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By AmeriCymru, 2018-07-27

more_welsh_lives.jpgMeic Stephens’ last book, More Welsh Lives, was published only a few days before the author himself died.

Eirian Jones, English-language editor at Y Lolfa, said:

“It is sad and ironic that Wales’ best known obituarist has himself died but knowing Meic was unwell, we made a special effort to ensure he was happy with the proofs and was able to receive a copy of the book -- his final one of so many.”

More Welsh Lives is his third collection of obituary notices published originally in The Independent and profiles a wide variety of prominent Welshmen and women including politician Rhodri Morgan, poet Nigel Jenkins, broadcaster David Parry-Jones and artists Aneurin Jones and Gwilym Pritchard.

Robat Gruffudd, founder of Y Lolfa and friend of Meic at Bangor University, said:

“Meic himself made at least as distinguished a contribution to Welsh life as any of those he wrote about. It is hard to believe that someone as proactive and productive is with us no more. He was a nationalist in the best sense. Although a Welsh learner, he practically led the first, historic language protest at Trefechan Bridge and then gave his country many decades of generous service as author, editor, poet, arts administrator, academic and of course obituarist.

“Only somebody with an intimate knowledge of Welsh life, and a fluent mastery of English, could have written such readable and sympathetic obituaries. In celebrating Welsh lives, the book also celebrates Wales.”

Y Lolfa has also published Meic Stephens’ autobiography, Cofnodion (in Welsh) (2012) and My Shoulder to the Wheel (in English) (2015).

More Welsh Lives by Meic Stephens is available now (£9.99, Y Lolfa).


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glyndwr_dragon_breathes_fire.jpgThe final instalment of a trilogy which tells the tantalising story of the final years of Glyndŵr's rebellion is published this week.

Glyndŵr: Dragon Breathes Fire by the late Moelwyn Jones is an imaginary novel based on the real life battles of Owain Glyndŵr, and follows Glyndŵr: Son of Prophecy published in 2016 and Glyndŵr: To Arms! published in 2017.

Moelwyn Jones started his career as a Welsh and History teacher, and was particularly interested in the life of his hero Owain Glyndŵr, which he researched thoroughly for the trilogy. Sadly, Moelwyn passed away before the publication of the series. His widow Delyth has ensured that the trilogy was published and has kept to the wishes of her late husband.

The third instalment is published in time for the National Eisteddfod of Wales, which is in Cardiff this year.

“It would have meant a lot to Moelwyn that the final book is out for the Eisteddfod – I’m very pleased,” said Delyth.

Glyndŵr: Dragon Breathes Fire sees Wales united under one flag - with a Senedd in Machynlleth and the long-held dream of a nation almost a reality. Strengthened by the support of the French king and an alliance with the English forces of Henry Hotspur (Sir Henry Percy), Owain Glyndŵr can legitimately claim the title of Prince of Wales. However, fate intervenes and his rebellion which sees the prophecy of a saviour who would one day free Wales is fulfilled, albeit all too briefly.

Glyndŵr: Son of Prophecy was selected as Book of the Month by the Welsh Books Council in November 2016 and both novels have received high praise and acclaim for their portrayal of the life of Wales' revolutionary hero Owain Glyndŵr.

Author Moelwyn Jones was raised in Bancffosfelen, Carmarthenshire, and had a career as a Welsh and History teacher in Cardiff before joining the BBC as an Information Officer. He was then appointed Head of Public Relations for Wales and the Marches Postal Board and following his retirement worked in the Welsh Assembly.

Glyndŵr: Dragon Breathes Fire by Moelwyn Jones (£8.99, Y Lolfa) is available now.

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Gareth Thomas author of 'I Iolo'

AmeriCymru: Hi Gareth and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce your book 'I Iolo' for our readers?

Gareth: It is a historically accurate, creative re-imaging of the life of Iolo Morganwg covering the most significant years of his life from his boyhood to 1798. It is written in the first person present tense with the aim of re-living the thought processes that led him through his stunningly eventful life. Although it contains a lot of history it is not a history book. It is a novel intended to entertain and inform. It shapes, interprets, fills gaps with conjecture and occasionally invents minor characters in order to assist the narrative. By venturing into areas of imagining denied to the academic historian I hope that I can take the reader closer to the truth, into the mind of a uniquely complex fascinating man.

AmeriCymru: Why write it?

Gareth: Iolo is a character of whom most Welsh people have heard, but of whom they know little, apart perhaps from the whisper that he forged things and had something to do with the Eisteddfod. I became entranced with the character and amazed by the story of his life. He lived at the turn of the C18th amidst what he described as the unparalleled eventfulness of this age’. From a small village in the Vale of Glamorgan he made a place for himself in the centre of the political and cultural turbulence that followed the American War of Independence and the French Revolution. There are many books about him but they are nearly all academic in nature or in Welsh which limits the readership. I,Iolo is intended to be entertaining, accessible and informative – a good read.

