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Category: Author Interviews


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AmeriCymru spoke to Welsh author Brian Jarman about his life, work and future plans.


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

READ MORE HERE


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AmeriCymru:  Hi Brian and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Can you tell us a little about your Welsh background? When did you decide you wanted to write?

Brian: It’s a pleasure. I was born and raised on a farm in Mid-Wales: Lower Gwestydd near Newtown. I’m 21 years younger than my eldest brother, and 20 minutes older than my youngest, my twin brother Milwyn. The older two, David and Gwyn, carried on the family tradition of farming and we younger ones were encouraged to work hard at school and go out in the world to make our own lives. Mechanisation meant the farm could only now support my parents and two brothers and their families. Not that we were exempt from farm work. My middle brother Trevor was the first one of the family to go to university, and we followed.

For as long as I can remember I wanted to write. At infants school we were asked to draw what we wanted to do when we grew up. My friends drew trains and fire engines, but my picture showed a man writing books, one at a time.

In our teens Milwyn and I started a family newspaper. I think it lasted for three editions.

After university I got a job as a reporter on the South Wales Argus, and became Chief Feature Writer. It was my dream job. It was only much later I found the time and the courage to bring that picture to life and start writing novels.

AmeriCymru:  Care to tell us a little about your most recent novel The Final Trick?

Brian:  It’s set in Cardiff and New York, but was inspired by my time in Boston, where I worked on PRI’s daily radio programme, The World. I joined a Bridge club and partnered a formidable woman, Lilian Nagler, who taught me so much about the game. In the novel, a Journalism lecturer in Cardiff, Al Evans, moves to New York after being dumped by his wife. He comes to regard his Bridge partner Greta as one of the rudest women he’s ever met. He has a bet with his friend that there must be One Good Thing about her and he sets out to find it. It also has memories of growing up in the Rhondda, supplied by my cousin, Meryl Lewis.

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Brian Jarman (left), with brother Milwyn and niece Paula, with  grandfather, Pop, ploughing with horses.


AmeriCymru:  Your second novel The Fall From Howling Hill is set in Mid Wales. In what way does it reflect social changes in the area over the last 4 or 5 decades?

Brian: Indeed, that was one of my motives in writing it. I remember my grandfather, Pop, ploughing with horses. My grandparents’ farm, Brondolfor was over the hill from ours. There was no electricity or mains water, so it was oil lamps and a pump in the yard. My Dad use to tell stories of farm workers sleeping in a back room in the farmhouse. They were hard times but held happy memories. Our first TV was a snowy set with one channel which stood on the floor, but it opened up the wider world to us. As we were growing up the farm became increasingly mechanised, so in the end my two eldest brothers farmed it alone. I wanted to memorialise this changing world. The book was originally called Glanharan, but friends advised me to change it as people wouldn’t know what it meant.

AmeriCymru:  What can you tell us about the mystery of The Missing Room your first novel, without giving away the plot of course.

Brian: It’s based on the farmhouse I grew up in, which did have a room-sized space in the middle with no windows or doors. We used to have fun imagining all kinds of things that could be in it. In my early thirties I suffered from ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), so I had this idea of a man with a mystery illness returning to his childhood home in later life and trying to unlock the secret of The Missing Room. The front cover is a photo taken by my wife of the farmhouse - the missing room is behind the little room behind that window, underneath the gable.

AmeriCymru:  Over the years you have worked in Radio,TV and journalism. Any plans to continue working in those areas?

Brian: I now lecture in Journalism at London Metropolitan University, which I greatly enjoy, and do bits and pieces of print journalism, but my main focus now is on writing novels.

AmeriCymru:  You have lived and worked in the US in the past. Care to tell us a little about that period of your life? Any plans to return?

Brian: I lived in Boston, MA for two years when I was Managing Editor of The World, and worked for a while with WNYC in New York. In all I spent about ten years travelling back and fore between London and the US (and Wales!) which was an ideal. I was lucky enough to visit most US cities at various public radio conferences. It was a magnificent time, but now I guess I’m pretty settled in London.

AmeriCymru:  What's next for Brian Jarman? Any new titles in the works?

Brian: Yes, I’m just about to start reworking one I wrote a while back, called The Absent Friend, about a Welshman living in Tuscany who has to come to terms with his past and the incident that caused him to fall out with his best friend in London years ago. There’s another one percolating in my head, about twin brothers. One stayed farming in Wales and the other went to London to become a famous TV presenter. They haven’t spoken for 25 years. But one gets a call from the other saying he’s dying of cancer and so it’s their last chance to bury the hatchet and work out what went wrong all those years ago. (NB: this part is not autobiographical - I get on with my brothers very well).

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

Brian: It’s a great resource and one I wish I’d known about earlier. Make the most of it. In The Final Trick, Al’s girlfriend in New York researches living history - people’s past lives as passed down through generations. She takes him to Ellis Island and he’s moved by the stories of immigrants who left everything behind to come to the New World. It arouses his curiosity about his own past - his father came from the Rhondda and his mother from a farm in Mid-Wales. He wasn’t interested in their stories when he was growing up, but now he wants to find out more about his ancestors. But is it too late?

Many thanks for this wonderful opportunity.Hwyl,Brian.


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Sarah Woodbury "With two historian parents, Sarah couldn’t help but develop an interest in the past. She went on to get more than enough education herself (in anthropology) and began writing fiction when the stories in her head overflowed and demanded she let them out. Her interest in Wales stems from her own ancestry and the year she lived in Wales when she fell in love with the country, language, and people. She even convinced her husband to give all four of their children Welsh names."... more Sarah spoke to AmeriCymru recently about her writing, King Arthur and the location of Camelot.



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AmeriCymru: Hi Sarah and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. What influenced you to write historical fiction and in particular, historical fiction set in Wales?

Sarah: I've always been interested in my personal Welsh history. My ancestors left Wales in the early 1600s for Massachusetts. Their lives and the family they left behind in Wales were a focus of my research beginning in the late 1990s. I began writing historical fiction set in Wales five years ago when my children reached their teenage years. I wanted to write books for them to read that were accessible and fun, but gave them something concrete about their heritage to hang on to.

prince of time a novel of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd by sarah woodbury front cover detailAmeriCymru: In your 'After Cilmeri' series you combine historical fiction with time travel. Care to tell us how this combination occurred to you?

Sarah: It's really very simple: I have always hated that Llywelyn ap Gruffydd died the way he did. Even at the time, it was said that if he'd held on for just a few more days, all of Wales would have flocked to his banner. Who's to say? Perhaps he would have defeated King Edward, who was being pushed to the wall by his English barons (who cared not at all for Wales and thought it a drain on the exchequer) and his creditors. Certain moments in history have repercussions far beyond the events of the time, and the death of Llywelyn is one of those moments. Seven hundred years under the English boot followed. I could have written a straight historical fiction in which Llywelyn died--but where's the fun in that? History changing time travel seemed to provide the answer.

prince of time a novel of king arthur by sarah woodbury front cover detailAmeriCymru: Three of your books concern the reign of 'King Arthur' and its aftermath in Welsh history. Care to tell us a little more about them?

Sarah: Historically speaking, King Arthur (if he existed at all--still subject to debate), was Welsh. The historical sources for King Arthur begin with the Y Goddodin—a Welsh poem by the 7th century poet, Aneirin, with it’s passing mention of Arthur. The author refers to the battle of Catraeth, fought around AD 600 and describes a warrior who “fed black ravens on the ramparts of a fortress, though he was no Arthur”. This reference is followed in time by the writings of Taliesin, Nennius, and the tales of the Mabinogi, all written before Geoffrey of Monmouth popularized Arthur in his book dating to the middle of the 12th century. (more on my blog: Historical Sources for King Arthur

Thus, if King Arthur was a real person, he was resolutely Welsh, in which case, he reigned at a crucial time in Welsh history. This story is not the same one that is often told in popular fiction. I wanted to tell the story of the real Arthur, and try to capture what life might have been like in that era. Cold My Heart is set in the time of Arthur himself. The Last Pendragon and The Pendragon's Quest follow Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon who lived in the 7th century. These latter two books are steeped in the pagan and Christian worlds that permeated Dark Age Wales.

AmeriCymru: Many locations have been advanced for the location of King Arthur's Camelot:- Cadbury Castle, Caerleon, Wroxeter and Stirling Castle to name but a few. Where do you think Camelot was located?

Sarah: Geoffrey of Monmouth places Arthur at Caerleon (the Roman fort, Isca) on the River Usk in Wales. Who knows how accurate this assessment is, but at least it's in Wales. Camelot proper is first mentioned in the romance, Lancelot, written by the French poet Chretien de Troyes between 1170 and 1185. He made it up. I placed my King Arthur in Gwynedd at Garth Celyn (Aber), a long-time seat of the the northern kings. Other choices for 'Camelot' could be Aberffraw, Deganwy, or Dinas Bran. As a side note, Dinas Bran is purportedly where Joseph of Arimathea left the Holy Grail.

a medieval mystery by sarah woodbury, front cover detailAmeriCymru: In 'The Good Knight' we are treated to a medieval mystery in the tradition of the late great Ellis Peters. Is this the first of many? And if so will Gareth and Gwen be appearing in future episodes?

Sarah: Most definitely! I am writing the next mystery as we speak for publication in 2012 and hope to continue with many more installments in the years ahead.


AmeriCymru: What title/titles would you recommend to readers wanting to acquire a background knowledge of medieval Welsh history?

Sarah: For historical fiction set in medieval Wales, Sharon Kay Penman's Welsh trilogy (ending with The Reckoning and the story of the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd) are required reading. Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael books are wonderful; most are not set in Wales but Cadfael is Welsh. She also wrote (as Edith Pargeter) the Brothers of Gwynedd quartet, recounting the story of the life of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. On my bookshelf is also J. Beverly Smith's monumental work, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, (publlication date, 1998).

AmeriCymru: What are you reading at the moment? Any recommendations?

Sarah: I have just finished the last of Anna Elliott's trilogy of Tristan and Isolde, Sunrise of Avalon. It is wonderful. She follows the more Norman/French tradition, in terms of location and mythology of Arthur, but sets parts of her books in Wales too.

AmeriCymru: Where can readers go to purchase your works online?

Sarah: Everywhere! My books are available in both ebook and paper format at Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Sarah Woodbury?

Sarah: I'm writing the next Gareth and Gwen mystery as part of National Novel Writing Month (starting November 1). It is going to be great fun. I'm also well into the third book in the After Cilmeri series (called Crossroads in Time), which follows the adventures of Anna and David, two teenagers transported in time back to the medieval kingdom of Wales.

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

Sarah: In May of 2012, my husband and I are traveling to Wales for two weeks. It's been too long since I've visited and he has never been. If anyone has a place they think I need to visit, email me (dr.sarahwoodbury @ gmail.com) and let me know! I love hearing from people who've read my books and look forward to connecting with other people of Welsh descent. Diolch yn fawr!

AmeriCymru: Diolch Sarah!

Interview by Ceri Shaw Ceri Shaw on Google+


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Sarah Woodbury at CULTURE WARS - OTHER VOICES IN BRITISH LITERATURE (2013) Presented by AmeriCymru and the Portland Center for Public Humanities Portland State University (Sarah speaks at 42.20 mins) Introduction by Doctor Tracy Prince (PSU) .... MORE HERE



Back to Welsh Literature page >



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 Welsh author Mari GriffithAmeriCymru: Hi Mari, it's been a while since we last interviewed you on the site and you have an exciting announcement to make, yes?

