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Category: Author Interviews

the devil tree

book_cover.jpgAmeriCymru: Hi Delphine and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce your latest novel 'The Truth About Eggs' for our readers?

Delphine: The Truth About Eggs is a kind of 'follow-up' to Blessed Are The Cracked, in that it features some of the same characters and is set in the same fictional Welsh village in a farming community. Having said that, the era is a few years prior to Tegwyn Prydderch's retirement, so a slight backward transition for readers. Unlike Blessed, The Truth About Eggs is a full length novel, although there are three very definite 'sections' in it. It is probably not necessary to read Blessed first, but it may help with understanding some of the characters.

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about the Devil Tree which features in the book?

Delphine: The Devil Tree didn't actually feature at all in the first draft of the book although the story was otherwise identical in terms of where 'things' happen etc. I have my husband, Hedd, to thank for the Devil Tree! We were walking our dogs one evening as the sun was setting and he said 'I'm surprised you've never commented on that creepy looking tree over there. Looks like a Devil!'

Can you believe it? I'm supposed to be the one with the active imagination and I had never noticed it despite passing it on an almost daily basis!

An idea started to form and I took photos of it in different lights. From then on it seemed to be the one thing that tied the whole story together. Of course, there is no real Devil Tree (just a spooky looking oak on a nearby hedge) but a few readers have said that they tried to find it on Wikipedia! (I haven't enlightened them yet - please don't tell them!).

I gave my photos to Carolyn Michel (the artist/designer) and she turned it into this superb cover that I loved instantly.

AmeriCymru: I wanted to talk a little about the structure of the book. It feels like three closely intertwined short stories which come together on the night of the Young Farmers Club show. In that respect it somewhat resembles 'Blessed Are The Cracked'. How difficult is it, as a writer, to ensure continuity? Can you give us any insight in to your process?

Delphine: A lot of my favourite authors have a few key characters who become 'connected' in some way, so I suppose this method has rubbed off on me. (Imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism etc!). Continuity was, frankly, a nightmare! You have no idea how many times these chapters changed positions. One chapter in particular had more moves than John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever!

Another headache was the tense - Anna and Natalie's chapters are written in the past tense while Manon (who is so wrapped up in her own little world) is written in the present tense. Though this was changed a few times until I had enough opinions from beta-readers to decide that it worked better the original way. (I'm sure Sophie Hannah, who uses mixed tenses in her Culver Valley series, doesn't dither as much!).

Keeping the individual characters' stories fresh and not giving away too much by linking them together too soon was also a challenge for me. Even now I think maybe i should have just changed this or that...... typical Libran!

AmeriCymru: Are Young Farmers events in West Wales really this rough? Care to share any real life experiences?

Delphine: Hmm, the polite answer is - YFC events are well run, enjoyable and educational ones. However, any event that combines young people, alcohol and a sense of competitiveness tends to produce some out-of-character behaviour patterns! Luckily I was helped by a young friend who is a YFC member. She provided me with a lot of factual information - for example, the Famous Five Challenge, Girlfriend Carrying Race and the Reverse Steer Quad Bike course have all happened for real!

I imagine that the officers policing the annual Royal Welsh Show could come up with dozens of entertaining tales that would equal some in this book if we were to ask them! I think any notable bad behaviour that happens in an otherwise quiet location becomes big news and is the one thing that everyone remembers, so I guess that every real life event such as this has a story that is repeated for decades!

AmeriCymru: Tegwyn Prydderch is an interesting character. His stoicism is an appealing characteristic. Any real life or literary models? At one point he opines that none of the events in the book would be happening if it was raining. Does crime in west Wales really come to a halt when it pours?

Delphine: Tegwyn is based on a number of real life characters (to say otherwise would be dangerous!!) in order make him an 'individual'. In many ways, he shares my character too (apart from the fact that he doesn't like dogs - which is a fact that will come back to haunt him when he has to look after someone's dog as part of the next book). I think I wanted him to be a bit of a 'jobsworth' and at times, you want to shake him! Although he is pivotal character, he is not the 'be all and end all' of these books, rather a means of gelling the different storylines together.

When Tegwyn calls rain 'the best policeman', he is repeating a very well used phrase. It is certainly one I and many colleagues have used over the years. Without a doubt, the more petty crimes or those that are 'outdoors based' and spontaneous are less likely to happen when it is pouring with rain - a simple result of people not wanting to go outside if they don't have to. Unfortunately, many serious crimes cannot be controlled or predicted by weather conditions.

AmeriCymru: We last spoke when your first title was released in 2013. How was 'Blessed Are The Cracked' received? 

Delphine: I was delighted with the way Blessed was received and the fact that it was in the Amazon Top 100 for several weeks (with a high point of Number 24 for some of those weeks). I was invited to speak on local radio and to various societies such as the WI and other organisations - which was a new experience for me. Just before The Truth About Eggs was launched, I was invited to a live interview on Radio Woking - I did wonder if an area so far away from mythical Llanefa would be interested, but it seemed to go well and there were some interesting questions posed by listeners. During that session, Blessed was also mentioned and that revived a little more public interest despite it having been released in 2013.

AmeriCymru: What are you working on at the moment? Are there any new publications in the pipeline?

Delphine: As I said earlier, I am a typical indecisive Libran! No surprise to hear that I am working on two new projects. The first one (which is about halfway complete) is a collection similar to Blessed (and set in Llanefa, of course). The working title, Never Point at a Rainbow, ( the title of one of the stories which is set in London when some Llanefa residents go away for the weekend) follows Tegwyn's memoirs when he is interviewed on a Radio Station.

The second one has only just been started and was a result of good feedback on The Truth About Eggs and persuaded me to get another full length work out there. The working title is The Donkey Shaped Stone and brings some more familiar characters back onto the page. Which one will I continue with first? Watch this space!

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

Delphine: A simple message - please keep reading! It is a delight to know that so many American readers are interested in Welsh fiction and even more pleasing to know that AmeriCymru is the go-to site to keep them informed.

Diolch i chi gyd!

Recorded at the book launch event at the Dylan Thomas Center, Swansea on March 13th 2014.

Back to Welsh Literature page >

Tracy Prince. Scholar in Residence at the Portland Center for Public Humanities

"The author of Portland''s Goose Hollow (2011) and Culture Wars in British Literature: Multiculturalism and National Identity (2012), Dr. Tracy Prince is also a featured speaker for Oregon Humanities in the Conversation Project program and travels throughout Oregon presenting "Uniquely Oregon: Native American Art of Oregon." Dr. Prince has spent her career teaching and writing about race, gender, and social equity issues. She uncovers forgotten or overlooked historical moments by digging through archives and interviewing folks who like to talk about the good ol'' days."

AmeriCymru spoke to Tracy about here recent book ''Culture Wars: Other Voices in British Literature" which provided the theme and title for our recent ( Oct 4th, 2013 ) panel discussion at the Portland Center for Public Humanities


Culture WarsAmeriCymru: Hi Tracy and many thanks for agreeing to talk to AmeriCymru. How would you characterize the theme or central thesis of your recent book ''Culture Wars''?

Tracy: Thanks! I’ve appreciated learning about the good work AmeriCymru does to promote Welsh writers in English. Good stuff!

In my book I argue that British literature is more than Anglo-English literature, despite depictions by London literary elite and anthologies. When teaching and researching 20th and 21st century British literature, I was frustrated to see that literary anthologies and public discussions about Britain’s literature and identity still often exclude ethnic- minority writers and often remain fixated on an Anglo-English version of Britishness. My book analyzes who is left out of the British literary canon and explores the culture wars surrounding the discussion of Britishness (highlighting how a white Anglo-English image of British identity has been promoted and assumed and its supposed demise grieved over).

Here’s the blurb my publisher put on the back of the book:

The past century''s culture wars that Britain has been consumed by, but that few North Americans seem aware of, have resulted in revised notions of Britishness and British literature. Yet literary anthologies remain anchored to an archaic Anglo-English interpretation of British literature. Conflicts have been played out over specific national vs. British identity (some residents prefer to describe themselves as being from Scotland, England, Wales, or Northern Ireland instead of Britain), in debates over immigration, race, ethnicity, class, and gender, and in arguments over British literature. These debates are strikingly detailed in such chapters as: "The Difficulty Defining ''Black British''," "British Jewish Writers" and "Xenophobia and the Booker Prize." Connections are also drawn between civil rights movements in the U.S. and UK. This generalist cultural study is a lively read and a fascinating glimpse into Britain''s changing identity as reflected in 20th and 21st century British literature.

AmeriCymru: What special difficulties do you see in defining British literature in the modern age?

Tracy: Consciously or unconsciously, presuppositions of Anglo-English centrality remain deeply imbedded in the teaching of British literature. A study of this issue reveals the underpinnings of the construction and maintenance of an Anglo-English definition of Britishness and the British literary canon. John Freeman, the editor of Granta (literary magazine published in England) claims: “American writers are constantly engaged with the question of being American.” He was implying that this is a uniquely American trait and that he doesn’t see British literature as having these qualities. Indeed, American literature is widely understood as central to the process of how American-ness is analyzed and defined. But I believe that British literature has been equally as important to the analyzing and defining of Britishness, even when critics and authors claim to focus strictly on literary aesthetics and would not think of themselves as engaging with issues surrounding British identity. British literature offers many cues to the reader about what Britishness means, about who is included, and about who is excluded.

So, my book is filled with quotes from a variety of writers in the UK who have expressed how they feel about Britishness (from the early 20th century to 21st century authors). I also cover the decline of the British Empire, immigration, race/ethnicity, and devolution debates and how writers have responded to those issues. And I cite studies that attempt to quantify how UK residents feel about being British. For example, in 2003, when polls were conducted in England asking whether residents would describe themselves as English or British, 38% said English and 48% said British. In Scotland the study revealed that 72% identified themselves as Scottish and 20% as British. In Wales the study revealed that 60% identified themselves as Welsh and 27% as British. When the BBC conducted an online survey asking people “What Makes You British?” a man from Scotland responded that he is Scottish and has never considered himself British. “[M]y views on what it means to be ‘British’ will be the same as many from Scotland, Wales and Ireland, that being ‘British’ equals being English.” He wonders “what there is to be proud of when British achievements tend to focus on English achievements.”

An example of presuppositions of Anglo-English centrality is that A.S. Byatt assembled an anthology in 1998, the Oxford Book of English Short Stories, in which she ethnically cleansed writers in England. Shockingly, she even explained her editorial criteria as selecting “writers with pure English national credentials.” Yet most literary critics didn’t notice her ethnic cleansing. Only a Black British and a British Jewish literary critic noticed. Byatt’s anthology, read widely throughout the world and republished by Oxford University Press in 2000, 2003, and 2009, serves to continue reifying and “marketing” Englishness as white Anglo-ness among students and teachers of literature around the world. It is not surprising then, when London-born, English writer Hanif Kureishi demands a different version of Englishness and of Britishness. He declares that it is time for “the white British” to deal with the idea that there is “a new way of being British after all this time.”

Professor Jane Aaron, who teaches in Wales, offers a Welsh perspective of British national identity tensions in Postcolonial Wales. Her view is that when many people throughout Britain hear someone referring to themselves as British, this is often understood as coming from someone who is English. “[I]n today’s Britain, the default position for those who identify, or are identified, as British only, with no qualifiers, remains an unexamined English cultural identity.” (15) In much of the North American academy and in many university settings around the world, British literature often continues to be taught (1) without addressing this “unexamined [Anglo] English cultural identity,” (2) with little discussion of contemporary multicultural and national identity debates in the United Kingdom, and (3) without including a cross- section of authors from throughout the four nations of the United Kingdom.

My goal was to present evidence from surveys, films, literature, television shows, children’s books, political debates, etc. to give a glimpse into how dramatically the sense of what it means to be British has changed in the last 100 years. I wrote the book with a non-academic audience in mind. So I write in a reader-friendly way that teaches the history of the issues and authors, and I hope it inspires people to make reading lists of the authors they’d like to read more of.

AmeriCymru: In Chapter 6 you state that:- "Britain''s culture wars are on explicit technicolor display in discussions about the Man Booker Prize" Can you tell us more?

Tracy: In 1994 the prize was awarded to Scottish author James Kelman for How Late It Was, How Late, written in a working class Scottish dialect. According to literary critic Merritt Moseley, the selection process was flawed by its eagerness to be “politically correct” and select multicultural rather than “English” entries. “The selection and award process for the U.K.’s Booker Prize for novels is cumbersome, biased against English entries.... The novels reflected a multi-cultural background that, while politically correct, did not include native, non-minority British authors.” This statement is a blatant effort to portray white writers from England as the downtrodden and to blast efforts at political correctness for the perceived displacement of Anglo-English writers from the center of the British literary realm.

Pat Barker, 1995’s Booker Prize winner for The Ghost Road, made provocative comments which revealed a lot about Britain’s culture wars over multiculturalism and national identity. She said: “I think that there is a certain amount of unacknowledged resentment among ... white native British writers, on the ground that the additional tinge of exoticism when it comes to the Booker Prize does a writer no harm at all.” Barker further pronounces that although it is difficult to say this in a way “that does not sound racist ... there’s a sort of resentment that the Booker judges are so obviously straining to be unparochial and exotic ... the homegrown English novel is really rather undervalued now.” I found it fascinating that Barker too seemed to be painting a picture of the Anglo-English as underdogs in the Booker Prize process. This idea would be found laughable among Welsh writers, who struggle to get on the radar of what is now called the Man Booker Prize (based upon its current sponsorship).

A.S. Byatt has expressed similar indignation over the “left-wing political correctness in this country” which she sees as unfairly privileging the “Empire Strikes Back” authors. Byatt calls “total rubbish” any notions that the English novel has become daring or more interesting with the addition of “these books by people from elsewhere.” She calls the “Empire Strikes Back” a “myth” that obscures writers like Muriel Spark, Lawrence Durrell, William Golding, Iris Murdoch, and Anthony Burgess: “All those people were in place, writing away, absolutely brilliant. They’re all English; they’re all white. It doesn’t seem to me that anything Rushdie does is anything more interesting technically than what they do—although it’s not less interesting.”

About the 2003 Booker Prize lineup, Fiachra Gibbons, writing for the Guardian, called attention to the prize’s excessive focus, not just on England, but on writers in the greater London area. (The M25 motorway surrounds Greater London. Although Oxford and Cambridge are outside the loop, they are within an hour’s train ride to London.) “It was as if Martyn Goff, the Booker Svengali ... had imposed an accent test so that [they] ... might not be threatened by barbarous tongues from beyond the moat of the M25.” Gibbons marveled at the incestuous nature of the London literary scene’s Booker Prize judges and longlisted authors, since the judges seemed to focus on their friends in and near London, with a few gratuitous outsiders thrown in. As the judges posted effusive comments about writers from north London and Oxford “and the odd exile to the sticks” on their online diaries, Gibbons said he couldn’t help but play the “old mental game, How Are They Related?” He mused: “I may have got this all horribly wrong, of course. No doubt the judges have concealed youths spent digging coal with teaspoons in the Welsh valleys or working the checkouts on the dawn shift at Grimethorpe Asda. But that is not what it looked and sounded like to me, or anyone else cringing at home who craved just the merest acknowledgement that someone outside the Woosterian Brahmin caste of literary London might read a book, or know good writing when they saw it.”

In The Postcolonial Exotic: Marketing the Margins (2001) British academic Graham Huggan blames the media, the Booker Prize, and the postcolonial literary establishment for this focus on the “exotic.” He argues that postcolonial writers, academic critics, the Booker Prize, and publishers are at fault because they “market” “exotic” imperialist nostalgia. Of course, one look at the definition of the countries eligible for the Booker Prize refutes this premise. Since this prize is an award for Commonwealth and Irish writers, the percentage of British and more specifically Anglo-English writers represented on shortlists and longlists is embarrassingly high. (In 2013 the rules were changed to allow American writers to be eligible). In fact, 20th and 21st century novels about and by Anglo-England are being read in disproportionate numbers around the world, in places where Anglo-English experiences seem “exotic” to people who have few points of reference with this culture. The only way these Anglo-English novels are sold to people whose lives bear no resemblance to the lives in the novels is through marketing and especially through marketing of imperialist literary nostalgia. Thus, instead of arguing that the Booker is overly concerned with so-called “exotic” novels, the argument is easily made that there is a great big world of eligible writers who, over the life of the Booker Prize, have been ignored in favor of mostly Anglo-English writers.

The discussions that have occurred over the past few decades have often made it abundantly clear who is considered British, who is thought of as “exotic,” and who is though of as “homegrown.” Writers are always being given the advice to “write what you know.” Yet when writers outside of an Anglo-English London/Oxford/Cambridge moat write what they know, from their cultural perspectives, which are not Anglo-English perspectives, they are called “exotic” then blamed for pandering with their exoticness and “marketing” it. This excruciatingly obvious point seems to have escaped great swathes of the British literary establishment.

Consciously or unconsciously, many Anglo-English critics and authors have been disquieted over the decline of their literary empire, wondering why “homegrown” stories seem not as engaging as global ones, and fortifying themselves against what Pat Barker called the “exotic” people and, as A.S. Byatt said, the “people from elsewhere.”

AmeriCymru: In your opinion, how has the ''rapidly changing sense of national identity'' in Britain (both pre and post devolution) been reflected in the writings of Welsh authors?

Tracy: Black Welsh writer Charlotte Williams imagines a revised Britishness. She writes of her upbringing in Wales by a Welsh speaking white mother and a black Guyanese father in Sugar and Slate (2002). When she lived in Guyana for a few years she was thought of as British, though being Welsh calls to her most profoundly. Williams traces connections between Africa and Wales in an effort to write a history of Wales that includes her story within Welsh identity.

And white Welsh writer R.S. Thomas (1913–2000), the son of a sea captain, pointed out the English-centered ideas within Britain: “Britishness is a mask. Beneath it there is only one nation, England.” He declared: “Britain does not exist for me. It is an abstraction forced on the Welsh people.” While he chaffed at the domination of a British identity over a Welsh identity, he also chaffed at the Welsh people whom he saw as being lazy, indifferent, or snobbish when they chose to speak English instead of Welsh.

Born in Cardiff in 1923 Dannie Abse wrote about his Jewishness and Welshness in Goodbye, Twentieth Century: An Autobiography (2001). However, Abse lived much of his adult life in Golders Green, London, primarily a Jewish neighborhood, with many synagogues and Jewish owned restaurants, bakeries, and bookstores. A doctor as well as a novelist, playwright, and poet, his 1954 autobiographical novel Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve tells of growing up in Wales in the 1930s. In his poem “Case History” he writes about the double marginalization of being both Jewish and Welsh. He tells of an interaction with a patient:

‘Most Welshmen are worthless,

an inferior breed, doctor.’

He did not know I was Welsh.

Then he praised the architects

of the German death-camps—

did not know I was a Jew.

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little about any Anglo Welsh writer or writers who have captured your attention in recent years?

Tracy: Since I focus a lot on the Man Booker Prize, here are a few Welsh writers featured there: The Booker Prize winner in 1970 for The Elected Member and short-listed in 1978 for A Five-Year Sentence, Bernice Rubens (1928– 2004) was born in Wales to a father who had escaped anti-Semitism in Lithuania and a mother whose family had fled Poland. Timothy Mo (born in Hong Kong to a white Welsh-English mom and a Cantonese dad, moved to England at age 10) has had three short-listed novels: Sour Sweet, An Insular Possession, and The Redundancy of Courage. Chinese-Welsh writer Peter Ho Davies was raised in England but spent his summers in Wales. His The Welsh Girl was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2007 and deals with complex questions of belonging, loyalty, and identity. Sarah Waters was born in Neyland, Pembrokeshire. Her books Fingersmith (2002), The Night Watch (2006), and The Little Stranger were shortlisted (2009). Born in Cardiff, Trezza Azzopardi’s The Hiding Place (2000) was short-listed for the Booker Prize. This story of an immigrant Maltese family delves into the Cardiff underworld of the 1960s.

Another Welsh writer that I write about is Leonora Brito, who passed away in 2007. Brito lived in Cardiff her entire life and was called a “voice...from the long-established, but hitherto culturally under-represented, multi-ethnic communities of Cardiff ’s Docklands.” Tiger Bay (the Docklands), her neighborhood, was known for its migrant communities from over 40 different countries who, for more than a century, had been attracted by work at this busy harbor. In the last half of the twentieth century the area was filled with decrepit buildings because of the decline of the coal industry and the related decline of harbor traffic. So in 1999 in a re-development scheme, large areas were bulldozed and the bay was reconfigured and, in a controversial move, renamed Cardiff Bay. Brito’s Dat’s Love (1995) and Chequered Histories (2006) tells the stories of that neighborhood before it was bulldozed by exploring the life, love, pressures, and tensions of Black Welsh women.

AmeriCymru: Do you foresee a time when ''Welsh Writing In English'' is taught as a separate subject or discipline in American universities?

Tracy: Such a course would have strong appeal for Welsh ex-pats and people of Welsh ancestry, so I would think it wise for American universities to explore this option. However, I have taught literature in three countries (America, Canada, Turkey), and I can report that many universities do not have the funding or professors specializing in Welsh literature to add a course on Welsh Writing in English.

Since most universities offer British literature every semester, it seems important to at least make sure that Welsh writing in English is taught more robustly in British literature courses. Because of America''s strong link to the Mother Country, because of our continuing "special relationship" with Britain, the teaching of British history and literature will remain important in American universities. Thus it is important to have the teaching of British literature include all of Britain and not just London, Oxford, and Cambridge. My feeling is that it is bizarre and archaic to see the teaching of British literature and British literary anthologies continuing to focus mostly on dead, white, English writers. I feel that it is crucial to include the teaching of Welsh writing within the British literary tradition (while pointing out Welsh discomfort with the “British” label).

However, it would be great to think of ways to encourage universities to enhance their courses by offering Welsh Writing in English. It seems like the demand would be strong.

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Dr. Tracy J. Prince? Will you be exploring similar themes in future works?

Tracy: I’ll continue to do talks to teach folks about the political/cultural issues brought up in Culture Wars in British Literature. My upcoming schedule includes talks at the University of Washington Tacoma (12/2) and University of British Columbia in Canada (12/3). But I research in a wide array of historical areas. I researched Oregon history back to Indian and pioneer days in two pictorial history books (Portland''s Goose Hollow 2011 and the co-authored Portland’s Slabtown 2013) that allowed me to dig around in archives and talk to folks about the good ol’ days. The literary non-fiction book I''m currently writing, Might Oughta Keep Singin'', is taking me back to my roots--to the sharecroppin'' plantation where my dad grew up pickin’ cotton in the Arkansas delta region (across the Mississippi River from where Elvis grew up). It''s the story of four generations of southern women, breast cancer, and the music of the American south.

I have eclectic intellectual interests. For my author page on Facebook, I’m "encouraged,” every time I log in, to buy an ad to increase traffic to my page. I joked with my friends that the ad would need to read: "Are you interested in Oregon history, Native American art, 1930s-60s magazine illustrations, architectural preservation, British literature, the history of Southern music, cotton sharecropping in Arkansas, or Oklahoma half-breeds? Then I''m just the professor for you!" So, if you share any of those interests, let’s chat! https://www.facebook.com/TracyJPrincePhD?ref=hl

I also enjoy connecting with folks on Twitter @TracyJPrince and Goodreads. So, stop on by and say hello when you mosey that way.

AmeriCymru: Any final message for readers of the Welsh American Bookstore?

Tracy: Maureen Duffy, poet, playwright, and critic, muses on the state of angst over British and English identities in England: The Making of Myth from Stonehenge to Albert Square (2001). Her book deals with some popular English perceptions regarding the inclusion of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland within the concept of Britain, with the English feeling threatened, aggrieved, and abandoned—feeling that their identity is “under threat.” I think this quote from her is very revealing when discussing what a collective British identity means: “Scotland and Wales have no difficulty with their myths; they have several hundred years of opposition and reluctant integration in which to polish them. We, the English, on the other hand had always believed deep down that the union was indissoluble, that the Scots and Welsh didn’t really mean it in spite of the example of Ireland. Now devolution has actually happened and they have assemblies, flags, control over their own affairs. We feel aggrieved, abandoned, and find it hard to accept the outcome of what we have done. We argue over whether ‘they’ should have the right to sit in “our” parliament and vote on ‘our’ affairs. We have always regarded our confederates as children, as we did the rest of the empire, even though they are historically our predecessors.”

I find the most interesting parts of British literature are authors who are struggling with a sense of a cohesive British identity. With post-war immigration leading to a more multi-ethnic populace and with uncertainties brought about by devolution, it is important and fascinating when writers explore what it means to be British. I’d like to see more British literature courses teaching this conflicted sense of Britishness.

Back to Welsh Literature page >

Here we present two interviews with Welsh writer Bernard Knight.( Bernard Knight on the Wikipedia ) The first appeared on the AmeriCymru blog in March 2012 and the second on our Magazine site in April 2012 after we polled members on the AmeriCymru social site for questions they would like to put to Bernard Knight.

AmeriCymru Interview With Bernard Knight 4/17/12



AmeriCymru Interview With Bernard Knight 3/12/12


AmeriCymru: Hi, Bernard, and many thanks for agreeing to talk to AmeriCymru. In the course of a distinguished career as a forensic pathologist, medical doctor and barrister you have also found time to write more than 30 novels since 1963, in addition to radio and teleplays and non-fiction works. What was your main motivation when you began writing fiction? What inspired you?

Bernard: I suppose my literary career began when I was a medical student in Cardiff in 1949, which was after being first a farm worker in Gower and then a hospital lab tech. By default, I became editor of the student magazine, appropriately called ''The Leech'' - and as usual, being editor of any small publication meant you had to write most of it yourself. But novel writing started not from ''inspiration'', but boredom. When called up to the Royal Army Medical Corps for compulsory military service in 1956, I had not long been married and applied to stay in Britain – so with the usual military efficiency, they sent me to Malaya for three years! Here the bloody twelve-year ''Forgotten War'' against the communist terrorists was going on and I was posted to a small military hospital in North Malaya, a place a bit like MASH, complete with helicopters and a mad commanding officer!

My main recreation was reading books from the camp library – many were crime novels, but as the hospital pathologist, I found many of the forensic aspects so wildly inaccurate that I decided I could do better myself. I started writing one and when I came back to my first forensic job in London, I mentioned this to a court reporter, and was astonished to see my boast in the next day''s Daily Mirror!

The next day, I had a letter from a publisher asking to see my manuscript – I had only written a bit of it, so I dashed off the rest and he took it! It doesn''t happen like that these days!

After this first shot at crime fiction with ''The Lately Deceased'', I went on to write about half a dozen ''stand-alone'' novels, several based in South Wales. Following this, I also started writing scripts for radio plays for the BBC and then for television. I wrote the story-lines for a very popular BBC forensic series called The Expert, and did quite bit of TV work, even presenting some documentary stuff on forensic topics like skeletons. A few years ago, I was involved in two programmes where we examined the alleged bones of St David, kept in a chest behind the high altar at the cathedral in Pembrokeshire– unfortunately, we showed that they were six hundred years too recent to be our patron saint!

I did some Welsh Language programmes, too, though I''m not fluent, much to my sorrow. One was a series about spies at the missile range in West Wales and more recently I wrote the stories for Dim Clew, a forensic team game on S4C.

I even had a try at biography and came to New York to write the life story of Milton Helpern, the famous Chief Medical Examiner of NYC. The book, written as an autobiography, called Autopsy,was very successful, going into five editions and book clubs, though unfortunately my old friend Milton died just before publication.

As a full-time pathologist, working for the university and the Home Office, I had to do all my writing at night, sometimes until three in the morning – I once passed my resident mother-in-law, an early riser, on the stairs as I was going up and she was going down!

AmeriCymru: How do you choose your subjects and can you tell us a bit about your creative process?

Bernard: My abiding fascination with Welsh history tempted me to write my first historical novel Lion Rampant in 1972, the true tragic romance of Princess Nest and Owain ap Cadwgan. It''s still my favourite book, being so closely bound to real history. I followed this with another twelfth century yarn Madoc, Prince of America , about which more below. These two books really got me hooked on the twelfth century, which set the pattern for Crowner John.

The creative process is a bit of a myth in terms of ''inspiration'', in that once I get a general idea for a book, I first beaver away at the historical background, this research being the most interesting part of the job – in fact, I don''t really like the chore of writing, slogging away at a keyboard. It''s the research that grabs me, it took a year''s work to get the facts right for Lion Rampant.

The themes for the Crowner John books were very varied – the business of sanctuary, where criminals sought shelter in a church; tournaments ( the medieval equivalent of football, horse-racing and baseball); the harsh forest laws; witchcraft, piracy, tin-mining and of course, ever-present dominance of the Church.

I used to write a detailed synopsis of a book before I started, even if the finished product diverged considerably from it. I''ve got lazier now, but I still need to know where I''m going with a book, rather than the ''sit-down-and-hope-for-the-best'' approach that some writers seem to get away with.

I now start with a flow-diagram on a single sheet of paper, with characters called X,Y.Z, and build up a visual pattern with arrows for motives. Then I put names on the people and write a ''curriculum vita'' for each, so that I can establish continuity.

This is vital for a series like Crowner John, with fifteen books to handle. I have a large file which I call ''My Bible'', which has separate sections for the personal details of each character, then bits about costume, diet, locations, maps, etc, so that I can keep a grip on things. Even so, one makes slips and my many readers around the world are swift to let me know – for example John''s cook-maid was blonde in one book and brunette in another!

Anachronisms are another problem - I had an Email from somewhere in the world to tell me that I had screwed a booby trap to the lavatory wall, which was impossible because screws weren''t invented until the 14th century!

Even in dialogue, anachronisms are hard to avoid – can you say in a 1195 book that someone was a ''sadist'' – or a man was ''mesmerised'', when those eponymous words were still centuries in the future?

The hardest part of a book is the ending, which causes many otherwise good books to fall flat. In crime books, the old standby, the ''denoument'' beloved of Hercule Poirot, with the suspects gathered together in the drawing-room, is quite unrealistic in real life, but there is only a limited range of outcomes – the culprit is either arrested, shot, commits suicide or conveniently has a fatal accident. It''s ''not cricket'' to let him get away with it!

AmeriCymru: You are perhaps best known as the author of the Crowner John Mysteries. Care to explain for our readers what a Crowner was and did?

Bernard: As a forensic pathologist, my instructions – and payment – for an autopsy came from the coroner, an official always either a lawyer or a doctor, responsible for investigating deaths which cannot be certified by a physician as natural causes. It was with the idea of becoming a coroner that I also studied to be a barrister, as an insurance against not getting a senior medical post.

The word ''coroner'' comes from the Latin ''Custos placitorum coronae'', meaning ''keeper of the pleas of the crown''. The office originated in 1194, partly as a means to attract fines from the population to help pay for the ransom of Richard the Lionheart, captured in Austria on his way home from the Third Crusade.

Anything 12th century was of interest to me and after a bit of academic delving, I had the idea to write a one-off book about a fictional first coroner. I would have liked to have set it in Wales, but that was impossible as in 1194, we were still independent and had our own laws of Hwyel Dda – so I had to go to England and I chose Devonshire.

Most of the characters I used were real and actually held the jobs I portrayed, like Sir Richard de Revelle, the sheriff . There was no record of the early coroners, so I invented Sir John de Wolfe, a returning Crusader who was looking for a job.

The title ''crowner'' is a bit of cheat for 1194, as it was not used until the 14th century as a slightly derogatory nickname – Shakespeare uses it in that sense in Hamlet.

The coroner''s job was to hold inquests on all deaths that did not occur in the bosom of the family, including murders, suicides, accidents etc – and where possible, bring any culprits to justice. He had to attend hangings to seize the property of felons, take confessions from sanctuary-seekers, attend ordeals, examine assaults, rapes, robberies, fires, wrecks, catches of the royal fish (whale and sturgeon) and many other legal tasks, most designed to gather money into the royal exchequer, rather than let the local lords continue to use their own courts. Essentially, his job was to record every legal event and present them to the king''s judges when they circulated around the county towns to administer justice.

It seemed a good basis for an investigative story, as at least it really was the coroner''s job – not like the many old ladies, writers, aristocrats and priests that abound in detective fiction! I thought this was to be a single book, but it was so popular that the fifteenth will be published this coming August.

AmeriCymru: From the Wikipedia we learn that:- "Apart from John, most of the main characters actually existed in history and every care is taken with research and the creation of atmosphere, to offer an authentic picture of twelfth-century England. Most the places described in the stories can be visited by readers today, even the gatehouse of Rougemont Castle in Exeter, where John had his office." How difficult is it to weave a fictional narrative around the lives of real characters? What proportion of your time is spent on research?

Bernard: Amongst historical novelists, there is a divergence of opinion about whether you should use real characters in the books. Some say it is perverting history and also risks possibly blackening the name of nice folk. I don''t think this is valid, especially after 900 years, as everyone knows the books are meant as entertainment, not teaching - though many ''fans'' have told me that they enjoyed such a painless way of learning some history, especially about common folk. I always try to tell life as it really was - the squalor, the dirt and the poverty, as well as how people ate and dressed all those centuries ago.

My information comes from all sorts of sources – history textbooks, monographs, direct questioning of very helpful experts – and of course the Internet, though one has to be careful in accepting everything in Wikipedia, as you never know if some historical essay was actually written by some spotty kid in Idaho!

I am almost obsessional about authenticity and cannot use anything I know or suspect to be wrong. Some of my writer friends are not so fussy, saying that it''s only entertainment, but I go to considerable lengths to try to get it right, even though I still slip up some times.

For instance in one of the earlier books, The Grim Reaper, I had the bright idea of having my serial killer, a priest, leave a relevant Biblical quotation at the scene of each murder, such as ''The Gospel of Mark, Chapter Ten, Verse Six.'' However, before I had finished the book, doubts began to gnaw at me and after consulting some theological colleagues, discovered that I could not do this, as the Bible in 1194 was continuous! Chapters were invented by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 13th century and verses came in far later as a printing convenience.

Everywhere I write about, I have visited. It''s important, I think, to ''walk the territory'' which gives you a far more realistic impression of the scene than looking at photos or reading descriptions. I have even been up on Dartmoor in the snow to visit the place where the Devon tin miners used to hold their parliament.

I also find it very satisfying to tread the same stones as my characters did, all those centuries ago, like the gatehouse of Exeter Castle, built by William the Conqueror as early as 1068.

AmeriCymru: Crowner John could be called an "ancestor" of the modern pathologist, in writing about the beginnings of your own field in the 12th century, was it challenging to translate your much more vast knowledge of pathology to John''s limited resources, the information or education he would have had and the circumstances he would have had to work under?

Bernard: I went out of my way to avoid using my forensic pathology expertise in the Crowner John books, though of course, my more recent Dr Richard Pryor series based in South Wales in the 1950''s depends entirely upon it. But writing all those Crowner John stories was really a form of escapism for me, and it would have been a ''busman''s holiday'' if they contained any significant pathology – as well as being a total anachronism!

I confine the post-mortem examinations of John and Gwyn to crudely testing rigor mortis to guess how long someone had been dead – they probably did as well in 1194 as we do now, as it''s a pretty useless test! As for wounds, both John and Gwyn consider themselves experts after a lifetime on the battlefield, but they go little farther than sticking a finger into a stab wound to see how deep it was!

AmeriCymru: You have also written seven novels under the pseudonym "Bernard Picton". Can you tell us a bit more about those?

Bernard: In former years in Britain, it was unethical for doctors to professionally advertise themselves in any way - even the first TV doctor used to sit with his back to the camera! When I started writing in 1960, I could not flaunt my forensic knowledge in my novels and scripts, so had to take a pseudonym. At the time I was living in an old pub near Cowbridge, which had been ''The General Picton'', so I took that as a pen-name. Later, Margaret Thatcher forced the professions to open up and there was then no reason not to use my real name.

After my first novel in 1962, I went on to write another six ''stand-alone'' detective stories, all with a forensic flavour, one of them a ''link book'' to go with a major BBC forensic series called The Expert. I wrote the plots and acted as technical adviser for it, which I have done for several such programs – not that the producers took much notice of what I advised, if it didn''t suit their preconceptions!

These early books used forensic ''hooks'' on which to hang the plot and were sited in a variety of locations, from Cardiff to Newcastle, from Cardigan to Leningrad – the last one based on a trip I made to the Moscow State Forensic Institute in 1965.

AmeriCymru: Lion Rampant tells the story of a Welsh princess, Nest aka ''Helen of Wales'', and Lord Owain ap Cadwgan, Prince of Powys. Care to tell our readers a little about the book and how Nest came by that pseudonym?

Bernard: After the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066, England was rapidly conquered, but it took another 200 years for Wales to be completely subjugated, when Prince Llewelyn was killed in 1282 by Edward Ist – from whom, unfortunately, I am descended.

But in the flat lands of the south and west, the Normans swept in early and in 1093, Rhys ap Tewdwr, King of Deheubarth was slain by the conqueror of Brecon. His beautiful young daughter Princess Nest was taken prisoner and made a ward of King Henry 1st, who made her one of his many mistresses and by whom she had a child. Then he married her off to Gerald de Windsor, castellan of Pembroke Castle, by whom she had five children, starting a Fitzgerald dynasty that included a Bishop of St David''s and Maurice, a conqueror of Ireland, from whom John Fitzgerald Kennedy could trace his ancestry. Maurice took his father''s flag to Ireland, where it was called St Patrick''s Cross and is now part of the Union Jack.

One of Nest''s grandsons was the famous cleric and writer, Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald the Welshman) from whose pen we have such a great knowledge of Wales in medieval times – and her nephew was ''The Lord Rhys'', who held the first national eisteddfod in Cardigan Castle in 1176..

At Christmas 1109, Nest was abducted from Cilgerran Castle, high on a crag above the Teifi, which belonged to her husband. The hot-blooded rescuer was her second-cousin, Owain ap Cadwgan, Prince of Powys, who having heard of her beauty, broke into the castle with a small band of men and galloped away with Nest and her children, after setting fire to the keep. Gerald escaped ignominiously through the latrine shaft – and again Nest gave birth to a child, this time Owain''s.!

This started a full-scale war and for this, Nest was later known as the ''Helen of Wales'' after the classical lady of Troy whose beauty was supposed to launched a thousand ships. Years later, Gerald killed Owain in revenge and Nest went on to have more chilldren by another two Norman knights – quite a fertile lady!

I mentioned my other Welsh historical novel earlier, Madoc, Prince of America.This well-known legend of the prince of Gwynedd who was alleged to have reached Mobile, Alabama in 1170 and gave rise to the ''Welsh Indians'' always intrigued me. I wrote yet another novel about it, using all the available ''evidence''. It has now become a bit of an embarrassment to me, as some years ago I became President of the Madoc Research Association – actually a small group of folk who met monthly in a pub in Maesteg to drink beer and gossip about Welsh history.

Though the legend has been around since Tudor times, being originally plugged by them politically in order to contest the prior claims of the Spanish to parts of North America, it was brought to modern public attention by a book published in 1966 by Sunday Times editor Richard Deacon. He produced a great deal of convincing new evidence to support the story, but recent research has shown that he was a pathological liar who fabricated most of his supporting evidence.

I no longer believe in the story, other than accepting that there was a tradition in medieval Wales of a mariner who ventured out far into the Western Ocean - a far cry from a Welsh prince ( of whom there is no trace in any historical records) reaching the Gulf of Mexico and then fighting his way up to the Ohio River and then the Missouri to found the Mandan tribe.

As a legend, it''s fine, but so much nonsense has been added to the story that it now lies beyond any credibility. For a balanced view of the legend, read Professor Gwyn Alf William''s 1979 paperback called Madoc.

AmeriCymru: The third book in your Dr. Richard Pryor series, Grounds for Appeal came out last December.. The Dr. Richard Pryor novels are set in the Wye Valley in Wales and take place during the 1950s, how much of your own life and experiences went in to these stories?

Bernard: These books have had a long incubation period, as in the early ''nineties, I wrote a proposition for a television series about a Welsh forensic pathologist who went into private consultant practice. This was taken up by a Cardiff TV production company and we developed story-lines and sample scripts. However, when we hawked it up to London to the large network companies, they were not interested, a common phenomenon with anything Welsh taken to London!

As it was not financially viable without network contracts, it was abandoned, but a few years ago, wanting a change from the twelfth century, I altered the names and locations and turned it into a book, ''Where Death Delights''. (This is a translation of part of an ancient Latin aphorism that is displayed in the entry hall of the New York Medical Examiners Office)

I wanted to get away from the current beaurocracy of the British ''nanny state'', with all its stuffy restrictions about Health and Safety, Human Rights, Race Relations, Data Protection and write about the days when I started pathology in 1955, when detectives in long raincoats and trilby hats could stand gossiping in the autopsy room with a cigarette and a mug of tea!

It was sheer nostalgia, writing about those post-war days when life was still austere, but freer from endless controls and restrictions.

I invented Dr Richard Pryor, a former Army pathologist who after service in the Far East, had stayed on in Singapore until he got a golden handshake and came home to Wales. His old aunt had left him her house in the Wye Valley where together with a disillusioned government forensic scientist, he sets up a laboratory and takes on a variety of cases from South Wales and the West of England. In addition, I run a mild romance through it, as Dr Pryor not only has this glamorous scientist at his elbow, but also a demure secretary, a pretty laboratory technician and a visiting anthropologist who looks like Sophia Loren!

Like the first Crowner John, I meant it to be a ''one-off'', but it proved very popular and I was asked for another two, which have recently been published, called According to the Evidence and Grounds for Appeal. The cases are naturally fictional, but have strands of reality running through them taken from my forty-five years in the job and there is an element of both nostalgia and autobiography in them. I have to think hard to make the techniques consistent with half a century ago, but at least they are a bit more complex than Crowner John''s primitive methods.

AmeriCymru: A lifetime of experience in medicine generally and forensic pathology in particular would seem to give you a "head start" as a mystery writer, has that freed you in any way to concentrate more on plot and character than might a writer less knowledgeable? Has your real-life experience been plot-inspiring for you or have you found real life forensics experience useful in crafting fiction and have you based incidents in your fiction on real-life cases?

Bernard: As mentioned earlier, the Crowner John books were in no way related to my professional life, quite the reverse. But of course, the many other crime books, plays and a few documentaries depended heavily on my forensic knowledge, though I never lift real cases into my fiction writing. However, parts of old cases, made unidentifiable, certainly get grafted into the stories, especially in the Dr Pryor books, but in a fragmented way, picking bits from different cases so that overall, they are unrecognisable. For instance, in one Dr Pryor book, my murder was concealed by letting a tractor wheel fall on to the victim''s neck – this was an echo of a suicide method I saw many years ago.

One problem about being a forensic pathologist is that it makes it hard for me to enjoy other crime novels where the forensic aspects are so badly portrayed – and in the case of the endless ''forensic'' television programs, impossible for me to watch, as they raise my blood pressure to dangerous levels! The greatest offender is ''time of death'' where the ludicrously-accurate claims of the author''s pathologist are exasperating. I edit the only textbook devoted solely to estimating the time of death – it has 270 pages, costs up to £100 and basically says that it can''t be done except within a very wide margin of error!

AmeriCymru: You''re also a founding member of a group known as The Medieval Murderers which has, among other things, produced seven novels, can you tell us what that is and how it came about?

Bernard: Other than the ''big name'' authors, most crime-writers are in the ''mid-list'', meaning that though they are not Dan Brown or John Grisham, neither are they complete dumbos whose books soon end up in the charity shops. However, this usually means that the publishers will spend little or no money promoting our books, so about ten years ago, a few of us historical mystery writers decided to form a self-promotion group called The Medieval Murderers, to go around libraries, bookshops, clubs and literary events giving informal talks about our work, either in a full group or as ones and twos. The members were Michael Jecks, Susannah Gregory, Philip Gooden, Ian Morson and myself, later joined by C J Sansom and Karen Maitland. We even had T-shirts made with a bloody dagger on the front!

