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Category: Book Reviews




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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”.

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Alan Bilton never disappoints and he never fails to fascinate. His latest work, an anthology of short stories titled 'Anywhere Out Of The World' is no exception. Billed as 'a collection of short stories of the deeply mysterious and the utterly absurd', these grimly comical tales will transport you from Venice to Walla Walla, Washington and simultaneously to places with no known geographical co ordinates.

In 'The Honeymoon Suite' a young couple arrive at a luxury hotel in Venice only to become separated and lost in a labyrinth of twisting corridors and interconnected stairways. In this tale of mystery and alternate endings one of the honeymooners is left musing:-

"Who was to say what was the end and what was the beginning? Perhaps life didn't travel from A to Z but constantly traded and changed; from here it was Venice which seemed like a dream and the island of tombs which chimed the one true hour."

Superbly constructed and broodingly atmospheric throughout, 'The Honeymoon Suite' is one of the longer tales in this collection as is the title story.

Mr Urbino is a postman attempting to deliver a letter to a non existent address. He is also an amateur artist. His attempts to locate the address and its tenant result in a series of bizarre encounters and ultimately to an unexpected journey or 'escape'. His predicament at the end of this tale invites speculation. As the author put it in a recent interview:- "Has the artist in the title story escaped from the everyday through his art, or stumbled into some kind of metaphysical trap?"

Anywhere Out Of The World is also the title of a poem by Charles Baudelaire. It can be read online here and provides considerable insight into the thematic material of this collection.

Many of the shorter stories in this collection are equally intriguing. In 'The Bridge To Mitte Kuskil' a Tsarist auditor makes a journey to inspect progress at a bridge construction site. What he finds is not at all what he expected and the ultimate fate of his 'report' is not at all what the reader might expect.

In 'Flea Theatre' a womans husband disappears and she begins to receive mysterious parcels each one containing a dead stuffed flea dressed in human clothing. Her attempts to locate her missing husband leave her feeling 'lost and uneasy, a trespasser in somebody else's book.'

Literary references/comparisons? In reading this collection I am constantly reminded of Kazuo Ishiguro's 'The Unconsoled', Steve Erickson and Wales' very own Rhys Hughes. All powerful recommendations in my opinion. 

This book is unreservedly recommended to anyone with a taste for the bizarre or an interest in exploring the boundaries (and beyond) of contemporary fiction.



Review by Ceri Shaw

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secretLifeBanner

Secret Life Of A Postman is the first collection of poetry from award winning novelist Lloyd Jones. The book is dedicated to, "the members of AmeriCymru and the Welsh in America".

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About Lloyd Jones



Lloyd JonesLloyd Jones is an award-winning novelist in English and Welsh. He lives on the North Wales coast near Bangor.

His first novel, Mr Vogel, (Seren 2005) won the McKitterick first novel award and was shortlisted for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize for comic fiction. His second novel, Mr Cassini (Seren 2006) won the Wales Book of the Year prize. In 2009, he published his first collection of short stories, My First Colouring Book (Seren). He was chosen to contribute to Seren Books’ acclaimed series reimagining the Mabinogion, the original source of the legendary King Arthur story cycle, with See How They Run (New Stories from the Mabinogion Seren 2012), a retelling of “Manawydan, Son of Llyr”. He published his first Welsh language novel, Y Dwr (Y Lolfa 2010) to critical acclaim. and followed that with Y Daith (Seren 2011). He translated Y Dwr into English as Water (Y Lolfa 2014).

Lloyd Jones is the first person to have walked completely around Wales, a 1,000-mile journey, on foot.

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Poems From 'Secret Life'


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Size matters

For instance we can''t imagine what it''s like
To be Russian, we''ll never know
What it''s like to live in a country
With an unassailable language
And a monumental culture spreading
Across nine time zones,
So much space it drives men mad.
We''ve just the one field in Wales,
Small and green, with a copse of myths
And a boggy bit in the middle;
An apple tree and a pig,
A church and twelve chapels, also
A hut which is home to three anchorites,
Two of them devising the country''s history
Always a little faster than the third can read it;
And there''s always a gang
Drilling for something by the gate,
Forever a promise of gold or maybe
Yet more mud.

