Ceri Shaw



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Category: Author Interviews


AmeriCymru: Hi Eloise and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. How did you become the first Children's Laureate Wales? What is the selection process?

Eloise: You are very welcome. Thanks for inviting me! It's so good to be here. 

Literature Wales, the national company for the development of literature in Wales, put out a call for expressions of interest. I'd worked with young people a lot over the years - taught Drama and English, developed plays with community and youth theatres, toured with theatre-in-education projects - and since starting to write for young people I'd run hundreds of creative writing workshops to develop writing skills, creativity and imagination. I thought I'd express my interest so that I would be considered for the role at some point in the future, without any expectation of being considered for the position. Needless to say, I am thrilled to have been selected. It's an honour and a privilege.  

AmeriCymru: You are involved in a project to create a new updated version of the Mabinogion. Can you tell us more about this exciting project?

Eloise: Absolutely! The Mabinogion are the oldest British stories to be written down and are a really important part of our heritage. When the author Matt Brown came to me with the idea to get these stories written specifically for young readers, I thought it was genius. I also couldn't believe it hadn't been done already! 

In all honesty, I was hesitant to become involved at first. I have a pretty full timetable with laureate work and work as an author, but in the end, I decided that it was a really important and meaningful project and one I would definitely need to get behind. 

It came as a shock to me how little I knew about the stories. Casting my mind back, I know we didn't learn about them at school and though most of them have crept into my consciousness somewhere along the line, it just seemed dreadful that I didn't have a better knowledge of them. We hope this collection will mean that young people everywhere will have the opportunity to fall in love with these stories and that they can be celebrated and known by everyone! 

We have a fantastic line-up of great Welsh writers, authors and poets bringing the stories to life - Claire Fayers, Sophie Anderson, PG Bell, Alex Wharton, Hanan Issa, Darren Chetty, Zillah Bethell, Catherine Johnson, Nicola Davies, Matt Brown and me - and the stories will be told in diverse and creative ways. All eleven tales will be translated into Welsh by Bethan Gwanas in the same volume so that they can be read alongside the English versions, and the collection will be beautifully illustrated by the brilliant artist Max Low. It's a really exciting project and we are doing everything we can to shout about it!  


( Click the image above to go to the 'Mab' support page )

AmeriCymru: When will the new Mabinogion be available and where will readers be able to purchase it online? 

Eloise: This is where readers can help us to make this a reality! We are crowdfunding the project through a company called Unbound . There are all sorts of rewards you can get your hands on - a copy signed by all of the authors, a tote bag, original art work, virtual author visits - you get your name printed in the back of the book and you'll be part of something really important. We would love it if you would support this project if you are able and if you could help us to spread the word that would be absolutely wonderful too. 

AmeriCymru: What does the Children's Laureate do and what are you hoping to achieve in this role?

Eloise: The Children's Laureate role has been created to highlight the importance of, and to promote, creative writing by and for young people in Wales. It gives me an opportunity to work with lots of children who may not already see themselves as storytellers. I believe everyone is made of stories and all voices and words are important. I encourage creativity and imagination over spelling and grammar. I think lots of young people – and older people too - are put off telling stories because they worry about their academic ability.

It’s only my opinion, but I believe that punctuation is something that can be sorted at a later date. Without imagination there is nothing to edit in the first place.

I want all young people to see themselves as part of the literature landscape of Wales. We need vibrant new voices from all sectors of the community, and I see it as part of my job to convince young people of how essential a part they play in making this happen.

The platform also gives me a chance to put a spotlight on children’s writers from Wales which is just a lovely thing to do. We have so many talented writers creating children’s stories with such expertise. It’s a joy to be able to celebrate their words.

AmeriCymru: You are also the patron of reading for a school. What is a patron of reading?

Eloise: I've been a patron of reading for three different schools over the last five years. It's a role to promote the value of reading for pleasure and to break down the barriers between the author and the reader. It's been a fantastic opportunity to have a close relationship with schools and for the young people to have an author at their disposal! 

We launched the Children’s Laureate Wales initiative at one of the schools. I’ve run creative writing competitions with them, co-written stories with pupils, answered questions about the writing process, discussed how to become an author and what it is like when you are published. They’ve let me know what they are reading, and we chat about why they like certain stories more than others. It’s up to the author how much time and connection they want with each school and it’s beneficial on both sides. I’ve run new pieces of writing past young people to get their feedback and they’ve given their feedback very honestly!

AmeriCymru: You currently live in Pembrokeshire but you have lived elsewhere in Wales in the past. Care to tell our readers a little about your history?

Eloise: I was born in St. David’s Hospital in Canton opposite where Ivor Novello was born. I was the first baby on Easter morning which meant my mother was given a celebratory cake by the nursing staff. She was thrilled until they shared it out with everyone on the ward. I have inherited this selfishness when it comes to cake.

For the first few years of my life I lived close to Victoria Park in Canton and then Caerphilly, I remember very little of this time though I romantically recall it as a time I played next to one of the most magnificent castles in the world.

From there we went to live in the historical town of Llantrisant with another castle – smaller and much more ruined – practically in our back garden. Llantrisant was a place of festivals and beating the bounds, historically the home of Dr. William Price a famous Victorian vegetarian nudist and a pioneer of legal cremation, it has a forest to one side of it complete with Bronze Age burial mounds and is laced in legend. We had stories under our feet wherever we walked.

AmeriCymru: When did you first decide to write? How would you describe your creative process?

Eloise: I decided to take the MA in Creative and Media Writing at Swansea University and graduated in 2011 with Distinction which was a definite surprise to me. I’ve always been creative but not particularly successful academically.

I'd been on the road for a long time, touring around different theatres across the UK and had been having a glorious and very tiring time. A decade as an actor was a wonderful experience. I got to act in some of the most superb plays ever written and learned about character and story and most importantly, I think, the sound and spell of words. One fateful day, I was on a stage at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff and I decided that I had words of my own to say instead of other people’s scripts, and I wanted to write them down. I've always been impetuous and knew to trust this instinct to write but I didn't have the confidence to go ahead without trying some skills out first. University workshops were humbling and scary, but I stuck with it, whilst holding down lots of different jobs, and despite being sent a letter to tell me I was at risk of being dismissed from the course for non-attendance (work often clashed with workshops) I eventually graduated. 

My creative process seems to be different for every project. I tend to start VERY enthusiastically with an INCREDIBLE idea, then reach what I have now named the grumble stage. This is where I make low murmuring and disparaging remarks about my ability to create anything at all ever again. Once these two stages are out of the way, I get to work. Research first (and during). I plot a bit now - I used to just forge straight ahead. I use record cards to jot down thoughts and have a drawer where I stash all the glittering ideas for other books which appear bright and shiny and tap dancing through my head when I don’t need them. I work hard, make sure I turn up at my laptop, get frustrated most days. Some days are beautiful and filled with a sense of achievement but lots of days are graft. I guess I have a strong inbuilt work ethic from my parents which has seen me through the more difficult drafts. I also love to question and create almost as much as I love to procrastinate. I turn my WiFi off.

Wilde.jpg AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about your new novel Wilde ?

Eloise: Wilde is a story which is essentially about celebrating individuality and also about being kind to yourself.

The blurb goes :

Can she break the curse of the witch called Winter?

Being different can be dangerous. Wilde is afraid when strange things happen around her. Are the birds following her? Moving to live with her aunt seems to make it worse. Wilde is desperate to fit in at her new school. But in a fierce heatwave, in rehearsals for a school play telling the local legend of a witch called Winter, ‘The Witch’ starts leaving pupils frightening curse letters. Can Wilde find out who’s doing it before everyone blames her? Or will she always be the outsider?

Wilde has witches and waterfalls and history and legends. It also has a donkey named Duran Duran which gives my age away, I fear! 

AmeriCymru: What's next for Eloise Williams? Any new titles in the offing?

Eloise: This is where my superstitions jump in and tell me that if I give away any information at all I will jinx everything I have coming up. I think I developed this strange and wonderful superstitious nature while working as an actor. There's a lot of ritual and belief in luck in that career. Not mentioning the Scottish Play by name, no whistling backstage, turning in a circle three times and spitting, or some such thing?!

In other words - I do have some things in the pipeline but I can't tell you anything specific about them! I'll be following my love of folklore and fable, history and landscape, all that is other and strange and a little bit odd, down various pathways. I know that's pretty vague but it’s all I can give away at the moment. 

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

Eloise: As I said earlier, we are all made of stories – that includes you! Tell your stories to other people. Tell them in any way you want to. Get them out there and celebrate them. Who knows, your stories could be part of a Mab collection in the future!

Paul Steffan Jones has been a regular and much valued contributor to this site for many years. Recently he has posted a series of poems which address the covid crisis and his reaction to it. AmeriCymru spoke to Paul about his recent work and how Wales is faring in the ongoing pandemic. The individual poems discussed below are linked from the interview but if you want to browse more of Paul's work please go here:- Paul Steffan Jones Author Page.


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AmeriCymru: Hi Paul and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Many of your recent poems have been focused on the current Covid pandemic. Do you think that the British government has handled this crisis well?

Paul: My opinion is that the UK Government has made many mistakes in dealing with this crisis which ultimately have added to the casualty list.  We were slow to enter lockdown, there have been major issues in the supply of Personal Protective Equipment to health and care workers, we were lethargic in setting up testing and the Government did not immediately protect elderly residents and staff in care homes.  In short, virtually everything that could have gone wrong has. There has been a lack of honesty and transparency from the Cabinet. About the only positive response was the Job Retention Scheme where the Government effectively became the employer of millions of workers.  In my view their general incompetence and laziness has allowed many thousands to die.  A selection of people from the hamlet in which I live could have done better....

AmeriCymru: Has Wales fared any better (or differently) to the rest of the British Isles?

Paul: Wales seems to be adopting a more cautious attitude towards the relaxation of lockdown rules leading to a feeling that its Government is being more protective of its citizens than its English counterpart which appears to be more economy-led.

