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image001.jpgThis week sees the publication of Absolutely Huge (Y Lolfa), the hilarious memoirs of Gethin 'Huge' Hughes, Welsh rugby's most famous imaginary player.

Affectionately sending up Welsh rugby and the media hype surrounding it, Absolutely Huge spoofs the standard tell-all sports autobiography format, charting the highs and lows of Huge’s remarkable and meteoric rise from youth player to worldwide star, and revealing the truth behind his often controversial career both on and off the pitch.

The book has already received great reviews, with The Guardian describing it as “an Odyssey for our times. Hilarious take on the chemistry between huge talent and the 21st century."

After a stunning international debut and glory for club and country, by the age of 20 Huge is on top of the world. He’s the biggest star in Welsh rugby, he’s dating the nation’s sweetheart Heledd Harte, and after one particularly heroic moment at Twickenham is voted Second Best Welshman Ever.

But the good times don’t last. He causes a diplomatic row on a Lions tour, gets involved with some calamitous product endorsements, falls out with his club, inadvertently incites a pitch invasion, and after one particularly embarrassing incident at the World Cup is voted the Second Worst Welshman Ever.

Things don’t improve after early retirement at 23. A disastrous appearance on reality TV is followed by a brush with death on Mount Snowdon and entanglement in a political scandal at the Welsh Assembly. On the eve of his playing comeback, and for the first time, the full extraordinary story of his time in the spotlight, and the subsequent wilderness years will be told.

Absolutely Huge is a big hit with Wales and British and Irish Lions star Mike Phillips, who loved Huge’s antics: "I couldn't put it down – hilarious from start to finish. If I'd got to play alongside Huge, even I might have learnt a few things!"

Absolutely Huge is the first novel by Luke Upton. Born and bred in Swansea, his first job was selling match-day lottery tickets for Swansea RFC in those last few glory years before the arrival of regional rugby. He now lives in London, and is a business journalist and Welsh rugby satirist. He co-runs @NotGavHenson, the humorous Twitter account with over 42,000 followers including a large portion of the Wales squad.

“I wanted to write an easy and amusing read that appeals to anyone who loves rugby and the larger-than-life characters it creates. At times the media circus around big-name sports stars can be a little ridiculous, and I wanted to have some fun with that,” said Luke.

“Though Huge is obviously an imaginary player, he has a mixture of traits from a range of rugby players who have graced the heights of rugby in the UK over the last 10–15 years; it’s a caricature of the kind of trouble someone in the public eye could get themselves into in these days of omnipresent social media comment. It’s also a parody on the media, and the way that they portray our rugby heroes,” he added.

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752_blogs.jpgI have often been exasperated by the way booksellers classify my books. They tend to work to set parameters and the Reso can easily fit into several categories, so in some book listings it appears as fiction, young adult, in others as general fiction. I've even seen it in a section on social issues, young people!

In truth, all of these are technically correct. Others would be equally appropriate such as : fiction: Wales, fiction: historical (it is disconcerting to realise that what appears to you as your short life to date, is now generally considered as an historical timespan!) fiction:the sixties.

Unfortunately the way a book is classified can also have an impact on sales because readers tend to concentrate on the sections they know and will never find books in other sections, unless by recommendations. This is what makes recommendations so powerful and valuable. Thank you so much to all those people who took the trouble to write something on a website about how they enjoyed the books, it is biggest compliment you can pay to an author and keeps me positive and writing.

A back handed compliment which really frustrates me is the reader who tells me that they enjoyed the book immensely, and that they have passed it round the family and everyone enjoyed it immensely as well! I'm not looking to make my fortune from writing, so few people do, but I would like some recompense for the hundreds of hours spent researching, writing, re-drafting and publishing the books. If you love a book, any book, try and encourage the author a little more by buying a couple of copies for birthday or Christmas presents.

Regarding making my fortune from writing, a few statistics will soon disabuse that notion. If you take all the fiction books published in the UK in a single year it amounts to almost a million. The average number of copies sold per book is 18! That means from JK Rowling, who sells millions, down to me who sells a few less, 18 is the number of copies that the average book sells.

There are few fortunes to be made in publishing your writing - so it is best to write because you enjoy doing so or because you think you have something important to say about humanity. I am in the first camp.

The top selling books tend to come from established writers with agents, big publishing houses and massive marketing budgets. There are also the best sellers from 'celebrities' ghost written for them to give them another income stream and promoted shamelessly on television chat shows. Not that I'm bitter!

