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Category: Author Interviews

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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 speaks 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




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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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Dark September
Brendan Gerad O’Brien. was born in Tralee, on the west coast of Ireland and now lives in Wales with his wife Jennifer and daughters Shelly and Sarah. As a child he spent his summer holidays in Listowel, Co Kerry, where his uncle Moss Scanlon had a Harnessmaker’s shop. Dark September is his first thriller. AmeriCymru spoke to Brendan about his writing and future plans.


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Dark September

AmeriCymru: Hi Brendan and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. How would you describe 'Dark September'?

Brendan: Dark September is a fast paced alternate history thriller set in Wales during WW2. It touches on the desperation and raw fear of ordinary people trying to survive against odds that are definitely not in their favour.

In the story Germany invades the UK. Soldiers pour ashore from warships in the Severn Channel, determined to secure the steelworks and the coal mines of South Wales.

Irishman Danny O’Shea is on his way to work in Newport Docks. His house is bombed and his wife is killed. His young son Adam, who nearly drowned when he was a baby, has severe learning difficulties. Terrified of what the Nazis will do to him, O’Shea resolves to take him to neutral Ireland.

Penniless and desperate, they head for Fishguard. But on an isolated Welsh road they witness an attack on a German convoy carrying the blueprints for an awesome new weapon that was discovered in a secret laboratory near Brecon.

German Captain Eric Weiss, responsible for the blueprint’s safe transfer to Berlin, knows that his job - even his life - depends on him getting it back.

But, following a major disagreement amongst the insurgents, the blueprint disappears. Then O’Shea goes to the aid of a dying woman - and both the Germans and the insurgents believe she’s told him where the blueprints are.

Suddenly O’Shea is separated from his son and catapulted into a world of betrayal and brutal double-cross. Pursued by both the Germans and the insurgents, his only concern is to find Adam and get him to safety.

One reviewer did think that the violence was too sudden and disturbing, but it only reflects the horror of the times and is not deliberately gratuitous.

AmeriCymru: How did you come to write the book and what is the story behind the new edition?

Brendan: The germ of the story has been in my head since the time I was in the Navy and we did exercises in the Brecon Beacons. I wondered what it would really be like to be running for your life through such inhospitable terrain with the bad guys determined to do you a serious injury if they caught you. But why would my character be running from anyone? What year should it be set in?

Later on I saw some disturbing footage of Nazis guards disposing of people with special need, and I felt tremendous sympathy for their families. How would I have react if I was in that position and Germany invaded the UK? Where would I take my child? Being Irish I felt it would be natural to gravitate to Ireland, which was neutral. And the chances were I’d still have some family there to go to.

Of course, once I’d started writing the story it took on a life of its own. Characters reacted in ways I never intended. People I created as decent characters turned into monsters half way through a chapter, even a sentence. It was exciting and disturbing all at the same time, and I enjoyed every moment of writing it.

I was concerned about making the leading nasty persons - two sisters - direct descendants of a treasured Welsh historical character. Initially they were beautiful, kind and loving girls but they were corrupted by both love and riches. But so far I haven’t had any negative feedback about it. I would appreciate the views of my Welsh readers on that.

The original book was self-published with Smashwords.com but it has now been taken up by http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about your background as a writer? When did you first put pen to paper?

Brendan: When I won my first writing competition I was so excited I ran all the way home. I was about eight years old. The Fun Fair was coming to Tralee - our little town on the West coast of Ireland - and apart from Duffy's Circus which came every September, this was the highlight of our year. Our English teacher asked us to write an essay about it, and I won the only prize - a book of ten tickets for the fair.

There were eight kids in our family so everyone got a ride on something. Even The Mammy herself had a go on the dodgems.

So writing was in my blood from a very young age. I loved essays and English literature, but we were a very close family - physically as well as emotionally - so there wasn't much free space in our little house in Railway Terrace for me to sneak off to and indulge in my hobby.

My grand-uncle Moss Scanlon was a harness maker and he had a small shop in Lower William Street, Listowel - a rural town in Kerry that was just a bus ride from Tralee - where we spent some wonderful summer holidays. Down the lane opposite the shop was the River Feale, and Moss did some serious fishing there, standing out in the middle of the river in waders that came up to his neck while us kids swam in the cool brown water or just chilled out on the grass watching him struggle with a pike or a trout.

The shop had a wonderful magic about it - a magnet for all sorts of colourful characters who'd wander in for a chat and a bit of jovial banter. One wonderful storyteller who often popped in was John B Keane, and it was a great thrill to actually meet him. I asked him once where he got his ideas from, and he told me that everyone has a story to tell, so be patient and just listen to them.

And I was there, sitting on the counter in the shop, when John B's very first story was read out live on Radio Eireann. I can still remember the buzz of excitement and the sheer pride of the people of Listowel. And the seeds of storytelling were sown in my soul.

Another source of raw encouragement was Bryan MacMahon, one of Listowel's finest writers and a schoolmaster to boot, who was a very easy person to talk to.

Anyway, I left school at fourteen and went to work in hotels in Killarney, and I quickly got caught up in the excitement and colourful buzz of the tourist industry - remember, this was in the 60s when the Beatles were creating a heady revolution and engulfing the youth with hopes and dreams of a wonderful future - so I felt no great urgency to write. I dreamed of being a writer, of course. I wanted to be a writer - but somehow life just got in the way.

When I joined the Royal Navy at eighteen I was sent to the Far East, and I spent the first three years between Singapore and Hong Kong, and again I was having so much fun I didn't get to write anything, although there were loads of stories bursting to get out.

It was only when I got married and the children came along that I made any serious attempt to put pen to paper, and the result was Dark September, an alternative history thriller set in wartime Britain.

I loved writing it - I always wrote in longhand in a school notebook - but I hated having to type it. After working a ten-hour day, I'd be clattering away into the early hours of the morning on an old Olivetti typewriter and getting on everyone's nerves. Then I'd scream in frustration when I'd discover that hours of hard work were ruined by some horrendous typo error, and I'd have to start all over again.

Amazingly, I found an agent almost immediately, but she insisted on some major changes so I spent a year re-writing it.

Unfortunately my agent died suddenly and the agency closed. It took ages to find another agent, but he too demanded even more changes. It became too much for Jennifer and the kids, so my manuscript hibernated in the attic for a few years.

Then Jennifer bought me a computer for Christmas - with Spellcheck! This time finding an agent has proved an impossibility - they only want to represent people who're famous for just being famous - so I self-published it with Smashwords.com, though I still longed to have it accepted by a mainstream publisher.

Now I'm delighted to say the book has been accepted by Tirgearr Publishing - http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com - an Irish company, and I'm delighted with the result and all the hard work they've put into it to make it a great success.

AmeriCymru: You also write short stories. Do you have any plans for a new anthology?

Brendan: I’m always troweling through the old stories looking for inspiration, and so far I have about six that would be good enough. But I’d need a few more before I could put an anthology together.

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little about your collection of Irish short stories, 'Dreamin Dreams'?

Brendan: While Dark September was languishing in limbo I discovered that writing short stories is amazingly therapeutic. I get a great buzz from taking an idea and developing it, often watching it evolve into something completely different from how it started out. And I realized too that great ideas are all around us. Little gems are waiting to be harvested everywhere we look. I found myself listening to what people are saying, and the way they say it.

For instance, the Irish are famous all over the world for their colourful and exaggerated expressions, always using a dozen words when one would have done, so I build on that and set all my stories in Ireland. The names are changed, of course, because I don't earn enough to sustain a major lawsuit. I've written hundreds of stories, most of which are still stuffed in drawers somewhere, but I did manage to get more than twenty of them published over the years, in anthologies, e-zines and magazines as well as web sites.

Dreamin’ Dreams - published as an eBook with Smashwords.com, and in paperback by Lulu.com - contains twenty of my published stories, of which I'm very proud. They're all based on real people who passed through my life at some time or other, or events that actually happened to me. Enhanced, of course, and sometimes exaggerated out of all proportion.

The title comes from something my father said years ago when I got poor grades at school. 'What do you expect?' he said to my mother. 'He never does any studying. He just sits there, dreamin' dreams.'

The image on the cover is the statue in The Green, Tralee's town park, and it represents the characters in the song The Rose of Tralee. It's a tremendously impressive statue, and in a beautiful setting too.

Anyway, if you do get the chance to read Dreamin' Dreams, I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

AmeriCymru: Where can people buy your work online? Do you have a website?

Brendan: bgobrien.com is my website.

Dark September can be found through Tirgearr Publishing and read on all e-readers.
http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com

Dreamin’ Dreams can be found through Smashwords.com, and all e-book retailers.
And in paperback from Lulu.com

AmeriCymru: What are you working on at the moment? Any new novels in the pipeline?

Brendan: I’m about two chapters away from finishing my latest novel, which is also an alternate history thriller.

Set in 1941, Ireland is sinking under the hordes of refugees swarming there to escape the war in Europe. Danny O’Shea is a Local Security Force volunteer - an auxiliary policeman, in other words.

A man is shot dead in a crowded pub and no one sees or hears anything. Then a young woman is found dead in the town park the very next day.

But when a child disappears from a hospital the suspense is ratcheted up several notches …and the Gardaí need all the help they can get from the LSF. But can O’Shea step up to the mark?

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

Brendan: Thanks for taking the time to read this - I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did doing it. Remember AmeriCymru is a great place to hang out and chat with people who share a common interest - all things Welsh - so enjoy it and spread the word.


 

Acts of God - An Interview With Brian John


By AmeriCymru, 2016-06-28

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Brian John will need no introduction to many of our readers. His popular Angel Mountain Saga of eight novels set in Pembrokeshire featuring Mistress Martha Morgan has sold more than 75,000 copies worldwide. The novels are set in the rough landscape around the mountain of Carningli in Pembrokeshire, "which is now the scene of considerable "literary tourism" as fans of the series visit Martha Morgan Country." AmeriCymru spoke to Brian about his latest novel 'Acts of God', a cold war thriller set in the 'Arctic Riviera' of East Greenland.


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Welsh author Brian John

AmeriCymru: Hi Brian and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. What can you tell us about your latest novel Acts of God ?

Brian: Thanks for the invitation! It's always good to communicate with compatriots and friends on the other side of the pond. I'm not sure how to describe the new novel. I hope it's got more depth to it than the average thriller, which tends to place action (normally violent) above character development or the interactions between groups and individuals. And many of the thrillers I have read over the years don't give you much of a sense of place. I'm a geographer by training, and a sense of place means a great deal to me -- like everybody else in Wales, I have hiraeth in my blood! But here the place that becomes a character in the story is East Greenland rather than Wales.

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AmeriCymru: Why there?

Brian: Well, because I went to East Greenland and its amazing fjord landscape in 1962 as a student, as joint leader of an Oxford University expedition. The area around Scoresby Sund is referred to -- with some justification -- as the Arctic Riviera, because of the freakish hot and dry weather normally experienced there during the Arctic summer. It's the only place in the world where I've ever experienced heat stroke! We had a fabulous time in the field over a period of eight weeks, but we had a few close shaves with disaster, and realised at the end of the expedition that we had been lucky to come out of it without any major injuries or even deaths. We were completely unsupported, a hundred miles from the nearest help if anything had gone wrong, and not even any radios to call for help. In retrospect, we took some crazy risks, as young men tend to do. We probably thought we were immortal.

But there were also some intriguing things that happened to us -- heavy aircraft high overhead, encounters with US military personnel, and of course a strong US presence at Keflavik in Iceland, not very far away. We were there, after all, at the height of the Cold War. In 1962 Gary Powers, the U2 pilot, was released. The USA was still recovering from the Bay of Pigs disaster. The Cuban Missile crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. The Berlin Wall was being built. There was tension in the air. So back in 1962 I suppose the seeds of this novel were sown in my mind -- and for over 50 years they have been slowly germinating. And a couple of years ago I worked out the theme for the novel and started work on the first draft.

Oxford Greenland Expedition 1962

Camp site on the Oxford Glacier in 1962.  Some of the incidents from the OU Expedition to East Greenland were used as the basis for episodes in the new novel


 AmeriCymru: And the theme is?

Brian: I don't want to give too much away, but let's call the book the first ever "Arctic Noir" novel! It's related in some ways to those dark and brutal "Scandinavian Noir" stories that have poured out of Sweden, Denmark and Norway over the past few years -- but this story does not have a dysfunctional detective or a homicidal maniac who leads the police in a complex chase through the murky winter landscapes of the Copenhagen suburbs. In the high Arctic the darkness is the blackness of the long winter night -- and symbolically the blackness imposed on a pristine wilderness and an innocent people by powerful nations intent on out-thinking and dominating other powerful nations. And there is a very dark villain too. The story follows several groups of people whose fortunes are intertwined. The action jumps from one group to another in a manner that is deliberately cinematic. But essentially, the narrative is about a group of young men who arrive in East Greenland on a scientific expedition and who find, even before they arrive in their fieldwork area, that strange things are happening to them and to their environment.

They experience one "Act of God" after another, and soon they are afflicted by deaths and serious injuries. They are not the only ones to suffer -- the small local population of Greenlanders is also caught up in strange events. As the death toll mounts, the explorers are too intelligent and too inquisitive for their own good, and they realise that their misfortunes can be traced back to a strange "mining settlement" in a red mountain called called Himmelbjerg, surrounded by glaciers and snowfields, some fifty miles away from their base camp. Gradually, they uncover a gigantic conspiracy which has its roots in the Cold War, and it becomes clear that they are being targetted by an implacable enemy with limitless resources who will not allow any of them to get out of East Greenland alive. The forces of darkness, by the way, are led by a man called Jim Wagner. And so the scene is set for the Twilight of the Gods.........

Oxford Greenland Expedition 1962

Author Brian John and two colleagues near the point of exhaustion, on Roslin Glacier in 1962.


AmeriCymru: So the story is an allegorical one, full of symbols?

Brian: Yes, it is. All good stories are allegorical to a degree, since every author is seeking to demonstrate universal truths through an examination of a unique set of circumstances affecting a specific group of people. The conflict between good and evil is played out in almost every work of fiction -- it's a universal theme. There's another theme too, which has been in my mind ever since I started planning this novel. It's the same theme that Alexander Cordell used in "Rape of the Fair Country" -- the loss of innocence, the violent despoilation of a beautiful wilderness, the loss of humanity, the cynical acceptance of collateral damage in pursuit of power and wealth. Greed and the lust for power lie at the heart of Cordell's story, as they do in mine.

But while he was dealing with mineral exploitation and industrialisation, I'm dealing here with geopolitics and military might. This is a Cold War story, and I have tried to capture the mood of the time. And as some of my readers have already remarked, the events which I've built into the story are not so fantastical that they cannot possibly have occurred in reality. Since I tend be have an optimistic turn of mind, I like to tell stories in which evil and brutality bring their own grotesque rewards, and in which virtue triumphs!

AmeriCymru: 'Acts of God' is very much a change of setting and genre from your 'Angel Mountain' series. What prompted you to explore new avenues?

Brian:  I wasn't exactly bored with Martha Morgan and her Angel Mountain adventures, and am as fascinated by her as ever -- but shall we say I was getting rather complacent? After eight novels dealing with the same group of people in early nineteenth-century Wales I began to feel that I was in the comfort zone, and that there was a danger that my writing standards might start to slip. So rather than risking that, I decided to take on something more challenging -- an Arctic Noir story set in the Cold War of 1962. That of course involved huge changes in my storytelling technique, in the style of language used by the characters and in the interpretations of landscapes, political contexts, personal relationships and almost everything else. Also, in the Angel Mountain books I used a particular format -- an introductory chapter describing the discovery of another diary volume, and then a narrative unfolding in a diary format. Using a female voice, too!

This new novel has enabled me to experiment with a quite different narrative form -- third person, a relatively straightforward timeline, and several groups of players as the drama evolves. And for a change the real stars of the story are men! That having been said, there are just two women in this story -- but they are both absolutely critical to the manner in which the central crisis is resolved. 

AmeriCymru: Where can readers find 'Acts of God' online? Is there a website?

Brian:  The book is already available in both paperback and Ebook for Kindle. There is also a dedicated web site which is getting a wonderful response from readers.

This is the link to my web site, where I have a purchasing facility for both European and American readers:

Acts of God

And here are the other key links:

Acts of God ( Kindle ) Amazon.co.uk

Acts of God ( Paperback ) Amazon.co.uk

Acts of God ( Kindle ) Amazon.com

Acts of God ( Paperback ) Amazon.com

Polar Bear - Greenland

Polar bears such as this one inevitably play a role in a novel set in the Greenland fjords


AmeriCymru: While this story is obviously a full-blown adventure story with a dark conspiracy at its heart, it seems that you are also fascinated by the East Greenland landscape. Are you being paid by the Greenland tourist office?

Brian: If only! Maybe I should send them a bill? Seriously though -- of course I'm fascinated by the East Greenland landscape. It's one of the most exotic locations possible -- by far the most spectacular fjord landscape on earth, richly textured, washed with vibrant colours and ringing with birdsong and the sounds that come from glaciers and rolling and melting icebergs. I still have a large collection of digitised images from my own expedition in 1962, and during my research for this story I have dug up hundreds of amazing photos from more recent travellers into the area. I've put the best of them into a number of albums which anybody can access, including these:

Acts of God on Pinterest

East Greenland on Pinterest

Oxford University East Greenland Expedition 1962 on Pinterest

East Greenland is already becoming an important tourist destination, but access into the fjords is strictly limited to around two months every year, because of the ubiquitous East Greenland pack-ice belt. The Greenlanders are still involved in hunting, and it's important that their way of life should continue without too much interference from anybody else. But the wildlife resources are fantastic, and the tourist authorities are pushing "eco tourism" as hard as they can, with many visitors now coming in by air. That extends the tourist season, and now we are seeing trekking and "adventure holidays" in the area in the spring months as well, when the light is bright, the fjords are still frozen, and the snow is still thick on the ground. But tourism has to be handled carefully -- the area lies outside the East Greenland National Park, and great sensitivity -- and maybe tourist "rationing" -- is needed if this delicate wilderness is not to be damaged by those who seek to protect it.

AmeriCymru: Are you planning any further instalments in the 'Angel Mountain' saga?

Brian: Never say never. My faithful readers, who have bought 75,000 of my books since the series started, keep on hassling me and asking for more! All I can say at the moment is that there are still some long gaps in the story which are waiting to be filled. There are some interesting characters too -- like the wizard Joseph Harries -- who would make interesting central characters for other stories. Then we also have the next generation of the Morgan family, now that Martha is finally in her grave. I'll keep the matter under review!

AmeriCymru: What are you doing for Christmas?

Brian:  Nothing very exotic. I hate the very idea of Christmas in a hotel, or away from home. So it'll be at home, all being well, in the company of my wife, two sons, one daughter-in-law and two teenage grandsons. In our family we are lucky, since my wife Inger is Swedish and since we therefore have to celebrate Christmas twice. Christmas Eve (Julafton) is the important day in Sweden, so of course we have to celebrate that properly with all the correct rituals and food. Then we do it all again on Christmas Day, this time with the full turkey dinner in the evening. By Boxing Day we are all desperately in need of fresh air and exercise -- so whatever the weather, according to tradition, we all go for a long walk either on the cliffs of the north Pembrokeshire coast or else up our local mountain of Carningli. Up there, of course, on the mountain, we can commune with the resident angels.

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

Brian: Keep up the good work! It's great to see you and so many others participating in a real project designed to keep the Welsh flag flying in North America. Hiraeth is alive and well, and I've always believed that a "sense of belonging" is at least as important as a sense of place to all of us, as human beings, if we are to lead interesting and fulfilling lives. I don't think there is any conflict at all in feeling Welsh as well as being American, or Canadian, or whatever. If I'm asked what I am, I will always answer than I am a Welshman -- but that doesn't stop me from feeling British and European as well. So keep the dragon flying, keep cheering on the Welsh rugby team, and keep on buying Welsh books! Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

Tupilak3

The tupilak or tupilaq is a small ferocious creature, no more than 4" tall and carved out of walrus tusk.  In the old days it was used as part of a curse or spell, to bring misfortune on the recipient.  Sometimes it was cast into the sea as part of the magic  ritual.  A tupilak features strongly in the new novel.

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AmeriCymru spoke to Welsh horror writer Mark Howard Jones about his first book as editor,  Cthulhu Cymraeg. Mark was born on the 26th anniversary of Lovecraft's death. His first published novella The Garden Of Doubt On The Island Of Shadows (2006) was praised Ray Bradbury, among others. Mark has published two other collections of dark fiction:- Songs From Spider Street (2010) and Brightest Black (2013).


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AmeriCymru: Hi Mark and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru? You are the driving force behind the collection of Welsh 'Lovecraftian' tales:- 'Cthulhu Cymraeg'. What inspired you to produce and contribute to this anthology?

Mark: I came up with the idea for the anthology more-or-less out of necessity. Given the huge influence of Welsh author Arthur Machen on Lovecraft's work, combined with the fact that there has been an explosion in Cthulhu Mythos-themed books over the last few decades, I felt sure that a book like Cthulhu Cymraeg must already exist; one where Welsh authors returned the compliment paid to Machen by Lovecraft by writing in a Lovecraftian manner. Completing the circle, so to speak.

But after months of searching for this book that gave a uniquely Welsh twist to the Cthulhu Mythos, I gave up, forced to admit that no Welsh publisher had yet been down that road. That was when I approached Steve Upham, who upon hearing of the idea was keen that his Cardiff-based company, Screaming Dreams, should take on the project.  

So I suppose you could say I produced the book because I wanted to read it! 

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about your contribution to the collection:- 'Pilgrimage'? 

Mark: I took something that many people in south Wales will be familiar with - the hour's rail journey between Cardiff and Swansea - and made it even stranger than it usually is! 

The story nearly didn't happen, in fact. I'm always critical of writers who edit an anthology and include one of their own stories. It seems like cheating somehow. 

But in this instance I'm merely being hypocritical. As one of the few Welsh authors who had already written a series of Lovecraftian stories, the publisher persuaded me that on this occasion I really needed to put my money where my mouth was. 

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little about the other contributors? 

Mark:  All the contributors were either born in Wales or have lived here for some time, so hopefully a uniquely Welsh point of view comes through in the writing. It'd be unfair to pick out individual contributors but all of them have a track record of writing tales of the fantastic and macabre; some have even won prestigious awards for their work. 

The publisher, Steve Upham, and I agreed that we didn't simply want writers who were 'holidaying in horror' but rather authors who had an already proven commitment to the genre. And I think that shows through in the stories.  

And there are more writers in Wales today creating tales of the fantastic than ever before. So there is a solid foundation for a Welsh School Of The Weird - maybe this book is its first manifesto, who knows. 

I should also mention that we were very fortunate in that S T Joshi, Lovecraft's biographer and one of the world's foremost Lovecraft experts, agreed to write a foreword to the anthology. It speaks volumes about Machen's influence on Lovecraft in just a few pages. We were very grateful that he was generous enough to do that as he is always incredibly busy. 

AmeriCymru: How much does this collection owe to, and celebrate, the legacy of Arthur Machen? 

Mark:  Gwilym Games, of the Friends Of Arthur Machen ,often gives talks on the author's influence on Lovecraft. I've heard him say on several occasions "Without Machen there would have been no Lovecraft". I think that sums things up very well. And, by extension, without Machen there would have been no 'Cthulhu Cymraeg'. So you could say that the anthology forms a small part of his legacy. 

AmeriCymru: In your opinion, how much of an influence did Machen have on Lovecraft's writing? 

Mark: An enormous influence. Without him, Lovecraft's work would have been very different. If he hadn't discovered Machen's tales, the Anglophile New Englander would probably have been far more influenced by Lord Dunsany or Algernon Blackwood and perhaps his writing would have had far less impact than it has had. 

In his 1927 essay 'Supernatural Horror In Literature', Lovecraft says about Machen: “Of living creators of cosmic fear raised to its most artistic pitch, few if any can hope to equal the versatile Arthur Machen.”  He also praised Machen's story 'The White People' as one of the greatest examples of weird literature ever written. 

And of course the influence of Machen's celebrated 1894 novella 'The Great God Pan' can be seen quite clearly in one of Lovecraft's best-known tales, 'The Dunwich Horror', which seems to have been partly written as an homage to the Welsh author. 

AmeriCymru: How prominently does Welsh folklore feature in these tales? 

Mark:  One or two of the stories do touch on elements of Welsh folklore, although that was never really a major intention of the anthology. 

But in the introduction I do suggest that Lovecraft's inter-dimensional beings are distorted versions of the Welsh myth of the Tylwyth Teg (or 'Fair Family'). Machen used these supernatural beings, who were said to dwell underground or below water, in his own work (most notably in 'The White People', 'The Novel Of The Black Seal' and 'The Children Of The Pool'), making them even more terrifying than their already unsettling reputation. Perhaps Lovecraft was impressed by these creatures' reputed ability to use water as an occult gateway between their own realm and ours, echoing this in his own creations' thankfully unsuccessful attempts to create their own gateways between the arcane and the mundane. 

So it could be that Lovecraft himself was unconsciously influenced by Welsh folklore, transforming it (Oz-like) into something even more fantastical than the original. 

Songs From Spider StreetAmeriCymru: What is your background as a writer? Can you tell us something about your other books/writing? 

Mark:  My background is in journalism. I spent a decade-and-a-half working for Welsh newspapers (including the South Wales Echo in Cardiff and the South Wales Evening Post in Swansea) and the BBC before moving to a marketing and PR role in higher education.  

I decided at the age of nine that I wanted to be a writer. I finally succeeded in getting into print at the age of 39! 

My novella 'The Garden Of Doubt On the Island Of Shadows' was published in 2006. It was largely written as a response to my father's death two years earlier.  

By a strange co-incidence it was read by the great American author Ray Bradbury, who was kind enough to comment favourably on it. This meant a lot to me as I am a great admirer of his work, which I discovered in my early teens. 

My 2010 book 'Songs From Spider Street' is structured so it can be read as either a portmanteau novel or a short story collection, depending on your mood and how much time you have. It contains a mixture of magic realism, science fiction, existential horror and surrealism. 

While the follow-up collection, 2013's 'Brightest Black', has a darker tone overall and is more traditional. 

At the moment I'm working on a new collection for an American publisher. But as I'm quite a slow writer I can't say when that'll see the light of day. 

My stories also pop up from time-to-time in anthologies and magazines when you least expect them. 

AmeriCymru: What have you been reading lately? Any recommendations? 

Mark: I've just finished re-reading Juan Rulfo's 'Pedro Paramo'. And I'm also dipping into a beautiful-looking book by Colorado's Centipede Press called 'A Mountain Walked: Great Stories Of The Cthulhu Mythos'. There is some wonderful work in there and, in terms of its size and weight, it reminds me of an old Welsh family Bible. 

As for recommendations - well, Machen and Lovecraft of course. Any short story by Dino Buzzati. 'Invisible Cities' by Italo Calvino, which is endlessly inventive and great to dip in and out of. Christopher Priest's wonderful novel 'The Glamour'. 

I can't choose a single piece by Thomas Ligotti, so I'll just content myself with saying that anything by him is well worth reading (even his shopping list, probably).  

AmeriCymru: What's next for Mark Howard Jones? 

Mark: Early next year a collection called 'Dreamglass Days' is due out, which collects together all the stories I've had published in the Manchester-based literary magazine Sein und Werden over the last eight years. 

And there are plans for a second volume of 'Cthulhu Cymraeg'. The anthology had almost universally good reviews but the one thing people did say was that it simply wasn't long enough. So this time we'll probably be concentrating on publishing longer stories and even novella-length pieces. 

AmeriCymru: Where can our readers go to purchase 'Cthulhu Cymraeg' online? 

Mark: It's available through Amazon both in the U.S. and the U.K. They can also simply click on the ad in the Welsh-American Bookstore. > 

If anyone wants more information about the book they can visit www.screamingdreams.com/cthulhucymraeg.html

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

Mark:  Why not read 'Cthulhu Cymraeg' to your loved ones by the fireside on these cold winter nights.


READ THE WINNING ENTRY HERE DREAMING OF HOME



David Lloyd

AmeriCymru: Hi David and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. I think it would be fair to say that you are an American writer with an intimate connection to Wales. Care to tell us a little about your Welsh background?

David: My father was born and grew up in Corris, near Machynlleth, and my mother in Pontrhydyfen, near Port Talbot - Welsh speaking, chapel-centered villages in those days, with Corris being all about slate and Pontrhydyfen depending on coal mining. They met in Aberystwyth, where my mother was a university student and my father a visiting minister. After marriage, my father served as minister in Ferndale (where my eldest brother was born) and then at the Heathfield Rd. Welsh Chapel in Liverpool (where my sister was born). When Moriah Presbyterian Church in Utica, New York put out a call for a Welsh-speaking minister, my father wanted to try it out, and brought the family over in 1949, intending to stay only a few years. My other brother and I were born in the US, and the family stayed on. So I grew up in the Welsh American community in Utica, which was very active in those days. At the time he retired, my father was the last minister in the area to preach and hold services in Welsh.

David Lloyd on a road near Corris, where his father was born.



AmeriCymru: You recently won the West Coast Eisteddfod Online Short Story Competition with your story Dreaming of Home. What can you tell us about this story?

David: "Dreaming of Home" is from a story collection titled The Moving of the Water, with all stories set in the Welsh American community of Utica during the 1960s. In this story, an immigrant from Wales named Old Llew (short for Llewelyn but also “lion” in Welsh) returns to his apartment after a day of drinking. He watches a TV news report on fighting in Vietnam, falls asleep, and dreams. And what he dreams about is his own battle experience in WWI. Of course WWI affected Wales terribly, with the loss of young men devastating communities. In his dream, Llew relives a bloody attack in the trenches, is visited by his father (because it’s a dream after all), and asks to be taken away from the trenches, back home. "But you are home," his father tells him. “Dreaming of Home” and other stories in The Moving of the Water explore the ambiguous nature of “home” for someone like Llew. Is home where you came from, or where you currently live? Is your true home the land of your first language and your formative years? Or is your home a product of the defining experiences of your life, such as fighting in a WWI trench or in Vietnam? I don’t want my stories to provide answers - I want to dramatize and get readers thinking about certain questions.

AmeriCymru: How would you characterise the concept of "hiraeth"? Is it more than "homesickness"?

David: “Hiraeth” is a complex word, made more complex by being sometimes used in a sentimental way. I think “hiraeth” is about a profound longing - for the security of the past, for the remembered (and mis-remembered) past, for places that are etched in memory. It’s a longing for “home,”  however that home might be conceived. So yes, it’s much more than homesickness - an existential longing that all humans experience.

AmeriCymru: You edited the 2009 Parthian collection Other Land. That collection "examines Wales and being Welsh-American through divergent poetics and perspectives." How would you describe your perspective?

David: I know that my identity has been shaped by the values, accents, stories, and memories of my Welsh parents - their distinct ways of being in the world. My identity has also been shaped by the American values, accents, landscapes around me, not to mention TV, music, films, books, education. I was raised on both “Calon Lân” and “Blue Suede Shoes,” you might say. I am fascinated by the hybrid or blended nature of identity - of the identities of all Americans, even those descended from pilgrims on the Mayflower, even Native Americans. My perspective is that I don’t want to write or read about the trappings of being Welsh - hymn-singing, coal mining, leeks, and so on. I want to write and read about the deeper workings in people’s lives that make them who they are.

David Lloyd (center) with (from left) Welsh poets Nigel Jenkins, Menna Elfin, Iwan Llwyd


AmeriCymru: In your 1994 anthology The Urgency of Identity you featured many of the most important English-language Welsh poets of the 80's and 90's. Do you believe that "English-language Welsh poets create a divided art"?

David: I wouldn’t use the term “divided” in describing writings by English-language Welsh poets, though I do recognize the strains and tensions they experience, working in a bilingual nation where English has been dominant only for last hundred or so years. I think the best English-language Welsh poets are publishing some of the most original and important verse written anywhere, using English to express their unEnglish identities. I love Robert Minhinnick’s dense, energized language and political commitment. I’m interested in every new book John Barnie publishes, because he’s pushing edges in multiple genres. And then there’s exciting work produced from Welsh-language writers (and musicians and artists) - poet and musician Twm Morys is an example. Iwan Bala’s art has been ground-breaking for Wales - in his drawings he uses Welsh and English words, recognizing the fraught bilingual reality. He’s engaged with “remapping” Wales and Welsh culture through his art.

AmeriCymru: Please tell us a little about your other work. In particular your novels and short stories.

David: I published my first book of fiction, Boys: Stories and a Novella, with Syracuse University Press in 2004.  That work (like my new manuscript, The Moving of the Water) is a linked series of stories taking place in my hometown of Utica. Twelve stories collectively titled "On Monday"  happen on the same day (a Monday, as you might guess), in February of 1966. Main characters in some stories reappear as minor characters in other stories. As a collection the stories explore ways in which American culture shapes (and mis-shapes) its children.  The novella, "Boys Only," features a character named Chris from a Welsh background, and one of my favorite scenes is between him and his Welsh-speaking Taid.

In 2013 I published a novel, Over the Line, again set in upstate New York. This story takes place during a week in the life of Justin, a teenager in a town buckling under the pressures of unemployment, endemic crime, and rising drug use. It’s something of a mystery story, as Justin gets closer and closer to the unknown source of methamphetamine in his community. I’m interested not only in how society affects an individual’s development but also in the concept of heroism - as an ideal, an illusion, and a reality.

The most recent of my three poetry collections is Warriors, published by Salt Publications in the UK but available in the US via Amazon and the Salt web site. I review books occasionally and write literary criticism, such as articles on R. S. Thomas and, recently, Brenda Chamberlain.

AmeriCymru: What's next for David Lloyd? Any new projects in the pipeline?

David: I’m working on two projects: finishing a new poetry collection, tentatively titled The Body’s Compass, and undertaking final edits for my story collection, The Moving of the Water, which I hope soon to send to publishers to consider. I’ve been publishing some of those stories. You can find one titled “Home” in the on-line Welsh journal Lampeter Review and one titled “The Key” in the US journal Stone Canoe.

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

David: The story of Welsh-American life has been well documented by historians - and that excellent work is ongoing. Contemporary poets have been exploring the experience of being Welsh and American - including those in my Other Land anthology, such as Jon Dressel, William Greenway, and Margaret Lloyd. But I would love to see more Welsh American writers drawing on their cultural experience and identity - poems, stories, memoirs, cross-genre works: there’s a rich vein of experience yet to be mined.


Robert Llewellyn Tyler was horn in Newport, Wales. He received his BA from University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, his MA from the Unversity of Pittsburgh, and his PhD from the University of Melbourne. He has taught in Japan and Argentina, and at universities in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. For the academic year 2009-2010, he was the Fulbright Professor at Westminster College in Fulton Missouri. He has been widely published and continues to research Welsh communities overseas.

AmeriCymru spoke to Robert about his latest book Wales And The American Dream



AmeriCymru: Hi Robert and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. Care to introduce your new book  Wales And The American Dream

Robert: I have always been interested in Welsh emigration and the existence of Welsh communities in far off lands. I remember, as a fascinated child, hearing from my father about the Madog legend and the Patagonians who spoke only Welsh and Spanish. I was very fortunate, therefore, to combine a career with the experience of actually living in these distant and not so distant places. I managed to get a teaching assistantship to do an MA at the University of Pittsburgh, where I researched the Welsh historically and met with their descendants socially. I spent a year working in Patagonia and made many new and lasting friendships. I was then lucky enough to be sponsored by the Australian government to research the Welsh who congregated on the goldfields of the state of Victoria and completed my PhD at the University of Melbourne. More recently, a Fulbright year in the USA allowed me to visit Welsh American societies across the country. In addition to a host of wonderful memories, the concrete result of these years has been the publication of numerous articles and two books: The Welsh in an Australian Gold Town and Wales and the American Dream, both of which focus on specific Welsh communities and the ways in which they changed during a specific period of time. Wales and the American Dream addresses the nature of four Welsh communities in Missouri, Vermont, Pennsylvania and Kansas and assesses the accuracy of the image which saw Welsh migrants in the USA as the epitome of the migrant success story as indicated by upward occupational mobility.

AmeriCymru: "The Welsh comprised a distinct and highly visible ethno-linguistic group in many areas of the United States during the late decades of the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth. To what extent do you think that distinctness has been preserved in the 21st century?"

Robert:  The distinctiveness of the Welsh has, as with all national/ethnic groups, been modified over time. The Welsh as a group have lost much of what set them apart for a number of reasons: the small numbers involved in the first place, the movement out of specific industries and locations, decline in religious observance, exogamy (marrying non-Welsh) and, most obviously, the loss of the language. Nevertheless, Welsh Americans today do have a discernible presence in the US and the myriad societies and cultural events that take place regularly across the USA is an admirable testimony to their rich national culture and the determination of Welsh Americans themselves to maintain that culture.

AmeriCymru: The Welsh did not emigrate as a result of natural or socio-economic disasters. There were no potato famines or Highland clearances in Wales. To what extent do you think that the motives and circumstances behind Welsh migration have contributed to Welsh American identity today?

Robert: Certainly, Welsh immigrants were never "driven from the land" to the extent of the Irish and Scottish Gaels (One of the reasons for the survival of the language). Nevertheless, Welsh emigration was overwhelmingly promoted by economic considerations: the search for a better life in the face of obscenely bad working and living conditions in both rural and in rapidly industrializing Wales. It would be wrong, however, to ignore the quest for religious, linguistic and even political freedom as motives for many Welsh people to seek that better life in the USA, Australia, South America and elsewhere. As regards identity, Welsh immigrants were invariably and successfully portrayed as models of American citizenship by virtue of their national characteristics, standards of social behavior and socio-economic success. I think this belief still holds sway among Welsh Americans today and who is to say they are wrong?

AmeriCymru: Your book investigates the extent to which the "Welsh as a group occupied a privileged position in the occupational hierarchy". Can you give us a few examples of this?

Robert: Take, for example, the iron and steel town of Sharon in western Pennsylvania. The town attracted significant numbers of Welsh workers who were prized for their skills in an industry that had become a major employer in Wales. The US census of 1880 reveals that 73.3% of the 165 Welsh-born men working in Sharon were employed as skilled iron workers (puddlers, rollers, heaters, boilers, roughers and doublers) with only 20.6% employed in unskilled occupations, primarily as labourers in the iron works. The percentages for Irish-born workers were 22.7% and 72.4%. Clearly, Welshmen had arrived with the skills necessary to establish themselves in the burgeoning industry. This was replicated elsewhere, from the slate quarries of Vermont to the coal mines of central Missouri.

AmeriCymru: In your opinion how can Welsh identity or ancestry made relevant to a younger generation of Welsh Americans, third generation and beyond?

Robert: Being no longer part of the "younger generation" myself, I hesitate to advise on this. I think, however, showing young Welsh Americans the vibrancy of Welsh cultural life as it exists in contemporary Wales is hugely important. The young people from Patagonia I knew, during my time there in the 1990s, were invariably astonished by their experiences on their visits to Wales. Until then, their image of Wales was one of chapels, choirs and the "respectable" aspects of eisteddfodau. These admirable aspects of Welsh culture are still to be enjoyed and reveled in; they are now accompanied by the Manic Street Preachers, Super Furry Animals and the Stereophonics. I am not for one moment being critical of the images of Wales held by the descendants of Welsh emigrants, wherever they are in the world. They, like the decedents of most immigrant groups, naturally have images of the homeland of their ancestors. While that Wales has not disappeared, it has changed, admittedly, not always for the better. That is why groups such as AmeriCymru are so important.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Robert Llewellyn Tyler? Are you currently working on any new projects?

Robert: Yes, indeed. I've just finished an article on the Welsh community in San Francisco and about to begin another on Martins Ferry, Ohio. Next, I will be recommencing an ongoing project on the Welsh in Pittsburgh, which I hope to publish as a book in 2017. Working title: No Mean People: The Welsh in Iron City, USA.

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

Robert: I have always felt privileged to be Welsh. This is in no way intended to imply a sense of superiority. Welsh people, at home and aboard, have been well represented in all elements of society, from the cultured and upstanding to the downright dissolute. Nevertheless, the Welsh contribution to the world has frequently been downplayed or overlooked entirely, particularly by those who, for the moment, govern us. Any national community that can produce an institution, overwhelmingly patronized by working people, like the eisteddfod, is to be lauded. No Mean People, indeed!


Tony Kendrew is an American poet of Welsh ancestry. In September 2012 he started an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Wales, Trinity St. David. The campus for the course is in the small town of Lampeter, site of the third oldest institute of higher education in Britain - after Oxford and Cambridge. AmeriCymru spoke to Tony about his work and future plans. Visit Tony Kendrew's website here



Feathers Scattered in the Wind draws together reflections on the people and places of Northern California and Wales. Care to introduce the collection for our readers?

Tony: I would love to. I’ve been living in Northern California since the 80's. Each time I moved it was to a more remote and beautiful place, until ten years ago I found the valley I now call home. All of the places I lived inspired what I suppose we could call nature poetry, though the poems aren’t just descriptive, because I always seem to find a human story hidden in the rivers and forests and deserts. And I don’t mean that my poems tell the story of the people living in those places, but that the places themselves give rise to reflections about what it is to be human. We have been living on earth for a very long time, and I think the landscape is intimately connected with our thoughts and feelings. To give an obvious example, the river: constant but changeable, deep or bickering, “wider than a mile,” you can’t push it, and of course “you can’t step into the same river twice.” And it isn’t just landscape either: sudden encounters with plants and wildlife bring insights of their own. Our minds have been sculpted by nature.

About half the poems in 'Feathers Scattered in the Wind' were written in California. The other half come from Wales. They were my responses to my year living and learning and rambling in West Wales, on the Coastal Path, in the ruins of Strata Florida or the beaches of Ceredigion.

I am, I suppose most interested in the communication of awe. The collection has a number of poems that try to communicate that response to beauty and the ineffable, whether it’s nature, or the effect of a painting on the viewer or a piece of music on the listener.

AmeriCymru: In September 2012 you started an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Wales. What can you tell us about this experience?

Tony: Well, it was a wonderful experience! I fell into it by a stroke of serendipity, and knew immediately that the teaching style and the faculty at Trinity Saint David, Lampeter, were going to suit me just fine. The personal attention and intimacy of this small school made me feel cared for, and the sessions with poet Menna Elfyn and dramatist Dic Edwards, and regular visits from Wales’ best writers, meant that everything I wrote went under the microscope. Just what I needed! It was a lot of work, but that‘s exactly what I was there for.

AmeriCymru: The poems on your Turning CD focus on the themes of migration and identity. What inspired this collection?

Tony: My mother was Welsh and went to China as a teacher in her late twenties. There she met and married my English father. So not only did I have to figure out where I came from, but my options were on the other side of the world!

The themes of movement and identity have concerned me all my life, and my year at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David brought them into focus like never before. So I decided to write as my MA dissertation a series of poems that reflect on the urge to migrate and explore, how that urge was expressed in my own family and life, and how it relates to a sense of place and belonging. There are twenty-two poems, and they take two directions, one towards the history of the Welsh side of my family, arranged chronologically, the other towards the nature of nationality and diaspora in general.

