultimate discipline and tactics and superior numbers of the Romans defeated them.  Certain elements of the Celtic tribes were Romanised but the larger and remote populations hardly ever altered their lifestyle. Trade with the Romans and the taxes which they extracted did not subdue their identity and culture.

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little aboiut your previous novel - Golconda?

Beryl: Golconda one of my previous novels was a story of Welsh Copper and the world wide trade which it stimulated.  Wicca and the plight of the Indentured Servants which were used before slavery is highlighted. Port Talbot is known for its heavy industry, steel, formerly coal and its huge deep water harbour.  The Silurians seem to have occupied the flat tops and the hilltops. The coastal plain was heavily forested.  The Romans seemed initially to have arrived from the East.  They built a fort at Caerleon and subsequently went inland with forts established at strategic points.  Scapula invaded at various points through what is now the Welsh Borders and the Marches finally subduing the Welsh.  The river Neath was used to establish a fort named Nidum, the estuary being tidal was ideal for landing supplies etc.,

AmeriCymru: You write historical fantasy fiction. What inspired your interest in history? Would you agree with R.S. Thomas that it is not possible to ".... live in the present, at least not in Wales?"

Beryl: It is the unlikely background to my upbringing in the industrial town of Port Talbot.  My father introduced me to my love of history, taking me around the Abbey here, telling me tales of Margam Castle and the early Christian stones found in the tiny museum at Margam.  At nine years old I was hooked!  I owe him a debt which I could never repay.

I have always been interested in writing and coupled with my historical research it seemed to be natural to combine both in a novel.  BLOODMOON is the first of a trilogy.  I am busy beavering away on the second in the Series THE CARACTACUS CODE.  As usual I am planning the book, but sometimes the characters do something totally unexpected, and the plot takes another twist.  Typical of my screwy imagination!

R.S Thomas said “it is not possible to live in the present.  At least not in Wales.”  This is a statement to which I am in total agreement.  We are surround by castles, hillforts and legends stretching back into the mists of time.  Coupled with my fascination for locked boxes, enigmas and my Welsh cultural heritage it is sheer pleasure for me to write about such things.  There is not a lot known about the early Silurian/Romano period.  The mountains to the east of Port Talbot have been well excavated by the Glamorgan and Gwent Archaeological Trust, but not the area around Port Talbot. There was an attempt in the thirties.  For me the landscape tells its own story, which of course if a figment of my imagination.so fascinate me.    I consulted old maps and any books which I could find on the subject, which led me down a magical personal path of fascination which has stimulated my writing juices and have introduced me to the works of Wilson and Blackett, a controversial pair who have discovered a rich source of the legends and forgotten sources of old Welsh history, which academics seem to refute.  This is not an argument I want to enter into, but this is a fascinating source of material and legends and is followed by a lot of colourful people, which as you know Ceri, also fascinate me.  My head is full of the mysticism and legends of these people.

AmeriCymru: Where can our readers purchase 'The Bloodmoon Prophecy' online?

Beryl: The Bloodmoon Prophecy can be purchased on Amazon. 

AmeriCymru: What's next for Bee Richards? Any new titles in the works?

Beryl: Currently I am working on the sequel to Bloodmoon with the working title of  The Caractacus Code which I hope to bring out later this year.  Ceri I thank you for your time and interest.  Speak to you soon.




AmeriCymru:  Hi David and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce the community of Cwmbwrla for our readers? Where in Wales is it and what is its history?

David: Cwmbwrla is a district of Swansea, on the South Wales coast. It’s home to 8,000 people and has produced some of Wales’s most celebrated sporting figures and artists. In particular, it’s well known as the birthplace of John and Mel Charles, Ivor and Len Allchurch and Mel Nurse, five of Wales’s finest footballers. But it’s the people who aren’t so famous that I admire the most. The people who quietly find a way to make other people’s lives better and never expect any thanks for it. There are a lot of them in Cwmbwrla.

AmeriCymru:  How has the coronavirus pandemic affected Cwmbwrla?

David: The pandemic had a notable effect on small businesses in the area, forcing their prolonged closure and jeopardising their futures. People who were forced to socially isolate found it difficult to cope with the lack of human contact and many families found themselves in an awkward financial position. Luckily we have community leaders who’ve worked tirelessly to address these problems, led by Emma Shears, a Local Area Coordinator who has done a remarkable job of bringing people together to support those in greatest need.

AmeriCymru:  What gave you the idea for this book? What inspired it?

David: On the May bank holiday this year, my neighbours and I gathered outside our houses to share a socially distanced drink and reflect on the unusual turn the year had taken. One of my neighbours mentioned that their mother, who had lived in the area all her life, had interesting stories to tell and shared one or two anecdotes. I then shared some examples of the good things that local people were doing to help each other through the lockdown. It occurred to me that these anecdotes were worth documenting. People’s stories are worth telling.

AmeriCymru:  The book consists in large part, of personal and family histories. How did you go about collecting these? How willing were people to participate?

David: I brought the idea to a group that had previously come together to organise local events and we compiled a list of people we thought would have interesting contributions to make. We also shared the idea on social media and encouraged people to share their stories. It was then a simple matter of picking up the phone. When you spend time talking to people – and more importantly listening to them – their stories emerge. People were happy to participate but many of them initially protested that “I haven’t really got anything to tell you” or “I’m not really doing anything to help”. It didn’t take me long to realise that they were being far too modest. And talking about family histories made it clear that Cwmbwrla us a place where children are proud of their parents and parents are proud of their children. That’s certainly something worth celebrating.

AmeriCymru:  Do any of these personal reminiscences stand out for you? Are there any interviewees/stories that you would like to highlight? 

David: It’s difficult to single anyone out because I interviewed almost 40 people and I ended up admiring all of them. But if I had to choose two I would nominate “All Heart” and “Finding our Way Home”. “All Heart” is about Colin Lightfoot, a small business owner who has run a local greeting card shop for the past 40 years. He treats customers as friends, he does everything he can to make people happy and never puts himself first. Earlier in 2020 he was admitted to hospital with a heart problem, and he’s still there now. People love him, they miss him and they want him to know how much he means to the community. Hopefully the book will make it clear. “Finding Our Way Home” tells the story of a remarkable group of women who started up an emergency food resource. They realised that many local families would struggle to put meals on the table in 2020 and they set about building up a supply that could be shared with those who needed it. The need still exists, so the food resource is still active. People are taking care of each other. 

AmeriCymru:  You also have a section titled  'Covid-19 Heroes'. Care to tell us a little about these?

David: I’m in awe of the local people who’ve stepped up to help their neighbours at this difficult time. These aren’t wealthy people, they’re working women and men with their own problems to solve and their own families to support, but they’ve chosen to give their time, effort and resources, cooking for their neighbours, shopping for them, collecting their medication, just picking up the phone and talking to them. A lady named Lisa Challenger comes immediately to mind. She told me it breaks her heart to see neighbours, many of them older and vulnerable, not having cooking facilities and never sitting down to a good hot meal. Her response has been to cook hundreds of roast dinners, all at her own expense, giving people something to look forward to, giving them sustenance and keeping them healthy. And Lisa will tell you that she isn’t doing anything special. She’s doing something very special, and she’s just one of the COVID-19 heroes who make me proud to live in Cwmbwrla.

AmeriCymru:  Where can people buy the book online?

David: The book is available in paperback and ebook form on Amazon. I hope people with Welsh roots will recognise the warmth and inclusiveness of this community. I hope it will remind them of the best of Wales.  Circling the Square: Cwmbwrla, Coronavirus and Community

AmeriCymru:  What's next for David Jones? Future plans?

David: Now that I’ve seen how much it means to people to have their lives and their work acknowledged, I’ll be pursuing similar projects in 2021. In February I’m helping my friend Jeff Phillips, a local artist, organise “Swansea Past, Present and Future”, a celebration of arts and culture through the ages in our city. I’m planning another “people’s book” to accompany this event. I feel privileged when people share their stories with me, and I’ll try my best to do them justice.

circling the square.jpg


Brian Jarman.jpg
AmeriCymru spoke to Welsh author Brian Jarman about his latest novel Saturdays Are Black or White

"Brian Jarman was born on a farm in Mid Wales, the joint youngest of five brothers. He was educated in local schools and did a degree in French Studies at the LSE, spending one year teaching in a Parisian lycee.
........ He lives in London with his wife Julia and regularly visits family in Mid-Wales and Cardiff (especially when there’s an international rugby match on)."