AmeriCymru:  In your work, The Platitude Attitude we find the following line: 'Ground Control to Captain Tom' repeated twice at the end of the poem. Care to explain the Captain Tom reference for an American audience?

Paul: Captain Tom is Captain Tom Moore.  100 years old, a World War Two veteran of Burma and India who raised over £32 million for the National Health Service by doing a 100 lap walk of his garden.  He is an inspirational figure at a time when our leaders were lacking in this quality.  His selfless act illustrated how revered our NHS is but also the widely held realisation that it has been underfunded by the Government for a decade and therefore not necessarily at the best starting point for a pandemic. 

AmeriCymru:  Is The Platitude Attitude a poem of hope or despair (or both)?

Paul: Both.  We have to move from despair to a better place. We have to remove a Government that thinks that 54,000 dead is a success.  The crisis has illustrated how venal, corrupt and uncaring it is.  But it has also shown that ordinary people have rediscovered a sense of community and worked together to mitigate some of the issues thrown up by the pandemic.  I think that the break up of the United Kingdom is more likely as a result of the crisis and the way in which it has been mismanaged.  The improvement in the environment is a source of hope and one we ought to continue.

AmeriCymru: You seem, in common with a number of his colleagues, to have a low opinion of the current British Prime Minister. What in particular inspired Amen , your equally humorous and vicious adaptation of 'The Lord's Prayer'?

Paul: I don't think the Prime Minister is up to the job.  I believe the current Cabinet is the most untalented since 1938, chosen to push through a no deal exit from the European Union and little else.  Our leader is a stranger to the truth and guilty of protecting the job of his chief adviser when he clearly broke lockdown rules that he helped draw up. I thought the Lord's Prayer was an appropriate vehicle for that poem as it is well known and Boris Johnson has such an inflated opinion of himself that such a satire was irresistible. 

AmeriCymru: What particular event inspired your harrowing poem Remember the Young ?

Paul: This was a fairly early event as the figures were mounting up and panic had set in.  It struck me because it was such a tragedy that a young child had died of a disease that we were told mainly affected older people.  As the crisis worsened, the humanity of the tragedy shone through in individuals' tales. The loneliness of a Covid-19 death must be overwhelming and to lose a child in this manner must have been doubly heartbreaking.

AmeriCymru: What are you working on at the moment? Any new publications imminent?

Paul: I am working on new Coronavirus poems but am undecided what to do with them when complete.  I am still working on the Gwaelod project with the artist Chris Rawson-Tetley and we are currently considering putting out a publication of the work. I am also still writing for the George Orwell-inspired project Room 103.

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

Paul: Keep safe and believe in a better world. Thanks for reading my work.

Matthew G. Rees.jpg keyhole.jpg


AmeriCymru: Hi Matthew and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce your short story collection 'Keyhole' for our readers.

Matthew: Thanks for having me and thanks for taking the interest that you do in writing that comes out of Wales.

Keyhole is a collection of eighteen short stories set in Wales and its borderland with England known as the Marches. The stories lean to what might loosely be called ‘the supernatural’. They’re mainly set in the present or the recent past, with, at times, explorations of history, such as the rehabilitation of wounded servicemen at a remote hospital in the era of the First World War.

An important thing to say is that, although I hope there is some strongly ‘realist’ writing in the collection, Wales is not seen in a literal way, as if captured by a camera. Instead, it is quite often viewed at a slant . . . presented askew. We see things through the eyes of characters who tend to be dislocated from their surroundings.

‘Horror’, as a blanket term, is, I suspect, inaccurate (though people have told me they have found passages in certain stories a little frightening – in a thought-provoking way). I think it’s probably important to say that the stories certainly aren’t heavily concerned with violence and gore. Neither are they full-on fantasies.

My intention is for the reader to always keep one foot in our own recognisable world, while – like my characters – reaching out and tentatively stepping into another, adjoining world.

I wrote the collection while doing a PhD at Swansea University. Only a small part of my life has been in a campus environment. I was a newspaper journalist for ten years. I’ve had a number of jobs, including time as a night-shift cab driver. I’ve also been a teacher, working in Moscow for a period. Doing the PhD and a master’s before it, was, in part, an opportunity to try to make some sense of what I wanted to experiment with. No one needs a college degree to write though. In Wales, figures such as ‘Super-Tramp’ W.H. Davies and the miner Bert Coombes, whose home as a young man was a dirt-poor smallholding in a village close to where I grew up, have taught us that.

AmeriCymru: You have said that you are interested in fiction that explores 'the liminal'. How is this distinguished from the supernatural?

Matthew: Interesting question. Without reaching for the Oxford English Dictionary, I’ll give you my take on what I think is the difference, particularly with regard to short stories. Several scholars have stressed the short story’s historic preoccupation with people and places outside the mainstream. Authors such as Melville, Chekhov and Gogol were pioneers in writing about cab drivers, minor clerks and so on – people whose lives had never really been written about previously. Guy de Maupassant, meanwhile, introduced his readers to goings-on in small towns and country villages. Closer to our own times, Raymond Carver wrote of suburban figures and their struggles in a way that made us care about them. For her part, Flannery O’Connor interested us in slightly more grotesque characters on farms in the American South. In one way or another, therefore, we’ve grown accustomed to reading about people whose lives are somehow in the margins. The critic and writer Frank O’Connor spoke of ‘submerged’ populations, though I think that term perhaps underplays how raw those margins can sometimes be. When it comes to the ‘liminal’, I think we’re that further step away again from the mainstream, to the point that we’re at the edge of the map . . . perhaps actually straddling a line or border, beyond which is a world that is recognisable and yet not quite the one that we know.

The short story has a long association with the supernatural. In the 12 th century, Walter Map, who is thought to have been Welsh, and William of Newburgh, were writing about folklore, mysteries and vampires. For me, the vampire – particularly the business of changing to and from a creature that is small, winged and furry – is an outright supernatural phenomenon: it is something that is beyond the laws of science and nature. But a story such as Daphne du Maurier’s ‘The Birds’ (which is not at all like Hitchcock’s movie) seems very liminal. Physically, the birds are the same feathered creatures they have always been, and yet they have crossed into a frightening, brutal way of being, having lost all fear of humans. In the story, we find ourselves dealing with the known and the unknown simultaneously.

To give an example from Keyhole , in the story ‘I’ve Got You’ figures made from seashells rise from a beach where they have been studded on the shore. Many of us have perhaps seen shapes crafted from shells pressed into wet sand. For them to rise and have lives is perhaps fantastic, yet less so when we remember that they were always meant to be people.

In short, I think of the liminal as a borderland of possibility, between what is and what might be . . . the edge of the seen moon, if you like, and its dark side. It’s very important to remember though that not everything from that ‘other side’ will be negative. Just because something is mysterious doesn’t mean that it can’t also be good, as I hope one of my stories in Keyhole , ‘Dragon Hounds’, demonstrates.

AmeriCymru: You quote Arthur Machen in the epigraph to your collection. Has Machen influenced your writing and do you think that he is sufficiently recognized in the modern age?

Matthew:  ‘. . . the unknown world is, in truth, about us everywhere, everywhere near to our feet, the thinnest veil separates us from it, the door in the wall of the next street communicates with it.’ The epigraph comes from Machen’s book The London Adventure , which I believe was first published in 1924. It’s a rather endearing memoir, far removed from the likes of his horror novella The Great God Pan . I’m aware of Machen, of course, and have read some of his main works such as Pan , his ‘decadent’ novel The Hill of Dreams and stories such as ‘The Bowmen’, which I reference in a story of my own (albeit not in the Keyhole collection). He was undoubtedly a central figure in the development of a genre that’s sometimes called ‘weird’ fiction or ‘weird horror’. He also wrote some lovely descriptive prose beyond that genre. He’s a writer I came to fairly late, so I don’t think he can be classed as a formative influence or someone who I’m like as a matter of routine. Quite recently, though, when writing a story, I definitely had Machen in the back of my head. Eventually, the dark humour (I hope!) in that particular story rather removes it from the realms of Machen. But when a reader – who knows a lot more about Machen than me – told me he thought certain passages were Machen-like, I was rather pleased.

I wouldn’t want to press the point too hard, but, yes, there are connections. We’re sons of the same (southern) end of the Marches and, for a period, were both newspapermen. I know certain places he mentions in various memoirs. My sister went to his school. He and I have each written dark tales set in Wales and the borderlands (in his case, ‘The Gift of Tongues’ and ‘The Children of the Pool’ are two that quickly come to mind), and so on.

Although definitely interesting, he was never a truly major literary figure. He was a jobbing writer, if you like, turning his hand to all sorts in an effort to pay the bills. The sheer volume and range of his output – translations, eccentric treatises, newspaper articles – perhaps militated against him producing a classic of the kind that might have secured his reputation (in the loftier sense).

There seems in recent years to have been a shift in the focus of many short stories, away from incidents of strangeness to what can sometimes seem less dramatic (indeed, perhaps rather domestic) matters, seemingly aimed at a college-educated and middle-class stratum of reader. With this, has been a sense that a short story should carry a message for society. These developments have, I think, damaged writers such as Machen. His contemporary Walter de la Mare comes to mind as a possible ‘casualty’.

If you look through the history of the short story you find that up to say the mid-point or third quarter of the 20 th century its practitioners in the English-speaking world often had backgrounds in, or ties with, newspapers and magazines: Edgar Allan Poe, Damon Runyon, Rudyard Kipling, Machen, Edgar Wallace, Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, Mavis Gallant and Graham Greene, to name but some. What was in play, I suspect, was the journalistic instinct for ‘man bites dog’, an effective continuation of the thread from those earlier times of Walter Map and William of Newburgh. Think of Hemingway’s macabre story ‘An Alpine Idyll’. Other writers, such as du Maurier and Agatha Christie, shared this approach.