A number of poems tell the stories of particular members of the Welsh side of my family, trying to capture some of the characteristics of Welshness with illustrations of the delights and tragedies of family and emigration. I also touch on the influence of my cultural and genetic heritage on my own life and work.

And though the Welsh word hiraeth does not appear in these English language poems, we could say that the collection is really an exploration of hiraeth in poetic form.

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little about your anthology 'Seven Views of the South Fork River'?

Tony: The South Fork of the Trinity River runs past the bottom of my property and has been my muse for the last ten years. It’s designation as a wild and scenic river means it goes up when it rains and goes down when it doesn’t – something that dams and reservoirs have hidden from the experience of a large part of the population. It is an awesome sight to watch the river rise and spread out across the valley. Some years ago I decided to sing the river’s praises with a group of poems describing places along its course. This became 'Seven Views of the South Fork River', which is embedded in the printed collection 'Feathers Scattered in the Wind'. The poems talk about the river in a blatantly metaphorical way!

AmeriCymru: What's next for Tony Kendrew?

Tony: I am currently on the editorial board of The Lampeter Review, the online magazine of the University of Wales Trinity St. David's Creative Writing Centre. It’s terrific to be at the receiving end of great writing and to be in touch with the other editors on the production of the magazine. I also write a regular piece for the magazine, a sort of letter from America, that gives a personal view of the issue’s theme or a literary topic that’s caught my eye.

I hope 'Feathers Scattered in the Wind' will find a US publisher, as I think it has roots on both sides of the Atlantic and wish we didn’t have to get it shipped from the UK. And I’d like to see the poems of the CD Turning in print too. I love to hear poets reading their work, but many people prefer to snuggle down with a book of poems than hear them read out loud.

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

Tony: I’m delighted to be able to meet with other Welsh Americans via Americymru. As a writer I’ve been a bit of a hermit, so it’s heartening to see these connections being made through that difficult to define something that is our shared Welshness. And with March 1st coming up I’d like to wish everyone a very happy St. David’s Day. Cymru am Byth.



POEMS FROM 'TURNING'


Pant y Hirion, 1876

...

Is there a way to bridge the years

now the forest has darkened the mountain

and covered the mineshafts

now a wrought-iron gate

makes us back up

half way to the road?

...

The view is much the same

northwest down the Rheidol

to Aberystwyth.

Somebody built right here

for that view -

must have loved the summer sunsets

over the Lleyn.

...

What made you leave this place?

Send your wife to her mother

with your children?

And what did you tell them

when you left for Liverpool?

God be with you?

Look after yourselves?

See you in a few years?

...

Who knows now?

Those conversations took off

with the wind over Llanafan

and never came back.

...

Someone might remember

the accident

with the steam engine

the cheap foreign lead

the drift to the cities

the cough.

...

But that's not enough for me.

I want to lean on that gate

look in your eyes and ask

what took you away?

'''

What longing in your poet soul

sent you wandering?

Was strong enough

to override your chapel interdictions

a life of lessons in duty

in provision

in fatherhood?

'''

Or did the meetings merely aspirate your lungs

give service to your lips?

...

William Richards stonemason

they called you

so you would have known about building.

Did you never make the connection

between building and fatherhood

between abandonment and decay?

'''

You left us letters and notebooks

full of poems brimming with guilt

that urged God's message to the needy

and gave surrogate succour

while the infants dwindled in their bowls

and in your prodigal conscience.

Leaving

...

We have all left

some clean some not so clean

some so strong

there is no justification

and we override the rules

and ride the consequences

down the rapids of remorse.

...

How many words does it take to heal?

How many years?

How many deaths?

...

And who returns?

A few to town, some into the hills

some never

with no glance back -

call it ruthless call it heartless

call it iron cold

they settle their land

and reap their honest corn.

...

How many moons does it take to forgive?

How much forgetting?

How many strikes of the plough?


RHYS BOWEN ON AMAZON

Rhys Bowen is the award winning writer of the Constable Evans mysteries set in the Snowdonia Mountains of Wales. Apart from the Constable Evans series, Rhys has written many other novels and children's books, including many best-selling titles. She has also written some historical sagas and TV tie-ins. She currently resides in California and spends her winters in Arizona. Her latest titles include Dreamwalker (The Red Dragon Academy Book 1) and The Edge of Dreams (available from bookstores and online from March 3rd). AmeriCymru spoke to her about her work and future plans.


 


AmeriCymru: Hi Rhys and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. How would you describe your book - Dreamwalker - The Red Dragon Academy Book 1?

Rhys: Thanks for inviting me, Ceri. Dreamwalker is a middle grade children's fantasy novel, set at Red Dragon Academy, a strange boarding school in Wales. The children who have been sent there seem to have strange powers and one hallway leads to another world. If you liked Harry Potter you'll enjoy this. Not the same but the same sort of feel. And plenty of Welsh mythology tied in.

 

AmeriCymru: When can we expect a sequel?

Rhys: As you know I usually write adult mystery novels. This was my first venture writing with my daughter Clare. We were sitting together lamenting no more Harry Potter when I said "You know. I have an idea..." and we talked it through. Now she is bugging me to get that first sequel written. I have a really full writing background but I'm going to try to make time to plot out a second book next month.

AmeriCymru: Can you tell us a little about your Welsh background? What effect did your many childhood visits to North Wales have on your writing?

Rhys: My grandfather is Welsh. My passionate Welsh aunt Gwladys used to take me to Wales every summer where I stayed with Welsh speaking great aunts. We were near Snowdonia and my aunt was a passionate hiker so I've done every trail up Snowdon. From a small child I have always felt the draw of that majestic scenery--towering mountains, streams rushing down them, the bleeting of sheep. That was why I started the Constable Evans series because I wanted to share that experience with those who didn't know about Wales.

AmeriCymru: What initially attracted you to mystery writing?

Rhys: I've always been a mystery reader. I love the puzzle, the suspense. I had been writing in other genres (YA TV etc and suddenly felt I wanted to write what I enjoyed reading. I wanted to write mysteries with a strong sense of place. And of course the place that came to mind was Wales.

AmeriCymru: Your series set in Snowdonia featuring Constable Evan Evans has proved hugely popular. How did you conceive of the character and will there be any further Evan Evans mysteries?

Rhys: As I just said I knew I wanted to write mysteries with a strong sense of place. It was when I was telling a friend about my childhood experiences in Wales that she said "Did you ever put this in a book?" and I thought Aha! So then Constable Evans walked in, almost fully formed and said "Hello, here I am." The funny thing was it was as if I knew him from day one. I didn't have to make anything up.

I've really loved doing those books and would like to write another one, but alas the publisher started taking some of the books out of print. It made no sense to me to go on writing if a new reader couldn't find the whole series (Luckily they are now all on Kindle etc). But I have promised readers that I will write an Evan e-story from time to time so that we can see how he is doing. I'm curious to know, aren't you?

AmeriCymru: Your mystery novel Evan's Gate was nominated for the Edgar best novel award in 2005. Other novels in the Molly Murphy and Lady Georgie series have been nominated for, and won, various awards. What would you say has been your proudest achievement as a writer so far?

Rhys: Of course the awards are amazing and rather humbling. But I think my proudest achievement is my number of fans to whom my books mean something. I've had letters saying "your book got me through time at the homeless shelter, or through chemo, or through the loss of a dear one." Those really mean something.

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little about your 2014 novel City of Darkness and Light and the Molly Murphy series of which it is the latest instalment?

Rhys: The Molly Murphy novels are set in early 1900s New York. This book starts with a devastating event when Molly's house is blown up and she is sent for safety to her good friends in France. She arrives to find no trace of them. Alone with a baby in a strange city she has to find out what happened to her friends and how their disappearance is linked to the murder of a well-known Impressionist painter. It was fun to write as I adore Impressionist art!

By the way, the next Molly book is due out on March 3, called The Edge of Dreams.

AmeriCymru: From Her Royal Spyness ( 2007 ) to Queen of Hearts ( 2014 ) your Lady Georgiana ( aka Georgie ) series has proved immensely popular. Care to introduce the character for our readers? Are there any further titles in the pipeline?

Rhys: Lady Georgie is 35th in line to the throne in the 1930s. Although she has royal connections her branch of the family is destitute and she is trying to make her own way in the world at a difficult time. The Molly books are suspenseful and serious. The Royal Spyness are pure fun. I poke fun at the British class system, at my clumsy heroine, her awful maid. Think Bertie Wooster meets Bridget Jones with the occasional body!

And yes, there are more titles ahead. The next one is called Malice at the Palace and is about the (real) wedding of the Duke of Kent to Princess Marina... so tied in to some real history and set at Kensington Palace.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Rhys Bowen?

Rhys: More Molly and Lady Georgie books, the next Red Dragon Academy and hopefully enough time in between to travel, enjoy the best fish and chips in Wales in Usk and Cornish pasties in Falmouth!

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

Rhys: Cymru am byth!


Significance by Jo Mazelis

"Novelist, poet, photographer, essayist and short story writer, Jo Mazelis was born in the middle of a summer storm on the edge of the Gower Peninsula. She grew up in Swansea, later living in Aberystwyth and London for over 14 years before returning to her hometown.

She has won a prize in the Rhys Davies Short story award five times, was longlisted for the Asham Award and her first collection of short stories Diving Girls was shortlisted for both Wales Book of the Year and Commonwealth Best First Book. Her work has appeared in New Welsh Review, Spare Rib, Poetry Wales, Raconteur, Cambrensis, Nth Position, the Big Issue, Corridor, The Ottawa Citizen, Everywoman, Tears in the Fence and Lampeter Review amongst others. Several of her stories have also been broadcast on BBC Radio 4."... Read more here

AmeriCymru spoke to Jo about her writing and her new novel Significance

...




Jo has also contributed a short story, 'Mechanics' for the forthcoming edition of eto. For an excerpt click here



Jo MazelisAmeriCymru: What can you tell us about your new novel 'Significance'?

Jo Mazelis: It’s hard to explain in a nutshell – on the surface it seems to be a book about crime and its detection, but it isn’t - not in the traditional sense. The title ‘Significance’ draws attention to the way a reader looks for and finds significance in plot and character which is how all novels function. When there is a crime involved in a story these signs or clues seem to point to a solution and thus narrative resolution. In the real world when a crime has happened, especially a serious crime like murder, those closest to it begin to review past events differently, they restructure their thinking, their plans, their judgement of other people and their surroundings, and crucially even when the culprit is caught people remain haunted and altered by the crime.

I began writing ‘Significance’ in 2007 at a very unhappy moment in my life and I think that is why the book is so much about running away and escape – escape from external factors but also from the self. At times I had to imagine I was an entirely different person when I was writing it; a more confident person who was not afflicted by the self doubt and self hate and depression I was suffering.

I think if the book had to be categorised it would be a novel of ideas rather than thriller or detective genre. I spend a lot of time explaining what it is not and as I said find it difficult to summarise what it actually is. My aim was however to produce a work which could be read at different levels and lent itself to multiple interpretations – sometimes I had in mind a giant riddle or perhaps a maze, but what the answer to the riddle is I prefer not to say. In a similar way I very much wanted the narrative to be open ended. Not so that I could write a sequel (though at times that crossed my mind) but because I wanted readers to make up their own minds about it.

AmeriCymru: When did you decide to start writing and why have you concentrated on short stories until now?

Diving Girls by Jo MazelisJo Mazelis: I discovered almost by accident that I had some ability when I was quite young, perhaps 15 or 16 – I had been moved down to the English class that took a lower grade of exam – then known as the CSE. This was not the qualification that led to Higher Education so the approach was informal. The teacher was an ex-merchant seaman and published poet known to be quite tough but he was passionate about writing. One day after we had done a homework exercise in alliteration he told me that I wrote almost as well as he had at the same age. I guess those words planted a rare seed in my head and stuck because I very rarely heard any words of praise from teachers. The following year I moved to the O-level English class which was taught by the headmistress and more than once she read my compositions (they were short stories in reality) aloud to the class. But none of this meant anything really – certainly not university as I had hardly any qualifications when I left school – just enough work in a portfolio to get me into Art College. I began writing seriously around the time my daughter was born in 1987 but as a working single mother there wasn’t an awful lot of time. However I had always loved short stories whether written by DH Lawrence or Thomas Hardy or Edna O’Brien or Ian McEwan. The words ‘...and other stories’ on a book jacket was never a turn off for me as it supposedly is for the majority of readers.

I think there is a lot of confusion around short stories currently; people try to read them by ploughing on through a collection as if it were a novel. Each story needs to be read and savoured, then reflected on. Of course this demands a certain level of engagement on the part of the reader – or rather a different sort of relationship than a reader has with a novel. Further confusion seems to exist around word length – how short or how long should a story be?

Sadly in the UK there are few (if any) general interest magazines that regularly publish short stories – no equivalent to The New Yorker for example. I think it’s such a pity that newspapers like The Guardian or The Times don’t have regular short stories, not only from the point of view of opportunities for writers but as a means of familiarising ordinary readers with the form.

It struck me a few years ago that while Britain is meant to be the country of long tradition (to the point of rigid stodginess) while the US is that of innovation (think of that clichéd image of flashy newness) it is in the US where you find that a magazine like the New Yorker sticks to its menu of quality fiction and brilliant journalism on a wide range of topics from politics to science to culture. The New Yorker you might say – knows what it is – and doesn’t attempt to change itself somewhat hysterically every couple of years.

Despite the gloomy prospects it was a combination of a love affair with short stories and a lack of time that kept me glued to the form. Annie Proulx followed a similar pattern; publishing short stories in magazines for at least ten years before her book Heart Songs came out.

When my first collection of short stories Diving Girls was well received, being shortlisted for both Commonwealth Best First Book and Welsh Book of the Year, I discovered that what was expected of me next was a novel. This was perplexing as I had spent years working on the short story form with its particular demands of speedy elegance and brevity, and I felt I’d proved myself to some extent. But no, the attitude seemed to be that short stories were a lower form, done only as exercises in the run up to the real event, the novel. A case in point followed the untimely death of Raymond Carver, when some critics bemoaned the fact he hadn’t quite got around to writing that novel and therefore his true status was open to debate.

It’s no coincidence that the great age of the novel was the nineteenth century and that many of its most notable authors had swathes of time on their hands and few distractions. But for me, in the period after Diving Girls I was still a single parent, still working almost full time, still broke. I tried to write a novel but failed, and instead brought out a second collection of stories Circle Games. For some reason this book sunk without a trace and I, as its captain went down with it.

I began Significance in 2007 and had a first draft completed by 2010 or thereabouts. After the book had been rejected by the London publishers I had got to the point where I was planning on self-publishing, merely to have a few copies to distribute amongst friends, when someone suggested I approach Seren and thankfully they took the book.

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little about your two published anthologies, ''Diving Girls'' and ''Circle Games''?

Circle Games by Jo MazelisJo Mazelis: The stories in Diving Girls and to a lesser extent Circle Games were written over a long period of time, the earliest of these The Blackberry Season was written in 1987 when I was living in London, it was published in a Cambridge student magazine which was very strange in a way because at that point I didn’t have a degree let alone a Cambridge degree.

It was another fourteen years before my first book was published. When I look back at my writing career I think anyone with an ounce of sense would have given up long ago. I suppose every so often something or someone along the way reaffirmed the idea that I had some talent to go along with my staying power.

Recently on a short story forum someone asked if a collection should have a theme or not? It struck me then that a lot of new writers especially those doing creative writing degrees were constructing collections of short stories in a far more formal way than I ever did. My stories came one at a time, each changing according to what was happening in my life at that moment; what I was reading, or remembering or experiencing.

For example Too Perfect was informed by several sources; a news story about supposedly documentary photographs of lovers embracing on the streets of Paris. Someone had come forward to claim that the images had been posed by models. As documentary photographs get much of their power from the idea that they represent truth this was shocking. A year or so before I learned that a woman student at college with me was having an affair with one of our lecturers and then I read The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism by Katie Roiphe. I think I also saw David Mamet’s play Oleanna about this time. So essentially all these informed my story, in particular the questionable view that a photograph represents a moment of truth and secondly the idea that a woman (if she is over 21) does not act under her own volition. I wanted to make the man and woman in the story equally culpable, equally reckless, equally regretful afterwards. This description makes that story sound like a dull thing built purely on theory, but when I created it I was hardly aware of everything I’ve just described. It was only with hindsight that I was able to see the subconscious mechanism behind the creative process.

Too Perfect as a phrase is tautological and I used it for that reason - calling attention to a thing which cannot in reality exist. The story is about surfaces; how people judge things by their appearance only, so this motif recurs more than once in the story and is at its heart.

AmeriCymru: Is there any one of your stories that you are particularly proud of or that you would like to especially recommend?
 
Jo Mazelis: I think I am always most enamoured by whatever the last thing I produced was – maybe because new work makes me feel more alive and active and hopeful. I was recently commissioned to create a story that reinterprets a classic Welsh story by Arthur Machen and it was such a pleasure to write that it is still buzzing about in my head. Buzzing so loudly that I wonder if I shouldn’t try to develop it further and create a novella.

There isn’t a lot of my work available online but I have a story called Atlantic Exchange which can be found in The Lampeter Review. It’s a magic realist story about Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath meeting in New York and is quite different from much of my other work. Also online is a non-fiction piece called Haunted Landscape available in Wales Arts Review’s nature issue.

AmeriCymru: I''d like to ask you about your writing process. Do you have some kind of creative routine or do you write as and when inspiration occurs? 

Jo Mazelis: You can’t sit around waiting for inspiration; you have to actively summon it. Sometimes that means writing even when it feels flat and mostly worthless, but doing this means that you acquire the habit of writing. I always use a pen and notebook in the first instance as this seems to allow me to find a sort of natural flow. My words are somehow more tangible on paper and rather childishly I like to look back on page after page of my handwritten text. Strangely I’ve noticed how my handwriting improves when things are going well and deteriorates when I’m struggling.

AmeriCymru: Are there any writers that you draw inspiration from or especially admire?

Jo Mazelis: There are so many it’s hard to know where to begin. Lately I haven’t been reading so much fiction, but among non-fiction I love Joan Didion. I first read her in the seventies and more lately she’s produced two powerful memoirs, The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights. I loved Graham Swift’s 1983 novel Waterland and Ian McEwan’s collection of stories First Love, Last Rites. After reading Jane Eyre when fairly young, Wuthering Heights just left me reeling with its claustrophobic weirdness. I read everything by Richard Brautigan from In Watermelon Sugar to Sombrero Fallout to So the Wind Won’t Blow it All Away. Everything by Edna O’Brien too. I adored Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, in particular the story A Temporary Matter.

A huge influence on me when I was young were the stories of Hans Christian Anderson and also an unexpurgated copy of the Brothers Grimm that I found in my grandmother’s house – in these books little girls get their feet cut off or freeze to death and false princesses are put in barrels filled with spikes, princes are blinded by thorns and wander through the world helpless, children are abandoned in the forest and cloaks are woven from stinging nettles. These stories still take my breath away.

AmeriCymru: What are you working on at the moment?

Jo Mazelis: I’m hoping to bring out a third collection of stories – these will be a mixture of stories that have been published in magazines and unpublished work new and old. Because there is an excess of material – I’ve got around 125 stories of which 36 appear in my first and second books leaving around 90 potential stories. I just don’t know how to decide which to choose. Some form parts of my attempts to create linked stories for example there are several stories set around the early 20th Century in an invented village called Cwm Bach, another group are set in 1969 in a large Welsh comprehensive school. Other stories might be linked because they are ghostly or gothic or dystopian.

I think the most important thing for me now is to complete a second novel. I’ve got several in different stages of development and they are all very different from each other and different from Significance. As with the period when I was writing Significance I may have to stop writing any new short stories or anything else at all and immerse myself totally in the new novel, but what that book will be is very uncertain at present.


AmeriCymru: Hi Norma and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. When did you first discover your passion for writing and literature?

Norma: I have always had a passion for writing, but could never devote enough time to it, because of pressure of work. As a child I loved writing essays and stories. My professional career as a teacher, specialising in English Literature, nurtured my love of good books. I wrote a number of academic articles for journals such ''Management in Education'' and I also wrote an article for a book called ''Take Care Mr. Blunkett'' about curriculum issues. However, at the back of my mind there was always a hankering to write fiction. When I took up writing full-time I decided to write about my experiences as a child growing up in the Welsh valleys, but I was really interested in creative wrting. I enjoy writing fiction. For me it is a pleasure, not a hardship.

SWeason of the Long GrassAmeriCymru: Season of The Long Grass is a true story of a childhood spent in the Cynon Valley in the fifties. Care to tell us a little more about the book and how life in he valleys has changed since that time?

Norma: My first book ''Season of the Long Grass'' is a journey through childhood to adolescence and the realisation that everything changes. It depicts the importance and strength of family life in the Welsh Valleys in the 1950s. A mining village wasn''t just a community, it was almost an extended family where people looked out for each other. Front doors were never locked during the day, the pubs closed at ten o'' clock and were shut on Sundays. Families sat around the table to eat and talk about their day. Television didn''t invade households until the late 1950s so entertainment was mostly board games and family activities.

Children could play ball on the main highway, because there was very little traffic compared with the present day, and vehicles were much slower. Whole streets went to the seaside together and the generations mixed together, unlike today. After ten o''clock the local dance hall was full of all ages from teenagers to grannies. Alcohol wasn''t served in the dance hall, only soft drinks and snacks, but it didn''t matter. Teenagers didn''t go into local pubs, because they knew they would be seen by somebody who would report back to their parents.

Discipline in schools was much stricter and the cane was administered just for being late on a few successive days. I remember being told that if a strand of hair was placed across the palm of the hand the pain of the cane wouldn''t hurt. They were wrong! There was more respect for the police. Children were not afraid to approach a policeman if they needed help. Conversely, most misdemeanors were dealt with by dragging the miscreants home to be punished by their parents. Going to Sunday School was positively encouraged and being drunk was frowned upon. It was altogether a gentler way of life where people looked out for each other.

Unlike today children were free to play and roam the mountains without fear. No problems with health and safety when climbling trees, playing conkers or building bonfires for Guy Fawkes night. Children ate what they were given, because they had been brought up on war rations which didn''t completely end until about 1953/1954. Designer clothes and trainers didn''t exist for children. They were expected to dress like children and wear what they were given to wear. Sex was only spoken about in hushed tones and never in front of the youngsters. There was no sex education in schools other than human biology. Most information was acquired behind the bike shed or from older siblings.

Even though there was pressure to do well in school and pass the ''scholarship'' to get into grammar school, there were fewer pressures on young people than today. Nowadays children want the latest fashion, indulge in anorexic diet fads and can''t wait to become fully-fledged adults. In the 1950s children were content to be children until ''teenage culture'' became fashionable.

The Regis ConnectionAmeriCymru: Your second novel The Regis Connection is set in Berlin and Russia. What inspired you to write a thriller set in the WWII and cold war eras?

Norma: Your second novel ''The Regis Connection'' is set in Berlin and Russia. What inspired you to write a thriller set in the WWII and cold war eras? ''The Regis Connection'' was inspired by my time living in Berlin during the Cold War. I had many conversations with Berliners who had experienced the Soviets marching into Berlin at the end of the Second World War. They related what happened and the differences in how they were treated by the Soviets and the Allies. I also met people who had been involved with resisting Hitler. One woman told how soldiers broke into her house and shot her husband, because he refused to join the Nazi Party. Subsequently, she was forced to become part of the Lebensborn, a programme that used blonde, blue-eyed women to increase the population of Aryan children often fathered by SS officers.

I lived in the British Sector about two hundred yards from the Wall and close to Gleinicke Bridge where spies were exchanged, as depicted in Hollywood films. Travelling into Charlottenberg, on the top deck of a double decker bus, it was quite normal to see armed Grepos manning the Goon Towers. Gunshots and minor explosions from the East German side were commonplace. Military personnel families lived on constant alert in case the Soviets came over the Wall to invade West Berlin. I actually travelled on the military train through East Germany and experienced the precautions put in place by the British Forces and also visited the Russian War Memorial in Treptower Park in East Berlin. Visits were only allowed with the military and were closely supervised. Compared with the thriving, cosmoplitan atmosphere in theWest, East Berlin looked shabby and poor. Many bombed out buildings were still in existence.

I was so intrigued by events and stories I heard that I decided to write a fictional story based on what I had heard and experienced.

AmeriCymru: You are currently working on your third novel. Care to tell us more about that?

Norma: My latest novel is also a thriller set in present times. Currently, it has the provisional title ''Until Tomorrow Comes''. It is now with the publisher. Below is a brief synopsis of the book.

Chief Inspector Brian Wallace is called in to investigate the murder of a naked victim, wrapped in a blanket, found at the bottom of an old engineering shaft in Shropshire. A local reporter informs him that another naked body was washed up on the beach near Portsmouth suspected of being thrown from a cross channel ferry. The murder had been swiftly hushed up leaving no record of the incident. Wallace is furious when he is warned against pursuing his investigation by the top brass.

Determined to find out if there is a link with the murder in Shropshire he contacts Ernst Dreher, his counterpart in Geneva, who has links with Interpol. Subsequently, he and his pathologist girlfriend, Jo Barnett, fly to Geneva to discuss the case. Unknown to Wallace, Jack Conrad, a former colleague in British Military Intelligence, is also in Switzerland investigating the disappearance of two British army officers, Bruce Foley, working for MI6, and Robert Macaleer of British Military Intelligence. Gradually, Conrad and Wallace uncover a sinister connection between the murders of the two military men, the brutal murder of a young woman in Shropshire, who is connected to Colin Lynes, a Russian ‘sleeper’, and an American senator found dead in a hotel room in Paris.

Their search for the two missing military men sets off a trail of events that leads them to a covert organisation, known as the Black Militia, hidden away in the Swiss Alps. It is headed by a man known only as the Generalissimo. Wallace infiltrates the facility and discovers the full extent of the Generalissimo’s plans before escaping with Conrad. When they return to capture him they find that the entire organisation has decamped. They recover a disk from the Militia’s crashed helicopter containing precise information about the organisation and the Generalissimo''s plans; information that makes their blood run cold. The plot is full of intricate twists and turns. The action takes place in England, Switzerland, Paris and the United States of America.

AmeriCymru: Where can we go to purchase your books online? Are they available on Kindle?

Norma: Both ''Season of the Long Grass'' and ''The Regis Connection'' can be purchased on Amazon.com/ Amazon.co.uk, the Welsh Books Council, Waterstones and other good book stores. Both have five star reviews on Amazon.

''The Regis Connection'' is now available on Kindle

''Season of the Long Grass'' will be on Kindle very shortly.

My new novel ''Until Tomorrow Comes'' will also be available on Amazon and Kindle.

AmeriCymru: What are you currently reading? Any recommendations?

Norma: I have recently read some good historical novels such as C.S. Sansom''s Shardlake series, ''The Revenge of Captain Paine'' and ''Last Days of Newgate'' by Andrew Pepper; also Philippa Gregory''s ''The Other Queen'', ''The Queen''s Fool'' and ''The Red Queen''. I also enjoyed Bernard Knight''s books.

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Norma Lloyd-Nesling?

Norma: I am not a single genre writer. After writing two thrillers I am now researching for a novel with an historical twist that moves from the 16th century to the present day. I am also writing a chic lit novel under a pen name. A little note for readers and members of AmeriCymru - my new novel, and any future books, will be published under the name Lloyd Nesling cutting out my first name and the hyphen.

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

Norma: Getting published is extremely difficult on both sides of the Atlantic. It is hard to know what publishers want other than chic lit, celebrity autobiographies, and what I term ''doom and gloom'' books. Keep at it! You never know when you''ll hit the jackpot. In the meantime write for pure pleasure. Enjoy!


AmeriCymru spoke to Welsh author Terry Breverton about his recent books on the Tudor dynasty and other topical matters. In this controversial interview he offers opinions on ''wind farms'' and the current state of Welsh politics.

For more from Terry Breverton on AmeriCymru check out the links below.


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AmeriCymru: Hi Terry and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmriCymru. Care to tell us a little about your recent book Everything You Wanted To Know About The Tudors But Were Afraid To Ask?

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Tudors but were Afraid to AskTerry: I wasn’t keen on the title, but it’s what the publishers wanted. After my books upon Richard III and Jasper Tudor I was suddenly one of their ‘Tudor experts’. Of course, being Welsh, they are my favourite dynasty, despite Henry VIII, who was fairly repulsive in every way. If his elder brother Arthur had survived, history would have been very different – perhaps Catholicism would still be the main religion. I wrote the book as one that I’d like to read – entertaining and informative. I’ve had dozens of emails and letters telling me that it’s kept people up at night. One 84-year-old scientist emailed me that he was reading it on a train to London from Portsmouth and kept laughing. By the end of the journey the three strangers sitting at his table on the train all said that they would buy it, as he read out bits to them. Books Monthly reviewed it and also commented on the title: ‘A different take on the Tudors – this magnificent collection of facts and figures is a little like a Pears Cyclopedia of Tudor information – the title is the only unwieldy thing about this book, the contents are brilliant and well packaged, meaning you can search to your heart’s content and come up with the information you want or need. A fantastic idea, one of the best history books I’ve encountered!’

It asks whether Henry VIII composed Greensleeves. What were Thomas Cromwell''s bizarre toilet habits? Did Anne Boleyn have six fingers on one hand? We all know the old nursery rhyme: Mary, Mary, quite contrary, How does your garden grow? With silver bells and cockle shells, And pretty maids all in a row. Did you know that this is Mary Tudor, and her garden is an allusion to graveyards which were increasing in size with those who dared stay Protestant? The silver bells and cockle shells were instruments of torture, and the maids were a form of guillotine. Peasants had never heard of ‘the Black Death’. Henry VII was the first English king with British (i.e. Welsh) blood, from his father Edmond. The Tudors could have been called the Merediths or Bowens. The Tudor line did not die out with Elizabeth I. The first National Lottery was in 1569, discontinued in 1826 because of religious feelings. Elizabeth liked appearing topless as an old woman. And so on – it includes brief biographies of all the rules as well.

AmeriCymru: You have also written recently on Jasper Tudor: Dynasty Maker. How important was Jasper in British and Welsh history?

Terry: I had to fight for this title, as the publishers wanted ‘Jasper Tudor: The Man Who Made the Tudor Dynasty’. The reason is that every English student has heard of Warwick the Kingmaker, but Jasper was far more important in the history of the country. Hardly anyone has heard of him – mainly because he is half-Welsh and half-French. On his father’s side he is descended directly from the Tudors of Penmynydd who fought for Glyndŵr, and his mother was Catherine of Valois, the widow of Henry V and sister of the French king. His father Owain Tudors’s ancestors had nearly all fought the English since well before the time of Ednyfed Fychan, around 20 generations fighting for Wales. His great-grandparent Maredudd Tudor lost his two older brothers fighting for Glyndŵr. They were integrally important in the 15 year war against England. It is very rare to come across an unknown true hero – he was the only peer to fight from the first battle of the Wars of the Roses, to the last at Stoke Field – 32 years of fighting, being exiled, hiding and fighting again.

AmeriCymru: What line does your recent book on Richard III take regarding his historical reputation? Was he a monster or was he a victim of Tudor propaganda?

Terry: Most so-called ‘Tudor propaganda’ was perpetrated by the followers of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, otherwise Henry VII would be regarded as possibly the greatest King of England. Everything Henry did was aimed at solidifying a new dynasty.

Richard III: The King in the Car Park is a comparative analysis of the lives of Richard Plantagenet, a usurper king, and Henry Tudor, demonstrating the cruelty of Richard throughout his career and his arbitrary executions to take power. Ricardians fail to see that so many Yorkists deserted his cause in his two-year reign, and so few peers turned up to support him at Bosworth Field. He was not liked by peers of people, even in the Yorkist stronghold of London. He made Edward V and Prince Richard illegitimate when he imprisoned them and seized the throne, while Edward IV’s widow fled into sanctuary. He murdered Edward V’s bodyguard and Edward IV’s best friend Hastings. From sanctuary with her daughters, Queen Elizabeth Woodville plotted with Henry Tudor’s mother Margaret Beaufort to bring Henry to power, once she knew her sons had been murdered in the Tower in June 1483. Richard’s greatest ally, Buckingham, rose against him in the first year of his reign. Elizabeth Woodville’s remaining male family joined Henry in exile, along with hundreds of disaffected Yorkists who had rebelled across the south of England. Richard’s history from his time as a young man until king demonstrates a ruthless personality. Henry never displayed any vengeance in all his lifetime, and European ambassadors reported their astonishment at his treatment of his enemies after Bosworth and throughout his reign. Those that believe that Henry VII killed the ‘princes in the Tower’ are very misguided.

AmeriCymru: You recently contributed an article titled The Wind Follies of Wales to the AmeriCymru site. Have there been any further developments on that front? Anything you would care to add?

Terry: Wales is still being despoiled – near me great forests are being cleared at Brechfa for more of the pointless things, but even bigger than previous generations. Unfortunately all political parties in Britain see them as some sort of answer to a possible energy problem, ignoring fracking potential. They also seem to think that climate is controlled by man, not wishing to look at historical variations caused by Milankovic Wobbles, which I explained in my ‘Breverton’s Encyclopedia of Inventions.’ It baffles me, with an engineering background, how people call wind turbines ‘renewable energy’ – it’s just lies as no energy is renewable, only transferable with a loss of efficiency. And as for wind farms, again it’s marketing-speak – what about coal farms, gas farms, nuclear farms and oil farms? I fear that the Western World is killing itself economically with all this climate change garbage – climate is always changing – just read any history book. Gore’s Nobel Prize was based upon a statistical untruth – the Mann Hockey Stick graph. An analogy would be that a team wins three games in a row, so will always keep winning. Nonsense.

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Terry Breverton? Any new titles in the pipeline?

Terry: Henry VII: The Maligned Tudor King is on its way for next Summer, showing how his position as y mab darogan, ‘the son of prophecy’, was vital in his taking the crown by marching through Wales and amassing an army. There was no opposition as Yorkists and Lancastrians alike flocked to his banner. It’s a great story of being in danger nearly all of his life to taking the crown in his first ever battle in his late twenties. Then he changed England and Wales to solidify the power of the monarchy against nobles and made the country economically sound, while beginning the British Empire. A recent prize-winning book, The Winter King, was a hatchet job to sell copies and I want to readdress the balance. It was the last successful foreign invasion of England – Welsh and French armies – but historians still follow the line that 1066 was the last. I have no idea why many historical writers just follow their feelings and what they have read – instead of truth.

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

Terry: I’ve been to the National Festival of Wales in Vancouver and Washington, and many of our countrymen on the American Continent have a lovely, nostalgic view of the Wales they knew. It has changed massively in my lifetime – I’m now 68 and remember when living standards were on a par with those of England and far above those of France and Italy. Wales is struggling desperately economically… you have to be aware that the Wales Assembly Government has no answers. Like Westminster it is full of unemployable placemen and women who have never had a proper job in the private sector. Their major advisors, quango leaders and civil servants are equally dense as regards the Welsh situation. Some Assembly members refuse to answer any questions directly unless they get them in advance for a team to write an answer. As well as zero knowledge of how to restore the nation to parity with England and the rest of Europe, they have limited awareness of what is happening across Wales – the dying of the language and the disintegration of the infrastructure – as they are insulated from the people. We can add to this their ignorance of what the past means to Wales – there is little interest in how our heritage can really stimulate tourism. I’m a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and of the Institute of Consulting, with a track record in international strategy and consultancy, but there seems to be no-one advising Welsh MPs or AMs with any understanding of private industry.

Astonishing amounts of funding is thrown at non-Welsh companies on its north-eastern borders, employing English commuters, to no benefit to the Welsh economy. The Labour administration is intent upon building more and more houses when there are no real jobs – all this does is attract incomers who rely on benefits, or retirees. 90% of Welsh population growth for the last 20 years has come from incomers – they do not come here to work. The population has grown from two to over three million people in my lifetime, and over a third of the people now say that they are not Welsh. Perhaps another sixth are the children or grandchildren of incomers. I believe that the true Welsh people are down to about 1.5 million people, less than half of the Moslem population of Britain. Millions of pounds are thrown into promoting multiculturalism, while the relict British population exists on something similar to a Native Indian reservation. I have called Wales ‘Europe’s Tibet’ in the past because of the displacement of the population. The best have to go to England or overseas to work. They are replaced by incomers. The unemployed want to be relocated to Wales – they get free housing and benefits in the full knowledge that there are no jobs that they can be forced into. The elderly ‘white flighters’ escape multicultural England to moan about the language and become an increasing drain on the health service. Upon all socio-economic parameters, Wales constantly falls against the rest of Europe. Labour does not care, as the unemployed, elderly, ill, benefits-seekers and immigrants are overwhelmingly Labour voters. And the Welsh vote Labour as if we have been ovinified. If we voted tactically, perhaps more attention would be paid by Westminster.

It is a sad story but I see no end to our problems. If we were a more violent nation, like the English, Scots and Irish, perhaps we might get somewhere, but we have always been pacifist. If you visit Wales, please travel across the land, and write to the press about what you see. Outside Cardiff, there are deprivation, poor housing and low incomes. Our tourism industry hardly exists. The seaside towns along the North Wales coasts have hotels now converted to social housing. The west coast is very underdeveloped in terms of good places to stay, unless you want to stay on one of the ubiquitous caravan sites cluttering virtually every mile of coastline across the country. In South Wales it’s the same story. Across the land there are very few good hotels for a touring holiday. I apologise for being so downbeat about a nation that I love but you will not get politicians telling the truth. I lived and worked for most of my life outside Wales, and can see the reality from an external view. There is poverty here, not just in terms of housing stock and people on benefits, but in terms of any politicians taking a long-term view of how Wales can get out of the mess it’s in.

We desperately need a dose of reality. This is a letter which I recently sent to the press but was never published:

‘I cannot believe the political squabbling about Wales being granted £2 billion by the EU because it is one of the poorest parts of Europe. Welsh politicians should have been trumpeting this poverty for decades, as the nation has consistently fallen behind upon all socio-economic indicators. I am a Fellow of both the Institutes of Consulting and Marketing, have written over thirty books upon Wales and have published criticism of politicians and the Welsh economy for over two decades, so have some inkling of what is going on. [John Redwood, when Welsh minister, famously and moronically refused much-needed EU monies upon ideological grounds.] If that quagmire of bureaucratic idiocy, that represents EU policy, recognises that Wales has very serious problems, why cannot our politicians? Wales has missed out upon billions of pounds under the flawed Barnett Formula, but why has it taken until now for any senior politician to think about raising the subject? Why do politicians moan that the EU has at last discovered that the nation has serious problems? These are problems that the WAG should have been addressing, not pouring money into English Deesside and pointless ‘aeroscience’ parks.

We have poor and underfunded education, from schools to universities. We have among the poorest health statistics in the Western World. There are no real private sector job prospects, and little help for indigenous companies. Our towns and villages are mouldering outside Cardiff and a very few places like Narberth, Cowbridge, Abergafenni and Hay. It will be interesting to see how the £2 billion is dispensed (i.e. lost) among and by committees, quangos, councils and the Assembly – do not hold your breath for it to be allocated in a cost-effective manner, by politicians, civil servants and their advisors who have never had a real job. It must be spent upon building up a tourism infrastructure - tourism is Wales'' primary hope for its decimated private sector. A serious reallocation of the Barnett Formula can start readdressing major health and education issues. Welsh politicians must seriously argue for more British Government funding to help its indigenous people, not consistently conform to Whitehall and Millbank policies. They should begin to represent the interests of Wales and the Welsh, not London parties as in the past.’

I realise that this sort of stuff in unpalatable – but my career was in corporate strategy and international consulting, so I’m not constrained by what happens across the road or what someone else repeats. I have an odd background for a historical writer, but it gives me a better perspective that our politicians who have never worked in the private sector. We have to compare Wales to other countries, benchmark what happens here, and unless we get this dose of reality we’ll get nowhere. And we have to begin with better protecting our heritage, culture, landscape and language - Hwyl

Back to Welsh Literature page >


Ralph Jones

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AmeriCymru spoke to Welsh writer Ralph Jones ( author of The Silent Wheels and The Deceit ) about his work and future plans. Ralph lives in Merthyr Tydfil and his first novel ( The Silent Wheels) is the story of the 1984/85 British miners strike and how a group of striking miners survived one of the most bitter industrial disputes in the history of the British trade union movement. A story of some of the comical things that happened during the year long dispute, and how they managed to survive.

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AmeriCymru: Hi Ralph and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru.. What first inspired you to write?

Ralph: I had the idea for the book about the miners strike for a long time, but I never got around to it. Myself and my work colleagues used to discuss the strike and reminisce about the stories. We always said that somebody should write a book about it, so one day I decided to have a go. The main character in the book Big Jones was my best friend, a real great man and I was as close to him as a brother. He sadly passed away three years ago and I then lost interest in doing it and almost deleted the file. One evening my son asked me how the book was going, "I can''t face doing it", I replied to him. He then replied to me, "I think you should finish it as a tribute to uncle Brian, (as he always called him,as he was Brian''s godson), he would have loved that".

I thought then, yes he would so I knuckled down and finished it.

The Silent Wheels - Ralph JonesAmeriCymru: Can you provide a little historical context to the events behind your novel The Silent Wheels?

Ralph: The book is based upon the events of the 1984 British miners strike. I decided not to go down the political route, as it had been done many times before. So I thought that I would try and put into words an alternative side. The stories are all true and are written as I saw then happening and all the main characters are really friends of mine, although some have now sadly passed on.I have tried to capture the camaraderie of a group of workmates who were also friends and the bond that was between them that is still there to this day.

AmeriCymru: I know the book is not really about the political situation surrounding the strike but concerns itself more with the way that people survived the whole ordeal. Care to expand a little?

Ralph: As I said I don''t want to touch upon the political side of the strike. I have tried to show that the mining communities in Wales where I am from,and I suppose everywhere, will always stick together. The strike was not about money it was about saving jobs,most people we spoke to understood that if the mines were closed down there would be a knock on effect on the community that they lived in. Also with a lot of the steel works and other places also being earmarked for closure we were fighting for other people as no one seemed to be safe.

AmeriCymru: What, for you was the most poignant episode you experienced during the strike?

Ralph: The attitude of some people really shocked me. Although in general most people supported us,there were the odd few who would call us lazy and troublemakers. Also some of the things that went on at the picket lines shocked me .I am not saying that the miners were innocent but some of the police tactics were really brutal, with a lot of them just charging in and swinging the truncheons at some of the mass protests.

AmeriCymru: What, for you was the most humorous incident you experienced during the dispute?

Ralph: There are too many humorous stories to pick one out and I couldn''t pick a favorite one. But one story will always stick in my mind and I have told it often.We were up in Oxford and there was a lady sitting on the floor on the pavement and we looked at her and she had no legs. One of the boy''s walked over to her and emptied the contents of the bucket he had,as we had been around the town asking for people to donate to help the miners. We were staying in the students union in the university and when we told the students they all laughed at us and we didn''t know why. A week or two later we were walking down the same street,she was still there, when a car went past and a gust of wind lifted her skirt  up, it was then we saw that she was standing down an open manhole cover with her skirt arranged in such a way that it appeared that she had no legs.
 