Saturdays cover.jpg AmeriCymru:  Hi Brian and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. What can you tell us about your fifth novel Saturdays are Black or White ?

Brian: My pleasure. I decided it was about time to write about twins. Being one myself, it's naturally a subject that I have an interest in, but I've avoided it in previous novels. I also wanted to bring together two very different worlds: central London, where I live, and farm life in rural Wales, where I was brought up and where my two oldest brothers farmed. I also had in mind Bruce Chatwin’s novel On the Black Hill, about twin farmers in the Welsh borders who can’t live apart. It set me thinking about what would happen if it were the opposite - twins who’d become strangers.   So the novel begins when a former TV presenter, Arwyn, gets a phone message in his London flat:

‘Hullo. It’s me. I haven’t got long. Cancer. Thought you’d  like to know.’ 

 It’s a voice he hasn’t heard for thirty years, since their fiftieth birthday party. It’s his twin brother, Bren, who’d stayed on the family farm in the Black Mountains. Arwyn tries to figure out what triggered their estrangement. He goes back to Wales to find out. It’s not an easy return - not only does he have to confront his brother’s dying, but aspects of his early life which he’d long buried or forgotten.

AmeriCymru:  What can you tell our readers about the area in Wales, the Eastern Black Mountains, where the novel is set?

Brian: I know the Abergavenny area fairly well, from my days as a reporter on the South Wales Argus. I lived in Abertillery, which is in the hills the other side of the Usk valley from the Black Mountains. We often drive through them if  we’re coming from the South to Mid-Wales, and the area has always struck me as majestic and mysterious, if a little formidable. It’s the kind of place the makes you think how old the world is, and even more isolated than where I come from. As my mother would have said, ‘If those hills could talk!’

AmeriCymru:  You have said, in an interview with the South Wales Argus, that you, "....wanted to explore the complex nature of being a twin....". Care to expand on this theme?

Brian: Yes - over the years I’ve come across some remarkable stories about twins, and I did some more research for this book. It ranges from the twin girls in West Wales who were never apart and spoke in unison, to the twins in the US who were separated at birth and find astounding similarities when they’re reunited in later life: similar jobs, names of their children, pets, right down to the cigarettes they smoke or the beer they drink. This all feeds into the nature v nurture debate - are we born fully-cooked or does our upbringing define who we are? Strangest of all, was a documentary called Three Identical Strangers. It’s about triplets who were adopted by very different families in the New York area - as a social experiment, it turned out - who found each other by chance when they were older and became something of a media sensation. And then of course, there were the horrific experiments conducted by Josef Mengele in the death camps. There are many twin myths in different cultures and civilisations around the world, right down to the explanation of creation itself.

AmeriCymru:  To what extent is the novel a story, "...about how sibling rivalry can sometimes go wrong.”

Brian: That was part of the exploration of why Arwyn and Bren became strangers. They’d chosen very different paths in life but were ambitious and fairly successful in their respective fields. And while they got on well for many years, the mystery is why they stopped speaking. Was it a misunderstanding, or several, in that they both put different interpretations on certain things that had happened? With my own twin, we remember different things and we remember things differently, so it could be relatively easy to fall out over very minor issues. For the record, I get on very well with all my brothers, and while I and my twin are not really all that ‘twinny,’ we see each other often, and I’m very close to his children. In fact, we’re a very close family.

AmeriCymru:  What are you working on at the moment? Any sneak previews of your sixth novel?

Brian: I’d like to set a novel in Paris, where we have a studio flat. It’s been percolating in my mind for a while now, but the plot isn’t working out as well as I’d like yet. A friend who read my first novel, The Missing Room, suggested I should call it The Missing Plot. But I’ll keep at it, and had some new ideas a couple of days ago. I’ve also set up a literary consultancy, helpmepublish.co.uk, with a former colleague, Annabel Hughes, who lives near Abergavenny and edits my books. It’s to help aspiring novelists. Since I started publishing my books, I’ve had quite a few enquiries from friends of friends or relatives of friends about how to start - it can be quite a daunting process. So I thought I might as well try to make a little business out of it. 

AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?

Brian: Congratulations on your new President. Many of us in the UK watched the election in as assiduously as we watch our own. AmeriCymru is a great resource for bringing Welsh culture together in a forum. Particularly in these days of the Coronavirus pandemic when socialising has its challenges, it’s a good time to start exploring some of our heritage.


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(Robert blogs at thoughtsofrob.com  and Meagan at  ceridwensonnet.com .)

AmeriCymru: Hi Rob and Meagan and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce your new book The Welsh Tattoo Handbook for our readers? What inspired the book?

Rob/Meagan:  The project came to us completely out of the blue.  We and the publisher have a mutual friend who recommended us.  The publisher, Bradan Press, has a series of Celtic language tattoo handbooks, and wanted to add Welsh.  Based on our friend’s recommendation, the publisher got in touch with us and invited us to do a book proposal.  We hit it off right from the start, and from our proposal and the publisher’s response, it was clear that we shared a wavelength.  So, we signed a contract and started developing the book in detail.  We would never have thought to do anything like this on our own, but it was a real pleasure and privilege to get the chance.  We spent two and a half years bringing the book to life.  

AmeriCymru: What do you hope the book will achieve? Is the intention to encourage people to become fluent Welsh speakers?

Rob/Meagan:  We have multiple goals for the book.  Goal number one is simply to help people connect with their heritage by enjoying the Welsh language.  It isn’t just about tattoos, really, although pictures of bad tattoo translations in every language imaginable are certainly all over the internet—and the book has Welsh examples!  The book is a resource for anyone who doesn’t speak Welsh but would like to be able to incorporate some Welsh into their life, be it a tattoo, a t-shirt, a mug, a family motto, whatever.  You know, people even look for translations or proverbs to put on a gravestone, right?  So really, the book is designed to be an accessible entry point for someone, even someone who doesn’t really know any Welsh at all, to encounter the Welsh language and strike up an acquaintance with it. The book incorporates both a capsule history of Wales, and a sort of “speed date” between the reader and the Welsh language, so the reader can quickly learn some interesting things and be supported in trying to learn about Welsh.  Goal number two is that, in the process of supporting people in connecting with their Welsh heritage, or just their enthusiasm for Wales, we can also help them make sure the Welsh they use is good Welsh and not bad Welsh.  We’ve all seen the mistranslated signs and things, the immortal road sign with the Welsh out-of-office message printed on it.  Whatever it is people want—the tattoo, the mug, the shirt, what have you—we want it to be good Welsh.  Goal number three is that, among the people who do find the book useful or enjoyable, some portion of them really will be motivated to start learning Welsh.  Recognising the goal set by the Welsh government, we dedicated the book to the one million Welsh speakers and more of the year 2050.  We certainly hope that the book will inspire at least a few people to think that it’s worth learning Welsh.  Fluency is a very complicated thing and it’s a bar that learners often imagine to be in some high, far-off place that they will never be able to reach.  We would never want to say that the only worthwhile goal is for people to become fluent.  Any goal a person sets for themselved with respect to learning Welsh is a worthwhile goal.  And we know from experience that, as a learner, any time you can use Welsh in Wales, you feel on top of the world. 

AmeriCymru: You currently live in Alabama. What can you tell us a little about your Welsh background?

Rob/Meagan:  Robert is originally from West Virginia.  His ancestors came from South Wales to the United States in the 19th century, to work in the coal mining industry.  Meagan’s ancestry is Celtic but not explicitly Welsh; like so many Americans, she comes from Irish and Scottish stock.  However, she embraces her Welsh-by-marriage status and feels as though she's been welcomed into this rich heritage.  Robert has been able to trace his family back to their last known address in Wales before they emigrated, and we have visited the street!  The original houses aren’t there anymore, but it was a lovely thing to be able to do.

AmeriCymru: How long have you been learning Welsh and what inspired you to start?

Rob/Meagan:  Robert has been studying for over 15 years, going back to when he was in grad school.  The idea just came to him one day, and he got some exercise books and some CDs to listen to.  He didn’t really make serious progress, though, until he finished grad school and moved to Arizona for work.  There he got involved with the Welsh League of Arizona and the class that John Good (aka “Sioni Dda”) was teaching, and that’s how he really started to learn.  John also told him about Cymdeithas Madog, the Welsh Studies Institute in North America.  Robert’s first course with Cymdeithas Madog was in 2009.  Meagan’s first course with Cymdeithas Madog was in 2013.  Robert was already studying Welsh when we met, and was strongly hoping for a partner who would be interested in learning Welsh as well.  Meagan is a gifted poet and a language enthusiast, so the prospect appealed to her.  As a linguist and fellow Celt, Meagan saw the value in passing on the living language of Welsh to our (at the time) future children.  She previously studied French and German, which have certainly helped in her Welsh studies.  Cymdeithas Madog's enthusiasm and wealth of knowledge propelled her on after Robert gave her the idea to give it a try the night he proposed.  The value placed upon poetry and the arts in Welsh language and culture has also been a source of inspiration.  Over the years we have been to multiple Welsh courses together and have travelled to Wales together twice, including taking an advanced immersive course together at Nant Gwrtheyrn, the renowned language center in North Wales.  Now, we are glad to have the opportunity to share Welsh with our almost two year-old daughter, Kira.