Mari: Yes, to both parts of that question, Ceri. You last interviewed me on the web site in August of last year, on the publication of my second novel The Witch of Eye. But the reason why I have an exciting announcement has more to do with my very first novel, Root of the Tudor Rose. When you interviewed me about that one, I told you that I was committed to spreading the gospel about the Welsh origins of the Tudors, the most famous dynasty in "English" history. And it's this missionary zeal that's bringing me to the US at the end of June, to address the American Conference of the Historical Novel Society with a presentation entitled The Tudors: an English dynasty? (I shall be saying this with the same imperious expression used by Dame Edith Evans as Lady Bracknell in the Importance of Being Earnest when she pauses, looks down her nose and says disdainfully "... a handbag!" If you don't know it, you'll find it on YouTube -  A Handbag )

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about the HNS and the conference?

Mari: The HNS is the international Historical Novel Society, which exists to promote and encourage the reading and writing of historical fiction. They bring out a review every quarter devoted to new historical fiction and they've said some nice things about both my books in that.

Root of the Tudor Rose was featured in their 'New Fiction' section and the review of The Witch of Eye in November last year hailed the book as "... a thoroughly enjoyable read, a very well-researched story, where the narrative licks along irresistibly." I was delighted by that, of course. The Society holds a conference every year, alternately in the UK and in the States. Last year it was held in Oxford and the American visitors raved about the magical 'dreaming spires' of that lovely old university city. This year the conference takes place in Portland, Oregon, which gives me the opportunity of visiting a part of America I've never seen before. I'm told it's wonderful and I look forward tremendously to seeing it for myself.

Thomas Ll. ThomasAmeriCymru: So this is not your first visit to the States?

Mari: No, it will actually be my fourth. The first three were all in order to make programmes and I particularly enjoyed making a documentary programme for S4C about the Welsh/American baritone Thomas Ll. Thomas. His middle name was Llyfnwy but not many Americans could manage that! The reason why I was so interested in him was that he came from my own home town of Maesteg in the Llynfi Valley and the family emigrated to Scranton, Pennsylvania in the 1920's when Welsh mining engineers were much in demand. "Llyf", as the family called him, didn't go into mining: instead he became one of the most famous singers of his generation, often featuring in opera and concerts in New York and all over the country. Eventually, he became known as "The Voice of Firestone" because he presented and sang in "The Firestone Hour", the hugely popular television programme of light music, transmitted live every Sunday evening and seen from coast-to-coast. Not bad for a little Maesteg boy! You've never heard of him? Tell you what, I'll write an article for you one of these days ... or perhaps he should be the subject of my next historical novel? Now, there's a thought!

AmeriCymru: Sounds like a fascinating story. But, to get back to what we were talking about - do you have any other plans while you are in the States?

Mari: Well, the HNS Conference itself only lasts for three days which means that I'm going to have quite a lot of free time on my hands, depending on how long I decide to stay. I rather fancy making that wonderful train journey down the coast to California to take in a few places I've heard of but never visited. Then perhaps a week in San Francisco before flying home because my other half, Jonah, describes himself as an ageing hippie and nothing would please him more than to have his photograph taken somewhere significant in Haight-Ashbury. So we're likely to be kicking around the area for a week or so and, of course, this gives me the opportunity of visiting some Welsh Societies in the area if anyone would like to invite me to come along and talk to them. Believe me, I could talk the hind leg off a Welsh dragon about all sorts of things - my old career as a broadcaster, my 'new' career as a writer, the origins of the Tudor dynasty and why I wanted to write the first book ... or even Thomas Ll. Thomas' career if need be. In Welsh or in English, of course. Just get in touch via my web site at Mari Griffith

AmeriCymru: Any final message for our readers?

Mari: My best regards to them all, as ever. And if anyone takes a particular delight in historical fiction, they can find out a lot more about the Historical Novel Society and its American conference by following the link below. And, if you do decide to come along, be sure to come and find me to say "hello". Historical Novel Society


NIGEL JARRETT



nigel_jarrett.jpgAmeriCymru spoke to Welsh author Nigel Jarrett about his work and future plans. For a review of Nigel's latest novel 'Slowly Burning' go here.

"Nigel Jarrett is a freelance writer and music critic. He’s written poetry, essays and short stories for such journals as the Observer magazine, London Magazine, Planet, Agenda, Poetry Wales and Poetry Ireland, and many others of dim provenance and solemn obscurity.

He is a winner of the Rhys Davies Award for short fiction, and the 2016 inaugural Templar Shorts prize.. A collection of his stories, Funderland, was published in October 2011 to widespread acclaim. In November 2013, Parthian published his first poetry collection, Miners At The Quarry Pool. A novel, Slowly Burning, and a second story collection, Who Killed Emil Kreisler?, appeared in 2016."

READ MORE ABOUT NIGEL HERE

NIGEL JARRETT ON AMAZON.CO.UK

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INTERVIEW


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AmeriCymru: Hi Nigel and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce your latest collection of short stories - Who Killed Emil Kreisler? - for our readers?

Nigel: With pleasure, especially as it has an American link.

Collections of short stories consist almost always of previously published material; published in small literary magazines (SLMs), that is. It was ever thus. As most writers do not produce short fiction on an industrial scale, the stories chosen for a collection usually come from work written and published in SLMs over a lengthy period. One tries to seek publication in magazines one admires, if only for the pleasure of seeing one's efforts alongside work they might be considered to emulate. Among the magazines which first published the stories in Who Killed Emil Kreisler? are the The Lonely Crowd, The Lampeter Review, Tears In The Fence, Skald, and The Erotic Review. That a few of them are Welsh simply reflects the esteem in which published storytelling in Wales is held. But The Erotic Review, for instance, is a London-based, international publication, once manifest in print form, now digital. Increasingly I'm writing for online literary magazines. It may or may not be the way forward; but these sites are certainly ignored at the modern writer's peril.

My first collection, Funderland, was published by Parthian, the Welsh independent. It has been seen by some to have a family theme, in the sense of families dysfunctional, knocked askew by forces internal and external, or otherwise rendered unusual; though this was not my conscious intention. If there was a theme deliberately affecting the choice of stories for Who Killed Emil Kreisler?, it was variety of mood, time, and place; or just plain 'variety'. One reviewer has described me as being, in this collection, 'almost wilfully diverse'. I'm taking that as a compliment though I suppose it could be read another way. The stories skip from Sweden, to Africa, to New York, to Germany, to Los Angeles, to Paris, and to other places. I'll go with 'diverse'; the adverbial predicate of 'wilfully' seeming to suggest that diversity might be an undesirable quality, and that's just plain preposterous. Perhaps one story should be savoured before turning to the next. That way, any travel-sickness will be avoided.

The title story is a fictional take on a real event: the death of the composer Anton Webern, shot dead by a drunken US infantryman towards the end of the second world war. During a curfew in an Austrian town, Webern was visiting a relative who was being investigated by the military for black-marketeering. When Webern stepped outside the house to smoke a cigar, the soldier, an army cook named Raymond Norwood Bell, discharged his rifle in circumstances that remain confusing, and killed him. Bell survived the war and died an alcoholic, full of remorse. It was a tragic event from all angles. I've always been fascinated by the idea of an anonymous soldier unwittingly killing someone famous on the battlefield: the sniper who did for the poet Wilfred Owen, for example, in the Great War. Did he survive? Did he realise what he'd done? Not that this fascination takes anything away from my attitude to the millions who have died anonymously in wars. Writers develop fixations; they can't help it. My story is told by a Bell-like character; Emil Kreisler is the Webern-like one. I think it works. Among the collection's dedicatees, I've placed an in memoriam for Bell. He was as much a victim as the person he killed.

I'm reminded that this story is short, a piece of metafiction, or flash fiction, almost. Others are of various lengths. So, variety of form, too.

Buy 'Who Killed Emil Kreisler?' Here

Wales Arts Review Here

AmeriCymru: You have won awards for your collections of short fiction. What is it about the short story genre that attracts you? What short story writers have influenced and/or inspired you?

Nigel: This is going to sound prosaic or flippant, but I write stories because it doesn't take long. I'm notorious for not revising. I should revise, and my editors for the two collections I've written have suggested changes which, somewhat reluctantly, I've made. Other suggestions I've rejected out of hand, on one occasion dropping a story rather than make the revisions put forward. One knows when a story is right, and that process happens for me almost at the point of initial completion. Not editing, not revising, is bad practice, however, and I wouldn't recommend it. It's just that revision takes time and, as I say, I like writing stories because I can do it reasonably quickly.

The foregoing is directly related to my career as a newspaperman. British daily newspapers work their staff to exhaustion. I used to say that I worked a 25-hour day and an eight-day week. For a long period in my career, it felt that way. When I began writing fiction and poetry, which was late in my case, I certainly worked long and unsocial hours as a reporter. I was married with two young children. I'm grateful to them for allowing me to write when I should have been cleaning the oven, watching Top Of The Pops with them on TV, or joining the search for an escaped hamster. I've seen marriages fail and individuals crumble because of these unrelenting demands. So I wrote at home when I had an hour or so free. It was not an arrangement conducive to the writing of novels. I got a lot of poetry written, which for years I kept to myself, only letting it go when I realised how much dross there was in poetry magazines to which I was subscribing. Another factor was the unswerving commitment needed to be a successful newspaper journalist. I never had it, though I was always pretty good at my job. Employers wondered whether or not your mind was fully engaged if they discovered you had a non-journalistic interest outside the workplace. So, that was additional pressure: you put in the hours to prove beyond doubt that you were doing your best, knowing that any ambitions you harboured in the way of 'proper writing' were being curtailed. Also, the necessity of writing concisely as possible for a newspaper was related to my liking for short fiction. To get it down in as few words as possible was something for which I was paid. Maybe, subconsciously, I thought the same would happen with short stories. But few SLMs pay their contributors. I once described the magazines that publish me as solemn and obscure. Well, most of them are obscure: just ask 99 per cent of the population.

All that said, I like short fiction for other reasons, the main one being a love of the reverberations it sets up. It's a bit like examining a photograph and wondering what events immediately preceded it and what came after. In many ways, and again like photographs, the story is a decisive moment, and no 'momentous' event should wear unnecessary trappings. It's a way in which the writer passes something to the reader for the reader's contribution, the reader's engagement. I like doing that; I like the idea of writing as a collaboration. Someone who'd read a story of mine predicted its imagined outcome in a totally different way from the one I'd envisaged, to the extent of making me think I'd written something dictated by an unseen hand; not that I have any truck with the idea of a Muse perched on my shoulder, ever ready to set me off in some direction or other over which I have no control.

I've always read short fiction for the same reasons as I write it: reading it is quickly accomplished. Thus, I've read a lot of stories, beginning with de Maupassant in my early teens and taking in the great Americans, such as Bierce and Poe. There's been some magical short fiction written in the UK, though I find the British obsession with social class wearisome. Somerset Maugham I like, despite his class proclivities, and among the 'younger' Brits, Hilary Mantel, Graham Swift and Ian McKewan. Pirandello, Brecht, Chekhov (pre-eminently), Tolstoy, Katherine Mansfield and many others have all added something to my understanding of what short fiction is able to achieve. In recent years, and since the advent of the American 'New Realists', my short fiction focus has been New World and South American: Carver, Tobias Wolff, Richard Ford, Lorrie Moore, Vargas Lhosa, Updike, Alice Munro, Marquez, Borges. I love Munro's work, love the way it often wobbles on the border between short story and novella. Her imagination is unstoppable and never less than vivid. I also like the short fiction of the playwright Sam Shepard (there's not much of it, to be sure), because weirdly I can relate it to his writing for theatre. Sometimes, it seems to be theatre-in-progress, notebook jottings for plays or film scripts. I'm always interested in how other writers do what they do, how their minds work, how they make choices. Top of my list at the moment is the American George Saunders, who has raised the short story to the level of high satirical art; he's very funny, as all satirists should be, but also compassionate. I'm a winner of the Rhys Davies Prize for short fiction, and for a while I bought and read all the out-of-print editions of the Welshman's work. But I now find it a tad dated, despite claims that he was a 'British Chekhov'. There was something suppressed in Davies's work that reflects perhaps his closeted homosexuality. Had he been living today he would have written about it. He was a gay writer who never wrote gay fiction, if we assume that his love of matriarchs were not Oedipal at source. As a stylist, though, he was in his day unsurpassed. Another thing I like about short fiction is that many of its practitioners were once journalists. Hemingway and Graham Greene are good examples. I see them as casting off as soon as possible, in order to get on with something else. In my case, that was work.

funderland.jpgAmeriCymru: Which brings us to Funderland. One reviewer opines that, 'Nigel Jarrett's stories take seemingly ordinary or innocent situations and gently tease out their emotional complexity.' How would you describe these stories. Is there one of which you are particularly fond?