AmeriCymru: A little bit off topic I know but still I think many readers will be curious. What do you think is the most essential prerequisite for economic recovery in the former Welsh mining valleys?

Ralph: Personally I don''t think there is a lot of hope for the Welsh valleys as no one will invest anymore. In the town where I live (Merthyt Tydfil), there is a lot of unemployment and the big businesses have pulled out and gone to more economic countries.The government will tell you to go and look elsewhere for work, but there is no work around in the valley''s. If the youngsters want work they have got to leave the valley''s, and when they do they don''tcsome back as there is nothing here for them.

AmeriCymru:  Your second novel is titled The Deceit. Can you tell us a little more about the book?

The Rage Within - Ralph JonesRalph: The rage within is a purely fictional story,although some people might think that they recognize some similarities. It is a story about a young boy named Jake,who was born when his violent and abusive father was in prison. Subsequently the father would not accept the boy as his and he resented the child as he was growing up. The boy, although he had a hard childhood, grew up with the love of his mother. He was taken to a boxing gym by a school teacher who had grown up in a similar position to him, after he got into trouble for fighting in the school yard.

Jake was taken in by the owner of the gym after he saw potential in the youngster and he was soon making a name in the boxing ring. But trouble was not far away from the young Jake and he had an injury which finished his boxing career. After this he started to drift into different things.He was given a job working on a farm and this was where he met Fran a girl older than he was. Fran was the girl who taught him about sex, she also used him as her own personal thing. When she moved away without telling Jake it broke his heart and this was when the downwards spiral started. Jake was then taken in by Alex a Londoner, an East end gangster who gave him a job firstly as a debt collector and a bouncer on the door of the club that he had opened in Wales. Alex had an associate, Andy a brutal and vicious man who took an instant dislike to Jake. This dislike led to many brutal fights between Jake and Andy and the two had a mutual contempt for one another.

Fran eventually returned but unknown to Jake she brought her new boyfriend with her, although she continued to taunt Jake. As Jake made his way up in Alex''s company he was drawn into a complex web of corruption which would see him travel to London with Alex, which Jake thought was a start in moving up the ladder in Alex''s empire, this was not to be the case.

The story takes a lot of twists and turns along the way with Jake eventually being framed for the murder of his best friend Slugger, a man who had looked after Jake during his early criminal days.

The story travels from the Welsh valley's to the East end of London and along the way there is a lot of greed, corruption, blackmail, deceit and also a bit of lust, with a few murders thrown in.

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Ralph Jones? Are you working on a new book?

Ralph: At this exact time I am working on a book about the history of Dowlais rugby football club. It is my home club as I was born in Dowlais and it is a subject close to my heart. I am about 75 per cent finished,the only thing is that when I think I am getting close to finishing, one of the older players wil come up to me and tell me some more stories. I have also been trying to write about a local pub I used to go to. There were a lot of real characters there, and I am thinking about doing part 2 of The Rage Within.

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

Ralph: I would just like to thank you for giving me this interview and would like to say that if any of the readers and members of Americymru would like to buy the book it does need a good editing, but I thought that the publishers were going to do it. But it is written from the heart, and if anybody would like to send me any questions I will be more than happy to answer them.




'Wingspan' - A Review

wingspanJeremy Hughes is one of the more interesting writers to emerge from Wales in recent years. His first novel Dovetail, held us spellbound with the story of a young boy emasculated in a school bullying incident, whose  later life became a remorseless quest for revenge. The ghastly contrivances which he manufactured for this purpose bring to mind some of the more gruesome episodes of ''Dexter''. His second novel Wingspan could not provide more of a contrast. It is a quiet and reflective work which tells a tale of loss and discovery following a whirlwind wartime romance and subsequent tragic air crash in the Brecon Beacons.

The two characters (father and son) who dominate this narrative are from profoundly dissimilar backgrounds and lead acutely contrasting lives.

The father, an ace US Air Force commander in WWII, describes his excitement as his formation emerges from cloud cover after another successful bombing mission over wartime Germany:-

We emerge number one in the high squadron, coming to the surface as if from dark water, and then we see the others breaking through, their tailfins first, large dull fish suddenly plated gold by the sun. Someone says "Wow!" on the interphone, "would you look at that!" Not many people get to see such wonder. Thirty-six forts in formation moving gently in the currents.

The son, a mild mannered headmaster at a rural English school, relishes the feeling of comfort and security he experiences viewing factory lights from a passing train:-

Industrial units, so often a feature of derelict ground near stations these days, have dull amber lights over their back doors. I feel well off, suddenly: if I were out there I''d be confronted with something that might threaten my mortality. I''m thinking motiveless murder. All from a light above a door. I used to look out of my bedroom as a child and watch the rain lashing past the amber street light. It''s a similar feeling. I''m safe. 

The action takes place in England, Wales and America and the story unfolds in episodes from the war period and the present day. The plot details are skifully interwoven and as layer upon layer of the unfolding drama is revealed we become engrossed in the son''s ongoing quest to connect with the ''ghost'' of his dead father. In deciding to pursue this quest, he embarks upon a voyage of self discovery which ultimately transforms his life and circumstances.

Readers of Jeremy''s first novel ''Dovetail'' may be surprised by the contrast in thematic material and content but this only demonstrates his extreme versatility as a writer. What both novels have in common is that they are beautifully crafted and a delight to read. A former ''Book of the Day'' selection on the Welsh American Bookstore, this title comes highly recommended. 


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An Interview With Jeremy Hughes

AmeriCymru spoke to Welsh author Jeremy Hughes about his latest novel ''Wingspan" - "Jeremy Hughes was born in Crickhowell, south Wales. He was awarded first prize in the Poetry Wales competition and his poetry was short-listed for an Eric Gregory Award. He has published two pamphlets - Breathing For All My Birds (2000) and The Woman Opposite (2004) - and has published poetry, short fiction, memoir and reviews widely in British and American magazines,. His first novel Dovetail was published in 2011."



AmeriCymru:  Hi Jeremy and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. How would you describe your new novel ''Wingspan''?

Jeremy:  Wingspan is the story of a WWll American bomber pilot who has always believed he can fly and who crashes when returning from a mission, leaving behind a wife and baby son.  The first half of the book explores his world.  The second half of the book is set fifty years later with the son searching for the father he never knew.

AmeriCymru:  What does the novel have to say about the importance of understanding and re connecting with our past?

Jeremy: The past is integral to our lives.  The novel explores the relationship between familial generations and their historical significance.  The global is always played out in the domestic. 

AmeriCymru:  The experience of wartime flying is superbly evoked in the book. How did you research this topic?

Jeremy:  Even though the book is relatively short, it contains a great deal of research. This includes finding out about the training of pilots, hunting out documentaries, feature films, visiting the American war cemetery at Madingley, Cambridge, visiting airfields and crash sites, as well as the Imperial War Museum, Duxford where they have a Stearman and Flying Fortress in the collection.  All of these contributed to the book in some way.  A great deal of research is always left out. 

AmeriCymru:  A number of American and British planes crashed in the Welsh mountains during World War II. What attracted you to this theme or setting?

Jeremy:  I discovered a pamphlet in the mid-1990s which plots the locations and stories of the aeroplanes which have crashed in the area.  I was very moved by the story of “Ascend Charlie”, a Flying Fortress which crashed when returning from a mission.  Its crew of ten perished and were buried at Madingley.  I couldn’t stop wondering about each of these men and their individual lives: who they were in civilian life, what had been their hopes and ambitions, who they had left behind.  This is what set me off.  I’d been thinking about it for years.

Tim is emasculated by a gang of bullies at the age of fifteen and devotes his life to revenge. He plans to build a machine that will kill each member of the gang one by one. Each death must be aesthetically beautiful, and so Tim apprentices himself to a brilliant craftsman to acquire the skills he needs. Then he begins to practice the perfect murder. A psychological thriller set in Spain and south east Wales, focused on obsession and the far-reaching evils of perfectionism.

AmeriCymru:  Your first novel ''Dovetail'' was also set in the Welsh hills. Care to describe it for us?

Jeremy:  Reviewers described ‘Dovetail’ as a psychological thriller and as literary horror.  For me it is quite simply a revenge story.  The protagonist devotes his life to putting right the wrong perpetrated upon him by a gang of boys when he was fifteen.  He apprentices himself to a brilliant craftsman in order to acquire the skills he perceives he needs to build a killing machine out of fine timbers.  He is obsessed with perfection.  The moment at which the machine is perfect is when it kills beautifully.  The book interrogates the notions of aesthetic beauty and moral imperfection, as the protagonist busies himself with a love of birds, craftsmanship and the story of Saint Sebastian with whom he identifies. 

AmeriCymru:  In addition to writing novels you are also a published poet. Care to tell us more? Where can readers go to buy your poetry online?

Jeremy:  Before I wrote ‘Dovetail’ my whole world view was poetic.  I interpreted what was around me in terms of poetry constantly.  I published the first poems I wrote as an undergraduate.  I was shortlisted for an Eric Gregory Award and was awarded first prize in the Poetry Wales competition.  I had a great deal of magazine publication.  I published two pamphlets: breathing for all my birds and The Woman Opposite.  I read enormous amounts of poetry and built up a great library.  Then it all stopped when I entered the world of fiction. 

I had wanted to be a novelist when I first started writing but didn’t know how to achieve this, so turned to poetry because I thought it was ‘achievable’: poems were short and I could complete one in a reasonable amount of time.  I haven’t written a poem for several years but without the experience of crafting poems I would not be the kind of prose writer I have become.  Baudelaire said, “Be a poet even in prose,” or something like that… 

AmeriCymru:   What''s next for Jeremy Hughes? Are you working on a new book at the moment?

Jeremy:  I am working on a crime novel set in Abergavenny and Madrid.  The book’s central idea is related to identity.  The criminal is a portrait painter. The police officer returns to the small town of his upbringing with the skills and years of experience he acquired as a detective in the Met. People disappear and artistic clues are left behind.  The criminal and the officer share an event in the past which causes these disappearances. 

I carried out research at the Prado and Reina Sophia in Madrid, the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, the fine gallery in Céret, southern France and the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff. 

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

Jeremy:  I am so pleased to be able to connect with readers around the world.  I love writing about the place of Wales within a global context, however modestly.  I hope that American readers enjoy the books I make as much as I enjoy creating them.

All best wishes from Abergavenny,

Jeremy Hughes


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About the Author

Jeremy Hughes was born in Crickhowell, south Wales. He was awarded first prize in the Poetry Wales competition and his poetry was short-listed for an Eric Gregory Award. He has published two pamphlets - Breathing For All My Birds (2000) and The Woman Opposite (2004) - and has published poetry, short fiction, memoir and reviews widely in British and American magazines,. His first novel Dovetail was published in 2011. He studied for the Master''s in creative writing at the University of Oxford. He now teaches Creative Writing at Oxford and the University of Wales, Newport, as well as literature for Aberystwyth. He is married with a daughter and a son.

Product Details

Wingspan

In September 1943 an American Flying Fortress returning from a bombing mission crashes in Wales.


Published by: Cillian Press

Date published: 2013-1-11

Edition: 1st

ISBN: 0957315589

Available in Paperback


Anthony Bunko's brave new memoir reveals the hilariously funny and scandalous world of the Business Consultant In a brave new memoir, best selling author, Anthony Bunko from Merthyr Tydfil reveals all about the hilariously funny and scandalous world of the business consultant after spending 15 years in the job. Lord Forgive Me... But I was a (Business) Bullshit Consultant (published by Y Lolfa) is a laugh-our loud ‘consultant had enough’ memoir based on true events, and is a rollercoaster ride full of fist-fights, muggings, kidnapping, gun chases, ghosts, psychopaths. hookers, back stabbing, bullshit, weird sex, strong drugs and the odd plate of sausage rolls.......It was a bloody nightmare!!!

AmeriCymru talked to Anthony about the book and his new career as a writer.

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Books By Anthony Bunko ...... ......... Press Release


AmeriCymru: Hi Anthony and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. Care to tell us a little about your recent book:- Lord Forgive Me...But I Was a (Business) Bullshit Consultant?

Anthony: I’ve been told by the people who have read it, that it’s a laugh-out loud ''consultant had enough'' memoir about a writer trapped inside a business consultant’s body.

It’s quite funny because when I first landed my dream job as a management consultant I thought it would mean a life of travelling to exotic places, meeting interesting people and making lots of money. Yet, what many people considered to be a glamorous profession, nearly got me murdered in New York, kidnapped in Amsterdam, mugged by the police in Moscow; got me in a fist fight in Germany, threatened by the business mafia in Italy and scared half to death in a ‘Psycho’ hotel in Sweden. And that was just for starters!

I used the experience of writing the mad events as therapy. Instead of lying on a couch talking to some bloke charging me £50 an hour, I used the novel to offload 12 years of walking through the fires of consultant Hell without a safety net.

AmeriCymru: Was there any one incident in particular that made you decide to ''go straight''?

Anthony: There were lots of incidents in many years of talking bullshit for a living that made me ‘go straight’. But below is a little snippet from the book, which was probably the post-it note that finally broke the flip-chart’s legs.

Picture the scene; after 8 hours delay in Cleveland, I finally find myself alone in Newark airport in New York at midnight. My connection to London had gone, I’d lost my luggage and I was in a taxi going to a motel until I could get a flight home in the morning. The insane taxi driver was not only trying to rip me off, but he didn’t have a bloody clue where he was going. I had enough and told him to stop the cab. We both jumped out….here’s what happened next :-

He leant into the glove compartment and pulled out a gun. I sprinted over the bridge without looking back. The car horns blared as I zigzagged in and out of the oncoming traffic. Their headlights lit up my face. I darted up an alleyway, into a side street.

When I thought I was safe; I stopped running. My heart pounding in my chest, my legs felt like jelly. I punched the air. I had taken on the mad taxi driver of Newark on his home patch, and beaten the money-grabbin’ bastard.

Smirking to myself, I slowly walked towards the broken neon sign of the motel. It was only when I looked around did it dawn on me I was in more trouble than ever. I was in the wrong part of town, at the wrong time, and in the wrong whatever else I wanted to add to the wrong situation.

They appeared out of the shadows, staggering towards me like zombie creatures from the Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. In my mind I was sure I could hear the low murmur of the gutter people chanting. ‘Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the fear of a business man!’

I stood frozen to the spot. A gun shot rang out behind me. I screamed and put my hands over my head. Ok, it was probably a car exhaust backfiring, but I didn’t stick around to find out. I ran again, only this time much faster.

I sprinted around the corner; I could see the sign for the motel in the distance. In my imagination, I could feel their breath on my neck and their hands touching my skin.

I barged into the reception area, nearly knocking the door off its hinges. Everyone in there stopped to look at me.

Three prostitutes sitting on a worn-out sofa in the corner smiled. One uncrossed her legs. I swear it looked like a cave at Cheddar gorge. To be honest, if I was smaller, I would have crawled up there and hidden in the safety of her nether regions. It may have looked dirty and smelt of cheese but it looked like the safest place to be at that moment.

Link to amazon:- Buy ''Lord Forgive Me...'' here

AmeriCymru: Why writing? Of all the trades in all the world, what made you take up the pen?

Anthony: I began writing more by accident than design. However, I now think there was always some creative demon inside of me trying to get out. One day in 2002 I sat in a three hour traffic jam on the M4 after returning from a business workshop in London. Bored, I picked up a pen and scribbled down the now infamous title, ‘The Tale of The Shagging Monkeys’. Two months later, the comedy novel based on my mates from Dowlais Rugby Club was born.

The spelling was terrible and the grammer was worser (ha ha), but the mad-cap tale not only made people laugh, it earned me a 4 star rating in the Western Mail, the National paper of Wales.

After that I got bitten by the bug. Writing became my passion. Every spare minute (even though I was working full time as a consultant) I spent writing fiction stories. To me there is still nothing better than sitting in a pub with a bottle of wine and my imagination for company. (But don’t tell anyone about that, they think I’m weird already!)

AmeriCymru: What was it like working with Stuart Cable on the ''Demons and Cocktails: My Life with Stereophonics'' project?

Anthony: Stuart was a larger than life character with a large smile and larger hair style. What I loved about Stuart was he was a down-to-earth rock star, a real people’s person, who always made the time and effort to talk to anyone about everything. I met him while interviewing him for a spoof magazine I was writing called the rag. After several beers we both ended up in his mansion in Aberdare where he told me stories about supporting U2 and the famous tale about how he ate Keith Richards’ Shepard pie after a gig in Paris. Slightly worse for wear, I asked him if I could I write his life story. He shook my hand there and then, and the rest is history. For a year he took me everywhere and I met some wonderful and weird people. Partying with the Oasis brothers, Liam and Noel, who were both great guys, was a night I will never forget. Also becoming a life-long friend with the infamous and lovely Howard Marks, (Mister Nice, the drug baron) was all down to Stuart.

When Stuart died, it was like losing a brother, such a terrible shock and such a sad waste of someone’s life!

Me and Stuart at one of our many book signings

AmeriCymru: You have written a number of other biographies. Can you tell us more?

Anthony: The book Demons and Cocktails changed my life and to a degree my writing. The success of the book led to a London publisher asking me to write books on Hugh Laurie and Hugh Jackman. Then in 2010 I wrote the harrowing true lifestory, Ma’am Anna, about Human Trafficking Advocate Anna Rodriguez which was released in America.

Next stop on my rollercoaster ride found me in Bangkok in 2013, with the outrageously funny and slightly insane Mike Spikey Watkins – former-Welsh rugby captain. 2 hard to handle earned us the title of bestselling authors after it stayed number 1 for 8 weeks on Amazon best sellers book list, beating off the likes of Johnny Wilkinson and Richie McCaw. To date it’s had 35 reviews on amazon, all five stars out of five.

AmeriCymru: We have all been greatly amused by the recent revelations concerning the NATO summit itinerary. What is your involvement with the Walesoncraic site? How did it come to be founded?

Anthony: I’m not a political person at all, but I just find all the nonsense around things like the NATO visit just completely bonkers. I’ve never seen so many armed police in my life and I’ve been to football matches between Cardiff and Swansea !!! These politicians don’t live in the real world. Luckily, I started walesoncraic with a real talented writer, Patric Morgan from Cardiff a week or so before. Both of us had been doing similar types of stuff separately, so we met up in Wetherspoons in Merthyr for a cooked brekkie and within ten minutes, walesoncraic appeared out of the mist like Frankenstein’s monster. Hopefully it’s going to take over the world. Our first week saw us reporting on the Nato summit and all the madness surrounding it.

Link to the site:-
http://www.walesoncraic.com/

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Anthony Bunko? Any new works in the pipeline?

Anthony: As well as the spoof website, I’m also doing a few different type of creative stuff at the moment. Writing-wise, I’m just finishing off a few mad-cap children’s books which I hope to get released in 2015.

I’ve always wanted to write a stage play and I’ve written a comedy play based on the Wizard of Oz, but set in Merthyr today. It’s called the Wizard of Gurnwah and rehearsals starts pretty soon.

I’m also involved in a new creative group in my hometown, called HWYL – Made in Merthyr – its aim is to change the perception of the town to the outside world and also change the perception of the arts in the town itself. Even though the group has just started, I can’t believe how many talented people we have in the town…from writers, film directors, musicians, artists, poets, software designers, fancy cooks (who actually cooked for Obama and Nato in Cardiff Castle)…the list is endless…..I will keep you updated on progress…

AmeriCymru: What do you do when you finish a book?

Anthony: When I get that first copy in my grubby hands, I always lock myself away in my conservatory and read it from cover to cover while drinking a good bottle of wine. Then I put it away and move onto the next thing. I never read that book again…sad but true.’

AmeriCymru: What is your favourite book?’

Anthony: My all-time favourite book is Catch 22 by Joseph Keller. I revisit it every two years or so. It’s the funniest thing I have ever read. Even now it still makes me laugh out loud. The film based on the book didn’t capture the humour at all…but the book is brilliant.

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

Anthony: ‘Yep, a simple message for all the creative people out there looking for some kind of inspiration……

’You can walk tirelessly around the world in search of comfortable shoes… only to find a pair already under the bed.''

Make out of that what you will….it worked for me!!!

Here’s the link to most of my books on amazon:-

Books by Anthony Bunko on Amazon

Stay free

Bunko x


Sarah Stevenson

AmeriCymru spoke to author Sarah Stevenson about her latest book The Truth Against The World

"Sarah Jamila Stevenson is a writer, artist, graphic designer, introvert, closet geek, enthusiastic eater, struggling blogger, lapsed piano player, household-chore-ignorer and occasional world traveler. Her previous lives include spelling bee nerd, suburban Southern California teenager, Berkeley art student, underappreciated temp, and humor columnist for a video game website.

Throughout said lives, she has acquired numerous skills of questionable usefulness, like intaglio printmaking and Welsh language. She lives in Northern California with her husband, who is also an artist, and two cats with astounding sleep-inducing powers." Read more here...


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The Truth Against The WorldAmeriCymru: Hi Sarah. What can you tell us about your new book ''The Truth Against The World''?

Sarah: Diolch, Ceri, for this opportunity to talk about my writing work! The Truth Against the World is described on the book cover as "a transatlantic paranormal mystery that spans generations"—but I personally like to describe it as a ghostly mystery about a family secret. Two teenagers—Wyn (Olwen), a girl in San Francisco, and Gareth, a boy in London—are unexpectedly brought together online and find out they share a strange connection. Was their meeting a coincidence, ghostly intervention, or something more? Both of them have Welsh heritage, and soon, they begin to trace the mystery together, all the way back to a tiny Welsh village and the secrets it has held close for decades.

I hope that''s enough to whet readers'' appetites without giving too much away…

AmeriCymru: What is your connection with Wales?

Sarah: I have to admit first off that I have no idea whether I have Welsh heritage or not! It was something my grandmother always used to say, but we have no idea if it was accurate, and no real way to prove it. We only know for sure that there''s English, Irish, and French Canadian on that side. Having her say it at all, though, did plant a seed in my mind. I suppose I''ve been interested in Welsh language and culture since my first visit to Wales, at age 4! We took a family vacation to the UK and I remember being quite impressed with the castles in Wales, and the green countryside. I returned with my mother when I was 13, and that''s when I first remember encountering the Welsh language and being captivated by it. In college I had the opportunity to take a couple of Welsh language classes, and since then I''ve kept it up on my own, using online resources, and by attending the Cymdeithas Madog Welsh course as often as I can. Because of that, I now have various friends and other connections in Wales, and feel even more strongly attached than ever. (Now I just have to find time and money to visit again…my last trip was in 2000, for the Cymdeithas Madog Cwrs Cymraeg in Carmarthen.)

AmeriCymru: What influenced your decision to write for children/young adults?

Sarah: To be honest, I hadn''t originally thought about writing for young readers when I first began to pursue a career in writing. Actually, my original career plan was to be an illustrator, and I studied art in college as an undergraduate and even did a year of graduate work in printmaking. After being out of school and working for a couple of years, I was doing some freelance writing of humor articles as part of my job at an internet company, IGN.com, and realized how much I''d always enjoyed writing. However, this was the first time I''d ever thought of it as more than just a hobby.

I took an online fiction writing workshop in about 2001 and that was actually when I first began Olwen''s story. At that point, the characters were adults and it was not a YA novel at all. But I only got about 40 pages in before getting stuck. Shortly after that, though, I decided to return to school for creative writing, and during my MFA program at Mills College in Oakland, I took a couple of courses in writing for young adults and realized not only that Olwen''s story would be a perfect young adult novel, but also that I really had a connection with writing for that age group. I did so much reading when I was a teenager—it was the last time I had really read voraciously and indiscriminately. At the same time, I know how difficult it can be to keep teens reading. I relished (and still do!) the idea of being able to convert and keep lifelong readers. On top of that, I feel like YA novels are all about growth and change and coming of age, and I find that an intriguing underlying theme to explore, regardless of genre.

AmeriCymru: Your book "The Latte Rebellion'' won an IPPY Award for Children''s Multicultural Fiction in 2012. Care to tell us more?

Sarah: Here''s a brief tale of drastic contrasts for you! Although The Truth Against the World was my first finished book, The Latte Rebellion was my first PUBLISHED book. Truth, I labored over for years, first as my MFA thesis (at that point entitled The Other Olwen) and then afterward as I repeatedly rewrote it and tried to get it published. The origin story for Latte couldn''t be more different—I started it during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2007, and finished the first draft less than 6 months later.

I suppose Latte just came "pouring" out of me partly because of the autobiographical inspiration for it, and partly because it was just a very fun story to write—it''s about students of mixed race/mixed ethnicity who decide to form a club for other students like them and sell t-shirts as a money-making scheme, but of course the scheme careens hilariously out of control. As someone of mixed heritage myself (my father was born in India), it''s not hard to notice that there aren''t many books written about characters dealing with the unique set of issues that come up when you have a family that''s blended in that way, bringing together races and/or cultures. I wanted to write something that incorporated characters of mixed ethnicity, because that''s what I grew up with, but I also wanted to write a story that was entertaining and funny and not "issue-based." The Latte Rebellion is what came out.

AmeriCymru: You also write short stories. Where can our readers go to find them online?

Sarah: I don''t have too many short stories available online at the moment—in fact, this question prompted me to check my own website and I found that most of the links to my online work are no longer active! Surprise. However, I will take that as tacit permission to post some PDFs of those published stories very soon on my website, at www.SarahJamilaStevenson.com

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

Sarah: At the moment, I''m reading a non-fiction book entitled Hubbub: Filth, Noise, and Stench in England by Emily Cockayne. I highly recommend it! It''s a fascinating look at what life was like in English cities in the 1600s and 1700s, based on firsthand writings from the time period. I also recently finished reading the third book in a trilogy by a YA writer friend, Robin LaFevers. The book is Mortal Heart, Book 3 in the His Fair Assassin trilogy, a story of magic, mythology, and political intrigue set in Brittany and France in the Middle Ages. All three books are fantastic, with wonderfully dangerous female heroines.

AmeriCymru: Other interests/hobbies besides writing?

Sarah: Lately I seem to find my free time for other interests dwindling more and more, but of course, when I can, I try to continue pursuing my visual art (drawing, painting, printmaking, bookmaking). I also enjoy cooking (and eating!), traveling, watching BBC shows (just finished Call the Midwife, and I love Doctor Who), listening to music and occasionally playing it (piano, and I''m learning ukulele), and on occasion I have been known to participate in role-playing games.

AmeriCymru: What are you working on at the moment?

Sarah: I''m trying to rewrite a draft of a new book which is part of a two-book set tentatively titled Fuel to the Fire. I like to call it post-post-apocalyptic. (Essentially, it''s a fantasy without any actual magic in it!) Book 1 is called Tinder. It''s set in an imaginary world that relies on water and steam rather than combustion, a few centuries after worldwide disaster has changed the face of the earth. In the stately canal city of Breakwater, a young noblewoman named Chiara is faced with having to undergo an arranged marriage, when all she wants to do with her life is work with technology as an engineer. Meanwhile, a young man, Aden, lives in the poor part of town, scrabbling to pull down enough money from his work as an apothecary''s apprentice so he can pay his dead father''s debts. An irresistible offer of work from a slightly shady individual ends up drawing Aden into a world of thugs, rebels, and guerrillas eager to bring down the noble status quo—and then a shocking, tragic accident brings him and Chiara together. Whether they can stop what they''ve inadvertently helped set into motion is the premise of Book 2.

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

Sarah: Thank you so much for reading this! For more of my thoughts on books and writing, here are a few more places to find me online:

Blog posts: http://sarahjamilastevenson.com/blog.html

Twitter: @aquafortis

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SarahJamilaStevenson


Time For Silence

"The novel is set in the south west of Wales, in northern Pembrokeshire, where I live now. Even today, it’s isolated, west of the mountains, with poor road and rail links. In the nineteenth century it was one of the few areas where the population remained static or fell, while everywhere else it was exploding."

BOOKS BY THORNE MOORE

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AmeriCymru: Hi Thorne and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. Care to introduce your new book ''Time For Silence'' for our readers?

Thorne: A Time For Silence tells of a girl, Sarah, a one-time singer, from the home counties, near London. She’s going through numerous crises, including an impending marriage to an up and coming company lawyer and a career in advertising that she got into by mistake, and she’s feeling trapped. Returning from a visit to her mother in Ireland, she’s passing through Wales when she chances upon the ruined cottage, Cwmderwen, where her grandparents had lived, and it prompts her to enquire a little more about that side of her family.

When she discovers that her grandfather, John Owen, did not simply die there, but was murdered – a small matter that no one has ever thought to mention, she starts to escape into an obsession with the place, buying the cottage, and embarking on a determined investigation of a crime that happened in 1948. She’s hampered by the fact that the few people still alive who remember it are unwilling or unable to talk about it. Worse, she is a successful English career-girl, living in the twenty-first century, divorced from her grandparents’ world by time, economics, education, language, religion and attitudes. As a result, she misinterprets most of what she is told. But finally, she does come to realise what happened back in 1948.

The reader is there before her, because interwoven with Sarah’s tale is the story of her grandmother, Gwen Owen, from the day of her marriage to John Owen in 1933, through the war years, with a POW camp down the valley, to the aftermath of his death in 1948, and to the reader it is very quickly clear that life in the little cottage of Cwmderwen bore no resemblance whatsoever to the rural idyll, with roses round the door and songs around the piano that Sarah has imagined. It’s a life of grinding poverty and increasing oppression that is doomed from the start.

Once Sarah learns the truth, she realises the pain and trauma that went into ensuring that one good thing emerged from the tragedy, and it’s up to her, now, to make it worth while.

Frenni Fawr Pembrokeshire

Frenni Fawr, Pembrokeshire From geograph.org.uk Author Dylan Moore Creative Commons Licence



AmeriCymru: Can you describe the area of Wales in which the novel is set for the benefit of our American readers?

Thorne: The novel is set in the south west of Wales, in northern Pembrokeshire, where I live now. Even today, it’s isolated, west of the mountains, with poor road and rail links. In the nineteenth century it was one of the few areas where the population remained static or fell, while everywhere else it was exploding. While the south of the county, known as

Little England, is rolling open farm-land, and almost exclusively English speaking, the northern area of Cemaes, bordering on Ceredigion, is a little lost kingdom all of its own, very wooded, very wild, with tiny bronze-age fields and hills littered with prehistoric monuments and hut circles. It’s the area from which the blue stones of Stonehenge were dragged. In fact, across the road from me is a hilltop circle that has been suggested as the original site of the bluestone circle. The area is still very Welsh: my niece was educated in Welsh before disappearing to the far end of England for university.

There are a lot of images of the area on my website at http://www.thornemoore.co.uk/gallery.html

AmeriCymru: Much of the story is set in in pre-war rural Wales. How did you research the period? What are the most significant ways that rural Welsh lifestyles have changed since those days?

Thorne: I moved to this area 30 years ago, from industrial Luton, and it’s changed a lot in those thirty years of course, but I was startled, when I first arrived, by how different it was to the world I knew. I ran a tea shop in a village where some elderly and talkative customers had memories stretching back to the start of the century, and they used to tell me stories about life in earlier years, as servants in big mansions, or working in the local quarries (long greened over now).

When I moved to my present home, a few miles from the village, I was told of an old cottage nearby where… something had happened (read the book) and everyone knew about it but no one, including the police, had said anything.

I was intrigued, because I could not imagine a situation back in the area where I’d grown up, where it would be possible for secrets to be maintained in this way; someone would have said something. So on a visit to the National Library in Aberystwyth, I took a look at some old copies of the local newspaper, in the vague (and utterly forlorn) hope of finding a mention of the story.

What I did find was a wealth of information about the area in the 1930s and 40s, which painted a very vivid picture of it, including health reports detailing just how poor and malnourished life could be out on the tiny farms. I was particularly struck by a story of a village eisteddfod, just after the war, being won by a German prisoner of war from the local camp. I met several former POWs, who decided to stay on after the war and marry local girls. They were fluent in Italian or German and Welsh, but not so strong on English.

The story that had most effect on me however was a report from a magistrate’s court, in which a young girl was charged with a ‘wicked’ crime that wouldn’t be considered a crime today. The way it was dealt with made a huge impression on me, and I determined to write about it. It has changed, in my book, but the essentials are there. If I am not being explicit, it’s because I don’t want to give the plot away.

Welsh was another matter I had to research, while tearing out my hair. I speak some theoretical Welsh, but in real life every valley seems to have its own dialect, and the Pembrokeshire dialect (probably died out by now) was odder than most. I needed a perfect translation of a couple of phrases, so I sought help from my neighbours, a very local couple and their daughter who chairs the Welsh Language Society: surely they would provide me with the definitive answer. For one three-word sentence they came up with four possible options. I took a deep breath and chose one. I am still waiting for an angry email telling me I got it WRONG!!!

North Pembrokeshire has changed a lot since the time described in the story. It’s changed a lot since I first moved here. Despite Welsh-speaking schools, it’s probably a lot less Welsh-speaking, thanks to an influx of English, retiring here or buying holiday cottages. What industry there was, like quarrying, and even the Ministry of Defense, has more or less vanished, and even farming is on the back foot, but the industry that now overwhelmingly dominates is tourism (please come). We have the most spectacular coast in the country. The world. The universe.

AmeriCymru: Where can people buy the book online?

Thorne: It’s available in print and as an e-book through Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes and Noble and probably many other places.

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Thorne Moore? Are you working on anything at the moment?

Thorne: My second book, Motherlove, which is also set partly in Pembrokeshire, is due to be published some time in the next 12 months (I haven’t been given a date yet) and I am working on polishing a third book, set very much in Pembrokeshire, which is called Shadows at the moment, although the title may change.

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

Thorne: Come to Pembrokeshire. Just remember to bring hiking boots and waterproofs.

Murmur - An Interview With Menna Elfyn


By AmeriCymru, 2014-03-11

Menna Elfyn

CYMRAEG | ENGLISH

In this interview John Good speaks to Menna Elfyn, an award-winning poet and playwright who writes with passion of the Welsh language and identity. She is the best known and most translated of all modern Welsh-language poets. Author of over twenty books of poetry including Aderyn Bach Mewn Llaw (1990), winner of a Welsh Arts Council Prize; the bilingual Eucalyptus: Detholiad o Gerddi / Selected Poems 1978-1994 from Gomer and her previous collection, Cell Angel (1996) from Bloodaxe, children’s novels and educational books, numerous stage, radio and television plays, she has also written libretti for US and UK composers.

 


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John:  As a person who has learnt Welsh in America after leaving Wales in the 70’s, I have a great interest in the experiences of Welsh speaking people abroad. As an authoress, are you ever surprised by the enthusiasm and welcome your work has received across Offa’s dyke from people who don’t speak the language?

Menna:  Well in truth I am. I never dreamt that my work would cross Offa’s Dyke then reach America, China, Spain, Norway and other countries but it is a lovely feeling because it means that audiences get to know that I primarily write in Welsh but my perspective is wider than that. I see the world through the Welsh language and there isn’t a subject that cannot be written about in that language. There you go, Harlem yn y Nos (Harlem at Night), a poem that I fashioned when I was writing a libretto for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and I had to live there for weeks at a time, over a period of a year and a half, having to meet with the composer who lived in Washington Heights … and return afterwards through Harlem.

One example perhaps, but I continue to say to everyone when I go on Literary Excursions that I write for the whole world and, truthfully, it isn’t a surprise. Since November 2013, I have read in China, Hong Kong, Vancouver, Seattle, St. Andrews Scotland, and next week Grasmere, Wordsworth’s home, then in Cornwall at the beginning of May. So I’m always roaming and always start readings reading in Welsh and then read [English?] passages between poems, because the Welsh mixes naturally with the English translations. My first poem is always ‘Cusan Hances’ (Handkerchief Kiss) after RS Thomas (he translated two of my poems by the way), saying that poetry in translation is like a kiss through a hanky! Better that than no kiss at all!

Murmur by Menna ElfynJohn: I read your bi-lingual book MURMUR recently. Would you outline and explain your approach to translation by other writers and by you yourself?

Menna: From the outset, when I was asked to read in places like Spain and Ireland I relied on poet friends -- Nigel Jenkins, Gillian Clarke and my best friend Elin ap Hywel and others for the best translations possible. I had to do some myself but Tony Conran said '' you are not worthy of the poet!'' because he believes I’d get lost while translating and not be faithful to the poems. But why should I? And that’s what’s bad about translating yourself, that you would end up somewhere else other than keeping to the work in hand. That’s why translation is an art that needs to be done carefully. I had one dictate for the translators – make the poem better – turn it into a self-contained poem, but with the ghost of the Welsh language. It has to live as if independent of its sister.

Translations to other languages are more problematic of course and it takes time. There are volumes available in Hindi, Arabic and Catalan, to name but a few. In the case of the Arabic volume, it was pure luck to find someone, after a reading, saying they would like to have my work in their mother tongue i.e. Arabic. As in this case, poetry can fly presumably. There will be some bad ones of course in some books, for example, the Chinese translator translated ‘Drws yn Epynt ‘[Door in Epynt] in a book of my work in that language as ‘Drws yn Aifft’ --Door in Egypt! Of course they didn’t know anything about Epynt in Wales and the people being driven from that part of Powys for the army to train there.

But, on reflection, there was a surprising new spirit to the poem with its new mien and it worked with everything that was happening in that sad country at that time. In Murmur, two of the translators were new – Damian Walford Davies and I’m trying to urge Paul Henry to do more, for he is such a brilliant poet and speaks Welsh. I lost my first translator this year when Nigel Jenkins died and he and I translated each other in the beginning back in the 80’s. It was a personal loss to me and a greater loss to his family and Wales. But there I go wondering off the question. Nigel read the poems in translation at one of my book launches in Abertawe as he was such a close and dear friend to me.

John:  Once, a Welsh teacher asked me if I could speak Welsh. “Only ‘Cwmafan’ Welsh” was my answer. Straight away he said something like “That is Welsh!” What are your thoughts on the importance of dialects and how can ordinary and literary people and societies like AmeriCymru step into the breach to save them?

Menna:  I dote on dialects and collect everything I can in order to use sometime later in poems. After all, a poet is a squirrel and words are her nuts. Yes, they should on every account be collected, their use, their safe keeping and [also] the formation of brand new words. Take the word ‘selfie’ for example, by now it has turned into self-portrait, which I think is really neat.

John: Every now and then and sometimes frequently the ghost or shadow of “Cynghanedd” [strict-meter/Bardic Welsh poetry] is found in your work. Is the harmony and counterpoint of words an equal partner to meaning in the composition?

Menna:  When I was writing in the 60’s, I didn’t have time to learn the rules and try to rein in my work – I had things to say without the fetters of cynghanedd. And then despite my father writing using Cynghanedd and trying to show me a variety of such lines, going on to tell me there were mistakes in the stresses was enough for me to give up. But cynghanedd as one stratum is lovely – and even though by now I am able to use it and make a decent enough englyn or cywydd it doesn’t excite me as much as free verse.

Robert Hass has said…’ I love the line, following the line - I''ve never written a sonnet in my life''. Well, I have written in a form when it works effortlessly but I dote on American poetry – the range of the poets is so wide, so unfettered, and that’s what I try to do in my own work. You must have the initial passion and strike at it afterwards, and if a line of cynghanedd appears or comes into view, all the better, but I don’t start from that place. I see it like swimming in a swimming pool – up and down, keeping in your lane with the other swimmers, while free verse allows me to swim in the sea, without knowledge of the depth and without knowing its danger and able to go from one place to the other without anyone limiting me –except for myself of course.

Menna Elfyn reads ''Handkerchief Kiss'' / ''Cusan Hances'' and other poems YouTube



John: Are you fond of deadlines? Some say it sparks the imagination; others the opposite. Also, what are your thoughts on commissions?

Menna:  Well, these days I live on commissions, be they radio dramas, or poems or stage plays. But having said that, poets always have their eyes open for the next poem. And the unexpected always excites me.

I was asked to write two lines about Catrin Glyndwr for a statue that was erected to her in London and I wrote –

Godre twr adre nid aeth
[At the tower end –far away from home
Aria ei rhyw yw hiraeth
[Longing is a woman’s song]

Here’s one place where cynghanedd helps create something concise, neat, a touching hope. But after it was written, Catrin Glyndwr was on my mind and every now and then I would think about her situation with her children in the Tower of London, and was saddened thinking about it. And even though in truth the poems took ten years, those were the first poems I would include in ‘Murmur’. The volume is full of Murmuron [murmurs] of course but these poems express something deep about being locked up in a foreign country without your mother tongue.

Recently I began a personal campaign of saying ‘diolch’ not only once when leaving shops in a Welsh-speaking area and places where the person didn’t  speak  Welsh, but three times in the hope perhaps they would turn to saying it in Welsh.

John: Wales and welsh people are an integral part of your literary work. Is it different writing away from home? Do you have a favorite work place?

Menna: When I am home, that’s the time when I’ll have the chance to think, to consider everything. When someone is travelling there are so many things to see, and to be careful checking bags, locking hotel doors and so on. At home, that’s when I am free and also where Welsh is heard on the street. Llandysul continues to be one of the strongest Welsh-speaking villages in Wales and I have the satisfaction of being able to speak Welsh in every shop. But I am also frequently irritable with myself and my fellow Welsh. 

Recently I began a personal campaign of saying ‘diolch’ not only once when leaving shops in a Welsh-speaking area and places where the person didn’t  speak  Welsh, but three times in the hope perhaps they would turn to saying it in Welsh. More often than not I got only ‘thank you’ which is shameful when you think about how many times they must have heard the word from me. And that’s the first word I learn going overseas. If you’re not able to go further than ‘diolch’ then …well, it’s better not to start that conversation!

John:   For a very long time, Welsh poets have been fearless craftsmen, even with the responsibility of speaking about injustice. Give us your opinion please on politics in art?

Menna:  Sometimes I see the two things come together. Nigel Jenkins and I started an anti-apartheid campaign in the 80’s not allowing our work to appear in South African shows. Standing up against unfairness always has been the every-day work of poets BUT when you write, the work calls for you to be faithful to the craft and all kinds of feelings, prejudices will rise to the surface. Therefore, I don’t write pieces with a didactic or politically feminine tone. Perhaps this is a shame to some who have seen me as an emissary of special causes.

Having said all that, I am excited that PEN Cymru is about to be launched, because I started researching the possibility some decades ago but travelling made it impossible to commit to its establishment. I’m so happy that it will be a reality before long. As a citizen, you have to be political of course and I support many political causes – too numerous to mention here.

There’s going to be a volume about ‘Cwsg’ [sleep] before the end of the year for Wasg Gomer that’ll be published in 2015.

John: Anything in progress? Any wish that needs to be realized?