AmeriCymru: Are there any persons or resources who have been useful along the way that you would like to credit?

Rob/Meagan:  In addition to the Welsh speakers of the year 2050, the book is dedicated to some of the people who have been most instrumental in our Welsh language journey.  First is John Good, who we still study with.  We have a weekly online class with him when we read and discuss contemporary Welsh literature.  Second, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Cymdeithas Madog, without which neither of us would ever have reached the Welsh proficiency we have, nor indeed even have had the chance to write this book.  We were the local organisers for the Cwrs Cymraeg in 2016, we have both served on the board, and we’re still involved; during the pandemic, Cymdeithas Madog has started offering online Welsh lessons and Robert has gotten to teach beginners. Third, we have to credit Nant Gwrtheyrn and our dear friends Deian and Annette Evans, who first took us there to visit and blew our minds with the idea of a place in Wales where it was possible to not hear any English spoken.  They inspired us to want to go there for ourselves as students one day, and in 2017, we did!  Nant Gwrtheyrn is an extraordinary place filled with wonderful people.  It feels like a worthwhile pilgrimage for any Welsh learner—and they’re offering online lessons now, as well.  Also, for their aid in the monumental task of compiling a glossary full of Welsh tattoo and craft ideas, we must thank Antone Minard, Cymdeithas Madog board member and member of the Vancouver Welsh Society, and Angharad Devonald, Welsh television, theater, and fiction writer.  Their grammatical, cultural, and editorial advice made this project possible.

AmeriCymru: Are you currently working on any follow up projects?

Rob/Meagan:  At the moment we’re just trying to raise awareness of the book so that it can be of use to as many people as possible.  We both have various other projects that we work on as we have time—writing fiction, poetry, and Robert dabbles in game design.  We also both have blogs; Meagan blogs at  ceridwensonnet.com  and Robert at  thoughtsofrob.com .  But before the pandemic we were both working, and Robert still works full time, and we have a toddler at home, so it’s not easy for us to have enough spare time to be terribly productive.  The Welsh Tattoo Handbook was a labor of love!  

AmeriCymru: Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?

Rob/Meagan:  Learning any amount of Welsh is a good and worthwhile thing to do, and you can do it!  We hope the Welsh Tattoo Handbook will help you get started.  And don't hesitate to reach out to others in the Welsh learning community!  Whether it's AmeriCymru, Cymdeithas Madog, or Welsh speakers and learners in Wales, you will be welcomed with open arms.

The Welsh Tattoo Handbook   is available from bradan press. Price: $11.99 US | $14.99 CDN | £7.99 UK | €9.99 EU | $14.99 AUS


AmeriCymru: Hi Eloise and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. How did you become the first Children's Laureate Wales? What is the selection process?

Eloise: You are very welcome. Thanks for inviting me! It's so good to be here. 

Literature Wales, the national company for the development of literature in Wales, put out a call for expressions of interest. I'd worked with young people a lot over the years - taught Drama and English, developed plays with community and youth theatres, toured with theatre-in-education projects - and since starting to write for young people I'd run hundreds of creative writing workshops to develop writing skills, creativity and imagination. I thought I'd express my interest so that I would be considered for the role at some point in the future, without any expectation of being considered for the position. Needless to say, I am thrilled to have been selected. It's an honour and a privilege.  

AmeriCymru: You are involved in a project to create a new updated version of the Mabinogion. Can you tell us more about this exciting project?

Eloise: Absolutely! The Mabinogion are the oldest British stories to be written down and are a really important part of our heritage. When the author Matt Brown came to me with the idea to get these stories written specifically for young readers, I thought it was genius. I also couldn't believe it hadn't been done already! 

In all honesty, I was hesitant to become involved at first. I have a pretty full timetable with laureate work and work as an author, but in the end, I decided that it was a really important and meaningful project and one I would definitely need to get behind. 

It came as a shock to me how little I knew about the stories. Casting my mind back, I know we didn't learn about them at school and though most of them have crept into my consciousness somewhere along the line, it just seemed dreadful that I didn't have a better knowledge of them. We hope this collection will mean that young people everywhere will have the opportunity to fall in love with these stories and that they can be celebrated and known by everyone! 

We have a fantastic line-up of great Welsh writers, authors and poets bringing the stories to life - Claire Fayers, Sophie Anderson, PG Bell, Alex Wharton, Hanan Issa, Darren Chetty, Zillah Bethell, Catherine Johnson, Nicola Davies, Matt Brown and me - and the stories will be told in diverse and creative ways. All eleven tales will be translated into Welsh by Bethan Gwanas in the same volume so that they can be read alongside the English versions, and the collection will be beautifully illustrated by the brilliant artist Max Low. It's a really exciting project and we are doing everything we can to shout about it!  


( Click the image above to go to the 'Mab' support page )

AmeriCymru: When will the new Mabinogion be available and where will readers be able to purchase it online? 

Eloise: This is where readers can help us to make this a reality! We are crowdfunding the project through a company called Unbound . There are all sorts of rewards you can get your hands on - a copy signed by all of the authors, a tote bag, original art work, virtual author visits - you get your name printed in the back of the book and you'll be part of something really important. We would love it if you would support this project if you are able and if you could help us to spread the word that would be absolutely wonderful too. 

AmeriCymru: What does the Children's Laureate do and what are you hoping to achieve in this role?

Eloise: The Children's Laureate role has been created to highlight the importance of, and to promote, creative writing by and for young people in Wales. It gives me an opportunity to work with lots of children who may not already see themselves as storytellers. I believe everyone is made of stories and all voices and words are important. I encourage creativity and imagination over spelling and grammar. I think lots of young people – and older people too - are put off telling stories because they worry about their academic ability.

It’s only my opinion, but I believe that punctuation is something that can be sorted at a later date. Without imagination there is nothing to edit in the first place.

I want all young people to see themselves as part of the literature landscape of Wales. We need vibrant new voices from all sectors of the community, and I see it as part of my job to convince young people of how essential a part they play in making this happen.

The platform also gives me a chance to put a spotlight on children’s writers from Wales which is just a lovely thing to do. We have so many talented writers creating children’s stories with such expertise. It’s a joy to be able to celebrate their words.

AmeriCymru: You are also the patron of reading for a school. What is a patron of reading?

Eloise: I've been a patron of reading for three different schools over the last five years. It's a role to promote the value of reading for pleasure and to break down the barriers between the author and the reader. It's been a fantastic opportunity to have a close relationship with schools and for the young people to have an author at their disposal! 

We launched the Children’s Laureate Wales initiative at one of the schools. I’ve run creative writing competitions with them, co-written stories with pupils, answered questions about the writing process, discussed how to become an author and what it is like when you are published. They’ve let me know what they are reading, and we chat about why they like certain stories more than others. It’s up to the author how much time and connection they want with each school and it’s beneficial on both sides. I’ve run new pieces of writing past young people to get their feedback and they’ve given their feedback very honestly!

AmeriCymru: You currently live in Pembrokeshire but you have lived elsewhere in Wales in the past. Care to tell our readers a little about your history?

Eloise: I was born in St. David’s Hospital in Canton opposite where Ivor Novello was born. I was the first baby on Easter morning which meant my mother was given a celebratory cake by the nursing staff. She was thrilled until they shared it out with everyone on the ward. I have inherited this selfishness when it comes to cake.

For the first few years of my life I lived close to Victoria Park in Canton and then Caerphilly, I remember very little of this time though I romantically recall it as a time I played next to one of the most magnificent castles in the world.

From there we went to live in the historical town of Llantrisant with another castle – smaller and much more ruined – practically in our back garden. Llantrisant was a place of festivals and beating the bounds, historically the home of Dr. William Price a famous Victorian vegetarian nudist and a pioneer of legal cremation, it has a forest to one side of it complete with Bronze Age burial mounds and is laced in legend. We had stories under our feet wherever we walked.