Nigel: This is a tricky question, because the description of what I did in that book came from a reviewer (Lesley McDowell, of the Independent on Sunday), not from me. I wouldn't deny it; it's just that I didn't set out to find complexity in the ordinary. Writing about the ordinary because it's ordinary won't get a writer very far, so it's almost inevitable that what interests a writer, what interests me, is something beyond that. A writer's fiction is always assumed to be autobiographical in some way, but on the surface, in terms of fiction's forward-rolling events, this is never the case. What I write about reflects what interests me about human inter-reactions, especially when they are destructive, disappointing, corrupted, or vulnerable to corruption. I once described the collection as 'dark'. I'm not too sure of that now. I do like to write beyond myself and my immediate surroundings. 'Write about what you know' is a common but flawed dictum from teachers of writing. I like to do the opposite: write about what I don't know but what I can imagine. One of the stories in Funderland, Doctor Fritz, concerns a musico-anthropologist who once made a startling discovery, was publicly ridiculed for an error of professional judgement, and is slowly going mad. I know nothing about anthropology or madness, but I believe I wrote an interesting story. I do know something about music, having been a music critic for the last forty years, and I bring some knowledge of that to bear.

When I say the collection is about families in some form or other, I don't mean that my own upbringing was in any way unstable or unsatisfactory. Of course, one has regrets that events didn't turn out as planned or were unfortunate or came about against one's better interests. We'd all do lots of things differently – and we can't choose our parents or the circumstances into which we're born. One must look critically at everything, even one's own growth to maturity, or immaturity, as the case may be. I like complexity. Simplicity or, rather, the simplistic, is a state not to be desired. Being the eldest of three children, or first-born to give my status the looming shadow primogeniture seems to attract, has always made me feel that I'm flawed, as I certainly am. I'm different from my two siblings, though we love each other. Perhaps the stories in Funderland are related to this incomplete person, and have a psychological dimension as a result. Whether or not this converts itself into some universal state that others can identify with is debatable. I hope it does. For certain, if all is well with a writer in terms of surroundings, beliefs, outlook and relationships, there won't be much to write about. Funderland includes the story Mrs Kuroda on Penyfan, which won the Rhys Davies Prize and is included in Story, the Library of Wales's two-volume anthology of 20th and 21st century Welsh short fiction. But my favourite Funderland story is Watching The Birdie, about a newly-married man and his innocent stepdaughter. I wanted to capture the decisive moment of sexual abuse, something I have never encountered in short fiction before, and I believe I succeeded.

Teasing out emotional complexities implies some kind of forensic procedure. For me, writing doesn't work like that. There may be an initial scheme, or roughly sketched plot, but in my experience narratives tend to take off and travel hither and thither, guided by nothing more insubstantial than the workings of imagination and memory. I think memory is important. Bits of my past, suitably transmogrified, pop up in the stories. Although there was nothing even remotely resembling the wickedness of Watching The Birdie in the Jarrett family – quite the opposite - the journey to the seaside undertaken by the characters is one I went on many times as a young boy. You don't forget things like that. They are embedded experiences, and for a writer all such experiences are there to be drawn on; used, if you like.

The Guardian

'...as a music critic by profession, Jarrett has a marvellous ear... And the stand-out story, 'Mrs Kuroda on Penyfan', is an enigmatic study of a Japanese woman's displacement in rural Wales.' Alfred Hickling

The Independent

'Nigel Jarrett's stories take seemingly ordinary or innocent situations and gently tease out their emotional complexity. Both 'Funderland' and 'A Point of Dishonour' confound expectations superbly...He's not afraid of unusual perspectives and his bravery is well rewarded in this unusual and sensitive collection.' Lesley McDowell

Planet Magazine

'Funderland, Nigel Jarrett's superb short story collection, demands the tribute of slow and careful reading [...] The revelation of these stories is the vast and subtle and inarticulate web that links and separates us all. Read them slowly, more than once, and learn.'

New Welsh Review

'Funderland is an excellent first offering, giving a thought provoking series of wry, often wistful fresh angles on the fragility of relationships. Readers will want more, anticipating the emergence of a strong, telling voice in fiction from Wales.' Robert Walton

Buy 'Funderland' Here

Interview on Vanessa Gebbie's Blog

Funderland Facebook Page

Review in New Welsh Review

slowly_burning.jpgAmeriCymru: Your novel Slowly Burning features an anti-hero, Bunny Patmore, who can't tell the difference between facts and fiction. A somewhat topical theme. What does the novel have to tell us about the relationship. How would you describe the book?

Nigel: Slowly Burning is a first-person account by a former Fleet Street crime bureau chief. He's been washed up on a weekly newspaper in Wales, where he receives a letter in the will of a minor London gangster and takes himself off to Dorset to investigate its implications. There are three stories intertwined, like a triple helix. There's the main narrative whoosh, Bunny's recollections of life as a tabloid reporter, and the story told to him by the gangster's daughter, whom he befriends and who is strangely attracted to his quest.

Bunny is a self-confessed fibber. But I wanted him to be more than that. The idea of the unreliable journalist who nevertheless writes no-smoke-without-fire reports is almost a commonplace in our cynical times, and justifiably so. But, having worked with people like Bunny, I can confirm that they are complex. Bunny is not very nice. Furthermore, I wanted to make him into the reckless and irresponsible scribe of legend. This was a high-risk strategy. I've littered his story with contradictions, misrememberings, inconsistencies, solecisms, errors and all sorts of other things which the reader would question – if the reader notices them at all. If they are recognised, of course, I risk the possibility of their being ascribed to me, not to Bunny. However, one reviewer didn't register any of them (Dan Bradley in the New Welsh Review, whose notice is included in full, below), which sort of gratifies me in proving my point. When the Sun newspaper told its readers that the Hillsborough football stadium disaster was caused by drunken Liverpool fans, its readers believed it. The assertion was proved to be wrong – and Liverpool is now a no-go zone for the Sun newspaper. (But not the rest of the Murdoch Press: the populace can often be dumb and unquestioning.)

The novel unwittingly foreshadows the current and continuing débâcle over truth, 'alternative' truth and half truth. It's no surprise that Brexiteer politicians in the UK lied to the electorate in the same way that President Trump does to his, as if mendacity were an essential part of a certain kind of politics. Not that Britain's 'Remainers' were paragons of rectitude, or that the American Democrats were without fault. Bunny Patmore's favourite author is Thomas Hardy; his nemesis is a woman who is also a Hardy-lover and who supplies him with a 'story' (all 'factual' newspaper reports are 'stories') that he will never publish, because what integrity he possesses triumphs over his newspaperman's instincts. He even has a go at writing a story – a fictional story, like Slowly Burning itself – when his investigations falter or peter out. This play on fact and fiction, truth and lies, error and exactitude, carelessness and attentiveness, is a feature of the book, maybe the main one. I reached the stage in writing Slowly Burning where I considered the manuscript as almost a 'found' object, someone else's musings – Bunny Patmore's. My main aim, I now believe, was to ventriloquise, to write a narrative as a real Bunny Patmore would. We don't often hear from the Bunny Patmores of the world; they are simply people fit to be vilified.

Readers might be interested in the provenance of Slowly Burning's front cover image. It's a photograph by the celebrated 'snapper' John Bignell. When the publisher and I were looking for a suitable illustration, we Googled the words 'Fleet Street pub scene 1950'. This photo was the first to appear, and it led us to the Bignell archive, which is held by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea library. Bignell was active in the Fifties and especially the Sixties, photographing celebrities and others in the context of what was happening in London at the time – the Swinging Sixties and all that. The curator told us that Bignell was notorious for his lack of detailed captions, but thought the Slowly Burning image was of an East End pub scene from around 1958. It's the evocative image we were seeking, portraying a milieu that Bunny Patmore would have recognised immediately. Indeed, the central event in Bunny's recollection concerns the moment he heard about his sick wife's biopsy results (not good) and how he left Piele's bar in Fleet Street to sit outside on the pavement in shock. It's another fictionalised account of a real event, in which an inebriated journalist collapsed outside Piele's and was then retrieved by his companions and taken back inside for 'medication'. It was witnessed by the writer Michael Frayn from a high window at the old Guardian offices, and is included in the foreword to his novel about newspapers, Towards The End Of The Morning. Frayn's recollection is the leading epigraph at the start of Slowly Burning. The RBK&C library alowed us to reproduce the image without payment, as long as we credited Bignell and sent the library a copy of the book. We didn't hesitate.

AmeriCymru: In addition to writing fiction you are also a poet. What can you tell us about 'Miners at the Quarry Pool'?

Nigel: Miners At The Quarry Pool was my first poetry collection, its contents garnered from about ten years' worth of published poems. Poetry magazines are often more solemn and more obscure than fiction ones, and in many cases shorter-lived. Three times I've had poems accepted for publication only for the magazine concerned to fold before it got round to printing them. I like to joke that the collection has nothing to do with miners, quarries, or quarry pools, in the way a lot of poetry these days seems to revel in its incomprehensible peculiarity. The reviewer in Poetry Wales, though calling me 'a clever writer' (a case of damning with oblique praise), thought some of the poems were 'resistant to reading'. He'd obviously never read the more arcane cantos of Ezra Pound. (I've made a few appearances in Agenda, the magazine co-founded by Pound, whose current editor, Patricia McCarthy, described my collection as 'a virtuoso performance'. So there you are. You take your pick.) Unlike stories, poems suggest themselves to me as out-of-the-blue bolts, and I have to start on them straight-away, even when I'm lying in bed at night, fully awake. There's a poem written directly after my mother died, which refers, inter alia, to my son high in her apple tree and spraying the blossom. There's another, written after a method was discovered of slowing down Great War film footage to normal speed, which suggested to me that it now took longer to wage, that its horrors would be prolonged. There's also a poem based on two famous American photographs.

When I say the collection's not about miners, etc., I nevertheless dedicate it to my grandfathers, who were at one time both coalminers, entering daily the former Cwmbran Colliery adit mine (they walked three more miles to the face after a lift on a conveyor). One reviewer likened the collection to excavations, thus partly vindicating the dedication, albeit tortuously. I would describe it as diverse in subject-matter, like the second story collection, and, more importantly according to my editor, Alan Kellermann, a celebration of poetic brevity. There are not many long poems in there, and I think Alan was referring to brevity of utterance at a time when much poetry tends to be dense, overloaded or verbose. I don't 'do' allusive. Pound looked for pin-point accuracy in a poem, the way a coin is made by the hammering nose of the die – hard, once-only and instantaneous - and that's what I strive for.

I continue to write poetry. I'm putting together a second collection, which might be called Brevities. I find it difficult to establish my own, unmistakeable, poetic voice, but I'll know when I've found it.

Review on New Welsh Review

Review on Lunar Poetry Blog

Buy 'Miners At The Quarry Pool' Here

AmeriCymru: What are you reading at the moment? Any recommendations?