Menna: There’s going to be a volume about ‘Cwsg’ [sleep] before the end of the year for Wasg Gomer that’ll be published in 2015. Because of other works it’s been stop and go. Also there’ll be a theater production with Theatr Clwyd and ‘Gair a Gnawd’, an oratorio written by Pwyll ap Sion and myself that is about to go on tour in 2015 with The Welsh National Opera Company ( it had two performances in 2013) and we’ll have  added to it before it goes on tour again. I want to translate more Welsh poetry into English as in Murmur – that has 3 poems of the work of Waldo [Williams] in it.

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

Menna: I really enjoy this site and am delighted that it is so lively – on every account, we should embrace and thank Ceri for it. Since my first visit to The United States in 1997 I have returned to read or visit very nearly every year. I am in my element there, so if you invite me to give a reading, I’d be delighted to come to you. Bye for the time being, and thanks for the chance to be interviewed on AmerCymru.

 

Interview by John Good

Travels of a Welsh Preacher in the U.S.A.


By AmeriCymru, 2014-02-27

travels-welsh-preacher-USA

Peregrinations of William Davies Evans During the Later Nineteenth Century

Welsh author Margaret Morgan Jones publishes her great-uncles account of his travels in the USA in 1880. AmeriCymru spoke to Margaret about the book and her future plans.

Buy Travels of A Welsh Preacher in the U.S.A. here

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AmeriCymru: Hi Margaret your new book Travels of a Welsh Preacher in the U.S.A is a translation from an 1883 Welsh language original Dros Gyfanfor a Chyfandir. Can you tell us how you became involved with this project?

Margaret:  I became involved with the project of translating Dros Gyfanfor a Chyfandir (Over Ocean and Continent) by Reverend W.D. Evans (my great-uncle) after the author’s direct descendants had traced me down on their visits from the U.S.A. to Wales. Because the book was written in Welsh, Evans’ descendants had no idea what the book contained. On one visit, they put me on the spot and asked me to translate this page and that page, so I told them that I would translate the whole book for them.  At first, it was only an undertaking for the ‘Evans’ family in the United States, but when two friends of mine – Professor Ivor Wilks and Professor Nancy Lawler, read extracts from my translation, they advised me to have it published in book format. I went along with their recommendation and Myrddin ap Dafydd of the publishing company, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, North Wales was happy to accept my work for publication. I was advised to change the title in order to better reflect its content.

AmeriCymru:  What was the purpose of William Davies Evans trip to the States in 1880?

Margaret:  My great-uncle, William Davies Evans,  was born in a cottage in Talsarn, West Wales, on February 23, 1842. When William was 10 years old, his parents and their family emigrated to the U.S.A. After completing his education in Ohio, William returned to Wales in 1872 with the intention of a short stay, but his diary kept filling up with preaching appointments, so he stayed in his homeland for 15 years. In the year 1876, he married my grandfather’s sister, Jane Jones, Penwernhir, Pontrhydfendigaid.  In 1880, he decided to sail to the U.S.A. to gather material for two books he was planning to write.

AmeriCymru:  How widely did he travel within the U.S.?

Margaret:  After arriving in New York, Evans travelled the breadth of the country – from New York to San Francisco. He was sponsored by certain railroad companies during this venture. He walked up to the summit of Pike’s Peak, Colorado and down again, but spent a few days in bed after this!

AmeriCymru:  Can you tell us anything about William Davies Evans later history?

Margaret:  William attended Willoughby School after arriving in Ohio when he was 10 years old. It is assumed that he was educated at home when he lived in Talsarn because he wrote that it was in this school he sat behind a desk for the first time. In 1868 he went on to further education at Delaware University College and in 1870 at The Theological Institute in Oberlin, Ohio. In 1871, he took charge of churches in Youngstown, Weathersfield and Churchill before returning to Wales in 1872. On August 13, 1874, he and another 12 ordinands were ordained as fully fledged ministers of religion at Rhydfendigaid Methodist Chapel, Pontrhydfendigaid. Reverend Howell Powell, New York, was one of the ministers who officiated at this service. In 1883, the book Dros Gyfanfor a Chyfandir was printed by The Cambrian News at Aberystwyth. His other manuscript, Hanes Taleithiau America a’r Cymry Ynddynt  (The History of the United States of America and the Welsh Living in Them) was never printed because he became depressed because sales of Dros Gyfanfor a Chyfandir were disappointing. The reason for this was: he had serialised the content, letter by letter, in the paper Baner Ac Amserau Cymru (Banner and Times of Wales).  In 1886, he uprooted his family from Wales and emigrated permanently to the U.S.A. The following year, he came up with the idea of embarking on a weekly newspaper. He was sponsored by friends in Long Creek, Iowa and Emporia, Kansas and spent almost a year travelling, at his own expense, to persuade people to subscribe to this venture before the launch of ‘Columbia’ on July 4, 1888. He was editor of this paper for 3 years. Afterwards he and his family, moved to Kansas City, where he became a recluse for some time. The lack of Dros Gyfanfor a Chyfandir’s sales was the main reason. However, he picked himself up and according to H. Richards, Otter, Iowa (Y Drych [The Mirror] April 9, 1896) he regained his passion for preaching with more enthusiasm than ever.  When he became unwell, he and his wife retired to Tacoma, Washington. William Davies Evans died on December 16, 1907. Respecting his wishes, his funeral was modest with no flowers and he did not want anyone to write a biography of him.

During the American Civil War, William and his brother, Lewis, were called up to serve with the army of the North. William’s occupation was as a draughtsman. As part of his duty, he once had to go as far south as Chattanooga, on the banks of the Tennessee river. He and Lewis spent an anxious time on Point Lookout, just outside Chattanooga, during this period. All is revealed in the book ‘Travels of a Welsh Preacher in the USA’.

AmeriCymru: W.D. Evans had a sense of humour. Care to share some of the lighter moments from the book?

Margaret:  Whilst waiting for a train on a transfer in Nebraska W. D. Evans holds a conversation with a young lad from the ‘boot-blacks league’. Evans agrees to a ‘shine’, and the boy questions him intensely about the western towns he had visited. Evans in turn responds by asking the boy questions about himself.  The boy tells him that he does not pay a fare for travelling on the train; that he travels on a small seat between the wheels, under the train.  Evans asks: ‘what if you collided with a cow or horse?’ The boy replies: ‘I would be better off than the poor animal’ and so forth.  All very amusing.   

When Evans was in the region of Ashland, Wisconsin, he became unwell and was directed to a respectable and comfortable house. A fellow-lodger was very interested in him after discovering that he had a Welshman as a companion. This man had not met a Welshman for 10 years and took great care of Evans and called on a doctor to see to him. This man asked Evans if he had heard of Twm Chaen Bwlet.  The reply was ‘no.’ ‘Never heard of Twm Chaen Bwlet!’ ‘Have you heard of Tom Sayers?’ ‘Yes,’ Evans replies.  Apparently Twm Chaen Bwlet trained Tom Sayers to be a boxer.  The questions and answers go on and on.  Apparently Twm Chaen Bwlet was this man’s brother.  All very interesting and amusing.

Another tale is: when a panel of 12 women were sworn in as jurors in a court of law in Laramie. The case before the jurors concerned one of the ruffians of the West. A divine guidance was asked for before returning the verdict. While the women were sitting on the jury, their maids were in their homes singing:

                Nice little baby, don’t get in a fury

                Cause mamma is gone to sit on the jury.

According to W.D. Evans!

AmeriCymru:  Where can the book be purchased online?

Margaret:   (i)     www.gwales.com   Click on ‘Books from Wales’   Search: ‘Travels of a Welsh Preacher in the U.S.A.’  Click – No 9 down the list.  Read Reviews.

     (ii)   Myrddin@carreg-gwalch.com

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

Margaret:   I hope that readers of ‘Travels of a Welsh Preacher in the U.S.A.’ will find the book interesting. Landscapes are vividly described throughout and it is full of accounts of Evans’ long journey and the people he met and their livelihoods. It also contains 41 pictures.

Regarding the lost manuscript of ‘Hanes Taleithiau Unedig America a’r Cymry Ynddynt’ (The History of the United States of America and the Welsh Living in Them).  I discovered 40 of my great-uncle’s Letters to the Press at The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth. They are all numbered and entitled ‘From Aberystwyth to San Francisco’.  In these Letters, I found material that would have been included in the lost book, had it been printed. I have copied, selected and translated, from Welsh into English, this information.  It is now in book format,  has been accepted by Gwasg Carreg Gwalch and will be released under the title ‘From Aberystwyth to San Francisco’ before Christmas – next November hopefully. The book contains a vivid picture of the lives of emigrants from Wales and other European countries to the United States at the end of the 19th century.  Different to many books written about this subject, the content was written by someone who experienced life first hand in Wales and America at this time.  Dr David Lloyd, Director Writing Program, Le Moyne College, Syracuse, N.Y. has written a very interesting Preface to the book.


AmeriCymru: You have recently published a book entitled: Perspectives Of A Gay American Immigrant Scientist. Experiences over half a century in the United States and Britain?

Meurig: Yes, this was published by Amazon as a paperback in December, 2013. A Kindle online version is also available.

AmeriCymru: Tell us a little about your Welsh background.

Meurig: Over the generations my family members have been involved in a very wide range of occupations, including farmers, coal miners, small shopkeepers, paramedics, running a small betting organization, paratrooper who landed in Normandy on D-Day, policeman, many teachers at schools and universities, an uncle who died at the age of 107 and whose funeral was attended by many of his college students from far afield including European countries, consulting Forensic Engineer, Foreign Office professional, Chairman of British Beer festivals, human rights lawyer in Africa, Mayor of a town, County Council member, Associate Director of Education, escort for social events to an unmarried Conservative Lord Mayor of London, CEO of a chain of retirement homes, CEO of the Welsh TV station S4C, TV host (on S4C) of a Welsh cultural affairs programme together with Owen Edwards, managing directors at large banks and other companies, an MBE and a CBE. The free secondary education afforded by state-funded grammar schools, founded in the 1944 Education Act, and State Scholarships to universities which were based on merit, were strongly instrumental in the career success of recent generations. By emigrating to the United States in 1962 I lost touch with many of these interesting and colorful people so, in that sense, it was a double edged sword.

It is a matter of significance and pride to me that almost of these family members are or were fluent in the Welsh language, mostly for the purpose of everyday discourse. Others, I am proud to point out (I was not among these) are/were experts in Welsh to high academic standards. In fact, one of these, was the first woman president of the Dafydd Ap Gwilym Society at Oxford University, to which I also briefly belonged, until it quickly became evident that my ability to express thoughts beyond those required for everyday existence was just not there. In the last few decades there has been strong resurgence in Welsh pride in general, and the Welsh Assembly, created in 1998, must have contributed to this, as did the fine St David’s Hall, built in 1982, where concerts and other events of international stature are held, perhaps the most prestigious being the Cardiff “Singer of the World” competition for opera singers from all over the world. It is notable that this building was highly praised by The New York Times architectural correspondent. Ability to speak the Welsh language is a big part of this pride and today, for most public jobs in Wales, such as teaching and representation in local government, applicants are required to demonstrate their proficiency in the language, whether purely verbal or in written form. What a change from the days of “Welsh Not” when pupils were punished for speaking Welsh in schools in the late 19th and early 20 century, and this apparently persisted in some schools in North Wales until the 1940s.

AmeriCymru: How about your education?

Meurig: After Llandeilo Grammar school, I entered Jesus College, Oxford with a Meyricke Exhibition in 1955, interestingly (to me at least) the same award that was held by T E Lawrence (of Arabia). I received a first class honors degree in chemistry, followed by a DPhil (that is the Oxford fancy version of PhD) in peptide chemistry. You may have noticed that amino-acids always have the letter L preceding their names. This is because amino-acids can exist in two forms, L and D, which are identical except that they are mirror images of each other, just like our hands are. L and D stand for Laevo (left) and Dextro (right). A string of several amino-acids joined together form peptides, which constitute many naturally occurring substances in the human body, for example OXYTOCIN, a well-known pituary hormone affecting human reproduction. Proteins are simply very long strings of amino-acids joined together. One of the mysteries of nature is that almost all of the amino acids in naturally occurring peptides and proteins are of the L configuration. On account of their physiological importance, laboratory synthesis of peptides is of huge importance to pharmaceutical companies. Such synthesis is complicated by many factors, not the least being that, in most cases, some of the L form is converted to the D form during the synthesis, like an umbrella turning inside-out in the wind. The D form is then an impurity, so it is important to minimize its formation. That requires understanding how and why it occurs. Generating that understanding was my task in order to get a DPhil degree under the guidance of Dr G T Young, who had also been my undergraduate tutor. Sometimes luck does come one’s way, and I was able to solve that problem quantitativelyI was offered a Fulbright scholarship by Professor Sir Ewart Jones, a fellow Welshman who was born in the small town Rhostyllen, near to Wrexham, and was described as the most influential British scientist of his generation on account of his contributions to government committees, etc. The Fulbright would have provided very generous financial support over 2 years for continued studies at a university of my choice.

AmeriCymru: When and why did you emigrate to the United States?

Meurig: The Fulbright offer came with a caveat – I had to commit to returning to the UK after its completion. To the big surprise of Professor Jones, I declined and told him that I wanted more flexibility, but I did not tell him that the reason for that was primarily to escape from the horrendous homophobia which was prevalent in England at that time. Some will remember the notorious Lord Montagu case. Words like “monstrous perversion” were newspaper headlines for months on end. Murder was a crime against society, but homosexuality was a crime against nature.

Several times during the course of my career, I received letters from Professor Jones enquiring about my well-being and career, and mentioned that he occasionally ran into Dr Young. It was much later that it occurred to me what he may have been getting at. Dr Young’s wife had become Baroness Young of Farnworth, the Conservative leader of the House of Lords. Her main claim to fame, or should I say notoriety, was her adamant stance against giving any kind of equal rights to homosexuals. She ranted and raved on that subject as if she was in some way personally impaired, to the extent that she lost favor with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. London gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell correctly declared that “she had poisoned society with prejudice and intolerance, and future historians will rank her alongside the defenders of apartheid”. I believe that, in view of my close relationship with Baroness Young’s husband, Professor Jones had figured out the reason for my flight from the UK and was concerned about that.

I knew that I was gay from a very early age and always considered homosexuality to be a perfectly normal and healthy part of the human condition, so the opportunity to escape from that hostility was very appealing. My solution was to accept a post doctorate position that the University of California, Berkeley in 1962, where I was tasked with isolating and characterizing the world’s first plant sex hormone, Sirenin. Here is a brief description.

Sirenin was the first fungal sex hormone to have its structure determined. It is produced by female gametangia and gametes of the chytridiomycete genus Allomyces and attracts male gametes of the genus. It was discovered in 1958 by Leonard Machlis and, with the help of organic chemists, was purified and had its structure determined by 1968. Machlis's success is attributable to his association at Berkeley with the world authority on the genus, Ralph Emerson, to his meticulous physiological work on the genus in the 1950s, to his skill in devising bioassays and to his organising ability and drive.

Put simply, Allomyces is a filament-like water-mold plant. Female parts discharge tiny amounts of a chemical substance to which the sperm generated by the male parts is attracted, and this results in fusion. I was presented with a large jar of brown water and told that this contains minute amounts of Sirenin. Using standard chemistry techniques, combined with a very clever method developed by Professor Machlis to assay its concentration, I was able to isolate it in pure form and start the complex process of structure determination (1). This was completed a few years later by a successor of mine.

AmeriCymru: How did your career develop after that?

Meurig: I joined the DuPont Corporation in Wilmington Delaware and stayed for 5 years in spite of a high degree of incompatibility. I will pass over this experience here in order to describe my later experiences at Xerox where the events which led to my recent book originated.

I joined the Xerox Webster Research Center in suburban Rochester, New York in 1970. Its appeal to me was twofold. It was a rapidly growing company with an exciting new product, the copier, which was of surging demand, and also that copier technology was based on sciences that were not well understood, which provided an opportunity for leading edge research. The success of Xerox represents one of the greatest technological triumphs in history, on account of the extraordinary complexity of the process combined with that lack of scientific foundation in two areas. One of these is called triboelectricity or simply contact charging. Whenever two materials touch and separate, an electric charge is generated. Buildup of such electrical potential can lead to electrostatic discharge with consequences that can range from discomfort, such as the mild jolt we experience by touching a doorknob after walking across a carpet, to disaster such as the fiery crash of the Hindenburg. Until recently, there was extremely little understanding of how and why such charges are generated, one of the main reasons for this being the assumption that it was a physics problem. I pointed this out in a cover page article in the July-August 2012 issue of The American Scientist, entitled: “What Creates Static Electricity? Traditionally considered a physics problem, the answer is beginning to emerge from chemistry and other sciences" (2). In addition, I published a detailed review of this subject in AIP (American Institute of Physics) Advances in February, 2012 (3), so I am well positioned to provide the following elementary explanation of this phenomenon.

When two metals touch and separate, it is well established that it results from the simple exchange of electrons from one to the other, a straightforward phenomenon in physics. When both materials are electrical insulators, such as most polymers, the mechanism is complex and is currently being unravelled in brilliant research by two groups, headed respectively by Professors Grzybowski at Northwestern University and Galembeck, Director of the National Nanotechnology Laboratory, Brazil. When two polymers make contact, some degree of entanglement occurs between the polymer chains at the surfaces, so that separation is accompanied by polymer chain scission and the transfer of material of nanoscopic dimensions between the surfaces. This chain scission is accompanied by the formation of free radicals at the ends of each chain. As is well known, free radicals are highly reactive and are converted to positive and negative ionic charges either by reaction with ambient water or exchange of electrons. Use of advanced high resolution analytical techniques revealed that each surface, after separation, supports a random mosaic of oppositely charged regions of nanoscopic dimensions, and the net charge on each surface is the arithmetic sum of the individual domain charges. So it is the mechanical forces causing bond cleavage of the polymers that is the driving force for charge generation, and this takes future studies into the realm of mechanochemistry, an obscure and complicated field. Grzybowski et al took this understanding a step further by explaining that the surface charges are stabilized by intimate association between the polymer radicals and the ionic charges. They pointed out in a recent paper in SCIENCE that, if the polymers contain materials that act as radical scavengers, the stability of the surface charges is lost and the charges fail to build up or dissipate rapidly. I explain this here on account of its extraordinary importance to the electronics industry. Damage to electronic equipment by static discharges accounts for the loss of billions of dollars each year. And the continued miniaturization of electronic equipment renders it even more susceptible to low voltage discharges. Gross reduction or elimination of such discharges by the above process discovered by Grzybowski et al would go a long way to the prevention of such losses. It is my opinion that this work by Grzybowski et al may well result in a Nobel Prize on account of its combination of scientific brilliance and enormous economic importance.

The third case, of course, is contact between a metal and a polymer, and it is believed that both of the above mechanisms, electron and material exchange, occur. I have been the first to recently propose an approach for determining the degree to which each occurs in any given contact event (4).

AmeriCymru: How is this related to your book?

Meurig: My book was not originally a planned event. I have now been retired for 13 years, and is not uncommon to reflect upon the past in retirement! Such reflections on my early career led to a discovery only a few years ago of some shockingly unprofessional behavior by my colleagues at Xerox several decades ago. I thought that a description of these events, together with an analysis of cultural factors pertaining to them, made a good story that would be of interest to some readers.

It was my response to that shocking discovery that led to a process of self-reinvention resulting in my book. I described this process in the following comments I recently contributed to an article “American Voices on Reinvention” in The Huffington Post (5):

"The driving force for self-reinvention can evolve and change as the process takes place, so that one reinvention leads to another. Well into retirement, I recently discovered that my scientific publications from 35 years ago had been treated by corporate colleagues in ways that could be considered misrepresentation and plagiarism. Addressing those injustices after such a long time required a reinvention of myself by returning to the world of scientific journals and research after an absence of over 30 years. 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, a cover page article in The American Scientist in 2012, an invitation to be a keynote speaker at a major conference hosted by NASA in 2013, and a job offer. On further reflection, I wondered if there could have been a connection between the way I was treated and the corporate culture of those times. Being both a relatively openly gay man and an immigrant (from the UK) was a combination which made me a socially acceptable target for homophobic and other forms of abuse. Such thoughts propelled me into a second reinvention. I wrote a book entitled "Perspectives of a Gay American Immigrant Scientist," which explored and expanded upon these considerations, including a discussion of experiences and cultures at Oxford University, UC Berkeley, DuPont, and Xerox.

AmeriCymru: Do you think homophobia is any more or less prevalent then it was half a century ago?

Meurig: In general, homophobia in most developed countries is far less than half a century ago, but there is still a very long way to go before we are well integrated into society. The clearest indicator of progress is the advances made in legalization of gay marriage. The most pronounced generalization remains the correlation between progressive attitudes on homosexuality and the general standard of living in a country. Scandinavia and Holland have long been at the leading edge, and African and some Caribbean countries at the other. I have not yet heard an explanation for Putin’s retrogressive attitude.

A very important development for scientists and engineers was the establishment in 1983 of the major and thriving organization NOGLSTP (National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals, Inc.), based in Pasadena, CA. This is a non-profit organization that educates and advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students and professionals in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

In addition, the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) announced in January 2014 a change to their code of ethics to include language prohibiting discrimination on account of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. The importance of these changes cannot be overstated. With nearly 400,000 members in 160 countries, the IEEE is the world's largest professional organization. Now, electrical engineers and computer scientists around the world, including those in countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia, know that their professional organization stands for non-discrimination against LGBT individuals both as practice and as rule.

A very surprising event was the recent position taken by Pope Francis that he would not pass judgment on gay people. Whether this is true leadership or political positioning remains to be seen. Wouldn’t it now be time for the British Royal family to show leadership on this issue? Are we to believe that they are the only family in Britain not to have any gay members? We know better of course and, the Queen being the head of the Church of England makes it a bit sticky for them. Both the Church of England and the Catholic Church have in common large numbers of gay clerics as most people know, but this still needs to be unspoken. A prominent gay Welsh Bishop was a personal friend of mine at Oxford, as was the chaplain of one of the older colleges.

Several gay athletes are now coming out of the closet, as they say, and this is clearly just the beginning of a trend. Very recently, 24 year old University of Missouri's star football player Michael Sam announced that he is gay. Unlike many athletes, Sam chose to come out at the start of his career, which will represent a test for the readiness of the NFL (National Football League) which he is expected to join later this year. His name is added to the growing list of prominent sportsmen and women who have come out: Gareth Thomas, Wales's former rugby union captain; retired Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger; Surrey cricketer Steven Davies; Orlando Cruz, the Puerto Rican featherweight boxer; and basketball star Jason Collins. Sam was personally congratulated by President Obama and his wife Michelle. Sam’s timing is also opportune. With gay rights issues overshadowing the Sochi Winter Olympics and Casey Stoney, the captain of England's women's football team, declaring herself gay, the sports world has found it can no longer confine the debate about the sexuality of its stars to the margins.

AmeriCymru: Where do you go from here?

Meurig: I am considering writing another book. Now why would I want to do that? The process of writing is addictive and it is a satisfying experience when one can put forth thoughts and ideas hopefully in a clear and logical manner. Then, my published book could have been a bit less terse, and I could have smoothly elaborated on many of my points. But above all, it is this. In the book I have made comparisons between Britain and the United States and Scandinavia, but none between England and Wales. And yet, I have long been of the opinion that the acceptance of homosexuals was very different in these countries. I have described that “of all of the world’s developed nations, Britain stood alone in its extreme attitudes towards, and heavy penalties for, homosexual acts”. I used the word Britain loosely here when I should have used the word England. I do have some ideas on why Wales was far kinder to homosexuals than England several decades ago and, if I am able to research and develop a persuasive case for this, then another book will be in order.

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

Meurig: Whereas I state that “my purpose in writing this (book) is to make a small contribution to the furtherance of progress by throwing light on some personal experiences”, I have also introduced some provocative ideas and hypotheses which may be debatable. It is my hope that a discussion on these can be stimulated.

References

1. Production, Isolation and Characterization of Sirenin, L. Machlis, W H Nutting, M W Williams and H Rapoport, Biochemistry, Vol 5, No 7, July 11, 1966

2. What Creates Static Electricity? Traditionally considered a physics problem, the answer is beginning to emerge from chemistry and other sciences. Meurig W Williams, The American Scientist, July-August 2012

3. Triboelectric Charging of Insulating Polymers, Meurig W Williams, AIP Advances, Feb 8, 2012

4. Triboelectric charging in metal-polymer contacts – How to distinguish between electron and material transfer mechanisms, Meurig W Williams, Journal Electrostatics, Feb 1, 2013

5. American Voices on Reinvention, The Huffington Post 2/12/2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/russell-c-smith/american-voices-on-reinve_1_b_4777992.html



AmeriCymru spoke to Welsh author Meic Stephens about his new book Rhys Davies: A Writer''s Life. This is the first biography of the "..most prolific, dedicated and accomplished of Welsh prose-writers."

Buy Rhys Davies: A Writer''s Life here

Check out Rhys Davies on Amazon here

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AmeriCymru: Hi Meic and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. For any of our readers who are not acquainted with the man and his work, can you explain the importance of Rhys Davies in the history of 20th century Welsh literature?

Meic: Rhys Davies (1901-78) was the most prolific, dedicated and accomplished of Welsh prose-writers. He wrote more than a hundred short stories, some twenty novels, three novellas, an autobiography, two plays and two topographical books about Wales. But it was as a short-story writer that he excelled and influenced other writers. Taking Russian and French writers as his models, he took the form to its limit in objectivity. Before him there was only Caradoc Evans, but he left his mark on later Welsh writers such as Glyn Jones, Gwyn Thomas and Alun Lewis. He was, in short, and by general assent, a master-craftsman in the form.

AmeriCymru: What inspired you to write a biography of Rhys? How did your interest in him evolve?

Meic: I first read him as an undergraduate in the 1950s, and my admiration grew as I worked through his oeuvre. I met him in his London flat in the 1970s and kept in touch until his death. Then, one day in 1990, I was contacted by his brother Lewis Davies who wanted me to set up a Trust in his memory. This I did, with money provided by Lewis, and after Lewis’s death in December 2011, the Trust inherited his entire estate. I became its Secretary. The Trust is chaired by Dai Smith and the other two Trustees are Sam Adams and Peter Finch. Its aims are to keep the writer’s memory green and to promote Welsh writing in English. For example, we put up plaques in memory of writers and help fund the work of Rhys Davies in every possible way. The conference organized by Literature Wales in 2013 was funded by the Trust, which also commissioned me to write the biography.

AmeriCymru: Davies''s autobiography ''Print Of A Hare''s Foot'' is evasive and unreliable. How much of an obstacle was this to you in your research?

Meic: It soon became apparent to me that the events mentioned in Print of a Hare’s Foot didn’t always correspond to the known facts of Rhys’s life. Lewis was a great help in pointing to where the book strayed from what had actually happened. It is particularly misleading in that it tries to hide or camouflage the author’s homosexuality. It must be remembered that homosexuality was illegal in Britain until the Sexual Offences Act of 1967. Rhys was promiscuous as a young man but never mentioned his sexuality or wrote about it, except tangentially. Other facts are contorted or obscured for no apparent reason except that he seemed incapable of giving a straight answer to a straight question about himself. This presents a problem for a biographer who has to know when the false trails laid down by Rhys are leading nowhere and how to decipher the code in which he habitually wrote about the things that mattered to him. His instinctive need to dissemble explains to some extent the detached, almost clinical way in which Rhys observed other people without becoming emotionally involved with them. It gives his prose a chilling quality that some readers admire. He enjoyed no lasting sexual relationship with another person and with the women who found him kind, gentle, witty, charming and excellent company, such as Anna Kavan, he maintained strictly platonic friendships. Above all, he protected his privacy and independence, fearing intrusion into his inner life by anyone who came too close, man or woman. It suited him, too, to have no close companion because he maintained a rigorous work-schedule that left little time for an emotional life. The title of his autobiography was well chosen. The hare is a secretive creature in folklore, said to change its shape while always resolutely remaining itself, sexually active, living by its wits and giving out misleading signals, a symbol of paradox, contradiction and transitoriness, both lucky and unlucky, damned in Deuteronomy as unclean and forbidden, an endangered species, lying low and leaving only the lightest of prints before disappearing into its form in its own mysterious way.

AmeriCymru: Can you tell us a little about his Welsh background? Would it be accurate to describe him as an outsider, a ‘marginal character’?

Meic: Rhys was born in the mining village of Blaenclydach, near Tonypandy in the Rhondda Valley. His parents kept a grocer’s shop known as Royal Stores. He had an elder brother who was killed in the last weeks of the Great War, three sisters who became teachers and a nurse, and another brother,the benjamin of the family, Lewis. Their status as shop-keepers kept them apart from a working-class community on which they relied for custom and which, in turn, was almost wholly dependent on the coal industry: they employed a maid and a man to take deliveries up and down the valley, enjoyed holidays and were never short of food like many of their neighbours. The parents and older children spoke Welsh. Rhys was brought up in chapel but as a teenager began attending services at a church where the services were in English, losing his Welsh along the way. Just before his fourteenth birthday he decided he had had enough of school and left, much to the chagrin of his parents. He spent the next seven years wandering the hills above Rhondda, reading voraciously, and helping his parents in the shop. This last was crucial: he learned to listen to the customers, particularly the womenfolk, with whose tales of woe and misfortune he was able to sympathize. Many critics have remarked upon his ‘feminine’ sensibility and the fact that many of his stories are about women or written from a woman’s point of view. His female characters are brave and resolute, determined to overcome whatever life throws at them while his menfolk are craven creatures, the victims of cruel circumstance. There is very little discussion of politics in his books but he did observe the Tonypandy Riots which brought troops into the Rhondda in 1910.

AmeriCymru: How would you characterise his relationship with the Rhondda?

Meic: I’d say he had a love-hate relationship with the Rhondda. It provided him with material for most of his books, and he knew it. But he found it hard to break away and write about somewhere else. Most critics think his Rhondda stories and novels are far superior to work set elsewhere. He was, however, disgusted by what he saw as the ugliness of the coal-mining community, the muck and mire of the industry and what it did to people’s lives. Although he often went home, especially when money was short or he had nowhere to live, after his parents’ death he had no reason to visit the Rhondda and lost contact with the Valley.

AmeriCymru: Davies was a friend of D.H. Lawrence. Do you think Lawrence influenced his writing in any way?

Meic: He was invited to stay with the Lawrences in the South of France in 1928 and later accompanied them to Paris. He carried the manuscript of Pansies back to London and through the customs which had seized them previously. He had admired the English novelist long before that and there are traces of his influence throughout Davies’s early work, in particular in his depiction of women: the Lawrentian woman appears more than once in his stories. He was aware of it and, as he matured as a novelist, began to shake it off.

AmeriCymru: ''The Black Venus'' was one of his most popular titles. Can you tell us a little about this book? How representative is it of his work?

Meic: Published in 1944, the novel is set in the fictitious village of Ayron in Ceredigion; when Davies wasn’t writing about the Rhondda, he often set his work in west Wales, for which he had a sentimental attachment. It’s a fantasy created around the custom of courting in bed, or bundling, by which a young woman was allowed to receive suitors who would stay the night on, rather than in her bed. The custom was common among the peasantry in the 18 th and 19 th centuries. Opinion seems to be divided as to whether it was observed under conditions of strict chastity, with a bolster placed between the sweethearts, or whether sexual contact was allowed. Olwen Powell, the beautiful young heiress of a large farm, uses it to test the eligibility of various suitors, thus turning the custom on its head, much to the disapproval of the community: the woman is in control and eventually triumphs. Critical opinion is divided about the sexual significance of the Black Venus, a carving which is to be seen in Olwen’s room, though it adds considerably to the amusement of the novel. It is not Davies’s best but it went into several editions.

AmeriCymru: Davies is noted for being a particularly hard working author. Can you tell us something about his work routine , ethic and preferred working environment?

Meic: Except for a few years as a draper’s assistant on first going to London, and a short stint of war-work, Davies managed to live almost wholly by his pen. His meagre income was not supplemented by any teaching, journalism, broadcasting, or hack-work of any kind. He sat on no committees, signed no manifestos, believed no political nostrums or religious dogma, never read his work in public, attended no conferences, never edited a magazine, engaged in no literary squabbles, spurned all cliques, shunned the company of academics, had no taste or talent for self-promotion, joined no literary clubs, never competed for a prize, never sat in judgement on his fellow writers as an adjudicator of literary competitions, and only very rarely as a reviewer of their books. He believed the proper business of the writer was to be writing. Living in rented or borrowed accommodation from which he invariably soon moved on, he maintained a rigorous work-schedule, writing, eating and sleeping in one small room. He cultivated detachment as if by not fully belonging to any one place, he could preserve something of himself, something secret, his inviolable self, which he prized above all else. When immersed in a story, as he often was, he wrote a thousand words a day until it was finished. Domestic comforts, such as a home, a regular partner and some security of income, which make life tolerable for most writers, were not for him. He did not even turn to the anodyne of drink, which has sustained and destroyed so many, though he was not averse to the occasional glass in one of his favourite pubs. As for drugs, he had seen what they had done to the only woman he cared for, the heroin addict Anna Kavan. The only time he was celebrated as a writer was when he won the Edgar – the prize awarded by the Mystery Writers of America – for his story The Chosen One in 1967. Towards the end of his life he found a new readership in America.

AmeriCymru: Davies was a prolific short story writer. Are there any of his stories that you would particularly recommend?

Meic: The stories I admire most include ‘Nightgown’, ‘Canute’, The Benefit Concert’, ‘Revelation’, ‘The Pits are on the Top’, ‘Weep not my Wanton’, and ‘Resurrection’. Unfortunately it’s difficult to find books by Rhys Davies, except via Amazon. The three-volume Collected Stories I edited in 1998 is no longer available. But there will be several in Dai Smith’s anthology due from Parthian shortly in the Library of Wales. There are also seven in Nightgown, published by Carreg Gwalch. The Rhys Davies Trust is currently considering grant-aid for the Selected Stories.

AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru? Why read Rhys Davies?

Meic: Take a look at Amazon to see whether any of his books can be bought there. His novel The Withered Root has been republished in the Library of Wales. You might also read my biography as an introduction to his work! You can read Rhys Davies solely for the literary pleasure it affords. But he was very much of his place and time. His achievement as a writer was that, by the mysterious process we call art, he left work that is timeless and universal, and that still speaks to the human condition.



Don''t Pass Me By by Julie McGowan

Julie McGowan is a Welsh writer, living in Usk, south Wales. Her first novel, ''The Mountains Between'' was a regional best-seller on its first release and is now in its third edition, having received much acclaim in Wales (including promotion on BBC Wales radio). ''Don''t Pass Me By'' is also set in S. Wales. It was released a month ago and is already achieving great sales and reviews.'' Buy ''Don''t Pass Me By'' here

Read Julie''s guest article here:- What''s In A Name?

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AmeriCymru: Hi Julie and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed.‭ ‬You were born in Blaenavon and lived there for‭ ‬12‭ ‬years.‭ ‬Can you describe the town for our American readers‭? ‬What effect did your upbringing have on your writing‭?

Julie: Thank you very much for interviewing me.‭

Blaenavon is a small town in the Eastern Valley of S.‭ ‬Wales,‭ ‬sprawled across the lower slopes of the Blorenge mountain which separates it from the market town of Abergavenny,‭ ‬gateway to the Black mountains and the Brecon Beacons.‭ ‬Facing the town rises the Coity mountain,‭ ‬where major coal mining took place.‭ ‬Blaenavon grew substantially in the industrial revolution,‭ ‬when coal began to be mined there and an iron foundry was developed.‭ ‬It is of sufficient historical importance that it is now a world heritage site,‭ ‬although the iron and coal are long finished.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬the mine‭ – ‬Big Pit‭ – ‬is now a national museum.

Row upon row of terraced houses were built during the industrial time when the town prospered,‭ ‬to house the miners and their families,‭ ‬and most of those terraces are still lived in today,‭ ‬although they have been modernised.‭ ‬I grew up in one such house,‭ ‬but at that time we had no central heating‭ – ‬just coal fires in the downstairs rooms‭ – ‬and no running hot water.‭ ‬There was a cold water tap in the kitchen,‭ ‬no bathroom‭ (‬we bathed in a tin bath in the kitchen,‭ ‬which was filled with water heated by a small electric boiler‭) ‬and there was one toilet outside in the yard.‭ ‬But there was no sense of deprivation because everyone else lived in similar houses‭ – ‬we were all in the same boat.

Like all valley towns,‭ ‬as Blaenavon grew it spawned a public house on every corner,‭ ‬and a nonconformist chapel on the opposite corner,‭ ‬and the residents were ardent chapelgoers,‭ ‬although these have dwindled in recent times and several of the chapels demolished.‭ ‬But during my childhood social activities at chapel formed a large part of one’s life as everything we did happened in Blaenavon.‭ ‬Very few families had cars,‭ ‬and if they did,‭ ‬the car was used by the father for work‭ – ‬the mother stayed at home to care for the children,‭ ‬and few women could drive.

‭ ‬Social activities also took place in the‭ ‬Workman’s Hall‭ – ‬a wonderful Victorian building built from the penny subscriptions of the miners,‭ ‬which housed a library and a cinema for everyone,‭ ‬and billiard rooms used only by the men and from which children would be chased away.

workmans-hall-blaenavon

The Workman’s Hall Blaenavon



So it was a very close-knit community,‭ ‬and,‭ ‬as families rarely moved away,‭ ‬one had relatives in every street‭ – ‬and even those adults who were neighbours rather than actual family were referred to as‭ ‘‬auntie‭’ ‬and‭ ‘‬uncle‭’‬.

The cliché‭ ‘‬we were poor but we were happy‭’ ‬really applied during my childhood there‭ – ‬particularly as we weren’t aware of our level of poverty because it was all we knew.‭ ‬Winters were cold and harsh,‭ ‬with biting winds coming off the mountains,‭ ‬often bringing snow with them,‭ ‬but summers,‭ ‬even though not particularly hot,‭ ‬were times of freedom,‭ ‬when we would go out to play all day,‭ ‬roaming throughout the town and the mountainside,‭ ‬secure in the knowledge that we knew everyone and everywhere was safe,‭ ‬and with very little traffic around to worry about.‭ ‬We would only come home when we were hungry or when our inbuilt clocks told us it was nearly a mealtime.

Stack Square & The Ironworks, BlaenavonCottages of Stack Square,‭  the oldest in Blaenavon,‭ ‬built alongside the‭ ‭ ‬derelict but preserved‭ ‬Iron Works.



Blaenavon is still a close-knit community of people who have lived there all their lives,‭ ‬brought their children up who have also stayed and married within the town,‭ ‬and so on.‭ ‬But it has suffered in recent decades from the loss of the mines and a big downturn economically that even the world heritage status has failed to alleviate.

Thus,‭ ‬my upbringing gave me a huge sense of the importance of family and community,‭ ‬and a need to belong.‭ ‬The feeling that Wales is home never left me because we always came back.‭ ‬Although we moved to England for my father’s work,‭ ‬every holiday we‭ ‘‬went home‭’ ‬to visit the vast network of family and friends,‭ ‬and,‭ ‬after‭ ‬20‭ ‬years back in Wales,‭ ‬I still get a thrill when driving through the spectacular countryside and the little streets and lanes of my childhood,‭ ‬that I am‭ ‘‬home‭’ ‬again.

The chapel side of my upbringing also gave me a sense of duty‭ (‬without meaning to sound pious‭) ‬and a continuing faith,‭ ‬and,‭ ‬being part of a community where it was important to stop and chat to your neighbours and friends whenever you met them,‭ ‬I have an abiding interest in the lives of others‭!!

AmeriCymru: When did you first become aware that you wanted to write‭?

Julie: I had always loved English literature lessons at school,‭ ‬and went through the common habit of writing poetry‭ (‬seen by no-one‭) ‬to describe my teenage angst.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬the desire to write properly came about when we were living at a private school where my husband was headmaster.‭ ‬As the headmaster’s wife in such a school it was always one’s fate to be roped into something that no-one else wanted to do.‭ ‬I had been a keen participant of amateur dramatics since a child,‭ ‬so when there was no-one to run the school annual drama performance,‭ ‬that task fell to me.‭ ‬I then discovered that it was nearly impossible to find a script that had sufficient parts for all the children‭ ‬I‭ ‬needed to get on stage.‭ ‬So,‭ ‬in my rather typical‭ ‘‬gung-ho‭’ ‬fashion,‭ ‬I decided to write one,‭ ‬and that was my first foray into writing.‭ ‬Not only was it well-received,‭ ‬but I found myself enjoying it enormously and decided that I would embark on writing as a part-time career.‭ ‬I felt that I had at least one novel in me,‭ ‬but,‭ ‬given the work ethic that a Welsh chapel upbringing had impressed upon me,‭ ‬I couldn’t justify writing as an indulgence if it wasn’t going to pay.‭ ‬So I started writing commercial short stories,‭ ‬and only when they were being bought and published did I feel that I could also give novel-writing a go.

AmeriCymru: Your first novel‭ The Mountains Between ‬enjoyed considerable success.‭ ‬Care to describe it for our readers‭?

The Mountains Between by Julie McGowan

Julie: ‘The Mountains Between‎’ ‏is set in my favourite part of the world‭ – ‬Blaenavon and Abergavenny‭ – ‬between the years of‭ ‬1929‭ ‬and‭ ‬1949‭ ‬and follows the fortunes of Jennie,‭ ‬youngest daughter of a prosperous farming family who live just outside Abergavenny,‭ ‬and of Harry,‭ ‬youngest son of a family living just the other side of the Blorenge mountain in Blaenavon‭; ‬a very different existence marked by poverty and unemployment.

Jennie is just‭ ‬8‭ ‬years old,‭ ‬living a difficult,‭ ‬though comfortable life,‭ ‬under the critical eye of her harsh,‭ ‬autocratic mother,‭ ‬Katharine.‭ ‬At the start of the book Katharine has just told Jennie that she was never wanted.‭ ‬This rejection haunts Jennie throughout her childhood and,‭ ‬ten years later,‭ ‬spins her into a hasty marriage as World War‭ ‬2‭ ‬breaks out.‭ ‬The malign influence of Katharine continues to spoil her life and ultimately she has to make the decision to take charge of her life if she is ever to overcome her sense of unworthiness.

Harry,‭ ‬meanwhile,‭ ‬although poor,‭ ‬is surrounded by people he loves and who love him.‭ ‬At the start of the book he is‭ ‬15,‭ ‬desperate to be a man and go down the pit,‭ ‬but ends up working in the local co-operative‭ ‬store.‭ ‬He is also desperate to find a girlfriend,‭ ‬and the first section of the book follows his fortunes in this department.‭ ‬But life grows harsher still as the Depression hits the community hard,‭ ‬and by the outbreak of the Second World War Harry is already a young man who has known much sadness and heartbreak.

Do Jennie and Harry ever meet‭? ‬Do they each find someone to love‭? ‬You have to read the book to find out‭!