AmeriCymru: When did you first decide to write? How would you describe your creative process?

Eloise: I decided to take the MA in Creative and Media Writing at Swansea University and graduated in 2011 with Distinction which was a definite surprise to me. I’ve always been creative but not particularly successful academically.

I'd been on the road for a long time, touring around different theatres across the UK and had been having a glorious and very tiring time. A decade as an actor was a wonderful experience. I got to act in some of the most superb plays ever written and learned about character and story and most importantly, I think, the sound and spell of words. One fateful day, I was on a stage at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff and I decided that I had words of my own to say instead of other people’s scripts, and I wanted to write them down. I've always been impetuous and knew to trust this instinct to write but I didn't have the confidence to go ahead without trying some skills out first. University workshops were humbling and scary, but I stuck with it, whilst holding down lots of different jobs, and despite being sent a letter to tell me I was at risk of being dismissed from the course for non-attendance (work often clashed with workshops) I eventually graduated. 

My creative process seems to be different for every project. I tend to start VERY enthusiastically with an INCREDIBLE idea, then reach what I have now named the grumble stage. This is where I make low murmuring and disparaging remarks about my ability to create anything at all ever again. Once these two stages are out of the way, I get to work. Research first (and during). I plot a bit now - I used to just forge straight ahead. I use record cards to jot down thoughts and have a drawer where I stash all the glittering ideas for other books which appear bright and shiny and tap dancing through my head when I don’t need them. I work hard, make sure I turn up at my laptop, get frustrated most days. Some days are beautiful and filled with a sense of achievement but lots of days are graft. I guess I have a strong inbuilt work ethic from my parents which has seen me through the more difficult drafts. I also love to question and create almost as much as I love to procrastinate. I turn my WiFi off.

Wilde.jpg AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about your new novel Wilde ?

Eloise: Wilde is a story which is essentially about celebrating individuality and also about being kind to yourself.

The blurb goes :

Can she break the curse of the witch called Winter?

Being different can be dangerous. Wilde is afraid when strange things happen around her. Are the birds following her? Moving to live with her aunt seems to make it worse. Wilde is desperate to fit in at her new school. But in a fierce heatwave, in rehearsals for a school play telling the local legend of a witch called Winter, ‘The Witch’ starts leaving pupils frightening curse letters. Can Wilde find out who’s doing it before everyone blames her? Or will she always be the outsider?

Wilde has witches and waterfalls and history and legends. It also has a donkey named Duran Duran which gives my age away, I fear! 

AmeriCymru: What's next for Eloise Williams? Any new titles in the offing?

Eloise: This is where my superstitions jump in and tell me that if I give away any information at all I will jinx everything I have coming up. I think I developed this strange and wonderful superstitious nature while working as an actor. There's a lot of ritual and belief in luck in that career. Not mentioning the Scottish Play by name, no whistling backstage, turning in a circle three times and spitting, or some such thing?!

In other words - I do have some things in the pipeline but I can't tell you anything specific about them! I'll be following my love of folklore and fable, history and landscape, all that is other and strange and a little bit odd, down various pathways. I know that's pretty vague but it’s all I can give away at the moment. 

AmeriCymru: Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?

Eloise: As I said earlier, we are all made of stories – that includes you! Tell your stories to other people. Tell them in any way you want to. Get them out there and celebrate them. Who knows, your stories could be part of a Mab collection in the future!

Paul Steffan Jones has been a regular and much valued contributor to this site for many years. Recently he has posted a series of poems which address the covid crisis and his reaction to it. AmeriCymru spoke to Paul about his recent work and how Wales is faring in the ongoing pandemic. The individual poems discussed below are linked from the interview but if you want to browse more of Paul's work please go here:- Paul Steffan Jones Author Page.


paulsteffanjonesgalleryimage 5.jpg

AmeriCymru: Hi Paul and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Many of your recent poems have been focused on the current Covid pandemic. Do you think that the British government has handled this crisis well?

Paul: My opinion is that the UK Government has made many mistakes in dealing with this crisis which ultimately have added to the casualty list.  We were slow to enter lockdown, there have been major issues in the supply of Personal Protective Equipment to health and care workers, we were lethargic in setting up testing and the Government did not immediately protect elderly residents and staff in care homes.  In short, virtually everything that could have gone wrong has. There has been a lack of honesty and transparency from the Cabinet. About the only positive response was the Job Retention Scheme where the Government effectively became the employer of millions of workers.  In my view their general incompetence and laziness has allowed many thousands to die.  A selection of people from the hamlet in which I live could have done better....

AmeriCymru: Has Wales fared any better (or differently) to the rest of the British Isles?

Paul: Wales seems to be adopting a more cautious attitude towards the relaxation of lockdown rules leading to a feeling that its Government is being more protective of its citizens than its English counterpart which appears to be more economy-led.

AmeriCymru:  In your work, The Platitude Attitude we find the following line: 'Ground Control to Captain Tom' repeated twice at the end of the poem. Care to explain the Captain Tom reference for an American audience?

Paul: Captain Tom is Captain Tom Moore.  100 years old, a World War Two veteran of Burma and India who raised over £32 million for the National Health Service by doing a 100 lap walk of his garden.  He is an inspirational figure at a time when our leaders were lacking in this quality.  His selfless act illustrated how revered our NHS is but also the widely held realisation that it has been underfunded by the Government for a decade and therefore not necessarily at the best starting point for a pandemic. 

AmeriCymru:  Is The Platitude Attitude a poem of hope or despair (or both)?

Paul: Both.  We have to move from despair to a better place. We have to remove a Government that thinks that 54,000 dead is a success.  The crisis has illustrated how venal, corrupt and uncaring it is.  But it has also shown that ordinary people have rediscovered a sense of community and worked together to mitigate some of the issues thrown up by the pandemic.  I think that the break up of the United Kingdom is more likely as a result of the crisis and the way in which it has been mismanaged.  The improvement in the environment is a source of hope and one we ought to continue.

AmeriCymru: You seem, in common with a number of his colleagues, to have a low opinion of the current British Prime Minister. What in particular inspired Amen , your equally humorous and vicious adaptation of 'The Lord's Prayer'?

Paul: I don't think the Prime Minister is up to the job.  I believe the current Cabinet is the most untalented since 1938, chosen to push through a no deal exit from the European Union and little else.  Our leader is a stranger to the truth and guilty of protecting the job of his chief adviser when he clearly broke lockdown rules that he helped draw up. I thought the Lord's Prayer was an appropriate vehicle for that poem as it is well known and Boris Johnson has such an inflated opinion of himself that such a satire was irresistible. 

AmeriCymru: What particular event inspired your harrowing poem Remember the Young ?

Paul: This was a fairly early event as the figures were mounting up and panic had set in.  It struck me because it was such a tragedy that a young child had died of a disease that we were told mainly affected older people.  As the crisis worsened, the humanity of the tragedy shone through in individuals' tales. The loneliness of a Covid-19 death must be overwhelming and to lose a child in this manner must have been doubly heartbreaking.

AmeriCymru: What are you working on at the moment? Any new publications imminent?

Paul: I am working on new Coronavirus poems but am undecided what to do with them when complete.  I am still working on the Gwaelod project with the artist Chris Rawson-Tetley and we are currently considering putting out a publication of the work. I am also still writing for the George Orwell-inspired project Room 103.

AmeriCymru:  Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?

Paul: Keep safe and believe in a better world. Thanks for reading my work.


Matthew G. Rees.jpg keyhole.jpg


AmeriCymru: Hi Matthew and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce your short story collection 'Keyhole' for our readers.

Matthew: Thanks for having me and thanks for taking the interest that you do in writing that comes out of Wales.

Keyhole is a collection of eighteen short stories set in Wales and its borderland with England known as the Marches. The stories lean to what might loosely be called ‘the supernatural’. They’re mainly set in the present or the recent past, with, at times, explorations of history, such as the rehabilitation of wounded servicemen at a remote hospital in the era of the First World War.

An important thing to say is that, although I hope there is some strongly ‘realist’ writing in the collection, Wales is not seen in a literal way, as if captured by a camera. Instead, it is quite often viewed at a slant . . . presented askew. We see things through the eyes of characters who tend to be dislocated from their surroundings.

‘Horror’, as a blanket term, is, I suspect, inaccurate (though people have told me they have found passages in certain stories a little frightening – in a thought-provoking way). I think it’s probably important to say that the stories certainly aren’t heavily concerned with violence and gore. Neither are they full-on fantasies.