These days a published story-writer is more likely to be a practising academic, a graduate of a creative writing course, or a novelist who occasionally writes a story ‘on the side’. The world is different, ‘life experience’ is different. The subjects that are written about won’t be the same. Material now, it seems, is more likely to be about issues, relationships and lives conducted in urban / metropolitan environments.

There are still huge hitters in the field of what might loosely be called ‘the supernatural’, of course, such as Stephen King and Dean Koontz. But when it comes to perhaps the ‘literary’ short story, the ‘strange’ – in terms of those stories that get attention – seems to have rather been sucked out of things (though an ‘underground’, for want of a better word, featuring some very good work at times, continues online and in print among some smaller publishers).

Machen is not alone in having suffered. A number of interesting if rather minor writers from his era, such as Richard Middleton (‘The Ghost-Ship’) and the formerly popular L.A.G. Strong (‘The Rook’) have all but disappeared.

Having said that, plenty of people are working hard on Machen’s behalf (not least the publishers of Keyhole , Three Impostors press of Newport, Gwent, who’ve brough out several special editions of his work and other interesting small books, such as their Wentwood Tales series). Machen has a not insignificant following that is said to include Stephen King, Mick Jagger and Dr Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. That we are talking of Machen, more than seventy years after his death, is surely proof of something. However, I suspect that, for some, quite a lot of the allure is due not so much to his writing as to his ‘mystic’ involvements, the ‘set’ he was part of (including figures such as the occultist A.E. Waite) and those who were his contemporaries, such as Wilde and Beardsley.

AmeriCymru: In what way do you think that growing up in the Welsh Marches has affected your writing?

Matthew: Our environments ought to be very influential. I see young people walking through wonderful parks, or on beaches, wearing headphones, and I think, ‘Why on earth would you want to do that?’ Even a bus ride is an opportunity for a writer to listen and observe (discreetly!). The Marches – the borderland between England and Wales - is a special place. So many writers have been moved by it: Thomas Traherne, Machen, A.E. Housman, John Masefield and Bruce Chatwin, to name but a few. It is neither England nor Wales. It is a place somehow on and of its own – as if those countries beside it don’t really exist, or, at best, merely wash upon its shores. My teens were in a village on the edge of a small cathedral city on the English side, though my family has been Welsh for generations.

It remains a rural borderland of farms and woodlands and hills. Machen and Francis Kilvert, the Victorian clergyman whose diary is one of my favourite books, would know it still. And yet there have been pressures . . . changes. I wonder if it isn’t perhaps becoming another ‘Chiantishire’ for the moneyed classes (both English and Welsh). Local wages, particularly in non-public jobs, have tended to be among the lowest in the UK. Services such as transport – the railway in the lovely Golden Valley closed in the 1950s – seem to me (as a bus and rail user) seriously lacking, away from the main towns. Oh that such places might have a drop of the billions in public money being pumped into the proposed new London-Birmingham railway line, known as HS2, and, in the case of communities on the Welsh side, a more meaningful share of what at times seems some very Cardiff-centric investment in Wales.

To my dismay, bats, moths, other insects and birds that I used to encounter all seem to have become depleted in a way that should worry all of us. Salmon seem terribly scarce in rivers that were famous for them. I like to think, unusual and speculative as some of my fiction might now and then seem, that it is also outward-facing and that it speaks, at times, to these serious concerns.

I think the two or three years before I started what for the most part was my senior school, were probably very influential ones for me. I roamed lanes and woods and was aware of country people of a kind who have perhaps become rare.

The weather of that time – notably the drought of 1976 and winters when we were effectively ‘snowed-in’ – certainly left its mark on me. The haunting power of that drought summer shows itself, I suspect, in my story ‘Rain’ in Keyhole .

Although not so very long ago, life was unquestionably different. We’re talking pre-Internet, pre-cell-phone, a time when there were three channels on your tv – if your set was able to receive them. Corona was a pop / soda that came from a factory in Porth, in the Rhondda, in South Wales.

I remember walking on lovely summer evenings through fields with my father, sister and our dog to our nearest pub (my mother enjoying the peace of the house in our absence), and then home again in the gloaming. On Saturdays, I’d catch a country bus into town with my sister to ‘Saturday Morning Pictures’, a show of (mainly old) movies for youngsters at an old-fashioned Odeon theatre.

If all this sounds idyllic, I should perhaps temper it with some more sombre memories. One being my awareness – and fear – at this time of a seriously nasty criminal. His name was Donald Neilson and he was known as ‘The Black Panther’ (nothing to do with politics or ethnicity – Neilson was white, but for the speed with which he moved and the dark clothing that he wore). He was a housebreaker, armed robber, kidnapper and murderer, and he brought terror to the English West Midlands, the territory adjacent to our part of the Marches. My particular fear, as an eight / nine-year-old, arose from the fact that a part of our house had served as the post office for our village. And armed robbery of small post offices was something in which Neilson specialised, violently raiding a large number.

When my parents bought our house, the fact that they had full-time jobs in teaching led to the post office re-locating to our local gas station, which was, in fact, a better place for it to be. But I still feared that Neilson might come one night, and I was relieved when he was caught and jailed (on a whole-life tariff).

I don’t watch much television but recently I had my set on late, tuned by chance to a minor channel. Suddenly, Neilson’s face was there, staring out from the screen, in a documentary about his life and crimes. It was as if The Black Panther, who’d prowled my childhood, was following me still.

I should say also that in these years I saw the destructive power of not only drought, but forces such as Dutch elm disease, which killed a lot of trees. Sometimes you would see a line of them undergoing startling, ugly deaths. I had a growing awareness too of the dangers of pesticides and the pollution of our watercourses.

All these things may go some way to explaining the sense of menace that I’m told can be found in certain of my stories.

AmeriCymru: How would you characterise your creative process? How does the idea for one of your fantastical tales seed itself in your mind?

Matthew: The creative process is one of fusion, in which all kinds of things bump up against one another. The writer Iris Gower said something about it being impossible to teach ‘creativity’, and I suspect she was right (though I think would-be writers can help themselves by doing simple things, like paying attention to the world that surround us). Things like ‘technique’ can be learned, but the creative impulse just happens. Something that occurs in my own case is that an image presents itself in my mind’s eye, which more or less demands to be written about. A physical shiver or tingle sometimes comes with it. Although I don’t wish to sound self-promoting by placing myself in their company, figures such as Vladimir Nabokov, Martin Amis, Stephen King and Mavis Gallant have spoken of something similar (a vision or physical sensation). Flannery O’Connor and Graham Greene spoke of the importance of the unconscious in the writing process, and I agree. Although there have been times when I have consciously developed a story from, say, an anecdote or fact that I’ve heard, that tends to be something that happens fairly rarely. Experts in this field have spoken of something called ‘unbidden perception’ – the impact on the mind of those things that creep into it when our thoughts and actions are elsewhere.

AmeriCymru: If you had to pick one story from this collection for a public reading or similar event, which one would you choose and why?

Matthew: That’s difficult. Although I have done it and will do it, I’m not over-fond of reading (something I’ve written) in public. I’m awkward about the showiness of it, as I suppose many – possibly most – writers are. When I write a story, it’s because I feel a compulsion to write that story, rather than wanting to later read it aloud to people. Above all, perhaps, I want the reader to have a sense of intimacy – the sense that this story is for them alone. I had that when I first read Raymond Carver, a long time ago. Something similar happened with the poetry of Ted Hughes, though I first encountered that in a class situation, so the feeling was a little different.

Having said all of that, we were privileged to launch Keyhole at Dylan Thomas’s home in Swansea – 5 Cwmdonkin Drive – and I did indeed read there, in what had been the Thomas family’s front parlour, which was quite something for me.

The nature of a story tends to tell me how – stylistically – it ought to be written. Sometimes the prose will need to be calm and straightforward, other times language that is perhaps more poetic or elevated will be required. Sometimes you will also want the language to reflect things such as movement, or the character of the protagonist and so on. I tried in the opening of my story ‘The Press’ to find language that would reflect the trot and bob of a boy on a horse and also give an immediate vivid sense of the countryside in which the story is set. The use there of the present tense is deliberate. Elsewhere, the aim of the language in the opening of ‘The Service at Plas Trewe’ is to cast a spell, if you like, in a story about an old Welsh house/hotel and its unlovely ghost. Different again, the language that opens ‘Sand Dancer’ hopefully helps convey the eccentric mind of its main character.

To be honest, I’d sooner have an actor do it (and make a better job), in I think the way Richard Burton did with the work of Dylan Thomas. Realistically, in the definite absence of Burton and the probable absence of Michael Sheen, I suspect I’d ask the audience if they had a request, then talk about the story for a little while, then stand and do my best to deliver.  

AmeriCymru: What's next for Matthew G. Rees? Any new publications planned?

Matthew: At the time of this interview, I’m editing a collection of dark (and, I hope, at times darkly humorous) stories I’ve written, that I hope will see the light before too long. A couple of the tales are set in Wales with others set in England, Russia and America, and also, in places, Scotland and France. I hope they’ll appeal to readers with a taste for Roald Dahl, Walter de la Mare, Algernon Blackwood and, of course, Arthur Machen. More stories and a novel are in the mix. I’ve had a couple of plays performed professionally and would love to do a third when theatres are back in business. Some readers seem to think the kind of writing I do lends itself to audio and even film. Those are things I’d definitely like to explore. Interested parties can get in touch via the email address at my website www.matthewgrees.com

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

Matthew: Thank you – Diolch yn fawr - for having me! I hope I haven’t rambled on too long. I also hope that anyone who reads my book will enjoy it. It’s available through selected sellers in Wales, London and the USA and via the publishers whose website is www.threeimpostors.co.uk

Anyone wishing to know more about me and my ongoing writing and publications can find information on my website www.matthewgrees.com

Finally, may I wish you all, at this time when our worlds have been turned upside down, good health. Iechyd da!

whererowansintertwinekindle1.jpg AmeriCymru: Margaret and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce your historical novel Where Rowans Intertwine for our readers?