For the rest of us, it is rather like the lottery... you have to be in it to win it, but the chance of making a living, let alone a fortune from writing, is very remote indeed. I console myself with the thought that when I die, something will live on beyond me and will consistently fail to provide an income stream for the beneficiaries of my Will.

Having originally gone through a publisher to have a professional endorsement of my writing, I made the decision to self-publish through a company called Lightning Source, part of the Ingram Group. This allowed me to cut costs and to take out the publisher from the trough. Even so, I receive about 1.40 in pounds sterling for every book I sell, the rest is accounted for from set up and production costs.

There is a line of reasoning that suggests you should set the book cost level as low as possible so as to maximise sales. 5 pounds is often seen as a critical price point for fiction books, which is why so many retail at 4.99. However, this assumes that you have a budget to promote your book so that it can compete in the crowded 4.99 market. I don't have a marketing budget. I am in the Catch 22 situation of knowing that to maximise book sales I need to market the book but I can't market the book until I have generated enough sales to justify a marketing budget, which I can't do until... round and round it goes!

That leaves this blog and sites such as Linked In on which to promote the books. The secret here is to segment the market by exploiting the different categories a book will appear in. My books are timebound to the sixties, the seventies and the eighties respectively so I would do well to find niche markets for such writing. Similarly my books have a Welsh setting and there are active Welsh communities overseas to which my writing is recounting their youth, or making a wider cultural connection.

In this context, no-one has been more helpful than Ceri Shaw and the team at Americymru and Eto magazine for bringing my work to a large expatriate community in the United States and Canada. The Welsh appear to be great networkers so that the Americymru connection has led to Australian, New Zealand and South African sales - just leaving the Patagonian market to crack!

There is support for Welsh writers in the form of bursaries and writing camps under the auspices of Literature Wales, but these, quite rightly, focus on writers writing in Wales and debut authors. I wish I had known that when starting out on my debut book!

For the most part this has been a dismal article of trials and tribulations, so I feel I muse end on a positive note. Nothing quite prepares you to have people share their memories with you and tell you that you brought back to life things half-remembered or forgotten.

My favourite reader comment was from a Principal of a Welsh primary school. He could not have pleased me more when he said, 'I see a lot of young Dylan Thomas in your writing.' I assumed he was referring to stylistic qualities and not plagiarism!


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Bubblewrap Collective announce the release of the new Perfect Body and Zac White Split EP! Lead singles 'Fields' from Perfect Body, and 'Spent on You' from Zac White will be available digitally on 12th October.

Following on from the success of the 2017 split EP with Boy Azooga and Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard, Bubblewrap Collective brings you two of the most exciting acts on the Cardiff music scene: Perfect Body and Zac White. The record, pressed to limited edition purple and orange vinyl, will be released on November 23rd and features artwork from Cardiff artist and musician Teddy Hunter. The release continues the camaraderie across the Cardiff music scene with Tom Rees (of Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard) producing at Rat Trap studios alongside Zac and Perfect Body.



Perfect Body



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Image: Elijah Thomas



Perfect Body's new single 'Fields' is a glacial gaze trip. that further expands their shivering palette of vast noise pop potential, that rustles with the ghosts of early My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and woozy 60s psych. Threaded with longing three-way vocals that explore the landscapes of 'desire' through tumbling percussion, ethereal synthesizers; and reverb smothered hooks. 'Fields' possesses an exciting, nagging pop sensibility that makes you want to press play all over again as soon as it's over.

Perfect Body formed in Cardiff, early 2017, inspired by the sonic experimentation of bands like My Bloody Valentine, Stereolab, and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Their three vocalists, each with their own style and identities, ensure that Perfect Body’s performances are varied and engaging. Perfect Body is a wall of noise, hazing over and obscuring what is, at its core, pop-oriented songwriting. Their earliest performances took place in Cardiff’s underground, often in practice spaces and house parties: So, by the time Perfect Body emerged on the music scene, they had already sculpted a distinctive sonic identity. The attention gained from their first single, ‘Getting Cold’, saw them supporting the likes of Jen Cloher, Slowcoaches, and The Wytches.

Perfect Body recently played a rapturously received set at the much-coveted Rising Stage at Greenman 2018. They were picked out as at one of the Top 10 ones to watch at the festival by Drowned in Sound and BBC Radio Wales broadcaster Adam Walton has been a huge champion of the fast emerging Cardiff band giving their early tracks heavy rotation on his show.