There’s another reason too. I write a lot about the nature of identity: personal, community or national and how individuals define themselves through their membership of all sorts of groups. Most people in Wales live with the tension between two languages and two or more identities. This is in itself neither good nor bad. It can be a source of great creativity. It also forces individuals to think about who they are and where they belong. Iolo was a man who re-invented himself repeatedly throughout his life in a search for identity, changing his name from Edward to Ned to Iorwerth to Iorwerth Gwilym and finally to Iolo as well as using a myriad of inventive pen-names. He changed his public persona and even re-wrote his own history on several occasions. This quest is mirrored in the way he worked to helped forge the identity of modern Wales.

AmeriCymru: Why did you choose to end the book in 1798?

Gareth: Chiefly to give the book shape and keep the length within reasonable bounds. There are so many different aspects to his life and so much surviving material that the book could easily have been three times as long. It was essential to choose incidents that told the story and events that conveyed the vitality, passion and endless talents of the man as well as his impetuosity and naivety. Ending in 1798 allowed me to shape a narrative that explained the creation of the Gorsedd in its political and cultural context. There’s a lot I had to leave out.


AmeriCymru: How do you think history should regard Iolo Morganwg? Hero or villain?

Gareth: Not sure I believe in heroes or villains. Iolo is a great subject for a novel because his mental processes are so complex as to defy simple judgements. But the fact that you ask the question is significant. Certainly since his death Iolo has been portrayed as everything from a saint to a scoundrel. For example, in the middle of the C19th the political aspects of his life were carefully ignored and his life was praised as a shining example of Welsh scholarly self-sacrifice. Sixty years later he was vilified after the discovery of his historical creations – I refuse to call them forgeries - by academics such as Sir John Morris-Jones who were horrified to learn that some of the poems of Dafydd ap Gwilym they had been praising and analysing with their students were in fact the work of Iolo. The heat of John Morris-Jones’ anger ignited a fire that blackened Iolo’s name for decades.

In the last twenty years we have seen a long overdue re-appraisal chiefly through the work of Professors Geraint H Jenkins and Mary-Ann Constantine of the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies in Aberystwyth. They have succeeded in bringing some order to his vast archive and returning Iolo to his rightful context as a political figure who did so much to shape the character and institutions of modern Wales.

AmeriCymru: So how important was Iolo's role in the development of modern Welsh culture and national awareness?

Gareth: Incalculable. If we just take the creation of the Gorsedd, which is central to my novel, this changed the nature of the Eisteddfod from being a literary and musical competition into the annual national convention of Wales and the Welsh, our first truly national institution. The Gorsedd philosophy encompassed all aspects of Welsh life: science, theology, agriculture, art and politics. In Cysgod y Cryman by Islwyn Ffowc Elis written in the 1950s the main character, Harri Vaughan describes visiting the National Eisteddfod, not for the poetry but because ‘ there the heart of our nation beats strongest: the enchantment of a capital city’. The Eisteddfod had provided the forum where Welsh issues were fiercely debated, initiatives launched and organisations founded. The founding of the National Library and the Universities were plotted in meetings on the Maes as were important new organisations such as Urdd Gobaith Cymru and Cymdeithas Yr Iaith. It is still the case that the Eisteddfod Maes is a self-sustaining cockpit of heated debates and informed lectures on the issues facing Wales.

Then there’s the ritual of the Gorsedd. Wales has little ceremonial and perhaps for that reason alone the Gorsedd is hugely popular. For the last two years I have failed to win a seat for either the Crowning or the Chairing. Queues reach round the pavilion. I doubt if most of those attending are thinking or even aware of its origins as Iolo’s celebration of international brotherhood, world peace and the rights of mankind. For most it is a powerful way to celebrate their identity and the common bond between those who love Wales and its heritage.

I could also talk of the role of Iolo as a political figure who placed Wales very firmly in a modern European Context and gave voice to the values of the enlightenment. He undoubtedly contributed to the radical tradition in Welsh politics.

We could also discuss the way he gave pride, confidence and literary ammunition by which the Welsh intelligentsia defended their culture in the difficult years of the C19th. He and his writings became the major weapon by which whose who spoke for Wales defended its reputation against the tide of anti- Welsh sentiment exemplified by the ‘Treason the of Blue Books.’ T.E. Ellis the famous Liberal Member of Parliament described Iolo’s writings as his best means of convincing ‘sceptical English friends of the vitality of the Cymric language and literature.’

AmeriCymru: What was the full extent of his forgeries? You mention the fake Dafydd ap Gwilym poems in the book but wasn't there much more?

Gareth: I don’t use the word ‘forgeries’ in Iolo’s context. To me a forger is one who deceives others for personal gain. Whatever Iolo’s motives were, person enrichment was not amongst them. One of the enigmas surrounding him is why a talented, penniless young poet, in any age when it was possible to earn good money by writing verse, should hide his best work under the identities of long dead medieval bards? Certainly not profit.

It is important to remember the period in which he was writing and his own background. Wales was only just coming to terms with the printing press. Collectors of ancient verse would visit private collections in the libraries of great mansions to copy manuscripts by hand. It was quite common for transcribers, as Iolo himself put it ‘to curtail, to amplify, to interpolate and to alter’ when they perceived inadequacies in the originals. For that reason amongst others it is sometimes difficult, even for forensic academics to know what is ‘genuine’ and what is an ‘improvement’.