Then a year or so later, we decided to write a book between us, which was not just a collection of short stories, but a ''chain book'', where each member wrote a ''novella'' of about 20,000 words which carried forward a theme set out in a Prologue and then tied up in an Epilogue. Once again, this was intended to be a ''one-off'' but The Tainted Relic was so successful that we have done one a year since then, with the eighth out soon and two more in the pipeline.

The writing method was unusual, being organised entirely by Email, as we all live far apart – Ian Morson was in Cyprus for most of the time. In fact, he has made a collection of all the messages, which he claims is longer than one of the actual books!

We began by deciding on a theme – the first was about a chip of the True Cross cursed when it was stolen in Jerusalem during the First Crusade, which killed anyone taking it from its container. Then we each wrote a story about it, using the period and characters from our own series, the idea being to publicise these other books. As the oldest (historically and personally!) I wrote the first chapter, using Crowner John to deal with the relic arriving in Devon. Then I had to leave it somewhere at the end of my story where Ian Morson, next in line in the 13th century, could pick it up – and so on up the line, until the end where I brought the saga into modern times in an Epilogue.

None of us knew what the others were writing, all that mattered was that the object was handed on smoothly between us. Later books used a sword, an abbey, a book of Celtic prophesies and the alleged bones of King Arthur as themes for the stories.

AmeriCymru: Do you have a particularly favorite character of your own that you especially like or enjoyed writing? A particular book that you enjoyed writing or are most proud of having produced?

Bernard: I suppose Crowner John himself is my favourite, he was physically modelled on a well-known local barrister that I worked with, tall, dark and saturnine. I made him somewhat unimaginative and not endowed with a great sense of humour, but honest and faithful to his friends and his king. Every sleuth needs his Dr Watson, so I gave him Gwyn, a big, amiable Cornishman, together with a diametrically-opposite character in Thomas de Peyne, a little runt of a priest with a slight hunchback and a limp. Unfrocked for an alleged indecent assault, he is pitifully thin and poorly dressed and I have had literally scores of letters, Emails and personal comments from ladies who seem keen to mother him!

As I''ve said before, Lion Rampant is still my favourite book, perhaps because it was my ''first-born'' historical novel, but from sheer nostalgic pleasure, I think my Malayan novel Dead in the Dog, which comes out this March, is high on the list of my favourites.

I also like the post-apocalyptic book I wrote in 2003, called Brennan. I wanted a complete change from the Middle Ages and decided to write a parody of the historic Arthur story, by describing the leadership of a senior Army officer from a South Wales barracks, who is left to collect and protect the few survivors of a viral plague that kills almost all the world''s population.

It had good reviews, being compared with Stephen King''s The Stand.

AmeriCymru: Do you read fiction for pleasure and, if so, what writers are you reading?

Bernard: I am an obsessive reader, can''t sit down without a book, even in the toilet. I''ll read anything, even the phone book if I''m desperate. For many years I was a reviewer for the crime website Tangled Web, so regularly got boxes of books through the mail with no control over the titles. Then I was one of the Crime Writers Association judges for the Silver Dagger Awards for non-fiction crime - and the local public library sees me about twice a month for a re-load, so I''ve had a heavy literary diet for most of my life.

Hard to say who my favourite authors are, it depends on how I feel – Lawrence Block, Ed McBain, Michael Pearce, Leslie Thomas, Alan Firth, John Le Carre, Len Deighton, Somerset Maugham – the list is almost endless. I love spy books and some SF, as long as it''s not the current fad for gold-brassiered princesses from Planet Zog!

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Bernard Knight?

Bernard: I''m pushing eighty-one now and swore that the fourteenth Crowner John would be my last, but clamour from fans made me squeeze out another final one. I have another two Medieval Murderers projects ahead, but they are relatively short. I don''t fancy sitting down to hammer out books of well over a hundred -thousand words any more, but I''d like to do some short stories. Not much of a market for them these days, but maybe Kindle might be the way forward. A couple of years ago, I wrote a short story by invitation for a ''Mammoth Book of Perfect Crimes'', called The Birdman of Tonypandy, about a pub landlord in the Rhondda who murders his wife. The editor put it last in the book, as he said that nothing could follow it!

I''ve also a yen to write something about the adventures of a Cardiff tramp steamer in the 1930''s, as I was born in Cardiff''s Grangetown and both my father and grandfather ''worked down the Docks''. I used to get rides during the war on ships between the lock gates and the berths which gave me a life-long affection for merchant ships.

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

Bernard: I know the US pretty well, having been there many times for medico-legal congresses, giving evidence in courts and visiting my many forensic friends, such as Dr Tom Noguchi, the colourful former coroner of LA . It''s a fantastic country, but I couldn''t live anywhere else but Wales, which is as much a part of me as my feet. To stand in the evening on a Pembrokeshire cliff or walk the lonely moors near the Teifi Pools is both peaceful and exhilarating. Everywhere you look, there is history, my history, your history. So all I can recommend is for readers to come back to Wales, for as long a time that you can manage.

Interview by Ceri Shaw ...Home,,,Email

Works by Bernard Knight on Amazon


An Interview With Lesley Coburn

By Ceri Shaw, 2015-05-14



As a follow up to our recent announcement that Lesley Coburn will be contributing a story to Issue 2 of eto we are pleased today to present an interview with the author.

Lesley Coburn is a writer from the Rhondda in south Wales and ''Filling Space'' was originally self published in 2006.

Lesley Coburn is also the daughter of one of Wales most outstanding 20th century writers - Ron Berry



AmeriCymru: Hi Lesley and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. How long have you been writing? Did your fathers example influence you in any way?

Lesley: Hi, Ceri, I try to imagine you. For being interviewed by a machine disconcerts. I remind myself that of cyberspace was created by real people, and is used only by real people. I hope! Congratulations on your initiative to publish Welsh/American writers, and thanks for your interest in Filling Space. Phil was one of the first readers to give me any response!

I''ve been writing many years. I began with poetry, then stories and longer poems, and years of academic writing. The latter I developed an aversion to. Now I write only what interests me. Ron''s writing was a fact of our childhoods. We didn''t think about it. Of five children, only one sister and myself write. After he gave me the unedited version of his autobiography to read, I said, ''this could change lives, Ron.'' He just said, ''you''re biased, girl.'' Of course, we covertly read his books, Miller, Lawrence, Faukner etc. Ron rated Gwyn Thomas. I never met him but Ron was in correspondence for a while.

AmeriCymru: What were/are the upsides and downsides of being Ron''s daughter?

Lesley: Ron''s first published book was kept under the counter in Treherbert Library. Swear words scared the staff. So I suppose I never was going to censor myself. Aside from all the subtle influences, the over-riding maxim that I keep in mind was his advice to writers, ''say it true, but say it new.''. There is no downside to being the daughter of Ron Berry. As a family, we have been working on his manuscripts since he died. It is all archived in Swansea University now. One day we''ll publish the unedited version of History Is What You Live. There are no downsides because I have no ambition, and no-one , until now, has been interseted anyway! Ron''s despair at being ignored for most of his life was a real lesson. If people don''t ''get'' your work, that''s it. I realised my stuff was being sent back unread, although early long poems and short stories were published in small press collections. I stopped submitting when I started writing Filling Space.

Americymru: Did his relationship with Jim Lewis and Robert Thomas inspire their creativity?

Lesley: I call Ron, Jim and Bob, the'' band of brothers''. They spent their youths reading, revolting, wandering and wenching. Whar surprises is the huge talents of these three people from a small area of Rhondda. Alun Richards always told the story of his visits from Pontypridd to find this trio of ''outsiders''. Ron and Alun met regularly in Ron''s last years.

AmeriCymru: You are contributing a story to Issue Two of eto - ''Filling Space''. Care to introduce it for our readers?

Lesley: How to introduce Filling Space? Anything I say will be good for now, But maybe not for tomorrow, And so little a part of what I was doing while writing it. I was trying to address some questions : how to give a sense of openess, field, subjectivity, flow? how to clarify without simplification? how to illuminate both the sharp pains/pleasures of consciousness, and the mysterious intuitions that occasionally seep through? And, of course, it''s about writing. The experiencing woman and the writing woman are a kind of ploy to give the writer a bit of detatchement. I enjoyed writing it and I still like reading it.

AmeriCymru: What are you reading? Any recommendations?

Lesley: I couldn''t recommend any specific reading; anything with an existentialist feel; and to anyone who needs to remember how good life is really, go to Whitman. Keep him with you.

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Lesley Coburn? What are you working on at the moment?

Lesley: I''m working on a long piece. It''s mostly sloshing around in my head, but I''ve made a start. The story of a collector of stories. First person present narrative of a young woman who returns to the valley. People are attracted to her and tell her tales of transformation. She writes their lives and all is change. No-one knows she is writing. she doesn''t need to tell. Her words add what she is to them. It''s what we do, isn''t it? I can''t stop thinking about it. All I need is time, place, a life of my own.

AmeriCymru: Any final message for our readers?

Lesley: I have no message for your readers other than to quote Whitman, ''and why should I not speak to you''.

Hope this is of some interest. All the best, Lesley.

David Thorpe has twin careers in writing and environmentalism. He is a novelist, non-fiction author, journalist, scriptwriter and comics writer, and the winner of a HarperCollins contest to find a major new children’s writer with his novel for young adults, Hybrids (‘A stunningly clever novel’– The Times). He has written and been the commissioning editor of many comics and graphic novels for publishers such as Marvel, HarperCollins, Titan Books and Macdonald-Futura. He is a co-founder of the London Screenwriters Workshop and co-author of the Doc Chaos comics series and TV scripts. Find out more on www.davidthorpe.info. AmeriCymru spoke to David about his latest novel 'Stormteller'.


AmeriCymru: Care to describe your novel Stormteller for our readers?

David:  Sure. Stormteller is a fantasy adventure set 15 years into the future about two 15-year-old teenage boys and a girl the same age who live on the mid-Wales coast just north of Aberystwyth. It's a kind of romance and tragedy, it uses two Welsh myths or legends that are set in the location, and is deeply embedded in the local landscape, which I know very well, having lived there for nearly 20 years.

There are some detailed descriptions of the landscape, both the uplands and the coast itself, which come from my extensive walks and explorations. I love that area. I loved writing about a place I knew really well. It was the first time I had done this and was quite a revelation.

Although it's aimed primarily at young adults, many adults have read it and thoroughly enjoyed it, making it what the trade terms a 'crossover' novel in the same way that the Harry Potter stories were.

The two boys, Tomos and Bryn, are both in love with the girl, Eira. But unfortunately for Tomos she chooses Bryn. The young men are really contrasting characters although they look very similar.

Tomos' background is rich, privileged, having every modern device he could want in his home. His father is a successful professor in business studies.

Bryn was brought up in an eco-village, with a great appreciation of the natural environment and the need to not use fossil fuels. His mother taught him all about growing vegetables, keeping animals, recognising all the wild plants and how to survive by foraging.

Tomos' home is directly on the coast, in Borth, and is destroyed near the start of the novel by a storm surge, that gets attributed to climate change. (In my research I found that Borth was the most vulnerable part of coastal Wales to this kind of thing. It's since seen the benefit of some storm surge protection efforts, but I'm a bit sceptical about how effective they will be in the long term.)

In the story, these storms affect the whole coast of Britain, bringing power stations off-line and disrupting supply chains for shops. Very quickly the shops run out of food and normal law and order break down.

Hungry and in search of food, Tomos goes to Bryn's eco-village and joins the community, but not for long. The breakdown in law and order even reaches them, and he is forced to rely on Bryn's survival skills when they are chased over the Welsh mountains by marauders who wish to eliminate them as witnesses to murder. But things don't go exactly as hoped...

AmeriCymru: What role does Celtic myth play in the book?

David:  There are two Welsh legends associated with the area: Cantre'r Gwaelod describes the drowning of Cardigan Bay by the drunken antics of a jealous gatekeeper who was in love with a girl that the local Prince married instead. I took this as an analog for rising sea levels due to climate change.

The second story is the origin of Wales' most famous bard and shamanic figure, Taliesin, who, as a baby, is discovered by the same Prince, having floated down the river Dyfi.

So my whole narrative about Bryn and Tomos and Eira is bracketed and interspersed with scenes starring the characters in these two myths. They all get the chance, every few hundred years, to have people in real life relive their dramas in the hope they can benefit from a different ending.

So the drunken gatekeeper wants to get the girl, and Ceridwen, who made the potion that turned the servant boy Gwion into Taliesin by accident, wants her disabled son, for whom the potion was originally intended, to receive the benefit of it. And so does the son (whose name is Afagddu), who is totally jealous of Gwion.

You can hopefully see how the triangular relationship between Bryn and Tomos and Eira is kind of reflected in the rivalry between the legendary characters.

In this respect it's a bit like Alan Garner's The Owl Service, which uses the Mabinogion story of Blodeuwedd and is also set nearby, around Devil's Bridge east of Aberystwyth. That's a great novel that I loved as a child. When I moved to the area I re-read it. I love the way it is so tersely written.

I am endlessly grateful that I met my lovely and talented wife Helen Adam during the research for the myths because she was writing a musical for children about Taliesin. I'm attaching a picture of her playing at a launch event for Stormteller.

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little about your other fiction titles -  'Hybrids', 'Doc Chaos'?

David:  Doc Chaos came first. Initially scripts for a commissioned TV series, it evolved into a series of comic books and a novella. The novella purports to be the autobiography of this Dr. Frankenstein-like monstrous scientist who is the archetype of nuclear power. It's a romp, a crazy satire and a mad love story.

The novella was originally published by Hooligan Press but a new edition has recently come out as an e-book only, together with a new short story set 100 years or so in the future when climate change and nuclear power have virtually wiped out everyone. Stylistically, think William Burroughs meets comics writer Grant Morrison in his Invisibles stage.

Hybrids was a novel that won a national competition by HarperCollins 'to find the next JK Rowling'. Or that is how it was billed. Clearly I do not have her hair. It's about teenagers merging with frequently-used technology due to a virus for which there is no known cure.

Johnny Online is turning into a computer and Kestrella's hand is a mobile phone. Hybrids have to be registered. If they're not, they become outlaws to be hunted by the Gene Police and taken to the sinister Centre for Genetic Rehabilitation. It aimed exactly at the Hunger Games generation, but it came out first.

Currently there is interest in turning it into another television series.


AmeriCymru: In addition to your works of fiction you have also written on Energy Management. Can you tell us more about this work?

David:  Not only that, but books on solar technology, living sustainably on the land, and upgrading your house to save energy and carbon emissions. I've always had this twin career and passion for environmentalism.

I guess it started when, as an 11 year old, I won a national environmental essay-writing competition by lamenting how the fields next to my local playground were being covered with housing sprawl. Nowadays I'm also an environmental journalist and non-fiction book writer.

So Stormteller represents an attempt to combine my interests in environmentalism with my interest in writing Speculative Fiction for young people.

Since Stormteller appeared, it has been labelled by some critics as 'cli-fi', which stands for climate change fiction, and is apparently a hot new genre. That's fine by me. I've been invited to be on a panel at this year's Hay Festival discussing cli-fi.

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about your work in the fields of carbon-free energy and sustainable development?

David: My most recent non-fiction book, published at the beginning of this year, is called The One Planet Life . It is about living sustainably in the countryside: about zero carbon buildings, land management, growing your own food and keeping animals, low carbon transport, and renewable energy.

It is based on a unique and pioneering Welsh planning law which allows people to build homes on agricultural land provided that they fulfil certain criteria about feeding themselves, improving biodiversity and reducing their ecological footprint.

It's a world-beating policy and to write the book I went and interviewed a lot of people who are doing this. The book has an introduction by the former Welsh Environment Minister, Jane Davidson. Again, we are talking together at this year's Hay Festival about this.

As a result of this work I am a patron of The One Planet Council .

Train stuck near Towyn in the winter of 2013/14 (Photo by Mark Kendell)

AmeriCymru: Where can one go to purchase Stormteller online?

David: It's available both as an e-book and in print from either Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk or the publisher, Cambria Books .

AmeriCymru: What's next for David Thorpe?

David:  I'm hard at work on a new novel, which I'm hoping will be the ultimate time travel story. It's set around the end of this century and in Nottingham, the city where I grew up. It's called The Moebius Trip.

I'm also researching a sequel to The One Planet Life, about living sustainably in the city. The crucial thing about this is measuring whether what is being done is actually sustainable.

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

David:  Stormteller tries to give a message of hope. Just as it's implied that the characters in the Welsh myths trying to change the endings of their stories have the possibility of doing so, I wanted to give readers, especially young readers, the feeling that climate change and its worst effects are not necessarily inevitable. I want to give them hope that it's possible to do something about it.

I'd hate to be young now with the feeling that the older generations have left me this terrible legacy of catastrophic devastation that may well occur during this century in many parts of the world as a result of their burning too many fossil fuels. I would be extremely angry and depressed.

Emotionally it's very difficult to deal with these feelings. Many people try to pretend it's not happening, they deny or ignore these feelings. They don't talk about them. They carry on living their lives because of course that's what we all really want to do. We resent it when people tell us that we should save energy, not drive so much, not fly everywhere, etc.

But people must be brave and need to realise that there are real benefits to living sustainably. Your quality of life can be so much better, and so may everyone's, not just the few. We can save money. We can stop species being made extinct. It's all very possible. You just need to wake up and join with others who are already doing it.

I believe that fiction provides a way to talk about these things without turning people off, without being preachy. I hope that Stormteller does this.

David Thorpe reading from 'Stormteller' at the book launch.

"A man with such a dramatic martyrdom and intense commitment which led to that martyrdom is worthy of becoming a legend,” says Dr. Samuel Hugh Moffett about Robert Jermain Thomas, missionary to China and Korea [1839-1866]. Thomas has become legendary in both North and South Korea: in the North he is considered enemy of empire—one who attempted to bring in American imperialism—to many in the South he is considered the first martyred Protestant missionary to Korea.


AmeriCymru: Hi Stella and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. What inspired you to write about Robert Jermain Thomas? Care to introduce him for our readers?

Stella: Sometimes we can live so close to great history and yet not see or appreciate the many hidden places or individuals that could enrich our lives.

So it was when I first learned of Robert Jermain Thomas. I had previously lived a few miles down the road from Llanover, Monmouthshire, the home of the missionary, Robert Jermain Thomas and yet it was not until I moved thousands of miles from my homeland, teaching at Gordon College, Massachusetts, that I first learned of the significance of this man to the Korean peninsula.

Little was known of him in Wales, but he is a household name for many in Korea. Chosen for Choson, is the first book about Robert Jermain Thomas written in English. His family were Welsh speaking, and lived next door to the famous Lady Llanover who encouraged everything Welsh. Currently, Chosen for Choson is available in English and Chinese and next year it will be available in Korean. Wouldn’t it be lovely if someone could translate this into Welsh!

The one that inspired me most must be Dr.Samuel Hugh Moffett whom I met at Princeton Seminary, who, by the way, celebrates in 99th birthday this year. Sam told me that a man like Thomas was “worthy of growing into a legend” because he had such a “dramatic” and “intense” commitment to spread the Gospel of Christ which eventually led to his martyrdom in Korea. Sam’s father, Samuel Austin Moffett, had served in Korea from 1890, through Pyongyang’s Revival in 1907, and stayed during the Japanese annexation in 1910 until he was forced to leave in 1935.

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about the General Sherman Incident in which Robert Thomas became entangled?

Stella: Mystery surrounded the General Sherman, the boat on which Thomas traveled on his second missionary journey into Korea. Thomas even refused to tell his friend its name. Some believe it was a spy ship; others, a merchant ship, or even a raider of tombs. As they traveled up the coast, they received many official warnings to turn back. However, they adamantly and arrogantly continued their course, intruding a country which was hostile to the outside world.

It is not surprising then, that on September 3, 1866, the command to destroy The Sherman was issued. Despite the inequality between the strength of The Sherman and the local boats, the Koreans were victorious. They floated several burning boats (turtle boats or scows) loaded with brush sprinkled with sulfur toward the schooner, setting it into flame. The captain and crew plunged into the sea and waiting for them on the shore were their executioners. Sadly, there were no survivors.

It was exciting to hear Sam tell me that he knew of eye witnesses of the account. He says, ‘My father came to Pyongyang less than 24 years after the General Sherman disaster. One of his helpers, reverend Hansok-jin, met eye witnesses of the attack on the Sherman. They had seen a white man in the smoke on the burning deck, shouting “Jesus” and throwing books to the people lining the shore. Some of the crowd were brave enough to take the books, one pasting the bible on the walls of his home. Later, this home became a thriving church.

AmeriCymru: How is Thomas remembered in Korea today?

Stella: For thousands of Korean Christians, Thomas is remembered as one who brought Christianity to Korea. He is greatly revered. Recently a chapel built on the grounds of Wales Evangical School of Theology, Bridgend, has been named after him. At Sarang Church in Korea, you will see a Welsh church built in the center of their buildings. Koreans In their hundreds visit the historical places in Wales attached to the memory of Thomas. Recently I was able to help John Gower on S4C television with details of the journey of Thomas. The story of Thomas continues to intrigue us.

AmeriCymru: You currently live in Wales but you lived for many years in Canada and then Massachusetts. Care to tell us a little about your time in Canada and the US?

Stella: My husband and I left Wales with three children and lived in Nova Scotia for several years; later we moved to Masachusetts. My husband was a doctor in Yarmouth, NS, and in Hamilton and Essex, MA. I taught at Gordon College, Wenham, Massachusetts. All our children studied in the USA.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Stella Price?

Stella: My biographies, Chosen for Choson and God’s Collaborator have kept me busy for a while. I am currently writing a novel based on a story line that begins in Nova Scotia and ends in post WWII London, UK with many cross-cultural dilemmas. It’s going to take a while, however. Researching this era is fascinating.

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

Stella: My book, “Chosen for Choson,” introduces you to the lives of Robert Jermain Thomas and Caroline Godfrey, two young people who were adventurous and brave. Their lives ended tragically, yet their story still reverberates throughout Wales, China, and Korea. My second book, “God’s Collaborator,” tells the story of a man who was imprisoned in North Korea, yet lives to tell the story, and whose life did not end tragically, but who has now founded a university in Pyongyang, North Korea, on the very site where the Memorial Church, dedicated to the life of Thomas, was destroyed. Stories really never end. They simply continue throughout the generations. I hope you enjoy these books.


AmeriCymru: How would you describe your new book 'The Timeless Cavern'?

John: It is a historical, fantasy, time travel treat. A cave in Mid Wales where no time passes is the base for Marged Evans and her friends. She works out how to re-calibrate the time stones so that she can help people out who have been trapped in the cave, some of them for hundreds of years.

The idea is to get young people and others interested in historical events, local, national and international via fun, time travel, fantasy.

AmeriCymru: Do you plan a sequel and if so when can we expect publication?

John: The Timeless Cavern series will be on going. The second book Marged Evans and the Pebbles of MORE time is finished and will be out by the middle of this year. The third book is a third complete and should be finished by the end of the year. The fourth and fifth books are in the planning stages.

AmeriCymru: You currently live in Minnesota but you are from Mid Wales originally. Care to tell us a little about your Welsh background?

John: I was raised on a hill farm in Mid Wales and lived there until 1976 when I came to the US and attended University. While in Wales I was active in Young Farmers and Wildlife organisations.

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about your one man show “John Dingley and the Biggest Pack of Lies You Ever heard”?

John: It is a collection of stories most of which are based in actual happenings that showed up in my life over the years. Many of them will show up in another book which will also be published soon. (See below)

AmeriCymru: What's next for John Dingley?

John: Another book coming out called "A visit Home" a collection of short stories and a few poems. Also another book which is finished, however still needs work. A non fiction. "Hard Work in Paradise  When all our food and lives were organic"

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

John: Keep supporting the world of Welsh Writers. We all need your support. Read voraciously and have fun.

Click the image above or here for Amazon listings.


AmeriCymru: Hi Stephen and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. What was the first thing you wrote and what attracted you to crime fiction writing?

Stephen: My first thing attempt at writing seriously was a general fiction novel. And my second novel was a political thriller based in London and Wales in the pre-devolution era. Luckily neither ever generated any interest from agents or publishers.

AmeriCymru: We recently featured Brass In Pocket on the Welsh American Bookstore. What can you tell us about the book?

Stephen: The book is the first in a series of police procedural/crime/ mystery novels featuring Inspector Ian Drake of the Wales Police Service. It is set in north Wales and assumes that policing powers have been devolved to Cardiff and that the police forces of Wales have all been unified into one. The second Worse Than Dead and the third Against The Tide have also been published.

AmeriCymru: Care to introduce your character, Inspector Drake, to our readers?

Stephen: Ian Drake is a detective inspector in the police. He was born and brought up in north Wales [near Caernarfon]. He comes from a rural background – his father and grandfather both ran small holdings. He suffers from OCD, feels guilty about the time he spends away from his family and resents the demands on his time. His wife is a doctor and he has two daughters. Drake can be dour, rude and often a misery but he gets the job done.

AmeriCymru: Can you take a moment to tell us all about the first of your Inspector Drake novels, Brass in Pocket.

Stephen: Brass in Pocket is the first inspector Drake novel and is in the tradition of British detective writing. The book is written in the third person so there are multiple points of view the principal character is Ian Drake. He is a nuanced character, facing challenges in his personal and professional life from his OCD. After the murder of two police officers on an isolated mountain pass the killer starts sending Drake messages in the form of lyrics from famous rock songs. Drake has to face the challenges of a high-profile enquiry as well as the investigation touching his life personally.

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about Inspector Marco?

Stephen: John Marco is from Aberdare. His father is from an Italian family and his mother is from Lucca, near Florence. He is single although he has a son from a past relationship. He has a rebellious streak but he has a sense of humour.

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about Speechless the first Inspector Marco novel?

Stephen: Speechless was inspired by reading a report about human trafficking to South Wales. And also it is about how the open borders of Europe have attracted thousands of people from Poland and other countries to work in the cities of the United Kingdom. John Marco comes from an interesting background himself which is threaded throughout the plot. It is written in the first person and is more fast-paced and grittier than the Inspector Drake novels.

AmeriCymru: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Stephen: Keep on writing- join a group and get your work critiqued. And don’t be afraid of someone telling you how to improve. Perhaps consider going on a short course and above all read and read in your genre.

AmeriCymru: Who are your favorite crime writers?

Stephen: Ian Rankin and Val McDermid must be near the top of the list. As well as Harlan Coben, Raymond Chandler and Karin Slaughter. But there are so many great crime/mystery writers. And then of course the Scandi Noir authors too – Mankell, Nesbo.

AmeriCymru: Favorite TV crime series?

Stephen: This could be another long list. There’s a series on BBC at the moment called The Missing where the acting is exceptional and the script profoundly good. Hinterland from Wales was superb too – on Netflix in the US soon I understand. But then The Sopranos and The Killing must be high on my favourite list.

AmeriCymru: Where can our members and readers find details of your books?

Stephen: I have a website – www.stephenpuleston.co.uk and all the novels are available as e-books on Amazon.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Stephen Puleston? When can we expect your next book?

Stephen: The second Marco novel – A Good Killing has a target publication date of 8th May and the third Somebody Told Me of the 8th September. After that I hope to get an extended Drake short story finished before a full novel by the end of 2015 beginning of 2016.

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

Stephen: There are so few Welsh crime writers I hope that in the future crime writing from Wales - Dragon Noir maybe? - can be as successful as Tartan Noir is in Scotland.

Chris Keil''s long awaited and widely acclaimed third novel ''Flirting At The Funeral'' was launched at Waterstone''s in Carmarthen on September 25th. AmeriCymru spoke to Chris about the novel and his future plans. Read our review of Flirting At The Funeral. Chris''s new novel is published by Cillian Press and is available from amazon.com. Buy it here:- Flirting At The Funeral

Chris Keil

AmeriCymru: Hi Chris and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. You are celebrating the publication of your third novel ''Flirting At The Funeral''. How has the book been received?

Chris: Really well. I’ve been very lucky in having a brilliant new publisher - Mark Brady of Cillian Press - a new star in the publishing universe! We’ve got events lined up in UK, Ireland and Portugal in the near future, and many more in the pipeline. Best of all has been the amazing response from readers - enthusiastic, emotionally sophisticated, alert to language - exactly the kind of readers I write for. Readers have responded to the narrative, to the interplay between characters, but also to the aspects of language that engage me as a writer - to tone, rhythm, cadence, to repetition, half-rhyme, musicality. I can’t ask for more
than that.

AmeriCymru: ''Flirting at The Funeral'' has been described as "...urbane, serious but also seriously entertaining writing." How difficult is it to be serious and seriously entertaining at one and the same time?

Chris: Many thanks to Jon Gower for those generous words! Not an easy question to answer. Flirting deals with serious themes, but hopefully not in a heavy-handed way. Life is scary,funny, sexy, sad - often all at the same time - and one of the functions of art is to try to capture some of that texture.

AmeriCymru: The book betrays a profound pessimism about the current political and economic condition of Europe. To what extent is this a major determining factor in the actions of its characters? Would you describe ''Flirting At The Funeral'' as a political novel?

Chris: OK. I don’t feel that Flirting is simply a political novel, although it’s certainly about politics, among other things. It’s been called a philosophical novel, and it’s a novel of ideas, I suppose, but ultimately it’s a novel about people, about human beings and their complex, tragi-comic interactions with each other and with the world. I’m not sure that the book ‘betrays a profound pessimism…’ If there’s a single emotional theme, it’s probably more like rage, but the emotional tone is not unified - it’s disaggregated across the range of characters in the book: certainly the terrorist Dave Leaper is filled with venom, but among the central characters Morgan is detached and a little cynical, Matty is… I’ll come back to Matty; and the young film-makers are busy trying to take themselves seriously while having a seriously good time. But of course the melancholy span of history across the last forty years hangs over the book, like the suspension bridge across the Tagus in Lisbon. “The people, united, will never be defeated…” Oh really?

AmeriCymru: Two characters meet each other after years living separate lives; in the interim, they''ve each enjoyed success but seem to have each come to a point in their lives in which they have to compromise as they get older - how did you develop them and the choices they make and do you think we all come to that point in our own lives and have to make those same choices?

Chris: I suspect that this never sounds quite plausible, but I really find that when the process of writing fiction is going well, the characters develop themselves. What happens to them, and what choices they make, derives from who they are, from their individual autonomies. With each of my books, I’ve probably spent as much time not writing, as writing. When I finally get down to starting the book, I’ve spent so much time thinking about the characters that they hit the page fully-formed, if not running. They’ve existed for a year or two in a fluid, inchoate and unwritten state before hardening into flesh and bone and personality. By that time they make their own choices, or fail to choose, or choose unwisely.

AmeriCymru: Is youthful idealism always destined to fade? Is life nothing more than a series of grudging compromises with mere survival as the ultimate goal?

Chris: No it isn’t! That’s really depressing! Of course, the book suggests that life has the capacity to destroy you - before it kills you, that is - but a person is always implicated in their own psychic destruction, at least to some extent. If your life ends up as ‘a series of grudging compromises’ (good phrase, by the way!) it’s because you weren’t quite brave enough, or passionate, or crazy enough, above all not clear-headed enough, to resist the compromises that fear or insecurity offer. Matty says: “People make choices, don’t they? I choose what happens to me. Or maybe I have no choice. I suppose it comes to the same thing in the end.” For me, those words inscribe her epitaph, metaphorically. Incidentally, it’s been very reinforcing for me as a writer to see the range of readers’ reactions to Matty - who is after all the central character of the book - from fascination, to loathing: intensely positive or intensely negative, but always intense.

AmeriCymru: There are conversations in this book in which it seems as though the characters are speaking to each other at right angles. One character responds to questions and statements about his wife''s illness with completely inapposite topics; what is this dialogue telling us about these characters and about this story?

Chris: There’s a couple of points I’d want to make about dialogue in Flirting. Firstly, it reflects the way I hear people speak, although obviously in a heightened, theatricalised mode - for me, the effect of naturalism is achieved by pretty much the opposite: exaggeration, over- emphasis, over-articulation. What I wanted to capture was the way that I hear people talk: at each other, across, over, down to each other; they hear things that haven’t been said, answer questions that weren’t being asked and ignore the ones that were. And beyond that of course, many of the characters in the book are alienated, isolated from each other and from themselves, trapped in their own speech-bubbles, so to speak.

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Chris Keil? Are you already working on another project or have one in mind?

Chris: Yes I do. The next book is going to be a re-imagining of the life of the Roman poet Ovid, transposed into modern times. It’s a story full of possibilities I think. Ovid was the most talented and successful poet of his generation, writing glittering erotic satires, mixing with the elites of Roman society; he was a super-star. And then, unwittingly, he did something to offend the Emperor - people think he must have been complicit in a scandal involving the Emperor’s family - and was banished, forced to leave Rome and live in exile and virtual imprisonment in Tomis, on the Black Sea, in what is now Romania but was then the very edge of the Empire and the known world. “Beyond here,” he wrote, ‘lies nothing.” He spent what was left of his life writing the Tristia - the Lamentations - poems of terrible grief, of obsessive longing for the past. I’m going to set it in the present, and the current working title is “Vodka, Depression and Temazepam.” Only kidding; it’s going to be very pacy - more or less an out-and-out thriller… but with added metaphysics.

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

Chris: Yes, I have two. Firstly, Portland is a brilliant city, full of beautiful and talented people, and I aim to be back there in 2013. Secondly - this is for everybody - as soon as you’ve finished reading this interview, find the Amazon button on the AmeriCymru site and buy a copy of Flirting at the Funeral! Do it now!


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Star Supply Stores Garnant

AmeriCymru spoke to Steve Adams. Steve is a journalist currently researching the unsolved 1921 murder of shopkeeper Thomas Thomas at Star Stores in the Carmarthenshire village of Garnant.

Follow his progress on his blog:-

Murder At The Star


AmeriCymru: Hi Steve and diolch for agreeing to this interview. When did you first become interested in the murder of Thomas Thomas?

Steve: As chief reporter of the South Wales Guardian, the Ammanford-based weekly newspaper, I’m always on the look-out for stories with an Amman Valley link, particularly those which allow me to explore two of my other great interests – Welsh history and historic crime. So, when in the spring of 2013 I came across the essay A Long Time between Murders by the globally-renowned international affairs expert Owen Harries, my heart skipped a beat.

Mr Harries was born in the Amman valley in the early 1930s and his 2001 essay compared life in Washington DC – where he was then living and where a dozen murders in a weekend was not uncommon – to his childhood in rural Wales. In his home village of Garnant the unsolved 1921 murder of a shopkeeper remained the only major crime for more than 70 years until the owner of a local restaurant discovered his wife had taken a fancy to more than just the new chef’s fruity desserts. However, it was the murder of the half-deaf bible-quoting shopkeeper that kept returning to my mind, not least because although the case remained officially unsolved, the valley rumour mill had long since been pointing the finger.

The more I looked into the killing of Thomas Thomas at the Star Stores, the more engrossed I became. The more details I uncovered, the more the story read like an Agatha Christie novel – and by a strange quirk of fate, the murder at the Star was actually committed just 23 days after the UK release of Christie’s first book. The killing of Thomas Thomas had all the ingredients of a great Whodunnit?

A shopkeeper killed in a locked shop; three separate wounds all of which was enough to prove fatal; a lump of cheese used as a gag; Scotland Yard detectives; the takings stolen; and a host of characters and suspects lifted straight from the pages of a Dickens novel. And while the tale of the murder was in itself a great albeit unknown story, I could also see there was something far larger bubbling away in the background. It seemed to me that the murder at the Star also told the story of south Wales and its transformation from rural society to industrial boom, and then the inevitable, painful decline.

AmeriCymru: Care to describe the Amman valley for the benefit of our readers? What kind of community was it at the time the crime was committed?

Steve: One of the most intriguing aspects of the murder at Star Stores was how – to my mind at least - it symbolised the changing nature of south Wales from the middle of the 19th century to the years immediately after the Great War. In less than a single lifetime, the valley, which at the time Victoria came to the throne was known as Cwmaman and was nothing more than a scattering of farmsteads, exploded into life.

Commerce Place

Commerce Place Garnant

The discovery of coal saw the birth of a hamlet which in turn grew so quickly that it soon swelled and split into two separate villages, Garnant and Glanaman. Between them they boasted two train stations, numerous mines, factories, tin-plate works, and scores of shops, including national chains such as the Star. Glanaman had a dedicated sheet-music shop, while Garnant offered at least three hat shops. There were stationery shops, banks, hairdressers, pubs, greengrocers, cabinet makers and confectioners – all desperate to relieve the miners of their weekly wage.

In little more than 50 years, the area went from a population which barely reached three figures to being home to around 20,000 people. Such was the relentless growth of the villages that demand for lodgings far outstripped supply and Thomas Thomas rented not a room, nor even a bed, but a share of a bed. The war years were undoubtedly a boom time for mining communities as the thirst for coal to fuel the war effort became unquenchable and people came from far and wide to share the wealth.

The demand for workers grew and grew, but by the early 1920s things had begun to change. As the demand for coal begin to fall so the wealth that fed the boom of Garnant and Glanaman faltered and its disappearance marked the arrival of something new – crime. In the case of Thomas Thomas, it culminated in the worst of crimes – murder.

AmeriCymru: The murder went unsolved at the time but the locals had a theory concerning the identity of the culprit. Care to tell us more?

Steve: Within days of the crime being committed a number of names began circulating around the village – and further along the valley – as likely suspects, each with the means, the motive and the opportunity to kill.

Some thought the killer was Thomas Thomas’ landlord, asking why he had not raised the alarm when his lodger failed to return home that night; some believed it was the property developer who had built the store on land leased from Baron Dynevor, the local landowner – a costly 20-year legal dispute culminated in a High Court appearance and all but bankrupted the Garnant man who was left desperately short of cash and with bills to pay; others believed it was the local ne’er-do-well, a man who served time behind bars in his youth and who had lost his hand just six months prior to the murder in a suspicious explosion for which he offered police only the most bizarre of explanations.

There were also rumours of illicit love affairs, jealousy and vengeance. Local suspicion reached fever-pitch until the day of Thomas Thomas’ funeral when the dead man’s brother was approached by a mysterious stranger who put a name to the killer.

The informant has never been identified, but the name he gave remains in the village consciousness to this day as the man who killed Thomas Thomas. In fact, I was contacted by a lady in her 80s less than a month ago and told in no uncertain terms that the man named at the funeral was indeed the killer. The rumour and gossip has become more entrenched with each passing decade.

AmeriCymru: I know from our previous discussions that you have your own theory, indeed perhaps more than a theory about the perpetrators identity. Can you tell us more without giving too much away?

Star Stores safe Steve: I have been fortunate enough to get my hands on all the remaining paperwork compiled in relation to the case in the weeks following the murder. After examining the Scotland Yard files, the witness statements, photographs of the crime scene and pictures taken as part of the post-mortem, I absolutely sure of is I know who really killed Thomas Thomas on that February night in 1921 – and it was certainly not the man the lady who telephoned me at the beginning of March believed it was.

In many respects, the investigation into the murder at the Star became less a question of who the evidence pointed to and more who it eliminated as a suspect. Sherlock Holmes’ famous adage that “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth” became the basis for the entire investigation. In Holmes’ cases, the logic worked perfectly well because the great fictional detective never missed or misunderstood a clue. Sadly, real life is never so clear cut.

Vital evidence was misinterpreted during the days of the investigation at the Star, clouding the entire inquiry and causing the police to eliminate the real killer. Having been able to reassess the evidence and show what I have collected to modern-day experts in their field, I am confident I can prove that not only were the police wrong to remove one of the suspects from their inquiry when they did, but rather than eliminate him, the evidence proves he was only man in Garnant capable of committing the murder in the manner that he did.

AmeriCymru: You are publishing a book about the case soon. When will it be available for purchase online?

Steve: I am in the process of writing a book on the case and I am currently in discussions with a publisher to secure a book deal. I’d rather not go into the specifics just yet, but I’m optimistic we will be able to thrash out a deal in the coming weeks.

The book will of course be available from all the usual online outlets and as an e-book, although I am still some way away from completing the finished product. In the meantime I am continuing to write a blog on the case, which can be found on Americymru.net and at www.murderatthestar.wordpress.com where readers are able to follow the progress of the book in rough draft form. In fact, it is due to the numbers of people who have been reading the blog and contacting me through social media that I contacted the publishing company when I did.

What began as something of a pet project and a labour of love quickly gathered a substantial following and I have been overwhelmed by the interest – from Amman valley residents, those who were born in the area but have since moved away and readers simply interested in a cracking yarn.

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

Steve: I would just like to thank everyone on Americymru who has read the blog – either on the Americymru site or via the Murder at the Star blog. I never really imagined the murder at the Star would be of any interest to anyone apart from me – how wrong I was. It is only due to the support and encouragement of the readers that I continued digging away until I reached the point when I became confident enough to say I have solved the murder at the Star.

Wales Married To The Eye by R D Berner


AmeriCymru spoke to R T Berner about his book Wales Married To The Eye a photographic record of a recent trip to Wales. The book is available from Amazon and blurb.com.

Wales Married To The Eye on Blurb


AmeriCymru:Care to tell us a little about your book ''Wales Married To The Eye''?

“The photograph,” Dylan Thomas once wrote, “is married to the eye.” The Welsh poet could have said the same thing about his beautiful country. From Mount Snowdon in the north to Mumbles in the south, the landscape of Wales is a photographer’s dream—and my wife and I overdosed during a nine-day visit in 2010 that came 17 years after our first visit for a conference at the University of Wales-Aberystwyth in 1993.

I am fortunate to have family in Wales and they were very helpful as we mapped out our trip. …

Where did we go? Besides Aberystwyth and Cardiff, we spent a night in Snowdonia National Park (Llanberis), Hay-on-Wye (where a yarn shop caught Paulette’s eye), Swansea, St David’s and Machynlleth, the birthplace of my maternal grandfather, Thomas F. Williams, and where Paulette took this photograph of me with the Western Mail. We also stopped in Aberaeron, Harlech, Brecon, Laugharne, Mumbles and Llangennith, the birthplace of John Morgan, a friend of ours whom met in China in 1994 and who spent his adult life in Australia. (See Now and Then: The Memoirs of John Morgan, available at www.lulu.com and in the National Library in Aberystwyth. ) We visited the National Slate Museum, the National Wool Museum, the National Library of Wales, the National Museum in Cardiff and the National History Museum, also known as St Fagans. We stopped several times just to take in the view (and photograph it).

St David's Cathedral interior

St David''s Cathedral Interior ( Click for larger image )

Between us, we took nearly 3000 photographs.

In Swansea, we stayed in Dylan Thomas’ birthplace and slept in the room where he was born. In Laugharne, we visited the last place he lived and I was able, for a fee, to photograph inside the house and the shed where he wrote.

AmeriCymru: What photographic equipment did you use to take these breathtaking

My wife photographs with a Nikon D40 primarily to have something to aid her painting. I was using a Nikon D7000 at the time, which I had programmed to shoot multiple exposures that I could then process as high dynamic range photographs. The interior photograph of St. David’s Cathedral is an example of the detail one can achieve with multiple exposures.

Brecon canal

Brecon Canal ( Click for larger image ) 

AmeriCymru: What is your most abiding impression from your trip to Wales? Where in Wales would you most like to visit again?

We want to spend more time in the north.

AmeriCymru: Where can our members and readers purchase the book online?

The book is available at www.blurb.com and Amazon.

