Category: Author Interviews
An Interview With Phil 'Boz' Evans
By Ceri Shaw, 2023-01-24
AmeriCymru: Hi Philip, and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. When did you first start writing? What inspired you to write the many tales of 'everyday' life in Merthyr that have entertained and amused many visitors to this site over the years?
Philip: A) It was around 1967 and my first writing was like the Egyptian hieroglyphics at Tutankhamun’s tomb- unfortunately it was my parent’s new wallpaper in indelible marker pen-it didn’t make any sense to anyone, but I was aged 3 and I am now 54 but I am still not making much sense.
B) The local newspaper – the Merthyr Express (the Depress)- in a backwoods Town (not backwards)- there is very little news worthy items for a reporter to produce- so I created aliases such as Lamby Davis Junior, Sue Ellen Eweing and Colt Seevers to liven up the letters page and parody the news items that were included. The first few got through but then they I was rumbled and my game was up. The local librarian, Carolyn Jacob spotted my ‘talent’ and asked me to write a story for a local book called ‘My Town’ in which professional writer Phil Caradice selected the story ‘Cliffhanger’ about Gerry Mander a disgraced MP, which I had to read out an extract in the Council Chamber- people were in stitches and the genie was out of the bottle . No matter how many times I wish he won’t go back in.
C) Inspiration is everywhere in the Valleys, Welsh people have a distinct black sense of humour- we can laugh at ourselves- something those across the bridge have extracted at birth-we have a we’ve lost until we have won-but once we have won- boy do we enjoy the moment!
AmeriCymru: A quote from one of your recent stories:- "In a recession there is only one growth industry and that is gambling and Merthyr Tydfil had been in recession for over 200 years now." Care to tell us a little more about Merthyr's recent history? Why do you think the town has fared so badly in economic and employment terms?
Philip: Alexander Cordell sums it up in one book title- ‘The Rape of the Fair Country’, Merthyr was exploited by the English Ironmasters and has been a ‘Rotten Borough’ ever since. It has been forgotten by successive Governments in Westminster – with the continual brain drain it has for the last 200 years been in perpetual recession and with capitalists preferring to take their factories and sweatshops to Asia and beyond- there is zero opportunity for the unskilled to find meaningful employment with the inevitable loss of the work ethic. Poor people chase the dream of becoming ‘scratch-card rich’ or idolise reality show ‘stars’ – it is so sad. Although conversely with the loss of heavy industry and the export of it’s unintentional by- product of pollution to China, there are echoes of Wales two Centuries ago- and a new question raises it’s head, How Green IS my Valley?
AmeriCymru: Do you write anything other than comedy? Are there any special difficulties when writing humorous stories? I guess it's essential to be funny at a bare minimum but how does the creative process differ?
Philip: A) Comedy is my bitch. I write for my own pleasure ( I laugh a lot of my own jokes) the purpose is a cathartic and once I have written the story and I have exorcised the demon of stress. Whilst my comedy shorts (not the Don Estelle ones) come and go, once I have written them they are forgotten. More recently (last 5 or so years) I write comedy football match reports on my local Non-League team, Merthyr Town, which I post on the Merthyr Town Fans Forum fortnightly, they rarely reflect the actual game but cheer people up. Opposing Teams have included my match reports in their programmes (the ultimate accolade) or retweet them to their fans- one match report was on a postponed match due to a frozen pitch but few people noticed such was their laughter.
B) Humour is very subjective- I would hate to offend any one person but I don’t agree with political correctness…for something to be funny it must be on the edge, celebrities put themselves in a position to be lampooned….but every celebrity that I have made laugh on Twitter which includes Ricky Gervais, Rob Schneider, Richard E Grant, Warwick Davis and the legendary Reg D Hunter are real good sports.
C) If I can make one person a day smile or forget their troubles then I have won. My readers in the past have complained that people think they are mad reading one of books poolside on holiday- for spontaneously bursting out in laughter- people have referred to my stories as ‘hilarious’ ‘hysterical’ , ‘zany’ and on occasion ‘pure genius’ and ‘criminal’ (Their words, not mine) - I have one even ruined one reader’s kitchen ceiling from her overweight husband reading a book in the bathtub, caused an injury off a sunbed and had a 90 year old Granny lock herself in the bedroom to finish a book in peace.
AmeriCymru: Where do you draw inspiration for the individual stories? Do they spring from overheard conversations, newspaper articles etc or are they simply inspired products of the authorial imagination?