Certainly it is wrong to think of Iolo as primarily a faker. The majority of his writing was based on hard won research. The academic who did the most work to unmask the true nature of Iolo’s creations, Professor G.J. Williams, noted that to have produced his inventions Iolo had to achieve a depth of knowledge and width of understanding of medieval Welsh poetry never again equalled academically until the C20th. Amazing for a man with no formal education.

As well as the Dafydd ap Gwilym poems my novel describes the time in gaol in Cardiff when he composed Secrets of the Bards of the Isles of Britain, a creation which prepared the ground for the ceremonies of the Gorsedd and revised the restrictive metrical rules that had governed the work of the bards for centuries. To support this pure invention he wrote poetic testament which he attributed to a series of minor bards from various epochs from the C12th century onwards providing ‘evidence’ in support of his creation. Each work was written in the style of the bard’s own time. He created the myth and then created the proof. In the book I have him imagining and keeping company with these long dead bards whilst they dictated their verses for him to transcribe.

Perhaps his most significant other ‘creation’ occurred in the period not covered by my novel when Iolo was commissioned by his sponsor Owain Myfyr, the wealthy London Welsh furrier, to collect lost poetry of the C13th from the ancient but often decaying libraries of great houses such as Hafod near Aberystwyth and Hengwrt near Dolgellau. This Iolo did on a long and exhausting tour of north Wales but it appears that he was dismayed by his discoveries. The verses portrayed the ancient princes as bloodthirsty, quarrelsome and warlike. These accounts ran counter to the vision of Welsh civilisation Iolo wished to create which portrayed a society dedicated to peaceful cooperation and the rule of reason. Accordingly the genuine discoveries were inexplicably mislaid and lost in transit, supposedly in a carrier’s depot in Bristol. His sponsor was deeply frustrated at this delay to the publication of his planned collection of Welsh verse, The Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales. Iolo filled the gap by providing an extensive collection of ancient triads. Triads are short wise statements on religion, society, art and human nature. They were a genuine part of the bardic heritage originally passed on as part of the oral tradition and first written down in the C13th. Those Iolo contributed included much that was ancient but also larger amounts composed by himself in the same style to express republican and progressive values which owed more to Rousseau than the ancient bards of Wales. For example,

Tri dyn a fynnant fyw ar eiddo arall: brenin, offeiriad a lleidr.’

(Three men who live on the property of others: a king, a priest and a thief)

Iolo also provided much additional created material for the Myvyrian Archaiology particularly accounts that established his beloved Glamorgan as the most important centre of the bardic tradition.

AmeriCymru: You have read more of Iolo's work than most. How would you rate his literary talent?

Gareth: It is now not the primary reason he is remembered but in his time the work he produced over his own name was greatly admired. His ‘creations’ in the style of Dafydd ap Gwilym remained more popular than the genuine article until his unmaking in the C20th.

Professor Ceri Lewis in his authoritative evaluation of Iolo’s poetry suggests that he was often hindered by his own extraordinary cleverness. Much of his verse in English is over complicated by his attempts to deploy Welsh metrical forms in another language. Personally my favourite pieces by him are his simplest lyric poetry, love songs and ballads in praise of his Glamorgan and his darling Peggy. These are enchanting.

AmeriCymru: You have also written a novel. Care to tell us a little about 'A Welsh Dawn'?

Gareth: A Welsh Dawn is set in the Wales of the late 1950s – a time of political and cultural confusion memorably described by Rhodri Morgan as ‘the wild west period of Welsh politics’. I dramatise the period as faithfully as possible: the intrigues of Welsh politicians, the manoeuvring of Downing Street and the machinations of civil service mandarins. This is the backdrop before which the main characters of the novel, Gwen and Ifan, their families and neighbours, live their lives and make their choices. One reviewer described it as ‘A beautifully developed story of emerging identity, both personal and national.’ More details are available on its dedicated web site

AmeriCymru: Where can readers purchase 'I Iolo' online?

Gareth: From the publishers Y Lolfa at or by Googling Amazon or other on-line retailer. It is distributed in the USA by Dufour Editions and is available in Welsh and English language versions. There are also some free worksheets for advanced learners of Welsh which can be downloaded free from

AmeriCymru: What's next for Gareth Thomas?

Gareth: I am just completing ‘Beyond the Volga River’ the story of a young Polish woman forcibly displaced from her home in eastern Poland by the Russian invasion of 1940 and her subsequent struggle for survival. She endures a Siberian labour camp, a trek through the Middle East before becoming a truck driver in the Polish Anders Army during the Italian Campaign, eventually ending up as a refugee in London. Crucially, the narrative is interspersed with the stories, 50 years later, of her three UK born children and the effect their parents’ experience and Polish heritage had on their lives. It is hopefully resonant of contemporary problems faced by the families of refugees. As yet the book has no publisher so if any agent wants to get in touch………

AmeriCymru: Any chance of a sequel to 'I Iolo' covering the last 28 years of his life?

Gareth: That’s a real possibility, depending on the demand for the first book. There’s certainly enough material.