Nigel: I tend to be catching up with books I should have read years ago. Amazon has many faults, but you can't beat it for finding the most long-lost title and often charging what it amusingly calls £0.01. Paying an extra £2.80 for packing and postage seems worth the cost. I'm a reasonably competent draughtsman, and I created the image for the cover of Who Killed Emil Kreisler? So many of my book purchases are volumes on art. I've just bought for 70p a lovely Phaidon copy of Otto Benesch's 1960 essay on Rembrandt as a draughtsman. I'll be reading that and looking at it soon.

Again for £0.01, I recently bought Margaret Atwood's Negotiating With The Dead, one of a number of books I have on writers writing about being a writer. Hemingway was the master of that, in letters to Maxwell Perkins, Scott Fitzgerald and others. When writers die, as William Trevor did a few months ago, I do them the honour of reading books by them that for one reason or another passed me by when they first came out. At the time of doing this interview, I was half way through his collection, Cheating At Canasta. Julian Barnes seems to me to be an increasingly important British writer, maybe greater in the long run than Amis junior, Swift, and McKewan; he's the most experimental. I read living Welsh authors out of patriotic duty, though I find patriotism a dubious trait. That's another story! Among the ones I've just read are The Scrapbook, by Carly Holmes; The Dig, by Cynan Jones; and Dangerous Asylums, edited by Rob Mimpriss. I reviewed this last one; it's a collection of fictions by North Wales writers and is based on patient records from the former Denbigh Asylum. I reviewed it for the Wales Arts Review. Just before Christmas I treated myself to a first edition of Arfon, by Rhys Davies. It turned out to be number 115 of a limited edition of 400, published by Foyle and signed by the author in his distinctive hand. I'll treasure that.

Review of 'Dangerous Asylums'

AmeriCymru: What are you working on at the moment? Can we expect any new titles soon?

Nigel: I'm half way through a second novel, provisionally called The Newhaven Foxes, about...well, I won't give that away just yet. And there's the second poetry collection I mentioned. I've just sent a few poems to Poetry Wales and The Lonely Crowd, the latter edited by John Lavin, former editor of The Lampeter Review and now associate editor of the Wales Arts Review. I try to write something every day, whether it's a review, a blog entry or a long email to friends. I just received a postcard from Alan Bennett, having written to him about his new book and suggesting that Northern humour and Northern life, of which he's an exponent, have echoes in the industrial valleys of SE Wales. What a gracious man to be bothered to handwrite a reply to one letter in what must be a weekly cataract of correspondence. I wish I could write a play. I've tried, but it never works. I've realised, too, that I'll soon have enough stories to put together a third collection. Although I started writing, proper writing, relatively late, I never remind myself of missed opportunities. I just get on with things. A colleague told me that if writers give up writing because they are not achieving success, they are not really writers. I know what he meant. I've been keeping on for a long time, and I'll keep on keeping on, no matter what.

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

Nigel: Do buy titles from independent Welsh publishers such as Parthian, Seren, YLolfa, and Gomer. But don't forget Welsh writers, such as Sarah Waters, Cynan Jones, Niall Griffiths, and, lately, Kate Hamer, who have been picked up by the big British publishers: Cape, Faber, and that lot. I like to think they've put to sea in a coracle on the Severn and paddled straight to the Modern Babylon, there to make the case for Welsh writing of a peculiarly universal sort. We've always been exporters. It shows that we are not regional or provincial, or anything else indicative of an immodest place in the scheme of things. Was Dylan Thomas a Welsh writer? Well, yes. But he was also more than that.

And finally – if you can get your hands on The Day's Portion (Village Publishing), a book of Arthur Machen's non-fiction edited by me and my old friend Godfrey Brangham in the late 1980s, you won't regret it. In the spirit of Machen the forewordsmith, there are three introductions: by me, Goff, and the esteemed publisher, Mel Witherden. Sufficient unto the day thereof.

Links to other interviews with Nigel Jarrett:

Interview on th 'Great Word Nerd'

Interview on Vanessa Gebbie's Blog

Interview on 'Writerchristopherfischer'

Interview on 'Writer's Corner Cymru'

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REVIEW OF 'SLOWLY BURNING' BY DAN BRADLEY



NWR Issue 9 'Slowly Burning' by Nigel Jarrett

Prolific Welsh wordsmith Nigel Jarrett has already excelled in a variety of shorter forms; his story collection Funderland won praise in these pages as well as in the Independent and the Guardian. His story from the collection, ‘Mrs Kuroda on Penyfan’ was a prize winner in the Rhys Davies Short Story Competition; his debut poetry collection Miners at the Quarry Pool was released by Parthian in 2013; and, in a journalistic career spanning thirty years, he has published countless stories, essays and music reviews. Jarrett draws on these decades of industry experience in this West Country noir about a former crime bureau chief drawn into one last mystery. But is Jarret’s nostalgic debut about the life of worldweary newspaperman front page news, or merely yesterday’s?

Our pun-toting protoganist is Bunny Patmore, a former Fleet Street journalist who once rubbed shoulders with the stars and athletes of the day, not to mention the criminals, but now finds himself languishing at a ‘solemn and obscure weekly called the Welsh Messenger’, and feeling ‘part of a vanished time, foreign to the youngsters I work with....’ One he day he receives a mysterious letter, left to him in the will of a grubby London gangster, which promises to cast light on a brutal gangland double murder from his past. This cryptic letter will lead our ‘rhino-skinned prodnose’ across Wales and the south west for one last scoop as he casts disturbing new light on the case, uncovers dark family secrets, finds love and maybe even peace.

The novel revels in vivid detail and humour. Bunny wonderfully describes a British boxer enjoying a brief time in the limelight before sinking ‘back into obscurity, like an ugly fish reversing under its stone after a spectacularly bloody meal.’ Jarrett has a great ear for turn of phrase, wordplay, and in Bunny, an erudite, hyperbolic, worldweary and self-deprecating newspaperman, Jarrett has free rein to enjoy himself. Bunny, pecking on his ‘tripewriter’, tells us: ‘Door-stopping. Now there’s an airborne duck of a word. And if you don’t know your rhyming slang[,] I, as Cockneyed as they come, couldn’t care a Margate candy floss.’

These kind of condescending and self-satisfied jokes could easily grow annoying but this tone often suddenly makes way for Bunny’s – or perhaps Jarrett’s – true voice, which is much sadder and more reflective. This is the writing that is most affecting, perhaps more so because it reveals Bunny’s fragility and loneliness beneath his carapace of bravado and knee-jerk cynicism. In particular, as he falls more deeply in love with Marian, the dead gangster’s daughter, he starts to make sense of his troubled, alcohol-sodden marriage to Bella:

Don’t believe the tossers who preach the attraction of opposites, because they know not what they utter. They certainly don’t understand [that] in a relationship of crunching personalities, different interests and eccentric ways all involve a kind of secrecy – a double lot when a couple can’t agree to compromise. I still stand at the kitchen sink, eighteen years on, saying ‘Sorry’ to an empty back garden.

Bunny and his turn of phrase are good company, and the thoughtful interrogation of truth and fiction are effective, but, in many ways, the novel fails to deliver on its promises. Bunny makes much of the unreliability of his own account, and the need for scepticism in reading his tale, but this never finds a satisfying pay-off. The first person perspective is ideal for misdirection but it is not used; apart from being an occasionally unscrupulous journalist, Bunny is completely earnest about his story and use of language. And as we know he lived to write this tale, we see our anti-hero facing peril but we never sense any danger. There aren’t enough twists to really justify the journey the reader takes, and the noir-suffused atmosphere and characters, like his side-kick Georg buried in the Guardian archives, busy finding Bunny new leads, too often lean towards caricature.

There is definitely a parallel pleasure in reading Slowly Burning, as we constantly wonder how much of Bunny’s story is imagined, and how much was taken directly from Jarrett’s own life as a newspaperman. And the novel is a moving portrait of ageing and a quickly fading way of life, not to mention being another showcase for Jarrett’s fine writing. But a strong voice – and Bunny is certainly a memorable narrator – is not quite enough to sustain a novel of this length when the plot and subject matter feel so well trodden.


An Interview With Author Meurig Williams




My pic IEEE.jpg

Meurig was born and raised in Wales, and attended Oxford University in England where he received BA (first-class honors), MA and DPhil degrees in chemistry. As part of what was then referred to as the “brain drain”, he accepted a post-doctoral position at the University of California, Berkeley and became an American citizen. He is the holder of 15 US patents, and his multidisciplinary interests have resulted in publications in a wide range of journals across chemistry and physics. In retirement, he has continued the research he initiated at the Xerox Webster Research Center in New York into the triboelectric charging of insulating materials, which is one of the sciences underlying copier and laser printer technology. An overview of this was published as the cover page article in the July-August 2012 issue of The American Scientist entitled: What Creates Static Electricity? AmeriCymru spoke to Meurig about his latest book: What is wrong with the Welsh? Why are they mocked by the English?

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AmeriCymru: Care to introduce your new book “What is wrong with the Welsh? Why are they mocked by the English?”. And what inspired you to write this book?

Meurig: The subject of how the Welsh relate to the English has come up many times in discussions with a friend who was born in Wales and now lives in both England and the US; it was those discussions that provided inspiration for this book. I like to think that I have some perspective on this subject because I was born and raised in Wales, educated at Oxford University and then moved permanently to the US and became an American citizen. My friend is also an artist of renown, and she went to my home town Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire in order to capture its essence in a drawing, which is included in the book.

I focused on mockery of the Welsh by the English for two reasons. It encapsulates so much that is different between the two peoples. And it is a subject that is still considered so disturbing that the Welsh Assembly recently called for “an end to persistent anti-Welsh racism in the UK media”. In addition, this subject merited a serious article in The Spectator in 2009: “Mocking the Welsh is the last permitted bigotry”, by no less an authority on every aspect of Welsh life than Jan Morris. Who, incidentally, is described in the October 31, 2016 issue of The Spectator as “the greatest descriptive writer of her time”.

AmeriCymru: How did history help you understand this issue?

Meurig: In order to understand this issue, I delved into areas where the histories of Wales and England intersect. For a thousand years, the Welsh have been subjected to military and/or political domination by the English, which culminated in Henry VIII’s Act of Union, whose purpose was to totally annihilate Welsh culture, language and laws, and to covert Welsh people into English people in every way. It was a major act of attempted genocide. Henry VIII is now considered to have demonstrated behavioural characteristics of a psychopath according to modern psychiatric concepts.

But the English failed to destroy the Welsh. In spite of many major military defeats and extraordinary degrees of humiliation, Welsh culture, language and national identity have survived. Morris attributed that survival to Wales’ inextinguishable national spirit. And she suggested that it was English feelings of inferiority compared to that Welsh spirit that resulted in their mockery of the Welsh.

AmeriCymru: You argue that English mockery of the Welsh is a classic example of “psychological projection”. Care to tell us more?

Meurig: Projection is a concept in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. In my analysis, I interpret the mockery in terms of such projection. That is, the English project their own feelings of inferiority onto the Welsh, as opposed to a simple comparison of the two countries that was suggested by Morris. But in both interpretations, it is English feelings of inferiority that caused their mockery of the Welsh.

How can it be explained that the mockery continued unabated from the Tudor era (which was documented by Shakespeare), through the mighty days of Empire, to England’s current loss of power and identity crisis? Shakespeare wrote his plays half a century after the Act of Union, so he was aware of how the Welsh had survived its harsh impositions - equal rights were denied to the Welsh if they continued to speak Welsh, which was their only language in most cases.

At the height of Empire, English national identity was defined by its power, but that of Wales was not, because centuries of military defeats and humiliations had eliminated any vestige of power from the Welsh psyche. The fact that the mockery continued throughout the height of Empire indicates that even the riches and power of the English were not sufficient to alleviate feelings of inferiority relative to that Welsh spirit.

AmeriCymru: Do you feel that more should be done to counter this kind of mockery?