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

You must visit Wales at least once in your lifetime. We found it very easy to drive about. I would recommend nothing less than 7 days and probably 14 so you can take your time and hit all of the major sites. We would also recommend flying into Manchester, England, rather than dealing with Heathrow. It doesn’t take long to drive out of the Manchester airport and reach rural Wales.

Boats in Aberaeron, Wales

Aberaeron Boats ( Click for larger image )

Tales from Little Gam: Winter with WhiteSuccess for Swansea author Marly Evans, a retired primary schoolteacher, came from a family influence. When she became a grandmother to twins Ava and Daniel, Marly looked forward to the day she would be able to read them stories that would spark their imagination. Now she’s written them herself. Tales from Little Gam, a series of rural Welsh stories, draws on the unspoilt Gower countryside and the mischievous charm of its animals, inspired through Marly’s life with Jeff, a seventh generation Gower farmer. Marly began writing with the belief that Welsh stories have “an appeal that can reach well beyond our borders”. All the stories are true, and in many ways, quite unique.


Marly Evans

AmeriCymru: Hi Marly and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. When did you decide to take up writing childrens'' fiction?

Marly: I created stories for my own children, Catrin and Gareth Owain when they were at primary school age, but it was not until my twin grandchildren Ava and Daniel arrived six years ago, that I really began to take the whole thing seriously.

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little about the ''Little Gam'' series?

Marly: My inspiration for the Little Gam series came from life with my partner Jeff, who is a seventh generation Gower farmer. While developing the stories, we created a ''Little Gam Model Village'', pictured first in Spring and later in Winter. Three films were made, in English and Welsh, complete with narratives, now showing on Youtube. Each book has a seasonal theme and are centred around the village, its unspoilt countryside,colourful characters and mischievous animals.

AmeriCymru: The books are set in the Gower peninsula, south Wales. Care to describe the area for the benefit of our American readers? Is ''Little Gam'' based on any particular Gower village?

Marly: ''Little Gam'' is based loosely on the very quaint village of Murton, in Bishopston, in an area of outstanding beauty. It is a typical Gower village with a post office, inn, bakery, farm, church on the Green, smithy, and school.There have been some changes.

AmeriCymru: You are also a poet. Can you tell us a little about your poetry?

Marly: Writing poetry was my first passion, and this occured earlier in my life. I wrote many poems and some were published.I took my inspiration from life.

AmeriCymru: Where can people go online to buy your books?

Marly: My books can be bought via my book website:- www.talesfromlittlegam.wordpress.com

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Marly Evans? When can we expect to see the next in the ''Little Gam'' series?

Marly: The next book is entitled '' Summertime'' and will be on sale in a few months.

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

Marly: In my books, I have tried to create a world, which illustrates Welsh village life with all its humour and daily goings-on. All the stories are true and in many ways, quite unique.

Andrew Peters in blue suit

AmeriCymru spoke to Welsh crime fiction writer and roving guitarist Andrew Peters:-

"I was born in beautiful Barry on June 21st many years ago. That''s the longest day of the year ("Bloody felt like it too" Mrs GE Peters) so I have always yearned for the sun. After looking for it in vain in the UK, I toured the world as a guitarist and finally settled in Spain in 2004."

Books by Andrew Peters


AmeriCymru: Hi Andrew and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. Can you tell us a little about your Welsh background and how you came to be living in the wilds of central Spain?

Andrew: I was born in beautiful Barry on June 21st many years ago. That''s the longest day of the year ("Bloody felt like it too" Mrs GE Peters) so I have always yearned for the sun. After looking for it in vain in the UK, I toured the world as a guitarist and finally settled in Spain in 2004.

My parents left Wales when I was 10 and insisted I accompany them, but I have returned often, since my mother''s family are landed gentry in the millionaire''s playground of Aberdare, and Mother now lives in upmarket Saundersfoot.

AmeriCymru: At what point did you take up writing crime fiction? Would you describe your work as crime fiction?

Andrew: I never wrote anything at all until June 2012, when I wrote a story about murdering my ex (every boy''s dream) in response to some banter with Facebook friends. Inside two months, I had forty short stories written, all brilliant, and probably dictated by aliens.

Most of my stuff is crime related, and definitely fiction, though I am not one for the meticulously researched police procedural, and there will be no ritual serial killers sending cryptic clues to drunk policemen with unsupportive bosses and troubled marriages.

Most of my stuff has a Welsh connection and my puerile humour, but I did write two "straight" crime novels (JOE SOAP & SUBTRACTION) from which all Welshness and every joke was carefully removed. People still claimed to laugh at them.

AmeriCymru: Can you tell us a little about Otis King, Memphis'' Number One Welsh Blues detective?

Andrew: Well, The Blues Detective started out as just one short story in a collection, but has now expanded to twenty short stories, three Kindle novellas and two novels.

Otis KThe Blues Detectiveing''s real name and origins are shrouded in mystery, though there is talk of bus-conducting in Aberdare, the Welsh Secret Service and a spell in the Glamorgan State Penitentiary. He moved to Memphis with his guitar to make it big, but only managed to make it small, so he supplements his income and funds his bourbon and blonde habits by investigating Blues-related cases. He''s rather a soft-boiled detective, since he scares very easily and guns make him nervous. Fortunately he can usually find some bigger blokes to do the rough stuff. He likes well-upholstered blondes, tidy guitars, Welsh bourbon,fast cars and despises modern jazz pianists.

AmeriCymru: Care to introduce your character Retired Chief Superintendent Williams (the semi-legendary "Williams Of The Yard") for our readers?

The Barry Island MurdersAndrew: Another strange character. He was a legend at Scotland Yard in the later years of the last century, but never talks about that. He only discusses his early cases as a young DI in Barry in the sixties. His recollections are a little clouded by the passage of years and gin. He hasn''t moved with the times too well, so can be a little lacking in the niceties of political correctness, and rather prefers the world of 1966 to 2013. Oddly for a detective, he gets on very well with his superiors and is very happily married.

Yes, I know...very far-fetched.

AmeriCymru: We learn from your bio that you share your place with two gorgeous local cats, more guitars than you can count and a fridge full of wine. Can you tell us a little about your guitar collection?

Andrew: Well.....one picture is worth 1000 words...


AmeriCymru: And,.... the all important question, are you a red or white wine drinker?

Andrew: Yes! But only to excess.

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

Andrew: I don''t read much at all these days, much prefer the guitars and getting outside in the real world. I recommend Robert B Parker, Damon Runyon, Dylan Thomas & PG Wodehouse...all of whom are too dead to sue me for blatant plagiarism.

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Andrew Peters? What are you working on at the moment?

Andrew: I think my oeuvre is complete now, ten books seems a nice round number, and nobody''s offering me millions to churn out any more. Not written a word since August and have no ideas.

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

Andrew: Awfully nice of you to chat to me, everyone please buy all my books immediately and make me stinking rich, famous and more attractive to women. Failing that, never forget you''re Welsh and if you ever have any Blues-related cases that need solving, call Otis King 634-5789

Andrews cats ( in boxes )

AmeriCymru spoke to Welsh author Cynan Jones about his contribution to the Seren New Tales From The Mabinogion Series - ''Bird,Blood,Snow''. In re-imagining this myth for a contemporary audience Cynan Jones has adopted for his hero the juvenile terror and scourge of a modern council estate. Read our review here

Cynan Jones

Author of Bird,Blood,Snow

Read our previous interview with Cynan Jones

Other Titles by Cynan Jones

Everything I Found on the Beach

The Long Dry


AmeriCymru: Hi Cynan and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. Care to tell us a little about your latest book ''Bird,Blood,Snow''?

Cynan: Bird, Blood Snow is different. Bird, Blood, Snow is a bicycle kick. By that I mean the process of writing it was instinctive and spontaneous.

It''s a re-telling of an ancient Welsh myth. More accurately, an Arthurian myth. It''s part of the New Stories from the Mabinogion series.

Seren formally approached me with the commission in November last year (''11), then we had to wait for the funding process to run through before they confirmed in March.

The book was scheduled for October 2013, which would give me plenty of time. Then at the end of March, Seren asked whether I could hit the slot for this year. I said yes. Which effectively left me three months to deliver the book. That certainly fed into the eclectic approach I took.

AmeriCymru: The book is based on the Mabinogion Peredur tale. How would you describe ''Peredur'' for anyone who is not acquainted with it?

Cynan: I was the last author to be approached for the series and Peredur was the only tale left. There were good reasons why. It''s narratively disjointed, the imagery that thunders through most of the other tales is scant, and its allegories are uncertain of themselves.

It tells the tale of a youth bent on recognition in King Arthur''s court. He leaves the isolated home his mother has removed him to in the hope he won''t follow his father and brother''s into a violent life; then he tries to draw attention to himself through a series of violent acts in Arthur''s name. That''s it in its simplest terms.

AmeriCymru: How difficult was it to re-imagine for a modern audience?

Cynan: As I''ve said, it was a bicycle kick. That''s evidently a very difficult skill, but it''s something you do without thinking in some ways. You don''t think of the difficulty, or the physics of it. You just go for it. It''s in retrospect you think... wow. Ok...

If the time scale for delivery had not changed it''s likely I would have done something much more in line with my other writing. It was good I didn''t.

AmeriCymru: Peredur, as cast in ''Bird,Blood,Snow'', is not a sympathetic character and his ''biographer'' is dismissed for having attempted to romanticize him. Do you think he has any redeeming qualities?

Cynan: He is immune to mildness. That might be regarded a redeeming quality. And he is self aware. He is violent with great target, rather than disruptive. But he doesn''t want to be redeemed. He openly admits to living in his own little world. He''s not bothered about integrating himself into society.

It''s interesting to write a character who is essentially vicious but meanwhile make him compelling. You don''t have a sympathy for him but his honesty is magnetic.

AmeriCymru: You say in your Afterword that the Peredur story is an early unfinished version of the medieval ''questing'' tale. Care to elaborate?

Cynan: This is purely my reaction to it. The Mabinogion tales were originally oral stories. Given that, there would have been great opportunity to alter the tales, to introduce contemporary factors and influences.

I wonder to what degree the Peredur tale came about because of an emerging fashion for Arthurian myth. Storytellers would have been requested to relate certain types of story, so would need to react to new trends much in the way film makers nowadays do.

My feeling is the Peredur myth had not actually formalised into a set story at the time the tales came to be written down in around the 1300s / 1400s.

But once you write something down you essentially fossilise it. If that process happens wrongly, the fossil is imperfect, scattered. It has to be pieced back together by the reader. The fact there are several disparate versions of the Peredur tale supports the guess.

AmeriCymru: What is the ultimate goal of Peredur''s quest in ''Bird,Blood,Snow''?

Cynan: Acknowledgement.

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Cynan Jones? Any new books planned or in the works?

Cynan: There''s a new book in the mix. It''s ready to go to publishers.

Meanwhile, I''m looking forward to getting on to the next story. It''s gestating a the moment. Hopefully I''ll begin early next year. It won''t be as lunatic as this one.

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

Cynan: Thanks for the continued enthusiasm. Also, there''s a quest within the book. I''d like to invite readers to dig about in the story a bit, do some archaeology. I''ve buried several artefacts from other texts. Some more easy to uncover than others. But do get in touch if you think you''ve found something!

Interview by Ceri Shaw Ceri Shaw on Google+


Llwyd Owen is an award-winning Welsh-language fiction author born in Cardiff in 1977. He lives in Cardiff with his wife and daughters and works as a translator when not writing fiction. As well as publishing six acclaimed Welsh language novels and two English language adaptations."

AmeriCymru spoke to Llywd about his work and in particular his recent English language novel ''The Last Hit''


AmeriCymru: Hi Llwyd and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. All your novels have been written and published in the Welsh language. How have they been received by Welsh readers?

Llywd: Very well, in general, although some people don’t like them, of course. But that goes hand in hand with the kind of close-to-the-bone fiction I write. I’m a reasonable enough person to realise that my novels aren’t for everyone. And all my novels have an ‘Indecent Language’ warning on their back covers, to ward off the faint hearted!

AmeriCymru: Do you think that your novels have ''broken the mould'' in Welsh language writing? Care to tell us a little about the Eisteddfod controversy?

Llywd: I don’t think they broke the mould as such (novelists such as Caradog Pritchard, Goronwy Jones, Twm Miall, Owain Meredith and Gruff Meredith have all produced highly controversial novels before me), although they do seem to have opened the door for some like-minded authors – for example Dewi Prysor and Alun Cob – to produce equally exciting novels for a new generation of readers.

There really isn’t much to tell about the so-called ‘Eisteddfod controversy’ (my debut novel was deemed to go “beyond normal and safe publishing boundaries”) except that I’m glad I did not win the 2005 Daniel Owen Memorial Prize because it gave me the opportunity to a) take my pick of publishers, and b) refine and rewrite parts of the novel before it was published in March 2006. That said, it did help ensure a lot of publicity for the novel upon its release.

AmeriCymru: OK I have to ask...do you have plans to translate the remaining four Welsh language novels into English? If so, which one first and when might we expect see it made available?

Llywd: I have no plans to translate the others at present, although I’m certain that it will happen sometime in the near future. I translated Faith Hope & Love so that my wife (a Welsh learner who struggled to get to grips with the Welsh versions of my books) could see what I was up to. And after it was so well received, I decided to translate The Last Hit during a break between writing new fiction. I challenged myself to translate a chapter a week and released the results on my website as a work in progress.

AmeLlywd Owen - ''The Last Hit''riCymru: Tell us a little about The Last Hit. Is it fair or accurate to describe it as a ''feelgood'' novel?

Llywd: Personally, I wouldn’t call it a ‘feelgood novel’, but I can’t stop people labelling it whatever they want because, post-publishing, the novel belongs as much to each individual reader as it does to me. I see The Last Hit as a homage to my favourite genre of fiction, namely hard-boiled thrillers as perfected by some of my literary heroes, for example Elmore Leonard and George Pelecanos. It also tips its hat in many ways to my one of my favourite films, True Romance.

AmeriCymru: Faith, Hope & Love sold more copies in the States than in Britain. What do you think is the books'' major appeal in the US?

Llywd: I have no idea why Faith, Hope & Love sold more copies in the US than in Britain, although I’d have to say that the novel’s themes are very universal, so that anyone – from Aberdeen to Atlanta and Aberdare to Adelaide - could relate to them. For example, almost everyone has lost someone close to them; everyone has been betrayed at some point; most people have experienced a broken heart; and everyone has a family with its own unique dynamic. And that is what Faith, Hope & Love is fundamentally about – family and loss, love and betrayal.

AmeFaith, Hope & Love by Llywd OwenriCymru: You did some travelling a year or so after graduating. Care to tell us a little about your experiences and how they have featured in your work?

Llywd: As it happens, the time I spent living in a place called Mission Beach in tropical North Queensland at the turn of the century had a huge impact on The Last Hit. It was here that I met the original, the real-life Tubbs, who became the fictional main character of the novel.

One evening during my first week at Mission Beach, sat around the communal campfire in the company of my new friends and co-workers at what was essentially a hippy commune stroke backpacker hostel, I heard whispers that ‘Tubbs’ was on his way. I had no idea who Tubbs was, so I turned to Trev, sat slumped and smoked-out next to me, and asked him to fill me in. In hushed tones, he explained that Tubbs was a ‘big bloody Bandit’, before passing out. Soon, ‘Tubbs’ was amongst us. A giant. A beast of a man. Six foot six. Twenty stone. Mean looking. Sullen. Serious business. The kind of bloke who could grow a beard from scratch in less than ten minutes. He was there on behalf of the Cairns faction of the Bandidos biker gang in his capacity as a merchant of magic potions and special herbs. Just the man I wanted to see as it happens…

I was introduced to this behemoth, who went through the motions as he weighed up my order:

“Where you from?” He asked.

“Wales.” I replied, which made him turn his head to look at me, his eyes twinkling in the fire’s glow.

Where in Wales?”


On hearing this his frown turned into a panoramic smile, before he uttered the words that cemented the foundations of our friendship for the coming months.

“Bloody hell, mate,” he bellowed. “I’m from Dinas Powys!”

The Welsh-connection thrust me directly to the top of the hippy food chain and I soon learnt that Tubbs was born in Llandough in the mid-sixties, although his family moved to Australia before he was one.

Our relationship was a very simple one, thanks mainly to his calling and my girlfriend’s address. Each week, Tubbs would leave the Bandidos HQ in Cairns with a boot-load of ‘product’ and drive to Brisbane and back, calling at several prearranged locations along the way. Every week, he’d call to see his chums at Mission Beach before I’d accompany him in his light grey VW Polo with tinted windows (his secret weapon in his never-ending efforts to avoid incarceration) to Cairns where he’d drop me off at said girlfriend’s house. Along the way he’d regale me with seemingly tall tales about his life as an outlaw, and although it was hard to tell what was true and what was fictional, I lapped it up and stored it all away.

We continued in this fashion for approximately three months, until the time came for me to leave. On my last night in Cairns, Tubbs took a few friends and I to the Bandidos HQ in an undisclosed address in the city, where we were met at the entrance by two guards armed with Kalashnikovs. Of course, bikers in general, and the Bandidos in particular, have a nasty reputation, but what I experienced that night was possibly the best night-club on earth. The place was full of characters, mostly hairy, heavily-tattooed, leather-clad grease merchants with amazing stories to tell; while the barmaids were completely naked. But by that time, nothing in Tubbs’s world could surprise me.

A few years later, now an established author with an award-winning tome to my name, I decided to revisit my time in north Queensland and the relationship I had with ‘Tubbs’. And although I’m not for one second suggesting that the original Tubbs was an assassin (like the fictional one in The Last Hit), he was a very dodgy individual who supplied the kindling, the firewood, the matches and the petrol that exploded in my mind to create this epic character and the world he exists within.

AmeriCymru: You have been described in the past as "....Wales’s anwser to Irvine Welsh". How do you feel about this comparison?

Llywd: It’s great to be compared to one of your heroes, of course; although I’d exchange it in an instant if my novels would be read by just 10% of Mr Welsh’s readership!

AmeriCymru: Other writers, notably Niall Griffiths who cited ''So Long Hector Bebb'', have acknowledged a book or author who influenced their early reading and perhaps subsequent writing style. Is there an author and/or book that especially influenced you?

Llywd: Two authors in particular have had a huge influence on me and my writing, namely Lloyd Robson and John Williams. Both Robson’s Cardiff Cut and Williams’ Cardiff Trilogy inspired me to write Cardiff-based crime stories. Their books put the city at centre stage, and this is something I have tried to do in my novels as well. As a Cardiff boy, I am proud of the city – both its triumphs and follies – and feel geographically and spiritually entwined with her streets and people. I realise that sounds extremely wanky, but it’s also quite true!

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

Llywd: I am currently working on a new novel about an unhappy and bitter author called… ‘Llwyd Owen’.


'The Last Hit' by Llwyd Owen - A Review

Llywd Owen - ''The Last Hit''Welcome to The Last Hit , a new novel by Llwyd Owen, author of the 2007 Welsh Book of the Year. The life story of Al Bach (aka Tubbs) forms the back-bone of this novel - from his miserable childhood in Swansea under the clipped wings of his mother Foxy, a prostitute, and Calvin, his tyrant of a father. We follow him through his boyhood in the company of T-Bone, head of a Cardiff branch of Hell''s Angels. Under his deceitful control, he settles into a career as a hitman, before facing a fateful challenge that will change his life forever.



"Not everyone deserves a happy ending."

Try as I might to avoid writing ''fanzine'' style reviews for this site it is difficult to avoid playing the role of ''cheerleader'' where Llwyd Owen is concerned. This is the second of his six Welsh language novels published by Y Lolfa to be translated into English and one can only hope that the other four will follow shortly. Whilst ''Faith, Hope & Love ( published in English translation in 2010 ) displayed all the hallmarks of a classic tragedy this book is much lighter in tone. ''The last Hit'' has been described as a feelgood novel and certainly there are happy endings though not everyone comes out of it well. In some ways it resembles a Welsh Western. Our hero Al Tubbs gets the girl and revenge against his evil stepfather in a final showdown in which he exacts ''moral'' retribution for the years of abuse and deceit he has suffered at his hands.

''The Last Hit'' boasts a full complement of sleazeball characters who would be at home in the pages of any Irvine Welch novel but it is not without humour. In fact it is intensely and darkly comedic throughout. Witness this brief exchange before Tubbs and his friend Boda visit Vexl, a Barry island pimp, to punish him for scarring his girlfriend.

"Be careful," Petra pleaded like the lead actress in a hammed-up Hollywood melodrama. "He''s off his ''ead and he doesn''t care about anythen."

"I f*****g hate nihilists," retorted Boda, while Tubbs turned to face her and looked down into her deep blue eyes.

Earlier in the same chapter, shortly after meeting Petra for the first time we find Tubbs speculating that she might have been named after the famous Jordanian city and archaeological site. She responds:-

"Oh, Ok. I understand now," ......"But I dont think my pares eva went to Jordan. The people of the Gurnos dont get much furtha than Asda, down Murtha. Ponty at a a stretch. And anyway, I was named after the Blue Peter dog."

The many humorous touches enrich a narrative which moves at a breathless pace as it builds towards its grisly climax. A real page turner, this is a book that you''ll probably finish in a day and be left wanting more. An unreserved five star recommendation.

Llwyd Owen on Wikipedia:- "Llwyd Owen is an award-winning Welsh-language fiction author born in Cardiff in 1977. He lives in Cardiff with his wife and daughters and works as a translator when not writing fiction. As well as publishing 6 acclaimed Welsh language novels and one English language adaptation, he is also a published poet and photographer who presented his own television documentary on S4C on the Cardiff art scene in 2008.

His first novel, Ffawd, Cywilydd a Chelwyddau (Fate, Shame & Lies) was published by Y Lolfa in March 2006, and his second, Ffydd Gobaith Cariad (Faith Hope Love) in November 2006. Ffawd, Cywilydd a Chelwyddau was described by the judges of the National Eisteddfod of Wales'' Daniel Owen Memorial Prize as "close to genius" but was not awarded the prize. Critics have said that it goes "beyond normal and safe publishing boundaries" because of its disturbing content, swearing and slang, which is uncommon in Welsh-language literature. Publication of the book was delayed for a year due to its controversial nature." ....Read More

colours-of-corruptionJacqueline Jacques lives in London and is the author of six novels. Frem the authors website:-

"Although Wales is where I was born, I feel such an affinity with Walthamstow, London, where I grew up, that the town features in most of my books."

AmeriCymru spoke to Jacqueline about her previous work and her current novel ''The Colours Of Corruption'' and about her future writing plans.

Buy The Colours Of Corrution here



AmeriCymru: Hi Jacqueline and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. You currently live just outside London and were raised in Walthamstow. What is your original connection with Wales?

Jacqueline: I was born in Wales on a wild and snowy night in February. My father was an army instructor in Anglesey and he and my mother set up home on a pig-farm in Ty-Croes. I went back in my mid-forties to try and trace my roots and there they were: a hearth stone in the middle of a field! I still have relatives in Llantwit Major, Mumbles and Cowbridge.

AmeriCymru When did you first become interested in writing?

Jacqueline: I knew from a very early age that happiness lay in books. I was one of those very shy little girls, tucked behind my mother’s skirts or sat in a corner, sucking my fingers, watching and listening to the grownups’ chatter and storing it up for the future. Or I’d be reading ...

I could read at two-and-a-half and devoured stories of every sort. When I was ten or eleven I discovered the marvellous Louisa May Alcott and her book ‘Little Women,’ and identified immediately with Josephine March. I knew then I was going to be a writer. In fact, when the Beatles wrote ‘Paperback Writer,’ I thought they’d written it just for me! One of these days ...

But it wasn’t until my own children had grown up and left home, and my mother had died without fulfilling her own writing ambitions, that I finally decided that it was now or never. I joined a Creative Writing class and discovered that I could write short stories and articles and get paid for them. I even won competitions. The tutor said – ‘I don’t know what you’re doing now but give it up and write!’ Eventually, I did just that. I took early retirement from teaching and haven’t looked back.

AmeriCymru: We learn from your biography that most of your novels start as short stories and develop from there? Do you also write short stories and if so are any available in anthologies?

Jacqueline: I don’t write short stories now. I took a tip from Beryl Bainbridge who said she didn’t waste ideas on short stories when she could write novels. I need scenes where I can ‘act out’ the plot (I wanted to be an actress at one time), wallow in the words and show the development of the characters. By the end of any book the characters must have changed in some way and a short story doesn’t give them enough scope, in my view. I do have a story in Luminous and Forlorn, an anthology published by Honno Modern Fiction and in The Smell of the Day (New Essex Writing) and in various small press publications that were around at the time (some 20 years ago, when I started my writing career.)

AmeriCymru: Your latest novel Colours of Corruption is set in Victorian Walthamstow. This was your first foray into the field of crime fiction. How did you enjoy the experience? Can you tell us a little about the book?

Jacqueline: A few years ago, I won a place on a writing scheme run by the Writers’ Centre, Norwich, called ‘Escalator’. The ten winners were awarded an Arts Council (East) grant which enabled us to have ‘writing time’, to do research and to have mentoring in a new fictional genre. My then agent had advised me to ‘go darker’ on the strength of two earlier novels (one still unpublished) so I decided on crime fiction. I have to say I didn’t read ‘crime’, though I loved watching it on TV with my husband, who is addicted to the genre. I didn’t want to write yet another formulaic book about ‘police procedurals’ or private detectives or forensics. There are other writers who do it better than I could, who have more experience of modern policing methods. I wanted to write from the point of view of ordinary law-abiding people caught up in criminal activities through no fault of their own. I love History and I love Art and I love Walthamstow so it was easy to combine the three in a story about a Victorian police artist, Archie Price.

This is Archie ( see gallery below ) – a photo by Julia Margaret Cameron. She called him ‘Iago’ but clearly he is Archie Price, an artist from the Valleys. If he hadn’t painted he’d have gone down the mines or followed his father into the butchery business.

Archie is quite taken with the looks of Mary Quinn. See above another photo taken by Julia Margaret Cameron:

Mary is a poor Irish cleaning woman, widowed and childless. After drawing, from her description, a man she claims to have seen near the scene of a vicious murder, Archie invites her to sit for him, thinking her an ideal subject for his new ‘realistic’ style. Reluctantly she complies but, in selling the finished portrait to a rich and portly ‘entrepreneur’ , Archie manages to involve them both in a web of intrigue, involving murderers, thieves and sexual predators and Mary is forced to flee for her life.

This is how ( see bove gallery ) I imagine Lizzie Kington, Archie’s first love, who chose instead, to marry Archie’s friend John, a tile-maker and the steadier of the two. Since receiving a head injury, however, from a couple of thieves, three years before in Epping Forest, John is now addicted to laudanum and making life miserable for his wife and their toddler, Clara. In trying to help the Kington family Archie inadvertently exposes them, too, to the gravest of dangers.

I certainly enjoyed writing the book, doing the research, exploring the characters, their secrets and failings, and plotting the story, deciding who was to live and who die, and bringing it all to a believable conclusion, helping Archie to solve the crime, in fact, with a little help from his friends.

AmeriCymru: Your first novel, Lottie was described by the New Welsh Review as being - "...something of an oddity, and all the better for it." How would you describe the book?

Jacqueline: They say a novelist’s first book tends to be autobiographical and ‘Lottie’ is just that. The characters are mostly people I knew at school and the story is based on a pact we made (and never kept) about meeting up in London every eleven years when the day, month and year were represented by the same numbers – 6/6/66, 7/7/77 and so on up to 9/9/99 and the new millennium. In the story the pact turns out to be cursed, and Fate (or the supernatural ‘Lottie’ named for the allotment where the blood-pact was made) makes serious trouble for any girl who fails to keep the appointment.

I tried to imagine the turns a woman’s life might take, given her personality, her ambitions, her loves, loyalties and superstitious fears. This story turned out to be a cross between a crime story and a fantasy, but ’incredibly prophetic’ according to one friend who recognised herself as one of the characters. The others aren’t speaking to me!

Yes, it is an oddity, not following the accepted format of any known genre. As such, booksellers found it hard to slot onto any particular shelf. And, though Beryl Bainbridge, Bernice Rubens and Ruth Rendall all liked its quirky character, had Honno not spotted its potential I doubt it would have been published.

AmeriCymru: Your 1997 novel Someone To Watch Over Me was a great success and led to a publishing deal with Piatkus for two sequels. Care to tell us more about this experience?

Jacqueline: I was thrilled to bits when Darley Anderson, the agent, agreed to represent me, on the strength of ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ and got me a two deal with Piatkus. I couldn’t believe my luck having , a few months earlier, had Honno publish ‘Lottie.’ ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ was the first (of three) books about the psychic Potter family and their experiences during and just after the Second World War in Walthamstow and in Newcastle-upon-Tyne where I did my degree and met my husband. I loved doing the research for these novels, learning such a lot about clairvoyants, psychic healers and mediums, and imagining the joys and pitfalls of being able to see ghosts and read people’s minds. In the last book about the Potter family, ‘A Lazy Eye’, I tried to put myself into the shoes of a little girl ‘with a third eye’ who finds it all so puzzling and upsetting.

Imagine my disappointment when the book-covers (in which I had very little say) reflected none of the trials and tribulations of being clairvoyant but showed sweet and pretty Mills and Boon girlie-girls. I felt I wasn’t being taken seriously at all. These covers were such a mistake, so misleading. People wanting Mills and Boon love stories would have been disappointed and people interested in psychic gifts would have passed the books over, thinking they were romances. Little wonder, then, that I went as dark as I could for the next book, so there could be no mistake about its subject.

AmeriCymru: Your 2004 novel Skin Deep is certainly a science fiction thriller with a difference. How did you become interested in cryogenics?

Jacqueline: There was a lot of interest at this time about freezing body parts for transplantation into bodies that needed, say, a new heart, a new lung, a kidney or even a face. I actually met a woman and her husband who have elected to be cryogenically frozen when they die in the hope of being resurrected when a cure is found for whatever killed them. It set me thinking about brain transplants. Who might benefit from them and who would have had the opportunity for such grisly experiments? Questions like these took me back to the war and the Nazi labour camps.

AmeriCymru: What are you working on at the moment? Can we expect another novel soon?

Jacqueline: I am writing a sequel to ‘The Colours of Corruption’ in which Archie confronts the combined problems of Victorian pornography and the miseries of being stalked. I also spotlight the question of euthanasia.

I do have, ‘in the bottom drawer’, so to speak, a contemporary crime story about a woman teaching art in prisons and her gifted student who has his own agenda. This is a finished novel but needs some work to make it publishable.

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

Jacqueline: I would urge any reader of AmeriCymru who is contemplating a writing career to get on with it. Don’t leave it, as I did, until you have more time. Make time. Put down your knitting and rug-making and write. Stop playing games on your Ipad. Write. Publishers like to invest in young authors. Experiment with the different genres early on, choose one and concentrate on that. Life is shorter than you think.

front cover detail, y daith by lloyd jonesAmeriCymru: Hi Lloyd and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. You have recently finished your second Welsh language novel Y Daith Care to describe the book for our readers?

Lloyd: The book begins and ends with Mog Morgan washing up at the sink on the morning after his fiftieth birthday. We go on a journey of discovery along the Welsh borders as Mog traces the history of his marriage to Meg. Using devices such as questionnaires, e-mails and postcards, Mog reveals a lot about his attitude towards women and love. Brought up in a children''s home, he is inept and frightened of life; he lives in a daydream and has a comical relationship with his psychiatrist. The book is a bittersweet and tragi-comic examination of the self in relation to one''s homeland and other people. I hope it''s rather sad and quite funny.

AmeriCymru: Y Daith is dedicated to Pol Wong and Carrie Harper from Wrexham "who were responsible for bringing to the public''s attention the Welsh Assembly and local authorities'' underhanded plans for destroying the beauty and culture of north Wales through unlimited housing development and the encouragement of immigration," Can you tell us more about the dedication and the campaign against the housing development?

Lloyd: This has been such a bad experience, and an illustration of the widening gap between the people and politicians of Britain. No-one was happier than I when the Welsh Assembly came into existence, but then a group of campaigners led by Pol and Carrie discovered that our politicians and councillors had been working covertly with English agencies to establish townships in North Wales which would be colonised by immigrants. I''ve nothing against immigrants, but desecrating Wales''s legendary beauty and killing off what''s left of the native culture is surely too high a price to pay. What really rankled was the sneaky way our ''leaders'' went about it. For instance, a bunch of venture capitalists want to build a huge greenfield estate by a lovely little Welsh village, Bodelwyddan, famous for its landmark marble church, so the Welsh Assembly went behind our backs and downgraded the land so that the plan could go ahead. The whole thing stinks to high heaven.

AmeriCymru: You are also contributing a volume to the Seren New Tales From the Mabinogion series. Which of the tales are you ''modernizing'' and when can we expect to see it in print?

Lloyd: I''m writing a modern version of the third branch, about Manawydan, a nice bloke who has to put up with a lot of shit. It''s an honour to be involved, since the stories so far have been told by the cream of Welsh writing, and I''ve enjoyed their renditions. It''s all downhill from here folks! I think my version comes out next Spring.

AmeriCymru: Many people enjoyed your first collection of English language short stories My First Colouring Book . Do you have any plans for further collections?

Lloyd: That little book didn''t register on the literary richter scale in Wales. Not a blip. A very small mouse stifling a yawn in a dark hole three miles below Llanddewi Brefi would have had a greater effect on Welsh literature than My First Colouring Book. One the other hand, the Wales-inspired Extreme Sheep LED Art on YouTube has enjoyed well over 15 million hits, so the obvious answer is to write exclusively about sheep running around the Welsh hills, fetchingly adorned with fairy lights. I did consider writing a tract comparing the decline of the Welsh Mountain Sheep (rather gorgeous) in direct relation to the native Welsh (also rather gorgeous) but I was afraid I might attract the attention of the authorities again. Last time I got away with a fine and a warning, but I wouldn''t get away with it again.

AmeriCymru: For three years now you have generously agreed to be the judge for the West Coast Eisteddfod Short Story Competition. Do you have any advice for this years competitiors?

Lloyd: Be yourself, and just enjoy it.

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

Lloyd: I''m reading In the Shadow of the Pulpit by Professor M Wynn Thomas, a very readable book about the influence of the Nonconformist religion on Welsh literature. Together with a family history I did recently, it tells me exactly where I came from, and why I write the way I do. It''s very well written by a very nice man who knows his subject inside out. I''ve been wading my way through the Penguin Modern Classics recently and two American authors have made a distinct impression: I loved the rampant use of language in Don DeLillo''s Americana, and I was mesmerised by Walter Abish''s writing style in How German Is It.

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Lloyd Jones?

Lloyd: Over the years I''ve produced a couple of poetry chapbooks, featuring squibs and short light poems. I''ve taken it up a notch or two and I''m trying to write a decent book of poetry.

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

Lloyd: Hia!


Americymru spoke to Welsh writer Richard Rhys Jones about his published work and future plans. Richard is an ex soldier from Colwyn Bay, currently residing in Germany, who has published two horror fiction novels and is currently working on a short story anthology.

Buy Division Of The Damned here

Buy The House In Wales here



AmeriCymru:  Hi Richard and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. Can you tell us a little about your Welsh background?

Richard: Hi Ceri, well though I live in Germany now, I originally hail from Old Colwyn, Colwyn Bay, on the north Wales coast. My family''s roots sit deep around the region, with my mother''s side coming from Colwyn Bay/Mochdre, and my father''s from Deganwy/Conwy. I lived on a council estate until I was sixteen, then took the Queen''s Shilling and joined the army. I still go back once, twice a year to visit my family, who are all still there. I do miss my home town, and suffer terribly from homesickness, which is ridiculous in a way as I''m forty six and I left north Wales in 1983!

It''s a strange thing though, homesickness. When I did actually leave home, I never gave Colwyn a thought. Yes, I visited now and then but I was young, eager to see other places, meet other people and I didn''t have that empty locker in my heart where you put your memories. Life was exciting, and home was a place taken for granted and visited as a duty.

This all changed with the birth of my children. Danny and Chelsea were born in 1997, and in one swift lesson, I realised what I had given up on when I left Wales. My kids would never go to the schools I went to, they wouldn''t speak English as a first language, nor would they learn Welsh, (to my eternal shame, I am not a Welsh speaker. I''m so glad Welsh is now being promoted as an important part of the Welsh identity). To all intents and purposes, my children would be tourists to my home town and that does twinge a little.

I wrote a piece about my feelings on the matter in one of my more melancholy moments and put it on the net, with a picture of my hometown. The picture is taken from Penmaen Head, an outcrock of rock that overlooks the bay. If you''re interested, you can find it here:

The Boy From The Bay

Don''t get me wrong though, I don''t spend my days morosely pondering on what might have been if I''d stayed in Wales. I have a good circle of friends here, a steady job and my own little family. It''s just that I don''t feel German, I feel like a visitor who will one day still go home to Wales. Whether that will ever happen, I don''t know though.

AmeriCymru:  You are currently living in Germany. How did that come about?

Richard: Simply put, I joined the army, was posted to Germany with my regiment, 1st the Queen''s Dragoon Guards, "The Welsh Cavalry", the finest regiment known to man. Once here I met a nice girl, and in January 1992, in a fit of recklessness, I stayed here when my unit left for Britain. I didn''t have a trade, couldn''t "speaka da lingo" and had no contacts to help me. However, in our youth we''re indestructible and I just knew I''d be alright... I know that sounds daft, but I did. Anyway, if things had gone badly, I could always have joined back up again; there was no cloud over my departure, so it wasn''t that much of a gamble.

As it turned out, things went alright. 1999 was the worst year and in January 2000 I asked Tad if there were any jobs going around The Bay area. However, an opening came up in the steelworks that dominate this region, (Salzgitter) and I''ve been there ever since.

AmeriCymru:  When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer and what attracted you to horror?

Richard: Writing was something I really came to a bit late in life. I liked writing in school, but it was the lazy schoolboy type of interest; the sort that blasts off like a firework with a burst of ideas but then immediately turns to ashes when the class finished.

Although I read a bit in the military, I didn''t even think about actually writing until I left. I found a job with a crew of ex soldiers working as armed guards for the British army, and suddenly, with lots of time on my hands, I started to think about writing.

I wrote song lyrics, joke ditties for the guys, and I even tried my hand at short stories. However, the idea of writing a full length novel would only ever be a distant castle on the horizon with the writing tools I had at hand, an army typewriter, built around 1954, and the modest library in the camp for research.

This all changed when I was given my first computer, (well, I actually bought it for €50). Suddenly I had no reason not to write a book, I had no excuses; well, apart from the fact that I couldn''t type properly and didn''t have a cohesive plot for a story. However, that didn''t bother me, and with the internet at my fingertips, Microsoft Word guiding my spelling and punctuation, and the fire of inspiration in my blood, I set myself to the task.

I can still remember sitting at my desk for that first time, (which was actually a wooden board on two chairs), and simply going for it, writing the prologue in a flurry of one fingered, type-key hunting, vigour. In that initial burst, those first few months, I was a man possessed and I''ve yet to recapture that same zeal, that same passion as I experienced when I first started writing, "The Division of the Damned".

The first draft was 160,000 words, a massive rambling tome of a book that had everything I''d been interested in since my days as a soldier. The Third Reich, Teutonic Knights, Sumerian mythology, Biblical folklore, werewolves, the Eastern Front and last but not least, vampires. I was forced to cut it down radically, (I think Word has the word count now to be around 117,000) but happily I still managed to keep all the elements in that I wanted, AND hold the story tight.

Why horror or fantasy? Because basically I already had my ideas for the story, concepts that had gathered dust at the back of my consciousness for years, and I just needed a kick start to fire them all into life.

AmeriCymru: Your first novel Division Of The Damned features Nazi Vampires in WWII. How did you come by this idea?

the-division-of-the-damnedVampires had always been my favourite monster, way before they were cool and pretty. I loved the whole Dracula thing, the legend of the mysterious count with a penchant for red corpuscles, capes and midnight flights. Vampires were a vague notion at the back of my mind from the start, but they somehow grew in importance as the unconscious rough copy for my story took shape. The question was, how do I write about vampires, keeping the whole cape, blood sucking, sun-aversion elements of the story, without it turning into a regurgitated Christopher Lee cliché''? I have nothing against his vampire films, but I didn''t want my story to be dated and kitsch.

The Third Reich is a fascinating story in itself, but a visit to any one of the concentration camps that are dotted around Europe puts it all in a different perspective. The true horror of Nazi Germany hit me when, as a young soldier, I visited Dachau concentration camp, just north of Munich.

It made me wonder how the Holocaust could have happened, how a land could go from being one of the most cultured societies in the world to a country of uniform wearing automatons; slaves to the Party and executioners of all the inhuman acts it ordered done. I knew it couldn''t be down to the German people being simply evil, something else must have happened. So I started to read about it and the awareness of its fascination gestated in the back of my mind.

Years later now, and I''m working with a colleague who I always thought was Bavarian. However, the more we spoke, the more I realised his accent wasn''t from the south, and so I asked him where he came from.

He told me that his family came to Germany from Romania when the Iron Curtain fell in 1989.

"So you''re Romanian?" I asked him.

"No, German." he replied, and then went on to explain that the Transylvanian region of Romania is home to a very large population of Germans. The Siebenbürger Sachsen, (Transylvanian Saxons) used to live in Romania among the Romanian population, and yet apart. They went to separate schools, drank in separate pubs, worked in German firms and generally lived as Germans, in a foreign land.

It was like flicking a switch! A German colony living in the traditional land of the Vampire, a more perfect marrying up of elements I could not have wished for and that night, after shift, (I was working the 1400 - 2200 hrs shift) I set about putting down the plot for my book.

AmeriCymru:  Your most recent novel The House In Wales features satanic rituals at a remote location in north Wales. Shades of Dennis Wheatley? Care to tell us more?

the-house-in-walesRichard: The decision to write, "The House in Wales" wasn''t actually 100% my idea, (gasp, shock, horror!), and the story behind it is a little more mundane.

My publishers at Taylor Street asked a couple of authors if they were willing to write about a haunted house. The reason being the series "American Horror Story" and the film "The Woman in Black" had done so well in the States, and they wanted to see if they could capitalise on that. "American Horror Story", with its bizarre characters and perverse undertones, and "The Woman in Black" with its ghostly ambience and sinister isolation, had turned the haunted house genre around in the public mind, putting it firmly back on the map.

When they asked if I was interested in writing a haunted house story I was plodding along with the sequel for "Division". The plot was weak and missing something, the characters seemed tired and it was turning into a chore, so they couldn''t have approached me at a better time.

I knew I simply couldn''t copy those two films; it had to be similar and yet far enough removed so as not to be too familiar. So, cunningly, (well not really, as we''d just returned from a family holiday in my home town), I decided to set in North Wales during World War Two.

The villain of the story is the house keeper, Fiona Trimble, a willowy, seductively attractive lady in her early forties. My problem was how could this slender, graceful woman force her will on the hero of the story, a rough seventeen year old lad from bombed out Liverpool? Surely not by womanly guile alone? 

I liked the idea of someone physically frail using a large animal as their muscle, and what better companion than a big dog? However, I wanted to avoid the clichéd Rottweilers, Dobermans or German Sheepdogs, so I decided on an Irish wolfhound. 

Irish wolfhounds, as lovable and trustworthy as they are, have always intimidated me by their size. A friend of mine has one, and though he''s friendly, and not particularly large for his breed, he always manages to elicit a tiny shudder of anxiety when he barks, (which he does to every guest before licking them to death). I decided they''d be perfect for the story and gave Trimble one to do her bidding

As I''m no expert on Satanism, though I obviously read quite a lot about it, I decided to concentrate on the characters and let them carry the story rather than let the props take the centre stage. "Division" was packed full of facts woven into a story that moved from Transylvania, Germany, London, Dachau, The Ukraine etc etc.