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

Gareth: Thank you for valuing your Welsh identity and for flying the Dragon banner on the other side of the Atlantic. I so value the creativity that comes from the meeting of cultures that you represent. That is one reason I have come to admire the multi-cultural vitality of American society. It is so good to know that ‘Welsh-American’ is a title proudly carried and one that is capable of inspiring afresh. I was greatly impressed by a talk in the Eisteddfod last year on the Welsh influence on the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Although he was born in Wisconsin and never visited Wales until an old man, it was his mother’s descriptions of cottages in the landscape of Ceredigion that led to his ideas that architecture should be organic and at one with the landscape. He could not have achieved this without his Wisconsin and his Ceredigion heritage.

Hir oes i’r Cymry Americanaidd!



barrie_doyle.jpgBorn in Wales, Barrie is a former journalist, public relations consultant, college professor, broadcaster and freelance writer. He served with major publications in Canada and the United States before sharing his media expertise as a consultant, training corporate executives and Christian ministry leaders. Barrie trained many budding public relations professionals as a professor at one of Canada’s most prestigious media studies programmes in Toronto. He has lived in Virginia, California and Pennsylvania as well as Great Britain and Canada where he now lives on the beautiful blue water shores of Georgian Bay in Ontario.

He is an enthusiastic traveller, constantly thinking how to bring his latest travel discovery to life as a location in his next story. From Venice to Istanbul and many parts of Western Europe, he has also explored most corners of the United States. Many of these places will become prominent in the three books of theOak Grove Conspiracies.  Apart from travel his eclectic range of interests varies from history and politics to theology and bagpipes and transportation to hockey. AmeriCymru spoke to Barrie about the 'Oak Grove Conspiracies' and his future writing plans.




AmeriCymru:  Hi Barrie and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. What is your connection with Wales?

Barrie:  I was born in Maesteg, a small town in the Llynfi Valley of South Wales. It’s about nine miles up the valley from Bridgend and only 30 (give or take) miles from either Cardiff or Swansea. I left when I was 10 years old (taking my family with me, of course) and emigrated to Canada where I went to school, to university and then began my career. But I have been back many times since, visiting family. In both 2015 and 2017 though, I rented a flat in the seaside resort of Porthcawl for three months during which time I researched and wrote both The Lucifer Scroll and The Prince Madoc Secret. It gave me a base from which to go to places I wanted to use for settings in the books as well as to re-absorb the atmosphere and ambience. Oh yes, and the weather! During that time, we also welcomed Canadian friends and were able to show them Wales, something they’d never considered before the books. I hope to do the same again soon and am in the process of working with a tour agency to develop a specialized tour of Wales highlighting the places or prototypes for settings in the book. I never get tired of being in Wales.

AmeriCymru:  You have not always been a writer. When did you decide to take up the pen?

Barrie: In a sense, I always have been a writer. I studied journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto and began my career as a journalist with the Toronto Star. I have also worked for publications in the US and freelanced for American and British publications. I was based in Washington DC. I returned to Canada and modified things slightly by becoming a public relations executive for a number of major organizations and corporations, finally opening my own agency. During that time I was invited to become an adjunct professor in the School of Media Studies in the prestigious Public Relations Certificate at Humber College in Toronto. This was largely a post-grad course and I now have former students successfully pursuing careers in the US, Canada, UK, Australia and other parts of the globe. After years of telling other peoples’ stories and fiddling around a bit with fiction, I finally took the plunge and began to write the stories I wanted to tell, when I produced my first book, The Excalibur Parchment.

AmeriCymru:  Care to introduce your latest novel 'The Prince Madoc Secret' for our readers?

Barrie: I have always been fascinated by history—particularly Welsh history—and interested in legends (which I believe contain nuggets of truth and reality). As I was writing my first book, I came across the story of Prince Madoc, son of King Owen of Gwynedd and the legend of how he travelled across the Atlantic to Mobile Bay, Alabama some 300 years before Columbus, before vanishing into the mists of time. I was intrigued to find out that the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a plaque at Fort Morgan at the entrance to the bay, recognizing Madoc’s arrival. Further, there are stories of Welsh-speaking indigenous tribes in the American interior; so many that the Lewis-Clarke expedition was mandated to find them. It was enough for me. I began to research Madoc more thoroughly and consider a way in which his voyage in 1170 might have deadly implications for the modern world as it ties into the heroes and villains I had created in the first two books. I needed something that would make Madoc’s trip the focus of a 21st century quest. As I said, I love history. And I love to play with it when I am writing fiction, turning the tables and going against the “accepted viewpoint” so to speak. Thus, in the first book Merlin is cast as a baddie. In “The Prince Madoc Secret” I turned the table on the Knights Templar who are most often cast as criminals and murderers. Instead, I made them good guys fulfilling their ancient mandate of protecting the church. That leads to both the 12th century Templars and a modern incarnation of Templars, playing a crucial role in the book. What secret did Madoc take to America with him? What impact does it have on the modern day? How will our 21st century heroes and villains discover the secret and what will they do with it? It is a stand-alone story and can be read without having first enjoyed the other two. However, the main characters and themes appear in all the books.

AmeriCymru:  'The Prince Madoc Secret' is the latest instalment in the 'Oak Grove Conspiracies' series. What can you tell us about the series as a whole?