Margaret: Hmm!  Thank you Ceri.  Lovely to ‘be here’ in touch with people who love Wales as I do.  We are now retired to Lincolnshire, but I still have such a strong hiraeth for the beautiful land that nurtured me for 23 years.

Most teachers will know how frenetic full time teaching is and how time consuming.  However, although I had a delightful job running the kindergarten in a small school on Anglesey, I was in for a big shock. Chronic fatigue syndrome along with an exacerbated spinal injury ended my teaching career.  We’ve all heard the maxim, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,’ so, I decided to make the best of things and use my time usefully.  I began to research and write the novel I had always wanted to read.

For me the book needed to be historical, have some sort of magical quality, be spiritually nourishing and of course have an edgy romance.  It would have to answer unsettling questions about the sacred mountain where we lived when bringing up our children on the island of Anglesey.  I was severely disabled, but I needed a raison d’être and new focus.  I grasped the opportunity life afforded and, when I was bedbound, began painstaking research into the period of Romano Celtic history that followed the slaughter of the Druids on the shores of Anglesey (Mona) in North Wales 2000 years ago.

There was something so beautiful and mystical about the sacred mountain of Mynydd Llwydiarth where we lived; with a forest behind us and Snowdonia spread out at our feet.  (It is now a red squirrel sanctuary) When feeling well, I had often roamed the mountain forest behind our cottage and allowed the plants and earth beneath my feet to ‘speak to me’.  Ancient memories seemed to surface from the old rocks.  I became convinced that a Celtic priestess had lived on the site of our house around 2000 years ago.  Her story begged to be told.

When I was able to kneel, I began writing in short bursts, supporting myself on a kneeling stool.  With hands on Reiki healing and medical herbalism I began to regain some measure of strength.  I decided to train as a Reiki healer myself, so that I could manage to take away my own pain.  I found this so useful in gaining empathy with Ceridwen, the main character in the novel.  Like me, at the beginning of her story she is a novice healer.
As my health gradually improved, I was able to spend longer at the writing; but it took me twelve years. Then came the task of finding an agent and a publisher.  It was so frustrating.  Agents and publishers made encouraging noises, but nothing materialized, so I decided to go down the route of self-publishing.  It wasn’t a good idea for a technophobe like myself.  But, with the right support from friends and being able to find a brilliant professional formatter, it finally got published.  It took 24 years from start to finish, but it is now an ebook and is also available in a glossy paperback on Amazon sites.

If you want to know more about the story, here’s the blurb I wrote for Amazon:

‘After the death of her grandmother, young novice priestess and healer, Ceridwen, is faced with the daunting responsibility of ministering to her Celtic tribe at a time when spiritual leadership is most needed.  It is over two hundred years since Roman invaders attempted to annihilate the Druids on the shores of the island of Mona (Anglesey in North Wales).

Is now is the time for healing and forging a future from that hateful carnage?  Is her attraction to a Roman surgeon, Marcus, a weakness, or her destiny?  Dare she allow herself to be drawn into a relationship with him, now that she will be expected to mate at the sacred time of Beltane; and how can she steer her tribe away from its current chieftain, who usurps the nobility of Druid leadership in exchange for a reign of intimidation and terror? Their lives entwine and unfold in the setting of Mynydd Llwydiarth - the sacred mountain on the island of Mona.

Charged with passing the secrets and wisdom of her Druid training down the generations through the female line, she questions why she cannot conceive a girl child.  The true magic she comes to learn, as her life unfolds, is more about love and loyalty than ritual, more about justice than tribe.

Interpreted as an allegory of the era we live in, where there are clashes of both culture and ideals, we can empathise with the process; but, for both Ceridwen and Marcus it is an agonizing spiritual journey of self searching and response to their times.

‘Where Rowans Intertwine’ is an historical novel which will interest those who enjoy a mystical tale, a spiritual quest, and a dip into the past.  It will fascinate those interested in things Celtic, Roman or Pagan, and create an awakening to healing and life purpose.

More details can be found at www.margaretgrantauthor.wordpress.com

So far I’ve been lucky enough to have many five star reviews on all Amazon sites and Goodreads.  I’m now busy doing local book signings in Lincolnshire.  However, at Easter 2016 I managed a long awaited trip to North Wales to do book signings at Caernarfon Castle, The Ucheldre Centre, Holyhead, Oriel Môn, Llangefni and the Bulkeley Arms Hotel, Beaumaris.  It was a great opportunity to sell signed copies of the paperback and meet old friends and new.

AmeriCymru: Do you think that Druidic practices survived the Roman occupation of Ynys Mon? Do you think that more should have been done to preserve those ancient traditions?

Margaret: I met and interviewed people on Anglesey who claimed to have been descendants of Druids. They said that, as Druid teachings went underground during the Roman occupation, the practices of healing, prophesying and conducting the sacred rituals at the festival times fell to the women.  They claimed that the secret sacred teachings were passed down through the female line, emerging today in several formats such as medical herbalism, hands on healing as well as wiccan and pagan rituals.

It would seem to make sense. The Romans knew how politically influential the Druids were to the tribal chiefs and kings of the time.  Destroying their power base was crucial to Roman civilization.  To survive, Druid teachings had to go underground, but we can see echoes of it in Christian rituals at Christmas, Easter and Halloween.  We hear echoes in our folklore, songs and traditions.

The Romans were pragmatic and as long as the Brythonic tribes did not rise in rebellion, the occupied peoples were allowed their old festivals and traditions. As a result many outward forms of Druid practice get mixed up in how we celebrate traditionally today.

In the 18th century there was a fashionable revival and interest in Druidry.  When people started to take an interest in its spirituality during the 19th century we see traditions currently used in the cultural celebrations at national eisteddfodau beginning to be played out. These days the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids – OBOD would claim they have more of a handle on the teachings and run training courses.  Here is a link to an overview of modern day Druidry.


Christian institutions, from the medieval period onwards, played their part all over Europe in persecuting and hunting down ‘heretics’.  Druidry was buried, but its threads were still alive in folklore and folk medicine and even in superstitions.  The other way it survived was through inspiration.  Sensitive people, working with meditation and prayerful energy, are inspired by those gone before.  I was fortunate to be able to link in this way to Ceridwen as she helped me mould the story I was creating.  As I was editing she would often stop me in process and tell me ‘No!…Watch! It was like this!’

AmeriCymru: How easy is it to research the period in which the book is set? To what extent does imagination supplement primary sources?

Margaret: There is much more archeological evidence these days than there was in 1991 when I began my research.  Fortunately according to Professor Alice Roberts, nothing I wrote has been disproved.  No world wide web for me in those days.  I was reliant on books borrowed from Bangor University Library, giving me access to old Roman maps, articles on farming and Welsh culture and law during the Roman occupation. Visits to museums to look at artefacts and visits to the remains of Segontium fortress near Caernarfon made it easier to imagine life in those far off days.

At both Bangor Museum and Oriel Môn, Llangefni I was able to view some of the votive hoard found at Llyn Cerrig Bach during the Second World War.  Now it is housed in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. The fascinating museum at Segontium, where I was fortunate to have the curator all to myself for a whole afternoon, is now not manned; but I believe you can ask for the key at Caernarfon castle if you book in advance with CADW.  Chester Museum and the Deva experience there gave me even more material and a feel for the might of Rome.

The Roman chronicler Tacitus and writers Caesar and Pliny all give accounts of the Roman occupation of Britain, but current historians reckon that there was lots of bias and spin to their stories, proudly recording victory after victory and denouncing the Brythonnic tribes as uncivilized.  Archeology has proved that wrong from the way they wove, fashioned tools, worked with gold, copper and iron, built houses and roads, traded, had supreme horsemanship and farmed the land sympathetically. Their laws were very egalitarian, supportive of family life and their links to the land.

In some ways, even though it took two years of assiduous research, I was relieved that I did not have to pin myself down to too much historic detail.  So much remained a mystery; so I had to rely on a great deal of imagination and stimulus from my muse Ceridwen.

AmeriCymru: Will you be writing more historical novels? Will you be setting future novels in the same place and period?

Margaret: I am 74.  Whilst I can still be a walk leader for Walking For Health and run meditation classes and Reiki classes from our home, I really do not want to tie myself to a computer as it drains me of energy.  I want to be out in my garden tending the herbs or hosting retreats for people who need some peace and quiet in their busy lives.

However, if I ever do become immobile again I will follow up on ‘Where Rowans Intertwine’ with an account of Llew’s life in the same area of Anglesey.  He is Ceridwen’s young son.  I am convinced he was an ancestor of Llywelyn Fawr.  Occasionally when I cannot sleep at night I feel his story calling me…

AmeriCymru: What is your process? Do you write a certain amount each day or do you wait for inspiration?

Margaret: It has always depended on what needs doing as a priority.  During times of struggle with practicalities and pressure from family matters my creative writing has had to take a back seat.  Recently, on becoming a Reiki master (teacher) I wrote my own training manuals.  My writing energy is always better in the mornings, just after the two cups of real coffee I indulge in.  Then, after a domestic tidy, I settle down to write for the rest of the morning.  I might begin with a silly computer game to get my brain stimulated.  Then I will open up my partially written manuscript and read it aloud to myself.  As an ex drama teacher I am looking for dramatic effect and timing as well as typographical errors. I listen to it as though I am a member of its audience.  As I go along I edit.  When I have finished cleaning up what I have previously written, I pause.  Maybe I will have a walk around the garden and smell the beauty, put out the washing, pray and meditate for a few minutes and then get creative.

AmeriCymru: What are you working on at the moment?

Margaret: I am just about to publish a children’s paperback.  I will work on editing an ebook version during the Christmas holidays.  It has been such a wonderful self-indulgent trip down memory lane.  You see I am a cataholic……( No not a Catholic.  My faith is Bahá’í, which means I appreciate each world faith as a significant chapter in the spiritual evolution of humankind.)  I am a great fan of cats.  We have been owned by nine of them during our long family association with felines.  I must have read almost every book that has ever been published about cats.