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Mawddach Bridge

for Brynley Jenkins

Meet me on the Mawddach in the spring,
When the sapphire tide spins seawards:
Sewin streams on either shore will flee the land
Sucked hellbent to the river’s restless floor.
Meet me on the footbridge [fallopian in the water’s womb,
Childbrace on the chill white waveteeth] –
Come sundrunk when the sea’s draconian whisper
Drowns their hillside hymns, those believers before us.
Easily we will cross our pagan gantry,
Lopsided woodhenge, lollipop sticks impertinent in the sand.
Meet me on a sad day by Dysynni, seditious with longing;
We will muster a bluster of April dog-winds
To shepherd sunshine down Cader Idris
And chase spindrift clouds along the raven ridges,
Through unshakable shadows, vast in the valley’s ravines.
At nightfall when we part [not mournfully]
Arawn will chalk a cross, other-worldly, on our walkway to Annwfn:
Footmarks for actors, cues from a ghost.
In the estuary’s amphitheatre, amphibious
We will face her foothills, blinded by sunset’s footlights.
Stagestruck, we will hear the invisible tribes
With their faint dogs sidle through side doors
Leaving Wales: wind, wood and water to our own devising.
Their shadows will move fleetingly, avoidingly, to another time
When the two of us will meet again, on the bridge at Mawddach.

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A Review By John Good


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Secret Life Of A Postman5starrating





If you were a writer of fiction (stories short and long, novels, scripts ac ati), or non-fiction (biography, history, science, learned essays ac ati), you could hide behind the narrative, equations, characters and your own intellect or not, but if you write poetry you can’t. The poet (his life experience/relationships, belief or disbelief system, mood(s), mental state(s), interests/obsessions/politics ac ati) will shyly or brazenly stand more or less trouserless right next to meaning, novelty of thought, metaphor, expression, voice and wordcraft. In other words, poetry is the poet. Having said that, the fascination of the art is in the extraordinary variety and often esoteric if not arcane sensibilities of its more interesting exponents.

But bullpucky or cachu rwtsh aside, if the poet isn’t interesting in her/himself then we can only hope for something like clever metaphor and dispassionate observation. You won’t find any of that in Secret life of a Postman. Dedicated to Ceri and Gaabi and the crew at AmeriCymru – a pro-active, savvy, ex-patriot, Welsh-American dynamo – the author is himself unashamedly visible in his poetry. Don’t get me wrong, and admitting that all art is in part vanity, this is not a look-at–me-I’m-cool kind of collection, I stopped reading those ages ago. The attraction is in the personal honesty and the ever-unexpected stimulus for the verse –the scenario. (Am I allowed to use that word verse in ‘14? There’s rhythm, tempo, agreement of sounds ac ati … yes I think I can.)

Take the opening poem Juggling. A daughter is juggling fruit in a kitchen that sets off a series of quasi-real almost mythical remembrances that circle back, just like the juggling hands and juggled objects themselves, to a maybe never-to-be-realized desire to start juggling or gardening or stonemasonry, and the universal wish to go back, relive selective memories. Is that what the author intended? I don’t know and it doesn’t matter anyway. The first glory of poetry is that whatever truth you get from the poem is yours to keep. Perhaps this is only a personal truth, bringing me to the second glory, which is that the poet may not know what the poem means, having been merely the creator, and anyway, once you show it to others, you are inviting them to imagine, spin a web, take a trip and perhaps even let you know what your poem is really about.

Some selected imaginings:

Moving -- the infrequent freedom of chairs.

A warm and sandy love -- Mediterranean cinematographic myth-real.

Currents -- the dark and painfully real-real.

By now you may have noticed, as I skip through the selection, the range of subject/scenario is broad.

Size matters -- the dimensions of Wales

Secret life of a postman -- the true identity of the work/man.