‘The Mountains Between‎’ ‏came about after I started recording the memoirs of my parents and realised that not only did they give a fantastic insight into life in the early part of the‭ ‬20th century,‭ ‬but also that they had had such different upbringings that it was a wonder they ever got together‭ – ‬and so the idea for a novel was sparked.‭ ‬All of the places and big events that happen in the book are real,‭ ‬only the story is fictionalised.

AmeriCymru: Your second novel is set in Cornwall.‭ ‬What can you tell us about‭ Just One More Summer‭ ?

Just One More Summer by Julie McGowanJulie: ‘Just One More Summer‎’ ‏is a modern novel which came about while I was trying to get‭ ‘‬The Mountains Between‭’ ‬published.‭ ‬I entered a‭ ‘‬start of a novel‭’ ‬competition,‭ ‬where you had to write the‭ ‬1st‭ ‬1,000‭ ‬words‭ – ‬so that’s what I did.‭ ‬The competition was judged by well-known British writer Katie Fforde,‭ ‬who gave my story‭ ‬1st prize,‭ ‬and commented that she would love to know what happens to the main character Allie.‭ ‬At that point I didn’t really know,‭ ‬as I had simply written the required‭ ‬1,000‭ ‬words.

However,‭ ‬the premise of the book is that Allie,‭ ‬at nearly‭ ‬30,‭ ‬is recovering from a broken marriage and decides to spend the summer in Cornwall,‭ ‬the place of long-remembered childhood happiness,‭ ‬in order to lick her wounds.‭ ‬She herself is the product of a broken marriage and had vowed that when her turn came she would have a long and happy partnership,‭ ‬so she was devastated when her husband left her.‭ ‬In Cornwall she strikes up a friendship with an unlikely group of young people who appear to be led by an ageing hippy-type of woman,‭ ‬Marsha.‭ ‬Allie discovers that the other members of the group have all been‭ ‘‬rescued‭’ ‬at one time or another by Marsha,‭ ‬who helps Allie to find her own hidden strength.‭ ‬But as Allie finds herself falling for one of the young men,‭ ‬Adam,‭ ‬she also discovers that Marsha has secrets of her own,‭ ‬that Allie’s idyllic memories of childhood are flawed,‭ ‬and that back in London family issues have become ever more complicated.‭ ‬And at this point her husband,‭ ‬Will,‭ ‬decides that he wants to give their marriage a second chance.

Again,‭ ‬to find out what happens to Allie,‭ ‬you will have to read the book‭!

AmeriCymru: Your third novel‭ Don''t Pass Me By‭ ‬is about a group of children evacuated to rural Wales from wartime London.‭ ‬Care to tell us more‭?

Don''t Pass Me By by Julie McGowan

Julie: When I was researching World War‭ ‬2‭ ‬for my first book,‭ ‬I read a lot of accounts from people who were evacuated during the Blitz to South Wales.‭ ‬It struck me that these days we tend to look back on this mass evacuation of children with nostalgic rose-coloured glasses,‭ ‬but,‭ ‬in reality,‭ ‬whilst some children were very well cared-for,‭ ‬others had a really bad time with their‭ ‘‬foster‭’ ‬parents.‭ ‬At the same time I was writing features for magazines about how we agonise these days when our children leave home to go to college‭; ‬will they be safe,‭ ‬will they be happy,‭ ‬will they manage‭? ‬And these are‭ ‬18-year-olds‭! ‬Yet,‭ ‬in the Blitz,‭ ‬these small children of‭ ‬5‭ ‬years upwards were sent across the country to goodness-knew-where to live with complete strangers.

So I increasingly felt I wanted to write a book which reflected some of the things that evacuee children encountered.

‎‘‏Don’t Pass Me By‭’ ‬has three main characters:

Lydia is a young woman who is desperate to escape from her violent husband,‭ ‬and joins an evacuee train with her young baby in order to get away.‭ ‬Once in the tiny village of Penfawr,‭ ‬near Swansea,‭ ‬the billeting officer has no idea what to do with her,‭ ‬as she‭’‬s not on his list,‭ ‬so she is foisted onto the unwelcoming local doctor,‭ ‬to act as his housekeeper.

Arthur is a young lad from the East End who just wants to go back to the life he led with his mother‭ – ‬who‭ ‬leads a rackety sort of existence,‭ ‬the immorality of which Arthur is only vaguely aware of.‭ ‬He loses contact with his mother during his time‭ ‬in Penfawr and subsequently causes a lot of headaches for the kind family who have taken him in.

Amy is also from the East End,‭ ‬a timid child who is scared of the dark.‭ ‬She is placed with the bitter,‭ ‬God-fearing widow,‭ ‬Mrs Preece,‭ ‬and her strange son,‭ ‬Edwin.‭ ‬Amy suffers terribly during her time in this household and doesn’t know who to turn to.

The stories of these‭ ‬3‭ ‬characters intertwine throughout the book and,‭ ‬ultimately,‭ ‬none of them can help themselves without helping each other.‭

AmeriCymru: You have also been involved with local theatre in your home town of Usk.‭ ‬Is theatrical writing something that you might explore in the future‭?

Julie: I run the local theatrical group with my husband,‭ ‬and write all the scripts for our shows and our annual pantomime‭ – ‬a strange,‭ ‬very British concept‭ – ‬and sell these scripts via my website.‭( ‬www.juliemcgowan.com ‭)‬ I really enjoy this work,‭ ‬especially as most of it is humorous,‭ ‬so is very different from much of my other writing,‭ ‬but I don’t have a burning ambition to write for the theatre in any other way.‭ ‬I think my scriptwriting is too light-hearted for modern theatre which seems to need a lot of depth and angst and to be more obscure.

AmeriCymru: What are you reading currently‭? ‬Any recommendations‭?

Julie: I’ve just finished reading‭ ‘‬All Change‭’‬,‭ ‬the‭ ‬5th and final volume of the Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard.‭ ‬The books are a wonderful evocation of English upper middle class life and I’ve enjoyed them enormously.‭ ‬Each volume can stand alone,‭ ‬but I would recommend that anyone who is interested should really start with volume one‭ ‘‬The Light Years‭’ ‬and work their way through the whole series.

I’ve also just read‭ ‘‬The Testament of Mary‭’ ‬by Colm Toibin,‭ ‬which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.‭ ‬It’s Mary’s account of what happened at the crucifixion‭ – ‬beautifully written,‭ ‬but I’m going to read it again as I’ve been discussing it with a friend and we’ve come away from it with completely different views‭!

One of my favourites from last year was‭ ‘‬Me Before You‭’ ‬by Jojo Moyes‭ – ‬a brilliant book which took me by surprise with its depth and emotion when I thought it was going to be quite light and frothy.

AmeriCymru: ‎ ‏What''s next for Julie McGowan‭? ‬Are you working on another book at the moment‭?

Julie: Yes,‭ ‬I am working on another book,‭ ‬but it’s slow going when I have to currently spend a lot of time promoting‭ ‘‬Don’t Pass Me By‭’! ‬The working title of this next one is‭ ‘‬Yes I’m gonna be a star‭’ ‬and it’s the story of a teenage girl in‭ ‬1971,‭ ‬who decides that she wants to be a famous singer,‭ ‬and goes off to London to do just that.‭ ‬She succeeds,‭ ‬but there are dreadful costs to pay along the way.

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

Julie: I am very grateful for the opportunity to promote my books with you.‭ ‬I sincerely hope that‭ ‘‬The Mountains Between‭’ ‬and‭ ‘‬Don’t Pass Me By‭’ ‬fill readers with nostalgia and love for‭ ‘‬the old country‭’ ‬and that they enjoy reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.‭ ‬I would love some reviews‭ (‬good or bad,‭ ‬but hopefully good‭!) ‬on Amazon,‭ ‬Goodreads,‭ ‬and any other book-based sites,‭ ‬and welcome emails from readers‭ ( ‬juliemcgowanusk@live.co.uk ‭)‬ And finally,‭ ‬congratulations to all at AmeriCymru for the work you do in promoting all things Welsh‭ – ‬if any of your members are ever in this part of S.‭ ‬Wales I would happily give them a guided tour of my little part of it.


Product Details





Don't Pass Me By




1940: London is about to be ravaged by the Blitz. For Lydia the last beating is the final straw. A novel about evacuees in rural Wales during WWII by Julie McGowan.



Published by: Sunpenny Publishing

Date published: 2013-09-26

Edition: 2nd

ISBN: 1909278106


Available in Paperback





'Dovetail' - A Review




Dovetail by Jeremy HughesThis book is a must for anyone with a taste for the bizarre and grotesque. Tim is emasculated in the course of an extreme school bullying incident. He spends the rest of his life acquiring the skills necessary for an aesthetically beautiful revenge. Set in Spain and Risca this novel is at once a psychological thriller, a reflection on the nature of obsession and a good guide to advanced woodworking practice.

The unbalanced state of Tim''s mind is explored with cold, clinical precision as he apprentices himself to his Spanish mentor and perfects his skills with devoted and obsessive diligence. The love interest is provided by Elena, his childhood sweat heart but to dwell on that would be to give away too much of the plot..

Practical woodworking tips abound as this macabre tale unfolds accentuating the obsessive nature of Tim''s mission and perhaps providing a useful supplementary primer for students of the craft. A mysterious, imaginary character called ''The Conductor'' also makes frequent appearances. His conflicted relationship with Tim is related in the form of an ongoing interior dialogue fraught with ominous overtones. ''The Conductor'' is based upon a character in a 1946 movie called ''A Matter of Life And Death'' starring David Niven.




Interview With Author - Jeremy Hughes



AmeriCymru: Hi Jeremy and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. I have seen Dovetail described in the following terms:- "American Psycho meets The Wasp Factory". Care to comment? Does it have anything in common with these two titles?

Jeremy: The voices in American Psycho and The Wasp Factory are both thrilling to me.  The protagonist of American Psycho describes his actions and beliefs with conviction and ‘normality’, though his evaluation of situations and events is completely warped when judged against what is conventionally acceptable.  The Wasp Factory is a master class in keeping the reader interested.  I hope I’ve managed to capture something from both of these books.

AmeriCymru: Revenge and obsession. Would you agree that these are the twin themes of ''Dovetail''?

Jeremy: These might be regarded as main themes, but there is also striving for great art and the exploration of personal identity.  Love and death are clearly important, too, as well as the tensions between binary opposites throughout.

AmeriCymru   There is an enormous amount of detail concerning the art and craft of woodworking in the book. How did you go about researching this?

Jeremy: I trained as a carpenter/joiner before I went off to university, so most of the research was what I already knew.  Craftsmen have a particular and almost ineffable relationship with their tools.

AmeriCymru: You reference the David Niven film ''A Matter of Life and Death'' a number of times in ''Dovetail''. Care to tell us a little about its significance?

Jeremy: I first saw the film as a child and was completely enamoured with the fantastic nature of the story i.e. that a man fails to go to heaven at his allotted time, and the normality of Niven’s character being able to see heaven’s Conductor 73.  The significance of the film within the book ultimately lies with the reader.

AmeriCymru: Given the intensely ornate and detailed nature of the infernal apparatus with which Tim despatches his victims were you tempted to include graphics in the book, diagrams etc ?

Jeremy: The killing machine is better left to the reader''s imagination, but I did sketch details for my benefit when I was working out the book.

AmeriCymru: Can you reassure our readers that there are currently no mass murderers on the loose in the vicinity of Twmbarlwm?

Jeremy: The last time I was there, no, but now...

AmeriCymru   Who are you currently reading? Any recommendations?

Jeremy: Over the last twelve months...

Fine Memoirs:

Andrew Motion’s In the Blood

Bill Bryson’s The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

Diana Athill’s Somewhere Towards the End

And one especially  for Welsh expats: Byron Rogers’s fabulous Three Journeys.  He also wrote the very good biography of R. S. Thomas, The Man Who Went into the West.

Many war books, including Karl Marlantes’s novel Matterhorn (Vietnam), Sebastian Junger’s reportage War (Afghanistan), and Patrick Hennessey’s memoir The Junior Officers’ Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars.  Adam Thorpe’s novel The Rules of Perspective(WWll) is wonderful:  humane, perceptive, writerly and surprising.  Pat Barker’s superb novel Regeneration (WWl).  I found Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient (WWll) deeply satisfying.

Other novels:

Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections

Paul Harding’s Tinkers

Don DeLillo’s Point Omega.

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Jeremy Hughes? Any new work currently in progress?

Jeremy: My second novel, provisionally titled Tender Green, is very different, set in America, England and Wales.   The first half of the book concerns the pilot of a USAAF Flying Fortress who is stationed in Suffolk, England during 1943.  He marries a woman from the nearby town and is lost when returning from a mission his aircraft crashes in Wales.  It’s a mystery, since the bodies of the crew are recovered, but not the pilot’s.

The marriage produces a son who is not permitted to know about his father, because the mother is so grief-stricken.  When the mother dies and the son turns fifty, he sets out to find the place where his father crashed. He unearths much more than he expected about his father and mother, as well as himself.

I am about half-way through the first draft of novel three, Paint, a crime novel set in Wales, Madrid and Barcelona.   I’ve had a wonderful time doing the research, visiting the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, as well as the Reina Sofia and Prado in Madrid.

AmeriCymru: Where can our readers go to find your other published works?

Jeremy: I have published two pamphlets of poetry, breathing for all my birds, which is no longer in print, and The Woman Opposite, which is.  Unfortunately, I haven’t written any poetry for several years since concentrating on fiction.

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

Jeremy: I am delighted that there is an audience for Welsh writers in the US.

I have been meaning to visit New York for some time (yes, I realise that’s not representative of America!), to visit the fine museums and galleries.  There are so many paintings I’d like to see.  But all sorts of things have conspired to prevent me.   One day.

I hope AmeriCymru readers enjoy Dovetail.

With all best wishes,

Jeremy Hughes 


Book Details

Dovetail

Tim is emasculated by a gang of bullies at the age of fifteen and devotes his life to revenge. He plans to build a machine that will kill each member of the gang one by one.

Written by: Jeremy Hughes

Published by: Alcemi

Date published: 2011-09-11

ISBN: 0956012531

Available in Paperback


Jeremy Hughes - Cillian Press

Jeremy Hughes - Writers of Wales Database


The Missing Years of Jesus ...

AmeriCymru spoke to Welsh author Dennis Price about his new book, A Tale of Sound & Fury. Dennis has long enjoyed a reputation as an expert on Stonehenge, the world’s most enigmatic prehistoric monument, on account of the prolific investigations on his Eternal Idol site. In 2009, he followed this up with The Missing Years of Jesus, a groundbreaking study of William Blake’s poem ‘Jerusalem’, which suggested that Christ once visited Britain. 

... A Tale of Sound & Fury 

...

AmeriCymru:  Hi Dennis and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. Care to introduce your new book ''A Tale of Sound & Fury'' for our readers and tell us how and why you came to write an autobiography?

Dennis:  Hello Ceri. First of all, it''s a real honour to be interviewed by you. I''ve been aware of Americymru for some time now, so it''s very gratifying that my compatriots or Cymru in America should invite me to speak about myself. Thank you for that.

I''d never seriously thought of writing an autobiography, although now I''ve started, I have to say that A Tale of Sound & Fury is the first of perhaps three such volumes, because it was impossible to put all the stories into one book and do them justice. The book came about by chance when I spoke separately to two friends late last summer, who both urged me to write it. One of them is Pete Mills, someone I''ve known since the early 1980s when I was living in London; he''s long been a highly respected archaeologist with his own consultancy in central London, but he''s also a born storyteller and I''ve lost count of the amount of times that he and I have swapped tales over a few pints late into the night in shady taverns around the country. He''s known me for around thirty years, so when someone like him suggested that I write down my own stories, it really made me think.

The other person is Vivian Widgery, someone else I met not long after I moved to London in 1979. She worked for Hansard for almost thirty years, so she spent most of her career in the corridors of power in Westminster, meeting and working with a vast array of lords, parliamentarians, journalists, consultants and other informed observers on a daily basis. Aside from any other consideration, I''d always been in awe of Vivian''s drinking prowess, so when she too urged me to write an autobiographical work, I was bound to take the idea seriously and I also invited her to write a postscript for the book, which she very kindly did and I''m grateful to her for her generous words of praise.

I also have a son named Jack who''s eighteen and a daughter named Tanith who''s sixteen. It is the way of things that people of that age should regard people of my age, and perhaps their parents, with pity or contempt, so I won''t deny that I wanted to commit to print one or two things that would make them sit up and take real notice, although it remains to be seen if they''re impressed or not! Then I thought about how I''d had an idyllic childhood in a small village in south Wales in the 1960s, so I realised I wanted to record this out of sheer gratitude, if nothing else. There were plenty of other elements involved in my decision to write this book, but I''m pretty sure I''ve told you the most important ones here. 

Dennis Price at his desk with ever present gargoyles.

Dennis at his desk with ever present gargoyles

AmeriCymru:   We learn from the product description that the book contains an account of your ''missing years'' after leaving school. Can you tell us a little more about that period in your life?

Dennis:  Yes, of course, but I suppose I should first explain something about the ''missing years'' reference. Over the last seven or eight years, I''ve had a lot of favourable media exposure on account of my investigations into what you might call ''ancient mysteries''. I''m not complaining about that and I didn''t write "A Tale of Sound & Fury" to ''set the record straight'' in any way, but all the writing I''ve done has meant that I''ve spent a lot of time locked away in my study alone by the dead of night and I''m aware that as a result, I have a certain reputation as an archaeologist, a man of letters or something similar. I''m grateful for all this, of course, but my life hasn''t always been like this by any means.

The bare bones of the matter are that I won a Jones Scholarship to Monmouth School in 1971 and I will be grateful for the education I received there until my dying day. It was the ordained scheme of things that I should go on to university, where I intended to study Egyptology and this was in 1977, before anyone had heard of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

However, as I''ve described in detail in the book, I ended up meeting all four members of Black Sabbath when they were writing material for their Never Say Die album at Rockfield, just outside Monmouth. I was an impressionable teenage kid, so to actually meet my idols in the form of Ozzy, Bill, Geezer and Tony, then to speak with them for around an hour, was a pivotal experience for me. They were the most warm-hearted, generous-spirited people anyone could wish to meet and this made a huge impression on me, to the extent that I pretty much lost interest in my studies, although they shouldn''t be blamed for this.

I left school and worked for a while in Wales while my friends all went on to university, then I moved to London to find work in the winter of 1979. I sang in rock bands for some years, both in London and in Wales, while I later spent five years travelling around Britain, Europe, Scandinavia and Russia as a knight on what was the world''s only touring mediaeval jousting tournament. In the first part of the 1990s, I had a career on television and I suppose the highlight was when I appeared as an actor in the last two series of the Crystal Maze, although there were plenty of other series, rock videos and programmes I appeared in and for the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed all this.

I did all this and a great deal more over the years, so I''ve written about as much of this time as I could in A Tale of Sound & Fury. My son Jack was born in 1995, after which we moved out of London to live on Salisbury Plain just a few miles away from Stonehenge, because I wanted him to have the benefit of a rural upbringing in a small village, just as I''d done. This was around the time I started working in archaeology again, but that''s another story.

Dennis Price Knight
Dennis Price as a Knight touring Scandinavia

AmeriCymru:   In an appendix you have reproduced your interview with Captain Robert Fore, concerning his experiences during the 1981 rescue of the crew of the Primrose from North Sentinel Island. What can you tell us about this incident? How did you become interested in it?

Dennis:  I''ve been trying to remember precisely when I first learned about North Sentinel Island, but I can''t be sure, I''m afraid, although I''ve been mesmerised by the place for the past three or four years. It''s in the Bay of Bombay and it''s home to the last uncontacted island race on Earth, so this alone makes it unique and fascinating, long before we consider what little is known about this secluded realm and the people who live there.

I came to write about the place because I was writing an article on Stonehenge and trying to describe the difficulty of seeing the ruins through the eyes of the people who built it; our ancestors, who have been dead for around four and a half thousand years. As I''d learned about North Sentinel Island beforehand, it dawned on me that there were people alive today who are to all intents and purposes just as remote from us as our dead ancestors are, because the North Sentinelese are unrelentingly hostile to those outsiders they encounter, the most recent example being 2006 when they killed two Indian fishermen who had drifted ashore in their boat. We know next to nothing about the North Sentinelese - we don''t know what language they speak, what gods they worship, what their view of our world is, what they call themselves and so forth, but I don''t think we''ll ever have the answers to these questions.

After I''d written about these people on my Eternal Idol site, I was contacted by Captain Robert Fore, who had a fascinating story to tell that I vaguely remembered hearing about a long time before, back in the early 1980s. Very briefly, a freighter called the Primrose had been stranded on a coral reef just off North Sentinel Island in 1982, which led to the ship''s captain issuing a distress call because he feared that he and his crew of thirty-two sailors were about to be killed by "wild men", as he described them.

These were the North Sentinelese islanders, who were building boats on the shore and waving a variety of weapons in unmistakably hostile gestures, so this rapidly became world news at the time. Due to the appalling weather, the Indian Navy were unable to rescue the ship''s crew, so these otherwise doomed men were most fortunate that Captain Robert Fore was based nearby and immediately agreed to try to rescue them by helicopter, which he succeeded in doing despite the extremely adverse and hazardous circumstances.

Dennis Price with Captain Robert Fore

Dennis Price with Captain Robert Fore

AmeriCymru:   You were also involved with the search for missing estate agent Suzy Lamplugh. How did that come about?

Dennis:  Strictly speaking, I wasn''t involved with this search, because all investigations were a matter for the police. For those who haven''t heard about her, Suzy Lamplugh was a beautiful young woman who disappeared in broad daylight from a busy London street in 1986 and she has never been seen since, other than by the person or persons responsible for taking her away. All these years later and hers is Britain''s best-known or most notorious missing person''s case, as it''s never been resolved and she has never been found.

What I can only describe as a cosmic coincidence ultimately led to me meeting and speaking with a man who was suspected at the time of being involved with Suzy Lamplugh''s disappearance. He was and still is serving life in prison, having been convicted in 1989 of the murder of another young woman, so this is where I met him and spoke with him, as he''d invited me to visit him for reasons of his own. This is all described in what is by far the longest chapter in the book and it recounts certain events that made a great deal of news in what was a pre-internet age.

It was all a long time ago for me, but the circumstances of my peripheral involvement were so incredibly strange and they made such an impression on me for such a prolonged period of time that I felt I had to write about them. I''ve been scrupulously careful because I''m fully aware that I was writing about the disappearance and presumed murder of a beautiful young woman who is still remembered and mourned by her surviving family. I can''t do justice to such a prolonged and tragic episode in an interview, so everyone will make their own minds up about my memories of this bizarre episode in my life when they''ve read what I had to say about it.

AmeriCymru:   Your first book ''The Missing Years of Jesus'' evolved as a study of William Blake''s ''Jerusalem'' and explores the possibility that Jesus Christ may have visited Britain. Can you briefly outline the evidence for this theory?

Dennis:  To begin with, I think if there''d ever been a vote taken when I was at school in the 1970s to decide who was the pupil least likely to go on to write a book about Christ, I think I would have won by a unanimous decision! Thirty years down the line, however, and I found myself fascinated by the idea that Jesus, the most famous person ever to have lived, is unaccounted for during his teenage years and early adulthood, because the Bible stops writing about him when he''s aged twelve, then it resumes when he begins his famous ministry at the age of thirty or so. He was ''missing'' for something like eighteen years, which is over half his entire life, so when this dawned on me in 2004 or thereabouts, I became more and more intrigued by it.

To cut a very long story very short indeed, I found that William Blake''s poem was effectively the best-known expression of the many older legends in Britain that maintained that Jesus had once visited our small island. The more I looked into them, the more surprised I became at just how many legends there were, while they all consistently spoke of him coming ashore from a ship to find water, then working in mines in the West Country. Others were even more specific, telling of how he built what was in effect the world''s first church in Glastonbury that he dedicated to his mother, but I found there were still more legends and they all seemed perfectly credible to me. They were widely dismissed by most academics as being mediaeval fabrications, but I kept wondering why on Earth people of that era would invent what is the face of it the most unlikely story you can imagine.

So, I was hooked, and the more I looked into it, the more evidence I found and it was all absolutely fascinating. I learned of coins that had been struck by the ancient Dubunni tribe in the same area and at the same time that Jesus was said to be there, and these coins carried the name "Esus". I learned of evidence of ancient mariners travelling to Britain from the Middle East and a very great deal else besides, so from what I can judge, there''s an overwhelming case in favour of the idea that Jesus did indeed once visit and live in what is now the West of England and South Wales, but that''s just my personal opinion   and others will have to decide for themselves. 

Dennis with daughter Tanith at Stonehenge

Dennis with daughter Tanith at Stonehenge

AmeriCymru:   You are recognised as an expert on Stonehenge. How and when did your interest in this subject develop?

Dennis:  My Mum and Dad took me and my little sister Carol there in 1969 when I was nine or ten and I can still remember it as if it were yesterday. At that time, we were free to wander among the stones and the ruins were so huge, so strange and so baffling that they made a profound impression on me. I read a lot about the place over the years, because there was no shortage of books and documentaries about the monument, then by pure chance, I ended up moving to a small village on Salisbury Plain just a few miles away from Stonehenge in 1996, with my young family. I quickly realised that I was eligible for a free local''s pass to the ruins, so I must have gone there roughly three times a week for ten years or so until we finally moved away from Salisbury Plain in 2005.

Jack and Tanith - my son and daughter - would sit in their pushchair eating icecream in the early days, then they virtually learned to walk on their later visits there, but I''d also take them for walks in the landscape to the surrounding barrows and other places. We went to every open access event, as well as to some private ones and the more I saw of the place, the more my fascination with it grew. I regularly spoke with the English Heritage custodians, who were all very helpful and a mine of information, while I also read more and more about the site. I made a short film about Stonehenge for ITV in 1997 or 1998, while I was also interviewed by other channels as someone who was knowledgeable about the extensive folklore connected with the monument.

From early 2000 onwards until around August 2003, I was employed by Wessex Archaeology, so I ended up working on the A303 Stonehenge Test Pit Project, which was a particularly enjoyable experience. I also worked in the Media and Communications Department when the world''s press descended on the place after the discoveries of the Amesbury Archer and Boscombe Bowmen in 2002 and 2003 respectively and of course, I ended up spending a great deal of time talking with other archaeologists who were extremely knowledgeable about all aspects of Stonehenge.

AmeriCymru:   Your site ''Eternal Idol'' contains a wealth of information and information about Stonehenge. Can you tell us a little about the history and purpose of the Eternal Idol site?

Dennis:  Well, I started Eternal Idol   in 2005, I think, because I felt I had original things to say about Stonehenge. This was at a time when it was believed that it was impossible to contribute to our sum total of knowledge about the ruins without recourse to excavation. I thought otherwise, so I started writing about the place in the face of almost universal scorn, but I was never remotely concerned by this. I regularly receive correspondence telling me that Eternal Idol''s the best Stonehenge site on the internet because there''s such a vast amount of information there and because it''s had such favourable coverage over the years in the media, while I also welcome anyone who has anything at all to contribute.

Eternal Idol long ago became so huge and so busy that it became impossible for me to manage on a day to day basis, so I''m fantastically lucky to have a lady from the USA by the name of Aynslie Hanna to help me run the site. Dan Johnston''s another friend of mine from the USA who regularly contributes and he actually published his own book on Stonehenge last year - Stonehenge Unhinged   - which is a superb investigation into the monument. Juris Ozols of Minnesota is another long-standing friend and contributor to Eternal Idol, but there are others in what I often refer to as the North American Chapter of Eternal Idol. Anyone is welcome to write in and I''m always happy to promote the work of other writers or investigators. I''m on cordial terms with many archaeologists, as well as with Druids and other pagans, but people of all faiths and none can write in and they frequently do.

There''s just so much there that it would be very hard for me to describe in an interview such as this, but of course I''m particularly interested in the Welsh origins of Stonehenge, such as the famous bluestones and more recently, the so-called "Lord of Stonehenge" from around 3,500 BC whose remains are now on display in the new Visitors Centre, a man who seems to have originated from what''s now Wales. Honestly, I could write about it all for days on end.

Dennis at Stonehenge

 Dennis Price at Stonehenge

AmeriCymru:   You were born in Usk, south Wales and educated in Monmouth school. What memories do you have of those days? Can you describe the area a little for the benefit of our American readers?

Dennis:  Usk is a small village or town in south Wales that used to be the capital of the ancient Silures tribe, the one group of people in ancient Britain who were never actually defeated by the Romans, because the classical accounts hint at some agreement that the warring parties arrived at after around forty years of vicious conflict on a small island. It''s a lot more peaceful now, of course, with a still-inhabited castle on a hill in the centre of the town, a river, streams, outlying hills, fields and meadows, some churches and a ruined priory.

I can clearly remember growing up there in the 1960s and I loved the place. At one time, it had around thirteen pubs for a population of less than two thousand, but there was a rugby club, a cricket club, a football club, an amateur dramatics society and just about every other amenity you could imagine. It was like Heaven on Earth and I still can''t believe just how lucky I was to have been born and raised in such a place, so I''ve written about it at some length in my book.

By another cosmic coincidence, a friend of mine by the name of Isobel Brown   has recently started her own blog site dealing almost exclusively with Usk and its history. She''s a fantastic writer and photographer, so I''ll be featuring her writing on a regular basis on the Facebook site I''ve set up to help promote A Tale of Sound & Fury . If anyone''s curious about Usk, then you honestly couldn''t ask for a better place to visit online, although I''d hope that people will also choose to visit the place in person and of course, I''ve written about it fairly extensively in my book.

As for Monmouth, I won a Jones Scholarship there in 1971 and as one of the conditions of the scholarship, I had to board there, which was a huge culture shock to me as I''d lived literally within a stone''s throw of the schools I''d attended in Usk itself. The school was a wonderful place and I ended up specialising in Latin, Greek and Ancient History, although I studied many other subjects as well and in the last few years, I found myself sharing a house with Eddie Butler, who went on to captain the Welsh national team before becoming a regular commentator on the Five and Six Nations Championships.

The town itself was beautiful and interesting, with all manner of shops, alleyways, markets, museums and pubs, so it was always pleasant to take a stroll around the place after school. The River Monnow flowed past at the end of the town, joining the Wye which ran past the school itself, the other side of the dual carriageway, so this reminded me of my hometown of Usk. Towering over Monmouth itself is the huge bulk of the Kymin, a hill surmounted by a naval temple, oddly enough for such an inland location, but the whole setting was beautiful beyond words and I''ve tried to do the place justice in my book, as well as recording details of my time there. Both Usk and Monmouth are fascinating, enchanting places in their own ways and again, I consider myself very lucky to have been born and raised in the one place, and educated in the other.

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Dennis Price? Are you working on any new projects at the moment?

Dennis: I''m working on another book as we speak and it deals with North Sentinel Island and Captain Robert Fore''s mission   in 1982 to save the crew of the Primrose. One reason for this is that I consider the word ''hero'' to have been overused in recent times to the point where it risks losing its currency, but what Captain Fore did that day was heroic in every sense of the word, so I feel I should do justice to the way he risked his life to save the lives of many others from what would have been an appalling and terrifying end.

I learned the details of all this a few years ago, but something about the whole event nagged at me, although I couldn''t pin it down. A little while ago, however, another aspect or way of looking at North Sentinel Island and the rescue of the crew of the Primrose finally dawned on me from out of the blue and it left me stunned, so I''m writing about it now.

The ''Primrose'' stranded off North Sentinel Island

The ''Primrose'' stranded off North Sentinel Island


I''ve also started writing a fictional work with the provisional title of "Spirits from the Vasty Deep". I''ve spent the last decade or so intimately involved with non-fiction in various ways and I still enjoy what I do, but I feel driven to complete a work of imagination as best I can. I don''t think I''m a novelist, so this will be either a very long short story or else a novella, but as I''ve found myself dreaming repeatedly about the dark, sci-fi scenario, it''s something I want to capture in the form of the printed word.

Otherwise, I''ve been invited to appear in a documentary that''s due to start filming later this year. Some of the other guests who are scheduled to appear in it are giants in the worlds of entertainment and conservation, so I''m incredibly honoured by this, but I think I''ll wait until it''s officially announced before I say any more, as I wouldn''t want to tempt Fate. There are various other projects I''m involved in that may or may not come to fruition, but for now, these are the main three and I''m very pleased with them.

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

Dennis: I''m sorely tempted just to write "I am dreaming of the mountains of my home..."  or even simply "30 - 3", but I''m grateful to Ceri for inviting me to appear here on AmeriCymru because there''s something extremely heart-warming about recognition of any kind from a compatriot. I''m grateful to everyone who''s read this far, so I sincerely hope you found it worth your while and aside from recounting events like visiting vampire-infested graveyards in Britain, personally knighting Scandinavia''s biggest rock star and other unusual occurrences that came my way over the time recorded in my book, I''ve done my best to do justice to my hometown and homeland. Y Ddraig Goch has an almost mystical resonance for me and I suspect for many others, wherever they now live, so thank you all once again for your time and I wish you all a peaceful, pleasurable and prosperous 2014.


"When Dewi is clobbered by a falling rat, the nosy Welsh dragon snoops his way into a challenging predicament. Helped by a toad with a passion for chemical wart cures, Dewi discovers that a megalomaniac baron is secretly breeding mutant corn at an unfriendly castle. To thwart the genetically modified-corn baron''s sickening plan, he must use moxie and firepower in a series of catastrophe-skirting capers."

Dewi And The Seeds Of Doom



Americymru: Hi Maggie and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. You were born in Wales. Care to tell us a little more about your Welsh background and how you came to the States?

Maggie: I was dragged kicking and screaming into this world in my grandparent’s terraced house in the Ryhmney Valley coal-mining town of Ystrad Mynach in what is now the county of Mid Glamorgan. My maternal and paternal grandfathers were coal miners. My maternal grandmother’s mother tongue was Welsh, which colored her English, often amusingly so. My father was the first in his family to go to college, and I was the first female in the family to throw myself into the academic melee. I have fond memories of Bangor University, which was Bangor College, University of Wales, when I graduated. I’m even nostalgic about the gales that blew—seemingly continuously—from across the Irish Sea, pouring cold water into my wellies and darkening the Gothic college buildings until they resembled something Sauron would have enjoyed living in.

After graduation, I stumbled through a motley slew of jobs from unofficial spy (for the Brits, in case you’re worried) to musicologist (I studied piano and music theory) to orchestral manager to law-firm media relations consultant to academic editor, in the UK, Romania, and—when the glitter of the gold-paved streets beckoned—the USA. I even tried my hand at teaching English to recalcitrant schoolgirls in France. Well, they were recalcitrant until I switched from grammar to medieval history—there’s nothing like castles, dungeons, and torture chambers for winning friends and influencing minds.

I was recruited in London for a job at the World Bank, Washington, DC as a trilingual secretary, but that changed quickly once I discovered the thrills—and spills—of writing program notes for National Symphony Orchestra audiences who would rather search for their names in the donors’ lists than learn what Beethoven had for breakfast. And I went downhill from there …

Americymru: We learn from your biography that after arriving in the US you "... gravitated to Virginia where I threw myself—not literally of course—into editing and writing nonfiction, mostly for adults." Can you tell us more? How would you describe your writing background?

Maggie: That motley slew of jobs in the business sector all had one thing in common—writing/editing, writing/editing, and more writing/editing—on everything from astronomy to Zen Buddhism. I’ve always loved words, and I’ve always loved research. In fact, I was often so absorbed by the research that I put off getting around to the writing. That still happens.

Americymru: Dewi is not your first venture in the area of childrens writing. Can you tell us a little more about your previous work for children?

Maggie: I’ve always been fascinated by children’s literature from the time I was small and my parents read me bedtime stories to becoming a mother myself and reading my own child stories, sometimes the same ones I enjoyed as a child. When my son grew too old for stories, I needed an excuse to borrow books from the children’s library. Declaring myself to be a children’s writer did the trick. Studying the work of great children’s writers gives me the chance to indulge my love of that enchanting mix of innocence, escapism, imagination, and humor that bubbles out of children’s literature. My first efforts at writing were articles and poetry written for the online Stories for Children Magazine, and knowonder! magazine published my first novella, Dewi, the Red Dragon. My adventure story Vin and the Dorky Duet for middle-grade readers was published this past summer.

Americymru: What can you tell us about Dewi and the seeds of Doom? What inspired it? Where can readers buy it online?

Maggie: When I first created my character Dewi, a young and nosy Welsh dragon, I wanted to spread the word, in my very small way, about the land of my birth—its gorgeous countryside, its inspiring history, its fascinating legends, its impossible language. I don’t see why Wales can’t enjoy the kind of global awareness that Scotland and Ireland do. Dewi and the Seeds of Doom combines fantasy—the setting is a historically dubious Wales—with a contemporary problem: genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs in the human food chain are very scary—much scarier than any horror movie could ever be. They are now to be found in 80 to 90 percent of all processed foods in the USA. I have enormous respect and admiration for those courageous folks who are trying to educate the public about them and get them removed from our food supply. I hope children who read Dewi and the Seeds of Doom will enjoy a romp with a feisty little Welsh dragon turned amateur detective. I hope their parents will subscribe to the underlying message about GMOs.

Dewi and the Seeds of Doom is available most places where books are sold, including Amazon and Kindle, and the publishers’ bookstores: for the e-book, MuseItUp Publishing and for the paperback, Halo Publishing International at and of course through Americymru’s bookstore. For more information, check my website at Maggie Lyons Children''s Books

Here’s a brief description of the story:

When Dewi is clobbered by a falling rat, the nosy Welsh dragon snoops his way into a challenging predicament. Helped by a toad with a passion for chemical wart cures, Dewi discovers that a megalomaniac baron is secretly breeding mutant corn at an unfriendly castle. To thwart the genetically modified-corn baron’s sickening plan, he must use moxie and firepower in a series of catastrophe-skirting capers.

Americymru: What''s next for Maggie Lyons?

Maggie: I’m working on a sequel to my children’s adventure story Vin and the Dorky Duet and I’m also chewing on an idea for a sequel to Dewi and the Seeds of Doom, this time inspired by the history of the National Eisteddfod, in which, as a very young pianist, I once competed.

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

Maggie: A very heartfelt diolch yn fawr for reading this far.

Interview by Ceri Shaw


Evonne Wareham, Welsh authorAmeriCymru spoke to Welsh author Evonne Wareham about her work and future plans. Evonne is the winner of the Joan Hessayan New Writers'' Award 2012 for her novel Never Coming Home

Evonne''s Website

Evonne on Wednesday ( Blog )

Choc-Lit UK ( Publishers Website )




AmeriCymru: Hi Evonne and croeso i AmeriCymru. If I may quote you:- "...walking on the beach to the sound of the waves and the gulls....and plotting murder." Could you tell us a little more about your creative process? Which part of the Welsh coast do you most favour or frequent

Evonne: For me, producing a book is as much about the thinking process as it is about writing. At least, that is my excuse for staring into space, sitting in the garden, walking on the beach … There is quite a long gestation period before I begin drafting, when I test out ideas, do research, collect background material and absorb atmosphere.  Once the book is begun there are always points where it ties itself into knots, or where your characters run off and do something that you did not expect, leaving you to deal with the mess!  Then you need some space, to sort it out. I was born and brought up by the sea, in Barry, although I spent a long time living in London, so for me the word “walk” always means “beach”.  I now live about ten minutes from the Barry Island section of the Wales Coastal Path and my feet go towards the sea automatically.  I also have very good memories of childhood holidays in Pembrokeshire. In that case it was beaches and castles.

AmeriCymru: How would you describe your work? "Romantic fiction with a dark edge"?

Evonne: I write romantic thrillers – what are known in the States as romantic suspense.  There is always a strong love story and I adhere firmly to the principle of a happy ending, although it is not achieved without a struggle, and some characters do not make it to the end of the book. I blame the thriller elements of my work on my addiction to the theatre, especially early exposure to Shakespeare and the Jacobean dramatists, as in those plays betrayal, murder and mayhem are always mixed with love, beauty and poetry. 

out-of-sight-mind-evonne-warehamAmeriCymru: Your first novel, Out of Sight, Out of Mind made the final of more than one competition in 2008. Can you tell us more about the book and the success it enjoyed?

Evonne: Out of Sight, Out of Mind is a paranormal romantic suspense, with a hero and heroine who read minds. It was my first excursion into writing romantic thrillers and was a finalist in several contests on both sides of the Atlantic, but the biggest was the American Title contest, which was run by Romantic Times Magazine (Now RT BookReviews) and Dorchester Publishing.  American Title was a reality writing contest. Parts of the novel were printed in the magazine, and readers voted for their favourites, over the Internet. I didn’t win, but I had a fabulous time and travelled to Pittsburgh for the RT Booklovers Convention where the award was presented.  The following year I entered the contest again, and was again chosen for the final – the only person ever to have done it twice. I didn’t win that time, either, but had a lot of fun. And that book was Never Coming Home.

never-coming-home-evonne-warehamAmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little more about Never Coming Home

Evonne: Kaz Elmore, the heroine of the book, has lost her young daughter in a fatal car crash while she was on holiday in the United States with her father, Kaz’s ex husband. Six months later, in London,  Kaz has a visit from a stranger, who has a very different version of the crash from the one Kaz received from her ex. Naturally she needs to know what happened to her daughter, and she hires the stranger, Devlin, to help her find out. The search for answers takes them across Europe and uncovers a complex web of plots and conspiracies. Something very nasty from Devlin’s past comes back to threaten him, people start dying and Kaz and Devlin fall for each other. This is a particular problem for Devlin, as he considers he is not capable of love, because of things he has done in the past.

It has been an incredibly exciting journey to see the book published. The excitement was compounded in May this year, when Never Coming Homewon the Joan Hessayan New Writers’ Award from the Romantic Novelists’ Association, here in the UK.

AmeriCymru: We learn from your website that you have many unpublished manuscripts including one particular favourite - ''The Time We Have Left''. Are there any plans for publication? Please tell us more about the book?

Evonne: The Time We Have Left is the book that ran away with itself. It’s meant to be the first part of a trilogy, and is over 140,000 words - which is a very fat book. It’s a regional family saga, set in the South Wales coal ports of Barry and Cardiff during World War Two, charting the lives and loves of a family of three sisters. It was written a number of years ago and is nothing like what I write now, but it was a major part of my learning curve as a writer, when I was experimenting to find my style and favourite genre.  Although it is an early manuscript it has received good feedback from experts and I have a very soft spot for it, as I spent a long while writing it - 140,000 words do not happen overnight. I did a considerable amount of archive research for it and it also owes a lot to family members and friends, who gave me first hand background material on what it was like to live through those times. It also records and celebrates things about Cardiff and Barry, particularly buildings, that have disappeared or been substantially changed - landmarks and lifestyles that no longer exist. It would be lovely to work on it with an editor, to find out if it could be brought up to publication standard, but I don’t see it happening in the near future. A retirement project, perhaps?

AmeriCymru: What do you read for pleasure and what are you reading at the moment? Any recommendations?