Mine is called ‘THE NINE LIVES OF TIGGER DIGGER’.  It is based on the true to life story of our latest family moggy, Tiggy.  It’s the tale of how we imagined he got to be dumped on the South Yorkshire moors and had to learn to fend for himself before finding his forever home.

My lovely husband, Gordon, has done the delightful illustrations and both daughter Claire and son Andrew have contributed memories and ideas.  It is suitable for 7-14 year olds to read by themselves, but it will also interest adult cat lovers.  At the back there are discussion questions to accompany each chapter so that parents and teachers can prompt youngsters to think about moral values.

Here is a taste of the draft cover:


AmeriCymru: What are you currently reading? Any recommendations?

Margaret: I’m currently rereading Philippa Gregory’s novel ‘The Constant Princess’ on kindle.  I was lucky enough to visit the Alhambra in Granada two years ago and it is bringing back strong memories of the region.

In paperback I am reading ‘All The Light We Cannot See’, by Anthony Doerr, a fascinating story of a blind teenager in occupied France and a young radio scientist who is singled out to be of great use to the Nazi effort.  This is so atmospheric you have to savour each small vignette as it alternates each character’s story of the same war.  I am half way through and the two main protagonists have not met as yet.

For those of you who love historical novels about Welsh history I recommend the writing of Sharon Kay Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick. Maybe you are already familiar with Sharon’s trilogy about the Welsh Princes:  ‘Here be Dragons’ ,   'Falls The Shadow' ,   ‘The Reckoning’? 

For me, the historical writer par excellence is Elizabeth Chadwick.  I have often observed that with some writers I am especially telepathic and when they begin to outline a character or place, even well before they have furnished a full visual description, I can already see what is in the author’s mind.  I have a very strong connection with her writing.  If you found Wolf Hall more like a PhD thesis than a digestible story then you will prefer Elizabeth’s writing.

There are tantalizing glimpses of Llwyellyn Fawr in ‘The Leopard Unleashed’, part of her Ravenstow Trilogy about the Welsh Marches.

Here is what she says about Garth Celyn, his Welsh stronghold near Aber in North Wales.


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

Margaret: Keep the hiraeth flowing and the Welsh language safer than houses if you have it.  Value your heritage and treasure the culture, but do not lose sight of the oneness of humanity, from which cauldron we are all born.  Call others to discover the hidden treasures of Wales; her unspoiled and spiritual landscapes; her connection to sea and sky; her ancient wisdoms and her noble saints and seers.  Sing, laugh and be part of an amazing landscape. If you have hiraeth and can make the sacred journey then come to her mountains, valleys and shores. If you cannot travel, then do so in your meditations and dreams. The welcome is always so warm.


AmeriCymru: Hi Sarah and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. What is your Welsh background and how important is it to you?

Sarah: My Welsh ancestry comes through—among others—my umpteenth great grandfather, William Woodbury, who self-identified as a Welshman when he arrived in Salem, Massachusetts in 1628. I am also descended from a host of Morgans, Thomas’, Kemries, Johns, Rhuns etc.  The line I’ve researched most successfully descends from Llywelyn ap Ifor born around 1300.  Six generations later, Sir John Morgan (1448) was knighted. One of my readers kindly researched my ancestry back all the way to Gruffydd ap Cynan, King of Gwynedd, through his grandson, the Lord Rhys (d. 1197), as well as Hywel Dda (d. 950). Woodbury is, of course, a very Saxon name, and those roots lie in Somerset.

We are all a product of the stories we tell about ourselves. I heard growing up that I had Welsh ancestry, but I never knew the extent of it until I started researching. Once I realized the extent of it, I read everything I could get my hands on about medieval Wales—and then began writing novels set in that time. I would say it is pretty important to me! At the same time, I know people with little to know Welsh ancestry who love Wales and Welsh history and culture, so I don’t think it’s a perquisite for becoming interested and involved.

AmeriCymru: How much of a challenge is it to set novels in medieval Wales? Presumably readers are not as well aware of Welsh history as they are of English or Scottish?

Sarah: After I published my first books, I used to say that part of my job was to educate as well as entertain. 1143 Wales is not the Tudors! It is always a balancing act between making the story fun and engaging and not writing either too much history or making medieval Welsh people and their lives so different that they become in accessible to the modern reader. 

Books set in Wales have the additional challenge of having Welsh names and places, which can be inaccessible to a modern English speaker. Some English speakers have a gut negative reaction to the Welsh names that goes back generations and centuries. Some people can’t be helped, but many can be won over by stories that are so compelling they read them anyway—and then find themselves falling in love a little bit with the country and people and coming back for more.

Crouchbackblog.jpg AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little about your latest title - 'Crouchback'?

Sarah: Crouchback is set in the medieval world of 1284, after the Edwardian Conquest and the death of the last native Welsh Prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. At Llywelyn’s death, Wales lost its independence and, after the birth of Edward II in Caernarfon in April 1284, King Edward declared him the new Prince of Wales, ensuring that the titular ruler of Wales from then on would be the son of the English king rather than a Welshman.

Unlike my After Cilmeri series, which is set in an alternate universe where Llywelyn lives, Crouchback is set in the real world, our world, where he does not. 

It’s a pretty dark time for Wales and the Welsh people. 

One of my favorite writing quotes, the provenance of which I am uncertain, says to write a good book, the author needs to give her characters a very bad day and make it worse. In the world of medieval Wales, there was nothing ‘worse’ than the conquest of Wales by King Edward of England. For the two main characters in Crouchback, Catrin and Rhys, their world had, in a very significant way, come to an end. In writing this book, I found myself exploring how a person could have something so terrible happen and still live. 

Which the people of Wales did. They endured and even prospered for over seven hundred years, speaking their language and living their lives as Welsh men and women. 

And thus, Crouchback isn’t about grief, as it turns out, but about hope and perseverance, courage and love—and finding joy in the darkest moments of our lives.

AmeriCymru: You have achieved incredible success writing more than 40 novels and selling over a million books online. What is the secret of your success? What advice would you give to budding authors who wish to self-publish?

Sarah: Amazingly enough, the secret isn’t to write books set in medieval Wales! During the five years my books were rejected by every publisher in New York, I was told over and over that their marketing department couldn’t think how to sell historical mystery/romance/adventure set in Wales. The answer instead, as it turns out, really isn’t a secret. It’s all about producing consistent quality content on a reliable schedule, just like any other job. 

I write a thousand words a day, every day. I work very hard to take criticism well and to seek out people who will tell me the truth about my books before I publish them. I also treat my writing and all that’s associated with it (marketing, publishing etc.) as a business.

But mostly it’s a matter of sitting one’s rear in the chair and writing. Thirteen years of doing that, day in and day out, is bound to produce some books that people want to read!

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about your YouTube series 'Making Sense of Medieval Britain'? What inspired it and how many episodes will it eventually comprise?

Sarah: The Making Sense of Medieval Britain video project began with some ideas that tie into a question you asked earlier about how few people know anything about Wales. I want to write great stories, but many of my readers, once they get into my books, want to know more about the world in which my books are set. The video series is intended to help with that, in three to six minute installments. And because I’m an anthropologist by training, the focus is on the people of Britain, beginning with the Celts, the Romans, the Normans, etc. The last third is focused almost entirely on the Welsh and medieval Wales. By January, we should have 44 videos in the series, which will complete the first ‘season’. 

AmeriCymru: What's next for Sarah Woodbury? Any new titles in the works?

Sarah: Always! Right now, with the release of Crouchback on November 14, I’m working on the latest book in the After Cilmeri series—the one where I change history and Llywelyn lives! It should be out in March.

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

Sarah: If you do end up reading any of my books or enjoying the video series, I would hope you would reach out to me, either on Facebook or by email. I love meeting people, even remotely, who share my love for Wales!

CDapG clawr bach.jpg

AmeriCymru: Care to introduce your new book - Dafydd ap Gwilym's Wales - Poems and Places for our readers?

John: Cymru Dafydd ap Gwilym / Dafydd ap Gwilym’s Wales is a collection of 35 poems by one of the greatest Welsh poets. The original Welsh texts are presented with facing translations in English, along with a bilingual introduction, with notes to explain unfamiliar names and words, a short essay on Dafydd’s life and poetry, and an even shorter introduction to the complex ‘strict metres’ in which Dafydd composed his poems. A unique feature of this book are the 70 photos by Anthony Griffiths showing places that Dafydd mentions in the poems. If you do not live in Wales or can not travel over much of the countryside – as Dafydd himself did – these photos give a wonderful visual sense of the land in which he lived.

AmeriCymru: Dafydd ap Gwilym is "regarded as being one of the leading Welsh poets and amongst the great poets of Europe in the Middle Ages." How would you describe his importance in the context of Welsh and medieval European literature?

John: The ancient Welsh tradition of court poetry under royal patronage was, in effect, eliminated after the deaths of the last ruling Welsh princes, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and his brother Dafydd, in 1282 and 1283 during their disastrous wars against the English king, Edward I. The royal and noble patrons of the court poets were killed in battle, executed, or, at best, deprived of their lands and wealth, while their wives and daughters were exiled to nunneries in distant parts of England. After a dark period of grief, the poets turned for support to the less prominent Welsh families who had become the intermediary officials who simultaneously administered the newly imposed English laws while they did their best to protect the Welsh people from the worst extremes of oppression. Thus, the practice of praise poetry continued, but on a reduced scale.

Dafydd ap Gwilym was born sometime in the early fourteenth century, and he himself tells us that he learned much about poetry from his uncle, Llywelyn ap Gwilym ap Rhys, constable and bailiff of the castle at Newcastle Emlyn. As poetry reasserted itself, albeit with shifting functions and purposes, Dafydd and a few other young poets began to turn towards new themes. Dafydd soon took the lead, especially as a love poet. Love poetry had been rare in Welsh tradition, though it was growing popular in the courts of France and England. Dafydd took love as his theme and adopted it to Welsh metres, creating a style that is unlike French and English courtly poetry. He and his fellow poets molded the cywydd to their new voices, embedding it in the complex set of rules known as cynghanedd (literally, ‘a singing together; harmony’). They did not invent cynghanedd, but they refined it, codified it, and made it an inextricable part of their verse -- poetry in which sound is as important as sense.