In a pocket, among those travellers

within me, I found a scrunched up

piece of paper …

Is this what this book is about? At least a major theme? I suspect so.

Pathways -- irrevocable directions.

Odysseus complains about the publicity -- Homeric paparazzi. The collection takes an unusual tack.

Airtime -- lavatory for thinkers.

The black rabbit -- reality creating the metaphor.

Chapter 2 (Simeon Ellerton, Between a Rock and a Hard Place) takes us to a fresh and wondrous sequence of did-you-know type of extraordinary, short, factual, prose paragraphs, followed by an entertaining and often humorous poetic gloss; the whole held together with a rare glue.

With Chapter 3, we are back in the individual thought/poem world with Time sadly presenting the oldest and most constant of poetic themes; The look -- voyeuristic envy-lust; Beowulf -- 21st century mythology; Sacrament (1&2) translations from the Welsh … I think you’re beginning to get the picture: The collection is as intricate as the man who wrote and assembled the word pieces; they are one and the same; a cawl, a lobscouse with accidental ingredients carefully selected and combined from myth, history, dream, hallucination, experience, bias, heritage; many accessible, some edgy, puzzling, some transparent, inevitably metaphoric, ancient and modern and overall, damn well entertaining. I’m left with two thoughts, having finished the collection: Significance often builds nests in exotic trees and, just as the poet can’t hide behind the poem, neither can the reader.

P.S. 4, Requiem, In Memory of my Mother, the last poem sequence, from a purely personal point of view, is the very best of the bunch. You can accompany Mr. Jones as he wanders down the winding lanes of loss that inevitably sets off unexpected flashbacks; sends postcards from the ether that tell us of known yet strangely unfamiliar destinations. All of us, at some time, will have walked those lanes that lead to a new you.

Enjoy Secret life of a Postman. I did.

John Good/Sioni Dda, El Mirage, AZ., Summer ’14.



BUY 'SECRET LIFE OF A POSTMAN' HERE




Blessed Are The Cracked by Delphine Richards, front cover5starrating

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Blessed Are The Cracked This interconnected collection of five novellas and two short stories from the casebook of retired local policeman Tegwyn Prydderch, is set in the fictional West Wales farming community of Llanefa.

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These are not ''comfortable'' tales and Llanefa is no ''chocolate box'' Welsh village. Author Delphine Richards worked as a cop in rural Wales for a number of years and one can only assume that she brought her experience of real crime and real police work to the pages of this book.

From the prologue we learn that DCI Tegwyn Prydderch has retired from the force and is being urged to while away his retirement years writing his memoirs. Forced to convalesce after a hip replacement operation Tegwyn finally succumbs. As he ponders his old case files he wonders how best to put them to literary use:-

"If only the people themselves could tell the story, he thinks, a ''warts and all'' account of how it all came to be. Now, there would be a book worth buying!"

In each of the tales which follow we are treated to precisely such an account. These stories are not ''whodunnits'' but rather a blow by blow account of events as they occurred, told from the perspective of the victim or perpetrator.

In the opening tale ‘Donald’s Cat’, a home help becomes trapped in an abandoned explosives container while searching for a missing cat. Her fear of suffocation and dehydration are graphically described as she battles to preserve her sanity in her pitch black surroundings. She fixates on recent traumatic events and unfinished business that she has left behind outside the metal frame which confines her. Despite this claustrophobic setting the story is a masterful and fast paced thriller with an unexpected twist in it''s tail.

If you are an afficionado of the ''grittier'' school of crime writing then there is much in the pages of Delphine Richards for you to savour. Welcome to the seamier side of life in rural Wales. I for one am looking forward to the next offering from the Welsh Elmore Leonard.



About Delphine Richards

Cambria Books website:- "An experienced writer in several formats from magazine articles, short stories, to a weekly newspaper column, Delphine Richards’s new work draws on her real life experience as a member of the Welsh Police in rural Wales. In these dark tales, she brings to fictional life a new, uniquely Welsh, policeman character, Tegwyn Prydderch, from whose grisly casebook and early memories these stories are drawn."