Barrie: I was tired of reading novels that had basically the same cast of villains: Nazis, neo Nazis, Soviet or post-Soviet operatives or criminals, corrupt businessmen, politicians or church leaders and so on. I wanted a new, particularly nasty, set of baddies. So I went back to the legends about the Druids—making sure I differentiated them from the current embodiment of the term—and utilized their penchant for human sacrifice and the like to create a new brand of zealous, vicious, power-mad terrorists bent on twisting the world to their perverted sense of governing. My Druids worship the supernatural and have their own rituals and places, including sacred oak groves—which gave me the series name. Basically, historical events provide the impetus for cataclysmic clashes. In book one, Arthur’s sword Excalibur was never thrown into the lake but rather, was preserved for future generations and protected by a small abbey in Wales. From a 14th century Welsh abbey to a climax near Carreg Cennan in Carmarthen, the story progresses. My Druids believe it has supernatural power and covet it for their own push to seize power in the western democracies. A Welsh professor and an American journalist get drawn into the miry swamp reluctantly and seek to thwart the Druid plots. While a lot of the book is set in Wales, it also ranges from Venice to London to Washington and Canada. In the second book, the Spear of Destiny (also called The Holy Lance) is the legendary Roman centurion’s spear that was thrust into Christ’s side on the cross. Charlemagne, Napoleon and Hitler (among others) all believed that it would give unworldly power and that who owned the lance would control the world. Hitler and Heinrich Himmler spend much of the war seeking the lance and, eventually, creating a fraud while the real one was spirited away in a U boat along with other treasures in the last days of the war. That was the basis for the story in which the Druids are also aware that the real lance never disappeared in a sunken U boat, nor was it on display at the Vatican or in Vienna as a modern day exhibit. Again, the journalist and professor are drawn in reluctantly and this time the story ranges from Wales to Istanbul and across the southwest United States among other places. In each of the book, I try to explore the conflict of ordinary people struggling to do extraordinary things while doubting in their own strength and yet forging ahead regardless. I believe that history is changed not by the mighty leaders, but by individuals going above and beyond themselves in order to do the right thing and the books reflect that.

AmeriCymru:  Are there any further episodes in the pipeline?

Barrie: I had originally planned one book. Then my publisher pushed me to make it a trilogy. Now my fans are demanding a fourth, believing there may be a few loose threads.. So we’ll see.

AmeriCymru:  Your plots are fantastically complex. How do you construct them? What is your process?

Barrie: When I was a reporter I once interviewed a famous author who told me the plot was conceived by the characters and that he merely wrote it down. I thought “yeah, right” and dismissed him as a whacko. Well, guess who joined the whacko club! I start with a vague thought in my head about where the story starts and equally vague ideas about how and where the story will end. Then I start writing. I do not outline, I just start writing. It is done in fits and starts. I struggle at times with “where am I going with this?” and then realize that my characters are telling their story; I listen to them. I think about them and how—as I have created them—they would react to the twists and turns of the plot. I let my bad guys tell me what awful things they plan and I listen to my good guys as they face the crisis and try to stop it. It sounds simplistic and silly (see my comment above) but in fact it is a very time-consuming, worrying, difficult way of writing. Outlining, like JK Rowling does, is probably a lot easier. But there are times my characters have come up with plot twists that make it just as exciting for me as for any reader, because I am experiencing them at the moment they occur just as a reader does.

AmeriCymru:  Where can readers purchase your novels online?

Barrie:  They can be purchased on the Amazon platforms, Barnes and Noble in the US, Chapters/Indigo in Canada and Waterstones in the UK. More importantly they can be purchased online directly from AmeriCymru I believe. If people want a signed or personalized copy they can go to my website and shop there.

AmeriCymru:  Who do you read for pleasure? Any recommendations?

Barrie: I am an eclectic reader, enjoying both fiction and non-fiction. I love history, as I said, but I also like science fiction, thrillers, and mysteries among the genres. Every year I try to read one of Tolkien’s magnificent works and am currently working on The Return of the King. I love Ken Follet and Tom Clancy and am flattered that a number of reviewers and fans have compared my work to those giants.

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

Barrie: Wales is a magnificent country. It’s rich heritage, landscape, history and legends make it a unique place in all the world. I am proud to be Welsh. I believe there are so many stories emanating from Wales that would make tremendous stories and they’re just waiting to be told. I challenge people to consider writing these stories. Fiction allows one to delve into the nation’s psyche and history in a way non-fiction cannot. I would love to write—or read—about Owain Glyndwr, or the magnificent King Hwyl, or St. David, or Llewellyn or any others, famous or not, who dot the tapestry that is Wales. Many stories to be told, so few doing it.



AmeriCymru:  What can you tell us about the history of the Malad Valley? What is the Welsh connection?

Jean:  Malad Valley was named by Donald McKenzie and a group of French trappers who camped along the Malad River in the early 1800s and became very ill from drinking the water. Hence, they named the area “Malad” or “sick” in French. (They probably ate the poisonous water parsnips, but the water is pretty alkali and would taste bad.)

Malad was founded in 1864 by Henry Peck and his sons, who had a contract with the Wells Fargo Freight Company to provide wild hay for the teams of horses taking goods to the Montana gold and silver mines and coming back with gold and silver. They brought their families and several other Welsh settlers to the Malad Valley the next year.