Evonne: I’m a compulsive reader in all sorts of genres. In my own genre of romantic suspense, Karen Rose, Nora Roberts and Jayne Anne Krentz are favourites. I also read historicals and I enjoy the golden age detective stories, as well as contemporary police procedurals and thrillers.  I’ve recently finished Season of Storms from Canadian writer Susanna Kearsley.

For anyone interested in sampling a wide variety of women’s fiction from the UK,  they might like to take a look at what is on offer from my publishers, Choc-lit, who are small independent publishers. The Choc-lit authors have a number of award winners amongst them and we all write in different genres – paranormal, historical, fantasy, romantic comedy, thrillers, contemporary romance …

Choc-lit are currently looking to recruit two new authors, one from Australia and one from the U.S., and are running competitions for unpublished writers. They also have a tasting panel, made up of readers, who comment on submissions and recommend them for publication. Choc-lit are recruiting from America and Australia for that also. Details of the writing contest, the tasting panel and the Choc-lit catalogue are all available on the Choc-lit website. All the authors blog there too,on a regular basis.

http://www.choc-lit.co.uk/

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Evonne Wareham? Any forthcoming publications or projects in the works?

Evonne: Never Coming Home, my debut published novel, was the finalist from my second American Title contest. Choc-lit have also contracted for Out of Sight, Out of Mind and that will be out in the UK in March next year. So – both my American Title books will be published, but in reverse order. I’m hoping to make it over to the States next year to attend the RT Booklovers Convention. Fingers crossed on that one. I’d also love to attend some of the crime and thriller conventions such as Bouchercon and Thrillerfest, but I think that will have to wait for a while.

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

Evonne: I like to include at least one scene set in Wales in all my books, so if Americymru members and readers are persuaded to try one of them, I hope they will enjoy the connection to Wales.  In Never Coming Home the scene is a short but crucial one, near the end of the book, which takes place in and around Cardiff station.  In Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Wales has a much larger role, as a chunk of the action takes place in Pembrokeshire. 

I’ve really enjoyed talking to Americymru and would like to thank Ceri for some interesting questions. If I’ve tempted  you to read my work, I do hope you enjoy it.

Interview by Ceri Shaw 


The Cuckoos Of batch magna by Peter maughan coverThe Cuckoos of Batch Magna - "When Sir Humphrey Miles Pinkerton Strange, 8th baronet and huntin'' shooting’ and fishin’ squire of the village of Batch Magna in the Welsh Marches, departs this world for the Upper House (as he had long vaguely thought of it, where God no doubt presides in ermine over a Heaven as reassuringly familiar as White’s or Boodle’s), what’s left of his decaying estate passes, through the ancient law of entailment, to distant relative Humph, an amiable, overweight short-order cook from the Bronx."

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AmeriCymru: Hi Peter and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. Care to introduce the Batch Magna novels for our readers?

Peter: Thank you, Ceri, for inviting me. I appreciate it. The novels, of which The Cuckoos of Batch Magna is the first in the series, are set in a river valley in the Welsh Marches, the borderland between Wales and England (though I’m sure that doesn’t need explaining in this company). The squire of the village there, Batch Magna, dies, and what’s left of his decaying estate crosses the Atlantic and passes, through the ancient law of entailment, to distant relative Humph, an amiable, overweight short-order cook from the Bronx.

Sir Humphrey Franklin T Strange, 9th baronet and squire of Batch Magna, as Humph now most remarkably finds himself to be, is persuaded by his Uncle Frank, a small time Wall Street broker with an eye on the big time, to make a killing by turning the sleepy backwater into a theme-park rural paradise for free-spending US millionaires.

But while the village pub and shop, with the lure of the dollar in their eyes, put out the Stars and Stripes in welcome, the tenants of the estate’s dilapidated houseboats take a different view, and when they’re given notice to quit by the new squire they stand their ground. And the fun begins.

The novels were inspired by nostalgia, of a time in the mid 1970s spent gloriously free living in a small colony of houseboats on the River Medway, in deepest rural Kent. The houseboats there were converted Thames sailing barges; for my houseboats, on Batch Magna''s river the Cluny, I used converted paddle steamers (once part of an equally fictitious Victorian trading company, the Cluny Steamboat Company), simply because I like the vessels.

They are feelgood books (The Wind in the Willows for grown-ups, as one Amazon reviewer described Cuckoos), pure escapism - for me now, looking back, and I hope for my readers.

AmeriCymru: What is the connection with Wales? How much of the action takes place west of Offa''s Dyke?

Peter: The stage is shared equally. The books were conceived with a nod both to Mercia and to Powys. The imaginary Welsh/English border running through Batch Valley and its village twists and turns, bestowing Welsh nationality on one villager in one part of it and English on another. And their accents, as they tend to in the Marches, share that duality, sounding Welsh to English ears and English to Welsh. A duality which also allowed me to have fun with Welsh/English banter.

AmeriCymru: How many books are there in the series and how would you say the plot and characters have developed over time?

Peter: I have two sequels to Cuckoos finished and waiting their turn (why this is so involves rather complicated reasons when I was under contract to my last two publishers), and I’m several chapters into a third sequel. And I think there’s enough mileage in the characters and place for at least several more. I don’t think anything changed much really, apart from the plots. The characters, I suppose, like actors, have settled into the parts more in the sequels, are more perhaps rounded, but rather like Batch Magna itself, everything else is just as it always was.

AmeriCymru: I have to ask....did you have any particular village in mind as a model or paradigm for Batch Magna?

Peter: Yes, well two villages, actually, Ceri, and appropriately enough, one was in England (Somerset), the other in Wales (Pembrokeshire). The interior of the Batch Magna pub, the Steamer Inn, was taken from Somerset, the shop and post office from the Pembrokeshire village.

AmeriCymru: How has your background as an ex-actor, fringe theatre director and script writer influenced your writing?

Peter: That’s an interesting question. I am all of those when writing. I write the script, while seeing the scene through the eye, as it were, of the camera, direct and act it out on paper. But it’s that first bit, the ‘seeing’, I think that is important, it’s from that which all else follows. The late Yorkshire novelist John Braine said you can break all the rules written about novel writing, and still write a good novel. But if you break the rule which says you must see the action as you write it, no matter how trivial that action might be, then your words will stay on the page, will never take on a second life in the imagination of the reader (and reading should also be creative). And when a writer hasn’t done that then I think it’s noticeable – especially in any kind of action novel.

AmeriCymru: Are all the books in the series currently available? If so where can readers go to purchase them online?

Peter: It pains me to have to past up an opportunity for a plug, but I’m afraid the answer to that must be that your readers can’t, not yet. The second book will be out sometime this year. but I can’t even give a date for that yet.

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

Peter: I’m reading a book I picked up the other day in a second-home book shop in Hay on Wye (where all the second hand bookshops of the country are massed, ready to make a last stand) It’s a book of essays called At Home and Abroad by one of the great travel writers, V. S. Pritchard, a writer with a marvellous ability to conjure up the essence of a place and its people. (He was also of course, in addition to his biography and literary criticism, a renowned short story writer)

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Peter Maughan? When can we expect a new episode?

Peter: Well, as I said, there are two sequels finished, which, as with Cuckoos, I’m bringing out under my own imprint of The Cluny Press, and I now have to judge what is the optimum time to release the first one.

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

Peter: Well, if they’ve followed my ramblings this far I’d like to thank them for that. And to thank you also, Ceri, for having me. And from me to them and you: hwyl fawr.

...

An Interview With Welsh Writer CM Saunders


By AmeriCymru, 2013-09-05

Back to Welsh Literature page >




CM-Saunders

Christian Saunders is an author from New Tredegar in South Wales. He has worked as a freelance writer contributing to several international publications and a regular column to the Western Mail newspaper.

His short stories have been anthologised in numerous horror publications and his latest novel is: Sker House and a definitive account of the history of Cardiff City Football Club: From The Ashes: The Real Story Of Cardiff City FC

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AmeriCymru: Hi Christian and many thanks for agreeing to talk to AmeriCymru. When and why did you decide to become a writer? What was the first work you submitted for publication?

Christian: I guess I always wanted to be a writer, but to be perfectly honest I wasn’t the brightest at school, so most people thought it was beyond my capabilities. I wasn’t stupid, exactly. I just had no interest in the things I was meant to be learning at school. I much preferred reading books by myself. I always remember being 16 and the deputy head asking me what I was going to do with my life. I said I wanted to be a writer, and he laughed out loud. Well, the joke’s on you now, Mr Richards!

I didn’t have much confidence in my ability at that stage, though. I left school with no qualifications, went to work in a local factory in the south Wales valleys, and wrote stories in my spare time for my own amusement. When I was in my early twenties I thought it wouldn’t hurt to send a few stories out, just to see if they were as bad as I thought they were. This was the late 1990’s, pre-internet, and the small press was flourishing. There were thousands of genre magazines on the market. One, called Cambrensis, specialised in Welsh fiction written in English and was run by a sweet old guy called Arthur Smith, who sadly isn’t with us anymore. By some unimaginable stroke of luck he accepted the very first short story I sent out, which was called Monkeyman.

Looking back, I think I got the sympathy vote from dear old Arthur. I submitted the entire story in BLOCK CAPITALS! But he would do anything he could to give writers a start. He saw it as his life’s work. He re-typed the whole thing, and sent me a few encouraging letters. The payment was a subscription to the magazine.

AmeriCymru:  You write mainly horror fiction. What attracted you to the genre?

Christian: It’s just what comes naturally to me, I guess. For me it’s by far the easiest genre to work in. I wouldn’t know where to start with a love story! I’ve always been a fan of horror movies and books, though ‘horror’ is a very broad genre and can encompass most things.

I’m a jack-of-all-trades, really. I’ve also written non-fiction about the unexplained and supernatural, some music journalism, I do a lot for men’s lifestyle magazines, now I write mainly about sport. It’s strange, though. People only ever notice my fiction! 

AmeriCymru:  Can you tell us which anthologies your work appears in and where they can be purchased online?

Christian:  So far, I’ve been lucky enough to have had stories published in nine or ten anthologies. The most recent was The Delectable Hearts in Legends of Urban Horror on Siren’s Call.

Legends Of Urban Horror

I have stories in two other anthologies, which will be available in the coming months. The Elementals & I in Dark Visions 2 on Grey Matter Press.

Dark Visions 2

And Altitude Sickness in the first anthology by DeadPixel Publications, which is basically a collective of independent writers.

Dead Pixel Publications

When I write fiction, I use the pseudonym CM Saunders.

AmeriCymru:  Is there a horror fiction writer that you particularly admire or would like to recommend? Are there any that strongly influenced your writing?

Christian:  Sorry I can’t give a more original answer, but I love Stephen King. He’s a master storyteller, and his story is inspirational. He used to work in laundry in the days and write in the nights. Apart from SK its good to see his son Joe Hill continue in the same vein. He’s a great writer. Credit to him for not taking his dad’s name for the commercial value attached to it, but if anything he’s trying a bit too hard. Let it go, dude. Just write. I also like Dean Koontz (though he’s been wheeling out the same formula time after time for the past fifteen years or so, some of his earlier works are stone-cold classics), Richard Matheson, Graham Masterton, Richard Laymon, Ramsey Campbell, and Joe Lansdale. I’m more of a contemporary horror fan, though I did read and enjoy a lot of Poe, Lovecraft, M.R. James, Jules Verne and Robert Loius Stevenson when I was younger.

I think everything you read, and everything you see and hear, influences your writing to an extent. As I get older I find myself reading more autobiographies. I am currently reading American Sniper by Chris Kyle and Waiting to be Heard by Amanda Knox.

AmeriCymru:  We learn from your bio that you are are currently living and teaching in China. Is this a permanent relocation and how are you enjoying your experience there?

Christian:  Actually, I’m back in the UK now! Maybe I need to update that bio. I came back in January to work for a magazine in London. I eventually went to uni as a mature student, after that 9-year factory stint, then when I graduated I went freelance. I was living in Southampton at the time, and I just had the urge to travel. I’d always been drawn to Asia, and China in particular. It’s a vast, mysterious country. The kind of place you can get lost in. I taught English to university students there in Beijing, Tianjin, Changsha and Xiangtan, and stayed for five years altogether. It can be a bit surreal but all-in-all, it’s a great life. I had a lot of time to travel, think and write. I did very little journalism out there (you need special accreditation from the government, and a license) so that was when I went back to writing fiction after a long gap. I was never a teacher. I was always a writer in disguise!

Looking back, I’m glad I had the experience, and I feel lucky. It’s important to explore other cultures. I’m from a very small village in the Rhymney valley called New Tredegar, which has a large percentage of narrow-minded people who very rarely (if ever) leave the place. I didn’t want to be one of those.

AmeriCymru:  You have also recently published a novel Rainbow''s End Would I be right in saying that it is partly ''autobiographical''?

Christian: Yes indeed! I would say it’s around 90% autobiographical. I made up the other 10%. But of course, I would never tell anyone which 10% I made up! It’s about a young guy growing up in south Wales who wants to be a writer and travel, but various things hold him back. Until, eventually, he finds a way out.

AmeriCymru:  Which brings us to From The Ashes How did you come to write it and how long have you been a Cardiff City fan?

Christian:  I’ve been a Cardiff fan for about 25 years, I guess. The first game I ever went to was a 1-1 draw with Barnet when we were in the old fourth division. Every club has a lot of history, but the Bluebirds have more than most. We remain the only club to take the FA Cup out of England, and won the Welsh Cup that same year, making us the only club in history (as far as I could tell) to hold the national cups of two different countries simultaneously. That FA Cup was the first to be broadcast on live radio, and the Radio Times published a numbered grid to help listeners follow the game. That, allegedly, gave rise to the popular saying ‘back to square one.’

I started writing the book about ten years ago, using mainly the microfilm newspaper archives at Cardiff library. I got a publisher interested in the book, but they pulled out saying, basically, that the club wasn’t big enough to justify costs. After that I moved on to other things, and only when it looked like we might win promotion last season did I start offering it around. Luckily, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch expressed an interest so then it was a mad rush to bring the book up to date, which I managed in just a month or so. The hardest thing was sourcing the pictures. I contacted the club, who were no help at all, and ended up buying a load from Getty.

So far the book is doing very well!

AmeriCymru:  OK I have to ask...can Cardiff City cut it in the Premier League and where do you think the Bluebirds will be in the League table at the end of the season?

Christian:  Sure, I think we are more than capable of staying up. Malky Mackay has made a couple of great signings this summer. Both Gary Medel and Steven Caulker were wanted by much bigger clubs and ended up buying into the dream and moving to the CCS. There are much worse teams than us in the Premier League! I’m under no illusions, I don’t think we’ll qualify for Europe, but we won’t finish in the bottom three, either. Somewhere in-between, I’d say. After the move from Ninian Park, last season we turned CCS into a bit of a fortress. If we can continue that home form, and it’s looking good so far with that win against Man City and the draw against Everton, two of the better clubs in the league, we have every chance of staying up. The win against Man City, when we came from behind to win 3-2, gave the players, fans and the local media a massive confidence boost and hopefully we can build on that.

AmeriCymru:  What''s next for Christian Saunders? Do you have any new publications planned?

Christian:  At the moment I’m working full time for Sports Direct magazine, so any new fiction will have to take a backseat for a while. Saying that, I’m always working on something, and I have lots of projects at various stages of development. I’ve decided to go independent with regards to fiction, and early next year I’m putting out an ebook compilation of short stories called X, most of which have been published before in various places. It’s all ready to go. If I don’t go through a publisher I’ll be able to sell the book a lot cheaper and hopefully reach a wider audience. I’m also re-writing my first book, Into the Dragon’s Lair – A Supernatural History of Wales, which will be reprinted by Gwasg Carreg Gwalch hopefully sometime next year. When that is done I’ve been thinking of doing a follow-up to Rainbow’s End, about a valley boy and his experiences of living and working in China!

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

Christian:  You only have one life, so follow your dreams, do what makes you happy, and don’t let anyone hold you back!

Thanks for reading, and feel free to drop by my blog:

http://cmsaunders.wordpress.com/

Or follow me on Twitter CMSaunders01




Delphine Richards

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The Seedy Side Of Life In Rural Wales


''A friend is a good egg, even if they are slightly cracked - blessed are the cracked for they shall let in the light''

Buy ''Blessed Are The Cracked'' here

Read our review here

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blessed-are-the-cracked AmeriCymru: Hi Delphine and many thanks for agreeing to talk to AmeriCymru. Care to introduce your recent book in general terms for our readers?

Delphine: My new book Blessed Are The Cracked is the first in a planned series of three set in the fictional west Wales farming community of Llanefa and featuring retired detective Tegwyn Prydderch. It has been described as ''dark crime'' with some disturbing scenes. A reviewer wondered if tourists would think twice about holidaying in west Wales after reading this!

AmeriCymru: 'Blessed Are The Cracked'' consists of a series of five novellas and two short stories. Why did you choose this unusual literary configuration?

Delphine: The novella is making a bit of a comeback by all accounts and this appealed to me as I have enjoyed a few ''shorter'' novels. I read somewhere that people lead such busy lives these days that they don''t want to commit themselves to a very long novel and I thought it was worth trying. However, my courage failed me when I thought about writing a single novella as I''m not convinced that such a work by an unknown writer would hit its mark. I have enjoyed books such as ''A Visit From The Goon Squad'' (Jennifer Egan) and ''Hearts In Atlantis'' (Stephen King), where a series of novellas were combined and inter-linked through characters and over several decades. The more I thought about it, the more apt this seemed for ''Blessed''. I pretty well let the stories set their own length which explains why they range from 10,000 to 22,000 words (for the novellas). Of the two short stories, ''The Family Man'' just seemed right at its length but ''The Perfect Wife'' wanted to run for longer. I decided against it because it is written entirely in dialect and, although I can hear the voice clearly in my head, I wondered if readers would find it difficult to follow if it went on for many more pages.

AmeriCymru: We know that you draw on your experience as a police officer in rural Wales for inspiration. Can we ask if there are any particular cases which are reflected in the stories in ''Blessed''? One shudders to think that the events related in ''Donald''s Cat'' for instance, might have had a basis in fact.

Delphine: Sadly, abuse is common to all police officers, so there is nothing in those stories that I have not dealt with at some time. ''Donald''s Cat'' (Donald is named after my horse, by the way!) is not based entirely on real events but I have had dealings with people becoming trapped in some way - with varying outcomes. As far as the explosives store is concerned, at one point I was involved with going to inspect explosives stores at local privately owned coal mines. They had a regular inspection by police and the security aspect was very rigorous - the earth bank for instance, as mentioned in the story, was a definite guideline. I am a bit claustrophobic and it used to make my hair stand on end every time I saw the explosives store and I used to wonder how awful it would be to become trapped in one.

The story that mimics real life the closest is ''Heatwave (Tegwyn''s Story)'' which was extremely similar to an event I remember as a young teenager. My father worked for the Electricity Board and he came home one day and told us about a Meter Reader who had been attacked by a hippy on drugs (though not to the extent it happens in the book). There had also been a murder there that day. It was a big wake-up call to all of us who lived in the area and had never had to lock our doors and cars.

AmeriCymru: ''Blessed Are The Cracked'' is a superb title. How did you come by it?

Delphine: Much as I would love to take the credit for this, ''Blessed are the cracked, for they shall let in the light'' is a quote from Groucho Marx. When I was halfway through writing this book, I had a jokey email from a friend. It showed animals and people doing the daftest things. It contained that quote and then added ''A friend is a good egg, even if they are slightly cracked - blessed are the cracked for they shall let in the light''. The email formed part of the story where Kay receives it from her best friend - the reasons becoming apparent as the story continues! It sort of stuck in my mind and I eventually changed the title to its present form. Strangely enough, the first thing people say is how much they love the title - it has convinced me that I made the right decision! I think it also sums up its slightly off-beat tone.

AmeriCymru: You will be visiting the US in the near future. Can you tell us more about your itinerary?

Delphine: Having never been on a plane until 1998, I have found that I love travelling! A major operation prior to that date made it impossible to fly, so when that medical decision was turned around, there was no holding us back. My husband and I have been to the US twice before but I have never been to New York. So, next April, we are going to an event and meeting up with friends at Lancaster, Pennsylvania but going to New York first. I''m hoping that there will be some interest in my book and I will be able to sell/sign a few while there.

AmeriCymru: Do you read crime fiction? If so, who? What other genres or authors currently interest you?

Delphine: I have a fairly varied choice of reading. I love Nicci French, Sophie Hannah, Ruth Rendell (especially Rendell''s non-Wexford novels - she always creates some kind of weirdo that hooks me like a magnet!). I''m reading a Jodi Picoult book at the moment - I came across her books in South Africa three years ago and I am working my way through them. You will not be surprised to hear that I also like Elmore Leonard - thank you for your kind review on that topic! I am also a huge Stephen King fan - will I sound like a stalker if I say I''ve had a photo taken outside his house? (But, hey, he''s welcome to come and have a photo taken outside MY house!)

AmeriCymru: We know that you are currently working on a follow up to ''Blessed Are The Cracked". Care to tell us more?

Delphine: The follow up to Blessed is to be a complete full length novel rather than the series of novellas (unless I am convinced to do otherwise). I am already well into it though as it goes back a year or two before Blessed, I''m constantly checking the timeline - not as easy it sounds - some characters just WANT to be there but when I check, they''ve already been killed off!

The third book (optimism is a fine quality in a writer, don''t you think?), goes forward to events that Tegwyn Prydderch becomes involved with after Blessed. I''m hoping that Blessed continues to sell well enough to make these two ''new'' books a reality. So far, Blessed has reached No 36 in the Amazon Top 100 in its category, but there is a long way to go yet! Check out the link to my author page and details on Cambria Books or Literature Wales and look up Writers'' Database.

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

Delphine: I think it''s great that a country the size of the US has some affinity with Wales (which is only slightly bigger than New Hampshire, I believe). If American readers are supporting Welsh writers by buying their books, then I feel very humbled and grateful. I also hope that writers can give something back to those who live in the US but are ''missing'' Wales. Diolch i chi gyd.

Delphine Richards.


The Physicians Of Myddfai, Terry Breverton, front coverTerry became a full-time writer after a career in industry and academia. He has more than forty books to his credit, many of them about Wales. Terry has appeared at the North American Festival of Wales in Vancouver and Washington. We spoke to Terry about his writing career and future plans.

Buy Terry''s latest book ''The Physicians Of Myddfai'' here.

More Books by Terry Breverton

For more from Terry Breverton on AmeriCymru check out the links below.


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AmeriCymru:  We learn from your biography that you have written more than 40 books on a wide range of topics. How do you pick your subjects?

 

A-Z Of Wales And The Welsh, terry breverton, front coverTerry:  When I returned to Wales to live, I could find no books to tell my children why I felt Welsh – anything to instil pride in them. I tried to stimulate interest in a Welsh encyclopaedia, with no response, so I wrote An A-Z of Wales and the Welsh, which copied extensively by authors in following years. It was a major problem, taking over 4 years to get it published, so it was outdated and also unknowingly bowdlerised. I had been a management consultant in the production industry, and a marketing director of plcs, so I realised that publishing was not rocket science.

 

Keeping my normal jobs as a university lecturer and management consultant, I also began a small publishing company, Glyndwr Publishing, to publish my books and those of other Welshmen who could not get great non-fiction books upon Wales published. I’m quite proud of what I achieved, but now concentrate upon writing only, as time is running out and there’s so much to write about. I’m 67, and I want to write another 16-17 books, including a definitive one on Arthur, but that is so convoluted that it’ll take at least two years, although I have almost all the materials.
AmeriCymru:  Looking through your titles it would certainly appear that Welsh history and culture have provided your main focus. Would you agree?

 

Terry:  Definitely – most people do not know that British history was rewritten by Bishop Stubbs to bolster the Hanover dynasty. George I was 58th in line to the throne and was a princeling from a tiny country the size of the Isle of Wight. History was altered to take out the native Christian Britons and define its success as the greatest empire the world has seen as stemming from the pagan Germanic invasion of the Angles, Saxons, Jutes etc.

 

Today’s history taught in schools and colleges reflects this opinion that there was nothing except the Romans and Anglo-Saxons before the Norman invasion. Even in Wales, there is no history taught about the British, i.e. Welsh people. Much of the scorn for Iolo Morganwg stems from people being taught the Angle, i.e. English version of history. Welsh academics follow an out-dated English propaganda version of history. Our politicians follow the same line – it’s almost as if we should be grateful to the English for ‘civilizing’ us, whereas the reality is the reverse. We had over a thousand saints before they were even Christianised.
AmeriCymru:  In the foreword to ''The Welsh: A Biography'' you state that the book is ''....a deliberate attempt to rewrite our national history''. Why in your opinion has it been necessary to do this?

 

The Welsh The Biography, terry Breverton, front coverTerry:  As I noted in your last question, historians are too afraid to upset the apple cart. They are also often not taught to see the big picture. Most academics, whether in engineering, physics, English or history, are specialists in their subject areas, but it normally takes people from outside a specialism to make breakthroughs or see something differently. My book Breverton’s Encyclopaedia of Inventions showed that it was thinkers, not academics, who changed society.

 

History across the world is written by the conquerors. Colonial nations like Wales are taught to accept a different version of history to the historical truth. France and England have very different historical books upon the relations between those countries. The English people think that they always beat the French in battle but the reverse is true. The French people believe in the myth of the Resistance. The French army we rescued at Dunkirk asked to be sent back home and was repatriated as no threat to the Germans, whereas the Poles who managed to escape fought for Britain throughout the war. The French believe that de Gaulle actually achieved something during the war. History is stranger the more you look into it. If you start by questioning everything, you thankfully get some very different conclusions. It helps that I’m reasonably good at languages and look at events from other nations’ perspectives.
AmeriCymru:  You published ''Breverton''s Complete Herbal'' in 2011. Can you introduce this remarkable resource for our readers?

 

Brevertons Complete Herbal, front coverTerry:  I wanted to find a publisher for my newly translated and unexpurgated ‘The Physicians of Myddfai’, but had no joy and ended up doing it through an associated company of Cambria Magazine. In the research, I discovered that Culpeper’s 17th century Herbal had never been out of print, but also had never been updated. Culpeper was an outsider, and I came to identify with him.

 

He wanted to demystify medicine, and take it out of the hands of expensive doctors, pharmacists and assorted quacks and give it back to the people. He therefore told people all the plant remedies that were used, and where to find the herbs growing. Herbal remedies have been used for millennia, and those in use had often been developed by the Greeks, Arabs or Romans. It is a fascinating area, and there is an interesting interface with modern drug companies.

 

Many herbal remedies actually work with no side effects, but some have been attacked in the press following ‘scientific evidence’ from researchers in the pay of the drug multinationals. It was a really, really enjoyable project. Also in the other book on the 12th century Myddfai doctors at the court of Rhys Grug of Dinefwr, I found their descendants still practising medicine, including an oncology professor in Seattle! What other country can boast a line of 800 years of doctors in one family? And the original was expurgated – there are over 1000 remedies, but around 40 dealing with sexual diseases were omitted from the last translation in 1861.
AmeriCymru:  One of your books is a biography of renowned Welsh pirate Black Bart - ''Black Bart Roberts: The Greatest Pirate of Them All''. In what sense was Black Bart the greatest pirate of them all?

 

Black bart RobertsTerry:  In researching my 100 Great Welshmen, I came across John Callice of Tintern, who was the most well-known pirate of Elizabethan times, but with friends at court. I knew that in the next century, Admiral Sir Henry Morgan was the most successful privateer in history, but in the following century I came across the most astounding character. When we think of pirates we think of Captain Kidd and Blackbeard, but these were minor league. John Robert, aka Black Bart Roberts of Casnewydd Bach, Pembrokeshire, was captured by a fellow Welshman, the remarkable Howell Davis.

 

When Davis was killed, Roberts was elected captain by the senior crew, the ‘House of Lords’. He almost brought transatlantic shipping to a halt. He attacked heavily-armed French, Portuguese, English and Spanish naval vessels, whereas other pirate captains would flee. He took the King of Portugal’s treasure ship and dressed in scarlet silks for battle. Black Bart took over 400 ships in his short career. A teetotaller, he was trapped in his role, and he was the first to say ‘a short life and a merry one shall be my motto.’ His crews featured in the greatest pirate trial of all time, and in my researches I found that Israel Hands, one of Blackbeard’s crew, sailed with Black Bart before being hung in chains with the other senior crew members. Roberts was a star, worthy of a film.
AmeriCymru:  You have also compiled a Pirate dictionary. Can you give us a few colourful samples of the vernacular?

 

The Pirate DictionaryTerry:  The version in England is called The Pirate Handbook and is much longer, and is full of colourful nautical terms. There are hundreds of vernacular phrases from the seas in common usage, but the one I most enjoyed discovering was ‘wanker’. Dictionaries tells us that this is a fairly modern term of abuse, but the privateer Basil Ringrose wrote a journal around 1680, saying that Spanish prisoners were known as wankers. I believe that it is because so many of them were named Juan-Carlos, and it was a shortening of those Christian names. Thus the ship’s hold was full of Juan-Carloses, over time becoming wankers. You heard it here first…
AmeriCymru:  You have been to the States a few times in the past to speak at NAFOW. Care to comment on those visits?

 

Terry:  They are brilliant affairs, but celebrate some sort of myth of what Wales was, rather than how it is now. The nation is on its knees with the lowest socio-economic indicators in Europe. I love the concept of NAFOW, but it is fairly tragic that the overwhelming number of people attending are white-haired like myself.

 

We have a problem across the Western world in that younger people are less and less literate. They have too many distractions to bother with reading, history, heritage and culture. Of course, I’d be the same if I was their generation, constantly scanning my mobile phone or Facebook or Twitter, reading and sending vacuous messages. People of my age grew up with books as their only major form of entertainment. My parents had a TV when I went to university, and it never featured in my life as a source of entertainment until my 30’s. Now people have the latest electronic gadgets, but I got rid of my mobile phone and have no need of any technology except an old television, a landline, fridge-freezer and a 3-year-old laptop computer. I am thought primitive because I do not wish to replace my car, clothes or equipment when there is nothing wrong with them.

 

I fear for the culture of Wales here in Wales, let alone in North America. The language is dying – forget what Welsh politicians say, they are completely wrong. I moved from Glamorgan to the Ceredigion-Carmarthen border as it was one of the last bastions of the language, but it’s virtually gone here. It is the same across Wales – you hear more foreign voices than Welsh language or accents. The powers-that-be think that because Welsh is taught in schools, it is being used in real life, but in-migration has seen it off. In my country lane only 6 of 38 inhabitants are Welsh, and it’s the same across Wales. 90% of population growth for many years has been from outside Wales, but no-one will speak out.

 

The non-Welsh population, if you define being Welsh as having Welsh grandparents, is probably over 50%, and growing. The identity of Wales has been lost in my lifetime – R.S. Thomas saw it coming in his poetry. It is really, really sad. Luckily I can speak out about it because I have no need of honours, political advancement or academic preferment. Unluckily, I am powerless to affect anything.
AmeriCymru:   What are you reading at the moment? Any recommendations?

 

Terry:   I only read for researching books, so my reading list would be quite boring… I have a load of books on the Plantagenets to work through. My favourite poet is Idris Davies, who was very highly rated by T.S. Eliot – his life and work is an example to everyone. His collected poems are utterly brilliant, and define the Great Depression in the mining valleys. Everyone Welsh should read them. To be honest I enjoy reference books – if I see a different bird or plant or visit a new place, I have to find out about them – I don’t like not knowing about things.
AmeriCymru:  What''s next for Terry Breverton? Any new books in the pipeline?

 

Terry:   There is a semi-hagiographical process going on since they found Richard III’s bones, with cathedrals squabbling for his relics, presumably to attract tourist income. For some reason he has been moved from the status of ‘black king’ to ‘white king’ by recent historical writers. My book Richard III – the King in the Carpark will put him back where he should be, and incidentally promote the misunderstood Henry Tudor, whose army killed Richard at Bosworth. After that I’m doing a history of Welsh rugby. I played until I was 41, and still miss it, but the modern version is far more savage and less spectator and participant-friendly unfortunately.

 

I’m really tempted to walk the Offa’s Dyke Path staying at pubs, writing about the history of the area, but it would be too expensive in alcohol costs. Also the route of Henry VII from Pembroke to Bosworth – 200 miles – would be a good walk that could be developed for tourism, but I need to find suitable footpaths.

 

I’d like to write a book upon the stories of the white Indians – basically because there’s a lot of eye-witness accounts of Welsh-speaking Indians which could just possibly be related to Madoc ab Owain Gwynedd. I’m rewriting my The Book of Welsh Saints and The Journal of Lewellin Penrose as well. The problem is that I live on an old farmhouse in the Teifi Valley and it constantly needs work, along with the garden. There aren’t enough hours in the day.
AmeriCymru:  Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?

 

Terry:   Wales is being seriously let down by its elected representatives. Education, health and housing are poor and there are no job prospects in the private sector. No-one speaks for the Welsh people, certainly not Plaid Cymru, or Plaid Gwynt as they have come to be known. Tourism is our only remaining industry, not very successful compared to Scotland or Ireland, and the faceless authorities are even trying to wreck that. I tried to get a version of the following article in the press, with no results, even as a truncated letter:

 

THE WIND FOLLIES OF WALES

( Click above to read the statement on the AmeriCymru Forum )

 

 


Jaime Conrad is a young adult fantasy writer. She is originally from St. Louis, Missouri, but now lives in Cedar Park, Texas.

Jaime has been interested in Wales ever since high school. Two years ago she got the idea for a Welsh-themed trilogy and started looking for a lake that her characters could visit She found Llyn Caerwych and the 'Copper And Cobalt Trilogy' was born.

Books by Jaime Conrad

 



AmeriCymru: Hi Jaime and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. What inspired you to set the Copper and Cobalt Trilogy in Wales?

Jaime: Thank you so much for interviewing me! I''ve been interested in Wales for a long time and writing my first series seemed to be a great way to explore and use that interest. I had my heart set on a Welsh theme for the trilogy. The beautiful Welsh language and area of Snowdonia the characters visit make the story come alive in an enchanting and unique place. I also feel that we don''t hear very much about Wales here in the US and I find that odd. It''s too interesting a place to not get noticed and talked about more.

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little about Lake Caerwych?

Jaime: In Lake Caerwych, best friends Bridget and Celena learn that they share a haunting past in ancient Wales. They feel drawn away from their home in St. Louis, Missouri, to Snowdonia, where they begin to unravel the mystery of a Celtic necklace that Bridget found in a jewelry store. What they find is beyond their imagining when Bridget steps into Bryn Cader Faner, a Bronze Age cairn circle that takes her so far back in time that Welsh wasn''t even spoken yet! She and Celena find themselves in 500 BC speaking a tribal language and threatened by invaders, who they also find are not even their worst enemy – someone very near has discovered their secret and the present becomes more dangerous than the past.

AmeriCymru: Can you tell us more about the area in the Rhinogydd in which it is set?

Jaime: The area in which the story takes place is remote and secluded. The land is hilly and rugged, with many valleys and patches of forest. There is a working sheep farm there which doubles as a bed and breakfast. The lake itself, Llyn Caerwych, is a small body of water that's not very well known, but there are many other lakes nearby. From the farmhouse one can see the Dwyryd Estuary not far away, the mountains all around, ancient woods and rolling moorland.

Lake Caerwych

AmeriCymru: Part Two of the trilogy, The Space Between Worlds is set in the US. How does the plot develop in the sequel?

Jaime: Actually, only some of The Space Between Worlds is set in the US. Much of it is set in Wales – and elsewhere! At this point in the story, the girls are learning to use to portal system more and they are able to “jump” to different places and time periods. In the sequel, we learn why the antagonist in the story seems to have a deep-seated hatred for the main characters, and how a pivotal, shocking incident in the past ties into ancient Wales in a very unexpected way.

AmeriCymru: How has the trilogy been received in Wales?

Jaime: So far the trilogy has been very well received in Wales. I''ve gotten many great comments, encouragement and positive feedback. My most recent Welsh reader lives 6 miles from Llyn Caerwych and he loves the series so far, which is definitely the best compliment I could ever have. The fact that people there are viewing the books favorably has made me feel honored. When I first started writing the trilogy, I figured there would only be two ways it could go: they''d either love it or they''d hate it. So far, it looks like the former is winning, which makes me very happy and proud!

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Jaime Conrad? When is part three due for publication?

Jaime: Right now I''m working on Isle of Apples, book 3, which I plan to publish in late summer of this year. While working on it I will continue promoting the trilogy and possibly look for a traditional publishing house.

AmeriCymru: Where can our readers go online to purchase your work?

Jaime: I'm on Smashwords and Amazon. The books are available in paperback as well as in the various e-reader formats. Smashwords Amazon

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

Jaime: Thank you for being here and for letting me be a part of this community!

Interview by Ceri Shaw Email


The Legend Of Finndragon''s Curse

...

The Legend of Finndragon’s Curse is the first book in a unique, two book fantasy adventure series and is a fast paced, engaging and thrilling page turner. The story races along with plenty of twists and turns as it heads for the prophesized confrontation between the children and the evil Finndragon himself.

Americymru spoke to author Richard Phillips about the book and his ongoing ''blog tour''.

...



AmeriCymru: Hi Richard and many thanks for agreeing to talk to AmeriCymru. How did you become a writer and what attracted you to writing young adult fantasy fiction?

Richard: Diolch. I guess I was always a writer, but didn''t realise it. Well not until my children persuaded me to turn the magical bedtime stories I told them, into a book.

Okay, I wrote a lot of poetry when younger, which gathers dust in the dark recesses of my hard drive. I might take them out one day and see if any are worthy of publication. I also wrote a couple of ''underground'' satirical magazines at work, lampooning my colleagues and their antics. These were great fun, but had a very limited readership.

I actually started writing a sci-fi novel about fifteen years ago, but ran out of steam after just 4,000 words. I don''t think I truly believed in myself back then.

When a very close friend died suddenly aged 42, I wrote some blog posts describing our fantastic (and almost unbelievably true) adventures. These stories are definitely not suitable for younger readers and the blog has long since been removed. However, I think it would be a great to write a work of fiction based on some of the events. If you can imagine something between Twin Town and Grand Slam you''d be on the right lines!

It was my daughter Katie who first started nagging me to write a book about the bedtime stories. These tales always centred around three children named Emma, Megan and Scott, (my kids'' middle names) and their adventures, which usually involved characters ''stolen'' from their favourite TV shows such as Doctor Who. I don''t know quite how, or even when it happened, but the seeds of an idea started to grow. What I did have were the three protagonists. Their characteristics and personalities are based upon my children, albeit older versions.

I wanted the story to be deeply rooted in Wales and also wanted to write about places I knew. That''s where Morlais Castle comes in. It was in my thoughts when describing Castell y Mynydd and is a great starting point for the story. Most importantly, I was writing it for them, so the story had to be suitable for my kids to read. At that time, I didn''t really expect or intend for anyone else to ever read it.

AmeriCymru: Care to introduce the ''Tales of Finndragon'' for our readers?

Richard: Tales of Finndragon is a unique two book fantasy series set firmly in, and under, a fictional 21st century Welsh town named Crafanc y Ddraig. Although written for young adults, the story is suitable for children aged 9 years upwards and has also been very well received by adults who like fantasy books such as Harry Potter.

Book 1, The Legend of Finndragon''s Curse starts with the Davies family, who are still trying to come to terms with the unexplained disappearance of their father and husband.

There is a local legend which has been passed down from generation to generation. It tells of the mighty 6th century, medieval Kingdom of Morgannwg, which was ruled by King Dafydd the Defiant, and his impregnable castle, Castell y Mynydd. Dafydd had a powerful wizard called Finndragon, who cursed the kingdom after being banished and it was swallowed up and sank into the belly of the earth.

One day the siblings, Emma, Megan and Scott discover an ancient scroll and a photograph of the nearby mountains, hidden amongst their dad''s belongings. Realising that these are clues to his disappearance, the children set off to find him and the lost Kingdom of Morgannwg. And that''s where their fantastic adventure begins.

There are many twists and turns over the course of the two books, as the children encounter Finndragon''s terrible demons, magical creatures, and are helped by an inept wizard''s apprentice and by King Dafydd himself. 

AmeriCymru: Where can people go online to find your work?

Richard: The books are currently available for kindle via Amazon and will shortly be available in other ebook formats and in print. You can read the first few chapters of each book for free.

AmeriCymru: You have a ''blog tour'' running until the end of June. Care to explain how this works for our readers? How can people participate?

Richard: A blog tour is a virtual book tour, where an author visits several book blogs rather than bookshops. I decided to plan my own tour in order to promote the release of my second book, Return to Finndragon''s Den on 29th May. I sent countless emails to book bloggers and put together a schedule which started 15th May and runs until the end of June.

There are lots of reviews, interviews, guest posts, free ebooks to win and an ambitious and unusual competition.

You can find the schedule on my blog My Name''s Not Earl. I would be grateful if you could checkout all the blogs, it''s not to late to visit the earlier posts. If you like what you see, please support the bloggers by joining their sites. They have been kind enough to help and support me and I want to return the favour in any way I can. If you want to tweet or share the posts on Facebook or via other social media, you will usually find links after the posts.

AmeriCymru: Apart from your blog tour, how are you promoting your books?

Richard: I recently took my son Jonathan to Morlais Castle for the first time, retracing the steps I first took with my own father as a young boy. I have posted some photographs on the Americymru website.

Looking at the photographs gave me an idea and I created a book trailer, which can be viewed on Youtube and on my Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads pages.

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Richard Phillips? Any new titles in the works?

Richard: I want to continue writing young adult fantasy (or possibly sci-fi) for the foreseeable future. I have a few ideas for stand alone stories, one of which will probably be a short story or novella, and hope to get started once the blog tour is over.

In the longer term, I''d like to write for an older audience (although most of my current readers are adults who love fantasy).

Whichever genre I write, I''m sure to be influenced by the people and places I know and love. 

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

Richard: Thank you for taking an interest in me and my books. I''m always delighted to hear what people think about my books, blog, book trailer and anything else for that matter. You can find me on:

Twitter

Facebook

Goodreads

Blog

UK Amazon Author Page

US Amazon Author Page


Dr Jonathan Hicks is the Headteacher of St Cyres Comprehensive School in Penarth. He began his career as an English teacher and has taught in four secondary schools. Married with three sons, one of whom is also a teacher, he is a longstanding supporter of Cardiff City F.C. He is the author of four books on military history: ‘A Solemn Mockery’ on the myths of the Anglo-Zulu War, which in 2006 won the Victorian Military Society’s top award; ‘Strange Hells’ which told the story of his great uncle’s service at Gallipoli and on the Western Front during the Great War. He has also written on his hometown’s military past in the 2007 book ‘Barry and the Great War’ – an illustrated account of the part that Barrians played in that conflict, a lecture on which won the Western Front Association Shield in 2010. In 2008 he wrote an illustrated account on the role Barrians played in WW2 - ‘Barry and the Second World War’. AmeriCymru spoke to Jonathan about his first novel The Dead of Mametz

The Dead of MametzAmericymru: The action in "The Dead of Mametz" is set partly against the backdrop of the WWI battle of Mametz Wood. This, perhaps an unusual choice of location for a crime fiction novel. Care to tell us how/why you chose this location?