Philip: Like my predecessor the late great Charles Dickens, I am a social commentator- I even pinched his pseudonym ‘Boz’ – he doesn’t need it as he is DEAD- just like Dickens I am a lawyer by profession- the same Dickensian characters exist today – albeit morphed into different people- inspiration comes from colourful characters- we all know them- in our minds eye, we see who we want to see in the leading role- the key is making the story almost believable – that it COULD happen – reading is the ultimate escapism and rich or poor can enjoy it in equal measures- I have been likened in style on more than occasion to Tom Sharpe (In Welsh-Dai Blunt?)- and of course a warped mind is essential.
AmeriCymru: Do you have any favorites amongst your stories or any that you are particularly proud of? If so , which ones.
Philip: The Ex-Files (My Boss gets caught dogging), Mass Murder (A Catholic Priest goes nuts), Chariots on Fire (Millenium Edition) – the only time you are allowed to be legally racist in Wales- the Wales v England Rugby Match-I particularly loved this one as BBC Comedian and genius Boyd Clack of High Hopes & Satellite City Fame did me the honour of reading it aloud in a local Rhymney Brewery public house- the Winchester- just like the beer and the tale he is pure class, - Big Top ( A local disabled child runs away to the circus) , A Knight at the Museum (Rolf Harris’ painting comes alive at Cyfarthfa Castle Art Gallery) and the ‘Raj Quartet’- four stories about the Royal Family – Harry’s Game (Set in Afghanistan) , Stuck Up – a Prince is Born at the Queen Camilla Hospital- The Royal Wee (HM stuck in a lift) and How Very Troll (Twitter gets a Royal Assent)- unlike Sir Rolf or Sir Jimi I am not likely to get a knighthood.
AmeriCymru: How many stories have you written in total and where can the connoisseur go to read them all?
Philip: Last Count 223 complete – one in its embryonic stages- they are only a limited edition- I produce five of each volume purely for close friends- the only places to go will be the Americymru Website and occasionally on the Merthyr Town Fc Fans Forum.
AmeriCymru: Do you have any publications currently available? Do you plan to publish in the future?
Philip: No- I had a free venture with a book called ‘The Hills have Dai’s’ a few years ago – on a ‘vanity’ publishing company based in Austria- it outsold Mein Kampf but it struggled a bit. I plan to publish Volume 45 called ‘Obese City’ for my friends in Wales and the ex-pats across the Pond. Past volumes have reached Italy, Australia and Canada and Rheola market, Neath Car Boot Sale- one day I hope to emulate JRR Hartley – I wonder if Fly Fishing is still an offence.
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?
Philip: In Merthyr, our perceived life expectancy is shorter than Sierra Leone (Source: the Sun newspaper) , if a Tydfilian reaches 50 years of age we get a telegram from the Queen- so the message is don’t buy the Sun ….oh and that life’s too short not to laugh- and thanks to Ceri Shaw and Gaabi on Americymru, the World can now laugh with you.
'The Devil On God's Doorstep' - An Interview with Author Daniel Lyddon
By Ceri Shaw, 2022-09-08
AmeriCymru: Hi Daniel and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce your new book 'The Devil On God's Doorstep' for our readers?
Daniel: Diolch! It's great to be engaging with Americymru - I've been a member of the network for several years and I'm a fan of the way in which you guys engage with and connect the Welsh diaspora in North America with those of us back here in the Land of Our Fathers. The Devil On God's Doorstep is my debut novel - a religious thriller set in Rome and the Vatican about the theft of a religious relic that reignites a decades-old fight for control of the Eternal City. A desperate thief, a cabal of conspiring cardinals, an ailing fortune teller and a fame-hungry journalist clash and collide within the pages, in a story of ambition and accountability that has drawn inevitable comparisons to the work of Dan Brown.
AmeriCymru: The book was twenty years in the making. Why was this?
Daniel: That's a story that's longer than the book itself! I escaped Wales and ran away to Italy when I was nineteen to complete the first draft, and after I returned life sort of got in the way. I fell into the film industry more by accident than design, and never quite made it out again! After two decades of developing and producing short and feature films that have been distributed in the US and Canada, the UK and Europe, across North Africa and the Middle East, it was actually the Covid-19 Pandemic that made me stop and take stock, and provided me with the necessary insight and spare time to see the book through to completion and its eventual publication earlier this summer.
AmeriCymru: You have also started your own publishing company - Gwion Press. What can you tell us about the history of this venture?
Daniel: Press was established out of necessity: I'd been unable to secure a traditional publishing deal in the first few years of writing the book, and technological advancements in the publishing industry during the intervening years made it possible to bypass a lot of the gatekeepers and cut out the middlemen, empowering authors such as myself to self-publish their work. After the last Covid lockdown in Wales, I found myself standing before the window of a bookstore in central Cardiff reflecting on the thought that the Pandemic hadn't prevented people from buying books, despite the shops being shut. Self-publishing, on-demand printing and eBooks have allowed stories to be told the world over that might otherwise never have made it to publication. I started Gwion Press with the aim of making use of these opportunities to tell stories of Welsh origin. The company name and logo are a reference to the boy Gwion Bach, servant to the legendary witch Ceridwen who drank three drops from the Cauldron of Awen - the source of inspiration for Celtic storytelling. Just as Gwion Bach became Taliesin the Bard of Bards, after receiving the gift of Inspiration, Gwion Press aims to develop storytellers and stories of Welsh origin.