My intention is for the reader to always keep one foot in our own recognisable world, while – like my characters – reaching out and tentatively stepping into another, adjoining world.

I wrote the collection while doing a PhD at Swansea University. Only a small part of my life has been in a campus environment. I was a newspaper journalist for ten years. I’ve had a number of jobs, including time as a night-shift cab driver. I’ve also been a teacher, working in Moscow for a period. Doing the PhD and a master’s before it, was, in part, an opportunity to try to make some sense of what I wanted to experiment with. No one needs a college degree to write though. In Wales, figures such as ‘Super-Tramp’ W.H. Davies and the miner Bert Coombes, whose home as a young man was a dirt-poor smallholding in a village close to where I grew up, have taught us that.

AmeriCymru: You have said that you are interested in fiction that explores 'the liminal'. How is this distinguished from the supernatural?

Matthew: Interesting question. Without reaching for the Oxford English Dictionary, I’ll give you my take on what I think is the difference, particularly with regard to short stories. Several scholars have stressed the short story’s historic preoccupation with people and places outside the mainstream. Authors such as Melville, Chekhov and Gogol were pioneers in writing about cab drivers, minor clerks and so on – people whose lives had never really been written about previously. Guy de Maupassant, meanwhile, introduced his readers to goings-on in small towns and country villages. Closer to our own times, Raymond Carver wrote of suburban figures and their struggles in a way that made us care about them. For her part, Flannery O’Connor interested us in slightly more grotesque characters on farms in the American South. In one way or another, therefore, we’ve grown accustomed to reading about people whose lives are somehow in the margins. The critic and writer Frank O’Connor spoke of ‘submerged’ populations, though I think that term perhaps underplays how raw those margins can sometimes be. When it comes to the ‘liminal’, I think we’re that further step away again from the mainstream, to the point that we’re at the edge of the map . . . perhaps actually straddling a line or border, beyond which is a world that is recognisable and yet not quite the one that we know.

The short story has a long association with the supernatural. In the 12 th century, Walter Map, who is thought to have been Welsh, and William of Newburgh, were writing about folklore, mysteries and vampires. For me, the vampire – particularly the business of changing to and from a creature that is small, winged and furry – is an outright supernatural phenomenon: it is something that is beyond the laws of science and nature. But a story such as Daphne du Maurier’s ‘The Birds’ (which is not at all like Hitchcock’s movie) seems very liminal. Physically, the birds are the same feathered creatures they have always been, and yet they have crossed into a frightening, brutal way of being, having lost all fear of humans. In the story, we find ourselves dealing with the known and the unknown simultaneously.

To give an example from Keyhole , in the story ‘I’ve Got You’ figures made from seashells rise from a beach where they have been studded on the shore. Many of us have perhaps seen shapes crafted from shells pressed into wet sand. For them to rise and have lives is perhaps fantastic, yet less so when we remember that they were always meant to be people.

In short, I think of the liminal as a borderland of possibility, between what is and what might be . . . the edge of the seen moon, if you like, and its dark side. It’s very important to remember though that not everything from that ‘other side’ will be negative. Just because something is mysterious doesn’t mean that it can’t also be good, as I hope one of my stories in Keyhole , ‘Dragon Hounds’, demonstrates.

AmeriCymru: You quote Arthur Machen in the epigraph to your collection. Has Machen influenced your writing and do you think that he is sufficiently recognized in the modern age?

Matthew:  ‘. . . the unknown world is, in truth, about us everywhere, everywhere near to our feet, the thinnest veil separates us from it, the door in the wall of the next street communicates with it.’ The epigraph comes from Machen’s book The London Adventure , which I believe was first published in 1924. It’s a rather endearing memoir, far removed from the likes of his horror novella The Great God Pan . I’m aware of Machen, of course, and have read some of his main works such as Pan , his ‘decadent’ novel The Hill of Dreams and stories such as ‘The Bowmen’, which I reference in a story of my own (albeit not in the Keyhole collection). He was undoubtedly a central figure in the development of a genre that’s sometimes called ‘weird’ fiction or ‘weird horror’. He also wrote some lovely descriptive prose beyond that genre. He’s a writer I came to fairly late, so I don’t think he can be classed as a formative influence or someone who I’m like as a matter of routine. Quite recently, though, when writing a story, I definitely had Machen in the back of my head. Eventually, the dark humour (I hope!) in that particular story rather removes it from the realms of Machen. But when a reader – who knows a lot more about Machen than me – told me he thought certain passages were Machen-like, I was rather pleased.

I wouldn’t want to press the point too hard, but, yes, there are connections. We’re sons of the same (southern) end of the Marches and, for a period, were both newspapermen. I know certain places he mentions in various memoirs. My sister went to his school. He and I have each written dark tales set in Wales and the borderlands (in his case, ‘The Gift of Tongues’ and ‘The Children of the Pool’ are two that quickly come to mind), and so on.

Although definitely interesting, he was never a truly major literary figure. He was a jobbing writer, if you like, turning his hand to all sorts in an effort to pay the bills. The sheer volume and range of his output – translations, eccentric treatises, newspaper articles – perhaps militated against him producing a classic of the kind that might have secured his reputation (in the loftier sense).

There seems in recent years to have been a shift in the focus of many short stories, away from incidents of strangeness to what can sometimes seem less dramatic (indeed, perhaps rather domestic) matters, seemingly aimed at a college-educated and middle-class stratum of reader. With this, has been a sense that a short story should carry a message for society. These developments have, I think, damaged writers such as Machen. His contemporary Walter de la Mare comes to mind as a possible ‘casualty’.

If you look through the history of the short story you find that up to say the mid-point or third quarter of the 20 th century its practitioners in the English-speaking world often had backgrounds in, or ties with, newspapers and magazines: Edgar Allan Poe, Damon Runyon, Rudyard Kipling, Machen, Edgar Wallace, Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, Mavis Gallant and Graham Greene, to name but some. What was in play, I suspect, was the journalistic instinct for ‘man bites dog’, an effective continuation of the thread from those earlier times of Walter Map and William of Newburgh. Think of Hemingway’s macabre story ‘An Alpine Idyll’. Other writers, such as du Maurier and Agatha Christie, shared this approach.

These days a published story-writer is more likely to be a practising academic, a graduate of a creative writing course, or a novelist who occasionally writes a story ‘on the side’. The world is different, ‘life experience’ is different. The subjects that are written about won’t be the same. Material now, it seems, is more likely to be about issues, relationships and lives conducted in urban / metropolitan environments.

There are still huge hitters in the field of what might loosely be called ‘the supernatural’, of course, such as Stephen King and Dean Koontz. But when it comes to perhaps the ‘literary’ short story, the ‘strange’ – in terms of those stories that get attention – seems to have rather been sucked out of things (though an ‘underground’, for want of a better word, featuring some very good work at times, continues online and in print among some smaller publishers).

Machen is not alone in having suffered. A number of interesting if rather minor writers from his era, such as Richard Middleton (‘The Ghost-Ship’) and the formerly popular L.A.G. Strong (‘The Rook’) have all but disappeared.

Having said that, plenty of people are working hard on Machen’s behalf (not least the publishers of Keyhole , Three Impostors press of Newport, Gwent, who’ve brough out several special editions of his work and other interesting small books, such as their Wentwood Tales series). Machen has a not insignificant following that is said to include Stephen King, Mick Jagger and Dr Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. That we are talking of Machen, more than seventy years after his death, is surely proof of something. However, I suspect that, for some, quite a lot of the allure is due not so much to his writing as to his ‘mystic’ involvements, the ‘set’ he was part of (including figures such as the occultist A.E. Waite) and those who were his contemporaries, such as Wilde and Beardsley.

AmeriCymru: In what way do you think that growing up in the Welsh Marches has affected your writing?

Matthew: Our environments ought to be very influential. I see young people walking through wonderful parks, or on beaches, wearing headphones, and I think, ‘Why on earth would you want to do that?’ Even a bus ride is an opportunity for a writer to listen and observe (discreetly!). The Marches – the borderland between England and Wales - is a special place. So many writers have been moved by it: Thomas Traherne, Machen, A.E. Housman, John Masefield and Bruce Chatwin, to name but a few. It is neither England nor Wales. It is a place somehow on and of its own – as if those countries beside it don’t really exist, or, at best, merely wash upon its shores. My teens were in a village on the edge of a small cathedral city on the English side, though my family has been Welsh for generations.