Dafydd was a master of the traditional forms of praise and religious poetry, as attested by 25 or so surviving poems. But he took the cywydd to new heights with about 120 poems that, for the most part, explore the joys and sorrows, frustration, pain, and hope of love. He casts himself in the role of the lover, especially one who is, more often than not, rejected by the object of his love, or who is prevented from reaching her because of such impediments as the weather, geography, furniture in the dark, outright rejection, or even the fact that she is married. Through this essentially comic persona, however, Dafydd expresses and celebrates the various aspects of love and the complexities of personal relationships. At the same time, with his detailed, charming and perceptive observations on the birds, animals, trees, rivers, hills and valleys of Wales, he reveals an intimate engagament with and love for the world around him. And he is equally perceptive about human feelings and foibles, often expressed with a sardonic wit at his own expense. Dafydd’s verse may not have been known very far beyond the borders of Wales, but his substantial body of innovative poetry shows him to be the equal of his more widely recognized contemporaries: in France, Guillaume de Lorris (whose famous Romance of the Rose he may have known); in Italy, Boccaccio and Petrarch; and in England, the somewhat younger Geoffrey Chaucer.


Otter [ CC BY-SA 4.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

AmeriCymru: Dafydd has been rated as an innovative poet particularly for his use of the 'cywydd'. In what sense/s do you regard Dafydd's work as ground breaking?

John: As a more general addendum to my comments above, I would say that not only was Dafydd an important voice in revitalizing Welsh poetry after a period of severe cultural stress, he was a central figure in the expansion of the popularity of the cywydd, not only for love poetry, but for other purposes, as well. His cywydd to his patron, Ifor Hael, thanking him for a pair of gloves is the earliest-known Welsh poem of thanks, a practice that spread rapidly over the next two centuries. And Dafydd and his friends composed elegies to each other (even before they died!), demonstrating that the cywydd was also suitable for expressions of grief and mourning.

Dafydd’s superiority was recognized by other poets in his own time. Gruffudd Gryg says, “I am his disciple, he taught me,” and calls him “the hawk of chief poets.” Madog Benfras calls him “the peacock of poetry,” “the nightingale of Dyfed,” and “a good teacher of poets, more exceptional / than anyone who ever lived.”

AmeriCymru: Do you think that Dafydd's poetry is sufficiently read, understood and appreciated in Wales today?

John: Unfortunately, poetry in general seems not to be as widely read as it used to be, even in Wales, where not long ago teenagers decorated their rooms with posters of middle-aged men and women, their contemporary poet-heroes. Nevertheless, it is notable that Dafydd ap Gwilym is still recognized in Wales, at least by name, after 650 years! A small handful of his comic poems, such as Merched Llabadarn “The Girls of Llanbadarn” and Trafferth mewn Tafarn “Trouble at an Inn” are fairly well known, but he is not what you might call widely read these days. To be fair, his poetry is not easy to read – though I hasten to add that it amply repays the effort. And even reading his verse in translation can be enlightening as well as entertaining.

Personally, I think it is no less important for an educated Welsh person (Welsh speaker or not) to know the poetry of Dafydd ap Gwilym than it is for English speakers to be familiar to some extent with Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, or Donne. 

AmeriCymru: You are an expert in medieval Welsh. Care to tell us a little about the ways the language has changed/evolved since that period?

John: With a bit of study and practice, a dedicated, fluent Welsh speaker can read the Middle Welsh prose of The Mabinogi and other early tales. There are, of course, many words that are no longer in use, so editor’s notes and a good dictionary may be necessary. The experience, I like to think, is not unlike an English speaker today learning to read Chaucer. Early Welsh poetry is more difficult for a number of technical reasons, but such is the nature of poetry. To outline changes in the Welsh language over the centuries would take more time and space than is available here, so I will limit myself to some very general thoughts. 

Every language is always changing, and Welsh is no exception. There are many today who lament theadoption, albeit inevitable,  of English words into Welsh conversation and writing, but Welsh persists even though English has been slipping into the language since the 9th century, if not earlier; e.g., punt “pound” (9c.), cusan “kiss” (13c.),  sur “sour” (13c.), hosan “stocking, hose” (13c.), cist “chest” (13c.).  Dafydd ap Gwilym himself often included English and French words in his poetry. Here are a few words of English origin that first appear in Dafydd’s poetry:  apêl “(a legal) appeal”, baban “baby”, bostio “to boast”, cloc “clock”, cobler “cobbler”, dwbl “double”, gown “gown”, het “hat”, lwc “luck”, paement “pavement”, proses “process”, sadler “saddler”, siampl “sample, example”. 

However, much greater social and cultural changes have affected the Welsh language during the past 150 years than in the five preceding centuries. In the mid-to-late 19th century most of Wales was monoglot Welsh speaking, much as it was in Dafydd’s day. But English government policy and the institution of compulsory education in English reduced the proportion of Welsh speakers overall to less than 25% during the course of the 20th century. The protests and activism of the 1950s and ’60s eventually achieved official governmental recognition for the language. Mudiad Meithrin, the Nursery (Schools) Movement begun in the 1970s was the inspiration for the establishment of Welsh medium schools throughout Wales, and today the study of Welsh is required in many schools. Nevertheless, the percentage of Welsh speakers continues to fluctuate around 19-22%, and the language remains in crisis. Official use of the language and the ability to receive an education through the medium of Welsh should at least slow down the decline, and with luck, determination, and effort it could even be reversed. The pressures from a powerful dominant culture, however, are great, so it is hard to avoid the feeling that the future of the language is precarious at best.

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AmeriCymru: In your 'Legends & Landscapes of Wales' series you have produced new translations of the most important Welsh legends and 'foundation texts' ( 'Tales of Arthur' , 'The Mabinogi' , 'Companion Tales to the Mabinogi'). What can you tell us about this series and where can readers buy the books online?

John: The three volumes that you mention (published by Gomer Press), contain translations of all eleven tales included under the mistaken title “Mabinogion” (a term I generally do not use). The first volume contains the Four Branches of The Mabinogi, the jewel in the crown of early Welsh literature, a work that everyone who comes from or feels an attachment to Wales should read. Companion Tales to The Mabinogi presents four wonderfully eccentric tales, especially “How Culhwch Got Olwen,” the earliest Arthurian tale and perhaps the most exuberant story you will ever come across, along with “The Dream of Maxen Wledig,” “The Story of Lludd and Llefelys,” and “The Dream of Rhonabwy.” Tales of Arthur gives you three tales of heroes who became important figures in the international tales of Arthur and his knights: Peredur, Owain, and Geraint. Each of these books is illustrated with about 60 photographs by Anthony Griffiths. 

A strong impetus for studying these tales for many years, and especially for presenting them anew to English readers, has been my belief that they are all serious, sophisticated works of literature that deal with timeless themes of considerable importance. Far from being stories for children, The Mabinogi, for instance, draws on its mythological underpinnings to examine unflinchingly the complexities of right and wrong, of friendship, marriage, war, and the treatment (and mistreatment) of women.

These books, plus our fourth volume, Englynion y Beddau / The Stanzas of the Graves, are available on the usual websites (though sometimes at highly inflated prices). I recommend that you order them from your local independent bookstore – or, especially if you would like a signed copy, directly from me at https://sites.google.com/site/themabinogi/contactinformation
AmeriCymru: What's next for John K. Bollard? Any new titles in the works?

John: There is no lack of projects on the front, middle, and back burners in my study, several of them in the realm of medieval Welsh prose and poetry. Whether there is to be a sixth collaboration between Bollard and Griffiths… well, we’ll see. 

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

John: Just a brief reminder from Dafydd ap Gwilym:

Cerdd a bair yn llawenach Hen ac ieuanc, claf ac iach.

“Poetry makes happier both old and young, sick and hale.”

More on Daffydd Ap Gwilym  Wikipedia (Cymraeg)   Wikipedia (Saesneg)


AllAtSea150x208.jpg AmeriCymru: Hi David and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. What can you tell us about your series of children's books featuring Owain and his dog, Llew?

David: The books are about a young boy and his dog, who meet people from the past, when they are out and about. I can then tell their story in a fun way.

AmeriCymru: What inspired you to start this series?

David: The Owain and Llew books come from my love of Welsh history and specific characters from the past. I have the characters in the books use their native language, with translations in to English at the back, I get annoyed when everyone from Martians to Aztecs speak English.

AmeriCymru: You have written several other titles including 'Two Five Two'. Care to tell us a little more about these?

David: I first wrote the books Eightmilez and A view to behold, hoping to get my part of Wales in with the tourist board, sadly it didn’t work. I was then approached by Cwmni a local objective one group to write The wonders that surround us. That got a great reception from locals and others around the world, sadly no longer in production. My next challenge was a book about my army life in The Royal Regiment of Wales, I decided to make it about the more humorous events. I had to put some smiles back on the faces of veterans. The last project was a Celtic star chart, using Taliesin’s work and other ideas, this chart included Welsh people who had contributed much to Astronomy, including Barbara Middlehurst from Penarth who moved to America to advance her career.

LadyoftheMountain150x211.png AmeriCymru: You are, dare I say, an 'advanced' Welsh learner. How long have you been learning Welsh? What is your proudest acheivement to date in your struggle to master the language? What advice would you give to new learners?

David: Dw I wedi ddysgu Cymraeg ers mil naw naw dim. I’ve been learning Welsh since 1990. But off and on due to circumstances, in the last three years I have been able to get at it with a bit more vigour, and I’m now getting somewhere. I have used the ABC of Welsh, Cwrs Mynediad and Sylfain, now working with say something in Welsh and Duo Lingo. My advice to new learners would be to use your Welsh, it doesn’t matter if you know one word or a thousand, use them every day, think using them and talk to yourself using them.