"House" is set in a village in north Wales, and doesn''t move from there, so I had to focus on the dramatis personae and their emotions a lot more than I did in "Division".

I''m afraid I didn''t think of Mr. Wheatley at all, which in hindsight is unbelievable to me now!

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

Richard: Truth be told, I could sit here and type five thousand titles as recommendations. If a book can take me somewhere else, then I''m sold and with my imagination, it doesn''t take much for a story to whisk me away.

So I''ll go for the last four books I''ve read.

The Martian by Andy Weir. I''ve just finished it. An excellent story, full of facts that slot in nicely to the story. I loved this book and ate it up.

Sliding on Snow Stone by Andy Szpuk. Andy''s father survived the man made famine in the Ukraine in the 30''s, the German invasion during the 40''s and the communists after the war, so he put it down in story form. Brilliantly researched, I loved it.

The Outlaw King by Craig Saunders. First book in a series of three by a very talented Indie author. Craig can write, I haven''t read one bad story by Mr. Saunders yet, and I''ve read most of his work.

Run by Blake Crouch. I picked this up on a freebie and what a find it was!! A riveting story that doesn''t stop right up to the end.

AmeriCymru:  What''s next for Richard Rhys Jones? Are you working on anything at the moment?

Richard: I have an anthology of short stories coming out with Paul Rudd, a friend of mine and author of the very well received book, "SHARC".

Called, "The Chronicles of Supernatural Warfare", the idea behind the collection is as the title says, to chronicle the supernatural in warfare.

For example, the first story is, "The Vampires of Sparta". Imagine the 300 Spartans who held the pass at Thermopylae were in fact vampire warriors, fighting against Xerxes, the greatest vampire hunter of all time?

The second story is, "The Wooden Wolf of Troy" and, if you''re of the mind, you can read the first three, "chapters", (it''s more of a novelette actually) here: The Wooden Wolf Of Troy

The stories progress through ancient Greece, to Rome, then World War One and Two and then finally the future, with nine tales in all. They''re much more like "Division" than "House" and if any of your readers are of the mind to download it, I''d bear that aspect in mind.

I''m at the research phase right now for a book set in Las Vegas. The background is the fire at  the MGM Grand Hotel. If you can imagine, "The Shining" meets, "The Towering Inferno"? Something along those lines.

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

Richard: In 1986, as a young soldier, I visited Fort Carson in Colorado and fell in love with the area. America is a magical place, with friendly, warm people who are so much more open than we are in Europe. When I found out about AmeriCymru on Facebook, I was electrified.

The Welsh/American link is something special, and I think sites like this, that promote that relationship, should be applauded and supported to the best of our collective abilities.

I''ll stop blathering on now, but I''d just like to thank you, the reader, for reading to the end, and to Ceri for being so nice and setting this interview up.



Buy ''Alina: The White Lady of Oystermouth'' here

From the interview:- "The ruins of Swansea Castle are right in the middle of the city, and I was looking up at them one day when I wondered what the castle was like when it was intact and in use. I went home and Googled it, as you do, and got fascinated by Gower medieval history."

"Alina''s ghost has been seen in the castle, and is called the white lady of Oystermouth."



Ann-Marie-ThomasAmeriCymru: Hi Ann and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. Care to introduce your book Alina: the White Lady of Oystermouth for our readers?

Ann: This is a local history book about Alina de Breos, heir to the Lordship of Gower in South Wales in the 14th century. Her father was always desperate for money and tried to sell Gower to three different lords at once! He eventually sold it to King Edward II''s favourite, Hugh le Despenser the Younger. Alina''s husband John de Mowbray took control of Swansea Castle in an attempt to save her inheritance, and Hugh persuaded the king to intervene. The other barons, who were unhappy with the king''s behaviour and Despenser''s power over him, supported Alina and John. It led to civil war and eventually toppled Edward II from the throne. But Alina and John paid a heavy price: John was executed and Alina ended up in the Tower of London! There is a happy ending, and Alina spent the rest of her life at Oystermouth Castle in Gower. She built the chapel on the castle, which can still be seen today. Alina''s ghost has been seen in the castle, and is called the white lady of Oystermouth.

AmeriCymru: What inspired you to tell Alina''s story?

Ann: The ruins of Swansea Castle are right in the middle of the city, and I was looking up at them one day when I wondered what the castle was like when it was intact and in use. I went home and Googled it, as you do, and got fascinated by Gower medieval history. Swansea is famous for its industry in the 18th and 19th centuries, but before then I always thought it was a quiet backwater. It turns out that the medieval Lords of Gower were involved in every major event of British history for over 300 years after William the Conqueror. History in school was boring, but this was real people''s lives and it caught my imagination.

When I first wrote the history, I didn''t know what to do with it. Then I had a stroke which left me disabled. Preparing the book for publication and learning how to promote it, gave me a vital interest in the days that followed, and saved me from falling into depression at all the things I could no longer do.

AmeriCymru: How easy ( or difficult ) is it to get a book on medieval Welsh history published today?

Ann: A local publisher sat me down and explained why no publisher would touch it – because it is too small a market to justify the publishing costs. I wanted to tell the story, so I self-published. Because the market is principally locals and tourists, I needed a print book for people to buy on impulse, although there is an ebook as well. My judgement was right, as I have sold very few ebooks.

When I was medically retired by my employer I used money from my pension to pay for the printing, and expected not to recover my costs. To my surprise and delight I sold over 250 copies in the first summer season and not only covered my costs, but made enough profit to finance another print run and put money towards the second book!

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little about the illustrations in the book?

Ann: I felt the book needed illustrations but couldn''t afford to pay for them. My husband emailed the art department of the local university, and they ran a competition, with the winner providing the illustrations as part of her course work. She also sold prints at the book launch which raised money towards her studies. Carrie Francis is very talented, and has now graduated and set up as a freelance portrait artist and illustrator.

AmeriCymru: You are working on a second book at the moment. Can you tell us more?

Ann: Delving further into my research I found another story, set a century before Alina. This too turned out to have national significance. William de Breos was one of King John''s closest confidants, and he gave him the Lordship of Gower, and many other lands and titles. At the height of his favour he was one of the richest men in the kingdom. But when William''s wife blurted out John''s greatest secret, John turned on them brutally and hounded them to death. When the barons, already unhappy with John as king, saw how he treated William and his family, it was the final straw that led to Magna Carta. William''s sons and grandson turned to the famous Welsh leader Llewelyn the Great for help to regain their lands. So this story involves important events in Wales as well as Britain. The book is called Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John, and is finished and formatted. I am just waiting for the illustrations, once again done by Carrie Francis, and hope to publish very soon.

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

Ann: These books bring to light little-known stories from Gower history. They are told in an easy to read, story-telling style, but are academically sound, with bibliography and endnotes, so can be enjoyed by everyone, including older children.

Alina is available as a Kindle ebook from Amazon US

Kindle ebook and in print from Amazon UK (with international delivery)

and all other ebook formats from Smashwords

The book has had 5* reviews at Ask David and Readers Favourite

My blog, which talks about all my writing and things to think about, is found at

Ann Marie Thomas, Author: Thinking Out Loud

Drop by, or follow me on Twitter @AnnMThomas80 and watch for the publication announcement for Broken Reed.

Author of 'A Discerning Womans Guide To Manhunting'

Bel Roberts

"I am interested in the demonstration of human resilience in the face of failure and in the saving grace of humour"

AmeriCymru spoke to Welsh author Bel Roberts about her writing, travels and future plans. Works by Bel Roberts:-



A Discerning Womans Guide To Manhunting by Bel RobertsAmeriCymru: Hi Bel and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. You started writing, or at least publishing, quite late on in life. Were you always a writer? Did you always have it in mind that you would one day publish your first novel?

Bel: Whilst I was an undergraduate at Aberystwyth University (1959-62), I wrote comedy sketches and acted in them during annual Rag Week Charity Events. Later, as a qualified teacher, I taught English up to GCSE ‘A’ Level standard to pupils in 7 secondary schools in England and Wales over 30 continuous years and also achieved the position of Deputy Head Teacher in 2. In some of these schools, I contributed articles for school magazines and wrote pantomimes and sketches for end-of-term concerts, but it was only when, following spinal surgery, I retired prematurely from teaching in 1993, that I had time to write fiction with the intention of getting it published. My first short story, A Touch of Gloss, won second prize in a national open short story competition judged by novelist, Beryl Bainbridge and was broadcast twice on BBC Radio 4 during Armistice Week in 1995. Between 1995 and 2004, I won 5 national open short story competitions and further short stories were included by Honno Women’s Press in 3 of their anthologies, Catwomen From Hell (2000), Written in Blood (2004) and All Shall Be Well (2012). I have had several poems published in various anthologies. In 2000 I was awarded an MA in Creative Writing by Bath Spa University.

AmeriCymru: Can you tell us a little about your first novel ''A Discerning Woman’s Guide To Manhunting''.

Bel: T.V. sit-com series scriptwriter of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrrin and prolific novelist, David Nobbs, was my tutor on a Creative Writing Course in Ty Newydd in Gwynedd. He appreciated my robust sense of humour and encouraged me to write A Discerning Woman’s Guide to Manhunting, which took me 30 years as a serial manhunter to research and 3 years to write! It traces the desperate attempts of Geri, a retired sixty-year-old ex-teacher, to find an intellectually stimulating and sexually active partner. She is DISCERNING, so she’s looking for Mr Right – Mr Will Do just won’t do! The book is about starting again, re-defining self in middle-age and facing real limitations and challenges with a spirit of optimism. Geri not only becomes a mature student, studying alongside teenage students, but also acts as part-carer for her octogenarian mother who has the first stages of dementia but who adamantly resists going ‘into care’. Geri is typical of many middle aged women today who multi-task and get little acknowledgment for their selflessness but Geri is unusually head-strong, non p.c. and outrageously funny. She is not a defeatist, a whinger, or a dignified dear old lady. This woman is dynamite.

AmeriCymru: You have travelled and taught in South Africa and elsewhere. Care to tell us a little about your experiences there?

Bel: My partner and I first visited South Africa as tourists on a fortnight’s sight-seeing holiday at Christmas 2001. On the second day of our visit, we decided that we would like to spend our long, wet British winters there, so we invested in a small coastal shack in the Eastern Cape. Between 2002-7, we spent 6 months of the year there as ‘swallows’ ie fliers migrating to the warmth of an African summer; Chris becoming a typical ex-pat (ie spending most of his time on the Bowls’ Club green, or in its bar!), while I assisted in teaching school leavers English at two township schools. I also did a little relief work at peak holiday periods at a local AIDS & TB children’s clinic, but I had no specific duties to perform there.

I have travelled extensively abroad: New Zealand, Australia, Goa, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Canada, Mexico, W. Indies and sailed down the Amazon as far as Manaus. On my retirement from teaching and as a mature student of the German Language, I visited most cities in Germany as well as other European destinations in Italy, France, Portugal and Greece. Having the time to travel is the main advantage of old age. Despite the current inconveniences at airports etc, I feel a compulsive need to travel whilst I am still mobile. I have a weak back (supported by 2 titanium posts and 8 titanium screws) but I don’t allow it to stop me doing anything. I love seeing new places and meeting different people. I attend a gym every other day and I am full of energy and enthusiasm for new ventures and experiences.

AmeriCymru: You won a number of prizes for your short stories prior to the publication of your first anthology ''Opportunity Mocks''. How did it feel winning The Bill Naughton Short Story Competition amongst others?

Bel: In 1999 I was a runner-up in the Bill Naughton Short Story Competition and in 2000 I was awarded first prize and had a second story entry in the same competition highly recommended. The winning stories were published in ‘Splinters Winners Collection’ (Waldron Dillon 1999 and 2000) respectively. It was an immense honour to win successive Irish literary awards, especially those in honour of Bill Naughton, playwright and author ( 1910-92).

AmeriCymru: Could you tell us a little about ''Opportunity Mocks''? What can readers expect to find between the covers?

Opportunity Mocks by Bel RobertsBel: ''Opportunity Mocks’ is an anthology of diversely themed short stories, some autobiographical; some fictitious. Three of the sixteen stories are written in the ‘voice’ of a frightened, bewildered child from the past, others include that of a depressed stalker, an eccentric spinster, a victim of a confident trick and a street-wise petty thief. The protagonists of the stories, whether motivated by good or bad, are humans driven by obsessive promptings which dictate their actions and mould their characters. They are all searching for something they desperately want: love, security, survival, superiority, revenge, identity and they all fall short of their target. I am interested in the demonstration of human resilience in the face of failure and in the saving grace of humour.

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about ''Surfing Through Minefields''?

Surfing Through Minefields by Bel RobertsBel: ‘Surfing Through Minefields’ belongs to the hybrid genre ‘reality fiction’. I have set the story in a fictional contemporary comprehensive school in Monmouth and have researched the facts surrounding the Senghenydd Pit disaster of 1913 in such a way that the history of the event is seen from the prospective of a modern teenager and by the residents of an old people’s home who have actual mementos of the tragic event. The heroine, Lauren, is an English teenager sent to stay with her grandmother in Wales while her parents sort out their various problems. The book shows the challenges she faces settling into a strange environment and her relationship with her new school mates who are not all friendly. In History, she chooses as her special topic the Senghenydd Pit Disaster of 1913. The dreadful living standards and inhuman conditions of the miners (some younger than her when they became victims of the tragic accident) make her question her own comfortable background and middle class values. The book contains humour and champions the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.

AmeriCymru: We learn from a recent newspaper article that you intend to donate to the Aber Valley National Mining Memorial Fund. Care to tell us a little about the fund and your personal reason for supporting it?

Welsh National Coal Mining MemorialBel: The Aber Valley Heritage Committee has set up a fund to finance a new Universal Colliery Memorial Garden which will be officially opened to mark the centenary of the October 1913 Universal Colliery disaster, the worst pit disaster in UK history. Sponsors have been buying ceramic tiles, made by local school children and bearing the names of the victims of the pit explosion. I have donated £80, the reading fees I’ve been offered by local groups, such as the Caerphilly Women’s Institute, in lieu of expenses. I have further book readings planned and I shall donate more profits to the fund from the proceeds of the book, if sales increase. My father was from north Wales and had no mining connections, but the men in my mother’s family were all coal miners. I have in my possession a death certificate issued to a cousin, who began working in the mines at 14 years of age and who died at 26 years, as recently as 1951. The causes of death are given as ‘Exhaustion and Pulmonary Tuberculosis’. I feel a sense of anger at such statistics. I was born in the Rhondda Valley, a place synonymous with coal mining; I have a great respect for all miners working underground anywhere, both present and past.

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Bel Roberts? When can we expect to see your next title in print?

Bel: I am currently working on a fictional novel influenced by my post-war childhood in the Rhondda. The MS needs to be double its present length and to give a more focused sense of ‘place’. If I were to cut down on my travelling, the book might be finished by early 2014. I am constantly torn between the two priorities in my life: writing and travelling. I am also re-editing half a dozen poems that have been lying dormant for a decade.

AmeriCymru: It is always of interest to know what our favorite authors are reading currently. Any recommendations?

Bel: I loved Hilary Mantel’s biographies of Thomas Cromwell: ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up The Bodies’ and eagerly await publication of the last book of the trilogy. By contrast, I’ve recently finished reading and reviewing Duncan Whitehead’s debut novel ‘The Gordonston Ladies’ Dog Walking Club’, a black-comedy crime story, which I found hilarious. Duncan is an English ex-pat now living in Florida.

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

Bel: I am pleased and honoured to be part of the cultural twinning of Wales and America through Americymru. I wish you full success with the Eisteddfod Poetry Competition and I look forward to reading more of the entries online. I will do my best to keep updating my membership page and to keep abreast of your news, so that I bolster my friendship with authors and readers across the mountains and The Pond that separates us. It warms my heart that there are readers so far from Wales who are interested in, and who appreciate, what I write. It makes the backache worthwhile. Diolch!

Christopher Westlake has won many prizes for his short fiction in competitions around the world. Brought up in the Vale of Glamorgan, south Wales Chris always ensures that his writing has a ''Welsh link or Welsh setting.

His first novel ''Just A Bit Of Banter, Like'' revolves around the adventures and misadventures of Nick Evans:-

".... a young city-slicker with a trophy-girlfriend on his arm. Fast-forward just a day and he''s caught his girlfriend in an uncompromising position with his friend, accidentally sent a rude email to his boss - and he''s on his way home to South Wales with his tail firmly between his legs. Unemployed and single, life seems oh-so simple for Nick back in Southerndown, a coastal village where sheep vastly outnumber people."

AmeriCymru spoke to Chris about Just A Bit Of Banter, Like and his plans for the future.


AmeriCymru: You have won prizes in many international short story competitions. Care to tell us a little about these? What was your proudest moment?

Christopher: Winning the Global Short Stories Award will always have a special place for me because it was my first competition win. It gave me such a massive confidence boost. I''d enrolled on an online writing course a few months before and began small by writing letters to women''s magazines (yes, I am male). A few got published, I earned a bit of cash and, most importantly, my name was in print! I then entered a few short story competitions.

The Global Short Stories Award was the third competition I entered and coming first was just amazing. I recycled the setting for my short story, Welsh Lessons, in my first novel, Just a Bit of Banter, Like.

After winning the September Global Short Stories Award I entered quite a few competitions and didn''t come anywhere. Zilch. Writing can be quite isolated. You send off a lot of work and sometimes it disappears into a black hole when you get little or no response back.

The Stringybark Stories Awards has served me well. This is an Australian competition but they welcome overseas contestants. It is a great set-up because all short-listed applicants get published in their anthologies. I came first in the Erotic Fiction Award (the first overseas winner) and that felt great because the anthology was named after my short story, The Heatwave of 76. This was the first story that I had published in paperback. Holding a book in your hand that you contributed to was such a thrill!

AmeriCymru: Are your short stories available anywhere in print?

Christopher: My short stories are included in the Heatwave of 76, The Road Home and Fight or Flight anthologies and can be purchased in Kindle or paperback from the Stringybark Stories website. I also have a short story included in the Past Pleasures anthology, available from Amazon and Waterstones.

AmeriCymru: What real life events inspired you to write your first novel, ''Just A Bit Of Banter Like''?

Christopher: This is quite a difficult one! I don''t really think real life events inspired me to write the novel as such, but quite a few of the funnier scenes have definitely been inspired by real life!

I think it was time to write a novel and I concentrated on getting the basics right. I focussed on making the characters involving, the storylines intriguing and the book an enjoyable, interesting and funny read. The characters were a cocktail of people I''ve met along the way. My Nan and Gramps had dementia and this was definitely an inspiration for the deteriorating mental health of Nan in the novel. I grew up in rural Wales and moved to London (but I haven''t yet moved back to Wales!) and this inspired the two central settings. When I moved from London to Birmingham it was a difficult time as I left a decent job and then struggled as a temp. Nick has a massive fall from grace and struggles to rebuild his life. Like Nick, I''ve also examined what is important to me in life. That said, I am a chronic over-thinker and so I''ve examined pretty much everything in my mind over the years!

AmeriCymru: How would you describe the book?

Christopher: It started off as a light-hearted comedy but I realised that I wanted to explore deeper subjects such as dementia, drug abuse and missing people, which didn''t naturally fit in with the ''light-hearted'' category! Getting the balance between the humour and the darker subjects was one of the most difficult aspects. With most descriptions as I have cunningly used the term ''dark comedy'' but I am still searching for something that sounds a little more impressive, if you have any suggestions!

It is a story of family, friendship and discovering what is really important to you. The characters are central to everything. if the reader does not care for them then the overlapping storylines and the element of mystery are irrelevant.

AmeriCymru: The book is set in Ogmore and Southerndown. Can you describe the area a little for our American readers?

Christopher: Ogmore and Southerndown are neighbouring villages on the South Wales coastline. It is were I grew up, but like most things, I only started appreciating its beauty when I moved away. The weather in Wales can best be described as mild in the summer and freezing in the winter, and so the long stretch of beach is more suitable for leisurely walks with the dog than for sunbathing. The residents of each village are in the hundred. The sheep number thousands and they stroll around the greenery and often wander on to the road. The mouth of the river in Ogmore is bordered by pebbles and rocks on one side and sand dunes on the other. You can cross the stepping stones to the other side and a little further down river lies the old castle.

I have many happy childhood memories of both Ogmore and Southerndown.

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

Christopher: I love reading autobiographies because people fascinate me and learning about lives gives me inspiration for my characters. I enjoy gritty contemporary drama by novelists such as Irvine Welsh and John King. I''ve also become fascinated by Welsh literature, such as Ash on a Young Man''s Sleeve by Danny Abse.

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

Christopher: I''ve started planning and researching my second novel. It is going to continue the welsh theme, this time focussing on the towns Merthyr and Porthcawl. I love researching welsh history and this novel will be a journey through the last few decades. It is going to be darker and grittier than Just a Bit of Banter, Like and a much bigger project.

My aim is to make each book better in some way than the last. In my mind, it makes sense that my very best work won''t be for at least another few books, but who knows?

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

Christopher: I''ve only just discovered the site but it has been so welcoming I wish I had done so earlier. It seems like a dream combination for me. Obviously I love Wales but I also have family in Boston who we visited a few years ago and I had a fantastic time, and so America is close to my heart, too.

I am going to be roaming through books myself as I am sure there are titles that will grab my attention!

If you choose to read Just a Bit of Banter, Like, which naturally I hope you do (!) I would love you to provide me with feedback.

Tolkien And Welsh (Tolkien a Chymraeg): Essays on J.R.R. Tolkien's Use of Welsh in his Legendarium - An Interview With Author Mark T. Hooker

From the product description:- "Tolkien and Welsh provides an overview of J.R.R.Tolkien's use of Welsh in his Legendarium, ranging from the obvious (Gwynfa—the Welsh word for Paradise), to the apparent (Took—a Welsh surname), to the veiled (Gerontius—the Latinizaton of a royal Welsh name), to the hidden (Goldberry—the English calque of a Welsh theonym). Though it is a book by a linguist, it was written for the non-linguist with the goal of making the topic accessible. The unavoidable jargon is explained in a glossary, and the narrative presents an overview of how Welsh influenced Tolkien's story line, as well as his synthetic languages Quenya and Sindarin."


AmeriCymru: Hi Mark, and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru.

Mark:  Thank you for inviting me. It’s my honor to do an interview for AmeriCymru.

AmeriCymru: In your book Tolkien is quoted as saying re: The Lord of the Rings, that the Welsh elements of his tale are what has "given perhaps more pleasure to more readers than anything else in it". How true do you think this is?

Mark:  Tolkien’s assertion that the Welsh elements in his tale have given more pleasure to more readers than anything else in it, might be an overstatement.

On the one extreme, there is Edward Crankshaw’s infamous critique of Tolkien’s work in which he said that he “disliked its eye-splitting Celtic names.” On the other hand, there are people like me, who write books about Tolkien’s use of Welsh. I think the truth lies somewhere in between.

Crankshaw continued that Tolkien’s work “has something of that mad, bright-eyed beauty that perplexes all Anglo-Saxons in face of Celtic art,” and I think that is where the problem lies. Very few people understand the true beauty of Celtic art, and even fewer understand the beauty of Celtic linguistics.

I, like Tolkien, am a linguist, and when I first read Tolkien’s statement about the Welsh elements in The Lord of the Rings, my immediate impulse was to rush off to learn Welsh. It took a while before I was able to turn that impulse into action, but finally, in 2000, I found a hole in my schedule for the Cwrs Cymraeg Y Mileniwm in Carmarthen. This course run by Cymdeithas Madog gave me the basis I needed to come to grips with Tolkien’s use of Welsh and Welsh folklore. The location of the course was great, because it meant that I could try and speak Welsh with native speakers when I went downtown after class to shop and explore the city. I was really pleased with the course.

You might, therefore, say that my book was twelve years in the making, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I hope it makes it possible for more people to appreciate how big a part of Tolkien’s work is based on Welsh, by showing them how to find the Welsh elements in his work.

My examination of Tolkien’s work through a Welsh lens produces a “myopic” vision of it, but that is intentional, because as Jane Chance said in an interview, “the northern European influence seems more important than the Celtic, from what I have been able to tell. Perhaps that is because so much of the work done on Tolkien’s medievalism thus far has focused on the northern European influence.” Tolkien and Welsh is intended to remedy this imbalance.

AmeriCymru: Can you tell us a little more about Tolkien’s definition of 'Welsh'?

Mark: The “Welsh” that Tolkien knew best was not exactly what people think of when they say “Welsh” today. Tolkien’s academic specialty was historical linguistics, so the “Welsh” that he was most familiar with was the Celtic language known as “Welsh,” before it split into Cornish, Breton, and Modern Welsh. J.S. Ryan, who heard Tolkien deliver the lecture “English and Welsh,” remarks that “Tolkien’s use of the word Welsh would seem to be that found in Old English texts,” where it meant “foreign, or non Germanic.”

Max Förster, an eminent German linguist with whose work Tolkien was familiar, observes that between the fifth and the seventh centuries, the language of the Celtic peoples of Wales and Cornwall would have been little different than the Brittonic from which it stemmed. Even in the period of the ninth and eleventh centuries, remarks Förster, the phonetic differences between Breton, Cornish and Welsh would have been so slight as to be “barely noticeable” for the purposes of his study.

Tolkien’s awareness of this undifferentiated use of Welsh to name the language of modern Wales and present-day Cornwall is perhaps best demonstrated in Tolkien’s tale of Ælfwine (English: Elf Friend), in which Tolkien wrote “the Welsh language is not strange to him [Ælfwine] … His wife was of Cornwall.”

My wife is “of Holland,” which is why I speak Dutch. The logical conclusion is that the Englishman Ælfwine understood Welsh, because that is what his wife spoke, and she came from Cornwall.

Tolkien’s knowledge of Breton can scarcely be in doubt. He has a note on Breton morphological change in “English and Welsh” that only a linguist well-versed in Breton could make. His knowledge of Breton is further attested by the poem he wrote, entitled The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun. The “names” of the protagonists in the poem—Aotrou and Itroun—are in fact the Breton words for Lord and Lady.

In his Cambriae descriptio (Description of Wales), the twelfth century chronicler Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales) comments that Welsh, Cornish and Breton are mutually intelligible in almost all instances. The “Welsh,” therefore, of Tolkien’s primary academic interest was more, or less, a “catch-all name” for the ancestor of Cornish, Breton, and Modern Welsh.

Tolkien’s poems “Earendil Was a Mariner” and “Errantry” demonstrate a considerable resemblance to the Welsh medieval poetic technique known as cynghanedd, which is regarded as one of, if not the most sophisticated poetic system of sound-patterning used anywhere in the world. Tolkien certainly knew Welsh well, if he was able to replicate that pattern.

That is not to say that Tolkien did not know Modern Welsh. There are reports of conversations he had in Welsh with various people, and apparently he spoke it quite well.

AmeriCymru: Tolkien is on record as saying that the names and places in The Lord of the Rings were developed on patterns deliberately modeled on Welsh sources, but not identical with them. How evident is this from the text? Care to quote a few examples?

Mark:  Unless your Welsh is very good and has a historical tint to it, it is hard to spot some of Tolkien’s “Welsh” names, because he deliberately changed elements in the name to make it harder to see them as such. Some are easy to spot, like Gwynfa (Paradise) from Tolkien’s children’s story Roverandom. All you have to do is open a Welsh dictionary to see this one.

Tolkien glossed the woman’s name Rhian as crown-gift, while in Welsh Rhian means queen. All he has done is change the meaning just a little bit, while the name remains easily recognizable as Welsh, because the letter combination ‘Rh’ is so typically Welsh.

The Took Crest

The Took Crest

Goldberry wife of Tom Bombadil

Goldberry wife of Tom Bombadil

The name Took is harder to see, because Tolkien used the English spelling. You can only really see that Tolkien intended the Welsh name, when Tolkien spells it Tūca, using a bared ‘Ū’ instead of the Welsh ‘W’ for the vowel. The name was originally Twca (type of sword).

Similarly, Tolkien’s place name Henneth Annûn looks a lot more Welsh, if it is spelled using Welsh orthography as Hennedd Annwn (the old abode in the Otherworld).

Tolkien glosses the place name Amon Lhaw as Hill of the Ear, but if lhaw is converted to modern Welsh orthography, it would be read as Amon Llaw (Amon of the Hand).

This is not in the book—as I have only just seen it myself: Tolkien’s Elvish names for the months December and January are based on the Welsh rhew (ice, frost). January is Cathriw (After the Frost) and December is Ephriw (Before the Frost), modeled on the old Anglo-Saxon month names Ærra Jéola (Before Yule) | Æftera Jéola (After Yule).

It is hard to see, not only because Tolkien changed the vowel in rhew, and because mutation changes rhew to rew, but also because the prefixes before and after are Greek.

The hardest names to spot are the ones that are translated piece by piece into English. The enigmatic name Goldberry becomes much clearer when it is translated back into Welsh, where it becomes Rhos Maelan, the place to which Maelan, the youngest daughter of the Welsh Goddess Dôn, escaped when Caer Arianrhod was flooded.

AmeriCymru: How do the linguistic boundaries in Tolkien’s work reflect those existing between the Germanic and Celtic languages in the British Isles?

Mark: The map of the U.K. is like a patchwork quilt of names, where Celtic, Germanic, Latin and Norman-French elements dot the linguistic countryside, reflecting the history of the comings and goings of the peoples who spoke these languages. Stratfordford (O.E.) on the stratum (L) or ‘Roman road’—is on the banks of the River Avon, a tautology (a bilingual place name that repeats its meaning in both of its languages), as avon means river in Welsh. Bewdley—a hypercorrection of the Norman-French beau lieu—means beautiful spot. It is located on the banks of the River Severn (Celtic: Ys Hafren, Latin: Sabrina). Pembridge (Herefordshire) is the End (W: pen) of the Bridge (E). It is located just south of the River Arrow, which is Celtic in origin: Ar + gwy L> wy = Arwy (By the Water.)

Tolkien replicates this patchwork quilt in the names of Breeland. Bree was the principal town of Breeland, which consisted of the villages of Archet, Combe, and Staddle. It was built on Bree Hill.

The name Bree Hill is one of Tolkien’s philological jests, a joke only a linguist could love. It is another tautology. It is composed of the elements Bree (Celtic) + hill (English).

The same type of construction is seen in Tolkien’s name for the wood near Bree: Chetwood. In Old Celtic, chet means wood. On the real-world map, this tautological construction shows up in the names Chetwode (south-west of Buckingham) and the Chute Forest in Wiltshire.

The element chet also shows up in the name Archet. The prefix Ar- in the name Archet can be found in a number of Welsh place names, where it means nearby. Tolkien’s name, therefore, means near the woods, which is exactly where he placed Archet in his description of Bree-Land: “on the edge of the Chetwood.” (F.205) Compare: the Welsh place name Argoed (literally: by a wood).

The name Combe is the Anglicization of the Old Celtic kumb, meaning valley (compare the modern Welsh: cwm, which means hollow). It was used so extensively that it was adopted into Old English as cumb and has yielded numerous place names based on this root, such as Combe (Oxfordshire, and West Berkshire), Coomb (Cornwall, and Devon).

Linguistically, Staddle is the odd-man-out in BreeLand. Archet, Bree and Combe share a certain Celtic ancestry, while Staddle has a Germanic origin. Tolkien’s names do exactly what place names on the real-world map do.

AmeriCymru: Tolkiens work is rich in philological jests. In your book you point out that there are many place names which will amuse an etymologist both in the book and in modern day Britain. Care to expand on this theme a little?

Mark: Tolkien was a man who liked a good linguistic jest, another of the traits that he shared with the Welsh as described by Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales), the twelfth century chronicler who authored the Cambriae descriptio (Description of Wales). Welsh courtiers, and even plain family men have “the reputation of being great wits,” says Giraldus. They are fond of “sarcastic remarks and libelous allusions, plays on words, sly references, ambiguities and equivocal statements.” The description fits Tolkien handily. Most of Tolkien’s puns, however, are the kind that only another linguist can laugh at without being told what the joke is. I try to explain some of them in Tolkien and Welsh.

Many of Tolkien’s jokes are what linguists call “Folk Etymologies,” that is an explanation of a name that makes the name comprehensible to a non-linguist. The Hobbits, for example, changed the Elvish name for the River Baranduin into the name Brandywine. This kind of thing happens all the time in the real world. A real-world example is Golden Valley in Herefordshire, which is the work of French monks who thought that the Welsh dwr (water) was the French d’or (of gold).

Tolkien says that some members of the Boffin family thought that the name Boffin might mean “one who laughs out loud.” The connection is obviously to the word boff, a bit of slang from the entertainment industry that means “a hearty or unrestrained laugh.” Boffin is in fact a Welsh name that was originally spelled Baughan.

The name Maggot is another linguistic joke of Tolkien’s. While English speakers are trying to figure out why Tolkien would name anyone Maggot, Welsh speakers of Tolkien’s ilk—and remember that means Welsh with a historical tint—know that King Magoth is one of the ancestors of King Arthur, and that the name changed to Baggot in Brittany, and came back to the U.K. in that form with William in 1066. This makes it just another in Tolkien’s nest of names that contain the element ‘bag,’ like Baggins of Bag End.

Orthanc is another of Tolkien’s puns. It has meaning in both Rohirric (Anglo-Saxon) and in Sindarin: In Rohirric, it means cunning mind, while in Sindarin, it means Mount Fang. Mordor yields both a Sindarin (black land) and an Old English (murder < morðor) gloss.

The pun in the Elvish name Cathriw hinges on the double meaning in the prefix. If you read the prefix as if it were Celtic instead of Greek, the prefix suggests the Irish cath (battle), the Welsh cad, the Old Welsh cat, and the Brittonic *kattā. Compare Taliesin’s Cad Goddeu (The Battle of the Trees), Cath Maige Tuired (The Battle of the Plain of the Towers) from the Irish mythology, and the Welsh name Cadwallawer (Battle Ruler) < cad- (battle) + gwaladr (ruler) L > waladr. A Celtic reading of Cathriw makes it mean Battle of the Frost, which has a certain resonance with Ragnarok, the battle between the Norse Gods and the Frost Giants (hrímþursar) at the end of the world.

Sir John RhysAmeriCymru: Tolkien owed a great deal to his former tutor Sir John Rhys. Can you tell us a little more about him and the precise nature of the debt?

Mark: Sir John Rhys (1840–1915) was a famous Welsh scholar, fellow of the British Academy, Celtic Specialist, and the first Professor of Celtic at Oxford University. Tolkien was one of his students. As any diligent student should know, when you take a course from someone who has written a book on the topic of the course, the book will be a part of the course, even if it is not on the required reading list, and Professor Rhys was a well-published author. Lectures on Welsh Philology (1877)

You can tell that Tolkien read Rhys’ books, because the only place that I’ve yet found the name Rhos Maelan attested is in Rhys’ book Celtic Folk-lore.

As I read Rhys’ works, I kept finding things that I recognized from Tolkien’s work. For example: Tolkien has a footnote to the song that Frodo sings at the Prancing Pony, in which Frodo calls the Sun “She.” The footnote says “Elves (and Hobbits) always refer to the Sun as She.” (F.218) Rhys has a very interesting paper in which he explains that the Celts worshipped a Sun Goddess, not a Sun God as is the case in Western tradition.

Books by Sir John Rhys

AmeriCymru: In The Two Towers, the Welsh folk belief in "corpse candles" is alluded to. Are there other instances of Welsh folk beliefs cropping up in Tolkien’s work?

Mark: In his book on Welsh folklore, Sikes remarks that although Keightley took Shakespeare to task in his Fairy Mythology for the inaccuracy of his use of “English fairy superstitions,” no such thing could be said of the Bard’s use of Welsh folklore. Shakespeare’s knowledge and use of Welsh fairy motifs and lore, notes Sikes, were “extensive and peculiarly faithful.” The same can be said of Tolkien.

Tolkien has a place named Long Lake that is the translation of the reasonably common Welsh name Llyn Hir. One of these “Long Lakes” is in Llanfair Caerneinion parish in Montgomeryshire. It is located on Mynydd y Drum in Powys. There is a legend about this mountain that has lots of elements in common with Tolkien’s tale of treasure in a mountain found in The Hobbit.

The legend is one from Rhys’ Celtic Folk-lore. It is a tale about a wizard (cwmshurwr) who lived in Ystradgynlais, near the mountain. The wizard had heard that there was a great treasure hidden in Mynydd y Drum, but he could not go get it alone. He needed the help of a “plucky fellow“ (dyn ysprydol).

These are the first resonances with Tolkien’s tale. Gandalf stops by Bag-End to recruit someone to go recover a treasure in a mountain, and convinces Bilbo to join in the expedition. Bilbo “plucks up his courage“ three times in The Hobbit: once in the face of the trolls (H.47), once when confronted by the spiders (H.158), and a third time when he talks to Smaug (H.214).

The wizard of Ystradgynlais found just such a man in the person of John Gethin (The Swarthy). John and the wizard climbed the mountain together, and when they got to the top, the wizard drew the symbol for infinity (∞) on the ground. The wizard stepped into one of the circles, and instructed John to enter the other. Under no circumstances, the wizard told him, was he to leave the circle. While the wizard was busy with his books, a monstrous bull appeared, bellowing threateningly, but the plucky John stood his ground, and the bull vanished.

The next stage of the story carries two more resonances with Tolkien’s tale. John is threatened by a “fly-wheel of fire“ that heads straight for him. This proves too much for John, and he steps out of the circle to avoid being hit by it. The wheel immediately turns into the devil, who grabs John to take him away. The wizard was only able to save John by trickery. He convinced the devil to let him keep John for as long as the piece of candle he had with him lasted. As soon as the devil agreed to his request, the wizard blew out the candle. This understandably made the devil quite cross, but he had given his word.

Without much imagination—a trait that Tolkien had in abundance—a “fly-wheel of fire” could be turned into a flying fire-breathing dragon. This is after all the man whose first name for Smaug was the simple Welsh compound Pryftan (literally: Worm of Fire). The role of the devil seems to have been given to the Goblins who detain Thorin and Co. They are indeed quite cross when Gandalf rescues Bilbo and the Dwarves from their clutches.

John kept the candle stowed away in a cool place, never lighting it. Nevertheless, the candle wasted away. John was so frightened by this that he took to his bed. He and the candle wasted away together, and they both came to an end simultaneously. John simply vanished. For appearances’ sake, they put a lump of clay into the coffin they buried under John’s headstone.

John’s vanishing act recalls Gandalf’s explanation of what the Ring does to its owner. A mortal ringbearer, says Gandalf, “does not die, … he fades.” In the end, he becomes invisible forever, and is condemned to walk in the twilight, under the watchful eye of the Dark Lord who rules the Rings of power. (F.76, Tolkien’s emphasis)

You think that you know all the players in the sub-field of Welsh Tolkienistics, because there are not a lot of us, but when Tolkien and Welsh was published, I got an eMail from Wales from Steve Ponty who is working on a book entitled The Hobbit: Professor J.R.R. Tolkien's Magic Mirror Maps of Wales. In his book, he points out—much to my embarrassment, because I wish I had seen it—that when Gandalf introduces Thorin and Company to Beorn, he announces that they are on their way to the “land of their fathers.” (H.122) Ponty explains that if Thorin had introduced himself, he would have said that they were going to the *‘land of my fathers,’ which, as any specialist in things Welsh should know, is the common English translation of the title of the Welsh National Anthem: Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.

What makes this idea so attractive is that before the reader can get to the next paragraph where Ponty makes it explicit, the suggestion of Welsh Dwarves triggers the thought that both the Dwarves and the Welsh are famous for their considerable ability as miners.

AmeriCymru: In what way does the theme of matrilineal descent demonstrate a further Celtic influence in Tolkien’s work?

Mark: Matrilineal descent is one of the key characteristics of the Welsh pantheon. Rhys discusses this aspect of Welsh culture at length in Chapter 1 (“The Ethnology of Ancient Wales”) of his book The Welsh People.

Matrilineal descent means that the family tree of the Welsh gods and goddesses is presented with reference to their mothers, rather than to their fathers. So, when Tolkien describes Goldberry as “the River Woman’s daughter,” he is giving her a matrilineal description. This means that Goldberry fits seamlessly in the type of hierarchy that is used for the children of the goddess Dôn, who form the great dynasty of Welsh mythology.
The majority of Tolkien’s characters are described in terms of patrilineal descent. There are, however, characters, whose descent is described in matrilineal terms. The descriptions of the lineage of the three Hobbit Ring Bearers all accent details of who their (grand)mothers were. This makes them stand out among all the patrilineal characters.

In The Hobbit, Tolkien’s narrator begins his introduction of Bilbo with “the mother of our particular hobbit … was the fabulous Belladonna Took, one of the three remarkable daughters of the Old Took.” (H.16) This is the only time that Tolkien uses the word mother in The Hobbit.

Frodo’s relationship to the Old Took is reckoned via one of Old Took’s daughters. Frodo is the son of the daughter of the youngest of the Old Took’s daughters (F.45), a description that is the essence of matrilineal descent. Bilbo’s selection of his mother’s sister’s daughter’s son as his heir and successor is equally in step with matrilineal descent.

Sméagol (Gollum) came from “a family of high repute” that “was ruled by a grandmother of the folk,” a matriarch. (F.84, F.89) She was a “great person” (F.89) who had the power to turn Sméagol out of the family and her hole. (F.85) She is the only ancestor of Sméagol’s who is mentioned, which is clearly another a matrilineal description of familial relationships.

AmeriCymru: How do the landscapes in Tolkien resemble actual geographical areas in Wales? Care to give us an example or two?

Mark: There are so many Welsh (Celtic) place names in Tolkien’s work, that it is hard to make a choice of two to give as examples, but I will give it a try.

In his notes, Tolkien said that Buckland is to The Shire as Wales is to England, so it was, therefore, “not wholly inappropriate” to use names of “a Celtic or specifically Welsh character” as the translations of “its many very peculiar names.”

Normally, Tolkien scholars say that the name Buckland came from Bookland, that is land owned by right of an entry in a book. They are generally unaware that there is a Buckland in Brecknockshire, in Wales that has a meaning that exactly matches the gloss that Tolkien gave for Buckland. He said that the names containing the element buck meant “the word ‘buck’ (animal): either Old English bucc ‘male deer’ (fallow or roe), or bucca ‘he-goat’.” The Brecknockshire Buckland was originally from the Welsh bwch (buck).

In The Hobbit, Bilbo and the Dwarves pass The Carrock. The word carrock is strange enough that Bilbo has to ask what it means. Gandalf explains to Bilbo that carrock is the word that Beorn uses for what appears to be a common topographical feature, but Beorn considers this particular one The Carrock “because it is the only one near his home and he knows it well” (H.117).

The Welsh word carreg (stone, rock, escarpment) matches Tolkien’s gloss for carrock, and his description sounds very much like Castell Carreg Cennen, located among the foothills of the Carmarthenshire Black Mountains, near Llandeilo. A reviewer of Tolkien and Welsh on Amazon said that he was “hoping to see mention of Carrickfergus (Carraig Fhearghais)—the rock of Fergus (Fergus being Fergus Mór mac Eirc), but this is purely because [he] lived there for a time.” I’ve never been to Carrickfergus, but I have been to Castell Carreg Cennen, and it has a lot of things about it that fit Tolkien’s description of The Carrock.

In the Breton edition of The Hobbit, the translation of The Carrock is Ar Garreg (ar [the ] + karreg [rockgarreg), which demonstrates how clearly the Breton translator perceived the Celtic underpinnings of Carrock, despite Tolkien’s orthographic camouflage.

AmeriCymru: Where can one go to purchase Tolkien And Welsh?