Meurig: After its loss of Empire, Britain has struggled to determine its role in the world and establish its national identity, and that has been confounded by the recent decision to leave the European Union (Brexit), not to mention Scotland’s ongoing threat to leave the United Kingdom. So if the mockery can be attributed to the inferior national identity of the English compared to the Welsh, it cannot be expected to improve any time soon.

AmeriCymru: Shouldn’t the book’s title have been WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE ENGLISH?

Meurig: A good question indeed considering that the mockery has been attributed to shortcomings of the English. And that led to a consideration of whether other characteristics of the English may also have contributed to the mockery. It turns out that some of the most prominent English writers have expressed the opinion that hypocrisy is central to the English character. These include Jeremy Paxman and Alan Bennett. And David Hare wrote in his 2015 book The Blue Touch Paper: “The only response any halfway sensitive person could have to British life in the 1950s was to laugh at it….Britons were petty, posturing and ridiculous.” The book clearly reveals that he is referring to the English, not more generally to the British.

I indicate that there are suggestions that the Church of England may be coming to terms with its barely disguised hypocrisy through the ages. In the mid 20th century, religion mattered deeply in British society, but since then church attendance has declined steeply. That has been traced to the social revolution of the 1960s. I discuss an example where the Church, so accustomed to marketing blind faith in the irrational, is finally beginning to replace hypocrisy with truth, which has always been a more difficult concept to embrace.

AmeriCymru: Has Welsh ‘confidence’ increased at all as a result of the Devolution votes in your opinion? If so, would further devolution or even full independence increase that trend?

Meurig: Welsh ‘confidence’ is certainly on the rise. After the second world war, Gwynfor Evans (1912-2005) assumed a leading role which slowly infused a renewed confidence in the Welsh national psyche, and a greater presence for Wales in British politics. He was also a lawyer and historian of note. He felt strongly that Henry VIII’s Act of Union had a major negative impact on Wales and personally made contributions to correct that. He was President of the Welsh political party Plaid Cymru for 36 years and was the first Member of Parliament to represent it at Westminster, where he was instrumental in passing the first Welsh Language Act, 1967, which gave some rights to the use of the Welsh language in legal proceedings in Wales. That was followed by creation of the Welsh Assembly in 1998 which provided limited power to make legislation independently of the British Parliament. That it required the use of the Welsh language in teaching and government jobs, as well as street signs, etc., provided a significant boost to Welsh confidence.

Perhaps the most significant indicator of the resurgence of Welsh pride is he emergence of young people who are able to express themselves fluently in both Welsh and English. The Welsh TV station S4C is central to enabling such advances.

But these developments do not seem to be reducing mockery by the English. And we can now understand that in view of our conclusion that the mockery results purely from shortcomings of the English.

AmeriCymru: What’s next for Meurig Williams? Any new works in the pipeline?

Meurig: Yes. After retirement 16 years ago, my main interest was to enjoy the beach life in Florida. But after a few years of such unapologetic indulgences that was not enough, and I hankered for a more meaningful existence. So a period of personal reinvention was called for. I had worked at the Xerox Research Center in Webster, New York for many years where I had the opportunity to conduct basic research into one of the little understood sciences upon which copier and laser printer technologies are based. I made some experimental observations which I considered to be of unusual importance, but they were not well received in that competitive community. So, here was my new retirement opportunity, a return to the world of scientific research after an absence of several decades. Thanks to the online availability of scientific journals, I brought myself up to date on the recent developments in the field, and integrated them with my early work.

This resulted in a series of successes - several publications in peer-reviewed journals, presentations at scientific conferences, and a cover page article in The American Scientist in 2012: “What Creates Static Electricity? Traditionally considered a physics problem, the answer is beginning to emerge from chemistry and other sciences.” My contributions became recognized by the scientific community to the extent that I was invited to be keynote speaker at a major conference hosted by NASA in 2013, and received a job offer by a California startup. That was as far as I could take my research without access to a laboratory for further experimentation. An opportunity to collaborate with a university department arose but that became unrealistic on account of the travel that would be required. So a second reinvention was called for. I decided to write about my re entry into the scientific world and extended that to include a variety of life experiences.

And that has led to my current book. But it is not the last. I have started a novel, part fiction, part truth based on a panoply of ambition, intrigue, betrayal, high drama and tragedy both among friends and a few notable personalities.

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

Meurig: For anyone who has a deep interest in Wales the country, Welsh life and Welsh people, there can be no better reading than Jan Morris’ 1984 landmark book THE MATTER OF WALES. EPIC VIEWS OF A SMALL COUNTRY. I consider it to provide the deepest and most sensitive insights into what being Welsh is all about. This is taken from that book:

Often hated and generally scorned by the English, the Welsh have fluctuated down the centuries from arrogance to self-doubt, from quiescence to rebellion, and today only a minority of them actively fight for their national identity, or even speak their native language; yet despite the overwhelming proximity of the English presence, a force which has affected the manners, thoughts and systems of half the world, for better or for worse Wales has not lost its Welshness.

Their brief years of triumph (referring to Owain Glyndwr’s uprising against the English in 15th century) represented a climax in the history of Wales, but changed nothing in the end: for the Welsh always were, and perhaps always will be, in a condition of resistance against the present, yearning sometimes for a more magnificent past, sometimes for a future more rewarding. It is the nature of the people: very likely the genius too.

Wales, a History by Gwynfor Evans, 1996. This book presents an important analysis of the critical junctures in Welsh history which determined its current state.

Wild Wales: its People, Language and Scenery, by George Borrow, 1862. Borrow was an English author who wrote novels and travelogues based on his experiences traveling around Europe:

But it is not for its scenery alone that Wales is deserving of being visited; scenes soon palls unless it is associated with remarkable events, and the names of remarkable men. Perhaps there is no country in the whole world which has been the scene of events more stirring and remarkable than those recorded in the history of Wales. What other country has been the scene of a struggle so deadly, so embittered, and protracted as that between the Welsh and the English – a struggle that did not terminate at Caernarvon, when Edward Longshanks foisted his young son upon the Welsh chieftains as Prince of Wales; but was kept up till the Battle of Bosworth Field, when a prince of Cumric blood won the crown of fair Britain.




New Book: What Is Wrong With The Welsh? Why Are They Mocked By The English?


meurig3.jpg"Mocking the Welsh is the last permitted bigotry” - The Spectator, 2009. It is entrenched in British lore, well documented by Shakespeare, and considered so disturbing that the Welsh Assembly has recently called for “an end to persistent anti-Welsh racism in the UK media”. Here, we explore reasons for this behavior, and trace its origin by delving into areas where the histories of Wales and England intersect. Both unfortunate and intrinsically unsavory characteristics of the English are identified, which are responsible for the mockery and other aspects of their culture.

Cover page

Shakespeare, in several plays, mocked the Welsh for their manners, language, temperament and outmoded attitudes. In Henry V, Fluellen is a Welsh captain in Henry V’s army. He is a comic figure, whose characterization draws on stereotypes of the Welsh at that time. He is shown here (left) intimidating the soldier Pistol while on campaign in France during the Hundred Years' War. Pistol had mocked Fluellen for wearing a leek in his cap on St. David’s Day, but Fluellen, in his flamboyant way, makes Pistol eat the raw leek. The name Fluellen is the anglicised version of the Welsh surname Llywelyn, the English finding it difficult to render the Welsh sound ‘Ll’....

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Alan Bilton is the author of two novels, The Known and Unknown Sea (2014), variously compared to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the 1902 movie, A Trip to the Moon, and Dante’s Inferno, and The Sleepwalkers’ Ball (2009) which one critic described as “Franz Kafka meets Mary Poppins”. As a writer, he is obviously a hard man to pin down. He is also the author of books on Silent Film Comedy, Contemporary Fiction, and America in the 1920s. He teaches Creative Writing, Contemporary Literature, and Film at Swansea University in Wales.




AnywhereOutoftheWorld_Full.jpgAmeriCymru: Hi Alan and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to tell us a little about your latest book:- 'Anywhere Out Of The World'?

Alan: I wanted to come up with a collection of short stories poised somewhere between horror and comedy – odd bedfellows, I know, but that was part of the attraction. Conventional wisdom says that the comic comforts rather than unsettles, and that humour stops dread in its tracks. At the same time though both are linked by a sense of anxiety and surprise: comedy and horror bypass the rational, logical parts of the brain to generate an immediate physical response – whether a laugh or a shudder.

I also wanted to write a series of stories which played with the Surrealist idea of the marvellous. The Surrealists believed – and they’re probably right – that we’re essentially conservative creatures who travel the same paths and perform the same tasks day in, day out – what the Surrealists called ‘the habitual’. Crucially however, they also suggested that reality isn’t as stable or solid as such routines might suggest. One false move, one random slip, and we stumble headfirst into a strange space outside of the familiar – the twilight zone of ‘the marvellous’.

Now the marvellous sounds marvellous, but the experience of the marvellous is profoundly unsettling – Breton called it ‘convulsive’ - in the sense that we’ve fallen through a trap door into a wholly alien realm. Or if not alien, then the familiar rendered strange – as in a dream.

I wanted to write a collection of short stories which functioned as a kind of crooked house with secret passages between stories, mysterious port-holes and hidden staircases and abandoned lift shafts, which take one both from one story to another and from the everyday world to the kingdom of the uncanny. The stories are set in all sorts of places – Wales, Russia, Paris, Venice – but a sense of estrangement is central to all of them – the sense that characters are somehow in the wrong place.

AmeriCymru: One of the stories in this collection is set in Walla Walla, Washington. What inspired this tale?

Alan: Although the story involves the ghost of Princess Diana and a hungry bear, much of it did really happen to me – more or less. I was invited to give a lecture on silent film comedy at Walla Walla while on a University recruitment trip. I really was picked up at the airport by a Native American guy who asked me whether I thought that Princess Di was beautiful, and in the next breath why I (by which I guess he meant, the British) killed her. He really did give me his card and say ‘Wherever you are, I will come and get you” in a strangely menacing tone of voice. And then when I got there, there were posters advertising my talk everywhere – somebody had done a really terrific job in terms of promotion. The night of my lecture, the campus was full of crowds of students and locals, all of them discussing some talk a visiting speaker was due to give. Anyway, I went to the bath room, and when I emerged, everybody was gone: I went to my lecture theatre and there was only one old lady sitting there, waiting rather grumpily. It turned out that all the crowds were heading to a talk on climate change – as if global warming is more important than Buster Keaton, I know! – and I ended up playing my movie clips in a vast darkened auditorium to an audience of one. So there you go, all those bits were true. The bear, I made up.  

AmeriCymru: In your first novel 'The Sleepwalkers Ball' we find the following passage:-"Or is it that alongside this track runs other lines - repetitions, variations, contradictions - echoes of all those lives we failed to live and the things we failed to do?" To what extent are the stories in this anthology an exploration of the profound disconnect between peoples real lives and their possibilities and potential.

Alan: Well, the default position for all my writing is the subjunctive – what is wished for, or feared, or what might have been. I’m not a realist. My fiction is all about how the imagination rebels against the real – whether for good or ill. The unspoken question in The Sleepwalkers Ball is whether one’s fantasy life is more meaningful than mundane life, or merely a kind of infantile escape from it. The same notion pops up in several of the stories too. Has the artist in the title story escaped from the everyday through his art, or stumbled into some kind of metaphysical trap? It’s also there in the dual endings of ‘The Honeymoon Suite’ – the notion that the question of what happened is more of a labyrinth than a straight line.

AmeriCymru: In your online interview with Jon Gower re: 'The Known and Unknown Sea' you talk about things being taken in the wrong context and 'fever dreams'. How much of that applies to the stories in this collection? Are there thematic  parallells between these stories and your earlier novels?