Jonathan: I met a fellow military historian in a pub in Swansea about ten years ago. He told me all about the battle for Mametz Wood as I had never heard the story before. I visited the location with my family in 2004. It was a bright, sunny day as we made our way past the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery towards the wood. Quite suddenly the clouds gathered overhead and there was a rumble of thunder. Being a teacher, I told my three sons to stand still, close their eyes and imagine what it must have been like when the battle commenced. With that, a bolt of lightning flashed and it was all too much for my youngest who ran back to the car! Since that strange, ethereal moment Mametz Wood has always held a fascination for me.

Americymru: Members of the Western Front Association have described "The Dead of Mametz" as: ‘... a great mix of an intriguing storyline and superb historical detail.’ How did you go about researching the historical background for the book?

Jonathan: I was a brought up on Hollywood’s version of the Second World War – John Wayne and Audie Murphy films. All I knew about WW1 was the black and white films of men moving far too quickly (because of the film speed) through oceans of mud. But as I grew older I became more interested in finding out about WW1. I spent several years in the middle of the last decade gathering the stories of the men and women from my hometown, Barry, who served during the Great War. I then wrote a book entitled ‘Barry and the Great War’ which contained photographs, newspaper accounts and memories of their service. I also held two exhibitions to raise funds to restore our local memorial.

Americymru: What were the Military Police and what was their role during WWI?

Jonathan: At the start of the War the Military Police was a comparatively small force of just 3 officers and 761 men. By the end of the War this number had risen to over 15000. In France their role mainly included the manning of ''stragglers'' posts'', traffic control, dealing with crime committed by British soldiers, the control of civilians within the battle area, handling prisoners of war and patrolling rear areas and ports. Walking wounded from Regimental Aid Posts were directed to casualty collecting stations for evacuation, and ''stragglers'' were dealt with. This last-named duty involved halting soldiers who were obviously neither casualties, signallers or runners, re-arming and equipping them if necessary, and sending them forward to rejoin their units, individually or in groups.

Americymru: What investigatory tools were available to the Military Police at that time in history? How might a murder investigation at that time be different from today and more difficult?

Jonathan: Information on the Military Police during the Great War is scant. It is, for example, not even certain which cap badge they wore. As part of my research I visited the museum of the Military Police and spent time with the curator who was able to help me with some additional information. A murder investigation of the time would have lacked all of the sophisticated tools and technology that is currently employed at a crime scene, but my detective relies on his experience and deduction to solve the murder.

Americymru: In your research, were you able to find records of actual homicide cases investigated by the Military Police?

Jonathan: Actually the homicide case that I based the novel on was one I found in the service record of a local soldier. He had indeed shot two of his colleagues but I changed the motive for the killing in my novel as well as regiments, dates and names.

Americymru: Are you working on another novel?

Jonathan: The second novel in the series is virtually complete and will be published next Spring. This time events are set at Gallipoli in 1915 and at Passchendaele in the summer of 1917, as well as in south Wales. I have the plot for the third in the series sketched out and will be commencing work on it this summer.

Americymru: Who do you read for pleasure or inspiration? Any recommendations?

Jonathan: To give me the background knowledge that enables me to write on the period, I read factual accounts of the Great War, memoirs and articles on militaria. For pleasure I also read the great contemporary American crime thriller writers – Jeffrey Deaver, Harlan Coben and Robert Crais.

Americymru: Where can our readers go to purchase your book online?

Jonathan: ‘The Dead of Mametz’ can be purchased through Amazon or Waterstones, as well as all good bookshops.

Americymru: You are a long standing supporter of Cardiff F.C. Do you think they''ll ever make it to the Premier League?

Jonathan: I hope so! I have never seen Cardiff play in the top division in my lifetime, although I did attend their three recent visits to Wembley Stadium. My grandparents went to the 1927 FA Cup Final at Wembley when we beat Arsenal to win the cup. My mother was born exactly nine months later….

Americymru: Any final comment for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?

Jonathan: I am thrilled at having my first novel published by Y Lolfa and the reviews on Amazon and Waterstones have been very complimentary. I hope that people of Welsh descent who live in America will enjoy the novel and its portrayal of the lives of working people in south Wales at the start of the last century and make them think of the principality. I hope they will also think of the novel the next time they pass a war memorial and as they read the list of names, remember that those men and women once had dreams and hopes for the future.



Jonathan Hicks titles on Y Lolfa and Amazon



Reviews and Interviews on other sites:



Brian John, author of the Angel Mountain novels.

AmeriCymru: Hi Brian, and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. You have been both a field scientist and a Geography lecturer in your time. What inspired you to write fiction?

Brian: It's a great pleasure to talk to you.  I always enjoy chatting about the writing process. You should really have asked "Who inspired you to write fiction?" and the short answer to that would be "My wife Inger." I've been writing books for many years, and now have about 80 to my name, but the majority of these relate to my research specialisms of landscape evolution and the Ice Age. I have a great affection for glaciers, having studied them in Antarctica, Greenland and other parts of the north polar regions. So in my days as a lecturer in Durham University it was natural that I should write textbooks about glaciers and landscape; my big text book on that subject, written with my good friend David Sugden, remained in print for 20 years as a key university text across the world. I also wrote books on the Ice Age for a non-specialist readership, for some of the big mainstream publishers in the US and UK.

On moving back to Wales in 1976, I started my own small publishing business called Greencroft Books, and since then I have written and published one or two books a year, aimed at the Welsh market in general and the Pembrokeshire tourist trade in particular -- with titles on folk tales, joke books, guide books, local history and traditions, walking trails and so forth. But no fiction. I thought that the writing of fiction was something for which I was not suited, given my "academic" background. My wife thought otherwise, and was convinced that I could and should write fiction. And then, in 1999, Mistress Martha Morgan walked into my life, and along came the Angel Mountain Saga. It's difficult enough to resist one strong woman, and quite impossible to resist two!

AmeriCymru: The Angel Mountain novels have been a major critical and commercial success. Care to tell our readers a little more about what inspired them?

Brian: The character of Mistress Martha Morgan (the heroine of all seven books) came out of nowhere, in a rather spooky episode. My wife and I were travelling to Gran Canaria for a short holiday when I suddenly started to feel ill, on the flight from Cardiff. By the time we landed at Las Palmas I was running a high temperature, and felt terrible. We got to the apartment safely enough, and off to bed I went -- to spend the night wide awake and trapped in a sort of delirium. In the darkness I "heard" a female voice talking to me, narrating a life story in considerable detail -- including places, characters, storyline, and even conversations in great detail. In the morning my temperature dropped and I started to feel better. I told my wife about this very strange experience, and she immediately said: "Well, you'd better start writing!" I had my lap-top with me, so I did just that. Intriguingly, the story remained fixed in my mind -- so what I had experienced was certainly not a dream. Whatever it was, I still look on it as some sort of gift.

The story -- and the inspiration -- continued over the writing of the first five novels. When "On Angel Mountain" was published ten years ago, there was such an incredible response from readers that I just had to keep going -- especially since I had only covered a year or so of her life in that first story, and the rest of it was still in my head! So I did not have to "invent" a storyline -- that was there already -- and was able to concentrate on the technicalities of storytelling to the best of my ability. So I wrote and published the other novels very quickly, at the rate of one per year for five years. Since then I have written two further books in the series, one called "Guardian Angel" and the other called "Sacrifice". Very soon sales for the whole series will hit 65,000 copies, so I have to be satisfied with that.

AmeriCymru: The novels are set on and around Carn Ingli. What role does the atmosphere of this unique Welsh landscape play in your creative process?

Brian: The sense of place is hugely important in all of the novels, as it is in most Welsh fiction. We do after all have this wonderful word "hiraeth" which encompasses both longing and belonging -- and ties Welsh people to both a place and a community. Carningli, the little mountain which stands sentinel above the town of Newport in Pembrokeshire, is so important in the stories that it becomes almost a character in its own right. Mistress Martha has a mystical relationship with it, feeling that the mountain is a part of her, and that she is a part of the mountain.

As a geographer by training, I suppose that I feel a sense of place very strongly indeed, and I think that the success of the novels is at least in part related to the fact that readers can also identify very strongly with the little details of the mountain, the cwm, and even the woodlands and streams that are prime locations in one story after another. So they share in Martha's own intimate knowledge of the landscape in which she and her family, friends and enemies live, and love, and die.

Carn Ingli

AmeriCymru: Iolo Morgannwg, who is something of a hero to many of our readers, makes an appearance in the most recent instalment of the Angel Mountain series ( 'Sacrifice' ). Without giving too much away , can you tell us what role he plays in the novel?

sacrifice by brian john, front cover detailBrian: I have a very soft spot for Iolo! He was a forger and liar, and was probably mad, with a brain scrambled through over-use of laudanum, but I did give him a cameo role in the novel, and tried to portray his character as accurately as possible, having read about him quite widely. I treated him rather sympathetically, as a man who was essentially harmless. I brought him in because of his extraordinary erudition on Welsh cultural matters, thereby creating a link between him and Mistress Martha, as one of the last speakers of the Dimetian Welsh dialect; because of his knowledge of Welsh agriculture (not many people know that for part of his life he was a farmer who wanted to be an agricultural surveyor); and because he might well have known some rather disreputable people during his time in London. In the story, Martha seeks his advice, and gets it, as the story spirals towards its tragic climax.

AmeriCymru: In 'Rebecca And The Angels' Martha becomes involved in the Rebecca Riots. Care to tell our readers a little about the historical background to this episode?

Brian: The Rebecca Riots were key events in the social history of Wales, particularly in the period 1839-1844. The riots arose out of a deep feeling of injustice, centred on the Turnpike Trusts and the manner in which they extracted tolls for all travellers who used the developing road network of west Wales and who had to pass through frequent tollgates. There were too many Turnpike Trusts, and too many tollgates -- and since these were controlled by the local gentry, the poor farmers and labourers who needed to use the highways were charged over and again even for short journeys, and saw most of their tolls going into the deep pockets of those whom they despised, rather than into genuine road-building programmes.

So the riots started with the destruction of a tollgate at Efailwen in Pembrokeshire, and then spread all over West Wales. But the riots were actually quite sophisticated, as riots go! The men who took part in them tried to avoid harm to human life, although they had no qualms about smashing up and burning tollgates and tollgate-keepers' houses. In all the riots they dressed in womens' clothes and blackened their faces, and prior to the destruction of each tollgate they enacted a little charade involving Rebecca and her daughters, based on the Biblical story. They used trumpets and drums, and there was a strong theatrical element in the riots, based upon the old "folk justice" traditions of the "Ceffyl Pren." The army was sent in to quell the riots, but because they were so dispersed, and because the rioters had such an effective underground communications network, the dragoons were made to look stupid and ineffectual. Thanks in part to the extensive coverage of the riots in the Times newspaper, the protestors were ultimately successful, and the Turnpike Trust laws were changed by Act of Parliament, addressing most of the grievances of the rioters.

This was such a colourful -- and important -- episode, involving spies, betrayals and secret meetings (not to mention summary justice) that it was inevitable that Mistress Martha would get sucked into the riots, given her propensity for getting involved in any good cause that might help her to make the world a better place!

AmeriCymru: Will we be hearing more from Martha Morgan? Is there any chance of a television adaptation?

Brian: You will certainly be hearing more from Martha Morgan. She hasn't finished sorting the world out just yet. There's another volume in the pipeline, which will hopefully be published in the spring of 2012. Many of my faithful readers from all over the world have said that there MUST be aTV series or films featuring the different phases of Martha's life and following her battles with a number of seriously unpleasant individuals who lust after her and her little estate on the side of the mountain. The books are action-packed, and I think they have very strong characters, and all of my readers refer to the strong "visual qualities" of the stories.

But as we all know, film and TV adaptations are hugely expensive, and in the field of historical fiction producers and directors are notoriously risk-averse. Sadly, they prefer to make yet another version of "Pride and Prejudice" or "Wuthering Heights" rather than to take a chance on something new. But I live in hope. Everybody to whom I have spoken within the TV and film industry says that there is a powerful "random" element in adaptations for the screen. All it needs is for one influential person from within the industry to fall in love with Mistress Martha as a character, to see the potential of the stories, and to act as an advocate for a film project in the offices of those who make the key decisions. So if anybody out there knows a Hollywood director, feel free to tell him or her that the film rights are still available!

AmeriCymru: You are also a writer of non-fiction. Care to tell us a little about The Bluestone Enigma ?

Brian: Sure. This book arose out of a long-standing interest in the mythology surrounding Stonehenge, and particularly the "mystical" link with the bluestones that have come from the Preseli area of North Pembrokeshire. Since 1921, the myth of long-distance human transport of the bluestones has been promoted by one generation of archaeologists after another, to the extent that it has become one of the favourite tales of the world! We all know and love the story, whether or not we have actually visited Stonehenge. It underpins the nation's tourist promotion work, and it adds huge value to Stonehenge as an iconic structure. The trouble is that there was no evidence to support the human transport myth in 1921, and there is still no evidence today.

In the book I take a hard look at where the evidence (rather than the mythology) leads us -- and this means looking at evidence in the fields of glaciology, geology and geomorphology. Inexorably the evidence leads us to the conclusion that the bluestones (which have come from maybe 30 different sources) are glacial erratics, carried from Pembrokeshire towards Salisbury Plain by a vast glacier known as the Irish sea glacier, maybe 450,000 years ago. i think that the stones were dumped by this glacier not far from Stonehenge, and that in due course they were found by Neolithic tribal groups and built into the Stonehenge monument. Maybe the location of the monument was determined above all else by the accessibility of these stones.

Needless to say, many senior archaeologists (who have based their reputations on variations on the "human transport" theme) are furious about this development. I think it's fair to say that they wish that the book would go away -- but it's been reprinted already, and it's good to know that it has sparked a good debate!

The bluestones at Stonehenge

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

Brian: I'm not a great reader of fiction -- my bed-time reading normally consists of background material for whatever I am currently writing. So just now I am scanning the pages of various books on the dress and customs of high society in the Regency Period. In the next novel Martha has to learn how to cope with a number of characters who are insufferably grand!

As for my favourite fiction, up there in my top ten would be Peter Carey's "True History of the Kelly Gang", "The Shipping News" by Annie Proulx, Wilkie Collins's "Woman in White" and "A Scots Quire" by Grassic Gibbons. (By the way, I am quite convinced that Dylan Thomas got his idea for "Under Milk Wood" from Grassic Gibbons........ but that's another story.) As far as Welsh fiction is concerned, my favourite is probably Bruce Chatwin's "On the Black Hill", which is dark, claustrophobic and wonderfully evocative. Then I would have to put in the novels of Alexander Cordell. They are not particularly subtle, but Cordell has a fantastic and unique "voice" -- his tales are told in a style that has guts and grime, bravado and anger, and I think he really gets into the soul of Wales.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Brian John?

Brian: I shall continue to write both fiction and non-fiction for as long as I am enjoying myself! When it ceases to be fun, I'll stop and spend more time in the garden. I'm still enjoying the creative process of publishing as well, and the marketing and distribution work that every small publisher has to take seriously. In some ways that's the least enjoyable part of my job as a publisher, but I do value the contacts with the book trade and the feedback from traders and members of the public. I'll continue to work on the sale of film and TV rights for the Angel Mountain tales. And I would love to see my novels take off in the United States and Canada, since i'm convinced that within the Welsh expatriate community there are many folks who have still not even heard of the books. But Mistress Martha is really Mother Wales, or so I am informed by my readers! So maybe that's a line I need to follow as I seek to reach wider markets.

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

Brian: First of all, thank you to Ceri and his colleagues for the warm welcome to the site! It's colourful, cheerful and friendly -- and as far as I can see it does a great job in explaining what "Welshness" means and in bringing together ex-pats and the descendents of Welsh settlers from across North America! So well done -- keep up the good work!

And for readers who look at the site, please don't forget your roots. It is a sense of belonging that makes us who we are -- and whether we belong to one community or several, we draw our strength and our individuality from the mutual support mechanisms sustained by those around us. It's that "spirit of belonging" which I have tried to capture in the stories of my very imperfect heroine Martha Morgan. She falls from grace over and again, but always her angels pick her up again and reestablish her at the centre of her little world. May the angels of Americymru continue to thrive!

Some links:

About Stonehenge and the bluestones: http://brian-mountainman.blogspot.com/

The Angel Mountain Saga: http://www.angel-mountain.info/

Interview by Ceri Shaw Home Email




Lorraine Jenkin is the author of three novels. Her first - Chocolate Mousse and Two Spoons, was accepted by the first publisher she sent it to and was followed by Eating Blackbirds and Cold Enough to Freeze Cows. She has also written for The Times, The Guardian, The Observer and BBC Website amongst others. Lorraine now lives in Mid Wales with her partner, Huw, and their three little girls.




Lorraine JenkinAmeriCymru: Hi Lorraine and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. You have written three highly successful novels to date. At what age did you become aware that you wanted to write?

Lorraine: I suppose that I have always enjoyed it and I liked the idea of being a writer, long before I actually started writing! I wrote a book when I was about 30, but knew as I was writing it that it was pretty hopeless, but I persisted for the practice. I started writing my first published novel, Chocolate Mousse and Two Spoons when I was about 32.

AmeriCymru: We learn from your bio that your official writing career started one Sunday morning when you had a hangover. Care to tell us more?

Lorraine: Yes, it was a bit of a killer! I was living in Builth Wells and had a difficult job and was working all hours. I also had a fantastic social life and was never able to refuse an offer to nip out for a pint or to head to the hills at weekend with friends to go walking or mountain biking. I wanted to be a writer and had the story in my head, but never seemed to have the chance to sit down and write it all down.

On that Sunday when I had my hangover, I also had a day out with friends planned and some work to do for a meeting the next morning, and I realised that I would have to put off the writing for another day – yet again. That’s when I had one of those moments in life and thought That’s It! Something has to change – so, I gave myself six months to change everything and I did! I was single at the time, so I just quit my job, rented out my house and bought myself a round-the-world ticket to give myself time to actually write – and I was very lucky as, bar a few adventures, it all worked out in the end!

AmeriCymru: You are originally from Lyme Regis in the south of England. What prompted you to make the move to Mid-Wales? Tell us a little about your background.

Lorraine: I had a great time growing up in rural south west England with my three brothers and two sisters and then went to University in Cardiff to study Town Planning. When I was there I met a Welshman…

I moved to Builth Wells for a job in 1994 intending to stay for a year or so, but had such a good time, I stayed!

AmeriCymru: Your first novel "Chocolate Mousse and Two Spoons" was written while back-packing in South America. What can you tell us about your experiences there and how did you come to write a novel during your trip?

Lorraine: The trip was following my moment of clarity mentioned earlier. I decided to go to Patagonia first as I’d been learning Welsh and had this plan of working in a Welsh tea shop, practicing my Welsh, learning some Spanish, getting a bit of sun and writing my book.

Once in Beunos Aires, I wasn’t in a rush so I decided to walk to Patagonia (yeah, now I know it was a bit foolish!) so I would walk from town to town across the Pampas desert, hiding my tent behind a bush at night and trying to forget that there were still wild things out there.

In that little tent that I shared with mice, bugs and once a fox, I wrote my book. I eventually got to Patagonia, by which time my Welsh had merged with my Spanish and I’d become rubbish at both, so I drunk loads of proper tea, ate piles of Welsh cakes and then carried on walking. Eight months later, and after many adventures including a fight with a man with a knife (it’s OK, I won!) I had finished my novel and so I headed home.

AmeriCymru: Your second novel ''Eating Blackbirds'', set in the fictional Welsh village of Cysgod Y Ffynon, has been described as a ''feel-good'' novel. How would you describe the novel for our readers?

Lorraine: It’s about a man who works for the Council and is waiting for early retirement. He is a bit of a tight-fisted git who pinches tea-bags etcetera to save himself money. Through his work, he meets a lady who has a second home and he slowly moves into the empty house, trying to avoid his young niece who has turned up on his doorstep with a baby. However, the woman comes back to the house when he is there and things don’t go quite to plan…

I used to work for the Council and so this is my expose!

AmeriCymru: Your third novel "Cold Enough to Freeze Cows" is set in rural Mid-Wales. What for you is the most interesting or significant feature of the local agricultural lifestyle?

Lorraine: For me, it’s the hard continual work that people have to do day in, day out. It’s the slog that I think that people don’t appreciate when they think of a “rural idyll”. I live in a farming area and there are a number of women farmers (as the women tend to do the animal side of the farming around here) who come to collect their children from school and they are always covered in some sludge or other, depending on what time of year it is! But it’s also so down to earth – it’s hard for people to be pretentious when they have afterbirth on their foot.

AmeriCymru: You have been quoted as saying, ""I don''t write traditional Chicklit - my characters tend not to be chicks, but wellywearing, ruddy-cheeked folks who have adventures!" Care to elaborate?

Lorraine: As an author, I’ve found it difficult trying to tell people why they should buy my book over someone else’s (apart from parading my children in rags). People assume because they are written by a woman and are about “life things” that they are therefore Chicklit – but to me, the Chicklit I’ve read, tends to be about women who spend / want to spend lots of money on shoes and fancy Guy in Accounts, and that’s just not my world. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong about fancying Guy in Accounts, but my books are about farmers wearing three acrylic jumpers to keep out the cold, and 60 year old men who cook supernoodles in thermos flasks. I think that there is a difference, and I am just trying to distinguish between them.

AmeriCymru: Is there such a thing as "chicklit? If so, how would you define it?

Lorraine: I must admit, I do struggle a bit with “Chicklit”, as it does have a slightly dismissive tang. (This isn’t helped by authors shouting, “I don’t mind if people call my books chicklit!” – it reeks a bit of protesting too hard, and if people didn’t mind, they probably wouldn’t feel the need to mention it!) Female authors who write contemporary or commercial fiction are tagged with this dismissive category, whereas male commercial writers aren’t tagged with a dismissive category.

Saying that, it’s a fabulously successful brand, and those that are at the top of it, do really well! I haven’t quite worked out what I think of it: it’s like wanting to be the leader of a gang that you don’t like.

My work was described recently as being a cross between Tom Sharpe and The Vicar of Dibley, and I’m much happier with this description…

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Lorraine Jenkin?

Lorraine: I’m trying very hard to win The People’s Book Prize - the X Factor of the book world as it is decided by the public’s votes. The next round of voting is in June, so I might be back with a small post to ask for help… Other than that, I want to teach our three young girls to pick up their socks, and to clear out our garage which went to the dogs last summer.

Also, I’m part way through my fourth novel and my plan is for it to go global…

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

Lorraine: My trip to the Americas had a big impact on my life – not just the adventures, but the lovely people I met there. Now I am self-employed and a mother of three young girls I look back on my time there as a complete luxury in terms of the time I had to myself. I would sit, alone, out in the wilds watching the sun go down over Tierra del Fuego whereas now I read Cinderella seven times a week and scrape at Weetabix that has been welded to the floor. Life is good, but it is very different!

Also, I would like to thank the people of AmeriCymru for their warm welcome to me on the site – it’s been really nice to receive such messages from strangers!




About David Barry:- David Barry (born 30 April 1943) is a Welsh author and actor. He is best known for his role as Frankie Abott, (the gum-chewing mother's boy who was convinced he was extremely tough), in the LWT sitcom Please Sir! and the spin-off series The Fenn Street Gang, He has appeared in several films, notably two TV spin-off movies - Please Sir! and George and Mildred. David is now an author with two novels and an autobiography under his belt, Each Man Kills, Flashback and Willie The Actor. Read an extract from 'Flashback' here. His next novel is about the Micawber family adventures in Australia and is called 'Mr Micawber Down Under'.



AmeriCymru: Hi David. Many thanks for agreeing to talk to AmeriCymru. You became involved in the acting profession at a very early age. Care to tell us how that came about?

David: Having moved from Amlwch, Angelsey, to Richmond, Surrey, my parents were involved in amateur dramatics and were performing in a production of The Corn is Green. A young Welsh speaking boy was needed for the part of Idwal, which was where I came in. Another English boy was playing one of the boys in the classroom, and he attended Corona Academy Stage School. I pestered my parents to send me there, but it was a fee-paying school. But Corona assured my parents that, because I looked younger than my 12 years, they could find enough work for me to cover the fees. Which is what happened.

AmeriCymru: What was it like working with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh?

David: Vivien Leigh spoiled me rotten, and Olivier was a remarkable stage actor. I occasionally witnessed tempestuous domestic arguments between them, and Vivien Leigh reminded me of Scarlet O'Hara.

AmeriCymru: You are best known for your role as Frankie Abbott in 'Please Sir' and 'The Fenn Street Gang'. What is your fondest recollection of working on those two series?

David: Working with a great cast, and hearing wonderful stories and memoirs from the actors who played the staff in Please, Sir! and exploring comedy in Fenn Street Gang, and starting to write scripts myself.

AmeriCymru: What, for you , is the high point of your acting career?

David: Playing First Voice in a tour of Under Milk Wood, which was not only challenging but the imagery of the words is so powerful that much of the text I can recall after more than 15 years.

AmeriCymru: In 'Flashback' you write about your childhood in North Wales, and touring to theaters in Cardiff, Swansea, Porthcawl and Llandudno. Can you tell us a little about your Welsh background?

David: My father was a London Welshman, and both my parents spoke fluent Welsh. I was born in Bangor, and my parents had a newsagent's shop, and then we moved to Amlwch. There were not many theatres around at the time, and my father loved the arts, so much of my acting inspiration came from seeing almost everything the Ritz cinema had to offer. I guess my father missed theatres, museums and galleries, as did my mother, which is why we moved close to London when I was 11.

AmeriCymru: After a long and distinguished career as an actor you decided to take up writing and published your first crime fiction novel ( 'Each Man Kills' ) in 2002. Was this a new departure for you or had you always nurtured an ambition to be a writer?

David: I began attempting to write scripts, and my first broadcast script was an episode of Fenn Street Gang. Up until that time I hadn't considered writing as an option.

AmeriCymru: Your first novel ( 'Each man Kills" 2002 ) is a detective novel set in Swansea. Care to tell us a little more about the book?

David: I was working in a summer season at Aberystwyth, and I heard a story about an armed response unit killing a murderer the previous year. The murderer committed a motiveless crime, killing a relative I was fascinated by the story, and it stayed with me over the years. I eventually considered writing a novel, and I like crime fiction. So I wrote about my antagonist being known from the start of the book, but there being no apparent motive. My protagonist's challenge is to find a motive for the crime, and I suppose the Aberystwyth incident had inspired me..I chose Swansea because of the Dylan Thomas connection, and I love the Gower peninsula and Rhosili Bay.

AmeriCymru: Your second novel ( 'Willie The Actor' 2007 ) is a novel about an ordinary man leading an extraordinary double-life of crime. We learn from the 'product description' that it is loosely based on a true story. Care to expand on that?

David: I read about Willie Sutton in a magazine article. He was a notorious bank robber with a difference - he never fought anyone or fired a shot in his life. I became fascinated by this real-life criminal who was a sympathetic character, who was such a contrast to the violent gangsters around during the prohibition era.

AmeriCymru: What's next for David Barry?

David: I love Charles Dickens's novels, and I've written a spin-off from David Copperfield. My novel is about the Micawber family adventures in Australia and is called Mr Micawber Down Under, and will be published by Robert Hale Ltd next October. I have also been working on another Swansea-based crime novel.

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

David: Iechyd da i pawb!

Interview by Ceri Shaw Email


Jan Fortune-Wood is a Welsh author and publisher. She has published four novels and is the proprietor of one of Wales' most innovative and dynamic independent publishing houses. AmeriCymru spoke to Jan about her writing and her future plans for Cinnamon Press.



AmeriCymru: You are both an author and a publisher - which came first and did one lead to the other?

Jan: Ive written all my life. My creative writing took a back seat for a long time while I was home educating my children and working (I was a Church of England minister), but I did write books on home education and alternative parenting during this time. About ten years ago i was seriously ill and we moved to North Wales. When I was beginning to recover I went back to writing poetry and had an offer from a small press to publish my first collection. A bit later I did an MA (masters degree) in novel writing and the same publisher took my first novel. By this time Id began to dabble with publishing via a small press poetry magazine and I was also realising that in my MA I particularly had editing skills that I could use so Cinnamon Press was born.

AmeriCymru: Your novel 'Standing Ground' is set in a future time dominated by the despotic E-Government. But it is replete with references to mythical Arthurian characters. Can you tell us a little more about the book?

Jan: Ive written four novels and The Standing Ground was far and away the most fun to write. It was aimed at older teenagers, but seems popular with adults too. The ideas came when home education in the UK was under attack from government moves to dictate more of the content of education at home and have more invasive policies into family life. At the time there were also wider moves to introduce ID cards for everyone which my older children were involved in opposing.

The Standing Ground imagines a not too distant future in which the benefits of technology are magnified, at least for the affluent, but the price of this is an all pervasive controlling government that no longer trusts parents to raise their own children, but instead removes them to pods attached to schools with minimal parental contact and a restricted curriculum, no history or philosophy, for example). One of the main characters is Luke, a fifteen year old who is pushing against the system, partly because he senses that his own father is different and not so tied into the system. Nazir, Lukes father, is a famous artist, but also seems to have privileges that Luke cant quite understand. Despite this connection Lukes freedom is threatened when he begins to ask too many questions and it seems likely that he will be sent to a draconian correctional facility to be made to conform.

Online Luke has met the other main character of the book, Alys. She claims to live outside of E-Government in a corner of Wales (present day Gwynedd) that has resisted and maintained a small population of free people. Luke has no idea if Alys is real or just an online fiction to trap him, but he has decide whether to take drastic action to try to reach Alys in The Standing Ground.

Alyss family have their own problems within The Standing Ground there is a fierce debate as to whether this fragile free area should use their resources to try to communicate with the wider population and break the control of E-Government (Alys and her mysterious maths mentor, Emrys Hughes, have their own project to break government encryptions) or whether they should use the European parliament to gain recognition as an independent state, giving them more security.

Ive always been fascinated by mythology and the archetypes it gives to stories. The Arthurian legends speak of Arthur returning at dark times to bring freedom and living in North Wales. The landscape is steeped in the legends of the Mabinogi, including the stories of Artur (or King Arthur). So in this story the characters slowly emerge as modern representations of those archetypes and their power of maths and technology also contains older powers that converge to stand against the darkness.

AmeriCymru: What are your future writing plans?

Jan: I have a new novel out this month, Coming Home a novel about a man who abandons one family only to later abandon another, returning to Wales to try to pick up his life and written from the perspective of himself and the women in his life.

Im currently working on two new books. The first is a poetry collection centred on a village in the mountains above my home called Cwmorthin. It was once a large slate mine with barracks and houses and chapel and mine workings, a harsh industrial place known as the slaughterhouse because of the high death rate of the miners working there, but also a thriving community with cabans in which the men met daily to discuss politics, religion, philosophy and to sing. Now it is a place of picturesque ruins and utter tranquillity, but the culture has gone. Im examining the emotional landscape of the place through natural landscape and architectural ruins in poetry sequences.

The second is a novel that deals with issues of transformation, centred on three characters who undergo major life changes in traumatic circumstances and whose stories interweave. Its set in England, Wales and Zimbabwe and covers periods from the Zimbabwean bush wars to the present day. Its involved lots of research and lots of getting to know the characters, but Im hoping the writing will come together over the next year and then the editing can begin.

AmeriCymru: When was Cinnamon Press founded and what tempted you into the publishing business?

Jan: Cinnamon Press was five years old in 2010 so were still relatively young. I was looking for a new direction after major illness and life change (I had a series of severe work place assaults in my parish work) and started a magazine to keep my brain ticking over. Then, doing the MA, I realised I had a knack for editing so Cinnamon began as a very small scale tentative project, but the success of early books helped it to snowball. We are still very much a small press and run on a shoestring with a lot of voluntary input, but the books have gone from strength to strength.

AmeriCymru: What does Cinnamon Press look for in a work for publication or an author?

Jan: Our tag line is independent, innovative, international Were really looking for distinctive voices whether in poetry or prose books that have something to say and say it with skill. We put a lot of care into editing, but we dont have the resources to take on books that are really not ready to be published so authors need to be sure the book is of high quality before they submit. In simple terms we want good writing that engages us.


AmeriCymru: In addition to publishing, Cinnamon Press provides a range of services and competitions for aspiring and established writers. Care to tell us a little more about this aspect of your work?

Jan: Its often hard to get started in writing and small presses can be good places to get that first platform. The competitions run twice a year. The novella/novel competition and the poetry collection competition are for first time authors in those genres from anywhere in the world. The competition leads to a full publishing contract for a first collection or first novel/novella and the books that have been published in this way have done very well, including being short listed for some prestigious literary prizes. The short story competition is open to any story writers and the winning story appears in an anthology named after the story along with the best runners up from the story and poetry competitions. Weve also gone on to take single author collections from two of the authors whove done well in the story competitions.

We offer other services to help writers, both beginners and more experienced writers. These include several writing courses that run through the year and a mentoring service that I run with two other Cinnamon Press writers.

AmeriCymru: Cinnamon Press also publishes Envoi magazine, can you tell our readers about that?

Jan: Envoi is the oldest poetry magazine in the UK, now in its 54th year. Its a large format, perfect bound magazine with a good range of poetry from new and established poets, reviews, articles and features such as guest poets or poetry in translation. Envoi receives an enormous amount of submissions so its very competitive to get into, but this means that the quality stays high.

AmeriCymru: Where can people buy Cinnamon Press titles online?

Jan: We have a dedicated website at www.cinnamonpress.com with all of our books available and postage rates for international customers set up there. Books are also available at www.inpressbooks.co.uk an Arts Council site promoting small press books and at the Welsh Books Council site, www.gwales.com The books are on Amazon in the UK and the Book Depository in the UK, but our own site or Gwales or Inpress are the recommended ones.

AmeriCymru: How do you see Cinnamon Press developing over the next few years?

Jan: We started with poetry collections and then added full length fiction. Over the last couple of years weve published some unique and exciting nonfiction of cross genre titles and we will be continuing to develop this area of publishing. Weve also just published our first single author short story collection and will be developing this genre further. Another new area in 2010 was a book combining poetry and imagery I Spy Pinhole Eye by Philip Gross and Simon Denison won the Wales Book of the Year award and this year we have our second imagery and poetry collaboration, a very exciting book that looks at issues of ecology, Where the Air is Rarefied by Pat Gregory and Susan Richardson. With such wonderful books my main development aim is to get the books out into more arenas these books really deserve to be read.

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

Jan: Welsh publishing generally exists on tiny budgets and our readers really matter. Do support the books in any way you can and if youd like to be added to our monthly mailing list with news of new books and offers send me an email jan@cinnamonpress.com

Thank you for reading and all the best for 2011.

Interview by Ceri Shaw Email

An Interview with Welsh Poet Mike Jenkins


By AmeriCymru, 2010-12-28

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Mike Jenkins lives in Merthyr and is a full-time writer and Creative Writing tutor, having spent over 30 years teaching in secondary education. The author of seven previous poetry collections for Seren, he has also published novels and short stories. He has won the John Tripp Award for Spoken Poetry and Wales Book of the Year, and is former editor of Poetry Wales and founder and co-editor of Red Poets magazine. As well as a blog, he writes regularly for Cardiff City fanzine Watch the Bluebirds Fly and reviews music for the political magazine Celyn.AmeriCymru spoke to Mike about his poetry and his views on some contemporary political issues.



AmeriCymru: Hi Mike.....your most recent anthology Moor Music was published by Seren earlier this year. Care to tell us a little about it?

Mike: I started writing these poems about 10 years ago, before my last book Walking On Waste came out from Carreg Gwalch. The latter consisted of sonnets, haiku, dialect poems and a few others.Moor Music is written entirely in open field, a departure for me. Although this is a new form in recent times, I originally experimented with this at university in Aberystwyth, where I studied American Literature in my first year and was inspired particularly by Charles Olson. I was even pretentious and arrogant enough to answer an exam question on Shakespeare in this form!

I didn't suddenly decide to choose this form. It may have come out of the glaucoma I was diagnosed as having and a desire to spread words as widely as possible. It may have come from sheer creative restlessness (a desire to escape the title of Mr. Oblong, as Welsh poet Peter Finch once dubbed me), as I relished its freedom. It may have derived from the actual fields of the moorland at back of my house, an area of industrial land and pasture long reclaimed by Nature, which we call The Waun locally.

At any rate, there are significant differences between my approach and Olsons, with his many found interjections and grand abstractions. I focus more on music and imagery. Hopefully, there a sense in which these reflect musical compositions.

They represent the confluence ( the aber) between the moors and music. At the time when I began these I was immersed in music : my son was an accomplished cellist, my older daughter played in a fine Welsh language band called Gilespi and I was greatly influenced by many tributaries of sound, from the jazz of the Esbjorn Svensson Trio to the fado singing of the Portuguese Mariza.

While music is a current running throughout the book, it never drowns it. There are poems about Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, Albert Einstein and the last miners strike, so it is not a concept book as such.

I love to read from it: the spaced out nature of the language does suit my awkward eye-sight!



Mike Jenkins reads 'Einstein at the Comp' from his new poetry collection "Moor Music"

AmeriCymru: You have also recently completed a novella entitled 'The Climbing Tree'. What is the theme of this work and where can our readers obtain copies?

Mike: The Climbing Tree is a short novella set in the near future. I originally began it by claiming it was in the Present Future Tense , but the publisher (Pont) werent impressed by this grandiose invention and I rightly cut out that over-complicated phrase!

I first wrote it as a stage play called Waste, which was never put on. Its written in the Present Tense from the viewpoint of a teenage girl called Low, who belongs to a gang called the Commos. Most of their lives are spent up an oak tree (the climbing tree of the title).

This near future is one of terrible floods and many refugees, but Low strives to keep the Commos together against all the odds. She also wants to retain the spirit of the fourth member of the gang , Oz, who mysteriously disappeared a few years before. She often talks to the absent spirit of Oz, her confessor.

I have always been a big fan of Steinbeck (master of the novella) and hope theres something of his overriding concern for humanity in this book. Low becomes embroiled with the opposing gang, the Astros, but there is some hope at the end, which didnt exist in the plays bleak finale.

It is available from the publisher www.gomer.co.uk or the Welsh Books Council at www.gwales.com

AmeriCymru: When did you decide to write and what determined your choice of poetry as your favored medium?

Mike: I began writing when I was about 15 and poetry was, for many years, my most important means of expression (think I wrote more poems than I had conversations!).

My parents were divorced, which was an unusual occurrence in the 1960s and I lived with my mother, who was very enthusiastic about my poetry-writing. She gave me a book called New Poetry, which included the American poets Berryman and Lowell and I related to these much more than the English ones. Then I came across Ted Hughes and Thom Gunn and their work had a lasting effect.

I wrote for the school magazine and won a poetry competition at school on The First Man on the Moon. I still recall the poem, which was very cynical for a teenager, with the phrase and trees still stood being prominent.

Now I write prose almost every day, as Im working on another novel for teenagers. Hopefully, this will also be taken by Pont Books, but I have no promise of publication at the end, so it is precarious.

However, poetry was my first love and will, no doubt, be my last. Lines and images come to me, often when least expected and I relish those epiphanies, which are much more rare when writing fiction.

AmeriCymru: You have worked as a teacher in both Merthyr and Cardiff for more than 20 years. How has your experience in the classroom informed your writing?

Mike: I have taught for over 30 years. I began in N.Ireland, then at a Gymnasium (Grammar School) in W. Germany, after that for 20 years in Merthyr Tydfil and 10 in Cardiff.

My experiences have played an integral part in my writing, both fiction and poetry. Wanting to Belong, which won the Wales Book of the Year in 98, would not have been possible without my background as an English teacher. It comprised ten interlinked stories from teenagers viewpoints and the school scenes owed much to my experience, as did the characters.

My poems and stories in Merthyr dialect were especially influenced by my time in the classroom. I have written two books entirely in this vernacular, Graffiti Narratives and Could Bin Summin (both published by Planet). Some of the poems take the voices of pupils I taught, while others are invented characters based on them. Single phrases would spark poems, such as Ol Shakey does my ead in (or, Shakespeare drives me mad).

The chalk-face has sometimes been very tough, but also a place where the most unlikely pupils can create works of wonder.

AmeriCymru: Much of your writing, particularly the poetry, is passionately political. What role do you feel poetry should play in the political process? How difficult is it to convey a sense of political commitment in verse?

Mike: Poetry and politics have always had a very close relationship for me, though never party politics, as Ive never been a party member for any length of time (2 years in Plaid Cymru and they didnt do much).

The very first poems I had published, engaged with issues I felt very strongly about. There was one in Planet (when John Tripp was poetry editor) about the conflict between boss and worker and based on my time working in garages in Barry. The other was in the Irish Press, a national newspaper in Ireland which, every Saturday, published poetry and stories (David Marcus was the literary editor) : it was called Rat City , dealt with the war in N.Ireland and was inspired by the First World War poet Isaac Rosenberg.

I do believe poetry can change peoples perceptions, often quite radically, just as songs can. However, it isnt going to reach the kind of audience which a lot of music can. While few songwriters have actually responded to our present situation of appalling cuts and deep recession, many poets have sought to show the human cost of greedy banks deregulated by New Labour under Blair and Brown.

Poetry should protest, harangue, satirize and empathize, but must never become propaganda or a simplistic denial of the other side. For example, I have written poems from viewpoints totally opposite to my own: one from the persona of a fascist, based on a pupil I once taught. I am a great admirer of the songs of Randy Newman, who is a master of this.

Though poetry can make a difference, I do wish it had more of an influence. In Wales, in gets short shrift on the media, except on the Welsh language channel S4C. I think its too controversial for Radio and BBC Wales!

AmeriCymru: Many of our readers will have been intrigiued/shocked by the recent 'student riots' in the UK. As a teacher and a politically committed poet, what is your take on this phenomenon? How will these developments affect your future work?

Mike: Student riots is in itself a pejorative phrase taken from the media. Much of the violence was actually caused by the police, especially with their use of kettling, a totally inhumane treatment. However, there is no denying the sheer strength of feeling has driven people to acts of violence, as well as the police brutality.

What has happened already is only the beginning and once the Trade Unions get their act together, the protests will be even larger and, possibly, more explosive. Once the cuts start to affect the majority of people, combined with inflation and unemployment, many will take to the streets and I expect the police response to be draconian.

I am heartened by the fact that university tuition fees were not raised by the Welsh government in Cardiff: yet more proof that devolution does work. We have a very different government here to the right-wing one in Westminster. This was evident under New Labour, but has been accentuated under the ConDem coalition.

Its hard to say how it will affect my future work. I write a blog every week on my website www.mikejenkins.net and it will become more topical and angry for sure. It seemed that most of the media were more concerned with the attacks on Charles and Camillas car than the future plight of higher education, where universities will go bankrupt and close for lack of funds.

AmeriCymru: Your poems reflect a concern with both 'social' and 'national' issues in Welsh politics. How do these two strands of 'radicalism' affect your work? is there, at times, a contradiction between them?