AmeriCymru: What's next for David Williams? Any new writing projects in the works?

David: I have more Owain and Llew books on the go, one is in art work stage, one I’m just finishing the writing and there are five other in various stages, I’m also going back over the star chart and looking at other ways of producing that.

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

David: I joined AmeriCymru when it started as a Web page it was a great idea and nice to see our kin across the pond flying the flag. I enjoy reading about the events that you guys have and the passion for the land of our fathers. Mae hen wlad fy nhadau.

Cymru am byth.

Diolch yn fawr


(D ap E Scribbles comes from Dafydd ap Evan, Evan being my father. Scribbles is a reference to my writing.)


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AmeriCymru: Hi Arthur and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to tell us a little about your Welsh background and upbringing?

Arthur: I was born and bred in Caerau, a small mining village situated at the top of the Llynfi Valley, Maesteg. My father was a miner, as were many of my immediate family. I am the third of six children.

During the second world war my mother worked at the Bridgend munitions factory, until she married my father. We didn’t have a lot growing up, but our parents gave us all values and manners which stood us in good stead for the rest of our lives and careers. We had a very happy childhood, and at the time Caerau colliery was flourishing and there was plenty of work in the village, unfortunately the colliery is no longer, which is very sad indeed.

In September 1967, at the age of 17, I joined the Glamorgan Constabulary, which subsequently became the South Wales Constabulary in 1969. I retired from the police service as a Detective Sergeant in 1997 having investigated all form of major crime and counter terrorism. I then became a gardener. I worked mostly in nursing homes for individuals suffering with dementia. I retired completely in 2015.

AmeriCymru: When did you decide to write? What inspired you to take up the pen?

Arthur: After retirement I joined many coalmining sites on Facebook. One day I read a poem that had been posted. It was then that I decided to pen my first poem entitled ‘ABERFAN’ and from that day I haven’t stopped writing.

My main genres are Coalmining and the First World War, however I am able to pen poems about any subject.

My love of literature stems back to my time in comprehensive school, my biggest influence being my English Literature teacher Mr. David John, who was an inspiration, introducing me to all the war poets including Wilfred OWEN. Although I enjoyed poetry my career in the police service and my family took all of my time therefore I never did anything with the writing until I wrote ‘ABERFAN’.

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about your collection:- 'An Industry Now Lost'?

Arthur: My first book of poems titled ‘AN INDUSTRY NOW LOST’ describes numerous mining disasters, and what it was like to work underground during the Victorian times, when lives meant nothing. I suppose you could say that my back ground growing up in a Welsh mining valley inspired me to write the 50 poem book.

AmeriCymru: How would you describe the effect of the loss of mining jobs in the Maesteg area and the valleys generally?

Arthur:  After the miner’s strike of 1985, the death knoll of mining in the Welsh valleys sounded, and all the pits were subsequently closed, leaving a great deal of unemployment and poverty, even to this day, some thirty odd years later the scars are there for all to see. Our valley towns have been decimated, and now younger generations have to travel far and wide for work.

AmeriCymru: You have also written a series of novels featuring Detective Chief Inspector Terry McGuire. Care to tell us a little more about the character and his cases?

Arthur: In February 2016, I was trawling through a closed Police site on Facebook, when I read a post from Nigel Williams, also a retired police officer and an author in his own right, who had self published books he had written. In the post he asked if anyone would like to write a book, so I thought to myself, I wouldn’t mind a crack at that, so I got in touch and we began corresponding over the internet. I wrote the first book ‘UNETHICAL CONDUCT’ in ten days and Nigel ‘polished it up’ and put it all together.

The first time I actually met Nigel in person was when he gave me the book. I had no intention of writing another book, until Nigel asked if we could write together. That day ‘The Terry McGuire Crime Thrillers’ were created.

Terry McGuire began as a Detective Inspector in the series and is now a Detective Superintendent. He is in charge of a major crime unit in South Wales and he has hand picked his team. McGuire is a workaholic, who must always get to the truth. He is empathetic with an edge about him. He is a family man with two grown up children who live abroad. He is supported by his long suffering wife Molly who loves him to bits.

People who have read the books, and know me say that McGuire is modelled on me, to some degree he is, however when I created him, I didn’t have that in mind. All the cases that McGuire and his team deal with are serious and steeped in murder and corruption, and the stories are mostly set in and around South Wales.

At present there are eight books in the series:-

‘Unethical Conduct’ ‘Edge of Integrity’, ‘Death and Depravity’, ‘Angel of Death’, ‘Nest of Vipers’, ‘Nighthawker’, ‘Redemption’ and ‘Betrayal’.

Nigel and I are just editing the ninth in the series, ‘Ravwn’, which will hopefully be published later in the year.

AmeriCymru: You have donated the proceeds from some of your book sales to charity. What good causes have your readers supported by buying your titles?

Arthur: When we began self publishing the books, we donated the royalties amounting to around £2,000.00 to both ‘Marie Curie’ and ‘The Garnwen Trust’, Maesteg.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Arthur Cole? Any new titles in the works?

Arthur: In May 2017 I was lucky enough to sign a book deal with ‘Wordcatcher Publishing, Cardiff’ owned by David Norrington. David published my first two poetry books ‘An Industry Now Lost’ and ‘Poems for a Lost Generation - A tribute to those who fell in the Great War 1914-18’.

I have just completed my third book ‘50 Famous People’ which includes many famous Welsh people, which will be published in May this year.

Nigel and I have also signed a deal with David, who is in the process of re-publishing the first eight books in the Terry McGuire series. The books will have a more consistent professional presentation. The titles will not be changed, so that readers who have already bought them, will not purchase them a second time.

‘Unethical Conduct’ has recently been published on kindle, with a new cover. The paperback will hopefully be published within the next few weeks. All available via Amazon or from Wordcatcher Publishing.

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

Arthur: I would like to thank you Ceri, for giving me the opportunity to write about our literary exploits thus far, and hopefully members who may read the books will be able to enjoy and reminisce about their homeland.

The thriller web site can be found at https://terrry-mcguire-thrillers.com

Many Thanks


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AmeriCymru spoke to author Peter Jordan about his new novel 'One Sprinkling Day'. The book, set in Wales, has been described as a novel of ideas and is currently available from Amazon - One Sprinkling Day




AmeriCymru interview  photo.jpg AmeriCymru: Hi Peter and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce your novel, 'One Sprinkling Day' for our readers?

Peter: Thank you for inviting me to. After finishing this book at long last I soon learned two things that surprised me. One was that in England the final judges in literary matters aren’t critics or professors or publishers, let alone writers, but literary agents. The other was that according to literary agents a novel is a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, which you can tell them in a paragraph. I had, before this, read E.M. Forster’s words, ‘Yes—oh dear yes—the novel tells a story’, which if you mistake the tone you might think were meant as an apology for novels in general or a justification of his own in particular. Really they were an ironic rebuke to any readers who felt that some of his contemporaries with no interest in story-telling had written better novels than he had. He may have been a friend of Virginia Woolf’s, we needn’t follow her in including him among the ‘modernists’. They themselves don’t seem so modern now, and they haven’t much in common, but none of them ever wrote a rattling good yarn. Neither did Forster, still a rattling yarn fits his idea of the novel, whereas their explorations of the inner life, their rendering of the actual quality of experience, their ‘non-linear’ kinds of construction (Proust’s ‘chessboard’ treatment of themes, for example), made Forster’s fiction seem old-fashioned.

Yet even to fiction much less conventional than his he could be responsive enough. It was his appreciation of The Leopard that got it its due even in Italy and in ‘the world of literature’, though we needn’t believe that all who hailed it then could really see any merit in it. I’m afraid that in a case like this or the earlier ‘Svevo affair’ many readers of the book only praise it because others are doing so.

Of course, novels that were hardly stories had been written before the modernists‘. (Already before Joyce, hadn’t even Firbank’s plots been pretty wispy?) I suppose most of the great novels that relate events (as Kidnapped does) rather than develop themes (as already Niels Lyhne does) were written in the 19th century, and one or two of them were by Flaubert, still Flaubert when he wrote most spontaneously produced Novembre, and ‘L’action y est nulle’. And it’s in an inner journey that all the interest of Loss and Gain lies, if Newman’s path to Rome does interest you. Going even further back, to the only work of fiction by the greatest English writer of the previous century, to Rasselas,—as Professor Hiller said, we don’t read Rasselas for the story. But no doubt it was from the turn of the 19th century on that the scope of fiction was seriously extended. So Jean Santeuil reveals the author’s hidden self, in Malte Laurids Brigge as in Hunger an alienated consciousness confronts a modern city, Giacomo Joyce like Niels Lyhne brings into fiction a strange poetic realism, The Last Summer offers a transcript of life,—but none of them tells a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. (Musil had begun to find his themes well before he began to write The Man Without Qualities, but Young Törless is a story of sorts, and whether or not The Man Without Qualities is a story, it only lacks an ending because Musil didn’t live to write one.) And although I have enjoyed Kidnapped more than all these books except Jean Santeuil, I don’t think it has enlarged my mind as they have.

In writing this novel of mine, however, I had no model. (I understand that after Joyce the plotless novel had a vogue, but I know Lawrence Durrell’s The Black Book and other examples only by name.) I was only concerned to find a form for what I had to say. So I hope I shan’t be blamed for not doing what I didn’t try to do, and I’m grateful to you for not asking me ‘what the story is’! I can though say that this is the story of a day, as the title indicates, and one kind of movement in the book is accordingly a forward movement from morning to night. But as life is being as well as doing, there is also an inward movement, through the main character’s memories and reflections.