By 1868 several other Welsh Mormon families arrived in the Malad Valley, settling Malad City, St. John, and Samaria. They had been converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Wales and were encouraged to “gather to Zion,” which was the Salt Lake Valley. Considering that the English had usurped all the farms and mines, the attraction of free land under the Homestead Act was certainly a draw, too.
Hundreds of Welsh Mormons came north, stopping first in Willard, Utah, and then coming to the Malad Valley, which in the spring reminded them of their homeland.

Several years ago, researchers at Brigham Young University, beginning DNA research to trace ancient peoples, selected Malad as a starting point for their research because there were more descendants of Welsh ancestry in Malad than anywhere else in the world outside of Wales. They drew blood from hundreds of people in Malad and began their DNA research. That preliminary research eventually was sold several times and expanded to become some of the DNA-based genealogy companies today.

AmeriCymru:  What is the history of the event? When was the first Malad Valley Welsh Festival held?

Jean:  The Welsh pioneers brought their music and poetry traditions with them, and an eisteddfod started in the 1880s with competitions in choral music, vocal solos and ensembles, dance, and all types of poetry. The eisteddfod was held one year in Malad and the next year in St. John with judges coming from as far away as Salt Lake City. The eisteddfod lasted until the beginning of World War I.

People in Malad had talked for years of starting a Welsh Festival, but it finally became a reality in 2005 when the first Festival was held. A committee of 20 citizens interested in promoting and celebrating the Welsh heritage of Malad Valley planned and organized the first Welsh Festival in about six months. That first Festival attracted about 500 people. This year is the 14th annual Malad Valley Welsh Festival.

AmeriCymru:  A tremendous amount of work goes into organizing an event like this. When do you start planning and organizing the Festival? How many people are involved?

Jean:  After the first couple of years, the core committee members knew what worked and what did not although every year we introduce new activities and events. The next year’s Festival is already partly planned when the current year’s Festival is underway because we get names and suggestions for presenters, musical groups, etc., that we can’t use in the current year but that may be asked to participate in a following year. Everyone takes a month off to breathe after the Festival is over, and then plans get started for the next year with confirming presenters, musicians, etc.

We operate with a chair, co-chair, secretary, and treasurer and 26 committee chairs. The size of committees ranges from 1 – 20 members. In addition, many volunteers are involved as hosts and hostesses, drivers, guides, and judges. Last year approximately 200 people were involved in some way with putting on the Festival, including operating vendor booths.

AmeriCymru:  What’s on the agenda for this year’s Festival? Any particular events you wish to highlight?

Jean:  Our presentations are always featured. One presenter this year is Carla Kelly, an award-winning novelist, who will talk about writing her sequel to “My Loving Vigil Keeping,” the story of the Scofield (Utah) mine disaster in 1900 that killed over 200 Welsh and Finnish miners. The other presentation will be on traveling in Wales with anecdotes and pictures of places in Wales. To go along with that presentation, we will display “A Walk Through Wales” with huge banners with pictures of castles, landscapes, and other sites in Wales. Last year we started our poetry competitions – one for youths and one for adults. The crowning of the youth “Bards” after they read/recite their original poems will again be featured. The adult “Bard of the Welsh Festival” will be “chaired” in a beautiful Welsh Festival chair and will preside over the finale event and next year’s Festival. For the first time, we are having an introductory event when the Bard from the Festival last year will walk in, preceded by a “knight” and Welsh dancers. In addition, we have all-day Celtic music on the outdoor amphitheater plus three indoor concerts: a choral concert, a youth concert, and a piano ensemble concert. Kids’ activities, games played by the pioneers, wagon rides along historic routes, a quilt show and bake sale, tours of the historic 136-year-old Presbyterian Church, and community meals will provide fun for everyone. In addition, to celebrate its sesquicentennial, Samaria (a small town 6 miles southeast of Malad) will host several events, including tours of pioneer-era cabins, displays about Welsh pioneers coming to Malad Valley, a Welsh children’s farm, and other exhibits.

AmeriCymru:  You are featuring a presentation on traditional Welsh dance by Laraine Miner. Care to tell us a little more about this?

Jean:  Yes, Laraine Miner will be one of the outdoor presenters on the amphitheater. She will talk about traditional Welsh dances and use local students to demonstrate the dances. The students learned the dances during summer school and are excited to show what they have learned. Laraine is from Idaho Falls and is a well-known folk dance instructor and performer. We are excited that she is able to come to the Festival this year.

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

Jean:  We are celebrating both our Welsh and pioneer heritage, which are intertwined for most long-time Malad residents. It is not an eisteddfod, but music and poetry are highlighted. We are proud of our pioneer heritage and want those early settlers and their struggles to survive drought, blizzards, grasshoppers, illness, and barren, sagebrush-covered land to be honored and remembered. Malad Valley did not end up being very much like their beloved Wales, but they persevered, and we are the products of their Welsh work ethic and stubbornness.

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Planet: The Welsh Internationalist
is a quarterly cultural and political magazine published in Aberystwyth, Wales. It looks at Wales from an international perspective, and at the world from the standpoint of Wales. The magazine enjoys a vibrant and diverse international readership, and is read by key figures in the Welsh political cultural scene.