Mark:  “Tolkien and Welsh” is available from Amazon.com, from Amazon.co.uk, and from Amazon.de. Those who would like to support AmeriCymru, should, of course, click on the link in the AmeriCymru Bookstore, because Amazon pays AmeriCymru a “finder’s fee” for such sales. Signed copies will be available at the AmeriCymru stand at the Wordstock literary festival 3—6 October 2013 in Portland.

Buy from Amazon.com ( via AmeriCymru ) HERE

Buy from Amazon.co.uk HERE

Buy from Amazon.de HERE

Welsh poet Paul Steffan Jones won this year's (2012) West Coast Eisteddfod Online Poetry Competition with his entry  When You Smile You'll Be A Dog No More. Read the winning entry below. AmeriCymru spoke to Paul about his winning entry and about his work in general.

AmeriCymru: Congratulations/Llongyfarchiadau on winning the 2012 West Coast Eisteddfod Poetry Competition and many thanks for agreeing to talk to AmeriCymru. Your poem 'When You Smile You'll Be A Dog No More' was the winning entry. Care to tell us more about the poem?

Paul: Diolch. I am delighted to have won this competition. The poem is a reaction to the death of my mother in July 2011, the Gleision mining disaster later that same year and the 1938 murder of my Treherbert ancestor Thomas Picton by Spanish war criminals. It deals with grief and how it affects the personality and one's core beliefs.

AmeriCymru: How would you describe your relationship with words, with the raw matter of your craft?

Paul: My relationship with words has become more flexible, more trusting over the last two years. I am favouring a partly abstract approach to writing because I feel that what's going on at present in the UK doesn't make much sense and it's my job to reflect that feeling of nonsense to some degree in my work. It's good I feel to deconstruct a narrative so much that the narrative disappears leaving the naked and mad beauty of words that seem not to belong together but somehow work against the odds. I allude to this in When You Smile You'll Be a Dog No More. It is even more challenging when reading this type of poem to an audience. I believe it's important to try to find new ways of conveying messages, creating tension and provoking reaction.

AmeriCymru: Your blog features a number of original works. Will they be anthologised? How satisfactory/useful are digital media for poets?

Paul: Some of my blog writings have appeared in collections and others may do so in the future. I have found that having a blog has provided me with feedback that I would not otherwise have had. It provides additional encouragement in a fairly lonely genre.

1367_blogs.jpgAmeriCymru: Your first anthology Lull Of The Bull was published by Starborn Books. Where can readers obtain a copy?

Paul: A small number of copies of Lull of The Bull are available at www.starbornbooks.co.uk and a few book shops in West and South Wales.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Paul Steffan Jones?

Paul: My second collection, The Trigger-Happiness, will be published by Starborn Books in the next few weeks. A third collection, Junk Notation, has already been written, a reaction to relationship breakdown, poems punctuated by short stories. I am working at the moment on a potential book called Ministry of Loss which again deals with grief and also the massive population change in rural Wales since the 1960s. I look forward to taking The Trigger-Happiness to a wider audience. I hope that one of its poems will feature in an exhibition in Kyoto, Japan next month.

I will continue to fight the UK Coalition Government's austerity measures from within the ranks of the Trade Union movement.

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

Paul: There are a lot of good but unknown poets in West Wales who deserve to be heard. I'm sure that a similar situation exists in the U.S.A. I would like there to be closer links between lesser-known Welsh and American poets.

When You Smile You'll Be A Dog No More

I wake up

I wake up dead

I had been dreaming of cardboard

home made signs on unclassified roads

which directed me to 20,000 saints

or 20,000 whores

its hard to decide

everything is everything else

nothing is nothing

let me sleep

my bed my kingdom

Im sick of having to make sense

if theres still such a thing

the holes and the cracks

that await filling or recognition

our father gives us brown envelopes

containing our mothers careful accretion

we have all done loot

I will glory in her memory

decorate those who have managed

to live to retirement age

who have lived before death

I am overdue a bombweed and overgrown motte

Grand Tour

with a redundant cinema gravedigger hunchback

to disinter Nazis to kill them all over again

the art of leaning on a farm gate to view

wood lice jigs

the tail end of a hurricane

mould and its cousins

fungicide and its offspring

cry when miners die in the sides of hills

in the tombs of the underworld

in the caress of water

cry when they say your name

when the pain overpowers

when the clues expire

cry as men cry

faces to the wall

the tears of candles

the clowns of town down

the anti-condensation flotilla at full tilt

freelance apologists freely lancing

cwtsh into the huddle

taste her tears so near

impressing me as much

as I had expected

but not in the manner anticipated

women with bruised faces

the views from floors

fight for your smile

you know the one

and I will fight for the right to fail

and the secrets we think we are keeping

removing my shirt though its cool

nakedness of diaphragm

for what I am

the long arms of brambles through fencing

Impressionist paintings in river reflections

the source of the Nile

the source of fibre

persisting with bent nibs

everybody lies

everybody smells

everybody disappoints

this towns got much to answer for

eat what you are

food replaces sex

those poached brains

shopping as sport

lions as lambs

distance will bring us together

Paul Steffan Jones

Interview by Ceri Shaw Ceri Shaw on Google+

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Trilby Angharad Busch, is a descendant of Welsh, German, and Lithuanian immigrants. After retiring from teaching college English she devoted herself to writing an historical novel about Welsh immigrants in her hometown of Homestead, PA. AmeriCymru spoke to Trilby about her novel and future plans at the 2012 North American Festival Of Wales in Scranton P.A.Website: Darkness Visible




This is a book that works on many different levels. With a full complement of credible and well developed characters it is a useful contribution to the social history of late 19th century industrial Pennsylvania. There is no shortage of drama. The account of the pitched battle between the strikers and Pinkertons which is central to this tale does full justice to the tragedy and horror of the actual historical events.

For anyone who is not acquainted with this dark and violent chapter in the history of American labour relations the brief introductory remarks and accompanying links in the interview below should provide an invaluable introduction.

On a personal level Darkness Visible is the story of a Welsh immigrant worker who loses and recovers his faith, a process in which the appalling developments unfolding around him play no small part . But perhaps more interestingly it has been written by a fourth generation descendant of one of the casualties of the conflict ( for more details see the interview below ). This provides the author with a unique historical perspective and her devotion to recounting these events is evident both from her painstaking and meticulous background research and from the sympathetic and artful manner in which she develops the narrative.

This is an important book about an important event. If you read only one work of historical fiction this year, it should probably be 'Darkness Visible'.


AmeriCymru: What inspired you to write Darkness Visible?

Trilby: My parents and I were all born in Homestead, Pennsylvania, and both sets of grandparents lived and worked there most of their lives. During my childhood, everyone in town-- and probably most people in the Pittsburgh area-- had heard about the 1892 strike.

I grew up listening to stories from my father, whose grandfather was killed in the Homestead Works of Carnegie Steel in the immediate aftermath of the strike. As I did research to corroborate his stories and learn more details about the strike, I found many terrible and fascinating stories from contemporaries and eyewitnesses. I wrote this book as an imaginative recreation of those events in a work of historical fiction.


The Homestead works from across the river

AmeriCymru: Tell us a little about the 1892 strike. How significant an event is it in American labor history?

Trilby: The 1892 Homestead Strike is a very significant event in American history. The strike was chosen as one of the events featured in the 2006 PBS-TV series, "Ten Days That Unexpectedly Changed America." The violence surrounding the confrontation between workers and company is an infamous chapter in labor history. Henry Clay Frick, running the company while Carnegie was off in Scotland, locked out the workers at the end of June 1892. On July 6th, the conflict came to a head when Frick sent in 300 Pinkerton guards to secure the way for replacement workers. They were met by 3,000 armed strikers and townspeople and a 10-hour running gun battle ensued. In the end, the strikers won, but inevitably lost the war a week later when Frick convinced the governor to send in the Pennsylvania Militia. In this way, Frick and Carnegie busted unions in the steel industry for nearly 40 years.

AmeriCymru: You have a personal connection with these events. Can you tell us more?

Trilby: As I said, my great-grandfather was killed in the Works after the strike. He was an unemployed German immigrant with a wife and 11 children to support. After the battle, the Carnegie Company desperately needed skilled "fireman" to fire up the industrial boilers that ran the mill, and he answered the call. He was killed by union saboteurs who set a boiler to explode while he was working on it. Fictional versions of him, my grandfather, and other family members appear as minor characters in the book.

AmeriCymru: Was there a strong Welsh involvement in the strike movement?

Trilby: Yes. Many of the members of the union, the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, were Welsh. At that time Wales led the world in the technology of steel production, and the Carnegie Company actively recruited engineers, chemists, and skilled workers from Wales.

AmeriCymru: What was the subsequent history of the Homestead Works?

Trilby: In 1901 Carnegie sold the company to J.P. Morgan of US Steel. In 1937, anticipating the need for steel in the war that loomed on the horizon, US Steel took over the whole lower part of Homestead below the railroad tracks, expanding the Works into that area. In its heyday, the Homestead Works produced nearly one-third of the finished steel in the United States, a behemoth operation spreading for five miles along the bank of the Monongahela River. In 1983, US Steel, weary of foreign competition and disputes with workers, shut down the Works for good. In its place sits the Waterfront Shopping Complex, a large mixed-use commercial area of stores, apartments, and office buildings.

AmeriCymru: Where can people go to purchase Darkness Visible?

Trilby: Darkness Visible is available for sale via Paypal on its website, http://DarknessVisibleNovel.com. On Amazon.com, you can get either the paperback or Kindle versions. If you go to Homestead, the book is available in the shop of Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area in the Bost Building.

AmeriCymru: What's next?

Trilby: I'm kicking around two ideas: 1. a sequel taking place in the Depression, following the children of Emlyn Phillips and/or 2. a collaboration with my daughter Ceridwen--a mystery/satire involving ghosthunting and preservation politics in present-day Minnesota.

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

Trilby: A number of people have gotten confused about my connection with the Welsh characters in the book. Actually, there is none. I am the descendent of scabs, immigrants from another country--as are so many of the present residents of the Steel Valley. However, I decided to use the information and contacts I had acquired in my search for relatives of my Welsh grandmother (a search that was not successful) in developing the characters of the skilled worker and unionist's family in the story.

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AmeriCymru: Croeso i AmeriCymru Eirug and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. What prompted you to write 'The Welsh of Tennessee'?

Eirug: Back in the late 1990s, and when I started to contemplate the possibility of retirement, I found that my life long enthusiasm for micro-electronic research was gradually being replaced by a curiosity over what had been published in Welsh within the United States. One of the things that became immediately apparent was a need to compile a list of such publications, both books and pamphlets, and the fruit of that labor eventually appeared in the 2003 issue of Llen Cymru. Often noted at the begining of copies of such books in Harvard Universitys possession were the names of former owners, many being well known figures in Welsh American circles of the 19th century, but invariably residing in the northern states. What eventually led to the present study was a curiosity over the surprise finding that a significant number of the donated books had come from a relatively unknown miner who happened to reside in Coal Creek, Tennessee.

AmeriCymru: Do you think that the Welsh contribution to the building of the United states has been adequately recorded or recognized?

Eirug: To a large extent the Welsh are an unknown factor. Take the early Quakers as an example, and while their 40,000 acre Welsh Tract is often referred to in older historical texts, no mention is made of how their ill-fated attempt at preventing its break up led to a far more democratic way of governing Pennsylvania. Occasionally one hears of how many signers of the Declaration of Independence were Welsh but nothing is heard of how their background had propelled them to take such a perilous step.

AmeriCymru: Your book introduces the reader to a number of fascinating characters. The name Samuel Roberts springs to mind. What can you tell us about him?

Eirug: Even though Samuel Roberts remains as a much admired figure Wales, it appears that he was not the most practical of individuals. Given that he had relatives in Cincinnati it is not unreasonable to find that he should visit the city on the way to Tennessee. What is more difficult to figure out is why after sailing to Maine he would make his way to Cincinnati by travelling through Canada.

Worthy of the same recognition as him, but unfortunately long forgotten, would be their second minister in Knoxville, Iorthyn Gwynedd. His lone stance on behalf of Wales in the 1847 goverment report referred to as The Blue Books is remarkle and it stands as a fore runner to what The Welsh Language Society are still stiving for in present day Wales

On the mining side, one of the more appealing individuals was the Phillip Ffransis whose expertise was called upon during the Fraterville disaster and when over 200 miners lost their lives. In one passing remark he mentions how he and two or three others would ocassionally gather to socialise outside one of their Dowlis homes. Sometimes I cant help but speculate how I would have fared if only I could have sneaked up and joined in their discussion. Presumably all would be well, but then not coming from their area of Wales, the odd unfamiliar word would creep in and become the subject of some humorous ridiculing.

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about the 'Dixie Eisteddfod'?

Eirug: Poetry competitions are an important feature of any eisteddfod and the failure to locate the winning entries at both Knoxville and Chattanooga proved to be a bitter disappointment.

What is quite remarkable is the distance some were prepared to travel to get to Knoxville or Chattanooga, and without the attraction of an eisteddfod, many would never have visited either city. With many an eisteddfod in other parts of the country, it was not unusual to find that they had managed to get the railroad companies to issue half price tickets.

AmeriCymru. To what extent have Welsh traditions been preserved in Tennessee?

Eirug: The Welsh Society in Knoxville, which dates from the 1890s, still exists and many of its members, who take great pride in their Welsh background, have been extremely forthcoming with their information. With the aid of the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation the historic Welsh Church in Briceville has recently been restored and several historic markers have been placed in its vicinity.

Students at Briceville Elementary School still hold their Dixie Eisteddfod competitions, the next one to be held on May 17, 2013 as described at http://www.coalcreekaml.com/FortAndersonDedication.htm to dedicate the listing of Fort Anderson on Militia Hill on the Natural Register. Students will participate in an essay contest to document the oral history of the Coal Creek War and a recitation of The Snark.

AmeriCymru: Do you have plans to embark on any further historical research?

Eirug: Here Ill take the liberty of mentioning what is already available. Though written in the Welsh Language, the first of the titles, Y Cymry ac Aur [Gold] Colorado, could prove suitable for learners. This was folloed by Gwladychu [Pioneering] y Cymry yn yr American West and more recently Helyntion [Tribulations] y Cymry yn Virginia.

One of the many problems encountered on writing in English is that the original Welsh eventually gets lost. One of the first American poems to be written in Welsh is a song of rejoycement on being in Pennsylvania. It dates from 1683, a year after the Quakers first arrival, but all that remains availiable is a very non inspiring translation. For such reasons the original Welsh quotations have been retained in the present volume, and for those learning the language, it could prove an interesting challenge to come up with an improved English translation As to any future writing, and whether it be in Welsh or English, well just have to wait and see.

Interview by Ceri Shaw


It is always a pleasure to introduce a first rate historical fiction writer on the site. All the more so if her work happens to be set in Wales. In this interview AmeriCymru spoke to Jean Mead author of The Widow Makers, Strife - The Widow Makers and Freya 800AD about her work, future plans and passion for sailing. Be sure to check out Jean's' website for details of her past publications and future speaking engagements.

Jean has also contributed an original short story for publication on the site. Joe Standish - Boyhood 1823 is a prequel to 'The Widow Makers' and revolves around incidents from the boyhood of one of its main characters.



AmeriCymru: What attracted you to writing?

Jean: My interest in writing historical fiction was formed at school where English and history were the only subjects I actually enjoyed.

The history teacher was brilliant, she would tell tales of the past and the ring of clashing swords, the cries of battle, the sobs of the soon to be beheaded held me enthralled.

The English teacher was appalling, and to save her the bother of a lesson, she would tell us to write a story. The other girls would groan, but for me this was heaven. Whilst writing I could forget I was actually in the classroom.

Perhaps its the bad teachers that shape a childs destiny! The pupil must exercise imagination to escape the dreariness of the classroom.

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little more about the Widow Makers.

Jean: On a perfect autumnal day, sunlit with the bite of the first frost in the air, quite by accident I came across Dorothea quarry an astoundingly beautiful and haunting place. Stepping over the rusty wire of a wrecked Blondin, the idea of The Widow Makers came to me.

The research required to write a historical trilogy, the story based in the quarry lands of North Wales, didnt occur to me until I attempted to write the first paragraph. But so in love with the place, I enjoyed learning about the history of the quarry.

The quarry in the trilogy is the Garddryn but many incidents that happen in the story actually occurred in Dorothea.

The Widow Makers 1842-1862 was published 2005 and republished 2012 and is a paperback and Kindle e-book.

The Welsh Books Council awarded a Literary Grant for the publication of The Widow Makers:Strife 1862-1874. The book was published in paperback in Wales 2012. There is one hardback copy which was made especially for the launch of the book. This is now in pride of place on the mantelshelf at home. Strife will also become a Kindle e-book very soon.

The Widow Makers:Roads End 1874-1884 is almost complete and will be published 2013.

The characters and locations are the same in all three books but each edition can be read independent of the others.

It is difficult to imagine a time when the characters will not be the centre of my day and the people I dream about at night. If they decide to stay, they no longer just inhabit my office but have free run of the house, I may have to continue the story.

AmeriCymru: What inspired you to choose a Viking heroine?

Jean: Freya 800 AD is my latest book and was published 2012.

Most Viking era books are male dominated with battle, skirmishes and gore. Others are mystical and fantastical.

My purpose was to portray a woman living more than a thousand years ago at the beginning of the Viking raids on Britain. To write about life as it really was at that time. How women coped when their husbands sailed across the Norse Sea to wreak havoc of the Picts of Northern Britain. With settlements deserted of able men the women were vulnerable from attack, and in the story, Knut, a man of the mountains crosses the threshold of Freyas longhouse with devastating consequences. Researching the longhouses, longships, the way people lived at this time has taken me to Viking sites, and museums, which has been fascinating. Though the dried-out remains of a Viking warrior does tend to prick the hairs at the back of my neck.

AmeriCymru: You have also written a great many short stories for magazines over the years. Can you tell us a little more about this aspect of your work?

Jean: Writing short stories is a bit of a hobby and I enjoy contemporary situations and characters. In short fictions I tend to write about the humorous side of life. Over the last few months Yours Magazine have published my stories. The editor is kind enough to do a little write-up about the author and the books, which helps readers get to know me and my day job.

AmeriCymru: You have generously contributed a short story for publication on AmeriCymru, could you introduce it for us?

Jean: Joe Standish - Boyhood is a short story about Joe, the main character in The Widow Makers historical trilogy. Writing about him for so long I naturally got to know every little quirk of his character. The short story I have contributed to Americymru is how I imagine Joe may have been in boyhood, long before the infamous Galloway pit, the immense Garddryn Quarry, and his desire to see a union for quarrymen, shaped him.

AmeriCymru: Your profile notes that you enjoy sailing, any sailing stories you'd like to share with us?

Jean: I met my husband through sailing. At that the time I was the Honorary Secretary of The Royal Welsh Yacht Club in Caernarfon, Tony was a visiting yachtsman. We married ten years ago. Our boat is Ruby, a Gibsea 372. The yacht got her name from the fictional quarry in The Widow Makers.

We sail locally with our club, the North Wales Cruising Club, this generally entails racing. Puffin Island, the Menai Strait, and the Great Orme of Llandudno are the usual sailing patch.

Independent of the club we enjoy sailing to the Isle of Man, Scotland and Ireland. As my family now live in Brittany, sailing across the channel has a double appeal, the family give us a great welcome and weather is better. Wales is a bit legendary for rainfall and gales. There are loads of sailing yarns I could share with you but most are x-rated.

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

Jean: The books are available on Kindle and paperback.

Freya 800 AD and The Widow Makers are available in paperback or as Kindle e-books on Amazon. The Widow Makers:Strife which is available in paperback will also be available as an e-book very soon.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Jean Mead?

Jean: Next book to be published is No Goodbye a contemporary thriller. The Widow Makers:Roads End will follow. Next writing project is another Viking era book. I shall be asking the members of Americymru to help me come up with a good title.

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

Jean: I would like to thank Ceri Shaw for making my books available through Amazon/Americymru. If someone purchases a Kindle e-book or paperback I really hope you enjoy it. I am always available to answer questions from readers.

It really pleases me that the members of Americymru have such an interest in Wales and what is going on here. Diolch.

Interview by Ceri Shaw


Back to Welsh Literature page >

Philip Rowlands is a former Headteacher from the Rhondda in South Wales. He is now an author and editor of 'Kindle Authors', a website which offers :- 'Encouragement, practical 'how to' advice, and support for all aspiring and established Kindle authors.'

Kindle Authors A Christmas Carol Revisited


AmeriCymru: Croeso i AmeriCymru Philip. Recently I have been admiring your work on Kindle Authors . How would you describe the site?

Philip: Thanks Ceri. Writing is essentially a solitary craft. Kindle Authors was established to create a supportive community of potential Indie authors who want to go down the self publishing route. Hopefully it provides helpful technical advice, promotional ideas, amusing posts but above all a healthy dose of encouragement. A blog is also a great way to discipline yourself to the daily task of actually getting some writing done. There must be lots of people including members of AmeriCymru who have a novel currently residing in their head but unless they impose some self discipline and start writing on a regular basis that’s where it will stay.

AmeriCymru: In addition to blogging you are also a writer who publishes electronically. How did you get started with that?

Philip: I have always loved writing. As a teacher I was very conscious of how drama could impact positively on children especially with regard to emotional literacy. Consequently I wrote many play scripts and entered children in various competitions. We achieved success nationally winning the Cardiff International Science and Drama Festival run by Professor John Beetlestone of UWIST, came runners up in another national finals sponsored by Savlon which were held at BAFTA and also were awarded a prize in the National Eisteddfod held at Builth Wells.

I decided to try and get some of the plays published back in the day when you sent your manuscripts to a publisher and waited several months for a rejection slip. When I retired I continued to write and with the advent of devices like Amazon’s Kindle I decided, like many established authors, to ignore the traditional route and publish directly with Amazon and Smashwords. The fact this option was available gave me the impetus to finish one of several projects I had started but abandoned. There is no excuse now because anyone can write and get published if they really want to.

AmeriCymru: You have published 'G+ Explosion'. Can you tell us more about this title?

Philip: Writing a book about social media marketing was the furthest thing from my mind if I am honest. I was always actively involved on the internet even when it was new and computers were alien beings that sat in the corner of a classroom making strange beeping noises like a disgruntled R2D2 and whose sole purpose seemed to be to intimidate nervous teachers.

It was obvious to me that here was a possible outlet for the play scripts and educational programs (see http://www.helpyourchildsucceed.com ) I had written. Down the years I have sort of become a social media marketing expert by default. Please don’t ever call me a guru! Having then begun to self publish my work I soon realised that was just the first stage of the self publishing author’s task. The next is to promote your book. Nobody is going to do it for you and there are now so many books published on Amazon every month that it is easy to become lost in the digital crowd. When Google+ arrived I took a close look and immediately glimpsed its immense potential. Here was an opportunity to establish a presence while Google+ was still a new kid on the social media block. Having already established Kindle Authors I viewed Google+ eXplosion as a natural extension of providing information and help on a social network that can provide authors with a powerful promotional platform. In order to get Google+ eXplosion written I took time off from my current project, as time is of the essence when opportunities presented by the likes of Google+ arrive.

AmeriCymru: The inevitable G+ question. In your opinion will it ever catch up with or be a viable competitor to Facebook?

Philip: In my humble opinion, most definitely. Google have already failed with one project, failure is not an option this time. They are totally committed to Google+ and as soon as apps linking them to other social media networks like Twitter become available momentum will build exponentially. One feature that is particularly effective is the way you can group people into Circles. This allows you to set up sub groups within your account. For example I have groups for various genres like Fantasy, Science Fiction etc and only post what is relevant to that group. This facility is lacking on Facebook. Google+ is still evolving. When Google+ first introduced their Pages the maximum number you were allowed was just 20. I now have 28 pages and there has been no warning from Google that I am anywhere near my limit. They are adding new features all the time and the latest is the Local Tab that allows you to search a local area within a given postcode for restaurants etc. Google+ will become a massive presence in the social media universe and now is the time to get a foothold.

AmeriCymru: You have also published A Christmas Carol Revisited. Can you introduce the book for our readers?

Philip: Certainly. Charles Dickens is one of my favourite authors and ‘A Christmas Carol’, my favourite story. Although Dickens was not Welsh he shares with us one very common trait which is evident in all his works. Dickens possessed a well defined social conscience and his novels frequently illuminate the dark corners of Victorian society where social injustice and abuse of children were commonplace. I often wondered what issues Dickens would have written about today and that was the intial motivation for ‘A Christmas Carol Revisited’. I realised it might appear an act of arrogance to try and follow in the footsteps of the great man but I reasoned if the Muppets could do it, why not me?

I have been asked why the story was set in New York not London. When Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol Britain presided over a vast empire at the height of it’s powers. During the 20th century that mantle fell upon America and she has since been at the centre of many of the significant events that have shaped and changed our world. New York seemed the obvious setting for Ebenezer Clinton Scrooge III, very much a self made man of his times. There were two other aspects of Dickens work I hoped to reflect in some small measure. First was his love of words and descriptive powers and second was the fact that he always wrote darned good stories. In this age of CGI movies the art of story telling often takes a back seat.

Thankfully A Christmas Carol Revisited has been well received by everyone who has read it. I was fortunate to secure an hour long interview and review with Roy Noble and Nigel Crowle on BBC Radio Wales and they were extremely supportive. Hopefully readers will find it an uplifting experience.( Access the interview from here )

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us more about your latest title 'Billy: Family Secrets' ?

Philip: 'Billy:Family Secrets' is written for children with adults very much in mind. Billy is a nine year old boy who lives in the South Wales Valleys. His beloved Nan resides in a local nursing home run by ‘The Matron’ whom Billy is convinced is a vampire. A family crisis leads to the discovery of the family album. The secrets Billy unearths within its pages will change his life forever. Nothing will ever be the same again, in fact nothing is really what it seems.

“For a long moment Billy sat very still as it lay on the table before him like an ancient doorway beckoning him to pass through if he dare. It smelt of mould and decay and Billy hesitated to reach out and touch it. He wondered from what creature the leather had been obtained. Probably dragon's underbelly he guessed. “Are you going to open it or are we going to sit here all night?” Mum was getting impatient so Billy took a deep breath and reached out.”

AmeriCymru: What's next for Philip Rowlands? What are you currently working on?

Philip: Tough question Ceri! I tend to work on several projects at once. Currently my main focus is finishing Billy. You may also have noticed the animations I posted. They are taken from a sitcom series called Jack’s High that I submitted to the BBC. Although the BBC have asked me to provide more sample scripts they do not intend to commission Jack’s High. Problem is I have such a great affection for the characters who inhabit Jack’s High that I can’t let go – hence the animations. I may make the series the basis for a couple of books.

I have also started an historical novel set in the dark ages and a science fiction novel set in a post apocalyptic world – not a result of a nuclear Armageddon but the total collapse of global financial institutions and the ensuing chaos and emergence of a new Dark Age.

There are also a few other projects buzzing around in my head including an attempt at a screenplay or, more accurately, a rewrite of my first draft. The more projects I have lined up the more chance the Grim Reaper will have the good grace to wait until I finish. Can that be considered a perverse statement of faith or just a sort of spiritual crossed fingers?

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

Philip: Thanks for having me and especially you Ceri for the vision and energy to get this marvellous AmeriCymru project off the ground. Hopefully I will not offend too many people and may even be able to help some. If any of you would like me to feature your book on Kindle Authors please email me at philiprowlands@ymail.com and I will be happy to include you. One thing, if you have always wanted to write that novel get started today, it’s never too late until it’s too late.

Interview by Ceri Shaw

the welsh lady from canaan by eirian jones front cover detailNew from Y Lolfa "The amazing adventures of Margaret Jones (1842-1902), a lady from Rhosllannerchrugog, north Wales, who became famous in the nineteenth century as "The Welsh Lady from Canaan". She travelled extensively and spent time living in Paris, Jerusalem, Morocco, the United States and Australia. She published two books of her observations, "Llythyrau Cymraes o Wlad Canaan [The Letters of a Welsh Lady from Canaan] (1869) and "Morocco, a'r hyn a welais yno" [Morocco, and what I saw there] (1883). Her letters appear here alongside an account of her life and travels." Buy it HERE,...


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Author Eirian Jones with Bronwen Hall, the great-niece of Margaret Jones, the Welsh Lady from Canaan. Also in the photograph are Bronwens children, David and Susan. They are looking at the Australian diary of Margaret Jones which is kept at the John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland in Brisbane.

AmeriCymru: Hi Eirian and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. When did you first become aware of Margaret Jones and what made you decide to record her life and adventures?

I was browsing through the Cydymaith i Lenyddiaeth Cymru [Companion to Welsh Literature] one day looking for some information about poets born in Ceredigion, when I came across a couple of paragraphs about this Margaret Jones who had written a few books, but, more interestingly, had lived in Paris, Jerusalem, Morocco and travelled around the United States before spending the last ten years of her life in Australia. Shed done all this in the second half of the nineteenth century which I thought was remarkable. A few months later I visited Margarets home village of Rhosllannerchrugog in north-east Wales and went into the library to see if they had any more information about her. Theyd never heard of her! So that was it I was hooked by her life story and wanted to find out more. Since Im also an author and love travelling, I had quite an affinity with the story of Margaret Jones.

AmeriCymru: Margaret was an exceptionally lucky and above all courageous woman. What in particular strikes you about her bravery and dedication?

She was extraordinarily brave and courageous at a time when women were only expected to raise a family and werent supposed to do much else. Margaret was born in 1842, in poor and unfortunate circumstances and she only received three weeks of formal schooling. There were no ambitious female role models to follow in her home village of Rhos, so her expectations in life must have been pretty low. But, her lucky break in taking a position as a maid with a family in Llangollen and then being asked to work as a maid for another member of the same family in Birmingham (a missionary with the London Jews Society) opened up wonderful opportunities for global travel to her. Margaret was evidently an outgoing personality from her upbringing in Rhos. When she lived in Paris and Jerusalem she could have just worked as a maid and kept herself very much to herself. But no, she wanted to fully experience living in these places: she learnt the languages, visited the important sites and related all her findings back to her parents in letters. In Jerusalem she told her parents about cholera outbreaks, plagues of locusts descending on the city, death threats to Christians from the Sultan etc. And in Jerusalem also, her time was particularly difficult personally, because she suffered from a badly twisted knee. Shed hoped to stay in Jerusalem for ten years, and it was only after being hospitalized due to the condition of her knee that she was persuaded to return home to Wales to receive treatment. So she showed particularly brave and dedicated attributes to her character at this time.

AmeriCymru: In Part IV ('The Length And Breadth of Wales') of the book we are treated to a fascinating account of the chapel lecture circuit in late 19th century Wales.. How much prejudice existed against women lecturers and how difficult was it for them to gain acceptance?

It was very difficult. According to the vast majority of people in those days a womans place was in the home and certainly not speaking publically from the pulpit! To some extent Margaret agreed with this, but she also argued that she had a very good reason to travel the land lecturing from pulpits about Canaan, because she was trying to raise money for the Palestine Missionary Fund so that enlightened information could be given to the people living there. Some commentators in newspapers and magazines were very rude about the handful of travelling female lecturers, saying that the world had come to an end when they saw a female lecturer in the pulpit, or that these ladies didnt belong to one gender or the other! These commentators were largely ignored and, to be honest, these lady lecturers were so very popular (in particular with female audiences), that it was a case of men being envious of their success rather than anything else.

AmeriCymru: Again in Part IV we are introduced to another female lecturer, Cranogwen. Can you tell us a little more about her?

Cranogwen was a fascinating lady too, and spent time travelling around the United States also. She was raised in the old county of Cardiganshire and during her lifetime she was a sea captain, a poet, a musician, a preacher, a temperance movement leader, a school mistress and the editor of a Welsh womens magazine. Shed been sent away by her mother at the age of fifteen to learn to be a seamstress. She hated the work so much that she ran away to sea, and enjoyed life as a sailor for two years. In time she would gain her master of the seas certificate. At 21 years of age, she decided to live on dry land for a while. She took charge of the school in her local village, Pontgarreg, near Llangrannog. She was headmistress for six years, before succumbing to itchy feet once more. She was a promising public speaker, and so she joined the expanding popular lecture circuit and started visiting chapels around Wales. She travelled the land for three years, lecturing and preaching on subjects such as Wales, her religion and education, Money and Time, The Home, Things that go wrong and the female Welsh hymnist Ann Griffiths. Cranogwen became more and more well known the length and breadth of the country, and one rather envious poet quipped that she was the two sovereign, difficult Goddess. Cranogwen was paid two sovereigns for each of her lectures. It seems that the male poet wished to ridicule her popularity. She was yet to turn 30 years of age. And to celebrate that birthday, she went on a voyage to the United States in 1869. There she spent several months lecturing to Welsh audiences in states bordering New York City. She then ventured west to the Rocky Mountains. This was not an easy journey to undertake; it would have been even more fraught for a foreign single lady travelling on her own.

AmeriCymru: There is some speculation in the book about the reasons for Margaret's failure to record her experiences in America in the mid 1880s. Any further thoughts on that?

It saddens me a great deal that I havent been able to find more information about Margarets two-year stay in the United States. Several papers record her arrival in New York City in 1883 and the fact she spoke at several Welsh chapels in the city before moving on to Utica. But after that initial piece of information, theres nothing recorded in newspapers at all. For a lady who wrote so many letters and kept a detailed diary, its very strange that there is no more information about her time in the US. It makes me then wonder if her trip to the US actually lasted as long as two years. After all, she was largely on her own there; she didnt have any constant company with her and if she was moving from place to place, it could have been quite lonely for this gregarious lady. Perhaps, after a few months, she decided to go home.

AmeriCymru: Is it possible to obtain copies of Margaret's books?

I used copies held at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth during my research. Margarets two books Llythyrau Cymraes o Wlad Canaan and Morocco ar hyn a welais yno are both digitalized as Google eBooks.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Eirian Jones?

In conjunction with Blaenpennal History Society Im writing and editing a bilingual book about the history of Mynydd Bach in the old county of Cardiganshire (where I was raised) and hopefully this will be published either late this year or early 2013. The book may be of interest to Welsh descendants who live in the Gallia and Jackson areas of Ohio, as nearly three-quarters of the residents of Mynydd Bach emigrated to Ohio in the 1860s.

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Author Eirian Jones at the grave of Margaret Jones, The Welsh Lady from Canaan, in Ipswich, Queensland.

Interview by Ceri Shaw

Cynan Jones lives near Aberaeron in West Wales. His first book, 'The Long Dry 'was published in June 2006. The novel , which won a Betty Trask Award in 2007 is set on a Mid Wales farm. His second book 'Everything I Found on The beach' is also set in West and North Wales. AmeriCymru spoke to Cynan recently about his novels and his plans for the future.



AmeriCymru: Many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. What inspired you to become a writer?

Cynan: I find it difficult to be around good things without wanting to try and do something good myself. If I eat amazing food, I want to learn to cook. Reading amazing books probably made me want to write, way back. But in terms of inspiration, I think the question is mostly asked the wrong way round. I didn't get 'inspired to be a writer.' A person is inspired, and they find an outlet for that. Be it chefing, or excellence in sport, or writing. It's driven by a great love of a thing and the consequent desire to want to do it well.

AmeriCymru: Your first book 'After The Factory' is somewhat difficult to find. Care to tell us a little more about it and whether it will become more easily obtainable in the future?

Cynan: 'After the Factory' tells the story of Joseph Napoleon, a factory worker who comes home every night to his basement flat and, while trying to sleep, imagines the characters behind the footsteps that echo across the square outside his room.

It's a short work, but one that readers seem to like very much. It's very different from the two 'Welsh' novels. I'm hoping there will be some news on the 'After the Factory' front soon. I'll keep you posted.

AmeriCymru: In both your subsequent books:- 'Everything I Found on The Beach' and 'The Long Dry' the central characters life and circumstances are revealed through an intimate connection with their surroundings. How important is a sense of 'place' in your writing?

Cynan: A good story should work even when it's lifted out of its setting - I'm talking about the key themes, the big motors of the thing. This is how great 'universal' tales are built, even when they are humble like 'The Old Man and the Sea'. But creating a sense of place is akin to setting the spell, making a world for a reader. It happens that the main characters are very linked to their environments in both these stories so the sense of place is vital. It's the environment I grew up in and am very close to. While I haven't written that intimacy in deliberately, its picked up majorly by readers.

AmeriCymru: You live in West Wales and your books reveal a strong familiarity with the rural lifestyle. What is your background? What did you do before you became a writer?

Cynan: I grew up in West Wales and returned to live here at twenty eight after a stint in Glasgow working as a freelance copywriter. I grew up very close to my grandparents' farm, so spent most of my time there. The farm was small, sixty acres or so. But it had woods, fields and scrubland, and ran right down to a beach. It had an incredible range of places to play. I don't think I ever outgrew that. All I'm doing now really is playing made up games like I did when I was a kid. Just I'm writing things down rather than running round playing them.

Before now I've been a substitute teacher, mentored in a behavioural unit, worked on building sites and as a wine presenter. I've worked in aquariums, and in a kitchen. All sorts. I've done whatever it took to get by without getting tied up in a contract which wouldn't let me drop out to work on a book when I needed to.

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little more about The Long Dry. What can readers expect to find? How would you describe the book?

Cynan: The Long Dry is the story of a bad day that gets worse. A calving cow goes missing, and the farmer has to try and find it. He is meanwhile beset by doubts and questions.

I wrote it very quickly (in ten days) and immediately knew it was the strongest thing I was capable of at the time. That was back in 2005. It was accepted for publication relatively soon after I wrote it. It went on to win a Society of Authors first novel award, and has been translated into French, Arabic and Italian. It is ostensibly a very simple thing, but people say it's very strong.

AmeriCymru: Everything I Found on The Beach paints a grim picture of life in rural West Wales. How has the area been affected by the current economic hard times?

Cynan: In some ways there hasn't been a major 'boom' here, so we're not as badly affected as those places that grew and swelled with the prior injection of affluence. Statistically, people here earn considerably less than the average wage, and house prices are higher than near anywhere in the UK as compared to earnings, (because of the huge second home market). In terms of jobs, there's not much to do. There's farming, but on small family run farms that are increasingly unfeasible. There's some factory work in relatively small factories. There's a university and hospital in Aberystwyth and lots of seasonal work in tourism related industries. The local authority is a major employer. But the quality of life if good. If you use and appreciate this area, it pays back. You don't need vast amounts to exist. The grim element perhaps comes from the limited choices here.

AmeriCymru: How difficult is it for Welsh writers to get published and to succeed these days?

Cynan: It is simply difficult to get published, Welsh or not. (You could even argue it's easier when you're Welsh, particularly writing in Welsh, because of the funding that makes that process possible).

When I decided to write I said to myself: write as strongly as you can, everything else is a side effect. I've stuck by that. However, the key thing now is visibility. Breaking through the London-dominated media wall is difficult, and perhaps they don't take Welsh publishers as seriously as they should. In France and Italy my work had big reviews in major newspapers, with some extraordinary critical acclaim. The next step, as well as continuing to write strongly, is to get that attention on my own turf.

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

Cynan: I read massive amounts. Writers like Steinbeck, McCarthy, Carver and so on are on a different level. Brink, Coetze. Graham Greene, Orwell. The great writers. When you write yourself, the quality of the writing has to be very very high. For something more recent, try 'The Solitude of Thomas Cave' by Georgina Harding.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Cynan Jones? What are you working on currently?

Cynan: There's a new novel on the desk right now. Come the end of January, I'll start work on the final draft. It's called 'Traces of People.'

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

Cynan: Keep reading! When you read something you like, tell everyone!

Interview by Ceri Shaw Google+ Email

SNOW is the codename assigned to Arthur Owens, one of the most important British spies of the Second World War. Described by MI5 as a typical 'Welsh underfed type' he became the first of the great double-cross agents who were to play a major part in Britain's victory over the Germans. AmeriCymru spoke to author Madoc Roberts about this fascinating and little known character.

Buy 'Snow'  HERE ( Kindle edition available )



AmeriCymru:- Hi Madoc and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. When did you first become aware of 'Snow'? What piqued your interest?

Madoc:- I have my own television production company called Barkingmad tv and amongst other things we traced Hitler’s relatives to Long Island in New York. This involved getting hold of files from both the American and British Governments. Around the same time I noticed files about a Welsh spy called Snow were being released. I started researching him in case there might be a television programme in the story and that was the start of a six year search which ended up as my first book. This involved reading hundreds of secret Mi5 files and tracing his family. I have discovered a son in Ireland and a Hollywood branch of the family.

Arthur Owens 'Snow'Snow’s real name was Arthur Owens and he was born in Pontardawe and later moved to Canada where he invented an improvement to batteries which he hoped would make his fortune but nobody wanted it so he came back to Europe . One day he walked into the German embassy in Belgium and came out as Germany’s master spy in Britain with the codename Johnny O’Brien. Every German spy sent to Britain was told to contact Johnny. What the German’s didn’t know was that he was already working for the British security services and he handed all these agents over to Mi5. That is how this little Welshman became the most important British double agent during the early years of WWII

AmeriCymru:- How easy was it to access the MI5 files necessary for your research? How much work was involved?

Madoc:- The files were all kept at the National archives in Kew where the staff are very helpful. The problem is that the system is not easy to follow so you have to be very persistent to get what you want. There were hundreds of pages on Snow (his real name was never mentioned) so I photographed them all, took them home and started reading this amazing story which had never been told. In many cases you are the first person looking at these files that were written over sixty years ago, so it is a thrilling experience.

microdot stamp'

AmeriCymru:- How valuable was Owens work to the allied cause?

Madoc:- The pattern that Arthur Owens set as Mi5’s first wartime double agent was followed by all those who followed. By the end of the war Mi5 controlled every single agent that Germany had sent to Britain and they also took their expenses which means that the Germans were paying for Mi5s operation. The greatest success of the double cross system was the D-Day deceptions which saved thousands of allied lives. It has been described as the greatest military deception since a large wooden horse was discovered one morning outside the city of Troy. On top of all this Arthur Owens messages which were sent to his handlers in Hamburg were used to make the first British breakthrough in the German Enigma code. He also went on may exciting missions involving early infra-red systems, trying to capture senior German spies and he brought back information regarding German plans to poison British reservoirs. I would say he was vital to the allied cause.

x-rays of detonators inside batteriesAmeriCymru:- OK I have to ask...which side was he on? Or was he playing both sides to his own advantage? The trip to Lisbon and the spell in Dartmoor are as confusing as they are intriguing.

Madoc:- Arthur Owens has always had bad press and his role as the founder of the double cross system has largely been ignored. The reason for this is because most of the books that bother to mention him rely on German sources for their information but of course these sources were based on false information that Mi5 were sending to the Germans in order to send them on the wrong path. Mi5s problem with him was that unlike most of their other agents who were ex criminals, Arthur Owens was a volunteer. His initial motive may well have been money but he had something of worth and in 1935 when he started spying for the British security services we were not at war with Germany. The public school boys and ex-military types of Mi5 described him as a “typical underfed Cardiff type” and he is often categorised as a fervent Welsh nationalist who sang folk songs to entertain the Germans but his son denies that he could sing a note. The information he gave to the Germans was all cleared by Mi5 and the formation he brought back from his exciting missions was invaluable.

After his final mission to Lisbon Mi5 decided that they couldn’t trust Snow anymore and chose to believe the ex-criminals they had watching him. The problem with the double game was that it was hard to know when an agent was tricking them or just playing their part as a Nazi spy. One false move and an agent could find themselves being put up against the wall and shot by either side. Arthur Owens liked a drink and everyone at his local pub seemed to know that he was a spy so when Mi5 had him detained in Dartmoor it was probably his saving grace. It is typical of Arthur Owens that even when he was in Dartmoor he took it upon himself to spy on his fellow inmates and he brought out some of the first information about the German V2 rockets.