“This Cardiff based five-piece have been making waves recently thanks to their effervescent live shows and woozy, ethereal sounds that have seen them compared to Slowdive and the Stereolab. Despite only being together just over a year, they've come on leaps and bounds in such a short space of time...” – Drowned in Sound



Zac White



zac_white.jpgZac White's new single 'Spent On You' is an infectious tune that ties together meditative sun-kissed refrains, wonky percussion and bounding baselines, with shimmering spidery riffs tiptoeing into a heart on the sleeve sing-along. Gathering into a sumptuous crescendo of drum rolls and fuzzy riffs in its outro, this is a delicious slice of hazy pop that just hints at a depth of his songwriting talents.

Despite being only 20, Zac White has been playing on Cardiff’s live music scene for over five years. Alongside his early days performing with FUR and part of Lily and White, Zac has been honing his own sound based on influences such as Wilco, Loose Fur, Sonic Youth and Broadcast. His 90s/00s off-kilter indie influenced sound has grown from minimal arrangements with drummer Ethan Hurst into a rollicking, reverb-drenched, garage-psych experience. For his live shows and upcoming EP, accompaniment comes from Tom and Ed Rees of Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard, with whom Zac also plays. He recently supported Heavenly recordings Boy Azooga, who are currently blazing a trail for Welsh bands across the world.


Pre-order link:

https://bubblewrapcollective.co.uk/product/perfect-body-zac-white-split-ep/

Posted in: Music | 0 comments

sofa_surfin.jpgAmeriCymru spoke to Welsh author Mike Jenkins about dialect poetry and his recently published collection - 'Sofa Surfin'. Mike has published four collections in this genre and we asked him how he became interested and whether he plans to publish any further anthologies of dialect poetry.

Dialect poetry by Mike Jenkins:-


Graffiti Narratives

Coulda Bin Summin

Barkin | Review

Sofa Surfin | Review...





"With this book I was venturing out : on a stream of marmite, in a humble coracle."



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AmeriCymru:  Hi Mike and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Can you tell us what initially attracted you to dialect poetry?

Mike:  As with many aspects of creative discovery it all began with a confluence ( an Aber moment if you like). When I began writing in dialect I had also started teaching at a Comprehensive school in the large Gurnos estate in Merthyr Tydfil ( south Wales valleys), a Council estate with a bad reputation.

I was relatively new to the Valleys ( though I’d done teaching practice in nearby Tredegar) and was struggling to come to terms with many facets of life, including the accents and distinctive dialect of both pupils and staff.

I was anxious to know if I was being insulted when they used the word ‘angin’ or the actual meaning of ‘Now I’ve come!’ when a pupil arrived late for class .

I soon discovered the first was, as it sounds, an insult and ‘come’ simply meant ‘arrived’.

I was baffled by the use of ‘belonged’ meaning ‘related to’, but now I’ve learnt Welsh it makes total sense, as the Welsh word ‘perthyn’ can mean belonging in the sense of both ownership and relations.

On a daily basis I was floundering yet also fascinated by their sayings and vocabulary, with short phrases like ‘on pins’ denoting nervousness and ‘tampin’ for getting very angry.

For quite a while before that I’d been into the music of Bob Marley and the poetry of West Indian writers like Derek Walcott and Black English writer James Berry, all using forms of dialect.

Amazingly, I got to meet Walcott and Berry when they read in Cardiff and to experience both Benjamin Zephaniah and Linton Kwesi-Johnson live, dub poets who lived in England and caught the political oppression of Thatcher’s Britain.

I loved the way they captured the language of the street, giving voices to those neglected and abused by an uncaring government.

However, it was one poem that showed me what could be done with dialect here in Cymru and that was David Hughes’s brilliant ‘Swonzee Boy, See’ published in ‘Planet’ magazine. It was very funny , phonetically-written , but also a reflection of a neglected working class.

So, all these tributaries joined into the Taff itself, the river which flows through a small town I soon called home.

AmeriCymru:  You have said re: dialect poetry - "It's Marmite poetry....but I like Marmite." Care to expand?

Mike:  There are individuals and magazines who would never read or consider my dialect poems, but who cherish and publish my work in standard English.

I believe it divides opinion for a number of reasons.

Firstly, poetry in dialect is more acceptable from other parts of the world – notably Scotland and the West Indies - because they are seen very much as part of a literary tradition.

With the exception of myself, certain novelists like Niall Griffiths and poets such as David Hughes and Gemma June Howells ( who writes in Caerffili dialect), there is no precedent …….we are exploring unmapped lands.

Secondly, I think dialect poetry is seen as parochial, though when it comes to prose Scottish novelists like James Kelman have been widely praised for work in the vernacular.