It was a great pleasure to receive the latest issue of Planet in my mailbox recently. For any of our readers who are unfamiliar with the magazine, it was originally published by Ned Thomas in 1970 and has been in continuous publication since 1979. There is much more to learn about its' history and current mission on the magazine's website, here:- History of Planet.

The theme of the current edition (Summer 2018) is explored in an editorial by Emily Trahair. How does a small nation like Wales cope with the "....ruinous effects of unregulated tourism"?

With the coming of summer millions around the globe are planning vacations in far away places and in many cases, the further away the better. Our natural desire to visit exotic and isolated locations puts these communities under stress and over time transforms them into the very same kind of tourist 'honeypot' that we were concerned to avoid in the first place. This is particularly the case in Wales where locals are priced out of the housing market and Welsh speaking communities are disappearing altogether in the face of the second home, Airbnb onslaught.

In the course of her article Emily offers an extremely interesting idea which must surely be of interest to some budding web entrepreneur?

"It would be brilliant if a radical alternative to TripAdvisor could be developed: an online database of hotels, restaurants, bars and attractions in Wales.....which were owned and run by local people, employed local people at a living wage.....and reached a standard of cultural and linguistic respect for the neighbouring inhabitants."

Expanding on this theme Helen Sandler recounts her recent vacation experiences in Venice and Kreuzberg (Berlin), two continental destinations which are under siege by international tourists. Whilst noting that the local communities are fighting back against the pernicious effects of unregulated tourism in these two cities she goes on to quote some disturbing statistics from closer to home.

"According to the Daily Post, Gwynedd has the highest number of second homes in the U.K. They constitute a whopping 27% of recent sales, against a 2% national average. Local people are priced out of buying in the county and there is insufficient rental stock."

But there is much more between the covers of the current issue. In a series entitled 'Reading Between The Lines: Responses to Wales's Rail Network', Menna Elfyn offers a fascinating, impressionistic account of a recent trip from Carmarthen to Pembroke Dock. She roundly excoriates Dr Beeching in the following terms:-

"Ah Beeching. Was there ever one who made more of a black mark on the landscape of Wales? I wonder sometimes whether Beeching had a child's railway set in his London office to play with before he decided to shatter the railways of Wales into pieces? Did he know how difficult it would be for the Welsh of the north to come and visit their fellow compatriots in the south? Or was it a perverted joke that one had to go through England and be reminded of the Greatness of Britain to arrive at such a destination? Or was it simply another act of colonisation?"

The review section (which covers art, music and literature) is another highlight of Planet Magazine. In this edition there are reviews of Leonora Brito, Mike Jenkins, Kyffin Williams, Gwenno and the Manic Street Preachers.

As the eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed, there is a banner ad at the top of this post. It offers  a 50% reduction in subscription rates for AmeriCymru readers. We strongly urge all our readers to consider taking up this offer, either for themselves or as a gift to a friend. Independent Welsh publications need all the support they can get AND there are few magazines which offer a more insightful  commentary on contemporary Welsh cultural. social and artistic issues than Planet.


AmeriCymru: Hi Helena and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. What can you tell us about the history of Honno Press? How did it get started?

Helena: Back in 1986 a group of determined women from all over Wales got together to discuss the possibility of establishing a Welsh Women’s Press. It was felt at the time that existing male-dominated publishing houses in Wales discriminated against women writers and were not particularly interested in women’s issues or interests. Nowhere was this better illustrated than in the publication around that time of an anthology of twentieth century Welsh poetry: Blodeugerdd o Farddoniaeth Gymraeg yr Ugeinfed Ganrif. Of the 170 poets included only six were women. (By contrast, Honno published an anthology in 2003, Welsh Women's Poetry 1460-2001, which collected together 70 key Welsh women poets, writing in both Welsh and English and has become a staple of University reading lists.)

One of the first considerations for the founders was to work out how they might raise funds to launch the publishing house. So they wrote to women across Wales explaining their aims and within weeks over 400 had demonstrated their support by buying shares, raising around £4000 – an early form of crowdfunding! This allowed them to publish Honno’s first two titles. One in Welsh, Buwch ar y Lein by Hafina Clwyd - her diaries from the golden era of the London Welsh in the 1950s and 1960s, and an English language Classic, An Autobiography of Elizabeth Davis, a Balaclava Nurse, transcribed originally in 1857 by the well-known historian Jane Williams (Ysgafell), but with a new introduction by Deirdre Beddoe. Honno was launched on the 1st March 1987 in the then HTV studios in Cardiff.

AmeriCymru: What is the main goal of Honno Press.? What is its mission?

Helena: In the words of co-founder Luned Meredith the original aim of Honno was ‘To promote creative writing by women with a connection to Wales, past and present, in Welsh and English.’When Honno was set up it was with four core aims to - provide a feminist perspective; to give Welsh women writers an opportunity to see their work published; to get earlier important, but neglected, writing by Welsh women back into print; to provide employment in publishing for women in Wales.

AmeriCymru: You have recently re designed your website. Care to tell us something about the new site and its features?