It remains a rural borderland of farms and woodlands and hills. Machen and Francis Kilvert, the Victorian clergyman whose diary is one of my favourite books, would know it still. And yet there have been pressures . . . changes. I wonder if it isn’t perhaps becoming another ‘Chiantishire’ for the moneyed classes (both English and Welsh). Local wages, particularly in non-public jobs, have tended to be among the lowest in the UK. Services such as transport – the railway in the lovely Golden Valley closed in the 1950s – seem to me (as a bus and rail user) seriously lacking, away from the main towns. Oh that such places might have a drop of the billions in public money being pumped into the proposed new London-Birmingham railway line, known as HS2, and, in the case of communities on the Welsh side, a more meaningful share of what at times seems some very Cardiff-centric investment in Wales.

To my dismay, bats, moths, other insects and birds that I used to encounter all seem to have become depleted in a way that should worry all of us. Salmon seem terribly scarce in rivers that were famous for them. I like to think, unusual and speculative as some of my fiction might now and then seem, that it is also outward-facing and that it speaks, at times, to these serious concerns.

I think the two or three years before I started what for the most part was my senior school, were probably very influential ones for me. I roamed lanes and woods and was aware of country people of a kind who have perhaps become rare.

The weather of that time – notably the drought of 1976 and winters when we were effectively ‘snowed-in’ – certainly left its mark on me. The haunting power of that drought summer shows itself, I suspect, in my story ‘Rain’ in Keyhole .

Although not so very long ago, life was unquestionably different. We’re talking pre-Internet, pre-cell-phone, a time when there were three channels on your tv – if your set was able to receive them. Corona was a pop / soda that came from a factory in Porth, in the Rhondda, in South Wales.

I remember walking on lovely summer evenings through fields with my father, sister and our dog to our nearest pub (my mother enjoying the peace of the house in our absence), and then home again in the gloaming. On Saturdays, I’d catch a country bus into town with my sister to ‘Saturday Morning Pictures’, a show of (mainly old) movies for youngsters at an old-fashioned Odeon theatre.

If all this sounds idyllic, I should perhaps temper it with some more sombre memories. One being my awareness – and fear – at this time of a seriously nasty criminal. His name was Donald Neilson and he was known as ‘The Black Panther’ (nothing to do with politics or ethnicity – Neilson was white, but for the speed with which he moved and the dark clothing that he wore). He was a housebreaker, armed robber, kidnapper and murderer, and he brought terror to the English West Midlands, the territory adjacent to our part of the Marches. My particular fear, as an eight / nine-year-old, arose from the fact that a part of our house had served as the post office for our village. And armed robbery of small post offices was something in which Neilson specialised, violently raiding a large number.

When my parents bought our house, the fact that they had full-time jobs in teaching led to the post office re-locating to our local gas station, which was, in fact, a better place for it to be. But I still feared that Neilson might come one night, and I was relieved when he was caught and jailed (on a whole-life tariff).

I don’t watch much television but recently I had my set on late, tuned by chance to a minor channel. Suddenly, Neilson’s face was there, staring out from the screen, in a documentary about his life and crimes. It was as if The Black Panther, who’d prowled my childhood, was following me still.

I should say also that in these years I saw the destructive power of not only drought, but forces such as Dutch elm disease, which killed a lot of trees. Sometimes you would see a line of them undergoing startling, ugly deaths. I had a growing awareness too of the dangers of pesticides and the pollution of our watercourses.

All these things may go some way to explaining the sense of menace that I’m told can be found in certain of my stories.

AmeriCymru: How would you characterise your creative process? How does the idea for one of your fantastical tales seed itself in your mind?

Matthew: The creative process is one of fusion, in which all kinds of things bump up against one another. The writer Iris Gower said something about it being impossible to teach ‘creativity’, and I suspect she was right (though I think would-be writers can help themselves by doing simple things, like paying attention to the world that surround us). Things like ‘technique’ can be learned, but the creative impulse just happens. Something that occurs in my own case is that an image presents itself in my mind’s eye, which more or less demands to be written about. A physical shiver or tingle sometimes comes with it. Although I don’t wish to sound self-promoting by placing myself in their company, figures such as Vladimir Nabokov, Martin Amis, Stephen King and Mavis Gallant have spoken of something similar (a vision or physical sensation). Flannery O’Connor and Graham Greene spoke of the importance of the unconscious in the writing process, and I agree. Although there have been times when I have consciously developed a story from, say, an anecdote or fact that I’ve heard, that tends to be something that happens fairly rarely. Experts in this field have spoken of something called ‘unbidden perception’ – the impact on the mind of those things that creep into it when our thoughts and actions are elsewhere.

AmeriCymru: If you had to pick one story from this collection for a public reading or similar event, which one would you choose and why?

Matthew: That’s difficult. Although I have done it and will do it, I’m not over-fond of reading (something I’ve written) in public. I’m awkward about the showiness of it, as I suppose many – possibly most – writers are. When I write a story, it’s because I feel a compulsion to write that story, rather than wanting to later read it aloud to people. Above all, perhaps, I want the reader to have a sense of intimacy – the sense that this story is for them alone. I had that when I first read Raymond Carver, a long time ago. Something similar happened with the poetry of Ted Hughes, though I first encountered that in a class situation, so the feeling was a little different.

Having said all of that, we were privileged to launch Keyhole at Dylan Thomas’s home in Swansea – 5 Cwmdonkin Drive – and I did indeed read there, in what had been the Thomas family’s front parlour, which was quite something for me.

The nature of a story tends to tell me how – stylistically – it ought to be written. Sometimes the prose will need to be calm and straightforward, other times language that is perhaps more poetic or elevated will be required. Sometimes you will also want the language to reflect things such as movement, or the character of the protagonist and so on. I tried in the opening of my story ‘The Press’ to find language that would reflect the trot and bob of a boy on a horse and also give an immediate vivid sense of the countryside in which the story is set. The use there of the present tense is deliberate. Elsewhere, the aim of the language in the opening of ‘The Service at Plas Trewe’ is to cast a spell, if you like, in a story about an old Welsh house/hotel and its unlovely ghost. Different again, the language that opens ‘Sand Dancer’ hopefully helps convey the eccentric mind of its main character.

To be honest, I’d sooner have an actor do it (and make a better job), in I think the way Richard Burton did with the work of Dylan Thomas. Realistically, in the definite absence of Burton and the probable absence of Michael Sheen, I suspect I’d ask the audience if they had a request, then talk about the story for a little while, then stand and do my best to deliver.  

AmeriCymru: What's next for Matthew G. Rees? Any new publications planned?

Matthew: At the time of this interview, I’m editing a collection of dark (and, I hope, at times darkly humorous) stories I’ve written, that I hope will see the light before too long. A couple of the tales are set in Wales with others set in England, Russia and America, and also, in places, Scotland and France. I hope they’ll appeal to readers with a taste for Roald Dahl, Walter de la Mare, Algernon Blackwood and, of course, Arthur Machen. More stories and a novel are in the mix. I’ve had a couple of plays performed professionally and would love to do a third when theatres are back in business. Some readers seem to think the kind of writing I do lends itself to audio and even film. Those are things I’d definitely like to explore. Interested parties can get in touch via the email address at my website www.matthewgrees.com

AmeriCymru: Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?

Matthew: Thank you – Diolch yn fawr - for having me! I hope I haven’t rambled on too long. I also hope that anyone who reads my book will enjoy it. It’s available through selected sellers in Wales, London and the USA and via the publishers whose website is www.threeimpostors.co.uk

Anyone wishing to know more about me and my ongoing writing and publications can find information on my website www.matthewgrees.com

Finally, may I wish you all, at this time when our worlds have been turned upside down, good health. Iechyd da!

whererowansintertwinekindle1.jpg AmeriCymru: Margaret and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce your historical novel Where Rowans Intertwine for our readers?

Margaret: Hmm!  Thank you Ceri.  Lovely to ‘be here’ in touch with people who love Wales as I do.  We are now retired to Lincolnshire, but I still have such a strong hiraeth for the beautiful land that nurtured me for 23 years.

Most teachers will know how frenetic full time teaching is and how time consuming.  However, although I had a delightful job running the kindergarten in a small school on Anglesey, I was in for a big shock. Chronic fatigue syndrome along with an exacerbated spinal injury ended my teaching career.  We’ve all heard the maxim, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,’ so, I decided to make the best of things and use my time usefully.  I began to research and write the novel I had always wanted to read.