In recent years we’ve seen a growth of left-wing poetry outlets especially in England, with websites like proletarian poetry and culture matters. These have encouraged working-class , political writing and my dialect poems have found a perfect place there.

Ironically, most literary magazine in Wales have become dominated by university creative writing departments ( as in the USA) and have not been sympathetic .

One university lecturer and critic who was a fan of my early book ‘A Dissident Voice’ soon dismissed ‘Graffiti Narratives’ as ‘mere ventriloquism’.

Only the magazine ‘Planet’ have savoured the thick, dark flavoursome ‘gooetry’.

AmeriCymru: Are the poems in these collections based on real life encounters; conversations overheard in the street? What is your creative process with the dialect collections?

Mike:  Considering ‘Sofa Surfin’ there are many diverse inspirations, but at the very hub of the book is my close friend and comrade of many years and his experiences.

I can understand how a reader sees the character in the title poem as female yet this and many others draw on what happened to him : losing his wife, job, flat and even benefits for several months, pushed to the brink of suicide.

This sounds unremittingly sombre, but I also focus on positive aspects of his life in ‘Rubbish Sculpture’ and ‘Practical Dance’, as he’s a highly intelligent and creative person with few qualifications. Incidentally, at the Merthyr launch my friend actually danced along with the second poem…..a sight to behold!

Sometimes, I write poems which take off on a flight of imagination into the surreal. In my book ‘Barkin!’ was ‘Ewman Advert’ where I imagined myself transformed into a KFC chicken by the smells of junk food. In ‘Sofa Surfin’ the poem ‘A Pijin in Gregg’s’ is similar and came from encountering a pigeon inside a shop down town.

After reading it at our monthly Open Mic in a local pub a friend suggested the pigeon stand for election and this gave rise to a whole series of blogs on my site www.mikejenkins.net about the legendary Wayne-O Pijin.

As ever, my political beliefs are fundamental to the poetry.

‘Pound Shop Politics’ and ‘Muslims up yer’ came from the lack of understanding and indeed, intolerance towards people from different cultures which is sadly manifested in considerable support for UKIP.

The latter was inspired by encountering Muslims in traditional garb in my small village above Merthyr : I imagined a fearful, suspicious person telling his account.

Humour is vital to me. My life changed when I read Heller’s ‘Catch 22’ and realised you could be very funny and deadly serious at the same time.

AmeriCymru: You have published four collections of dialect poetry to date. Care to tell us a little about the first of these:- 'Graffitti Narratives'?

Mike:  ‘Graffiti Narratives’ was so exciting for me and I have to thank the then editor of ‘Planet’ John Barnie for his faith in my dialect work and for publishing the book.

There are three stories as well as poetry in this book and I’m particularly proud of ‘ Novelties’ and ‘Some kind o beginnin’.

This book was very much inspired by the Gurnos estate, my pupils and musical influences of punk and two-tone ( ska made in England).

‘Gurnos Boy’ was my grim version of that Hughes poem about Swansea, ‘Mouthy’ from the viewpoint of a pupil who couldn’t see the point of poetry and ‘Nex Time’ described hatred for the police and was inspired by Belfast punk band Stiff Little Fingers.

Yet the title poem is closer to the stories, as it’s a fictional representation of the tales behind two sets of bizarre graffiti on either side of a railway bridge in Merthyr.

Occasionally , writing poetry can cause trouble and one poem ‘Flasher’ is the true (though embellished) story of one pupil who flashed in school with a cucumber attached to his penis!

After he’d left school this boy found out about the poem and came back to confront me in the corridor – ‘Did you write that poem about me?’

To which I managed to side-step rapidly – ‘ It was about someone….made up!’

Amazingly, he accepted my faltering explanation.

With this book I was venturing out : on a stream of marmite, in a humble coracle.

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about your 2001 collection 'Coulda Bin Summin'?

Mike:  The next collection ‘Could bin summin’ was harder to get published, but John Barnie once again took it on.

The title poem is the direct and passionate plea of a girl whose life has been ruined by a boy leaving her when she became pregnant and her own family rejecting her because the boy was a waster.

Many in the book come from my knowledge of young people struggling against a system which doesn’t value them, though others take on historical implications like ‘Gwyn Alf’ and ‘Mad Jack spoils VE Day’.

‘Gwyn Alf’ pays tribute to the great Welsh historian Prof. Gwyn A. Williams ( from Dowlais) , one of the most inspirational figures from Cymru in the last century in terms of lecturing, broadcasting, historical books and his unique left-wing nationalist politics.