Helena: When Honno was on the verge of turning 30 we felt that it was a good time to affirm our core values and update our image. One thing I learnt from talking to people about what Honno stands for is that there are a lot of people who are passionate about what we do, and our contribution to the social, political and cultural life and literature of Wales and beyond. We looked at many rebranding ideas and website designs and eventually found a look we all loved – reflecting the history of our original logo, but updating it. Our new website has all our books on it of course, with special offers from time to time and from where you can sign up to our e-newsletter. You can now have a book gift wrapped and sent directly to the recipient anywhere in the world, look at any events we are holding or read our new blog with monthly articles on different aspects of writing and publishing.

AmeriCymru: You have recently republished Margiad Evans' Creed in your 'Welsh Women's Classics' series. Care to tell us a little about this title?

Creed front only final.jpgHelena: Creed is the 27th Welsh Women’s Classic brought back into print by Honno, and the second by Margiad Evans. Published in 1936 it is a compelling portrait of violence and dissipation in a fictional border town. Margiad Evans was a unique and interesting writer who also liked to explore the possibilities and limitations of language but who had fallen out of print, as so many great Welsh women writers of the past had.Classics Editor, Jane Aaron, Emeritus Professor of Welsh Writing in English at the University of South Wales, describes the Classics as returning to Welsh women a part of their history that otherwise would have been lost. Each of the titles published includes an introduction setting the text in its historical context and suggesting ways of approaching and understanding the work from the viewpoint of women’s experience today. We select works which are not only of literary and cultural merit but which remain readable and appealing to a contemporary audience. Thanks to the Classics series the lost voices of these important women – like Rachel Barrett who made a hugely important contribution to the suffragette movement, and nurse Betsy Cadwaladyr, both previously forgotten - have been restored. “[It is] difficult to imagine a Welsh literary landscape without the Honno Classics series [...] it remains an energising and vibrant feminist imprint.” (Kirsti Bohata, New Welsh Review)

“[The Honno Classics series is] possibly the Press' most important achievement, helping to combat the absence of women's literature in the Welsh canon.” (Mslexia)

AmeriCymru: You have also recently published One Woman Walks Wales by Ursula Martin. What can you tell our readers about this author and her work?

onewoman397x610.jpgHelena: Aged just 31, Ursula Martin was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After being treated, and determined not to sink into self-pity, she decided to walk between her home in mid-Wales to follow-up hospital appointments in Bristol – a distance of around 150 miles. Ursula’s journey took her across, around, up, over and through all of Wales, as she walked over 3,700 miles, raising almost £12,000 pounds and awareness for the need for early detection of the disease.

One Woman Walks Wales is the inspiring story of Ursula’s walk, based on her popular blog: of the generosity of strangers who offered her meals and accommodation; of her core belief which wouldn’t let her give up even at the point of exhaustion and acute physical discomfort; of her intense love for, and joy in, nature; of the following she attracted on her popular blog which she wrote on her phone whenever there was signal; of how walking and the physical connection with the landscape gave her self-discovery.

'A rare combination of an epic tale of an extraordinary adventure and a delicately woven study of the kindness of random strangers. Hugely enjoyable' Clare Balding

AmeriCymru: Are there any new titles or authors that you would like to give a special mention?

Helena: Coming out in July in the UK, and being launched in September at the North American Festival of Wales is Absolute Optimist: Remembering Eluned Phillips. Eluned Phillips was a passionate woman who ignited passionate responses in others. The second woman ever to wear the National Eisteddfod crown – Wales’ most prestigious Welsh language literary prize – she is the only woman to have won it twice. Unusual among Welsh women of her generation, Eluned embraced an unconventional lifestyle which took her to pre-war London and Paris, where she met artists Augustus John, Edith Piaf, and Pablo Picasso. This is an affectionate and yet critical biography of an unsung heroine of Welsh literature during at a time of great change – taking her from rural Carmarthenshire to bohemian Paris and urban Los Angeles. She was often frowned upon, but never less than true to herself.Award-winning poet Menna Elfyn examines Phillips’ life and work and argues convincingly that Eluned’s poetry is undoubtedly hers and more than worthy of two Crowns. Absolute Optimist was shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year on publication in Welsh and Honno are delighted to be introducing it to the English speaking audience. Menna will be launching it at the North American Festival of Wales, in Alexandria, VA,on Saturday, September 1.

We have just published the wonderful Albi, by Hilary Shepherd, A poignant, compassionate glimpse into the life of a child caught up in the Spanish Civil War, a country at war with itself. We have A Different River, the sixth novel from Jo Verity, to look forward to in June, the story of a woman caught up in family duty who finds a way to get out of her comfort zone. And also coming out in July we have Nansi Lovell, the latest title in our Welsh language Classics series.

One of our titles, Light Switches Are My Kryptonite, has just been shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year 2018 in the Fiction Category and we are also delighted to announce – and not a little overwhelmed – that the Honno founders were chosen as one of Women’s Equality Network Wales’s 100 legendary women!

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

Helena: When asked to sum up what Honno’s achievements, it’s easy to see only what we haven’t done. The authors we haven’t recovered yet, the writers we want to find, the histories we want to tell. But the texts we haven’t managed to publish yet will be, with luck, the books we will publish next year. Honno is tiny; to have survived for over 30 years is a great achievement and a testimony to all the women who have contributed. It’s also, hopefully, just the beginning.

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