For me the book needed to be historical, have some sort of magical quality, be spiritually nourishing and of course have an edgy romance.  It would have to answer unsettling questions about the sacred mountain where we lived when bringing up our children on the island of Anglesey.  I was severely disabled, but I needed a raison d’être and new focus.  I grasped the opportunity life afforded and, when I was bedbound, began painstaking research into the period of Romano Celtic history that followed the slaughter of the Druids on the shores of Anglesey (Mona) in North Wales 2000 years ago.

There was something so beautiful and mystical about the sacred mountain of Mynydd Llwydiarth where we lived; with a forest behind us and Snowdonia spread out at our feet.  (It is now a red squirrel sanctuary) When feeling well, I had often roamed the mountain forest behind our cottage and allowed the plants and earth beneath my feet to ‘speak to me’.  Ancient memories seemed to surface from the old rocks.  I became convinced that a Celtic priestess had lived on the site of our house around 2000 years ago.  Her story begged to be told.

When I was able to kneel, I began writing in short bursts, supporting myself on a kneeling stool.  With hands on Reiki healing and medical herbalism I began to regain some measure of strength.  I decided to train as a Reiki healer myself, so that I could manage to take away my own pain.  I found this so useful in gaining empathy with Ceridwen, the main character in the novel.  Like me, at the beginning of her story she is a novice healer.
As my health gradually improved, I was able to spend longer at the writing; but it took me twelve years. Then came the task of finding an agent and a publisher.  It was so frustrating.  Agents and publishers made encouraging noises, but nothing materialized, so I decided to go down the route of self-publishing.  It wasn’t a good idea for a technophobe like myself.  But, with the right support from friends and being able to find a brilliant professional formatter, it finally got published.  It took 24 years from start to finish, but it is now an ebook and is also available in a glossy paperback on Amazon sites.

If you want to know more about the story, here’s the blurb I wrote for Amazon:

‘After the death of her grandmother, young novice priestess and healer, Ceridwen, is faced with the daunting responsibility of ministering to her Celtic tribe at a time when spiritual leadership is most needed.  It is over two hundred years since Roman invaders attempted to annihilate the Druids on the shores of the island of Mona (Anglesey in North Wales).

Is now is the time for healing and forging a future from that hateful carnage?  Is her attraction to a Roman surgeon, Marcus, a weakness, or her destiny?  Dare she allow herself to be drawn into a relationship with him, now that she will be expected to mate at the sacred time of Beltane; and how can she steer her tribe away from its current chieftain, who usurps the nobility of Druid leadership in exchange for a reign of intimidation and terror? Their lives entwine and unfold in the setting of Mynydd Llwydiarth - the sacred mountain on the island of Mona.

Charged with passing the secrets and wisdom of her Druid training down the generations through the female line, she questions why she cannot conceive a girl child.  The true magic she comes to learn, as her life unfolds, is more about love and loyalty than ritual, more about justice than tribe.

Interpreted as an allegory of the era we live in, where there are clashes of both culture and ideals, we can empathise with the process; but, for both Ceridwen and Marcus it is an agonizing spiritual journey of self searching and response to their times.

‘Where Rowans Intertwine’ is an historical novel which will interest those who enjoy a mystical tale, a spiritual quest, and a dip into the past.  It will fascinate those interested in things Celtic, Roman or Pagan, and create an awakening to healing and life purpose.

More details can be found at www.margaretgrantauthor.wordpress.com

So far I’ve been lucky enough to have many five star reviews on all Amazon sites and Goodreads.  I’m now busy doing local book signings in Lincolnshire.  However, at Easter 2016 I managed a long awaited trip to North Wales to do book signings at Caernarfon Castle, The Ucheldre Centre, Holyhead, Oriel Môn, Llangefni and the Bulkeley Arms Hotel, Beaumaris.  It was a great opportunity to sell signed copies of the paperback and meet old friends and new.

AmeriCymru: Do you think that Druidic practices survived the Roman occupation of Ynys Mon? Do you think that more should have been done to preserve those ancient traditions?

Margaret: I met and interviewed people on Anglesey who claimed to have been descendants of Druids. They said that, as Druid teachings went underground during the Roman occupation, the practices of healing, prophesying and conducting the sacred rituals at the festival times fell to the women.  They claimed that the secret sacred teachings were passed down through the female line, emerging today in several formats such as medical herbalism, hands on healing as well as wiccan and pagan rituals.

It would seem to make sense. The Romans knew how politically influential the Druids were to the tribal chiefs and kings of the time.  Destroying their power base was crucial to Roman civilization.  To survive, Druid teachings had to go underground, but we can see echoes of it in Christian rituals at Christmas, Easter and Halloween.  We hear echoes in our folklore, songs and traditions.

The Romans were pragmatic and as long as the Brythonic tribes did not rise in rebellion, the occupied peoples were allowed their old festivals and traditions. As a result many outward forms of Druid practice get mixed up in how we celebrate traditionally today.

In the 18th century there was a fashionable revival and interest in Druidry.  When people started to take an interest in its spirituality during the 19th century we see traditions currently used in the cultural celebrations at national eisteddfodau beginning to be played out. These days the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids – OBOD would claim they have more of a handle on the teachings and run training courses.  Here is a link to an overview of modern day Druidry.


Christian institutions, from the medieval period onwards, played their part all over Europe in persecuting and hunting down ‘heretics’.  Druidry was buried, but its threads were still alive in folklore and folk medicine and even in superstitions.  The other way it survived was through inspiration.  Sensitive people, working with meditation and prayerful energy, are inspired by those gone before.  I was fortunate to be able to link in this way to Ceridwen as she helped me mould the story I was creating.  As I was editing she would often stop me in process and tell me ‘No!…Watch! It was like this!’

AmeriCymru: How easy is it to research the period in which the book is set? To what extent does imagination supplement primary sources?

Margaret: There is much more archeological evidence these days than there was in 1991 when I began my research.  Fortunately according to Professor Alice Roberts, nothing I wrote has been disproved.  No world wide web for me in those days.  I was reliant on books borrowed from Bangor University Library, giving me access to old Roman maps, articles on farming and Welsh culture and law during the Roman occupation. Visits to museums to look at artefacts and visits to the remains of Segontium fortress near Caernarfon made it easier to imagine life in those far off days.

At both Bangor Museum and Oriel Môn, Llangefni I was able to view some of the votive hoard found at Llyn Cerrig Bach during the Second World War.  Now it is housed in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. The fascinating museum at Segontium, where I was fortunate to have the curator all to myself for a whole afternoon, is now not manned; but I believe you can ask for the key at Caernarfon castle if you book in advance with CADW.  Chester Museum and the Deva experience there gave me even more material and a feel for the might of Rome.

The Roman chronicler Tacitus and writers Caesar and Pliny all give accounts of the Roman occupation of Britain, but current historians reckon that there was lots of bias and spin to their stories, proudly recording victory after victory and denouncing the Brythonnic tribes as uncivilized.  Archeology has proved that wrong from the way they wove, fashioned tools, worked with gold, copper and iron, built houses and roads, traded, had supreme horsemanship and farmed the land sympathetically. Their laws were very egalitarian, supportive of family life and their links to the land.

In some ways, even though it took two years of assiduous research, I was relieved that I did not have to pin myself down to too much historic detail.  So much remained a mystery; so I had to rely on a great deal of imagination and stimulus from my muse Ceridwen.

AmeriCymru: Will you be writing more historical novels? Will you be setting future novels in the same place and period?

Margaret: I am 74.  Whilst I can still be a walk leader for Walking For Health and run meditation classes and Reiki classes from our home, I really do not want to tie myself to a computer as it drains me of energy.  I want to be out in my garden tending the herbs or hosting retreats for people who need some peace and quiet in their busy lives.

However, if I ever do become immobile again I will follow up on ‘Where Rowans Intertwine’ with an account of Llew’s life in the same area of Anglesey.  He is Ceridwen’s young son.  I am convinced he was an ancestor of Llywelyn Fawr.  Occasionally when I cannot sleep at night I feel his story calling me…

AmeriCymru: What is your process? Do you write a certain amount each day or do you wait for inspiration?

Margaret: It has always depended on what needs doing as a priority.  During times of struggle with practicalities and pressure from family matters my creative writing has had to take a back seat.  Recently, on becoming a Reiki master (teacher) I wrote my own training manuals.  My writing energy is always better in the mornings, just after the two cups of real coffee I indulge in.  Then, after a domestic tidy, I settle down to write for the rest of the morning.  I might begin with a silly computer game to get my brain stimulated.  Then I will open up my partially written manuscript and read it aloud to myself.  As an ex drama teacher I am looking for dramatic effect and timing as well as typographical errors. I listen to it as though I am a member of its audience.  As I go along I edit.  When I have finished cleaning up what I have previously written, I pause.  Maybe I will have a walk around the garden and smell the beauty, put out the washing, pray and meditate for a few minutes and then get creative.