Alan: I actually don’t have any problem with readers taking things in the wrong context – the beauty of mystery is that you’re free to decide to what extent you want to interpret or ‘solve’ it. Much of what I’ve written so far can be seen as a fever dream or an extended anxiety attack: the short stories perhaps even more so. Short stories often deal with writers’ main concerns in a very direct and undiluted form – which can be good or bad, of course. All my books are slapstick comedies which can be read as uncanny and terrifying or farcical and light hearted – I’m happy for the reader to juggle these two ideas or moods, as they wish. 5. What is your take on the art of short story writing? What, for you, makes a good short story?

There is a school of thought that the short story and the novel are in fact wholly different disciplines, and that the short story is closer to poetry than prose. I’m afraid that in my philistine way I’ve never felt this, though. A story should be as long as it takes the teller to tell it. And for all the experimental aspects of the stories – their absurdism, irreality and sense of crossed paths – each of the stories is intended to work as a well told tale. They’re not slices of life or impressionistic snapshots: they’re complete entities, with a sense of order, meaning and shape we rarely encounter in real life. I tend to like a sense of structure in fiction – it’s a lie, but a necessary lie, something which we turn to fiction to supply because it’s terribly absent from everyday life.

AmeriCymru: You have a keen appreciation of early silent film comedy. Does this inform or influence your writing? To what extent does what you are currently watching or reading influence your prose?

Alan: Yes, I spent nearly ten years writing a book on silent film comedy, and talking about them with students. As a kid I adored Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin and so on – Buster Keaton came later. It’s amazing to think that such antique films were still being shown on TV when I was a kid – although I guess they weren’t so ancient then. I loved their dreamlike sense that anything could happen, that they were a kind of cartoon occupied by real people, a black and white and soundless universe, cut off from real life, from realism. And I liked the idea that this universe was separate, even if, for me, these films were also full of anxiety: I worried about Stan and Ollie when they screwed things up, anxiously worried about what might happen next. They seemed to me to be both a dream and a nightmare – which is what I’ve tried to translate into fiction.  

For a long time I was an incredible film buff and pretty much watched a film every day – these days family life isn’t so conducive such idleness, alas. Film – from silent comedy to European New Wave cinema – still influences a lot of what I write though. Anywhere Out of the World – which is a Chagall painting as well as a Baudelaire poem – was also very influenced by early 20th Century Modern Art. Visual things tend to be easier to import into fiction than music – or at least that’s how I find it. I still try and read a novel every week – and no doubt whatever I’m reading affects the imaginative weather of whatever I’m scribbling away at.

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us something about your first novel 'Sleepwalkers Ball'?

Alan: Sleepwalker is, I guess, my most dreamlike book – in the original draft none of the characters had names, until my editor put me straight – but I never saw it as a difficult or experimental book, still less as some intellectual puzzle to be solved. It’s a love story set in the same black and white, slapstick comedy universe I talked about earlier. The four stories are all versions of the same romance, and inter-connect, or contradict, or question, each other at will. It was also my first stab at creating a world in which the imagination is allowed to wander where it likes – where what might have happened, or what you wanted to happen, or what you were worried about happening, are all given the same narrative weight. I intended it to be sweet and funny, although one reviewer described it as a grotesque horror show and ended the review with the prediction ‘I’m sure there’ll be more of this unreadable rubbish to come’. They were right too…

AmeriCymru: Your second novel 'The Known and Unknown Sea' has been described as "a beautiful and heartbreaking journey through memory, loss and imagination". How would you describe it?

Alan: It was an attempt – just before my first child was born – to write a novel exploring the imaginative world of a child. It’s about how resilient a child’s imagination is, and how flexible too – how they can accept and process impossible or inexplicable things and yet maintain their own internal buoyancy.

So, on the one hand it’s a book about what children fear most, but also a playful, comic adventure – another juxtaposition of contrary ideas, just like Anywhere Out of the World.

It’s also a book made out of materials you might find a school art room – the sets all sticky with glue, the paint applied with a stick. So the houses are very square and blocky, the figures stick men or scribbled beards. The aesthetic or form of the book came out of this basic idea – crooked lines, primary colours, a distorted perspective where the sky is just a thick blue line above the earth. A child’s point of view is very hard to capture via language alone, so I tried to find the right visual match: readers can let me know whether or not I managed it.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Alan Bilton? Any new titles in the pipeline?

Alan: The next book is my big Russian novel – all Russian novels are big, of course, it’s a contractual obligation. My elevator pitch for the book is ‘the bastard child of Agatha Christie and Mikhail Bulgakov’. It’s a murder mystery set during the Russian Civil War, though the atmosphere and setting are not entirely realistic, you’ll be astonish to hear.

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

Alan: At a time when countries are either building walls or burning bridges, cross-cultural links have never been more important. Exploring different cultures is always a mix of the known and the unknown, the familiar and the foreign – which is to say, part of the adventure of life. We all need to keep our imaginative doors as wide open as we can. 



Interview by Ceri Shaw


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AmeriCymru spoke with Mari Griffith author of 'The Witch of Eye' BUY THE BOOK HERE

"Eleanor Cobham, the beautiful but unpopular Duchess of Gloucester, is proud of her hard-won status among the English aristocracy.  She has used every trick in the book to entrap her royal husband, Humphrey of Gloucester, uncle to King Henry VI who is unmarried and childless...."  read more here



A PROMISE KEPT!

AmeriCymru: A year or so ago, when we interviewed Mari Griffith on the publication of her debut novel 'Root of the Tudor Rose', she promised that Americymru readers would be among the first to know about her new novel. And are we, Mari?

Mari: Yes, absolutely! You're certainly among the first because the book has only recently been published. And, by the way, thank you for inviting me back - it's a pleasure to be here.

AmeriCymru: Now, this is your second novel, isn't it, so just before we hear all about it, can you tell us whether the first one did well?

Mari: Very well, I'm pleased to say, particularly in the US which I wasn't really expecting. But perhaps that had a little bit to do with this very web site - who knows?! And I was particularly pleased by its success because Root of the Tudor Rose was a story woven around the little-known Welsh origins of the Tudor dynasty. Essentially it was about the clandestine love affair between Catherine de Valois, the widow of King Henry V and the Welshman Owain ap Maredydd ap Tudur. I was filled with a missionary zeal to point out that the most famous dynasty in English history wasn't really 'English' at all - there was a strong element of Welsh in there, too.

AmeriCymru: And is the second book a sequel to it?

Mari: No, not exactly and neither does it have any particular Welsh flavour though it does continue the story of one or two of the characters we've already met, particularly Eleanor Cobham who became the Duchess of Gloucester during the course of the first book.

AmeriCymru: So what made you want to write this one?

Mari: Because it's such an astounding story. Let me give you a flavour of it ... and perhaps giving you the title is a good place to start. It's called The Witch of Eye and it's the story of the events leading up to the most sensational treason trial of the fifteenth century. Now, the Duke of Gloucester, who was so very nasty to Owen Tudor in the first book, is heir to the throne of his young nephew, King Henry VI. The king is a troubled teenager, spotty and a bit dim, who is by no means suited to the position he's inherited as supreme sovereign of England and France. To the Duchess of Gloucester's way of thinking, her husband, Humphrey, would make a far, far better King of England. She also realises that if anything should happen to King Henry, then her own husband would inherit the throne and she, Eleanor, would become Queen of England. A delicious prospect and she becomes obsessed with it!

AmeriCymru: Don't tell me she tried to bump him off!

Mari: Who, the King? No, not exactly, but she did gather around her a group of advisers, some of whom could interpret certain astral signs and not only read her horoscope but also tell her what the future held in store for the young King. And one of those advisers was the witch of the title - 'The Witch of Eye'.

AmeriCymru: 'Eye' as in 'I Spy'? That's an odd name.

Mari: Yes, isn't it? In fact it was the manor farm of Eye-next-Westminster, the monastic estate which belonged to Westminster Abbey and its Benedictine monastery. If you happen to be a tourist in modern-day London, it's difficult to imagine that in medieval times, a thousand acres of land to the west of the Abbey was prime farming land. It was a cattle station, too, where drovers from Wales and the West of England would take their bullocks to be fattened up before being slaughtered and sold at Smithfield Market to the townsfolk of London who had no room to farm crops and keep animals of their own. The whole of the area now occupied by Hyde Park and Mayfair to the north, right down through Belgravia to Sloane Square and Pimlico in the south, was once part of that farm. The old name of 'Eye' changed down the centuries and became Eybury and, finally, Ebury, which is now seen only in street names. One of these is Ebury Bridge Road which leads on to Buckingham Palace Road and the palace itself stands on land which was once part of the great monastic estate of Eye-next-Westminster.

AmeriCymru: So tell us more about the treason.

Mari: Well, in a sense, poor old Eleanor was more sinned against than sinning because, above all else, she wanted to be able to give her husband a son and heir so that, in the event that he did inherit the throne, at least he'd have legitimate heirs of his own. The only problem was that she sought help from Margery Jourdemayne, a so-called 'wise woman' whose husband was the yeoman-farmer in charge of the Eye estate. Eleanor consulted Margery in her desperate search for magical potions to help her conceive a child. Not such a terrible thing in itself but when the Duke's enemies got hold of the story they blew it up out of all proportion and it all got very nasty indeed. The sensational trial at which they were accused of treason against the King was the biggest cause célèbre of the fifteenth century!

AmeriCymru: Not much chance of a happy ending, then!

Mari: There is a happy ending, as it happens, but only because I invented it! It's the only part of the story which isn't absolutely based on fact. I decided to create a new character, a young Devonshire woman called Jenna, who could provide me with a positive love story which would make things turn out all right in the end. Oh, and there's a little girl in there, too, whom readers seem to dote on. She's called Kitty, or sometimes 'Kittymouse', which is Jenna's pet name for her.

AmeriCymru: It sounds as if the characters really came alive for you.

Mari: Oh, they did. It was almost as though they lived right here in the Vale of Glamorgan - around the corner from our house! I think you've got to believe in your characters before you can expect readers to enjoy your book.

AmeriCymru: Well, from what you've said about it, Mari, it sounds as though readers are already beginning to enjoy it.

Mari: It does seem that they are because it's already picked up several five star reviews. And I'm delighted at that because I've got a bad dose of 'second book syndrome' at the moment, just hoping that people will like the second book as much as they liked the first!

AmeriCymru: So, just remind us of the title again ...

Mari: The title is The Witch of Eye and it's published by Accent Press. You'll find it on Amazon as an ebook and it's out as a paperback too, so it should be available through most US bookshops and via the Americymru web site of course. And by the way, thank you for making that possible and for letting me tell you all about it. But in case anyone has any problems, I'll leave you with some links you might find helpful:

http://amzn.to/1ThU2Hn

www.marigriffith.co.uk

www.accentpress.co.uk

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From the Wikipedia:- "Born Ernest James Perrin in Manchester, he has lived in Wales, England and France on occasions, from where he contributed to the Guardian Country Diary. Before turning to writing, he worked in Cwm pennant as a shepherd.  As a writer, he has made regular contributions to a number of newspapers and climbing magazines. As a climber, he has developed new routes, as well as making solo ascents of a number of established routes."

AmeriCymru spoke to Jim about his new book Snowdon: The Story of a Welsh Mountain'

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AmeriCymru:   It is evident from your book that you have visited Snowdon on many occasions. How would you describe your relationship with the mountain?


Jim: Long-standing, intimate and passionate – also a marriage of mind as well as body. There are so many dimensions to the mountain that I find fascinating. And it is, of course, extraordinarily beautiful.

AmeriCymru:  Care to describe your book ''Snowdon'' for our readers? What inspired you to write it?

Jim: In a sense it’s a biography of the mountain, in that there’s an element of recounting chronological “life” story. It’s highly discursive, certainly not a guidebook, and it tries to explain and depict as many elements relevant to the mountain as possible within the relatively short space of 240 pages – from geology, physical form and folklore through to its importance as contemporary recreational focus.