AmeriCymru:- Why do you think the Heath government blocked rehabilitation of Owen's name?

Madoc:- In the 1970s several books were published about the double cross system and this was the first time that their existence was acknowledged publicly. These books painted a very unflattering picture of Arthur Owens who was portrayed as an untrustworthy, duplicitous, womaniser. Upon reading these accounts his eldest son Robert wrote to the Prime Minister asking to be allowed to tell his side of his father’s story. However Ted Heath used the official secrets act to block Robert’s right of reply. Robert probably had a rose tinted view of his father’s activities and by the strict letter of the law none of the books should have been published either. In fact the authors had to go America to find publishers. After the war Arthur Owens used his skills as a master spy to change his identity and vanish because he feared that someone he had double crossed might catch up with him. This not only made it a very difficult task to find him, it also left a vacuum which was filled by myths and half-truths. He didn’t want to be rehabilitated he just wanted to start a new family and forget about his war time activities.

Patricia OwensAmeriCymru:- There is a Hollywood connection to this story. Care to tell us what it is and how you discovered it?

Madoc:- The Mi5 files mentioned that Snow had a daughter who they called Pat. I knew from her age that she would have been born in Canada but finding Canadian citizens is not easy as only family can apply for certificates. The only Patricia Owens I could find in Canada was a Hollywood film star who was the star of the original version of The Fly so I dismissed her as a mere coincidence. There were many people looking for Arthur Owens on the internet but by this time I knew that most of the books were wrong when they gave his middle name as George. I had discovered the patent for the battery invention which gave his middle name as Graham. So when someone replied to one of my requests for information saying that his father might be Snow’s son and that his name was Graham I got in touch with him. We compared notes and it became obvious that I was talking to a son of agent Snow from his second family which he started in Ireland. The Graham told me that as a boy he had been taken to the pictures to see The Fly and his mother told him that the leading lady on the screen was his sister. Patricia Owens had a glittering career appearing in over thirty films alongside the likes of Marlon Brando, James mason and Vincent Price. However she lost touch with her father and lived in fear that the public portrayal of him that emerged of him as a Nazi spy would become public and her career would be over.

Patricia Owens Fly poster 1958AmeriCymru:- Do you think there is more to be discovered about this devious and fascinating character?

Madoc:- Snow is buried in an unmarked grave in Ireland because his son can’t quite work out what to put on his stone. I do find it a bit of a coincidence that he died only a few days after a newspaper article was published about his activities as a spy. At the time he was living in Ireland where he attended nationalist meetings and clapped loudly at the end of speeches although he couldn’t understand a word of Irish. If he had been sent to Ireland to infiltrate Sinn Fein then his time in Dartmoor would have given him the perfect cover but as with all things in Snow’s story you never know if things are true or whether it is all part of the double cross game. I may have to make another visit to the National archives to see if I can uncover even more.

AmeriCymru:- Where can our readers go to buy the book online?

Madoc:- Snow: the double life of a world war II spy is available through Amazon here

It has also just been released in the USA and can be purchased here

If people want to read more about Snow they can go to the codenamesnow site Where there is more information, a video interview with Snow’s son which features clips of Patricia with Marlon Brando in the Oscar winning Sayonara. The site also has a BBC Wales news item about him and a BBC Radio Wales interview I did on Jammie Owen’s show.

There are also lots more pictures including previously unseen family photos on my Facebook site

AmeriCymru:- What's next for Madoc Roberts?

Madoc:- I have just finished editing an interesting episode of the channel four archaeology series Time Team which went in search of Shakespeare’s house in Stratford upon Avon. I am also hoping that we might get a chance to make a follow up feature film to “Flick” which we made a few years ago and starred Faye Dunaway as a one armed cop in search of a killer zombie! Also an American record label has re-released my bands single from the seventies. We were called the Tunnelrunners and we were a punk band which played in the Swansea area. One of the original singles sold on eBay recently for $1,000 and a re-release of four other songs will come out soon. On the book front I am looking at a Nazi plot to kidnap the Duke of Windsor which I am provisionally calling Operation Willi and the Nazi Queen. It is a great story but a bit of a minefield when it comes to the research so we will have to see how it goes.

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

Madoc:- Nadolig Llawen a blwyddyn Newydd dda I chi gyd and if you are looking for a gift with a seasonal title then let’s all hope that we get Snow for Christmas. (Geddit? Sorry.)

Interview by Email

Back to Welsh Literature page >

dave_lewis.jpg"Dave Lewis is a writer and poet based in Pontypridd, south Wales. He also lectures IT & Photography, designs web sites and is a keen photographer. He has always lived in Wales except for a short spell in Kenya in 1993-94 and enjoys travelling to different parts of the world. He writes content for and still maintains many web sites, was web producer for the BBC Wales Scrum V fanzine, has run four hugely successful rugby sites with Rivals.net and used to write a newspaper column for the Pontypridd Observer." AmeriCymru spoke to Dave about 'Ctrl-Alt-Delete' and other literary projects.


AmeriCymru: Hi Dave and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Your first novel 'Ctrl-Alt-Delete' is currently available on Kindle. Care to tell us a little more about the novel and what inspired it?

Dave: I guess it's a crime thriller. A Facebook, cyber-stalking, murder mystery, love story with some good old fashioned sex and violence thrown in for good measure. 

I've always wanted to follow in the footsteps of someone like James Patterson and be a successful commercial writer, if only to allow myself time out from the day job to develop my writing skills more. 

Having worked in IT for 17 years I am always amazed at how innocent to the dangers of the web people can be and whilst I had the idea of linking a number of very different local characters together in a very fast, filmic novel, I imagine my computer knowledge helped inspire the main thrust of the book. 

One of the reviews says: ‘Could do for Wales what Stieg Larsson did for Sweden!’ which is a great compliment and hopefully true.

Amazon link - Ctrl+Alt+Delete

From Amazon.co.uk:

When beautiful Jenny Morris uses Facebook to get her ex-boyfriend Hal Griffiths to stalk her she has no idea what a dangerous game she is playing - for someone else is watching from the murky shadows of cyberspace. 

And when an horrific murder in a sleepy Welsh village stirs a seasoned reporter, a conceited detective and an overweight IT expert into action, they too always seem to be one step behind the mysterious killer - Hagar. 

Against the backdrop of a tangled web of deviant sexual practices Hal must rescue his lover before the killer strikes again. In the wilds of the Brecon Beacons National Park an electrifying climax is played out when Hal is forced to confront his deadly rival. 

Social and political commentary within a close-knit community has never been so honest. Pornography morphs into technology and we are forced to ask ourselves the question - will man’s lust for instant gratification ultimately be his undoing? 

A full-throttle thriller effortlessly blending violence, eroticism and suspense, Ctrl-Alt-Delete is both a modern love story and a prophetic tale of intrigue in our ever-distracting machine driven world. A truly gripping debut novel by Dave Lewis.

AmeriCymru: How intrusive and how dangerous do you think modern social media/networks are? Can technology go too far? 

Dave: Very dangerous (just read the book). I'm sure that we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg at the moment and things will get much worse before people wake up. I read one study last year that some young people spend five times more time 'socialising' online than they do in the real world - this is very sad when there is a great big beautiful world out there to explore.

There are security/identity issues with online use, health issues and outright dangers, especially when you delve into the world of internet dating and pornography. 

Technology is neutral I guess and will just continue to develop to enable more people to participate and therefore consume, it's a capitalist world and the masses of India, Africa and China are not even in the game yet - it's Christmas for sellers! 

AmeriCymru: Are you planning a sequel to 'Crtl-Alt-Delete' 

Yep! I can't say too much but it's half written in my head and whilst the first book is set almost entirely in Wales, the second will be in Kenya and... Nah, that would be telling.

AmeriCymru: What are the advantages of publishing digital editions? How easy (or difficult) is it to publish on Kindle? 

Dave: Hopefully, budding writers can by-pass the traditional and outdated agent/publisher route and just get on with it. It's about 2-3 years quicker, very easy if you have a few computer skills and some very basic html knowledge. You also get to control commissions etc. I used the least commission / hopefully more sales option, e.g. my novel is just 86p or 99cents and already in less than 2 weeks I've sold nearly 100 copies (in UK).

AmeriCymru: You have also published three anthologies of poems and short stories. Your third collection Sawing Fallen Logs For Ladybird Houses is accompanied by photographs on your website. How do the two media work together? 

Dave: Yeh, the poetry is always a constant and I'm sure I'll continue to publish poetry for many years to come. Sawing Fallen Logs... was a concept I had a few years back. I applied for a bursary from 'Literature Wales' to enable me to get a publisher in Wales but as they only seem to give money to the same old faces... I do what I always do if they are not willing to support grass roots art of this kind - I just do it anyway. To publish full-colour images alongside the poetry as was envisaged would have been better but in the end was just too expensive to do. Luckily the poems stand alone anyway, but for those that have bought the book and given me feedback they don't see it as such a drawback having to have the images open on a laptop or iPad. 

AmeriCymru: You were a runner up in the Rhys Davies Short Story Competition 2009 with your short story 'Onions'. Can you tell us more about the story? Do you plan to write more short stories? 

Dave: 'Onions' was a challenge to the politically correct mainstream literary world and they seemed to fall for it hook, line and sinker! Very satisfying. Many thought it highlighted the racism within a working class valleys culture but actually all it shows is that there is good and bad everywhere and that people just get too hung up on clichés, stereotypes and jumping on the BBC bandwagon of over-the-top political correctness. 

The story is set in a south Wales valleys curryhouse and I take the stresses and strains we all face to extremes when an Al-Qaeda recruit (a pubescent, confused young lad who is neither one thing nor the other) blows up a restaurant. The story highlights culture within culture by means of jumping between tables in the room and from the waiters’ point of view rather than the customers.

I've got two more stories in Urban Birdsong and have a couple of others ready for a future book. 

AmeriCymru: In addition to writing you have also organised the Welsh Poetry Competition for the past five years. How has the competition grown and developed since 2007? 

Dave: It's been fantastic! We went from a few hundred entries mostly from within Wales in the first year to becoming truly international a couple of years later and get entries from all over the world now. I think the success has been down to our great judges, John Evans, Mike Jenkins and Sally Spedding and the fact that the competition is judged fairly, unlike many I won't mention.

AmeriCymru: Who is the judge this year? 

Dave: It's a secret, but OK then, John Evans.

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

Dave: My favourite book of all time is 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' but at the moment I'm reading Gary Snyder - Turtle Island, a Patricia Cornwell book, a Sandy Denny biography and Crash by JG Ballard, plus anything else lying around...

AmeriCymru: Favourite pub in Ponty? 

Dave: Always was the Llanover Arms, but a new watering hole has emerged recently in the form of The Patriot - award-winning real ales, great landlord and always packed! The 'Llan' will always have a special place in all Ponty peoples' hearts of course, I've been drinking there myself since I was 15 or 16.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Dave Lewis? 

Dave: I've got a book of haiku half done plus bits and bobs, photography to catch up on, but I guess I really should start on a sequel to Ctrl-Alt-Delete and then the third... 

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

Dave: Merry Christmas of course, does time fly as fast in America as it does here in Wales? Oh, and buy my book of course (is that allowed Ceri?)

AmeriCymru: Certainly is...BUY DAVE'S BOOK: Ed.

Interview by Email

Excerpt From Ctrl-Alt-Delete


August 2010…

Jenny had drunk far too much white wine. It was an easy mistake to make and now she was going to die.

How long had she been unconscious? She had no idea. No concept of time. Struggling hard not to panic as she felt herself begin to hyperventilate Jenny instinctively knew she must absorb and assimilate every detail, something somewhere might save her. She also knew she must act immediately if she wanted to escape.

She struggled for breath and forced herself not to give in to the gagging reflex as her desert-dry mouth filled with burning bile. Jenny’s swollen eyes strained to become accustomed to the murky gloom. She tried to shake her long, curly brown hair away from her face but dried sweat held it tight as the cold metal of the handcuffs cut into her wrists. Her whole body was aching and her pulse throbbed relentlessly in her head.

Thinking back to earlier that evening she vaguely remembered her vision blurring and the muted sound of words slurring, like holding your head underwater in the bath. Then her stomach had tightened and warm flushes had begun to spread out all over her body. A distorted Daliesque clock face slowly slithered down the wall. As Jenny’s coordination flew off into the evening her knees buckled. She headed for the carpet in slow motion. A small, rough hand expertly plucked the free-falling wine glass from mid-air and delicately placed it on a low wicker table.

Terror can manifest itself in different ways but all Jenny could visualize at this moment was Hal’s grinning face staring back from the centre of a computer monitor. In the first brief seconds of consciousness she searched for reassurance. She tried to reason with herself, to tell herself it would be OK.

She tried to justify her actions, to make sense of it, to make it alright. It wasn’t her fault. What else could she have done? Stalkers don’t just stalk anybody do they? You have to give them a reason. You have got to make them want to do it.

Oh shit! What have I got myself into? The thought of being a lonely old spinster was suddenly very appealing… then unexpectedly, off to the side, a long penetrating torch beam flashed across her body and in a nanosecond she was catapulted back to the present. The harsh light settled on her pale face and blinded Jenny for a brief moment before an echoing click plunged her back into silence and darkness.

With her senses heightened by fear she could taste the damp, musty smells of straw, onions and potatoes. The odour of mouse droppings mingled with the stink of rotting, wet vegetables. She desperately searched the dim recesses of her prison. Her funeral-black pupils frantically scanned the darkness for hope.

Penetrating, probing. Looking for anything that could offer her a way out of this nightmare… and then she saw them.

Laid out purposefully in a neat line on the small wooden bench in the corner of the barn. Almost out of sight. Not placed in front of you – for effect. Not staring you in the face, not carefully arranged like pretty glass ornaments on a living room shelf. Not meant to shock or terrify. These had been put there for a purpose. Practical. To be used.

Jenny shivered, her big brown eyes grew to saucers, her face became china-white as the adrenaline kicked in and coursed through her blood. She tried to jerk free but the restraints held firm as she slowly traced the metallic shapes in perfect clarity. Her screams were muffled by the crimson scarf tied tight around her mouth, and an earthy taste of silk mixed with her briny tears as they streamed into her mouth.

Suddenly and without warning she felt warm liquid flow down her legs as her bladder opened involuntary. She stank of fear. She missed her daddy.

Then, slowly but surely, the same rough hand emerged from the shadows and reached for a shiny, clean scalpel that glinted sporadically in the half-light. It edged closer to her, leaving the rest of the knives, dissection instruments and power tools set out clinically in the dark.


April 1st 2010…

Hal Griffiths had been fast asleep. His head submerged deep in a pillow, Egyptian cotton sheets wrapped around his lean but muscular torso.

A thick winter duvet lay in a pile on the floor next to a pair of old Levi jeans and a faded blue Billabong tee shirt. Bridgedale light-weight walking socks and a pair of Merrell trail shoes were close by. Smiling to himself, semi-conscious now, he kept his eyes closed tight.

These were the precious minutes just before waking when your mind knew it was time to face another day but your body craved another hours rest, or was it the other way around? Either way he wasn’t going anywhere, the voluptuous super-model Elle McPherson was with him.


welsh author aled lewis evans

Aled Lewis Evans is a Welsh poet and writer in various media. Born in Machynlleth and now lives in Rhosllanerchrugog. His first volume of poetry was published by Barddas in 1989. He w

as a broadcaster on local radio (Sain y Gororau) from 19831993, then taught at Ysgol Morgan Llwyd, Wrexham. He has won prizes in the National Eisteddfod three times: in 1991 for his volume of poetry for young people, in 1998 for his monologue and in 1999 for his anthology of poetry for young people 12-14. His most recent volume of poetry, Dim Angen Creu Teledu Yma, was published in 2006. AmeriCymru spoke to Aled about his new book Driftwood.



Americymru: Hi Aled, many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. Care to tell us a little about your new book - Driftwood

Aled: Driftwood is a selection of stories from over 30 years of writing in the Welsh language which are available now in English also. They come from two Welsh collections published in 1991 and 2006. Its true to say that they are my favourites and mostly emerge from North East Wales life.

Americymru: In the course of a varied career you have taught Creative Writing, Welsh, English, French, Media and Drama. How has your teaching experience informed your writing?

Aled: Some of my poems in Welsh collections for Barddas feature a school or young people background. During the ten years teaching at a High School in Wrexham I particularly tuned into the world of young people, and wrote about it. This was good grounding for the creative work I now do in schools. Recently I have been conducting a Creative writing course in 20 schools in Denbighshire with harpist Einir Wyn Hughes, where the children were stimulated to write by music. Before the National Eisteddfod in Wrexham I will visit all 5 Welsh medium primary schools in the Wrexham area to write about parklands in the area Ty Mawr, Parc y Ponciau and Melin y Nant. Some children will then perform their work at the National Eisteddfod. Through writing now I get a chance to meet and teach all ages.

Americymru: You have also worked for BBC Radio Cymru and Marcher Sound. Can you tell us a little about your experiences as a broadcaster?

Aled: I was a Welsh and English broadcaster on the independent local radio in North East Wales when it started broadcasting in 1983. My association with Sain y Gororau / Marcher Sound continued for ten years. For 5 of those I was a full time producer and presenter of Clwyd am Chwech, Cadw Cwmni, Both Sides of the Border and Voice and Brass. These were in the good old days when local radio was local. This void has now been filled by community stations. But I enjoyed getting to know the area and its people in a very intimate way. My Welsh programmes were magazine programmes. I presented some of my interviews to the Archive Services of the time, as they were a fitting record of a particular period. Nowadays I contribute quite frequently to BBC Radio Cymru especially to Dweud ei Ddweud a Thought for the Day slot on the Breakfast programme, and also to Rhaglen Dei Tomos. With the advent of the National Eisteddfod to Wrexham it is nice that the area will receive more media coverage.

Americymru: Professor Meic Stephens has said of your writing that:- " Many of the people who appear in his work are from the north-east corner of Wales where the Welsh language culture rubs shoulders with that of Merseyside, a confrontation that he finds stimulating." Care to comment?

Aled: I agree with Meic Stephens, but I must admit that I have seen a great change in attitude and practice in North East Wales as regard to the Welsh language. There are 29,000 Welsh speakers in Wrexham County alone, and due to Welsh medium education it is on the increase. The Council and cultural events have promoted the Welsh language, and it is being normalised more in the everyday life of Wrexham. My poetry and literature actually mirror this change. Wrexham has always had its own identity, like a separate entity in borderland. Perhaps the non- Welsh speakers dont feel proper Welsh like the people of Bala, but they certainly dont associate themselves with Chester. Merseyside spills over more to Deeside and the North Wales coast perhaps, rather than Wrexham and these areas are also reflected in some poems and short stories.

I have written a great deal about Liverpool because of Liverpool in its own right. It is a very Celtic city and on the most part friendly. It is a place to escape to for a few hours from Wrexham, and over the years I have written a great deal about it especially its Cathedrals. There is a strong Welsh community in Liverpool and I have conducted services and meetings in Heathfield Road Chapel, Capel Bethel, and for the Literary Society of that church. Also I have been several times to Cymdeithas Cymry Lerpwl which meets in the city centre.

Americymru: Your story, 'Driftwood' focuses on a member of the 'Puget Sound Welsh Choir' whose life is in transition.. Have you visited the Pacific North West? What inspired this story?

Aled: I have very dear friends in Seattle, and have visted on three occasions first as the MC for Brymbo Male Voice Choir in a number of concerts in 1985. Then in 1994 and 2000 visiting Jennifer and Holt my friends there. The story Driftwood, orginally titled Bae y Broc Mr in Welsh, featured places we visited in the Pacific North West. Driftwood Bay was one of these and the photo on the front of Driftwood is actually one I took of the bay. The actual story is an elaboration on a real life decision that the main character had to make and the fact that she had to tell her son about it, because of the special bond between them.

Americymru: In 'The Border' you seem to take a rather pessimistic view of the Welsh language's chances of survival in this part of Wales. Would that be an accurate assessment of your opinion?

Aled: This early story was actually based on breaking down and asking for petrol at the farm. It happened as it says in the story and I hope it depicts the area near Oswestry and Arddlin where it happened. The only difference is that years later I did actually meet the lady who welcomed me that night at a service in Oswesty Welsh Chapel. So it was not a dream after all. But for years it seemed as if it was, and I still cant always locate the house!

The story of the Welsh language is in reality far more hopeful in the Wrexham area than that story suggests. In the future I think the key to making Wales a totally bilingual nation is in making every primary school in essence a Welsh school teaching Welsh and English effectively to all pupils as it should be in all schools in Wales. (Similar to current policy in Gwynedd). Two or even three windows on the world are better than one. Some of the Welsh learners in the Wrexham area are truly inspiring.

Americymru: The book closes with a dramatic adaptation of your first novel 'Y Caffi'. Care to tell us a little about the play? What unites the characters and what divides them? Are there currently any plans to stage 'The Cafe' ?

Aled: When my nofel Y Caffi was published in Welsh in 2003 it sold very well, and was somehow a mirror to the postmodern period of literature and the 80s and 90s in Wrexham. Its structure was a little disjointed, and the insular lives depicted in the book and this was deliberate.

The Cafe in the Library is the one thing that does unite these different characters. In the play the monologues present separate lives and indeed nothing much does unite them. The play was presented in 2006 in the Wrexham Festival and others have used various monologues for other presentations. However it would be great to have another production of the Cafe. Perhaps a good producer could suggest an unifying factor, something to bring them all together in the end.

Americymru: What's next for Aled Lewis Evans?

Aled: It has been a very busy two years preparing for the Natinal Eisteddfods visit to Wrexham and District. As Chairman of the Literature Committee we have devised the List of Subjects and then recently as a committee worked on filling eight days of events for the Pabell Ln (Literature Pavilion). I think we have a good mix of National and local topics in a variety of forms lined up fro visitors, and there is something for eveyone, and all ages are taking part.

At the Wrexham National Eisteddfod I publish my latest collection of Welsh language poems Amheus o Angylion (Wary of Angels). I am particularly excited about this coinciding with the Eisteddfod itself. Then after the Eisteddfod and after a break I hope to get back into my own writing in a big way. I have many projects one of which is producing a sister book to Driftwood a collection of some of my poetry from the last 30 years of writing in English.

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

Aled: I hope you enjoy Driftwood, and if you visit the National Eisteddfod in Wrexham come and see me in the Pabell Len on the Field. I hope to visit America again in the future, and best wishes to Americymru.


driftwood by aled lewis evans front cover detail"Aled Lewis Evans writes in both Welsh and English, and the pieces in this collection have all been adapted from the original Welsh, either by Martin Davis or by the author.

The collection opens with a series of stories about sad and sorry characters bored, ignored wife and mother of four, Sue, whose spirits and hair colour are temporarily lightened in response to the attentions of the local Casanova; homeless Harry, interminably snapping away with a camera that contains no film (we are pre-digital here); Gareth, the lonely radio presenter, wondering who will listen to him on Christmas day; and middle-aged Ruth throwing an attention-seeking tantrum that backfires on her. Is there anyone out there? Is anyone listening? Does anyone care? These are the questions that resound throughout, as Evanss characters convince themselves that they have either failed or been failed, and fall into the inevitable trap of anger and self-pity.

Other stories and monologues address questions of language and roots from various angles. In The Gulf, Melys Parry, exiled in Wolverhampton and married to Dave the gas-man, visits the Eisteddfod in her hometown of Mold. In Just a Few Seconds, sisters Rhiannon and Naomi are estranged because of the cultural divide that has opened up between them. And in The Border, an elderly couple expresses their pride that their sons went to prison fighting for the Welsh language, and their bewilderment that those same sons now live in England.

The back cover description of the short stories and monologues as driftwood from three decades of writing is apt: an assortment of treasures and trivia, of curiosities to enjoy or pass by, of pieces that have dated with the passing of the years and others that are very much of the now."

Suzy Ceulan Hughes A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.

Interview by Ceri Shaw Email

An Interview With Bruce Lader

By Ceri Shaw, 2011-02-17

Bruce Laders fourth collection of poetry, Embrace, is about the need for love and intimacy. Winner of the 2010 Left Coast Eisteddfod Poetry Competition, he has received a writer-in-residence fellowship from The Wurlitzer Foundation and an honorarium from the College of Creative Studies at UC-Santa Barbara. A New York City teacher for many years, he is the founding director of Bridges Tutoring, an organization based in Raleigh, North Carolina, educating multicultural students. AmeriCymru spoke to Bruce about his work and about the poets craft.

AmeriCymru: Hi Bruce, and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. You won the Left Coast Eisteddfod poetry competition last year with your poem 'Iberia' . Care to tell us what inspired it?

Bruce: The night I wrote Iberia, the famous gypsy flamenco dancer, Carmen Amaya, and I danced a passionate duet at Los Gallos in Sevilla. The image in the fifth stanza of the poem, gypsy fires dance duende from earth/ like poppies of blood/ flaming Andalusian mountains refers to our unforgettable performance. Actually, Ceri, what really inspired the poem might not sound as exciting.

I was traveling alone in Spain in 1977 with a Berlitz handbook and a semester of high school Spanish. Being a fan of flamenco singing and dancing, I attended a flamenco performance in Sevilla. I wrote the poem in Mallorca, then flew to England for the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth, and visited Laugharne where Dylan wrote most of his poems. The friendly people I met in Wales are also in my memory.

The words and images flowed together in a single draft. It was an attempt to evoke the duende spirit of Spains culture. The sprung organic energy of poets like Dylan Thomas and G.M. Hopkins (who considered himself half Welsh) had already influenced me, as had the surreal poetry of Lorca. A Spanish friend in Brooklyn helped me translate the poem when I came back home, but I havent tried to get it published in Spanish. Poems often live with me many years before theyre ready to send out. I wasnt satisfied with the last four lines and revised them in 2003 with the allusion to Don Quixote, then the poem was published by Talking River at Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho. After reading the Eisteddfod Competition poems on the AmeriCymru site, I thought it might be a good one to enter and was honored that Peter Thabit Jones chose it. Iberia is included in one of my full-length books thats almost finished.

AmeriCymru: Your most recent collection, 'Embrace' marks something of a departure from earlier anthologies like 'Landscapes of Longing' . What prompted you to focus on personal relationships and the universal human need for love in this collection?

Bruce: Id been publishing poems about love and eroticism in magazines for many years. The decision to include all love poems in one book took place after having many relationship experiences and being in a second marriage. Like many of us, Im still trying to understand relationships and how to make marriage succeed. Just imagine all the trouble and time it would save if everyone owned talking social robots downloaded with different personalities. We could finally get rid of the problems involved in maintaining relationships. The Vicissitudes of Romance section of Landscapes of Longing, has poems focused on intimate relationships, and Discovering Mortality, my first full-length collection also includes poems about love.

The motive to write positively about love and sex went into Embrace. Its about various conflicting and amusing moments between lovers. My wife, Renata, who is Polish, likes to believe that every poem in the book is about her, and thats fine with me since she inspired the book and I want the marriage to survive. There are so many kinds of love that perhaps the need for it is what makes it universal. I dont believe romantic love, as we know it in the western world, is universal, though the need for a kind of intimate loving connection with another is probably what makes us human and prevents total destruction. Contemporary poetryin the US anywayis losing the intimate author-reader connection. A thin line separates the personal from the sentimental, and experienced poets try to stay away from the greeting-card zone. That could be one reason there arent more poets writing about love affairs. It also requires a lot of strength to explore difficult conflicted feelings.

AmeriCymru: Your poem "How to Bring a Marriage Good Luck" contains a number of 'tips' to help maintain a healthy relationship. Care to tell us a little more about it? I particularly enjoyed the sparseness and finality of number 5:- "Cancel seven business engagements."

Bruce: Ceri, Im glad you like the fifth step. My brother asked me to read this poem at his wedding in Eugene two year ago and its one of my favorites. I want readers to imagine browsing through a bookstore, opening an old book of mysterious encoded spells and turning to a page on how to bring good luck into a relationship. The book of charms has been used so much that part of the last step is missing (maybe stolen) as indicated in the poem.

The poem is about the magic that can happen when we make time for ourselves and the loved ones in our lives. It takes time and effort to crack the secret encryptions of our relationships. Perhaps love relationships have become too much like business engagements. Step five seems to work almost as effectively as number six, the sensuous/erotic step, which has been proven effective through many years of personal experience. Five works better in theory than practice since a lot of us would settle for canceling even one business engagement if we could. The entire poem is intended to be a humorous satire on our struggles to balance our hectic lives and make relationships work. I have to voice a disclaimer that any of the tips in the poem help to maintain a healthy relationship, though sharing humor about loves craziness can bring temporary relief.

AmeriCymru: How should we approach our reading of poetry in the 21st century? Should it be a comfortable/entertaining or an unnerving and unsettling experience?

Bruce: Perhaps when we read poetry, we should ask ourselves if the poems have a magical effect on us, if something in a poem invites us to read it again, if the subject and the way its written influence the way we think about, feel about, or perceive the world. The question is related to others like what is beauty in poetry, what kinds of challenges should poetry be offering, and how much risk should poets take with their work? That is to say, a lot of uncomfortable poetry challenges us because it deals with unpleasant subject matter, and at the same time its impact brings to awareness a sense of beauty within us. Since the question is perennial in literary history and argued among poets and critics, its hard to answer it adequately.

What can be inferred from this question is the issue of whether should poets focus on unpleasant subjects like suffering, evil, death, economic inequalities, and politics, or write comfortable feel-good poems, leaving to politicians and journalists the ugly, messy stuff about war and other horrendous problems that threaten our planet. I believe that poets need to address the important issues of their times. The challenges will be to interpret scientific breakthroughs in the fields of physics, biology, environmental studies, and technology. Recent discoveries are already changing the way we think about the origin of the universe and the meaning of life. The changes themselves are unsettling and poets need to address the problems.

I like to read challenging social and political poems that explore difficult age-old themes like the meanings of freedom, justice, and love in new ways that seem magical. My emotional and intellectual responses to themes like these are similar to listening to certain kinds of music like jazz and European classical, but I cant speak for the ways that other readers approach poetry since, like music, what we look for, and find in poetry, differs depending on our life experiences and knowledge of the arts. Much of what I liked to read when I was a newcomer to poetry isnt the kind of poetry I enjoy after four decades of reading and publishing, though I return to the classics and continue to get ideas from them. The second section of Landscapes of Longing is my interpretation of the ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus from the viewpoints of 12 different speakers. I wrote them to get at certain truths about human nature that might be disturbing.

Poets provide lenses of experience for reflecting on the world. Poetry written from the perspectives of established religious beliefs will always be around and readers may find comfort in them. However, the dichotomy of comfortable versus disturbing is paradoxical in that poets with the ability to write about difficult emotional material can open a window of empathy for readers and provide them with opportunities to find comfort. Poetry concerned with the unpleasant real world we live in can be entertaining, comforting, and even spiritual to the extent that readers can connect with a poets emotions and share the knowledge, experiences, and wisdom in the poems. Poetry will continue to help us become better human beings and lead more fulfilling lives.

The experience of reading and listening to poetry is already being revolutionized. In the next two or three decades, poets will be projecting virtual sensory images as holographic text messages from computers, cameras, and phones. Poets and audiences will be able to participate in slams, open mics, and workshops in our living rooms, classrooms, and on our porches. Poetry books and magazines will be sold at supermarket check outs, as well as bookstores, for those of us who want hard copies in our hands. The proliferation of online magazines and social networking tools is only the beginning of how poetry will be popularized and marketed as entertainment. Many poetry publishers and poets will be marketed like other entertainment enterprises. Its a good idea for poets and readers to invest more in each other. We havent done that enough in the past.

AmeriCymru: Is the ability to write poetry a gift or is it the end result of decades of hard work?

Bruce: Another complex question. The ability to write lyrical verse is probably a gift related to the ability to create music. Most of what we consider to be traditional lyric poetrystanzas with end-rhyme schemes set to classical metric forms that dominated poetry for so many centurieshave become less popular in contemporary poetry. The fact that a poem is rhymed and has classical Greek meter doesnt necessarily make the poetry lyrical, in my opinion, only formal.

Rhythm is an open-ended resource for creativity. Modern and contemporary free verse that sings from an organic place in the poets distinctively voiced instrument is far more interesting, to me, than formal poetry and comes from decades of desire and hard work, though good formal and free verse both require lifetimes of commitment to craft. Commitment is about making poetry the top priority, and the willingness to sacrifice income and material comforts. A sense of being true to ones poetic gift, a striving to get it (the gift) right, may be a poets ultimate responsibility.

I began as a lyric poet and all the poems in my first chapbook, Buoy on the Water, are free verse songs. Then I decided to blend natural cadences with narrative poetry so that I could more effectively relate what I know to readers. I like to let the content and rhythm of each poem determine its eventual form. The turn, or shift, in rhythmic direction that occurs in sonnets is natural for me and I have experimented with the possibilities of sonnet form. The ability to work with metaphorical ideas to convey feelings, especially extended metaphor, may also be inborn, and can certainly be developed.

AmeriCymru: How difficult is it for modern poets to find an audience? Is the internet an aid or a hindrance?

Bruce: Since the advent of the Internet and social networking, poets are finding the audiences they want a lot easier, and its a lot easier for audiences to find the poets they like. Poetry is becoming more of a viable product to larger audiences. Millions of viewers visit certain poetry magazine sites every issue, but I dont think they carefully read more than a few of the poems on each site. I can read steadily at the computer for 20-30 minutes before my eyes get weary, but I can read a book or magazine in my hands for hours. The increased number of open mics, workshops, and literary organizations also makes it easier for poets to find their audience. The real difficulty is how to maintain the audience after finding it, since there are so many interesting poets in the marketplace and most of the audience is comprised of poets. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of audiences read poetry who arent also writers. This is a problem that publishers and small press, non-commercial writers continue to face.

Poets with Internet know-how and the time to social network are having good results. The Internet has been helping my work get published. Whether the Internet will influence the quality of poetry to achieve a higher or lower level over several decades is debatable; everyone has an opinion and its still too soon to conclude one way or the other. One of the dangers is that poetsbeginners in particularmay believe that networking is a shortcut to learning the craft of writing and use it mainly to become popular. By focusing mainly on their audience, and not taking the time to read poets of proven excellence, many are neglecting better-quality poets who have spent lifetimes developing their craft.

AmeriCymru: What advice would you offer to anyone considering poetry as a vocation?

Bruce: Go for your dreamwhether the dream is organizing poetry events in your community, writing poems to change the world, or winning prestigious award competitions. Reflect on why you write and the deeper meanings of your poems. Remember to write about the things and people you love; even experienced poets often forget this. Locate your inner comfort zone and take risks, research new subject matter of interest to you and try to write about ideas in ways you didnt think you could, challenge yourself to write about a subject that is emotionally difficulteven if that poem doesnt work, another one in the future could surprise you. If nothing in a new poem is surprising you, it probably wont grab other readers. Write several versions of the poem, experiment with various rhythms, let the content determine the rhythm and free verse shapes of lines and stanzas, and use traditional forms to see what works better for you. Stretch outside your zone and keep learning. Ask for feedback about your writing from various poets whose writing you admire and from editors of magazines you value for the work they publish.

My practical advice is to spend a lot of time writing. Learn the poetry press market and network as soon as you can, but not at the expense of sacrificing needed writing time. If youre spending more time networking and promoting than writing poems, schedule more writing time. Use search engines like Duotropes Digest to find publishers looking for your kind of work. Also develop the craft of prose, if you can, to complement poetry and help build a career. Join writers groups and societies, writing meetup groups, book clubs, mens and womens centers, attend poetry readings and workshops, and get into college writing programs. Develop a routine of writing and/or submitting every day. Dont worry if your work doesnt get published the first five or more years you submit; unsigned rejection slips and email responses with no comments are disappointing, but they dont mean anything about the quality of your writing. Search for other magazines and book publishers and believe in your talent. Support other poets and they will eventually support you if you stay committed.

Read a variety of international poets living and dead. If you dont enjoy the process of reading and writing poetry, read other genres. Maybe fiction or nonfiction is better suited to your talent. Poets need a lot of time to write, independent publishers expect them to spend a lot of time to promote their books, and the books bring little if any profit to the poets. A very small percentage of poets are fortunate enough to find commercial publishers. Anyone who believes they can earn a significant income from publishing only poetry should choose another occupation. Some money from poetry can be made from teaching workshops and courses, but the work is harder, travel expenses are involved, and the hours are much longer than in other vocations.

My rewards from poetry have come from the dream of being a poet who writes inventive poems that others understand and enjoy. I also get a sense of fulfillment from being friends with other poets in writers groups, and reading my work in print alongside poets whose work I admire. There have been exciting surprisesthe $150 and publication in The Seventh Quarry that came with winning the Eisteddfod Competition were unexpected bonuses. There are poetry contests that offer thousands to the winner. However, the chance of winning any contest is like a lottery. In other words, Im not going to leave my job as director of Bridges Tutoring. Besides, I enjoy helping students develop writing and reading skills and they have inspired many of my poems.

AmeriCymru: Where can people read/purchase your work online?

Bruce: My thanks to anyone who reads this interview. People can find excerpts of my books and purchase them from my author site at www.brucelader.com. The books are also available from the publishers, but you save shipping and handling costs by emailing me directly at bridgesbl@aol.com. Plus, you will receive a FREE jewelry gift of your choice: one pair of beaded earrings or one FREE beaded bookmark for any copy of Embrace, Landscapes of Longing, or Discovering Mortality that you order. My wife, Renata, is Polish and an award-winning artist who crafts gorgeous gifts. She made the complimentary jewelry to help launch the books.

There are YouTube videos of my readings and interviews, and magazines like Poetry, New York Quarterly, Harpur Palate, CircleShow, Centrifugal Eye, Earthshine, and Contemporary Verse 2 have archived my work online.

Here are links to my readings and interviews:

Red Room

The Artist's Craft Interview & Reading (Channel 10, Raleigh) January 2010

Full of Crow Radio Podcast Interview & Reading, August 29, 2010

PoetrySpark Festival Reading, September 28, 2009

AmeriCymru: What's next for Bruce Lader?

Bruce: Diolch/Thank you, Ceri, for this chance to introduce myself to AmeriCymru members and visitors.

Radio interviews and public readings in NC to promote Embrace and Landscapes of Longing will continue. A chapbook of my antiwar poems is due to be published soon. The title is Voyage of the Virtual Citizen and the publisher is Lummox Press. The book is about a Special Forces soldier and his experiences from enlistment through his adjustment to civilian life and coping with PTSS (which reminds me that Ive been reading Alun Lewiss Collected Poems, thanks to my friend Mary Perkins-Gray, an excellent Welsh poet). Toward the end of 2011, erven Barva Press will publish Fugitive Hope, a full-length book of poems about ways that hope is lost and regained.

Im always busy working on new poems and publishing in magazines and anthologies. I have been working on three chapbooks and a new full-length manuscript and querying to find interested publishers. Anyone is welcome to email me and talk about life, poetry, and the interview. I have edited poetry manuscripts for authors to submit to book publishers and magazines, and have edited papers to help students meet course and degree requirements. We could also talk about those possibilities if you like.

Pob hwyl/All the best to your organization.

Interview by Ceri Shaw Email

Americymru: Your first published collection of poems Lull of The Bull has been very well received and reviewed. Do you have any further works in preparation?

Paul: I am currently working on another collection of poems, provisionally entitled "My Enclave". I hope that this will appear in the summer of 2011. It will be a more claustrophobic, introspective, partisan and surgical work than my debut.

Americymru: Care to explain the significance of the title - "Lull of The Bull"?

Paul: Firstly, I consider it to be internal poetry in a small way in itself, almost musical in a Middle Eastern by way of West Wales route. Secondly, I live in a rural area and am of farming ancestry but have no practical experience of this former family lifestyle like many of my contemporaries though we are surrounded by farms our families used to own. Thirdly, it could be a comment on artificial insemination, emasculation, enforced celibacy and the changing roles of both genders, more pertinently the male in this case. Essentially, I don't really know. I just write the stuff, waiting for shapes to appear in a log jam of words. I like the look and sound of it like a magpie might. I prefer the reader to reach his or her own conclusions.

Americymru: For my money one of the most interesting and powerful poems in the collection is:- "I Opened My Mouth and Set Free Twenty Thousand Demons Who Had Accompanied Me Thus Far" Can you tell us a little more about the poem?

Paul: This poem is the result of a planned one hour session of instant writing, all the baggage of that moment saved up for one Friday midnight. This partly explains its apparent randomness and disconnectedness and it is a precursor of much of my present favoured method of writing. The title refers to a cathartic process which is ongoing. I guess that some of what I write makes no linear sense which is how I and the Druids like it.

Americymru: I must ask you about 'Bombstar'. A great poem and a strong lyric. Was it written with musical adaptation in mind? Do you plan to adapt more of your work in the future?

Paul: "Bombstar" was not written with musical adaptation in mind. I would like to collaborate with more songwriters as I feel this is an exciting way of presenting my words.

Americymru: What significance does 'Y Gododdin' have for you personally and in your writing?

Paul: That epic poem speaks to me of a different, heroic age. It describes a glorious, doomed raid on the invader at a time when Wales could have been independent had it been united or even existed, a recurring theme. I don't dream of going back there that often but sometimes feel an outsider in my own land . The stylised depictions of weapons, armour and carnage have informed some of my own imagery as has my own personal collection of edged weapons, itself a response to that age, that poem.


On your website there are a number of short stories. Is this a genre that you plan to explore further?

Paul: I am interested in exploring the short story genre more fully. Ultimately I'd like to publish a collection of short stories but that's some time off.

Americymru: What's next for Paul Steffan Jones?

Paul: I intend finishing "My Enclave" as soon as possible and ensure it doesn't turn into a sort of "Gangster Gododdin"! I am experimenting in poems culled from excerpts from magazines. I'm eager to resume writing in Welsh. I will be involved in industrial action against Government cutbacks soon, no doubt. I hope to pick up a long story called "Lovetown" I'm not writing and do more photography, using it differently. I have a number of poetry readings in Pembrokeshire in the coming months and have ambitions to take the poems overseas. Oh, and some romance and adventure would not go amiss, either.

Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?

Paul: Lull of the Bull is available at starbornbooks.co.uk . I'm glad to be on Americymru and am delighted at the interest shown in my country. I am a Welsh speaker and am happy to receive communications in that language.

Peter Luther...

Peter Luther is an author of exquisitely crafted and electrifying supernatural thrillers. Peter, who lives in Cardiff has been referred to as the ''Welsh Dan Brown''. In 2010 AmeriCymru spoke to Peter about this comparison, and other matters including his new ( then forthcoming ) novel The Vanity Rooms  Visit Peter''s website here


AmeriCymru: In what way has your background as a lawyer ( attorney ) helped you as a fiction writer?

Peter: In my opinion there is no better training for writing fiction than being a lawyer. You meet interesting people and encounter a lot of unusual situations.

Dark Covenant mirrors the rough and tumble of my career as a practising solicitor, but the law does spill over to my other novels. There is an understanding probate solicitor in The Mourning Vessels, and a stressed criminal solicitor in Precious Cargo.

I also think being a lawyer hones your analytical skills: my stories have very tight plot structures, with strict rules within the bizarre world I have created. I’m sure this is partly as a result of my legal training.

On a general note, I think life experience is very important for being a novelist. I tried writing in my early twenties, but when I returned to it in my late thirties my perspective was far more rounded.

AmeriCymru: All your novels so far have been set in Wales. Is there any particular reason for that or is it just familiarity with the area?

Peter: I do a lot of signings in England, and the readers I meet are always pleased to see a story set in Wales. I don’t think there are enough of them east of the Severn Bridge. It’s a beautiful, dramatic country with inexhaustible sources of inspiration.