AmeriCymru: What are you working on at the moment?

Margaret: I am just about to publish a children’s paperback.  I will work on editing an ebook version during the Christmas holidays.  It has been such a wonderful self-indulgent trip down memory lane.  You see I am a cataholic……( No not a Catholic.  My faith is Bahá’í, which means I appreciate each world faith as a significant chapter in the spiritual evolution of humankind.)  I am a great fan of cats.  We have been owned by nine of them during our long family association with felines.  I must have read almost every book that has ever been published about cats.

Mine is called ‘THE NINE LIVES OF TIGGER DIGGER’.  It is based on the true to life story of our latest family moggy, Tiggy.  It’s the tale of how we imagined he got to be dumped on the South Yorkshire moors and had to learn to fend for himself before finding his forever home.

My lovely husband, Gordon, has done the delightful illustrations and both daughter Claire and son Andrew have contributed memories and ideas.  It is suitable for 7-14 year olds to read by themselves, but it will also interest adult cat lovers.  At the back there are discussion questions to accompany each chapter so that parents and teachers can prompt youngsters to think about moral values.

Here is a taste of the draft cover:


AmeriCymru: What are you currently reading? Any recommendations?

Margaret: I’m currently rereading Philippa Gregory’s novel ‘The Constant Princess’ on kindle.  I was lucky enough to visit the Alhambra in Granada two years ago and it is bringing back strong memories of the region.

In paperback I am reading ‘All The Light We Cannot See’, by Anthony Doerr, a fascinating story of a blind teenager in occupied France and a young radio scientist who is singled out to be of great use to the Nazi effort.  This is so atmospheric you have to savour each small vignette as it alternates each character’s story of the same war.  I am half way through and the two main protagonists have not met as yet.

For those of you who love historical novels about Welsh history I recommend the writing of Sharon Kay Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick. Maybe you are already familiar with Sharon’s trilogy about the Welsh Princes:  ‘Here be Dragons’ ,   'Falls The Shadow' ,   ‘The Reckoning’? 

For me, the historical writer par excellence is Elizabeth Chadwick.  I have often observed that with some writers I am especially telepathic and when they begin to outline a character or place, even well before they have furnished a full visual description, I can already see what is in the author’s mind.  I have a very strong connection with her writing.  If you found Wolf Hall more like a PhD thesis than a digestible story then you will prefer Elizabeth’s writing.

There are tantalizing glimpses of Llwyellyn Fawr in ‘The Leopard Unleashed’, part of her Ravenstow Trilogy about the Welsh Marches.

Here is what she says about Garth Celyn, his Welsh stronghold near Aber in North Wales.


AmeriCymru: Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?

Margaret: Keep the hiraeth flowing and the Welsh language safer than houses if you have it.  Value your heritage and treasure the culture, but do not lose sight of the oneness of humanity, from which cauldron we are all born.  Call others to discover the hidden treasures of Wales; her unspoiled and spiritual landscapes; her connection to sea and sky; her ancient wisdoms and her noble saints and seers.  Sing, laugh and be part of an amazing landscape. If you have hiraeth and can make the sacred journey then come to her mountains, valleys and shores. If you cannot travel, then do so in your meditations and dreams. The welcome is always so warm.


AmeriCymru: Hi Sarah and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. What is your Welsh background and how important is it to you?

Sarah: My Welsh ancestry comes through—among others—my umpteenth great grandfather, William Woodbury, who self-identified as a Welshman when he arrived in Salem, Massachusetts in 1628. I am also descended from a host of Morgans, Thomas’, Kemries, Johns, Rhuns etc.  The line I’ve researched most successfully descends from Llywelyn ap Ifor born around 1300.  Six generations later, Sir John Morgan (1448) was knighted. One of my readers kindly researched my ancestry back all the way to Gruffydd ap Cynan, King of Gwynedd, through his grandson, the Lord Rhys (d. 1197), as well as Hywel Dda (d. 950). Woodbury is, of course, a very Saxon name, and those roots lie in Somerset.

We are all a product of the stories we tell about ourselves. I heard growing up that I had Welsh ancestry, but I never knew the extent of it until I started researching. Once I realized the extent of it, I read everything I could get my hands on about medieval Wales—and then began writing novels set in that time. I would say it is pretty important to me! At the same time, I know people with little to know Welsh ancestry who love Wales and Welsh history and culture, so I don’t think it’s a perquisite for becoming interested and involved.

AmeriCymru: How much of a challenge is it to set novels in medieval Wales? Presumably readers are not as well aware of Welsh history as they are of English or Scottish?

Sarah: After I published my first books, I used to say that part of my job was to educate as well as entertain. 1143 Wales is not the Tudors! It is always a balancing act between making the story fun and engaging and not writing either too much history or making medieval Welsh people and their lives so different that they become in accessible to the modern reader. 

Books set in Wales have the additional challenge of having Welsh names and places, which can be inaccessible to a modern English speaker. Some English speakers have a gut negative reaction to the Welsh names that goes back generations and centuries. Some people can’t be helped, but many can be won over by stories that are so compelling they read them anyway—and then find themselves falling in love a little bit with the country and people and coming back for more.

Crouchbackblog.jpg AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little about your latest title - 'Crouchback'?

Sarah: Crouchback is set in the medieval world of 1284, after the Edwardian Conquest and the death of the last native Welsh Prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. At Llywelyn’s death, Wales lost its independence and, after the birth of Edward II in Caernarfon in April 1284, King Edward declared him the new Prince of Wales, ensuring that the titular ruler of Wales from then on would be the son of the English king rather than a Welshman.

Unlike my After Cilmeri series, which is set in an alternate universe where Llywelyn lives, Crouchback is set in the real world, our world, where he does not. 

It’s a pretty dark time for Wales and the Welsh people. 

One of my favorite writing quotes, the provenance of which I am uncertain, says to write a good book, the author needs to give her characters a very bad day and make it worse. In the world of medieval Wales, there was nothing ‘worse’ than the conquest of Wales by King Edward of England. For the two main characters in Crouchback, Catrin and Rhys, their world had, in a very significant way, come to an end. In writing this book, I found myself exploring how a person could have something so terrible happen and still live. 

Which the people of Wales did. They endured and even prospered for over seven hundred years, speaking their language and living their lives as Welsh men and women. 

And thus, Crouchback isn’t about grief, as it turns out, but about hope and perseverance, courage and love—and finding joy in the darkest moments of our lives.

AmeriCymru: You have achieved incredible success writing more than 40 novels and selling over a million books online. What is the secret of your success? What advice would you give to budding authors who wish to self-publish?

Sarah: Amazingly enough, the secret isn’t to write books set in medieval Wales! During the five years my books were rejected by every publisher in New York, I was told over and over that their marketing department couldn’t think how to sell historical mystery/romance/adventure set in Wales. The answer instead, as it turns out, really isn’t a secret. It’s all about producing consistent quality content on a reliable schedule, just like any other job. 

I write a thousand words a day, every day. I work very hard to take criticism well and to seek out people who will tell me the truth about my books before I publish them. I also treat my writing and all that’s associated with it (marketing, publishing etc.) as a business.

But mostly it’s a matter of sitting one’s rear in the chair and writing. Thirteen years of doing that, day in and day out, is bound to produce some books that people want to read!

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about your YouTube series 'Making Sense of Medieval Britain'? What inspired it and how many episodes will it eventually comprise?

Sarah: The Making Sense of Medieval Britain video project began with some ideas that tie into a question you asked earlier about how few people know anything about Wales. I want to write great stories, but many of my readers, once they get into my books, want to know more about the world in which my books are set. The video series is intended to help with that, in three to six minute installments. And because I’m an anthropologist by training, the focus is on the people of Britain, beginning with the Celts, the Romans, the Normans, etc. The last third is focused almost entirely on the Welsh and medieval Wales. By January, we should have 44 videos in the series, which will complete the first ‘season’. 

AmeriCymru: What's next for Sarah Woodbury? Any new titles in the works?

Sarah: Always! Right now, with the release of Crouchback on November 14, I’m working on the latest book in the After Cilmeri series—the one where I change history and Llywelyn lives! It should be out in March.

AmeriCymru: Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?

Sarah: If you do end up reading any of my books or enjoying the video series, I would hope you would reach out to me, either on Facebook or by email. I love meeting people, even remotely, who share my love for Wales!

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