AmeriCymru:  In your book you explain that Snowdon is a special mountain for the Welsh. In what sense has it been special historically?

Jim: The highest point of any nation always has significance – mythically, oropolitically. Think of your own Mount Whitney in the contiguous states. To the Welsh, Eryri – the mountainous region around Snowdon – has long been a cultural and linguistic heartland. In earlier times it was the chief resistant region against the English colonists – think of Gwynedd, where Eryri’s to be found, as a Helmand province of its time. This is why Edward 1 made such a point of holding a feast on Snowdon summit in 1284, after the defeat of Llew Olaf and the execution of his brother Dafydd. The line of Gwynedd destroyed, or so he thought, to appropriate their most potent physical symbol was crucial to his imperial aspirations. But since you can never conquer a mountain, Snowdon (the Saxon name curiously appears to be older than any extant Welsh one) emerged from the cloud it had been put under by Edward’s militarism and somehow grew into a resistant symbol of Welsh nationhood.



AmeriCymru:  Can you tell us a little more about the folklore surrounding the mountain?

Jim: There isn’t another mountain in Britain that has so rich and various a folklore, from abounding tales of the faery folk that perhaps have their origin in some collective-unconscious memory of encounters with an older race of inhabitants here as Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages overlapped and succeeded each other, to the wealth of association with what became known, after it had migrated to early-medieval Europe, as “The Matter of Britain”. These were the stories centring around Arthur and Merlin that Sir Thomas Malory codified in Le Morte Darthur (excuse Malory’s French!). It seems  highly likely that their early emergence had some connection with the Snowdon region, where they locate very precisely at certain sites like Dinas Emrys in Nant Gwynen (the name of which was changed by a later generation of colonialists, the English Ordnance Survey, to that tautological abomination “Nant Gwynant”, as which it remains on maps to the present day).



AmeriCymru:  Which of the six best known paths to the summit do you prefer? Which would you recommend to the first time visitor?



Jim: My recommendation as a relatively straightforward introduction would be for a circuit, taking the Snowdon Ranger path from Cwellyn in ascent, which is long and easy and takes you over the crest of Snowdon’s finest cliff, Clogwyn Du’r Arddu, and then following the Bwlch Main ridge in descent, which leads you down to Rhyd Ddu, only a short step from your starting point, and gives you the best views out west to beautiful lesser hills along the Lleyn Peninsula, with a sea at either hand. Both routes are replete with association from the early literature of the mountain – Thomas Johnson, Pennant, Coleridge, Wordsworth and so on.

AmeriCymru:  Where in your opinion is the most satisfying rock climbing to be found on Snowdon?



Jim: No problem answering that! Clogwyn Du’r Arddu on the northern flank is by common consent the finest cliff in Britain, the rock-climbing on it magnificently characterful and varied. But high, serious, technical, and not a place where beginners are advised to try their hand too immediately!

AmeriCymru:  In your chapter ''The starting Of The Wild Idea'' there are a number of excerpts from accounts of visits to Snowdon. How prominent a role did Snowdon play in the 18th century revival of interest in the ''sublime of nature''?



Jim: It provided a perfect paradigm for Burke’s hugely influential aesthetics essay of 1757, “A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful”, which underpinned the Romantic movement that welled up towards the end of the Eighteenth Century. All the early travellers here saw it thus – Pennant and Wordsworth, who borrowed from him in true Cambridge copyist  tradition, particularly. With the increasing difficulties involved in continental travel during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, Snowdon’s relative accessibility made the mountain very fashionable indeed.

AmeriCymru:  Where can people go online to buy ''Snowdon''?

Jim: The book’s published by one of the great Welsh institutions, Gwasg Gomer of Llandysul, and a fabulous job they’ve done too on the production and design, from the handmade Italian endpapers to the exquisite Sion Ilar cover illustration. So buying it direct from Gomer seems a good way to keep the faith www.gomer.co.uk/   



AmeriCymru:  What''s next for Jim Perrin? 



Jim: My next book’s already out, as of March 2013 – it’s called Shipton and Tilman: The Great Decade of Himalayan Exploration (Hutchinson, £25), and is about the quirky 1930s friendship between the two men who, venturesome eco-conscious ragamuffins that they were, became the model and ideal for ethical mountain activity thereafter. Of all my books, it’s the one I’ve most enjoyed writing! I wanted to call it “The Spies Who Invented the Yeti” (they were, and they did), but the publishers thought best to play straight. At the moment I’m working on a collection of stories – my first attempt at fiction. It’s due out from the little Welsh publishing house of Cinnamon Press in the fall of 2013 under the title of A Snow Goose and other stories. Next after that is a critical biography of the major Victorian miscellaneous prose writer George Borrow, who’ll be known to AmeriCymru followers as the author of Wild Wales – the best book of travel ever published about any part of the British Isles, and one of the strangest too.

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

Jim: “Don’t follow leaders/Watch the parking meters”, and get your asses over to Wales asap to see what Snowdon’s like for yourselves. Pick up on the clues in my book, though, on how to stay away from the crowds, and study the O.S. 1:25,000 map very carefully, even though it is a product of the English military establishment. See you there among the clouds! 



 Works by Jim Perrin on Amazon 

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Prichard''s NoseAmeriCymru spoke to Welsh author Sam Adams about his first novel Prichard''s Nose which  tells the tale of a man who lost his nose in strange circumstances.

Sam Adams comes from Gilfach Goch, Glamorgan and is a former editor of Poetry Wales and a former chairman of the English-language section of Yr Academi Gymreig. He edited the Collected Poems and Collected Stories of Roland Mathias, is the author of three monographs in the ‘Writers of Wales’ series and is a frequent contributor of poems, criticism and essays to a number of magazines. He published his third collection of poems, Missed Chances in 2007.

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Sam AdamsAmeriCymru: How would you describe your novel Prichard’s Nose?

Sam: Let me say first that I am delighted to be given this opportunity by AmeriCymru/Welsh American Bookstore, to talk about the novel, and its subject, the historical Thomas Prichard, who still fascinates me.

But to answer your question: much of Prichard’s Nose is, I suppose, an old-fashioned picaresque novel, written in an approximation of nineteenth-century style, because Prichard is supposed to be writing an account of his own life. Readers will find the ‘autobiographical’ chapters begin with the sort of summary of their contents that you often find in nineteenth-century books. His story opens on a small farmhouse high on a ridge overlooking the River Usk in Breconshire, where he has come with his mother as an infant. The scandalous event that brought them there gradually emerges during the story. He describes his boyhood on and in the neighbourhood of the farm, his education at the home of a wealthy great-uncle in a nearby village, and his bitterness at the discovery that this relative has no intention of helping him any further. Having learned his father left him and his mother to join a brother in London, he determines to go to the great city and find him. He journeys there on foot, with a company of drovers driving a herd of cattle across England to a sale for the London market, where he says goodbye to his companions and makes his way alone to the last known address of his father. There his uncle takes him in, for his father is dead. His adventures in London begin quietly enough when his uncle obtains for him an apprenticeship in a firm of accountants, but an interest in all kinds of theatrical entertainments and a chance meeting with a group of actors lead to his being engaged at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, under the management of the famous Shakespearian actor Philip Kemble. Although he gains some modest success on the stage, he realises he will never be given a leading role and his ambition turns in another direction: he will become a writer. At the end of his account he has a book of poems on Welsh subjects that he plans to sell in Wales.

In parallel with Prichard’s autobiography, the novel tells the story of Martin, a hapless, lonely young man, who also harbours the ambition to be a writer, and has taken on the task of researching Prichard. He begins grudgingly but finds himself drawn into the pursuit of this actor, known as ‘Mr Jefferies’, and (poor) poet with the pen name ‘Jeffery Llewelyn’, who was the first to write a book about Twm Sion Catti, and who somehow lost his nose. Martin finds the manuscript of Prichard’s story, which has long lain neglected in a library, and, to his utter confusion, that another researcher, the cleverer, more confident Rachel, has beaten him to this discovery. They meet and Martin, on the rebound from a brief disastrous marriage, falls for Rachel. Their doomed relationship is conducted by correspondence, the letters serving also to explore Prichard’s later life.

The book operates in two time frames, one in the first quarter of the nineteenth century and the other in the last quarter of the twentieth (but before mobile phones and email simplified and speeded contact between people), and the style varies accordingly. The last section of the book, as I have already indicated, is written in the epistolary manner, another old-fashioned approach to story telling, though one still quite often used.

AmeriCymru: How did you first become interested in Thomas Prichard?

Sam:  I did not even recognise the name on that day in 1972 when, in the course of a visit to his home in Brecon, Roland Mathias said ‘Why don’t you write something about T J Llewelyn Prichard – the man who wrote Twm Sion Catti? As editor of the Anglo-Welsh Review, the outstanding journal of literature and the arts in Wales at the time, Roland was keen to fill gaps in the history of Welsh writing in English, and to encourage young writers, a category for which I just about qualified at the time. ‘All right,’ I said, ‘I’ll see what I can do.’

My first stop was the Y Bywgraffiadur Cymreig, the Dictionary of Welsh Biography. The brief Prichard entry told me very little and, as I soon discovered, was inaccurate. It said he was born in Trallong, a hamlet in Breconshire. He wasn’t. It said he married Naomi Jones of Builth. No, he married Naomi James, and she came from Hereford. It was partly right in saying he died in poverty in Swansea in 1875 or 1876, when actually he was rescued from abject poverty by the Samaritan actions of good citizens of Swansea shortly before he died, more than a decade earlier, in January 1862. It said he was buried in Tabernacle Graveyard in the heart of Swansea. That, too, was wrong: he was tumbled into a paupers’ grave, which he shares with several others, in Dan-y-Graig Cemetery on the eastern outskirts of Swansea, and you cannot find the precise location now since scrap-metal thieves have stolen the small, numbered cast-iron marker that formerly identified it.

There were clues to follow up in DWB: for example, the entry mentions his having acted in plays in Brecon and Aberystwyth, and his employment for a time by Lady Llanover. However, the verifiable facts I discovered about Prichard I owe to a lot of reading, leg work and luck, and those wonderful storehouses of knowledge, public libraries, especially in Cardiff and Swansea, and the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth. In Cardiff library I read all that Prichard wrote, some of it, especially the poetry, an uphill struggle, but Twm Sion Catti, unsophisticated as it is, was well worth the effort; and at Swansea, in the great bound volumes of the broadsheet Cambrian newspaper, I found the sad and moving facts of his final days. He died as a result of falling into his own fire, as the report of the inquest describes at length.

There was also the account (published in a journal called Cymry Fu) by Charles Wilkins, postmaster of Merthyr Tudful, of meeting Prichard at a dramatic performance in the town in 1857, when, in his late sixties, he was still wandering around Wales trying to sell copies of his Heroines of Welsh History, perhaps the first feminist take on historical studies. Wilkins describes a gaunt old man with a wax nose held in place by his spectacles, who spoke with ‘an earnest snuffle’ about great days acting in London’s top theatres.       

It was no wonder that barely half way through gathering evidence for the article I had promised I would write for Roland Mathias, my subject had become an obsession. I continued to research Prichard, off and on, for more than thirty years, and at the end was still dissatisfied. I knew that, no matter how long I kept digging, I would be unable to find answers to all the questions that nagged at me. That was when I had the idea of writing a novel, which would allow me to use my imagination to fill the gaps in Prichard’s life story that another lifetime of research could not possibly bridge.  



Twm Sion Cati''s cave, near Llanymddyfri

Twm Sion Catis cave near Llanymddyfri                   

AmeriCymru: Can you tell us a little about Twm Sion Catti for the benefit of American readers?