The Mourning Vessels is set in Tenby, probably my favourite place in the whole world.

The majority of my scenes are however set in my home city of Cardiff, which is because of my familiarity with the area.

AmeriCymru: Were you a horror fiction fan? Are there any particular horror writers whose style you admired or were inspired by?

Peter: I’m not a horror fiction fan per se, but I love anything that is original and well-conceived. In this respect I was very influenced, along with the rest of my generation, by the early Stephen King novels.

The Mourning Vessels involves bereavement counsellors visiting the recently bereaved and offering to ‘solve’ their grief, which they achieve by trapping the departed in the things they coveted in life. These objects - clocks, typewriters, even a bespoke Cluedo board (or is that Clue in America?) - then turn evil and leprous. This has more than an echo of Pet Semetery. It’s sort of a Pet Semetery with antiques...

AmeriCymru: You are quoted as saying that your novels are 'human interest stories masquerading as horror fiction' - what do you mean by that?

Peter: 100,000 words of things that go bump in the night would leave me asleep on my Mac. I need to write about the things that are important to me, which have relevance to my own experience. My characters are ordinary folk with all the ordinary problems: career, money, bereavement, fertility, parenthood. This gives the books what I would describe as their emotional heart, which hopefully leaves a mark on the reader even after all the paranormal conceits and puzzles have been digested, and which saves them from being left on train seats...

AmeriCymru: Could you have written your characters, their relationships and situations in a non-genre drama or in other genres? If so, what do you think you would have to change, if anything?

Peter: That’s a difficult question. If I have a talent, it is that I can take a completely off-the-wall concept and make it believable, and so I cannot really imagine writing in any other genre. With the supernatural anything is possible, and that’s what holds my interest.

That said, I can see myself writing a legal/corporate thriller one day, but it would need to have a very unusual angle.

AmeriCymru: You described your first novel, Dark Covenant , as "a parable of materialism" and your second, The Mourning Vessels, as "a parable of bereavement" - would you describe these as moral tales?

Peter: I wouldn’t be as pretentious to suggest my novels are moral tales, but they certainly have a message. Perhaps the message is a personal one, that I’m writing letters to myself.

In Dark Covenant a struggling lawyer makes a pact with the Devil through the crossword in a lifestyle magazine built from his desires. For me, the magazine represents the contracts we all make in life. We all bargain our time, and sometimes our principles, for the things that we need. For the things that we think that we need. The story is essentially Faust with a modern twist.

The Mourning Vessels was inspired by the loss of my parents. I lost my mum on Christmas Day 2004, and my dad succumbed to grief on Christmas Day 2005. During the year he was alone he created shrines to her memory, from photographs and the little things that she treasured. I didn’t think it was healthy. The book is very much about dealing with bereavement, and I suppose if there’s a message it’s that you need to let go. Remember the ones you loved with a smile, not with pain and torment.

Precious Cargo was based on another sad time in my life: my experience with IVF. There’s a chapter in the book called ‘the imagined child’, because I believed I could see my unborn child’s face, that the child was so close. We tried four times then gave up, because carrying on would have damaged us, I think. Sometimes you need to accept the cards life deals you, and be happy. Anyway, that’s what I believe.

AmeriCymru: how did you imagine the fantastical devices and sinister 'toys' in Precious Cargo?

Peter: I honestly don’t know. These screwball ideas come naturally, if that’s the right phrase...

AmeriCymru: You have been referred to as the 'Welsh Dan Brown'. How do you feel about the comparison?

Peter: My novels have some codes and puzzles, but that’s really where the similarity ends. Mr Brown has a very readable style, but I confess that I find his historical subject matter more interesting than the plot and the characters. That could be because I now read modern fiction with an editorial, critical eye; for this reason I much prefer reading classics or history, when I can completely turn off.

AmeriCymru: We learn from your website that you are working on a fourth novel ('The Vanity Rooms') at the moment. Care to tell us anything about that?

Peter: This is the third novel with my main character Tristyn Honeyman, an ex-Baptist minister from North Wales and a sort of spiritual detective.

The demonic society he encountered in the The Mourning Vessels and Precious Cargo are now posing as an arts charity, giving struggling artists free accomodation. This is in a building in Cardiff Bay once occupied by a chapter that escaped from Revolutionary France, who were obsessed with the Roussean concept of ‘amour propre’, or self image.

The apartment comes with a mobile phone, which has some unusual functions and a strange address book. Both apartment and mobile are infested by the eighteenth century chapter, who are determined to find the true meaning of celebrity, that exclusively human need to be admired.

I know, it’s not the work of a well man...

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

Peter: Thank you so much. I’m trying to do something a little different, and I’m writing in a very unfashionable genre: the supernatural thriller without vampires. Your support means everything to me.

AmeriCymru spoke to Lyn Ebenezer about his fascinating new book 'Operation Julie' published by Y Lolfa. The book investigates what was at the time, the biggest UK police anti drugs operation in history. Allegedly 50% of the world's LSD supply was manufactured in the small Welsh village of Llanddewi Brefi. For more background information read the press release here.

AmeriCymru: When did you first become aware of Operation Julie? Care to tell our readers a bit about the background?

Lyn: I did not become fully aware of Operation Julie until the week-end of the arrests in 1977. Yet there were pointers that should have made me aware that something strange was happening. There were strangers more than usual in the bars of the local pubs in Tregaron. They passed themselves off as bird watchers. And a few weeks before the swoop I was told by a local man of a strange encounter with a stranger who carried a holdall. He began talking to my friend and they shared a few pints. As the stranger was preparing to leave he offered my friend a considerable sum of money for keeping his holdall for a few days. My friend, believing the man to be a bank robber or a member of the IRA made an excuse and refused.

Following the swoop, others mentioned similar experiences. In fact I know of one person who burnt over 10,000 he was safekeeping in his coalhouse for one of those arrested in case the police discovered it and traced it back to him.

AmeriCymru: Were any of the villagers in Llanddewi Brefi suspicious of the 'hippies' who had settled amongst them? Was there any friction?

Lyn: At Tregaron there was no friction between Richard Kemp, the brilliant chemist and his partner, Christine Bott. They, of course, were not hippies but seekers of the Good Life who kept goats and grew organic vegetables. They were rather reserved, but their next door neighbours found them to be friendly. At nearby Llanddewi Brefi, Alston Hughes, or Smiles one of the principal dealers - was a living legend. He was gregarious, funny and generous. He would throw money around like confetti. In fact, as I state at the end of my book, should he and his friends return there today, I have little doubt that they would be welcomed.

AmeriCymru: It has been suggested that the people arrested in Operation Julie were responsible for 90% of the UK supply of LSD and 40-60% of the world's supply. How accurate do you think these figures are?

Lyn: Many of the figures released to the press were massaged. I have no doubt of that. Operation Julie was political. Its brief was to stop LSD production in the UK. But as Christine Bott said in court, it was more to do with the money being made rather than with drugs. I also believe that the Government was wary of the young peoples popular movement that was rapidly spreading from Haight Ashbury around the globe. There was also a political element being Operation Julie. Dick Lee, the Operation Commander had dreams of establishing a UK-wide drugs squad like the FBI. So he began feeding the press with some exaggerated stories in order to further his case.

Differing figures were bandied about. It was said that the two LSD production rings were responsible for from 40 60% of LSD made world wide and 90% of LSD made in Britain. It was also said that Operation Julie led to such a scarcity of LSD that it rose in price from 1 a tab to 8. I would rather believe the Release organization that stated that the price of a tab of LSD soon after the trial was as low as 10 pence a tab for the buyers, who sold it on at the same prices as before, 1 a tab on the street. Operation Julie may have dented the trade, but LSD, following the sentencing, was as easy to obtain as cannabis.

AmeriCymru: In a recent press release it is stated that you were able to record recent interviews with people who were involved in these events. How difficult was it to track down the participants?

Lyn: My interviews over the past 30 years have involved mostly ex police officers who did not wish their names to be made known. But I am friendly with Alston Hughes friend and chauffer Buzz Healey, who is a charming man. He was present when exchanges were made with 50,000 tablets changing hands for 62,000 at one bar and worth 125,000 of LSD being exchanged in another bar. Healey has not disclosed any incriminating evidence and I have never pushed him for information. He was not involved in the LSD conspiracy but was jailed for 12 months on charges relating to cannabis. He still lives locally and is much liked.

AmeriCymru: David Litvinoff plays a central role in these events and indeed you devote a whole chapter to him in the book. Care to tell us a little about his background?

Lyn: Litvinoff, like Alston Hughes also became a legend but some six years before Operation Julie was set up. He had been involved with the Kray Brothers in the East End of London and had been forced to flee. Ronnie Kray had slashed him across his face with a sword. He was also deeply involved with the pop scene and the Chelsea Set, who included the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. He worked as dialogue coach on the film Performance. Days after Hendrix died, Litvinoff showed me an invitation card he had received for Jimis funeral. Stuck on the card was a boiled sweet impregnated with LSD. Those who were not able to make the funeral were told to take the sweet at the exact time of the burial.

Litvinoff played me back a telephone conversation he had made with Bob Dylan. They seemed to be on friendly terms. It is believed that the character Davies in Harold Pinters play The Caretaker was based on him. Litvinoff left suddenly in the early seventies. He had been involved with drugs, undoubtedly, and I believe that he was the harbinger of the hippy invasion of the area. He later hanged himself.

AmeriCymru: What was the American connection in all this? We hear about visits to mid-Wales by Jimi Hendrix and others but were any Americans involved in the manufacturing operation itself?

Lyn: Plas Llysin, where Richard Kept manufactured his LSD at Carno had been bought by Paul Joseph Arnaboldi, an ex New Jersey schoolteacher. He was later employed by an American construction company in the Middle East where he sustained a serious injury. He was a friend of LSD prophet Timothy Leary and The Brotherhood of Eternal Love. He bought a home at Deia on Majorca and then bought Plas Llysin, on the pretence that he was there completing a biography of President Kennedy. He was at the top of the conspiracy to manufacture and marketing of LSD. At the time of the Opeartion Julie swoops he is believed to have been tipped off. He fled to Majorca where he was arrested but was released because no extradition treaty existed between the UK and Spain. He then flew to America and disappeared, but is believed to have died at Deia..

AmeriCymru: How did the UK press react to these events? Do you think on balance that they reported accurately and played a positive role?

Lyn: As I previously mentioned, the press was in Dick Lees pocket. As soon as the premier players in the affair had been jailed, Lee published his book on his part in Operation through the Daily Express, ghost written by an Express journalist, Colin Pratt. Another officer, Martyn Pritchard published his own memoirs through the Daily Mirror. Wild and exaggerated stories were circulated involving a plot to dump LSD in a Welsh reservoir in order to turn on the whole of Birmingham. Lees book is also riddled with mistakes. In fact, the first impression had to be called in after damages of 1,000 were awarded to a man libeled in the book. Much was made by Lee of a terrorist connection involving Bader Meinhoff, The Angry Brigade and the IRA. But not one of those charged was accused of anything remotely connected with terrorism.

AmeriCymru: In what way was the area permanently changed? How did the rural community react to the glare of international publicity?

Lyn: The influx of hippies to rural Wales coincided with the great influx of incomers in general in the sixties and seventies. Small communities virtually changed overnight. Yuppies and Good Lifers from the cities were able to sell their homes for around half a million pounds and buy a cottage in rural Wales for around 10,000. The LSD conspirators were a part of that influx. Having said that, many of these semi-hippies who settled down were largely welcomed. Otherwise they would not have been able to hide their secrets so successfully and for so long.

AmeriCymru: Do you think there is any truth in the rumour that there are 'undiscovered stashes of LSD and hidden fortunes' concealed in the hills and fields around Llanddewi Brefi?

Lyn: I believe the stories of hidden fortunes have been concocted by mischievous locals, as well as by friends of Smiles who wish to perpetuate his legend.

Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?

Lyn: Be careful what you believe. Fact and fiction have been so confused that it is almost impossible to separate the one from the other. Still, be they fact or fiction or a little of both they still make a great story!

Back to Welsh Literature page >

Always the Love of Someone front cover detail

''Huw Lawrence''s stories have three times won in the Rhys Davies Short Story Competition, have gained three Cinnamon Awards and a Bridport prize. He was runner up for the 2009 Tom Gallon prize. Born in Llanelli, he trained as a teacher in Swansea, continuing his education at Manchester and Cornell Universities. He spent several years doing a variety of labouring jobs in Manchester and the Ffestiniog area of north Wales and now lives in Aberystwyth.'' 


Americymru: How did you start writing?

Huw: The first thing I remember writing was a poem in response to the Cuba Crisis back in the sixties. I followed that with an attempt at a play about someone converting his cellar into a fallout shelter. Later, I turned to stories, and, still in the sixties, I wrote ‘The Yellow Umbrella’, which is in this collection. That was the first story I ever wrote.

Americymru: Care to tell us a little about ''Always The Love of Someone''. How did you come to write the stories in this collection? Were they written especially with this volume in mind or is this more of an anthology of your recent work?

Huw: No, they weren’t written with this volume in mind. I just wrote quite a lot of stories, and then eventually I selected fifteen that went together so as to suggest some kind of unity. They’re not recent work, though. Some go back a very long time.

Americymru: Most critics have taken the view that the theme of the collection is ''human relationships''. Would you agree with this? Does it necessarily have a theme?

Huw: I don’t know if it can be said to have a theme. That’s a hard question. People do talk about ‘theme’ in relation to story collections, but I’d say that most collections have a focus rather than the structural unity implied by a ‘theme’. That, of course, might not be true of collections like Miguel Street by Naipaul, where the stories are all about the same protagonist and his neighbours. Perhaps it’s a question of degree. The fifteen stories in Always the Love of Someone are all of them about love, and all but four of them about love between men and women – the nitty gritty realities of love, not romance.

Americymru: What attracted you to the short story genre? Are there any particular attractions or difficulties in writing short stories as opposed to writing novels?

Huw: I found myself writing stories for the most pragmatic of reasons. They’re short, and I had a full-time job. I could be confident of finishing what I started. There are attractions. You can carry one in detail in your head, and changing a short phrase can alter the whole balance, change nuance, adjust meaning. Getting it right is more like working on a poem than on a novel. What’s not right tends to stand out like a sore thumb. It’s an unforgiving form. But you can carry it around with you.

Americymru: Many people are fascinated by the writing process of successful authors? Do you have any kind of creative routine or do you write as and when inspiration strikes?

Huw: I can only conceive of one way of writing fiction, and that is to do it every day. You can’t afford to lose touch with the work in hand, nor can you afford to let good new ideas slip away. You have to get those down as some kind of draft to a degree where they can be picked up on later.

Americymru: Is your work available in print anywhere other than in this collection? Magazines? Anthologies?

Huw: Magazines and anthologies, yes. This is my first collection.

Americymru: Is there any one of your stories that you are particularly proud of or that you would like to especially recommend?

Huw: My two favourites are, ‘Would That Even Be Lucky?’ and ‘Nothing is Happening Because There’s a Point’. Because they counterbalance each other. The first one questions whether it is even lucky to be bound by the obsessive power of a romantic love you can do nothing about, even if it is requited. The second describes a meeting, followed by a pre-marital relationship, followed by a long, happy marriage, with plenty of conflict, but cemented by affection, loyalty and commitment – not romance.

Americymru: Are there any short story writers (or writers in general ) that you draw inspiration from?

Huw: The writer that has intrigued me most by his skill and whom I dip into just for the pleasure of reading a page or two of his prose, is Nabakov. As far as short story writers go, one of my favourites is Bharati Mukherjee.

Americymru: Care to tell us anything about your future writing plans?

Huw: A novel followed by a collection of poems, I hope.

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

Huw: Yes, be afraid that the meaning of ‘Cymru’ will disappear if the language goes, and it might die. So, support the language in any way you can. As far as keeping up with events in Wales through English is concerned, then I’d recommend Planet and Cambria, two magazines committed to Wales through the medium of English.

Always The Love of Someone will be published on 17 June 2010 and will be an AmeriCymru Book of the Month selection for June.


Interview by Ceri Shaw Email

Review of 'Always The Love Of Someone'

I remember reading somewhere that you should only read one short story a day. Short stories have a single central idea to convey and given that it is successfully implanted in the readers mind time should be spent savouring it. Reading them consecutively only serves to negate or dilute the impact of these finely crafted gems. Whether there is any merit in this prescription really rather depends on the quality of the writing. In the course of ten pages or so there is no time for elaborate characterisation or intricate plotting. But the finest short story writers can take a single idea or event and exemplify or explore it with such intensity that the end result is electrifying and the reader is left with a desire to ponder the subject matter further. Pondering takes time. Perhaps one a day is truly the well balanced way.

At any rate there is no doubt in this readers mind that ''Always The Love of Someone'' is a collection to be savoured. The stories in this volume stopped me in my tracks several times and I felt compelled to share what I had read and discuss it with someone. Luckily my partner shares my literary tastes and pretty soon we were passing the book back and forth and swapping recommendations. There''s nothing like enthusiasm shared.

This collection focuses on human relationships and ranges in tone from the whimsical to the semi-tragic. There is the story of the old lady in "Yellow Umbrella'' who cannot understand a young boys ability to live for the moment. When she offers the lad, whose parents are ''itinerants'', shelter from the rain he appals her by revealing that he has no permanent address and is being ''home schooled''. Their contrasting reactions to their environment and in particular to the days weather reveal a tragic lack of spontaneity and a profound pessimism in the old lady''s character which has perhaps destined her to live alone. Then there is the tale of Alf whose lifelong dislike and fear of dogs evaporates in old age when he is prevailed upon to adopt a lurcher.

Throughout there are moments of profound introspection and equally revealing dialogue. In ''A Man And A Woman'' a bachelor on a date is credited with making a simple discovery " The man''s simple discovery had been to pause before speaking. A couple of seconds was enough to choose a better response than the one that leapt to mind, one that allowed dialogue, allowed the other''s world to exist. Speech was not for you to be right. It was to find outcomes." In the closing story, ''Nothing is Happening Because There is a Point'', a couple discuss their relationship and whether destiny played any part in it. The following rather incisive comment on logic stands out from this exchange "....Words can insist that other words following them have to be true, but logic doesn''t bring about marriages, or there probably wouldn''t be any."

There is much,much more to savour in this collection , which for the short story afficianado is a veritable feast of nectared sweets. Huw Lawrence''s touch is masterful throughout and each story is as elegant as it is insightful. I will be filing this collection on my bookshelf next to Raymond Carver and John Cheever and returning to it often.

\n', 'I remember reading somewhere that you should only read one short story a day. Short stories have a single central idea to convey and given that it is successfully implanted in the readers mind time should be spent savouring it. Reading them consecutively only serves to negate or dilute the impact of these finely crafted gems. Whether there is any merit in this prescription really rather depends on the quality of the writing. In the course of ten pages or so there is no time for elaborate characterisation or intricate plotting. But the finest short story writers can take a single idea or event and exemplify or explore it with such intensity that the end result is electrifying and the reader is left with a desire to ponder the subject matter further. Pondering takes time. Perhaps one a day is truly the well balanced way.

At any rate there is no doubt in this readers mind that ''Always The Love of Someone'' is a collection to be savoured. The stories in this volume stopped me in my tracks several times and I felt compelled to share what I had read and discuss it with someone. Luckily my partner shares my literary tastes and pretty soon we were passing the book back and forth and swapping recommendations. There''s nothing like enthusiasm shared.

This collection focuses on human relationships and ranges in tone from the whimsical to the semi-tragic. There is the story of the old lady in "Yellow Umbrella'' who cannot understand a young boys ability to live for the moment. When she offers the lad, whose parents are ''itinerants'', shelter from the rain he appals her by revealing that he has no permanent address and is being ''home schooled''. Their contrasting reactions to their environment and in particular to the days weather reveal a tragic lack of spontaneity and a profound pessimism in the old lady''s character which has perhaps destined her to live alone. Then there is the tale of Alf whose lifelong dislike and fear of dogs evaporates in old age when he is prevailed upon to adopt a lurcher.

Throughout there are moments of profound introspection and equally revealing dialogue. In ''A Man And A Woman'' a bachelor on a date is credited with making a simple discovery " The man''s simple discovery had been to pause before speaking. A couple of seconds was enough to choose a better response than the one that leapt to mind, one that allowed dialogue, allowed the other''s world to exist. Speech was not for you to be right. It was to find outcomes." In the closing story, ''Nothing is Happening Because There is a Point'', a couple discuss their relationship and whether destiny played any part in it. The following rather incisive comment on logic stands out from this exchange "....Words can insist that other words following them have to be true, but logic doesn''t bring about marriages, or there probably wouldn''t be any."

There is much,much more to savour in this collection , which for the short story afficianado is a veritable feast of nectared sweets. Huw Lawrence's touch is masterful throughout and each story is as elegant as it is insightful. I will be filing this collection on my bookshelf next to Raymond Carver and John Cheever and returning to it often.

Ceri Shaw

Fflur Dafydd is an award winning novelist, singer-songwriter and musician. Whilst predominantly publishing in Welsh, she also writes in English. She records in Welsh, and her work is regularly played on Radio Cymru. She spoke to Americymru ahead of her forthcoming visit to Portland, Oregon with the International Writing Program ( 10/3-10/9 2009 ).For full details of her visit and associated activities go to this page.

Americymru: You're a very prolific artist: at 31 you've published four novels, a collection of poems and short stories and non-fiction, written plays, screenplays, you're/you were a columnist for the Western Mail, in addition to a very successful music career which includes four albums, various singles and performances in Wales, Europe and the United States (please let me know what else should be in this list). What do you think of your success, do you feel lucky, tired, excited to go forever or do you ever want to take a break and wait tables or wash dogs?

Fflur: Ive already done my stint as a waitress but Ill pass on washing dogs, thanks! I do feel that Ive been lucky in many respects to have the opportunity to do so many things, and to be honest, when you live in a small country and are part of a minority culture perhaps there is more urgency to do a little bit of everything, to contribute to the culture, to keep it thriving. But I have worked very hard these past years and I dont think success comes without real hard graft, so I do feel a little bit exhausted at times! My new album is coming out next month, and I think once Ive finished promoting that, I will be looking for some downtime eating chocolates and singing Christmas carols. I feel happy with the work Ive produced so far and theres no rush now to publish or to record again for a while.

Americymru: Your first novel in English, 20,000 Saints, was published in 2008 and you've written three novels in Welsh: Lliwiau Liw Nos ("Colours by Night," 2005 Y Lolfa), Atyniad ("Attraction," 2006 Y Lolfa) and Y Llyfrgell ("The Library," 2009 Y Lolfa). Do you have a preference for writing in English or Welsh?

Fflur: Welsh is my first language, so I instinctively want to write in Welsh and find it exciting to do so there is still so much that can be done with the language, and I like to think that Welsh contemporary authors now are helping move the language forward into the 21st century. But writing in English also helps me gain a sense of freedom, the sense of working on a broad canvas where no phrase is impossible, no word unutterable, and where no story would seem implausible there is a great thrill in that.

Americymru: Your latest novel, Y Llyfrgell (The Library), was inspired by your time as a graduate student pursuing your Phd in Aberystwyth, at the National Library of Wales - what can you tell us about this novel?

Fflur: This is a novel about a siege which takes place at the National Library of Wales, when two armed female librarians take the building and its workers hostage one day in 2020. It is a far-fetched, slightly magic realist, black comedy, with lots of action and a fast paced mystery Im very proud of the book and I do think its one of the best things Ive written in Welsh. It says something about Welsh culture and history and is a very political book in many ways. It has also been described as controversial which has certainly helped sales!

Americymru: "20,000 Saints" is also a sort of nickname for Bardsey Island and the second novel you've set there. How did this story develop, what was your process in creating it?

Fflur: I had seen the post of writer in residence on Bardsey advertised by Academi, the Welsh literature promotion agency, as an open call to their members, and it immediately appealed to me. I was writing a PhD thesis on R.S. Thomas, at the time, the Welsh poet-priest who had been instrumental in setting up the Bardsey Island trust, and many of his poems are about the island, as he was a frequent visitor there, and birdwatcher. It felt like I was destined to go there, to follow in his footsteps, to understand him better. I was fortunate enough to get the post, and of course, ultimately, I found the island to be the biggest source of inspiration for my own work. I wrote one book of fiction in Welsh Atyniad based on my own experiences, and then rewrote the book in a completely different way for an English audience, with a different plot, narrative , characters and it also had a different mood and feel.

Americymru: How autobiographical do you think your own work has been? Do you subscribe to the idea that you should write what you know and, if so, what does that mean to you?

Fflur: There is an autobiographical element to most works, I think, and characters always tend to embody parts of yourself. My first novel, Lliwiau Liw Nos, was far removed from my reality, and perhaps because of this, I dont consider it to be a particularly successful novel. Atyniad was heavily influenced by personal experience, and it has an intimacy and honesty that would be impossible without the raw emotion that went into writing that prose; straight out of my own heart, at times. But I have also learnt that ONE autobiographical novel is enough you do need to move away from yourself as a subject ultimately, because readers also want narrative, and they want you to make that necessary leap between your own history and imagination.

Americymru: Any chance your Welsh-language novels will someday get translated into English for those of us not lucky enough to read Welsh yet?

Fflur: One day I hope to be able to let someone else do the translating. It has struck me that Im changing so much when I adapt my own work that the English-language readers are unable to fully access the Welsh language writer in me, that part of me still somehow remains hidden. So Im going to do one more reworking of a novel (Im rewriting The Library now), and then I will let the languages take off in different directions hopefully working with a translator for my Welsh books.

Americymru: You're currently the writer in residence at the University of Iowa and you've previously been a writer in residence in Wales and Finland, what is a "writer in residence" and how did you come to become one?

Fflur: Basically a writer in residence is a when you spend time at a place or an institution, not merely to write about it, but to get time to really work on a project, away from the hassles of your daily life. I think theyre all important things. You usually get thrown in with a group of new people (Bardsey) or a new cultural experience (Helsinki) or you are part of the life of a University (Iowa) and can contribute in all sorts of ways by giving talks and readings and became part of that place for a short space in time. The International Writing Program here at Iowa is an excellent program, stimulating and culturally diverse (as Im here with writers from 32 different countries) and there is time to write during the day, which is a liberating thing. I was offered this post by the British Council the IWP have never had a Welsh language writer and they were interested also in getting a performer here, and so I fit the bill, and I feel extremely proud to have been chosen to represent Wales here.

Americymru: You're traveling to Portland, Oregon with four other writers as part of the International Writer's Program? Who are the other writers and what will you be doing while you're in Portland?

Fflur: I will be joined by Lijia Zhang (China), Soheil Najm (Iraq) Fedosy Santaella (Venezuala) and Osman Pius Conteh (Sierra Leone) and we will engage in a series of literary events, in collaboration with the Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland State University, and the Oregon Council for the Humanities. This will be the first IWP delegation to take part in such a dynamic slate of activities in the city. There will be visits to classes, group readings on campuses, roundtable discussions and one or two musical performances. Please see http://homeroom.pnca.edu/inline/584932.pdf for further details of events.

An Interview With Chris Keil

By Ceri Shaw, 2009-04-02

"Chris Keil, an accomplished linguist, ran an upland sheep farm for nearly twenty years. He has worked as a Brixton schoolteacher and a teacher of English as a foreign language. He has specialised in marketing Welsh lamb in Europe, and in collective memory and representations of the Holocaust. He lectures worldwide and has published on dissonant heritage and traumatic memory at Auschwitz. He lives in Carmarthenshire, west Wales, and currently lectures at Trinity College, Carmarthen. Liminal is his second novel." Alcemi Catalogue 2009

In this exclusive interview with Americymru, Chris answers questions about his life and work with particular reference to his second novel 'Liminal'. Read our review of "Liminal" here.


Americymru: We read in your biography that you ran an upland sheep farm for twenty years. This is perhaps an unusual background for a writer. At what point did you take up the pen? What impelled you to become a writer?

Chris: I've been impelled towards writing for as long as I can remember, something I got from my mother who, as a young woman, worked with Dylan Thomas on the Swansea Evening Post, and for whom literature was a part of life. As for sheep-farming, I thought of it as the day-job; it's an activity, though, that tends to be so all-consuming that it wasn't until yet another turn in the boom-bust farming cycle pushed me off the bus that I went into academic life and full-time writing. In fact, I think it's a good background for a writer: very few things engage you so closely with the physical world, and in a country where sheep outnumber people by three or four to one it's quite an appropriate place to come from.

Americymru: Who are you reading now? What authors have most inspired or "influenced" your own writing?

Chris: Always find this a difficult question. When I'm writing full-tilt, as I am now, I read almost nothing but what I strictly need for research. But writers I love... Giorgio Bassani, Joseph Heller, Robert Louis Stevenson, Freud, TS Eliot, Zola... There is no end to reading, fortunately.

Americymru: For those who are unfamiliar with it, would you care to tell us a bit about your first novel ( The French Thing )?

Chris: OK. It's a story about love defeated by conflicting moral and political visions. On one level it's a thriller/love story, in a rural setting, partly based on real events around issues of animal rights. But what I was also trying to do was to lay out a small, self-contained world, inhabited by groups of people who dont at all want to share that world with other groups, who feel that all of it belongs to them. So the social realities of this world are based on prejudice, hostility, misunderstanding. That make it sound grimmer than it is. Read it!

Americymru: I think many of our readers would be interested to learn more of the process involved in producing a major novel. What provided you with the inspiration to write "Liminal"?

Chris: Liminal germinated over a period of about four years before I started writing it, during which a number of separate ideas floated around without really connecting with each other. One of these ideas was for a book which I eventually abandoned, about a man who becomes obsessed by a painting. That book ended up being written by Janice (a character in 'Liminal'). I understand it's been very successful. I should have gone on with it. Some of the other elements that went into the book were just brief encounters - a girl in Greece talking to a group of students... images - a ruined house with a dead tree reaching up through the roof... I think I start with settings, backgrounds, visual images that move me in some way. Then characters, one or two at first, then others, gradually forming patterns of relationships which eventually determine the narrative. The plot arrives last, grows out of these other things. After that, it's about musicality, about trying to arrive at a level of meaning that floats free, that has a poetic relationship to language.

Americymru: Geraint expounds his concept of "liminality" at various points in the novel. Would you care to explain the significance of this notion for our readers?

Chris: Like Geraint, I've been interested for a long time in the idea of pilgrimage, the idea that life is not just a journey, but a journey with a purpose, which we have to discover for ourselves. The purpose of our journey isn't automatically revealed to us, and certainly isn't defined or circumscribed or given to us by other people. The concept of liminality works on a physical and external level, and also on an interior, psychic one. In the physical world, it's about moments in time, and especially places in space - doorways, bridges, places where the path in the wood divides - which mark significant stages in the journey. On the psychic level, it's about those moments when you get a flash of insight, when you understand something about the purpose of your journey.

Americymru: Your descriptions of place are vivid and evocative - did you travel to Greece during the process of creating this novel?

Chris: I've been to Greece a number of times, and one of the key moments in Liminal's development as a book was a visit to Corinth some years ago, which eventually provided the settings for the Greek section of the book. I was lucky enough to get an Arts Council grant to finish the book in 2006, and I used that to go back to the same area of the Peloponese because I realised that my physical memories had become attenuated. I needed to reconnect with the heat, the intensity of the light, the smell of resin. I think it helped the writing a lot, being back there.

Americymru: Geraint's friendship with Janice seems the closest, most expressive relationship he has with any of the female characters - did this develop as the story developed or was it always part of who the characters were from the beginning?

Chris: This will sound corny, but Janice really did create herself. I'd intended her to be quite a minor character, mainly there to provide some background detail in Geraint's work-place, but she took over the book I'd abandoned, and it was her idea to make a move on Geraint. My plans for Geraint's love life revolved around Lydia, but he ended up treating her pretty badly, thanks to Janice. What allowed this to happen was the fact that, although I knew what the main themes, and the main narrative elements were when I started writing, most of the detailed plotting wasn't even roughed out. I seem to work like that; it's risky and quite nerve-wracking sometimes, but it allows me to develop an intuitive relationship with the writing, which, when it works out, is really good fun. Tom Stoppard (who says he works the same way) said that writers should never feel clever when a book works out well; they should just feel lucky.

Americymru: How did you develop the story of Saint Brygga? Was her story based on any actual saints? What inspired her name?

Chris: Saint Brygga isn't based on any historical figure, although I read a lot of medieval accounts of saints' lives and, so to speak, cannibalised a lot of details of miraculously-preserved body parts etc. I truly cannot remember how I arrived at her name, athough the other day I noticed a signpost to a village called Brynbuga, which I must have passed many times without consciously taking it in, but which, I suppose, embedded itself.

Americymru: The notion of "pilgrimage" is explored at various points in the book. How important do you think this concept is in contemporary society?

Chris: Vital.

Americymru: By the end of the book most of the loose ends are tied up and life goes on. Would you describe this as a "happy ending"?

Chris: Not exactly. I didn't want to write a story about overwhelming tragedy because, somehow, that felt too easy. I wanted to write about the way life ambushes us sometimes, shoots a small dart of sorrow into us; about how change, even when it is necessary or inevitable, leaves a residue of sadness, an intimation of the end of the journey, I suppose.

Americymru: What in your view is the significance of the term Anglo-Welsh literature? Is there such a thing and if so might it be said to have any special message, theme or significance for contemporary readers?

Chris: I think there is such a thing, although it's not easy to define. I think it's a literature which is shaped by a number of factors: obviously history, topography, perhaps above all the social forms that are unique to this strange country. But also because, as "English,' it is haunted by its anomalous relationship to Wales, to Welshness, to the Welsh language. Think of RS Thomas...

Americymru: What are your future writing plans? Is there a third novel in the works?

Chris: There is. The process of writing it is just starting to pick up speed and gather momentum. It's fairly huge and ambitious, but I feel I'm beginning to get control of it, like a runaway train. It's set across a time span of thirty years in the lives of the characters, and another thirty before that in memory and evocation. The main themes are to do with revolution and rapid change, and how idealism is kept alive, or compromised. But it's also about our relationship to art, specifically to music and film. A number of the characters are singers, actors, film-makers, and I've become captivated by trying to understand how music and moving images work on us. I think it's going to be the best yet!

Interview by Ceri Shaw Google+ Email

An Interview With Peter N. Williams

By Ceri Shaw, 2009-03-03

Tolkien And WelshAmeriCymru: We note from your biography that you are a member of The Gorsedd of Bards. How did you become a member and what, if any, ceremony was involved. Can you explain for an American audience what the Gorsedd is and what it does?

Peter: I have to refer you to my book on the Gorsedd. I became a member in l999 at the National Eisteddfod in Llangefni, Ynys Mon (Anglesey) because of my work for Welsh Americans and Wales, especially for my organizing a Welsh society in Delaware (of which i am president), lecturing on Wales, writing about Wales, conducting Cymanfaoedd Ganu (plural) and so on. I had to be recommended as are all members of the Gorsedd by those with influence in Welsh cultural affairs.

AmeriCymru: We note further that you are a director of the NWAF ( National Welsh American Foundation ). What is the history of the NWAF and what is its role today?

Peter: Since its foundation in 1980 the NWAF has spent close on 150,000 in support of Welsh-American activities including scholarships and grants to organisations and individuals. GRANTS: Grants of some 75,000 have been made to support Welsh language training in Wales and the United States; to support Welsh-American activities such as restorations, nursery schools, museums, the Welsh National Cymanfa Ganu Association and the National Eisteddfod of Wales; to individuals engaged in special studies; and the support of cultural events presenting Welsh choirs and entertainers. Our main goal is to support Welsh America by providing scholarships for Americans to go to Wales to study the language and culture, and for Welsh students to come here in exchange. We give financial support when we can to Welsh American organizations and events. We have a quarterly The Eagle and the Dragon (which I edit) for all members.

AmeriCymru: Peter, you have consistently championed the cause of "Welshness" and the Welsh language throughout your career. I think all Americymru members would want to thank you for that. How do you see the future of the Welsh language. Rumours of its death in 1962 ( I refer of course to the famous Saunders Lewis speech of that year ) were thankfully premature. What are your predictions for the future of yr hen iaith?

Peter: I see the future of the Welsh language as precarious, but I believe the happenings of the last 20 years or more will ensure its future as a minority language. Wales will be bilingual, of that I'm pretty sure. Saunders Lewis speech galvanized the youth into action. I was in Wales at the time and was told that I was hearing the kicks of a dying language. Since then, it has rebounded.

AmeriCymru: Many people would argue that Wales has experienced a massive increase in terms of self-confidence since the devolution vote? Would you agree?

Peter: The acquisition of self confidence has accompanied the resurgence ot the language, but there must be a million or more "non-Welsh" living in Wales with no interest in its culture, its traditions, its language, or its politics, being thoroughly "British" (ie, English) in their outlook. Wales sporting success is as much as anything to inspire self confidence in those that do honor their history. For half a century, it has been "the gallant few" that have kept alive the traditions, and an even smaller few that has safeguarded the language by pressing for its use in nursery schools and in the workplace.

AmeriCymru: Regrettably many people in Wales do not have a knowledge of Welsh. Is it possible or desirable in your view to develop a distinct Anglo-Welsh cultural identity?.Can there be different "cultures" within the same language group?

Peter: There is already an Anglo-Welsh cultural identity. It was forged in the coal mining valleys of South East Wales in the 19th century. A million immigrants could not be absorbed into the language community, but because many came to the valleys from the agricultural Welsh-speaking areas, the language did not die out. A kind of mongrelization took place. On my first visit to South Wales I was amazed at the Welshness of the people in their attitude, but was also amazed that they didn't know the Welsh language, There was a kind of Wenglish spoken, strong Welsh accent and dialect, but mostly in the English language. But this is the area of the fastest growth today (well, it had to be didn't it?). Thank rugby football etc for some of this.

AmeriCymru: You have written a number of books a bout Wales. Do you have any plans to write more?

Peter: I have written quite a few books. As I approach my 75th birthday I think i should slow down. My alphabetical guide was a work of love, but endured years of toil etc. I have completed my Britain: the Rise and Fall of an Empire , in which I have covered the devolution movements in Scotland and Wales and the independence of Ireland.

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

Peter: Messages are to keep at it. Never give up, despite obstacles. Our Welsh culture is worth learning about, worth saving, and worth working for.

Books by Peter N. Williams

A review of "Wales and the Welsh"

An Interview with Niall Griffiths

By Ceri Shaw, 2009-02-26

Writer Niall Griffiths is the author of six novels, radio plays, numerous travel articles and lives in Aberystwyth, Wales.

AMERICYMRU: How did you start writing?

NIALL GRIFFITHS: I picked up a pen. Honestly; it seems to've been that simple. I don't know why. There was never any books in the house, but it was full of stories, especially from my grandparents, of the old countries, the war, ghost stories etc. I don't remember the very first thing I wrote but it happened as soon as my motor functions were developed enough to hold a pen. I wrote novels at a very young age, about giant crabs and man-eating wolves, etc. My mum still has them, I think, somewhere. The world seemed less dangerous and threatening when I was writing about it. It seems like writing is always a thing I've felt a terrific compulsion to do. Don't know why, and don't care why, either; I don't question these things. Just accept them.

AMERICYMRU: What is your process as a writer? do you write every day, write in fits and starts, carry a notebook or voice recorder around with you? What's your creative flow?

NIALL GRIFFITH: Well, if I'm working on something big, I let it dictate itself. I'll work every day on it, yes, but if it's not flowing, I stop trying after a couple of hours. If it is flowing, then I can be at my desk for ten hours or so. The average, I guess, is about five hours. I carry a notebook everywhere. And I must write something every day, even if it's only a scribbled free-verse poem or an entry in my journal; I feel wretched if I don't. A blemish on the earth. Catholic guilt perhaps, but so what? It makes me feel worthy, and happy, and alive. Oh, and first-draft always longhand. Probably something to do with being brought up working-class. A proper job gets your hands dirty, even if it is just with smears of ink.

AMERICYMRU: One thing you're fantastically good at is staying in your character's voice throughout a story. Your first-person narrative in Runt, not a simple or easy character, is flawless. Do you base your characters on people that you've met or just develop them wholly yourself?

NIALL GRIFFITHS: Runt was kind of lucky, really; I wrote it in Sweden, when I was writer-in-residence at Lund university, a very flat part of the country. Where I live in Wales, as soon as I step out of the door, I'm bombarded by mountainous words, but in Lund, I wasn't surrounded by high ground, so it was relatively easy to stay within the 700-word or so lexicon that the main character possesses. Call it serendipity. In answer to your question, tho, I guess I'd have to say I don't know. Some parts observation, some parts imagination, and the ratio shifts for each character.

AMERICYMRU: Are your characters built before or as you write them of the things you're writing about, like the description of Kelly with the lamb in her dinosaur's teeth in Kelly+Victor?

NIALL GRIFFITHS: Again, a bit of both. That particular episode was autobiographical; I actually put shreds of meat into the mouth of a plastic dinosaur, although my dinosaur was a triceratops, which, as we all know, is a vegetarian. I painted his beak blood-red, too. Characters grow as I write them, often exponentially so, and they don't really come to life for me until they open their gobs and speak or do something to surprise me. That sounds horribly precious, and I apologise, but that is kind of how it works: the character becomes rounded when they act out of character. I don't have any time for the kind of writer who says things like 'I love turning my laptop on in the morning to see what my characters have got up to overnight', but I understand what they mean. Sort of. And I'd never tell them that.

AMERICYMRU: The protagonist in Runt is such a beautiful, unusual character - what was your inspiration for him,how did you produce this person and his life?

NIALL GRIFFITHS: Sheer genius. And see the answer to question 3. Also, I wanted to write a book with a restricted vocabulary. I love words, and love being ravished by them, and love creating storms with them, and I wanted to do that in a way other than simply unblocking a torrent, so if I deliberately restrained myself, I'd have to be linguistically creative in a new way. As for the character, he's kind of like the sweeter twin of Ianto in Sheepshagger. He's natural innocence. Ianto is too, in his way, but I wanted to write a simpler innocence versus corruption story. Plus do some delving into shamanism. More than that, of course, but let's leave it there.

AMERICYMRU: The protagonist of Stump retreats to Wales after a disastrous experience in the Liverpool drug underworld. He seems to find the very place names soothing and reassuring. Is he returning to his "roots" and if so is Wales still a place where you can seek refuge from the urban maelstrom?

NIALL GRIFFITHS: In a way, yes, but don't confuse that with Wales being peaceful; it's kind of like finding a God - it's got everything to do with calm, and nothing to do with comfort. Rural Wales is a place of mud and death and shit and bone but it's also a place where connectedness is freely available and notions of re-birth declare themselves openly, and in that way, I find it immeasurably hopeful. Stump's character retreats to a place that he remembers fleeing to as a child with his family, from his violent father. It's Alistair, in a sense, who rediscovers his roots; notice that he finds an inner strength to deny Darren as soon as they cross the border. It doesn't last long, but there's a flash of it. Alistair, in his way, saves the world - he's a placating influence on Darren, even tho neither of them know it. At least in Stump he is. There's great comic mileage in that double-act, I think.

AMERICYMRU: In Stump there's a violent denoument but it's not the one you expect - did you start this story with that in mind and with its resolution in mind? Were Stump and Wreckage originally one story in your mind or did Wreckage grow out of Stump?

NIALL GRIFFITHS: I wanted Stump to have a happy ending, so had a strong idea of what that would be, yes. And Wreckage did grow out of Stump although I knew that I wanted to explore those characters in greater depth. The first draft went much further; I was planning a section called something like 'Darren, His Antecedent', describing a fish climbing out of the primordial ooze. I didn't write it, on the advice of my editor.