Mike: If I do deal with social and national issues , then it is primarily through the local ; the people and events and landscapes of the town where Ive lived for over 30 years, Merthyr Tydfil.

Merthyr has a proud history of rebellion (the Rising of 1831), of producing great peoples remembrancers like Prof. Gwyn A. Williams and also of its enthusiastic involvement with the Welsh language and fight for self-determination. Our M.P. for many years was S.O. Davies, who was a champion of self-government when few others were espousing it.

I believe that full self-government cannot be achieved without a combination of socialism and anarchism. S.Ireland has been proof of this: a country ruled by successive neo-liberal regimes and dependent on outside investment and regressive taxation. Without the control of our resources and industries how can we have any claims to independence? For far too long we have been a cheap labour economy, prone to the vagaries of the global market and abandoned by multi-national companies.

I am not a radical, that term was applied to Thatcher. I am a revolutionary. I believe in non-violent revolutionary change into a society shaped by sharing and sustainability, where people come before profit every time.

My ideals necessarily inform my work, but people are always at the centre, with all their contradictions.

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little about your work with the 'Red Poets"?.

Mike: The Red Poets have been going for 16 years. We can be found on the website www. RedPoets.org , where youll get a sense of our performances and also our history. We produce an annual magazine of leftist poetry and a few articles and translations. We have featured a few poets from the States such as David Lloyd, who is a Professor of Creative Writing in Syracuse and whose family came to the USA from Wales.

Red Poets used to be a collective based as much on performance as publication, but there are fewer gigs nowadays. We publish work by Welsh Nats, Trots, Commies, anarchists and even left Labourites. We are genuinely inclusive and also very open to humorous verse.

We were born out of Cymru Goch (the Welsh Socialists) and, in fact, a number of the original members of that political group remain regular contributors, such as myself, Tim Richards and Alun Rees.

I believe we are unique and the result of an amazingly high number of committed left-wing writers in Wales. We are very much in the tradition of John Tripp, Harri Webb and , of course, Idris Davies. There is no other group anywhere else that Im aware of, not even in Scotland.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Mike Jenkins?

Mike: Next up will be my collaboration with the excellent Merthyr painter Gus Payne (check out his website under Michael Gustavius Payne).

During 2011 and 2012, Gus will be exhibiting his work at various galleries throughout Wales, together with phrases and lines from my texts and an accompanying booklet of my prose-poems and micro-fiction. The artwork and texts are all based on Welsh idioms, phrases and occasional place-names and the overall title will be Dim Gobaith Caneri, an idiom meaning no hope, like a canary.

Our collaboration has been interesting because I didnt write in response to his images , nor did he seek to illustrate my words. What we did was to consider the same idioms, often coming up with different interpretations.

However, Gus and I do share many things. Politically, we have similar ideals; we are both learning Welsh and are both inspired, directly or indirectly, by the people, town and surroundings of Merthyr.

I am very excited about this and hope that my texts are a match for his startling and evocative paintings.

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

Mike: I would like to say thanks for the messages of support for my long poem Journey Of The Taf which appeared on the ameriCymru website. Its a great encouragement to know that people so far away are taking so much interest.

As the Super Furry Animals have inferred, we are making rings around the world.

Interview by...Ceri Shaw...Email

An Interview with Welsh Author - Jon Gower


By AmeriCymru, 2010-11-19

From the Gomer Press site:- "Jon Gower is one of Wales brightest literary talents. He grew up in Llanelli, graduated in English from Cambridge University, and now lives in Cardiff. A former BBC Wales arts and media correspondent, he has published ten books, including An Island Called Smith, winner of the John Morgan Travel Award. Uncharted is the authors own adaptation of his acclaimed Welsh-language novel Dalar Llanw (Gomer, 2009)."


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welsh author jon gower

AmeriCymru: Your latest novel - Uncharted has been described as:- "a tale of Tango, unfathomable mysteries, and two ancient lovers who will not be parted". How would you describe it for an intending reader.

Jon: A friend said that it "mythologizes an Argentine woman's journey around the world" and that pretty much sums it up. The woman, Flavia, is in a sort of purgatory, neither alive nor dead. Her story becomes a myth which becomes a religion, a case of global Chinese whispers.

I tried to write about a character much as Dickens' writes about Little Nell, and wanted people to be moved by her death. To make me care a lot about her I modelled the central character, Flavia on my wife Sarah but when I came to killing her off I couldn't because it seemed too much like wishing my wife harm, so I kept her alive. Or seemingly alive!

AmeriCymru: The story is set partly in Buenos Aries, partly in Oakland and partly in Cardiff ( including a wonderful description of Caroline St, the hub of Cardiff's sophisticated nightlife ). What made you choose these locations?

Jon: I've been lucky enough to travel a lot in Latin America but hadn't visited Buenos Aires. When I did I fell completely in love with the place and came back to Wales on fire with a need to write about it. The competition for the prose medal at the Eisteddfod the following year required an urban theme, so I found myself writing about B.A and after some 10,000 words thought where else can I go? I decided to write about other ports I knew well, so plumped for Oakland, California, my wife's home town and as the Eisteddfod was in Cardiff I thought I'd write a judge-pleasing ending and set it in my own home. So it's a tale of three cities.

AmeriCymru: The book is adapted from Dalar Llanw ( Catching The Tide ) which is the first book you have written in the Welsh language. Is writing in a second language ( or perhaps i should say first ) a problematic or an enriching experience?

Jon: I usually try to write prose that has a melody and found writing the English translation difficult at first as I was trying to impose the Welsh "music" on the English version, that is until I decided to go with the English music. Adapting the book also gave me a chance to winnow out some weaknesses, and to alter the ending. The current archdruid James Jones said he didn't like the ending of Dala'r Llanw and I agreed with him, so I tacked on a new conclusion, which is less Hollywood ending and much more lyrical.

AmeriCymru: This is not the first time that your writing has featured an American location. In An Island Called Smith you presented an account of your stay on Smith Island in Chesapeake Bay. Care to tell us a little more about that experience and about the book?

Jon: I was intrigued to read a tiny little newspaper article about the Welsh and Cornish settlers of Smith Island and kept the piece of paper. Years later I was lucky enough to win the John Morgan travel writing prize which funded two trips to Smith Island, a disappearing island because of sea level rise. Here crab fishing is the mainstay of the economy and it was a rare opportunity for me, as a naturalist, to spend time with people who understand the richness and complexity of the natural world in an instinctive way. It's also a Methodist island, and gave me a glimpse of what parts of Wales were like when it was one of the most religious countries on earth.

AmeriCymru: You have also written short stories, some of which are anthologised in a collection titled Big Fish Care to tell us more about this volume?

Jon: I see myself as a short story writer above all else, although it's a form that doesn't sell. I still find this surprising when you consider reduced attention span, the pace of life, etc: it should be conducive to people's lives nowadays. 'Big Fish' mashes up Welsh themes with my take on American style, reflecting the fact I've always read a lot of American fiction, especially John Updike, Annie Proulx and Alice Hoffman. People found the stories zany, and I like that.

AmeriCymru: What is your working routine?

Jon: I have two daughters, Onwy who is twenty months old and Elena, who is five and a half years old I have to write around them, so it's a case of trying to get up before them to write, or doing so after they've gone to bed. Luckily, owing to years of news journalism I can write quickly in the time available. Though they often hear me getting up early and see it as a cue to get up themselves. Anyway 1000 words a day assuages enough guilt to allow me to enjoy the rest of life, and them. They're great kids.

AmeriCymru: Where do you get your ideas?

Jon: If I'm really stuck I deal a card from the Oblique Strategies website. The musician and record producer Brian Eno used to write post it notes in the studio with tips he and his engineer Peter Schmidt culled from their working day. They turned into a physical pack of cards and now you can generate one at random on the website. Even though they're about music they can usually get you out of a corner, or spark something off.

AmeriCymru: How did you become a writer?

Jon: I've always enjoyed writing, but writing books is an offshoot of earning a living as a journalist and trading words in that way. Gradually I've moved away from non fiction to fiction and like the freedoms of lyricism and imaginative flight.

AmeriCymru: Which of your own books do you like the best?

Jon: I'm genuinely proud of 'Uncharted' and like the fact that many people who've read it have enjoyed doing so. Not that it'll be everyone's cup of tea, of course.

AmeriCymru: Where can people order copies of 'Uncharted' and your other works online?

Jon: In the U.S you can get it through the Big Beast, Amazon.com. You have to hunt for some of the others, but Powells is a good place to start.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Jon Gower?

Jon: There's a new Welsh language novel out next year, when I finish it! It draws heavily on my own life and I spend a lot of time trying to protect the innocent! That will be followed by collections of stories in both Welsh and English ('Too Cold for Snow') in 2012 and then, in 2013 or 2014, I'm hoping that my "deep map" of Y Wladfa, the Welsh settlement in Patagonia will see the light of day, ahead of the 150th anniversary of its establishment in 2015. It's inspired by William Least Heat-Moon's wonderful book about Chase County in Kansas.

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

Jon: Do check out the books on the long list for next year's Wales Book of the Year, due out in March. I'm one of the judges and even though we've yet to reach year's end it strikes me that there will be some wonderful books on the list, a very strong year seemingly and hopefully a good snapshot of the variety and confidence of Welsh writing at the moment.


Jon Gower on Amazon

uncharted by jon gower front cover detail

big fish by jon gower front cover detail

an island called smith by jon gower front cover detail

Uncharted
by Jon Gower
Big Fish
by Jon Gower
An Island Called Smith by Jon Gower


Interview by Ceri Shaw Email

An Interview With Rachel Trezise


By AmeriCymru, 2010-09-28

Rachel Trezise studied at the University of Glamorgan in Wales and University of Limerick in Ireland. Her first novel, In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl, released in 2002 received broad critical acclaim. In October 2006, Trezise won the inaugural Dylan Thomas Prize for her book of short stories, Fresh Apples, describing life in the mining valleys in South Wales. In 2007, Parthian Books published Dial M for Merthyr, an account of her time spent on tour with Welsh rock band Midasuno. Her latest novel is Sixteen Shades of Crazy. Americymru spoke to Rachel about her work and her current literary plans.




rachel-trezise

Americymru: Care to tell us a little about your latest book ‘Sixteen Shades of Crazy’?

Rachel: ‘Sixteen Shades of Crazy’ is a story about three women, Ellie, Siân and Rhiannon, girlfriends and wives of Welsh punk band The Boobs, whose lives are turned upside down by the unexpected arrival of Johnny, a handsome and mysterious Englishman, a rare occurrence in tiny close-knit Aberalaw where very few people leave and even people fewer arrive. I always intended this novel to be an antidote to How Green Was My Valley, about what happened after the mine shafts were filled and the chapels had been converted to nightclubs and Indian restaurants. In it I am writing about a unique environment, the south Wales valleys, which are neither urban nor rural but an intriguing and complicated fusion of both. Since industrialisation the area has suffered an identity crisis; it is predominantly English speaking, yet it is not English. I am fascinated by this paradox and Johnny represents England and the way some Welsh people regard it, at once despicable and exotic. Also it is my paean to the place where I grew up and still live.

Americymru: The book is dedicated to Gwyn Thomas who wrote extensively about life in the Rhondda Valleys in the 1930’s. Do you see any parallels between life in the valleys then and now?

Rachel: The Rhondda Valleys have changed in many ways over the years. Globalisation, technology and economics have had the same consequences in Welsh communities as they have all over the world. The valleys appear less close-knit and have in some ways become suburbs of the city of Cardiff. But one remaining facet is the poverty that the area continues to endure. In the 1930s there was work but it was dangerous and low paid. Now there’s a significant problem with unemployment. The people of the south Wales valleys are the perennial losers in the relentless march of capitalism, but hardship breeds creativity and gall. Gwyn Thomas said that watching real life in the Rhondda Valley was like watching some kind of tragic-comic theatre production and that’s still true. I never have to look far for a good story or character.

Americymru: Your first book ‘In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl’ is largely autobiographical. How difficult was it to write?

Rachel: ‘In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl’ wasn’t difficult to write at all. I’d had a hard time growing up with an alcoholic mother and an abusive step-father. By the time I came to write the book those experiences were burning up inside me, ready to be spewed out somehow. Anger can go one of two ways, inwards or outwards. Luckily mine came out in an artistic way rather than in violence or something negative like that. Writing it all down was quick and cathartic and I felt calm and renewed afterward. The result is really dark though. I have trouble reading that book now.

Americymru: Your first short story collection ‘Fresh Apples’ won the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2006. How important a milestone was that in your literary career and do you have any plans for further anthologies?

Rachel: ‘Fresh Apples’ was a huge milestone in my writing career because it was my first work of fiction; because ‘In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl’ was autobiographical I had no idea how to plan or embark on a fictional story. I didn’t really know what a full and rounded story was. I started three novels and gave up after the first chapter of each. Then I started getting commissions for short stories and started looking for story ideas. They were my fictional baby steps, my first attempts at playing with characters and voices and scenarios, so I was absolutely stunned when they won the Dylan Thomas Prize. I’ve been busy writing novels for the past five years but I’ve written a few short stories between drafts and I’m hoping to put a second collection together in the not too distant future.

Americymru: Your third book ‘Dial M for Merthyr’ which follows a Welsh band on tour was the inaugural winner of the Max Boyce Prize. How did you research the book and how important is music in your life?

Rachel: I researched ‘Dial M for Merthyr’ simply by going on tour with the band, a young unsigned rock band from Merthyr called Midasuno. Initially the book was going to be about the LostProphets. What I actually wanted to write about was their journey from obscurity in Pontypridd to becoming worldwide household names in a matter of a few months, and that’s the story that my publishing company commissioned. But we just couldn’t get the band on board. As it turned out Midasuno were candid and willing hosts. They let me follow them wherever they went and sleep on their tour bus. I think the book tells a universal truth about what it’s like for all young bands starting out. Music is hugely important, both for me generally, and for my work. Since I finished ‘Dial M for Merthyr,’ I haven’t been all that interested in live music or in rock music actually. You’re more likely to find me listening to Leonard Cohen or Regina Spektor on my ipod. I hope it’s a time issue rather than an age issue, and that the music bug comes back at some point.

Americymru: You have also written for theatre. (I Sing of A Maiden, Lemon Meringue Pie). Any plans for further theatrical works?

Rachel: I never planned to write for theatre when I started out; I came to it by accident. ‘I Sing of A Maiden,’ was a favour to a friend, the folk musician and writer Charlotte Greig. She asked me to write some monologues about teenage pregnancy to punctuate her songs on the same theme for a multi media theatre production, which I did. And from there a producer from Radio 4 asked me to write a radio play, ‘Lemon Meringue Pie’, which was broadcast in 2008. I’m hoping to begin writing my first full length theatre play, a valleys family saga, in January 2011. It’s a good way to keep writing about Wales while I move onto other areas in my fiction.

Americymru: What’s next for Rachel Trezise? Any plans to visit America?

Rachel: The novel I’m working on at the moment is set in America, in North Carolina and New York. It’s a love story about an unlikely couple, a Hasidic Jew from Williamsburg and a former prostitute from the South who becomes a madam in New York City. It sounds controversial at worst and kooky at best but it’s actually quite a tender tale about love being able to conquer the tribulations thrown up by dysfunctional upbringings. I’ve spent a bit of time in New York and was writer of residence at Texas University in 2007, so it hasn’t been too difficult to write a book set entirely in America at a desk in the Rhondda Valley. But there is a bit of research still left to do so I’m hoping to be back in New York for a few weeks in 2011.

An Audience With Penny Simpson ( 2009 )


By AmeriCymru, 2009-10-08

banquet-esther-rosenbaum

Penny Simpson is a novel and short story author, and the winner of the 2007 Rhys Davies Short Story Competition in Wales. Trained as a journalist and working mainly in the arts, she was Barclays/TMA Theatre Critic of the Year in 1991. An author of short stories which have appeared in anthologies from Bloomsbury, Honno and Virago. Her debut novel is The Banquet of Esther Rosenbaum. Penny speaks about her first novel in this exclusive interview with Americymru:-

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AmeriCymru: What inspired the concept for “The Banquet of Esther Rosenbaum?”

Penny: It began with a footnote in a biography about the writer Bertolt Brecht, relating to his grandmother Karoline. She caused uproar when she struck up a friendship with a young woman cook and went off to the races with her. It was 1917 and she was behaving in a way that turned the strict social conventions of that time on their head. Karoline was 78 and she decided to party. I liked that. I’d already been thinking about the character of an anorexic chef and had written a short story about a clockmaker, inspired by some wonderful old clocks I’d seen in a museum. I began to wonder if these different elements could come together in some way.

AmeriCymru: What made you choose this period and place for your novel?

Penny: They chose me! When I was at art college I’d come across the work of German artists of the early 20th century and was quite simply inspired – artists like Kirchner, Dix and the brilliant satirist Grosz. The Dadaists in Berlin were amazing – their experimental approach to art, their creative panache and combative way with the world and its failings had me hooked from the off. I hardly needed an excuse to go back into the future, if you like. Look at Grosz’s satirical drawings condemning the fat cats of industry, or corrupt military leaders, of Dix’s powerful prints exposing the horrors of war and it’s hard to imagine you’re not looking at something still relevant and contemporary.

A statistic I’d read about life in Berlin in 1923 – the year of a terrible inflation which wrecked the lives of people from all walks of life – helped me find my starting point. This statistic claimed “less than 10% of Berlin’s families earned enough to maintain a decent standard of living.” What this meant in reality was terrible poverty, contrasting with conspicuous consumption by the few – a surprisingly familiar story if you look at news headlines today. I was also intrigued by the landmark buildings of the period, such as House of Aschinger, a four-storey restaurant which was open all hours. The management offered free bread rolls with bowls of pea soup to bring in the artists who provided colour and scandal. The pea soup was legendary – apparently, it was created by a Nobel Prize-winning chemist. In my story, it has a very different creator, or course.

AmeriCymru: You’ve discussed the role of food in this story, the importance it would have had for people in Germany at the time, was that concept the inspiration for your setting and how much did it affect your development of your characters and their relationships?

Penny: Originally my novel was going to interweave the stories of three different women, my chef Esther Rosenbaum, and two others, based on real people: actress Carola Neher, originally cast in Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, and playwright Marieluise Fleisser. Food was part of the storyline, but not the only ingredient. I was also interested in the theatre world of that time, and the dilemmas facing a young woman playwright and actress, both of whom were lovers of Brecht in the 1920s. It took a long while to work out the story I really wanted to write. The novelist Celia Brayfield helped me get on track when I went to Ty Newydd, the writer’s centre in North Wales, to work on an early draft. She asked me which of the three characters I really wanted to write about and it was, of course, Esther. I tore up a lot of pages (not for the first time!) and began all over again. The idea of the story recipes came along quite late in the process.

AmeriCymru: Esther cooks fantastic and marvellous food for other characters and starves herself. What inspired that in her character, did you create her whole with this in mind or did it develop with the story?

Penny: I’d had an idea of using an anorexic chef in a short story, before starting on this novel. So, yes, Esther was always going to have a problematic relationship with food. What interested me was the idea of a young woman using her appetite as her only means of exerting control over outside circumstances threatening her. That is a trait found in many anorexics. I’ve not been a full blown anorexic, but like many women I’ve had issues around food and eating. And yes, I have in the past controlled my eating to feel like I’m in control of something. Food is also a currency in this novel – it is Esther’s gift, and her way of forging connections and relationships. That is never lost, even when she gets ill.

AmeriCymru: Some of the book’s characters are historical figures, people who lived, some of them your own. How was it to write them and was there a difference? How much of how you wrote your characters was based on people you knew and how much was out of your imagination?

Penny: Historical figures are interesting to write about. They are “real” in the sense that they once lived, but without having ever met them – and all the historical characters in my novel died long before I was born – I had to imagine them anyway. I did do a lot of research over the 10 years it took me to write Banquet, but the trick I found with my historical characters was to try and bring them to life using a few telling details, rather than laboriously list all the known facts (or even sticking to them rigidly). For example, Thomas Tucholski is based on the real life kabarett artist Klabund, who was prosecuted for blasphemy and jailed in 1918. Klabund was “fiery and thin” – so is my character Thomas. But what gave me the real inspiration for creating his character was something I’d read by Kurt Tucholsky, a left wing journalist and a contemporary of Klabund: “Nothing is more difficult and nothing demands more character than to find oneself in open opposition to one’s time and to say loudly: no.” That, in essence, sums up Thomas Tucholski, a fervent anti-war campaigner. And that’s where I got his surname from – but I realised I had misspelt it when I went back over my research notes for this Q&A!

Grandmother Brecht is based (very loosely) on Karoline Brecht. Whilst researching in Germany, I ran out of money and was unable to go to see where she lived in the Black Forest. So, I moved her to Augsburg (where her grandson was brought up) and turned her into a sympathiser for the Spartacist movement. Bearing in mind her habit of ignoring social convention and the proprieties of the time, I felt that wasn’t such a huge step out of character.

I feel in many ways the city of Berlin is also a character in this book and I adopted a similar approach in trying to convey its atmosphere and appeal. House of Clocks is one of the few real places I found – in reality though it’s an art auctioneer’s called Villa Grisebach. Walking around Berlin in the late 1990s, I soon realised I wouldn’t succeed in finding concrete information of most of my settings, but would have to rely instead on suggestion and echo to suggest what once was. In the end, different scents and tastes became as important as bricks and mortar.

AmeriCymru: How much of Esther is you – your own feelings or realisations of coming on age?

Penny: I think all writing is autobiographical in the sense that you’re drawn to write about things that influence you, affect you, make you think, and so on. That doesn’t mean it’s a straight lift from life at all. As I said earlier, Banquet was a long time in the writing. It really began to come together the year several people I was close to died in quick succession. Rather than a rites of passage novel, shaped by my pre-adolescent experiences, it’s one influenced by months of grieving in my early thirties. It’s no coincidence Esther is an orphan. Losing someone you’ve been close to changes you in ways you can barely comprehend at the time. When I read Banquet, I see very clearly things that happened to me during that time of mourning, but of course filtered through another’s eyes and set in another period of time. It’s not a deliberate distancing on my part, or a cunning way of slotting me in to the book, but something I think is a lot more subtle and rewarding. I grew up a lot at that time, but I also spent a lot of time angry, drunk and behaving impossibly. It’s all there, and so are the good bits, like the lifeline suddenly held out by people I barely knew, or I knew but failed to understand in time could support me.

AmeriCymru: You’ve said in other interviews that particular artists and music inspired you writing this; did you immerse yourself in the art and music and everything else of that place and period to write?

Penny: Absolutely. Recordings of Lotte Lenya singing Kurt Weill; Pabst’s film of Pandora’s Box; photos of Jewish life by Roman Vishniac I came across unexpectedly in a London gallery one winter morning. But there were a lot of contemporary influences too, such as Tacita Dean’s Berlin Works and street graffiti in Berlin. And I ate a lot of fantastic cakes when I was there, all for the sake of research!

AmeriCymru: The real and the fantastical or magical elements in this narrative are so skilfully and subtly interwoven that the reader sometimes forgets that this is not a straightforward biographical narrative. There is no noisy crunching and grinding of gears as we change between registers. Did you aim for this “hypnotic” effect, or did it just emerge as the story developed?

Penny: If I’d aimed for the “hypnotic” effect you describe, I’d still be staring at a blank page! Seriously, I think the characters and the events that happen do help create that seamless tradition. I love books that nudge you into a surreal world, without losing sight of what is familiar, or maybe known historical fact. Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum springs to mind, so does Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass, or Patrick Suskind’s Perfume.

AmeriCymru: What are your future plans? Are you working on another novel at the moment?

Penny: Alcemi are publishing my second novel in 2010. The Deer Wedding is a novel set in Croatia, spanning two generations, two brutal wars and the controversial histories of two very special works of art. The main character is an artist called Antun Fiskovic who experiences a sea-change in his fortunes as occupying forces take over the government of his country. Fifty years later, a young woman called Dagmar Petric begins a search for answers to her father’s suicide, a disgraced journalist in Tito’s Yugoslavia. I was in Croatia just after the 1990s war ended, working with a theatre company who were staging a version of The Tempest on an island beach. That partly provided the inspiration for the book, the rest came from meetings with extraordinary people I met out there and visiting evocative settings such as the Jewish Cemetery in Split and the Croatian sculptor Mestrovic’s gallery-home and chapel in Split.

AmeriCymru: The Welsh independent presses are proving very successful at supporting a new generation of writers. What is it like as a writer at the moment, living and working in Wales?

Penny: Would I be published, if I didn’t live in Wales? I have a feeling that the answer is probably a resounding “no.” I’d been approached by a few editors and agents from London before Banquet properly got underway, but nothing bore fruit until I met Welsh-based editor Gwen Davies. Gwen really helped me get the whole thing into something resembling a publishable manuscript. It’s rare to find someone prepared to commit to your work and to help you develop; so many larger publishers are either not taking on new writers, or you have to fit a certain mould, or genre. I can see why Banquet (and me) don’t really fit the bill, but that’s fine when you have a thriving independent sector. Just look at how many bands are coming through the web and social networking sites these days, rather than the big recording labels. I like that DIY approach. Over the past few years, I’ve also been supported by several writing awards made by organisations such as Academi and my “day job” at Welsh National Opera. It was a writing class run at Cardiff Library by my friend Jackie Aplin in the early 1990s that gave me the confidence to start writing. I think living in a bi-lingual country helps give a different perspective too. If you like words, you like languages. Wales has many interesting writers working in both languages; it’s also welcoming of “outsiders” like me trying to find their feet.

AmeriCymru: Any other message you’d like to pass on to AmeriCymru readers?

Penny: An invitation to take part in an event like Left Coast Eisteddfod is fantastic. The writing process is isolating, so the opportunity to meet readers (or potential readers) is always welcome. I’ve not been to the States before, so I’m really intrigued what to expect. It’s already surprised me to discover there’s a strong Welsh contingent in Portland (and further afield) which means I have no excuses not to practise my Welsh!



Penny Simpson on Amazon

An Interview With Peter Thabit Jones


By AmeriCymru, 2009-04-22



The Man

Peter Thabit JonesPeter Thabit Jones was born in Swansea, Wales, Great Britain, in 1951. His work, particularly his poetry for children, has been featured in books from publishers such as Penguin, Puffin Books, Letts Educational, Macmillan Educational, Heinemann Educational, Oxford University Press, Simon and Schuster, Heinemann Centaur (South Africa), Scholastic Publications (Australia), and Titul Publishers/ British Council Moscow (Russia). The latter was a major British Council Moscow educational project to teach English to secondary school children throughout Russia.His poem Kilvey Hill has been incorporated into a permanent stained-glass window by the leading Welsh artist Catrin Jones in the new Saint Thomas Community School built in Swansea, Wales, which was officially opened in July, 2007.

Peter has been invited back to America in May 2009. He will carry out a a series of poetry readings and literary talks in New York, where he will be hosted by Professor Sultan Catto of City University of New York, The Graduate Center, and his American publisher Stanley H. Barkan.

Whilst in New York he will also participate in a new project with Stanley, who is planning to produce a dvd based around the popular 'Walking Guide of Dylan Thomas's Greenwich Village' , written by Peter and Aeronwy Thomas, Dylan's daughter, which was commissioned by Catrin Brace of the Wales International Center, New York in May 2008. Peter will produce a narrative contribution and Swansea singer-songwriter Terry Clarke, a frequent participant at The Seventh Quarry/Cross-Cultural Communications Visiting Poets Events, will sing original songs and compose the incidental music.

Peter Thabit Jones is also the judge of the 'Left Coast Eisteddfod Poetry Competition'.

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The Interview


Americymru: Where else in the US are you visiting this year?

Peter: Firstly, I have literally just returned from the World Conference in Boulder, Colorado. I was visiting poet for ten days. I had a truly wonderful time, spent with a variety of leading creative people from around the world (a filmmaker, cowboy singer-songwriter, jazz musicians, politicians, Irish storyteller, scientists, journalists etc.) on stimulating debating panels and I also read my poems whilst there.

In mid-May I go to New York, as visiting poet, sponsored by Professor Sultan Catto of CUNY, The Graduate Center, New York, and Stanley H. Barkan, my New York publisher (Cross-Cultural Communications). I will be giving readings and talks, including a major event at the Mid-Manhattan Library, whilst there. I will also be involved in the making of a celebration dvd built around the 'Dylan Thomas Guide to Greenwich Village', which I wrote with Aeronwy, his daughter, for the Wales International Centre, New York. The dvd is being produced by my New York publisher, who came up with the idea, and will feature original songs about Dylan by singer-songwriter Terry Clarke, and a group of Cross-Cultural Communications- published poets from across America.

Americymru: Do you set out to write a collection for publication, or do you simply write and eventually gather up the ones that seem to go together?

Peter: I tend to write poems in batches and eventually shape them into a collection, Usually, my final choice is powered by poems that seem to fit into certain themes, such as childhood, people etc. However, my last book, The Lizard Catchers, was a kind of Selected Poems for the American market and it comprises poems taken from my books published in Britain.

Americymru: Is poetry a priestly calling for all poets, or just a few? Im thinking of The Priest-Poet R.S. Thomas.

Peter: I think it is for the true poet. R.S. said, 'Poetry is religion, religion is poetry' and I think he was echoing Wordsworth's 'priest-like task'. Poetry for me is a vocation, like the priesthood, and I certainly believe a poet can have - to quote St John of the Cross - 'a dark night of the soul', when he doubts the importance of poetry, in the same way some priests go through moments of doubt about their faith. Alternatively, a true poet can experience visions of eternity. I am, in fact, a real admirer of R.S. Thomas's work.

Americymru: Are poets born or made?

Peter: Well, John Clare, echoing Horace I believe, said 'A poet is born not made'. However, we have Edward Thomas, the First World War poet ( he's of Welsh descent and gave his three children Welsh names), who started writing poems around the age of 37 years at the suggestion of the American poet Robert Frost. Thomas had written quality prose for decades and Frost pointed out that some of the passages were ideal for turning into poems. I have taught potential poets for sixteen years at the Adult Education Department at Swansea University. I think the hardest thing is to develop an individual vision and poetic voice. Maybe one is born with those two vital things.

Americymru: When you teach writing, whats the most important thing you want your students to apprehend and incorporate in their writing efforts?

Peter: I try to get over a real sense of the importance of craft. Vernon Watkins, Dylan Thomas's much under-rated friend, said, 'Cold craftsmanship is the best container of fire': an important statement. It's craft that takes over from that initial and exciting spurt of inspiration. I cover metre and poetic devices and try to get over the importance of the musical aspect of poetry, 'the colour of saying', to quote Dylan Thomas.

Americymru: Post-modern cool poets write in free verse. Why do you choose rhyme & metre? Did you choose them, or did they choose you? Why do you like the traditional styles so well?

Peter: It's possible we chose each other. I think it is because I believe passionately in the music of poetry, the sound as much as the sense. It's also, of course, a Welsh thing: Dylan, the Welsh-language bardic poets. I was lucky in the 1980s when I met the Welsh-language poet Alan Llwyd, the cynghanedd master, who taught me quite a bit about cynghanedd devices. He won the Chair and the Crown twice at Royal National Eisteddfods. I also think the rubber band of poetry can be stretched to take in all kinds of poems. For me, though, if I write free verse I try to sound-texture it with poetic devices. When I toured America last year (and at Colorado a few weeks ago) it was something people pointed out time and time again: the musical quality of my poems, which for me was rewarding when it was noted.

I like the traditional styles because I see them as an adventure rather than a strait-jacket.

Americymru: Why do you think landscape is such an important witness and mnemonic device for you? How do you think it holds memory the way youve depicted it Im thinking of Kilvey Hill and the Lions Head here?

Peter: My first memory is of landscape. I recall, as a toddler, looking through the open kitchen door of my Grandmother's home (she and my Grandmother raised me) and seeing this huge, sulking shape dominating every thing: Kilvey Hill. As soon as I was old enough to explore it, I explored every corner of it. For me, Kilvey and the landscape of Eastside Swansea (Dylan's ugly side of his 'ugly, lovely town' - luckily for me he did not write about it!) confirms a pantheistic belief in me that we are connected to nature (The force that through the green fuse drives the flower). Kilvey Hill is also, for me, the touchstone to that reality that down the years has changed into a memories: my first bonfire night, first gang of boys, first camping out experience, first love etc. I have just finished, after ten years of working on it, a verse drama, The Boy and the Lion's Head, based on my Lion's Head poem and my grandfather's experiences as a soldier on the Somme. It is about the impact of a grandfather's stories and a particular landscape (the industry-spoilt Eastside Swansea) on a boy's imagination.

I am very excited by it and two American friends have been very, very enthusiastic about it.

The Lizard Catchers by Peter Thabit JonesAmericymru: How many years of your life do these poems in The Lizard Catchers cover?

Peter: From adolescence (My Grandfather's Razor) to poems written recently (Night, The Green Bird), whilst in my mid-fifties.

Americymru: How long did it take you to find your voice as a poet?

Peter: A long time. The turning point for me was a deep personal grief in my life, the death of my second son, Mathew. I did not write for a long time. When poetry came back to me I knew I could not fall back on someone else's voice or experiences. To be honest, though, I think it is only in the last twelve years that I have really started to understand and use, as I would like to, my own voice. My dear friend and mentor, Vince Clemente, a New York poet and critic (an expert on Walt Whitman) has helped me immensely since we first started corresponding in 1997 and showing each other poems-in-progress.

Americymru: Why do you think it is that you can see so deeply into the world? Do you think this is a native ability or did you have to cultivate it?

Peter: Even as a small boy I was curious about the reality of things, the depth of experiences. Also, my only memories of my grandfather are of him, seriously unwell, in a bed in our parlour. I think such nearness to death at such a young age makes one really focus on life, the living things. The part of the landscape of Wales where I was born and raised offered so much to focus on, Kilvey Hill, the nearby (then) busy docks, the beach, and the (then) seaside town of Swansea. As I got older I read famous poets, such as Wordsworth, Tennyson, R.S., Ted Hughes, and I soon realised I was not alone in wanting, almost needing, to see 'shootes of everlastingness' beyond the curtain of reality. So I suppose I 'cultivated' my inborn strengths. They say the Welsh are a curious people and I certainly have that trait.

Americymru: What is it about the little things and passing vignettes of life that catch your attention?

Peter: I think the little things are all revelations of the big things, thus when observing soemthing like a frog or a lizard one is observing an aspect of creation, a thing that is so vital and part of the larger pattern that none of us really understand. Edward Thomas said, 'I cannot bite the day to the core'. In each poem I write I try to get closer to the core of what is reality for me, be it the little things or the big things such as grief and loss.

Americymru: When you write, do you write a poem and then pare it down to its bones, or, do the bones come first?

Peter: For me the bones come first, a word, a phrase, a line, or a rhythm, usually initiated by an observation, an image, or a thought. Then once I have the tail of a poem I start thinking of its body. Nowadays, within a few lines I know if it will be formal or informal. If it is formal, all my energies go into shaping it into its particular mould, a sestina or whatever. If it is informal, I apply the same dedication. Eventually after many drafts, a poem often then needs cutting back because of too many words, lines or ideas. R.S. indicated that the poem in the mind is never the one on the page, and there is so much truth in that comment. The actual writing of a poem for me is the best thing about being a poet: publication, if possible, is the cherry on the cake.

Americymru: You have such an elegant and clean style; how did you develop it?

Peter: Thank you,. I think from reading and studying the great poets, especially the Welsh ones (R.S., Dylan T., Vernon Watkins and Merthyr-born Leslie Norris) and the Irish ones (Yeats and Heaney). I also believe a poem should last for more than one reading, that a reader should be able to enter a poem again and again and get some thing from it. So, again, I think if I have such a style it is connected with my commitment to craft.

Americymru: You paint such impressionistic word-pictures the way you hyper-focus on little details and hang the whole rhythm of the poem on them. Can you remember how old you were when you first encountered Monet, and what the process was for you to acquire that same technique he had in paints, for yourself with words?

Peter: I first encountered a painting by Monet in a library book (I joined Swansea Central Library when I was sixteen, mainly to take out poetry books) and the real thing on a school trip to the National Museum in Cardiff. Again, I think by carefully focusing on the little things, and by trying to choose the right words to convey, indeed replicate, a visual experience, you can present a larger picture. Robert Frost (I'm paraphrasing) said that one first had to be provincial to be universal. Also, in the Welsh-language they talk of a poet 'being a master of the exact word', the ability to choose the right and only word. It was a single word rainbow in the Welsh poet W.H. Davies's The Kingfisher that started me writing at the age of eleven. My teacher at Danygraig Boys' School, a superb teacher called Mr. James, read out the poem to the class. The opening line did it for me, 'It was the rainbow gave thee birth'. I could not believe that one single word could convey so much. It lit up in my mind and kick-started my love of language, my love of the wonder and magic of words. Seamus Heaney said, 'Words are doors themselves' and I love that possibility, that way of using them.

Americymru: In Psalm for the Twentieth Century you talk about what a sacrilege were committing on everything that is sacred. Is there something about that desecration you see, that makes the planet more blessed? Can environmental degradation somehow bestow blessings? One line really stood out Blessed is the child that the city drives wild. Do you think the cities bring out the native wildness in children, or do they shatter it? Do you think that the urban wilderness can give us mad and prophetic poets like Lailoken and Taliesin?

Peter: I think as one gets older, certainly for me, the world becomes more incredible, my part in it so insignificant; and, despite what we are doing to it, it is still full of wonders and I do try to see the loveliness amongst ugliness, and the ugliness amongst the loveliness. So I do see the blessings. I think in that line about the child I was thinking of both things: that the packed, impersonal city can impact dreadfully on a child's physical and mental being, and, of course, it can push them into using their innate survival equipment in order to survive.

Well, poets like Allen Ginsberg certainly faced many of the obvious problems of modern life in a very individual and impressive way. I think good poets, whether country-based or city-based, attempt as best as they can to respond to their immediate surroundings, and, yes, many are prophetic in their own way. As Wilfred Owen said, 'All a poet can do today is warn.

Americymru: How did you get the job working with special needs children, why did you take it, and did it change or enhance the way you see the world?

Peter: I was a freelance writer and I was doing a lot of work in schools, colleges etc. The opportunity came up to learn sign language on a college course (I used to ride a motorbike - my first one at the age of thirty something - from Swansea to Barry College, very scary and exciting). Then from that came the opportunity to do work with special needs children. I took it because I wanted to experience a world beyond my world, a world unknown to so many of us. It changed me in that it changed my perceptions of their world, their daily problems, their incredible bravery, and, at times, sheer tenacity. I'm sure, as with all ultimately rewarding and humbling experiences, it contributed to the way I see the world.

Americymru: The themes in The Lizard Catchers childhood and its traumas, the relationships of children to adults and vice versa, the loss and grief they inflict on each other, illness, death, mortality, urban ruin and the omnipresence of Nature even in the pit of industrialization make this a very emotional collection. If our humanity is the connecting thread, then do you really think its possible to re-arrange the beads on the rosary as it were, to get them all to make sense?

Peter: I certainly believe our humanity is the connecting thread. We all share these things, childhood, relationships, grief, the environmental demise of our world etc. We are all, ultimately, very fragile. One of the panels at the World Conference in Boulder, Colorado, was titled Death: Go Gentle into that Good Night, and one of my contributions was that if we all actually considered our own mortality more often then maybe we would be nicer to each other.

These things, though, don't occur in sequence, For example, some experience death very early in life, others very late in life. So it is often difficult to get them to make sense, in a logical, a rosary-bead way. Again, getting older places some of them in more of a context and a kind of acceptance that starts to make sense.

Americymru: Why do you think grief makes all the little things stand out so starkly? Why, or how, does it cause the hyper-focusing that comes out in your poems?

Peter: Because it is such a cliff-edge thing, a paring down to the real basics, the real essence of what we are: fragile and naked. You see this in the big tragedies, world wars, 9/11 etc. People suddenly focus on what really matters, the little things, and they focus more deeply. Many soldiers in the First and Second Worlds Wars suddenly started writing poems, men who had never written one in their lives. When we find ourselves in the the cold corner of grief, the cul-de-sac of shock, the little things seem to light up, be of more importance: a child's smile, a friend's hug etc. The playwright Dennis Potter said in one of his last interviews, before dying of cancer, that the blossoms in his garden seemed to be more bright than they ever were. In my poems, the little things are a kind of reassurance, a kind of confirmation of a small pattern in the bigger pattern of it all.

Americymru: Is childhood really that terrifying an experience for a majority of people, do you think? Im thinking of the Boy and the Lions Head and The Protest.

Peter: Probably not. But I do think children experience fears of what is not understood, such as the boy in the poem about the strange man and the Lion's Head. The Protest is one way of me looking at my not having my real parents as a child. It's not, of course, as emotional or as powerful as John Lennon's Mother.

Americymru: So, Seamus Heaney has been known to praise Eminems rap-poetry. Any thoughts on that, on rap as a poetic form born of urban ruin, and on where that might fit into a 1000 year old poetic tradition?

Peter: I can understand Seamus Heaney's praise for Eminem, certainly the musical quality. I have always liked Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues, probably the first 'rap song'. At the World Affair Conference I shared the stage several times with Lynne Johnson, a young female Hip Hop poet from New York, who was really great, engaging, musical and exciting. Rap seems the ideal response of young people to urban ruin and I'm sure the form will snuggle into its rightful place in poetic tradition.

Americymru: Wildness and Nature always seems to overcome our best efforts to cage, encrust, or otherwise tame it. Why do you think so many people, and the modern world as a whole, think they can best it? What is it about people, do you think, that they just have to keep trying at that?

Peter: Well, man has to dominate, not just nature but each other. Man strives to be godlike and getting nature/wildness under his thumb maybe confirms that side of his ego. Maybe there is an element of envy too, the freedom of an eagle in the sky, the sheer force of a river, the dignity of a mountain. Modern man has also lost his respectful relationship with nature. Pre-literate people understood and appreciated the preciousness of the world they inhabited, that they were mere brief visitors to the Earth, protectors of it for the generations to come.

Americymru: Do you think mankind can save ourselves from our own bloodthirsty destructive tendencies, and if so, how do you think were going to be able to do it?

Peter: I hope so but one feels so pessimistic for so much of the time. Materialism seems to gnaw away at our sanity, fool us into not wanting to see what damage we are actually doing. We have to try to do something for future generations, our grandchildren and their children and so on. To achieve changes, we have to consider this whole business of materialism, this 'fast food' approach to everything, this 'I want, so I must have' mentality. Maybe mankind will arrive at a cliff-edge that cannot be ignored, a natural or man-made catastrophe that will stop everything in its tracks: and then force a real change in things.

Americymru: Are we going to destroy ourselves do you think, or will Nature beat us to the punch?

Peter: A big question again. I hope no-one is mad enough to set off the first bonfire of vanity that will mean our mutual annhilation. Our daily destruction of the actual planet is probably a bigger threat and one we cannot ignore forever. Nature, of course, can happily get on without us.


Interview by Kathleen O'Brien Blair