The second poem takes the viewpoint of a conformist family who celebrate VE Day and are truly shocked when a certain Siegfried Sassoon ( English anti-war poet nicknamed ‘Mad Jack’) suddenly appears on the scene.

‘Day-a Duchess Come’ isn’t just an anti-monarchy rant, it’s a true story. When Mrs Windsor’s cousin visited our school republican staff were confined to classrooms with pupils likely to be troublesome. As happens on such occasions, she arrived late and stayed longer than expected, so pupils became increasingly annoyed and more fervently anti-monarchist. As her helicopter took off they all leapt towards the windows , waving goodbye with insulting v-signs.

With ‘Could bin summin’ the river broadened and often made a sound like laughter as it flowed faster.

AmeriCymru: How would you describe the focus of your most recent dialect poetry collection 'Sofa Surfin'

Mike:  The cover of ‘Sofa Surfin’ is a painting by the great Merthyr artist Gustavius Payne ( ‘Gus’ to his mates), who also did the one for ‘Barkin!’.

The final poem in this book could relate directly to Gus’s life, though the narrator is fictional. ‘Where I Come From’ is a brief return to the Gurnos estate I wrote about in ‘Graffiti Narratives’ and ‘Coulda bin summin’

Gus hails from there, went to college and has since become one of the most acclaimed artists in Cymru.

In this poem the narrator’s aware of others’ perceptions of the Gurnos ( especially in the media) and also, how much it has altered. Sympathy comes from a realisation that he confounds that stereotype yet still finds it amusing the streets are named after trees and bushes which have no presence there.

The friend and comrade I mentioned earlier ended up homeless and ‘Sleepin in-a subway’, but on the page opposite that grim tale of despair is ‘Fly Man’ where I praise his ability to avoid detection in pursuit of the causes we share.

‘Sofa Surfin’ ( like ‘Barkin!’) are words familiar to the point of cliché , yet I hope I’ve given them a whole new sense in the title poem and a man balancing as the rising sea threatens to overwhelm him.

AmeriCymru: Do you plan any further collections of dialect poetry?

Mike:  My next collection of poetry is in dialect and published by Culture Matters, due out later this year. It is entitled ‘From Aberfan t Grenfell’ and the title poem is in the latest issue of ‘Planet’.

It’ll be illustrated by Swansea artist, poet and fiction-writer Alan Perry and the drawings are truly amazing ! They’re integrated into the text and will co-exist on the same pages.

It opens and closes with poems reflecting on connections between those two man-made disasters , at Aberfan near Merthyr in 1966 and recently at the high-rise flats , Grenfell Tower in London.

I was struck by one remark on Facebook – ‘ Grenfell is our Aberfan.’ The resemblances are striking : authorities ignoring warnings and a callous system punishing the poor for the criminal negligence of those in power.

As with previous books, there are a number of poems about distinctive , eccentric Merthyr characters such as ‘Steve the Bus’, a re-working of an early poem never published in books.

In Wales all over-60s receive passes enabling free bus travel and I heard tell of a man who spent all his days travelling on them because he couldn’t afford the energy bills of staying at home. I imagined him a widower contemplating what his late wife would say.

I do realise that the tragedies of both Aberfan and Grenfell are highly sensitive subjects and some would argue that writing about them is tantamount to exploitation.

However, I try to respect the people of both communities and many who came to help them.

Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?

Mike:  Like Gus Payne’s profound paintings and Alan Perry’s sharply satirical drawings, I seek to portray a country struggling after the demise of so many industries yet expressing itself through the sheer passion of its language, whether dialect in English or Welsh itself ( which I have learnt) and its many art-forms. In the future I’d like to write far more poetry in Welsh, though I’ll never ( like Harri Webb) abandon the English language. Winning the Gadair at the learners’ Eisteddfod when the National came to Y Fenni / Abergavenny a few years ago made me very proud, but it was only a beginning.

OBITUARIST DIES


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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I Iolo.jpeg20% OFF WHILE STOCKS LAST- SPECIAL PRICE FOR AMERICYMRU READERS

Original Price $18.00 / Our Price $14.40+$3.99 handling=$18.39

Offer applies in U.S. only. Price includes shipping and handling $3.99. If you are a member and logged in to AmeriCymru use the shopping cart symbol on the product page to purchase. If not, please use the PayPal button below. You can purchase with your debit or credit card if you do not have a PayPal account.








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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.

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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 www.awelshdawn.co.uk

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

Gareth: From the publishers Y Lolfa at www.ylolfa.com 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 www.parallel.cymru/cipolwg-ar-iolo

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!

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Bio

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.

 

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Interview

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 www.barriedoyle.com 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.

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