AmeriCymru: What are your future plans for Gwion Press?
Daniel: For the immediate future, plans are to formally establish the Company by opening an office in Cardiff Bay and staffing it. In addition to promoting The Devil On God's Doorstep, I'm also readying the next title for Gwion Press: Shakespeare, Hitler and Jesus, a collection of essays from my archive about World Religions, English Literature and European History that will be published mid-September. I then have an anthology of short supernatural horror stories called More Than A Little Scared that will be published the week before Halloween, with my second novel out next March. Beyond my own creative works, I'm also developing a hardback photo book featuring images of historical sites in South Wales taken by an American photographer friend who visited earlier this year. I'm looking forward to working with others to see what stories they want to tell inspired by Wales and its culture.
AmeriCymru: You are also an independent film producer. Care to tell us a little about your involvement with Seraphim Pictures?
Daniel: Sure! Seraphim Pictures was founded in early 2006 after a research and development trip to Hollywood. Our first short film The Things Unsaid earned us our first accreditation by the Cannes Film Festival, and our first feature film, the sci-fi co-production Expiry is currently being distributed in North America by Cinedigm. As for my own involvement, I work heavily on the development and pre-production side of things, and also in sales and distribution of Seraphim Pictures titles. I've recently secured global distribution through Sofy.tv for our short film The Final Punchline, a psychological horror ideal for Halloween viewing. Our next short, The Last Christmas Tree, will be released this December, and in a few weeks' time there'll be an announcement about our next feature co-production filming in Summer 2023.
AmeriCymru: Where can readers purchase a copy of 'The Devil on God's Doorstep`?
Daniel: The Devil On God's Doorstep is currently an Amazon exclusive, available in hardback, paperback, and Kindle eBook formats in multiple countries via this link: The Devil On God's Doorstep
AmeriCymru: What's next for Daniel Lyddon? What are you working on at the moment?
Daniel: An easier question would be to ask what I'm not working on! In addition to everything mentioned above, I have several documentary projects for both film and television in the works - some of which will see me crossing the Atlantic again. The Welsh Cariboo Adventure will film in Canada, and A History Of The Welsh In America will go into production in the US - both in 2023. Beyond my production and publishing work I've also been lucky enough to be involved in the Cardiff-based startup Dewi Sant Catering, which specialises in Cymric Fusion Cuisine - adding a Welsh twist to familiar global dishes. I'm looking forward to seeing how that develops and finding out whether the world is ready for chef Ben Parker's Welsh Lamb Poutine and Bara Brith Cheesecake!
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?
Daniel: Wales and the Welsh have had a huge cultural impact on the world, one we have historically failed to capitalise on. Some 16 of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence were of Welsh descent, as was David Thompson who mapped much of the Canadian border. Wales has a rich shared history with North America which I would encourage people to discover - whether through books, film, television or by other means. As an online community Americymru is a resourceful starting point for anyone wanting to discover more about the ties that bind our respective nations.
Nine Tales From Wales by Jude Johnson: Review & Interview
By Ceri Shaw, 2021-10-21
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.
Sian Bodiau & the Gwiber
Llyn Ar Afanc
The Dragons of Dinas Emrys
Llyn y Fan Fach
Nefyn the Mermaid
Y Tylwyth Teg [Faeries]
The Faerie Bride
The House With the Front Door at the Back
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".
The Bloodmoon Prohecy - A Novel of the Silures - Interview With Author Bee Richards
By Ceri Shaw, 2021-06-03
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.
Circling The Square - An Interview with Author David Jones
By Ceri Shaw, 2020-11-26
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.
An Interview with Welsh Author Brian Jarman
By Ceri Shaw, 2020-11-11
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)."
READ MORE HERE
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.
The Welsh Tattoo Handbook - An Interview With Authors Rob & Meagan Davis
By Ceri Shaw, 2020-11-09
(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
A New Mabinogion: An Interview With Children's Laureate Wales, Eloise Williams
By Ceri Shaw, 2020-09-11
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.
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!
The Poet And The Pandemic: An Interview With Paul Steffan Jones
By Ceri Shaw, 2020-06-30
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.
Keyhole - An Interview With Welsh Author Matthew G. Rees
By Ceri Shaw, 2020-05-11
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!