AMERICYMRU: Wreckage is one of the funniest and most poignant books I have ever read. It seems to me that you created two of the finest comedy characters in literature since Falstaff (in Stump) and wrote a sequel because we all wanted to hear more from them. Obviously the work has a more profound purpose. In what sense does Wreckage represent Liverpool today?

NAILL GRIFFITHS: Liverpool has just come out of it's European Capital of Culture year, so it's a changed city, in many ways, for both good and bad. The most noticeable change is in the general attitude; there's a renewed energy, an optimism, a new kind of buzz. But it's been the by-word for social and political decay for decades, and, given that it's Britain in miniature, what does this tell us? The UK's histories of colonial oppression and multi-culturality and slavery and defiance and everything else can be seen in the microcosm of Liverpool. In writing Wreckage, I didn't want to foreground any one of those narratives, but to look at them all, or as many as I possibly could. It's part of the fight against cliche, and neatness. A war in which each of us must play our parts.

AMERICYMRU: Does Sheepshagger represent a conscious attempt to undermine Anglo-Welsh literary stereotypes?

NAILL GRIFFITHS: Without a doubt, yes. It's partly a reaction against the Enlightenment idea of Celtic peoples living lives of natural harmony and warmth; you know, 'let's not worry about these funny little people with their dancing and furry hats, they're all happy, they all link arms and sing going home from the mines to the hearth and a bowl of mam's cawl'. It's reductionist and self-serving and smug and undignified. Made by minds which can't see phthisis and poverty and self- and substance-abuse and loneliness and working twelve hours a day wresting spuds from rock only to be told on a Sunday that you'll be damned eternally for laziness. I chose the name Ianto partly as a nod towards the main returning character in Richard Llewellyn's How Green Was My Valley (well, less a nod and more of an abbreviated headbutt, really), which is symptomatic of this kind of Uncle Tom-ist nonsense. Stereotypes reduce, don't they? That's their job, to shrink in order to make certain people feel comfortable. They belong to prejudice, which is received hatred, and therefore a cliche of the most shrivelling kind. So, in Sheepshagger especially, I wanted to portray Wales as I know it; as an impossibly rich and wondrous and magical place which will fiercely fight back against any attenuation. Middle England hates, and is absolutely terrified by, the Other; I wanted to point out that their worst fears have been constructed by themselves and can be found three hours by train from London.

AMERICYMRU: Your characters are very "warty" and real, unpolished and smelly like real people really are, and you write them doing awful things and full of failings and weakness but also respectfully, as though you're presenting them whole but not to be ridiculed. Would you agree with this and if so, is it intentional? Why?

NIALL GRIFFITHS: Yes, and yes. Why? Because I believe that dignity is not a conferred quality; it's innate in human beings. It's one of the most valuable traits we have, and is, sadly, crumbling. People aren't simply vessels for a single act or outlook, nor are they simply the results of linear causation, yet they're often perceived to be precisely that, none more so, in today's tabloid culture, than the kinds of people I write about. I don't agree with everything they say and do, nor do I always like them, but I believe that they should be allowed to develop free from authorial censure. That's not my job. I write against reductionism, so it's imperative that I write my characters in all their moods, explore all their loves and perversions and tendernesses and guilts. One review of my first novel, Grits, said that 'each episode recounted bears the stamp of authentic experience, and is driven by angry love', or something very like that. Couldn't've put it better meself.

AMERICYMRU: Your endings fit your characters so well - Runt has a "happy" ending, Stump suffers enough, Kelly+Victor and Sheepshagger are inevitable, Wreckage is also inevitable but very neatly avoids the morality tale. Do you have these in mind when you start writing or do they develop with the characters?

NIALL GRIFFITHS: Again, a bit of both. Sorry, that sounds like a cop-out. . . I have a strong sense of what the ending should be - Victor would die, Stump's feller would escape, etc. - but no concrete notions of how I would get there. Plastic notions, yes, amenable to moulding, but nothing rigid. A crap analogy; you have a blank wall, several different tins of paint, brushes of several sizes, a roller, a spraygun, etc. All of them are means towards a painted wall, but you don't know, before you start, how precisely you'll do it. See; told you it was a crap analogy. But it illustrates my point. I hope.

AMERICYMRU: Is there one thing you've done that you're more proud of than others, one that you love more than the others? What is it and why?

NIALL GRIFFITHS: Well, Grits saved me from myself, I guess; I was in something of a mess, before I wrote it, and, in fact, during much of it's writing. I was living as my characters were, but the writing about my experiences gradually overtook the 'homework', as it were. It's my most autobiographical, so I'm very fond of it. Stylistically, I like Sheepshagger, technically, K+V and Stump, linguistically, Runt. . . I don't know; the answer to the question 'what do you think is your best book?' is always 'the next one'. It needs to be. The one I'm about to start writing, called A Great Big Shining Star, will be better than all the others put together. I have to keep telling myself that.

AMERICYMRU: Do you have anything in particular you want to achieve as a writer, a particular goal or goals?

NIALL GRIFFITHS: Just to write and write and write until I die at a very old age. When I was younger, I used to think that the likes of Thomas and Behan and Fitzgerald and Byron and Shelley had it right; burn out, don't fade away, blaze half as long but twice as bright. Now that I've reached my early forties, miraculously it sometimes seems, I admire those who stoked the fire until the very last moment; Johnny Cash, Hardy, Bukowski, Burroughs. Funny that, innit?

AMERICYMRU: Who do you like to read? Who are you reading at the moment?

NIALL GRIFFITHS: America's producing the best writers now, in my opinion: McCarthy, Denis Johnson, Dan Woodrell, loads more. Much British stuff is parochial, dull, smug, irreparably middle-class, but of course there are exceptions. I read voraciously, always have; constant bedtime companions are religious tracts, volumes of nature writing, Renaissance and Jacobean tragedies. At the moment I'm juggling [Roberto] Bolano's 2666, [Micheal] Braddick's God's Fury, England's Fire (a history of the English civil wars), Interrogations [Interrogations: The Nazi Elite in Allied Hands, 1945 by Richard Overy](a collection of interviews with the Nazi elite), an anthology of Gothic horror stories, and a book about the DeCavalcante Mafia family of New Jersey. It's becoming increasingly difficult to navigate my way around my house; there are towers of books everywhere.

Books by Niall Griffiths

Grits Cape, 2000 Sheepshagger Cape, 2001 Kelly &Victor Cape, 2002 StumpCape, 2003 Wreckage Cape, 2005 RuntCape, 2006 Real Aberystwyth (with Peter Finch) Seren, 2008 Real Liverpool (with Peter Finch) Seren, 2008 Ten Pound Pom Parthian Books, 2009

An Interview With Rhys Hughes - Part 3

By Ceri Shaw, 2009-02-13

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In this the third and final part of Welsh author Rhys Hughes'' interview with Americymru he poses a number of ( rhetorical? ) questions to the reader. Feel free to respond to any or all of them in the comments box below.

This is part 3 of an in depth interview with Rhys Hughes, the Welsh Wizard of the Absurd. Rhys was born in Porthcawl, South Wales in 1966 and plans to write exactly 1000 stories in his lifetime ( see his blog here:- The Spoons That Are My Ears ). When this interview was originally published he had completed 468. Currently his total stands at 600+. Rhys can also be found on the web at:-The Rime of The Post Modern Mariner and on his Facebook page.


Dear Reader,

For the third and last part of my interview with the Americymru Network, I thought it might be nice to do something different. In other words for me to interview you.

So please find six questions below that you may (or may not) answer when you are ready…

1. In Swansea library I recently saw a book with the title "My Ancestor was a Coal Miner". My first thought was how strange it must be to have only one ancestor! I''m confident I''ve had thousands of them and I''m sure that most of them were never coal miners.

Having said that, my grandfather on my father''s side did work in a coal mine as an explosives expert. He kept boxes of gelignite under his bed. But what is the most unusual (or memorable) profession that any of your known ancestors ever had?

2. Authors go out of fashion, sometimes come back into fashion, often don''t. One of the finest and most sophisticated of the English Victorian novelists, George Meredith, is now mostly forgotten and it doesn''t seem likely he''ll ever be accorded the attention he deserves. Despite its rather terrible title, his early novel, "The Shaving of Shagpat", is an exquisite work of deep imagination and manages to combine highly lyrical prose with a humorous muscularity…

Another author with a sinking – perhaps already sunk – star is D.M. Thomas. In the 1980s he was the novelist of choice for all middle class liberal thirtysomethings who wanted to upgrade their emotions and their justifications to ''complex''. I still like D.M. Thomas. Clearly my finger isn''t anywhere near the pulse of modern literary trends. But what unfashionable authors (if any) do you still champion?

3. I have a large collection of books but it''s going down. The reason it''s going down is because every time I finish reading a book I give it away. My aim is to reduce my collection to a manageable size. Otherwise I''ll keep adding to it and will end up with more books than it''s possible for me to read in my entire lifetime!

That seems inefficient and wrong. To stop it happening I have banned myself from buying new books. I read what I already have on my shelves instead. Some of my books have been waiting to be read for thirty years. I don''t want to disappoint them forever! To shrink my collection further I have given away some books that I haven''t read, books I once felt I ought to read but knew I wouldn''t – in other words ''Duty'' books.

Probably the most significant Duty book for me is Robert Tressell''s "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists". I know it''s a very important novel, a book with a crucial message, but I just don''t want to read it. And I won''t. What books do you own that you know you''ll never read?

4. E-books don''t interest me. I just don''t enjoy reading fiction on a screen. Brief technical articles, yes, but entire novels, no. I can''t bring myself to even read short stories online. That''s why I rarely submit stories for online publication. The only novel I''ve ever read online was James Branch Cabell''s "The Rivet in Grandfather''s Neck" and that was only because I couldn''t find it as a proper book. I plodded through it unhappily even though it is witty, wise and dry. But what is your opinion on this issue? Do you regularly read e-books or not?

5. Writers are required to sit still indoors for long periods tapping away at keyboards or scratching away with pens – I use both methods, sometimes writing one story on a computer and a different story in a notebook at the same time. And yet an inactive life is one that rapidly drives me crazy. I need the Great Outdoors – or in the case of Wales, the Grey Outdoors!

The fact that writing is such a sedate occupation means I''m always fascinated by the attempts of certain authors to infuse physical vigour into their prose. It seems an impossible task, but Jack London and Steinbeck managed it successfully. So did Edward Abbey. But Hemingway and Kerouac didn''t. Just my own opinion. What writers, if any, have made you take to the hills or the lakes or the moors, etc?

6. When I was much younger I read "Lord Valentine''s Castle" by Robert Silverberg. It''s a fantasy novel set on an alien world and many standard fantasy things happen, but the main character isn''t an obvious hero in the conventional sense. He''s not a warrior or a wizard. He''s a juggler. From the descriptions in this book I taught myself to juggle. Balls, fruit, stones, even shoes – though I don''t recommend doing that. Juggling is a practical skill. It won''t help to mend a burst pipe or change the fuse in a plug, but it can break the ice at parties. Sometimes the crockery too. I''m delighted I can juggle and I owe it entirely to Silverberg. Has any work of fiction ever taught you a practical skill?

An Interview With Rhys Hughes - Part 2

By Ceri Shaw, 2009-02-07

Back to Welsh Literature page >


This is part 2 of an in depth interview with Rhys Hughes, the Welsh Wizard of the Absurd. Rhys was born in Porthcawl, South Wales in 1966 and plans to write exactly 1000 stories in his lifetime ( see his blog here:- The Spoons That Are My Ears ). When this interview was originally published he had completed 468. Currently his total stands at 600+. Rhys can also be found on the web at:-The Rime of The Post Modern Mariner and on his Facebook page.

AmeriCymru: You write like you''re writing, not as though you''re working to "be" anything in particular: have you ever created consciously with the objective of trying to be a particular type of writer or to try to convey any particular moral message or do you write just to write the story you''re writing?

Rhys: I don''t like preaching and I never try to convey specific moral messages in my writing, but I guess that an author''s own value judgments must unavoidably inform what he or she writes at some level, even if a conscious effort has been made to go against moral habits. And the subtext of a piece of fiction can be more revealing in this regard than the surface text. I''m sure that my own ethical beliefs saturate everything I write, even though I like to think they don''t, even though I try to present an ambiguous face. I feel strongly about the environment, about fair play, about liberty. Do any of these values overtly announce their presence in my fiction?

But when it comes to wanting to "be" a particular type of writer on a technical level, then yes, I have definitely attempted this numerous times. My most recent novel, "Engelbrecht Again!", was a fully conscious effort to write a sequel to the Maurice Richardson classic set of stories about a dwarf surrealist boxer called Engelbrecht. Richardson''s original stories were published in the 1940s and are utterly imbued with the flavour of a Britain that had just emerged from a devastating war. I did my best to write like Richardson on several levels, to capture his dated but still effective surrealism. British surrealism is different from other kinds, more theatrical and less psychosexual. Spike Milligan, J.B. Morton and W.E. Bowman were other masters of the style, but Richardson was the most inventive and original of the bunch.

However, my most deliberately organised attempt to "be" a particular writer came about three years ago. I wanted to prove that I could write straight realism as well as fantasy. It was something that had been on my mind for years, but reading Calvino''s book of linked short stories "Marcovaldo" really spurred me to try. In "Marcovaldo" nothing is false, everything is completely real but it''s also absurd and this relentless absurdity gives the developing story an aura of the fantastic without diminishing its poignancy. The result is a bittersweet epic, one of Calvino''s best books, the one that synthesises most perfectly his opposing urges towards fable and reality. I wanted to use that book as a model of the way the techniques of fantasy can deal with the situations of reality.

But of course my own book quickly went its own way. It became a sort of benign satire on myself! It contains the only autobiographical material I''ve ever written, semi-autobiographical I should say, as some events have been reinterpreted to catch more closely echoes of other events. The title of the book is "My Cholesterol Socks" and that''s a direct, if somewhat obscure, reference to Welsh literature. I wanted to be as painfully genuine as I could when writing it. The absurdity it contains is always possible, never impossible, and in most cases the absurd events really happened, if not to me then to people I knew.

I''m planning a pair sequels, "Your Saturated Stockings" and "Our Malignant Slippers", to close the loop. The overall title for the sequence will be "The Unfeasible Footwear Trilogy" and I''ve based its structure around inter-subjectivity. In other words, the first volume is narrated by a character who exaggerates his bad qualities and downplays his good. In the second volume the same events are told from the viewpoint of his girlfriend, who always exaggerates the good. The third volume will outline the perspective of a third character whose investment in events is hampered by the principles of fair play, neutrality and non-interference. But in fact his presentation of the facts isn''t the true one either. Each viewpoint forms the point of a triangle and the "truth" is located at the centre, available only at the reader''s discretion!

AmeriCymru: Dylan Thomas and "How Green Was My Valley" represent the sum total of many peoples knowledge of Anglo-Welsh literature. Does "Nowhere Near Milkwood" constitute a conscious attempt to challenge and subvert these stereotypes?

Rhys: Certainly. Absolutely. I know that Dylan Thomas was a great writer, many writers I admire cite him as an important influence, but I just don''t feel inspired by him. I find his work pretty but boring. Pretty boring. Having said that I have no problem with the fact he''s universally regarded as the greatest writer Wales has produced. My own candidate for that honour is Arthur Machen, but I never expect this to be more than a minority opinion... I can''t say that "Nowhere Near Milk Wood" is a direct assault on Dylan Thomas, but it''s definitely a challenge to the restrictive myth that has grown up around him that Welsh literature has to be sentimental if it''s not politically blatant.

I am periodically accused of being non-political, of having no social conscience. I once gave a reading to students and was interrupted by a professor who bellowed, "How dare you write like Umberto Eco! He is a traitor to the working class!" He went on to claim that social realism was the only acceptable form of fiction that a Welsh writer should ever produce and that anything ''clever'' was a knife in the hearts of poor people. I was astonished to be thought of as an imitator of Eco, whom I''ve never read, but not really surprised by the rest of his rant. The Welsh literary establishment has a fixed idea of what constitutes authentic Welsh literature. It must be a semi-Marxist warhead in a lush lyrical delivery system!

But I actually think the professor was more upset by the form of my story than the content, because its guiding principle probably seemed unbearably self-indulgent to him. I read a piece that parodied myself in the style of a reader. What I mean by this is that I''m often told by readers and critics what kind of writer I am and it''s often at odds with the kind of writer I think I am. So I decided to write a story in the style of a writer who really was how I was being defined! I''m sure it was this ''smug'' conceit, rather than the story itself, that prompted his indignation...

AmeriCymru: Jorge Luis Borges is listed amongst your key literary influences. "The New Universal History of Infamy" is one of your better known and more easily accessible works. What inspired you to write a work (loosely) based on the old Borges classic?

Rhys: I have always admired Borges for the way he expanded the function of the short story to include totally abstract themes. His most famous tales have no plot, no dialogue, no characterisation, no psychological interaction, yet they are utterly fascinating. It takes a special writer to do that successfully. Olaf Stapledon managed it, of course... But in the case of Borges I''m thinking of stories such as ''The Library of Babel'', ''Pierre Menard'', ''The Circular Ruins'', ''The Lottery in Babylon'', and a few others. Those texts break all the rules of narrative construction taught in Creative Writing classes. They posit mind-bending ideas, then take those ideas to a logical limit and beyond, and sometimes return them to the original state, as in ''The Congress'', my favourite Borges tale…

But my own tribute to Borges came about by accident. A publisher asked me to write a set of essays on odd people for a history book. I produced an essay on Baron Ungern-Sternberg, who ruled Mongolia in the 1920s, but the publisher went bust, so I was left with a piece that resembled one of the semi-fictions in Borges'' book "A Universal History of Infamy". It seemed natural to write more essays in the same style and collect them together, not as a pastiche of Borges but as a tribute, also as a challenge to myself. It was Harlan Ellison who once said that to imitate Borges is impossible, and because I respect Ellison I had to make the attempt! It was intended to be a low-key project, something that would be issued in the ''Album Zutique'' series, in other words as a tiny pocket book. I was surprised when it developed into a much grander volume and turned out to be my best-selling title!

I find it difficult to anticipate what will capture the public imagination and what won''t. The books I''m most satisfied with often sell poorly and the ones I care less about end up being successful. I don''t know what that says about my own judgment and taste! This doesn''t mean I''m not fond of my ''Infamy'' book, but I do regard it as unfinished. I''m slowly working on a unifying sequel called "A Brand Old Universal Futurology of Infamy" and the first essay from that, on Margaret Thatcher, is already written and available on the internet. Other essays will include non-person-centred topics such as ''Precision'' and ''Sequels''. The last essay will be called "An Exactly Contemporary Universal Presentology of Infamy" and I hope to make that one a parody of all the essays in both books, including itself. Quite how I''ll manage that, I don''t yet know!

AmeriCymru: Some of the action in "The Postmodern Mariner" is set in Porthcawl. You have said previously that Porthcawl is a very atypical Welsh town and that this was an advantage for your fiction. Can you explain for an American audience how Porthcawl differs from other towns in Wales with which they may be more familiar and how this difference benefited you?

Rhys: I''ve often said that Porthcawl didn''t feel very Welsh to me when I was growing up. I regarded it more as a micro-nation, a small independent country, and my friends seemed to feel the same way. Tourists who came to visit in the summer were divided into three categories. The ''English'' were the lowest caste; a little higher came the ''North Welsh''; and finally the ''South Welsh''. All were regarded as foreign. The fact that we lived in a Welsh town and were also Welsh just didn''t register… Although the English were at the bottom of our scale, we feared the North Welsh more, because we knew they lived in caves and were cannibals…

This attitude did have a beneficial effect on my writing, because it meant I never felt constrained by tradition. I was free to write whatever I chose, without reference to a discernable heritage, simply because I wasn''t aware that any specific heritage was mine. That''s a positive way of looking at it, but our attitude can equally be regarded as just another manifestation of a provincial, backwater distrust of anything beyond its own borders. I hope our mentality was more ironic than that, but it''s hard to be sure!

It has been a long time since I was last in Porthcawl and I wrote for many years without mentioning it in my fiction because I craved exotic locales instead. Then I finally realised that to other readers Porthcawl itself might seem exotic. Hence the stories in "The Postmodern Mariner"… I can''t say why it took me so long to become reconciled to the place. It''s a pleasant town, not remarkable for anything but tranquil enough, and I''m grateful I spent my formative years near the sea.

AmeriCymru: Your story ''Castor on Troubled waters'' from "The Postmodern Mariner" features a great strategy for getting out of buying your round at the pub. Have you ever tried this? If so… how did it go?

Rhys: No, I''ve never tried any tricks of that nature, not through lack of desire but because I don''t have the confidence or eloquence to carry them off. I try not to get into rounds in the first place! I don''t drink much beer these days anyway, nor any kind of alcohol. I can''t stand hangovers. When I was a student I imbibed vast quantities of spirits, wine and anything else I could get my hands on. Now such overindulgence just makes me feel ill. The last time I got very drunk was in Poland in 1999. I went to a bar in the Tatra Mountains and drank several mugs of something called ''Tea for Sad People'' that was actually vodka of some kind. All I really remember after that is dancing around a central fireplace with some Australians, head-butting a big iron cowbell on each circuit…

My character Castor Jenkins doesn''t really resemble anyone I know. He is something very rare, almost unique. An authentic Welsh stereotype! So he drinks beer and eats chips at every available opportunity and plays tricks to get out of paying for them. Writing the stories that feature him gave me another opportunity to indulge myself in a genre that I find very appealing, the ‘Tall Story’… I''ve written many of those kinds of tales, for example I have linked sixty together in a volume called "Tallest Stories" that isn''t published yet, but I''m especially pleased with the Castor Jenkins adventures. "The Postmodern Mariner" is perhaps my most accessible book and one that has a special magic for me, but I don''t regard Castor''s tricks as laudable or even workable!

AmeriCymru: You have said that you plan to write 1000 stories. So far you have 400 in print. Any projects that you are currently involved in that you care to share with our readers?

Rhys: I don''t know if I have 400 stories in print. I stopped keeping records a few years ago. It might be more than that number, probably less. I know I''ve written 472 stories but many haven''t even been submitted yet. But I set myself the target of exactly 1000 stories because it gives me a destination that is independent of how popular or unpopular my work becomes. I don''t want to fizzle out. The thousand-story target helps to prevent me becoming demoralised, which is a constant danger with an open-ended writing career. I don''t want to continue forever, I want there to be a time when I''ve finished, when everything is tied together, when the rest of my life has no relation to writing.

But I''m not even at the halfway stage and it has taken me twenty years to get this far! Estimated date of completion of my thousand is around the year 2030 but will probably take rather longer, if I manage to stay alive! I expect to slow down as I get older. At the moment I''m concentrating on reaching the 500 mark. I have several projects in progress right now. I''m writing two novels, "The Pilgrim''s Regress" and "Twisthorn Bellow", and preparing two new short story collections, "Salty Kiss Island" and "Mirrors in the Deluge", which is a neat Welsh reversal of the Merritt title I mentioned earlier. There will be others…. But my next published book should be "Mister Gum", a novel that is partly a satire on the teaching of creative writing. It''s very filthy and I only recommend it to readers with salacious and deviant minds!

Looking further ahead, of the many projects I have planned, I guess two are more relevant to American readers with an interest in Wales than the others. The first is "Gulliver in Gwalia", the shipwrecking of Jonathan Swift''s hero on the shores of Wales, which turns out to be a stranger land than Lilliput or Brobdingnag… And the second is a Welsh Western called "Fists of Fleece", about a man press-ganged in Cardiff Docks and taken to the USA who recovers consciousness believing he is still in Wales. That novel will require me to expand a map of Wales big enough to be superimposed on a map of the USA, as the character travels across forty states thinking they are regions in Wales. There will be an opportunity for a link to the Madoc legend, and I''m excited about the other possibilities it raises, but I need to visit America before I can write it, and I''m not sure when such a trip will be feasible…

An Interview With Rhys Hughes - Part 1

By Ceri Shaw, 2009-01-31

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This is part 1 of an in depth interview with Rhys Hughes, the Welsh Wizard of the Absurd. Rhys was born in Porthcawl, South Wales in 1966 and plans to write exactly 1000 stories in his lifetime ( see his blog here:- The Spoons That Are My Ears ). When this interview was originally published he had completed 468. Currently his total stands at 600+. Rhys can also be found on the web at:- The Rime of The Post Modern Mariner and on his Facebook page.

AmeriCymru: You write like you''re having a fantastically fun time, are you?

Rhys: Usually, yes, it's fun. That's one of the best reasons for doing anything. Writing for me is many things. It's an urge, almost a compulsion, but it's also a pleasure. That doesn't mean it's fun all the time. No fun is always pleasurable, strange as that sounds! There's always some anxiety in the background as well, a little tension, the worry that the work I'm doing won't be the best it can be, that it won't express clearly whatever I'm trying to say, that it won't be enthralling for the reader. It's fun but it's also hard work!

But fun is definitely the guiding principle of everything I do. I don't want writing to be a chore. If it becomes a chore I'll stop doing it. I hope this sense of fun conveys itself strongly to the reader. Having said that, the fact that something has been created in a spirit of fun doesn't necessarily mean it's not completely serious, profound or poignant. It may sound a bit cheesy, but great fun creates great responsibility...

AmeriCymru: Who did you like to read when you were a child? What did you like in their stories, what made the biggest impression?

Rhys: I had a somewhat unusual childhood when it came to bedtime reading. I was given adult encyclopedias and history books to help send me to sleep, but in fact I ended up reading most of them several times. I also enjoyed reading about explorers. Marco Polo is still one of my biggest heroes. Until the age of seven or thereabouts I wanted to be an explorer myself. Then I was told there were no new places on Earth left to discover and I remember feeling an acute disappointment! Since then, of course, I've discovered that this isn't entirely true...

Another early disappointment was the realisation that not everything that appears in print is always correct! I was very gullible in my youth and believed everything I read. I also believed everything I heard, so I was easy prey for shaggy dog stories. I was told various incredible lies by plausible adults and accepted them all as facts. They told me the Eiffel Tower was an obstacle that horses jump over in races; that the town I grew up in was Australian, not Welsh, but that this was a secret; that Mount Everest was in Scotland; that rhinoceroses lived in coal mines; that dinosaurs were extinct everywhere except in France; that a mouth ulcer can be used as hard currency in shops.

I sometimes still find myself wondering why all those things aren't true...

AmeriCymru: Who do you like to read now? What do you like about their stories?

Rhys: I like a wide variety of authors, almost too many to mention, but they all tend to be highly inventive. I think it was Michael Moorcock who said he would rather read a bad writer with big ideas than a good writer with small ideas, and I agree with that. Obviously the ideal author has good style and big ideas, someone like Italo Calvino, Donald Barthelme, Jorge Luis Borges, Stanislaw Lem, Flann O''Brien, Boris Vian... Those are the writers I usually list as my favourites, together maybe with Felipe Alfau, Georges Perec, Brian Aldiss, Blaise Cendrars, John Barth, Raymond Queneau, Thomas Pynchon, John Sladek, Jack Vance and Moorcock himself.

There have been periods in my life when I discovered a new author who impressed me so much I instantly became a devotee and an avid collector of his or her work. I also suspect I tried too hard to write like them. H.G. Wells was my first literary hero, when I was about 10 years old; Poe was next, a few years later, when I started writing ''seriously'' myself; then Kafka, Frank Herbert and Ray Bradbury. I remember reading Vladimir Nabokov's novel Transparent Things when I was 19 and being utterly captivated by its contrast of subjective realities, its branching of incidents and truths, and realising that at last I had discovered an author whose impressions of the world truly matched my own. That was quite a relief... Later I learned that this isn't such a wise thing to admit, apparently because Nabokov''s impressions are ''elitist'', ''egocentric'' and ''arrogant''. I don''t share those judgements of his work, incidentally!

Another major discovery was Samuel Beckett. I had been told his works were bleak and depressing, even damaging to the soul, but when I began reading them I found myself laughing. The subject matter may be almost unbearable but his treatment of nihilism is uplifting and deeply humane. I can't understand why his early novels are so neglected. Murphy and especially Watt are comic masterpieces... Another Irish writer, Flann O'Brien, was an even bigger influence on me. Irish writers, and some Scottish writers too, have already attained what the Welsh have failed to achieve, a modern literature that is simultaneously localised and universal, introspective and extrovert, particular and broad, that is both essentially Celtic and authentically global. When it comes to literature, Wales is the poor brother of its larger Celtic neighbours, I'm afraid!

These literary revelations come with much less regularity now. Blaise Cendrars was the last author new to me who really fired me up. I hope he won''t be the last, but maybe I''ve become more set in my ways as I grow older, or perhaps I have already encountered my ideal type of writing and don't need anything different. Or maybe my ideal type of writing doesn't actually exist and perhaps I have to create it myself. Whether it will turn out to be a match for the taste of anyone else remains to be seen!

AmeriCymru: When you're writing a story, how do you feel about it? Do you think about your reader, what effect it will have on them? Do you see the page and hear the words or is it more like a movie in your head?

Rhys: To be totally honest I mostly write for myself. I write the sort of fiction I want to read, not the kind a Welsh writer is supposed to produce, whatever that might be... Calvino said something that made an impression on me. He said he wrote the kinds of books he would like to discover in the attic of an old mysterious house, in other words, books with an exotic aura, books that give off an air of something precious that was lost but is now regained. By definition the ''exotic'' is both alien and alluring, so to write fiction that is auto-exotic requires a fairly major imaginative dislocation at some point. Too much control and the special ambience will break, but too much chaos and it will be lost in a general riot of ideas and evocations.

I guess this is the same as saying I try to write stories that operate on several levels and consist of many layers, with at least some of these layers and levels defying instant interpretation and categorisation. Maybe some levels will even be in opposition to each other. Not that I want to be obscure for its own sake! On the contrary, I hope always to write logically, but there will always be space in my work for engimatic undercurrents and sometimes those more abstruse elements can carry the logical, definite parts of the work with greater force than if everything was only on one level, clearly discernable and conclusive... The point of ''fantastical'' fiction is that it really should be fantastic in the old sense of the word, with a balancing tension between control and chaos.

I rarely see my projected stories as moving films, but I do have a strong visual sense when I'm working. Before I begin a story I usually receive one or more ''still'' images which I can then extrapolate and link together. I prefer to use only images that resonate strongly within me but resonate for reasons I can''t work out... I also have a strong audio sense and frequently I'll divert the course of the story because of some opportunity that language has thrown up. I'm obsessed with wordplay! One disadvantage of this is that my dialogue is never believable, with the exception of a handful of ''realistic'' stories where I deliberately didn't bother with wordplay. If I can ever find a way to make my readers care less about the endless contrivance in the mouths of my characters, to forgive the cleverness, I'll be utterly delighted!

AmeriCymru: Do you have a regular process in creating a story or does it vary from piece to piece? Do you plan your stories or do ideas crowd out and you pick one to finish?

Rhys: My brain is constantly filling up with ideas. The process never stops! I get ideas every day and if I don't use them in a story they refuse to leave me alone, or even worse I forget them and then kick myself for not using them! This has been happening for years. I usually jot ideas down on scraps of paper for future use and then try to forget them until they are needed, whenever that might be! It seems strange now, but I recall that when I first started writing, original ideas came to me with difficulty. Some machinery in my brain must have had a good oiling since then!

I regard my growing collection of ideas as a resource or sometimes a burden! Because ideas do come with such frequency I can't bring myself to follow the orthodox rule of "one idea per story" so I'll try to use as many as possible in as short a space as possible. The danger with this is that the fiction can become overloaded, so the challenge is to make sure the ideas balance each other out in some manner, or amplify or contrast each other, in other words work together.

As for the act of writing, I have several methods that I use. One is to plan the whole thing in detail, but I don't do that very often. My novel "The Percolated Stars" was much more carefully planned than anything else I've done and it ended up having one of my most chaotic plots! Another method is to plant images or incidents through the projected story like oases in a desert and then link them up. That''s the method I use most often. A third method is to rush blindly into the story with no idea what''s going to happen, but even when I do that I still have the same basic structure in mind, which is that I want the plot to be circular, for the ending to mirror the beginning, not as an exact reflection but as a distortion, maybe enlarged or diminished or transformed by irony. I guess I could describe that kind of plotting as being a ''spiral'' rather than a circle! I was once told there's something in the Celtic soul that prefers circles and loops to straight lines. Maybe there is.

But I know exactly when I realised that circular plotting was my favourite kind. It was when I read Jack Vance's "The Eyes of the Overworld". The climax of that unusual, funny and somewhat disturbing fantasy is a repetition of the opening, but because of what has happened during the progress of the novel the context is different, changing the significance of the repeated event, making it more intense. It's a case of something being the same but different at the same time! I was enthralled by this device and decided it was a trick I wanted to play myself!

In my short novel "Eyelidiad", for instance, I began with two sentences, the very first and the very last. I knew I wanted to write a story about a man who carries a living portrait of his younger self on his back, so the first sentence had to be, "On his back, a spare head." Which in turn meant that the last sentence had to be, "On his head, a spare back." Then it was just a case of linking those two equally balanced but different statements with as wild an adventure as possible!

AmeriCymru: Your titles are really wonderful. "At the Molehills of Madness", "The Postmodern Mariner", "Bone-Idle in the Charnel House", "The Just Not So Stories", how do these come about? Do you start with a title and give it a story or the other way around or does it vary? Did these percolate in your head for years or make them up on the spot?

Rhys: For me titles are of fundamental importance. I nearly always begin with the title first. I regard the title as a kind of gene that controls the growth of the story. The more elaborate the title, the more controlled the growth. A title is also the chance for an author to write a one line poem, to create a sense of mystery. I like seeing titles that make me wonder, ''What on earth could that be about? I must know!''

Brian Aldiss said that his own favourite titles tended to be oxymorons, such as "The Dark Light Years", and I can see his point. Such titles create an insatiable curiosity! I yearn to see how the impossibility of the title is going to be resolved, or how the promise of its beauty can be delivered. Boris Vian wrote a book with a beautiful title, "Froth on the Daydream", that also happens to fully deliver its promise. Another of my favourite titles is Milorad Pavic''s "The Inner Side of the Wind", and how could I forget "Dwellers in the Mirage" by Abraham Merritt or "The Well at the World's End" by William Morris?

It's quite easy to create titles that are puns or warped versions of titles that already exist. I've done this many times, often less flippantly than might be imagined. I remember seeing Milan Kundera's novel "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and asking myself, ''Yes, but the unbearable lightness of being what…?'' The title seemed unfinished. For some reason it didn't occur to me that BEING was the quality in question… I considered the matter and decided that the most unbearable form of lightness probably belonged to a steerable balloon or zeppelin. Hence my short story ''The Unbearable Lightness of being a Dirigible''.

That was one of my first efforts in this regard. Others include ''Chuckleberry Grin'', ''Rancid Kumquats are Not the Only Fruit'', ''The Taming of the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shrew'', ''Gone With The Wind in the Willows'', ''Portrait of the Artist as a Rusty Bus'', ''The Non-Existent Viscount in the Trees'', ''Von Ryan''s Daughter''s Express'', ''Oh, Whistle While You Work, and I''ll Come to You, My Dwarf'', ''The Cream-Jest of Unset Custard'', ''Where Angels Fear to Bake Bread'', ''As I Walked Out One Midsummer Night''s Dream'', ''An Awfully Bubonic Adventure'', ''Hannah and her Cisterns'', ''Sadie Loverlei''s Chatter'' and many, many others.

That's a slightly parasitic way of creating titles and is destined to eat itself up eventually, so I also create titles in other ways. Sometimes I work hard with combinations of words until I find something that resonates. Often a phrase jumps into my head for no apparent reason. Other times someone else may say something that makes perfect sense at the time but if taken out of context becomes wholly improbable or even startling. Then I'll ask permission to use what has been said as a title. That''s how my first book "Worming the Harpy" came about. The harpy in question was originally an ugly cat. Or a title may have an obscure personal significance which sounds surreal but isn't really. "The Smell of Telescopes" is one example of that. I owned a telescope when I was younger and it did have a unique smell. I imagined that it smelled like starlight…

The best titles don't always lead to the best stories and my favourites among my own tales sometimes have fairly mundane titles. ''Eternal Horizon'', ''Less is More'', ''In the Sink'', ''But it Pours'', ''Lem's Last Book'' and ''Loneliness'' are tame titles for me but I''m pleased with the stories they tell. Sometimes a simple title is the only feasible one. If I glance at my bookshelves I see lots of great books by great writers that don't have elaborate or clever titles. ''Ice'' by Anna Kavan, ''Leaf Storm'' by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, ''Sphinx'' by D.M. Thomas, ''The Last Museum'' by Brion Gysin, etc. Simple titles but effective.

I keep a list of titles that are still awaiting stories. Whenever I come up with a new title I add it to my list. ''Pell Mell in Pall Mall'' is the most recent. I have absolutely no idea why that phrase jumped into my head, nor what the story is going to be about, other than the fact it involves great speed and must be set in London. Like I said, a gene that controls the growth of the story… Many of my favourite titles haven''t been used in stories yet. These include ''My Rabbit''s Shadow Looks Like a Hand'', ''This Werewolf Prefers Muesli'', ''Dynamiting the Honeybun'', ''Nat King Cole Abhors a Vacuum'' and ''Aldrin''s the Buzz Word'' among others… Some readers have claimed that ''Cracking Nuts with Jan Hammer'' is my best title, but I don't think it is. My personal favourite of all is actually called ''The Story with a Clever Title''.

Mr Cassini by Lloyd JonesLloyd Jones will need no introduction to most of our readers. He is the author of two novels, "Mr Vogel" and "Mr Cassini", and has recently published his first collection of short stories ( "My First Coloring Book" ). In this interview he speaks about his life, work and future literary plans

Many of your writings revolve around journeys or more particularly walks. It is well known that you do a lot of hill-walking/hiking in "real life". What initially attracted you to this form of recreation?

"I had been very ill, mentally and physically, following a major breakdown caused by stress and alcohol in 2001. As I recovered from my near-death experience I found that walking was the best medicine for body and soul. It still is - I go for a walk every day. Every walk is a celebration of the concept of freedom".

To what extent is "Mr Vogel" autobiographical?

"Almost all the book is based on my life. I walked completely around Wales, a journey of a thousand miles, in 2002/3 and I have walked across the country eight times in eight different directions since then. Also, I was a patient at Gobowen hospital in Shropshire, strapped to a metal frame for a year, when I was aged about six. The bonesetters of Anglesey, featured in my book, were a real family and they have descendants in America".

You have published a collection of poems which were distributed privately. Do you have any plans to publish further poetry anthologies?

"No. Friends have assured me that my poems should remain in a locked drawer. I have written a narrative poem for 2008 with an entry for each day - and it''s still going strong, in November. It will have 369 poems eventually, and will be published to critical acclaim when I''m dead; if my family burn it my mini-epic will be remembered as the great lost poem of the twenty-first century. Or maybe not."

It has been suggested that "Mr Cassini" is an attempt to explore and elucidate modern problems and neuroses utilizing ancient Welsh myth and legend. Is this true and if so, what role do the stories of the Mabinogion play in the book?

"Yes, Mr Cassini is an Arthurian book based on the legend of Culhwch ac Olwen - probably the first Welsh story ever recorded. Mr Cassini is also a voyage around my alcoholic father. In the Mabinogion legend, the beautiful Olwen''s father is a nasty giant who forces Culhwch to perform a number of Herculean feats before the two can wed. Arthur (Duxie in my book) helps them in their quest. I have tried to use the Arthurian legend in a contemporary Celtic context - as a reaction to the romantic and sentimental rubbish promulgated by TV and film directors."

It has often been suggested that short story writing is a very different art to novel writing. Did you find this to be the case in the course of writing the stories which make up "My First Colouring Book"?

"Short stories are supposed to be a Welsh speciality. The form doesn''t sell particularly well in Britain but it''s popular in North America. Compared to the novel, the short story is a different kettle of fish, and I enjoyed reading a wide range of exponents, from Chekhov and Maupassant to O''Henry and Kate Roberts before tackling the form myself. I thoroughly enjoyed the micro form after writing two macros."

Is there any particular theme which unites the stories in this collection?

"Eros and thanatos - love and death. And colours, obviously. There''s a mysterious, recurring house which links many of the stories. This house demanded its own presence."

What are your future writing plans?

"I have just completed the first draft of a novel in Welsh called Y Dwr (The Water), due to be published by Y Lolfa in 2009. I plan a year off in 2009: I hope to travel to India with my daughter and cross Wales for a ninth time, if I live. It''s going to be a walking year, I hope. Can''t wait. I have no plans for a book after that because I think I''ve dumped enough poo on a very patient Welsh public. Maybe some more short stories?"

Do you have a particular process when you write? Do you have to set yourself up to write or just jot it on candy bar wrappers or do anything in particular to grease your creative wheels?

"Every book is different and has its own dictates, but I tend to write on a laptop in short bursts in the early morning, on my own, in absolute silence. I write a first version, leave it for a while, then return to it. At some stage I engineer a transaction to another person, during which I perceive what needs to be done without words being exchanged. I see myself as a free range hobby writer who delivers bantham eggs complete with shit and straw."

How important is Anglo-Welsh literature to the future development of a distinct Welsh cultural identity?

"Sport, war and literature are possibly the most important components of nationalism. Wales has constantly reinvinted itself to stay ''alive''. If there are enough people who feel passionately about the country, Wales will survive; but the country is under enormous pressure at the moment because of a massive incoming and other global forces, so the next 100 years could be decisive. I wouldn''t like to predict the outcome. We are at the crossroads: Wales could go the Cornish way or it could go the Scottish way. My own writing could be another tiny evolutionary addition to Welsh morphology, or it could be one of its death throes."

Any plans to visit the US?

"American foreign policy under Bush really frightened and angered me: I found it hard to be objective and optimistic about the USA for quite some time. Also, our TV channels are clogged with poor American programmes; I fear that Britain is losing its identity, almost becoming a ghost American state like Puerto Rica. It seems to me at a distance that America is two countries, one dominated by thoughtful liberal people who tend to be on the Democrat wing, and another ''country'' dominated by the Republican Christian right. The latter is a big turn-off for me, so I have to fight a tendency to be bigoted against America with its putrid Hollywood/cool/gunslinging culture, although I know that the continent has also produced a huge amount of excellent stuff in the last century. I suppose I have become reactionary about hawkish America, while tending to forget that America is stuffed full of normal, decent people. Perhaps I have fallen into the trap of simplification and generalisation. But I get the impression, with the election of Obama, that America is now more willing to listen to the rest of the world. I would like to shrug aside my bigotry and come over to see the many beautiful places in America."

Many people in the US are concerned to promote Wales to the wider American public.. What do you think is the most important thing that Americans can learn from the history and culture of Wales?"

Small countries face a constant battle for survivial. Their biggest threat is the screen. Television, cinema and computers have made it increasingly possible for people to live in a virtual world, and that''s the most striking change during my lifetime: the virtualisation of the world. I won''t even watch nature programmes on TV now because it''s too convenient to watch pretty-pretty ahhhh material on the screen whilst the real thing is being wiped out all around us. People will watch panda bears on TV whilst never thinking of looking at a live robin in their garden. Wales is real and it''s different. Wouldn''t it be awful if everywhere in the world were the same? I''m planning to visit India next Spring. Wouldn''t it be terrible if India were full of little Lloyd Joneses? I''d throw myself in the Indian Ocean! As the French say, Vive le difference!"

"Wales has survived against incredible odds. Many thousands of people, probably millions, have died in the fight to keep Wales ''different''. The story of Wales is amazing. The literature of Wales is amazing. And the people of Wales are amazing. It''s a tiny, beautiful country with fabulous diversity. But the Welsh are now an endangered species; the old, shy upland folk are disappearing. Do your bit to save a truly original and different minority. Help to save Wales any way you can...and the best way is to say proudly: I''m Welsh!"