Sam:  Prichard’s book Twm Sion Catti, published in Aberystwyth at his own expense in 1828, is littered with anachronisms and not even faintly historical. It is based on folk tales, embroideries on far distant facts passed from generation to generation by word of mouth, until gathered in chapbooks sometime in the eighteenth century and sold by fair-day hawkers. I am fairly confident this was Prichard’s source material. To it he added another, thicker layer of embroidery. That the book was a commercial success, his only commercial success, we gather from the existence of pirated editions. Hoping to cash in again, he published a considerably expanded version in 1839 and, among the papers left when he died, was a third, further enlarged, text, which was published posthumously in 1873. There have been dozens of versions since, a few in comic book form, all owing something to Prichard’s original.

The historical Twm Sion Catti was more properly Thomas Jones, born about 1530, the illegitimate son of a Cardiganshire landowner, who lived at Fountain Gate near Tregaron. The name by which he is familiarly known derives from a combination of the names of his father and his mother: he was Thomas, or Twm, the son of John (Sion) and Catti (Catherine). He was formally pardoned by the highest court in the land in 1559, at the time of Elizabeth I, though of what is not clear. Perhaps before he settled down he had been the madcap witty reprobate and outlaw that we find in the folk tales. He became a man of substance – a landowner in succession to his father, an antiquary, genealogist and bard, whose manuscripts, dating from about 1570, may be consulted at the National Library. His wealthy second wife, whom he married in 1607, was Joan, widow of Thomas Williams of Ystrad-ffin and daughter of Sir John Price of Brecon Priory, but he did not have long to enjoy the marriage: he died in 1609.

AmeriCymru: Where can people go to buy Prichard’s Nose on line.

Sam: The book was published by Y Lolfa in 2010. It is available as a paperback from Amazon and it can be downloaded as a Kindle book.

AmeriCymru: You are also a poet. Care to tell us a little about your poetry?

Sam: When I started out as a writer I thought of myself as a poet. Although I have written a great deal of prose in recent years, notably in a long and continuing series of ‘Letters from Wales’ for the Carcanet Press magazine PN Review (which I know is available in the USA), I still get a special feeling when I write a poem that other people enjoy. My early poetry was chiefly about Gilfach Goch, where I was born, the place and its characters, and while I still turn to those close-to-home subjects from time to time, I now draw on a far wider range of times, themes, people and places. My poems have been published in all the leading magazines of Wales, elsewhere in the UK and overseas. I have published three books of poems, the latest, Missed Chances, from Y Lolfa in 2007, is available from Google Books, Amazon and Abe Books.

Better than trying to describe the kind of poems I write, perhaps I should just give you a sample. The first is a childhood memory from World War II, the second a kind of extended metaphor, and the third comes from visiting the rooms in Rome, just alongside the Spanish Steps, where the artist Joseph Severn was nursing his friend John Keats in his final illness.  



Bomb on Gilfach

Not meant to be the target, we copped a stray.

When Swansea burned and set the sky alight,

Some German aircraft, limping loaded from the fray,

Fleeing shattered streets, dismembered dead,

Droned on and onwards through a moonless night.

The pilot, frantic for a fix, and the valleys'' spread

Fingers black on black beneath, said

''Drop the poxy thing, we''re losing height''.

 

A bomb fell in the night and no one died.

The news arrived as fat bacon fried

For breakfast with yesterday''s damped bread:

The doctor''s surgery was smashed, they said,

The old man, wrapped in wool and flannelette,

Descended safe abed through splintered planks

To the floor below. The windows of the church were blank;

Entire its slated roof had shifted

As if a clumsy hand had lifted

And once more, at an angle, set

 

It down. The war had come to seek us out

And we had slept. Some evil Nazi lout

Had dropped a bomb a few yards from our door

And no one heard. But all our nights were full

Of lumbering drams, the thump and roar

Of engines, infernal rattles as the coal was screened.

We would start to wakefulness if a lull

Occurred and somehow silence supervened.

 

Behind the skew-whiff church and silenced bell,

On a rushy patch of moss and water seep,

A vast inverted cone of mud struck deep

Into the hill. The frogs had been through hell.

We searched and fought for jagged shards

Of bomb, swapping spares for sets of cards

Or stamps – and watched them rust on windowsills;

Most wonderful, the doctor''s cellar door, blown down,

Disclosed his scattered packs of bandages and pills,

And, lustrous in the sunlight, carboys, blue and brown.

 

Kite Flying 

On days of noisy wind that combs

The rippling grasses this way and that

As it passes, and tugs at clothes

 

With sly unbuttoning fingers

And takes the breath away, I think

How we would lie in some drowned hollow

 

While the slow kite wriggled in its stream.

How sad that some boys never learn

To fly a kite. I thought that I

 

Should never get it right – perhaps

I had made my cross to rigid,

Perhaps my paste and paper were too frail.

 

We knew those moments when the breeze

Would fail our fledgling project

And the taut held line would sag,

 

But we launched out sweetly on the air

Again and cast off twine enough

To let our hobby climb and climb.

...

At the Spanish Steps

February again, late afternoon:

Black fingers tilt

The fountain''s silver, quick

In its marble spoon.

Sun stripes spilt

From a shadowed alley

Across the cobbled square

Will not linger there.

Darkness follows soon.

 

Severn, sentry in the march

Of life, saw the fountain,

Like a foundered boat, lurch

At its mooring. Light ebbing,

Descended the steep stair, ran

One thirty steps across the square, sobbing,

To the trattoria,

Bought supper for a dying man.

 

Six sentry paces past the narrow cot,

Two at the blank wall,

Six paces back, turn,

Three at the tall,

Shuttered windows. Look down:

There in the marble hull,

Like blood, the waters for a moment burn.

 

After the death mask,

The scissored curl of auburn hair,

After the bonfire, the sickbed burned to ash,

After the vengeful smash

Of unflawed pots, the room waits,

Still at last, stripped bare.

 

And troupes of lovers pass

To climb the steps and meet

With others going down, or pause

To sit and lean together, close.

Water in the wallowing boat

Catches a gleam, holds it afloat.

 

Like Severn, I see the sun''s snail track

Recede across the water''s black,

Walk six paces back.  


  

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

Sam:  I greatly appreciate the opportunity you have given me of meeting members and readers of AmeriCymru and telling them something about my writing. Of course I hope they enjoy it, and if reading this raises further questions I would be glad to attempt to answer them. Dylan Thomas, R S Thomas, Roland Mathias and others, are I know well remembered, but it is quite wonderful that an interest in Wales and things Welsh, particularly the work of living authors, is alive and well in the USA, thanks to the care of and enthusiasm generated by AmeriCymru.

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J. D. Davies is a Welsh author and historian. Born in Llanelli, south-west Wales, he has written a number of factual books on the subject of 17th century naval history. He is also the author of a series of naval fiction adventures featuring Captain Matthew Quinton set in the reign of Charles II during the Anglo-Dutch Wars. AmeriCymru spoke to David about his latest book Britannia's Dragon: A Naval History of Wales.


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Britannia's Dragon: A Naval History of WalesAmeriCymru:  Hi David and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. What can you tell us about your recent book Britannia's Dragon: A Naval History Of Wales? 

David: Thanks for giving me the chance to talk about the book! It's the first full length study of the part played by Wales and the Welsh in naval history, beginning in the Roman period, going through the age of the independent kingdoms and the conquest right the way up to the present day. It's based on several years of detailed research, including a great deal of work on original sources and my own fieldwork in different parts of the country. The book's been very well received, and was recently shortlisted for the prestigious Mountbatten Literary Award.   

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AmeriCymru:  How significant was the Welsh contribution to British naval history? 

David: Enormous! For example, Nelson's navy couldn't have been as successful as it was without Welsh copper, mined at Parys Mountain on Anglesey and smelted in Greenfield, Swansea and elsewhere: because it reduced the frequency of major refits, coppering effectively increased the size of the operational fleet by a third, giving it a huge advantage over Napoleon's navy. The Victorian Royal Navy depended entirely on Welsh coal, and so, too, did the navies of many European states before 1914, including Russia and France. And Wales always provided large numbers of men for the Royal Navy. For example, in the book I make the pretty controversial, but thoroughly documented, claim that at the Battle of Trafalgar, the proportion of Welshmen in the fleet - relative to size of population - was much greater than that for the Scots or Irish, and if you count seamen alone, even slightly larger than the English contribution, again relatively speaking. The book also discusses famous Welsh naval men, such as Sir Thomas Foley (Nelson's right hand man), Henry James Raby (the first man ever to actually wear the Victoria Cross) and Commander Tubby Linton, one of the most brilliant submarine commanders of World War 2. It also looks at the history of Pembroke's royal dockyard, which built over 250 ships for the Royal Navy - including many famous battleships, five royal yachts, and Sir John Franklin's Erebus, the wreck of which has recently been rediscovered in the Arctic.  

AmeriCymru:  Does the book examine the Welsh contribution to the history of piracy? 

David: To an extent, yes, although I was aware of the fact that there are already several books in print about Welsh pirates, so I deliberately decided to focus on the much less well known story of the Welsh role in 'official' state navies. But it would have been impossible not to mention the likes of Sir Henry Morgan and Black Bart Roberts, so they do feature in it!

AmeriCymru:  The book includes a chapter on Welshmen in non British navies. Does the US Navy feature here? Any significant names? 

David: Yes, I've included a lot about the Welshmen who served in the United States Navy, and in the Confederate Navy, too. Probably the most significant name is that of Joshua Humphreys, the Philadelphia shipwright responsible for the US Navy's famous 'six frigates', including the USS Constitution. There were Welshmen aboard both the Monitor and the Merrimac/Virginia, and the likely remains of one of them were interred with full military honors at Arlington just last year. The book also includes a substantial and in some ways quite controversial section on the almost unknown naval context behind the survival of the Welsh colony in Patagonia.

Gentleman CaptainAmeriCymru:  You have also written a series of novels set in the 17th century featuring Captain Matthew Quinton. Care to tell us more about the captain and his adventures? 

David:  I loved Patrick O'Brian's books, but I was very aware of the fact that the vast majority of the naval historical fiction genre was set within what might be called 'the age of Nelson', from about 1750 to 1815. Seventeenth century naval history had been neglected in comparison, and I wanted to rectify that, especially as I'd been working on the period as a historian for many years and had published two non-fiction books about it. It's a fascinating age, with spectacular events like the Great Fire of London, larger than life characters like King Charles II and Samuel Pepys, and a series of very hard fought Anglo-Dutch wars, which form the focus of my books. My hero, too, is different to the likes of Hornblower or O'Brian's Jack Aubrey, who go to sea as boys and are therefore highly skilled and experienced seamen when they take command. Captain Matthew Quinton is typical of the 'gentlemen captains' of the Restoration period - young Cavaliers who were given commands despite having next to no experience at sea. Matthew's first command is wrecked due to his inexperience, but he's given a second chance, and this leads him into all sorts of adventures during the course of the series, from the north of Scotland to the Baltic and the River Gambia! In a future book, I hope to take him to the Caribbean, too. At the moment there are five books published in the series: Gentleman Captain, The Mountain of Gold, The Blast That Tears The Skies, The Lion of Midnight, and The Battle of All The Ages.  

AmeriCymru:  Any new books in the pipeline? 

David: I'm currently finishing the sixth Quinton book, which is going to be a little bit different to its predecessors - although I can't really say any more than that at this stage! I also have a couple of non-fiction projects in the pipeline, too. 

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

David:  I think it's really tremendous that there's such a strong and active American network devoted to Welsh heritage! I'm originally from Llanelli, and part of my mother's family emigrated to Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1890s; my mother still remembers the return visit one of them paid, a few years before I was born, and I have a copy of the diary that he made of his trip back to Britain, so I've always been fascinated by the Welsh diaspora. I hope that if any members of that diaspora have a look at Britannia's Dragon, you'll thoroughly enjoy it!

 


 

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