Not that I have gone as far as Gissing did in Ryecroft, and thrown over action, plot, dialogue and even character-drawing. (Wasn’t an interest in character the mark of the novelist as Virginia Woolf saw it?) I didn’t set out to throw over any traditional elements. If One Sprinkling Day isn’t a novel of action neither is it merely a vehicle for ideas. The ideas are bound up with the characters (and it was the characters more than their ideas who interested the author). Thus ‘the choice of life’ (to borrow a phrase Johnson used for Rasselas’s original title) is variously illustrated by the inquirer’s new friend Sadie (a New Yorker abroad) and old friend Kay (a gay schoolmaster), by his host’s wife, daughter and stepson (an ambitious young historian), and chiefly by his father and his host himself (a former fugitive from Hitler’s Germany)—though in this way again the movement of the novel is not that of conventional narration but one of progressive disclosure, as these characters reveal themselves to the main character and so to the reader.

Although I had no theory of the novel, I did have an idea of what I was trying to write. Not a ‘guide for the perplexed’, which I was unqualified to write, but perhaps the vade-mecum Paul Crouch (the main character) had lacked—the book (as the publisher’s blurb was to say) he would have liked with him in the maze. So the readers I was hoping for were mostly ones who, like me, were unsatisfied with stories and wanted more food for thought than fiction generally supplies. But if at the same time I could provide a little light reading for readers with scientific and philosophical interests, I should be delighted.

Would the book be a novel? To say that Rasselas is an oriental apologue at least conveys some idea of it. To say that Rasselas (or Candide or Nightmare Abbey or On the Marble Cliffs) is not a novel only raises the question what a novel is. I thought the question unimportant (I have thought differently since: ‘What Is A Novel?’). What mattered to me was the idea of that ‘inquiry into some traditional perplexities’ (as I have called it elsewhere) pursued through the medium of literary fiction. As I wrote on, of course, it was borne in on me that if I wrote for twenty years I still shouldn’t have begun to treat these matters adequately. And yet when I somehow had got through it, I should have to go through it again, cutting all the way, until nothing unconnected with the fiction remained—which I did, so that now Paul Crouch’s inquiry takes up only eight chapters out of eighteen.

AmeriCymru: What is the Welsh background and context of the novel?

Peter: My connection with Wales dates from before I was born, and I owe it to my parents, if not to the Germans who bombed Somerset House when my parents were working there, so that they were evacuated to what was then Caernarvonshire, where they got married. That was still years before my birth, and meanwhile, after the war, they had moved back to London, but subsequently almost every summer they would return, taking me with them, to stay with the family they had been ‘billeted’ with.

Evidently the circumstances that had linked those Welsh and English lives were exceptional. And the following years were the last before the world was shrunk by cheap travel. But perhaps that western seaboard can still allure an English mind if it’s a young mind. For me what happened between my getting into a second-class railway-carriage as a ‘Passenger to Pendinas’ and getting out of it five hours later was a kind of magic, but not a mere conjuring-trick such as I might see at a children’s party—the evanishment or production or exchange of coloured silks or feather bouquets or doves or a giant snake. It was the exchange of one whole world for another—an exchange of bricks, soot, neon, petrol fumes, moving staircases, bronze horsemen, drinking-fountains and skysigns for sea, slate, gulls, granite, heather, anathoths, megaliths and cherryade.

I have written about the real place in my review of Anne Forrest’s book My Whole World. In One Sprinkling Day it’s fictionalized as Pendinas, the small seaside place in Paul Crouch’s thoughts as the novel and the day begin, and again as they end, when it’s also recalled by his host, who had found a refuge there. In between, in the central chapters, Paul takes a walk which is at once a walk in a maze (the maze of thought about the problems he’s taken up with), a walk in the past (the region’s and his own), and of course an actual walk through a Welsh landscape.

Yn ystod taith gerdded sydd ar yr un pryd yn daith gerdded mewn tirlun, yn y gorffennol, ac yn y ddrysfa o feddwl am rai gwendidau [perplexities] traddodiadol, mae myfyrdodau'r protagonydd a hunan-bortreadau sgwrsio ei ffrindiau yn rhyngddynt â darnau am y rhanbarth hanes, hanes naturiol a nodweddion naturiol.

So besides supplying a lot of the material of the novel, the Welsh dimension unifies the whole.

AmeriCymru: You have said, of 'One Sprinkling Day', that ‘The author’s excuse for it is that the basic questions science and religion offer answers to aren’t asked only by scientists and theologians.’ Do you think that the majority of people either do or should think philosophically?

Peter: I think most of us ask these questions on occasion, though we may not think about them then for very long. Is this to think philosophically? I suppose they can be thought about in different ways. But aren’t there also different ideas of what philosophical thinking is? Traditionally philosophers were ‘seekers after truth’, weren’t they, trying to ‘interpret’ the world (if not to change it), to understand our relation to it, and to determine how we ought to behave towards each other. But at the time when Paul Crouch was beginning to ask the basic questions I referred to, most English philosophers, or the most influential ones, weren’t concerned to know whether this or that statement about the world or about human nature or anything else was true, but just what it meant. Paul Crouch in One Sprinkling Day hasn’t begun studying the subject formally yet, so I can only speak about my own experience here. And the philosopher I have in mind wasn’t a linguistic philosopher. Still he liked to define his terms and to use words precisely—“We have a job to do and our tools must be sharp.”

So for example he explained that in the statement ‘Man is essentially social’, the term ‘social’ was purely descriptive, comprising both ‘sociable’ and ‘anti-social’. Similarly, to say ‘Man is a rational animal’, or ‘the rational animal’, wasn’t to deny that he’s often (or even usually) irrational—here man was contrasted with the non-human animals, and they aren’t irrational but non-rational. Again, ‘moral’ in the phrase ‘moral philosophy’ hadn’t the usual meaning of ‘good’ or ‘right’ (when its opposite is ‘immoral’), but meant ‘belonging to the field of morals’ (its opposite being ‘non-moral’).

And this was all very precise, still those statements about ‘Man’ weren’t exact, since human beings, whom they were meant to define, aren’t all male. (An obvious fact which, in producing such high-sounding and exclusive phrases, philosophers and theologians, if they hadn’t lost sight of it, chose to ignore.) As for the commending words themselves and their opposites—‘good’/­­‘bad’, ‘worthy’/‘unworthy’, etc.,—we went on to consider what agathos meant in Homer, which was not what it meant for Plato or Aristotle, much less of course what ‘morally good’ meant for us, and we noted that kalos, another word for ‘good’ or ‘worthy’, also meant ‘beautiful’, just as aiskros meant both ‘unworthy’ and ‘ugly’, and in due course we learned what ‘good’ and the rest meant for Hume, Kant, Mill and Moore. And I’m sure that by this, Paul Crouch in my place would have wanted to know whether we should never discuss any situations in actual life, any moral choices of our own, whether we mightn’t try to solve some problems, or at least, by analysis, dissolve them,—whether we would ever do any philosophy. But I know that the answer if he had asked would have been that philosophy was just what our teacher had been doing in explicating these terms and referring them one to another. The philosopher’s job wasn’t to understand the world, and it wasn’t to preach or lay down the law, it was to clarify our thinking. We might in consequence think differently, we might then act differently, we might even change our lives, so philosophy might, indirectly, contribute to changing the world, still its true function wasn’t to solve problems but to put them before us.

In speaking of his own philosophy, our teacher was distinguishing it from the one then in fashion, the practical uselessness of which according to him its champions were actually proud of. They even disliked definitions, preferring merely to analyse moral terms as commonly used, however trivial the examples. Still, he might declare that rather than ‘pedantic concern with everyday language’, his field was the ‘questioning of accepted moral rules and values’, the ‘criticism of conventional moral codes’,—the criticisms his students heard were all of his colleagues. And not only of the English-speaking ones. He also criticized his fellow academics in West Germany, ‘well-off professors leading comfortable lives while holding forth about Care, Dread and Being-towards-death’. What would have surprised Paul Crouch, he even found fault with that other continental existentialist, the thinker called Mancy in One Sprinkling Day, for holding that we each have to re-invent our ethics in every action. Wasn’t he himself the inventor of a ‘Creative Ethics’, whose ‘open-mindedness’ permitted him to ‘re-think his principles in the light of his practical experience’? Paul would have thought the Frenchman’s ethics, as a godless sort of ‘situationism’ (or casuistry as it used to be called), must be congenial to him.

Not that it was (or is?) unusual for a philosopher to disapprove of other philosophers. After all, the principal German existentialist had dissociated his philosophy from Mancy’s even though, or just because, Mancy’s owed so much to it. In fact he had dissociated it, as a philosophy of Being, from every philosophy of Existence, including that of the other great German existentialist of the day, who however regarded him as a metaphysician, while likewise rejecting the name of existentialist if Mancy was one. All these thinkers agreed, though, that the current Anglo-American philosophy—the main English-language philosophy of the century—was ‘irrelevant’, because it wasn’t lived (it hardly could be), so that its practitioners’ lives were ‘inauthentic’. To a mere student of the subject, the view of philosophy as a process of analysis might seem to link all the thinkers who shared it in a tradition going back at least to that ‘Art of Thinking’ which Pascal had contributed to (and Pascal had been just as particular about defining terms and concepts as our teacher). But if the analysts on their side agreed in charging the existentialists with conceptual confusion and false profundity, that didn’t mean they were generally at one. The great philosopher called Stern in One Sprinkling Day, who defended philosophical analysis himself, definitely shared their opinion of existentialism, both French and German—‘pure nonsense, based intellectually on errors of syntax and emotionally on exasperation’. And the ‘positivists’ among them had his sympathy. But as to the kind who thought that what should be analysed was language itself and that the wish to make sense of the world was an outdated folly, he was as scathing about them as about the existentialists—philosophy if they were right being ‘at best a slight help to lexicographers, at worst an idle tea-table amusement’.

I think then that Paul Crouch would have recognized, on our teacher’s part, an attitude reflected in almost every philosophy book he had read, where other ways of thinking were qualified as mere philosophizing, or not philosophy at all, or nonsense, whereas the author’s way of thinking was true philosophizing, what philosophy consisted in, what it really was—though naturally the author’s critics, and even followers in some cases, had completely failed to understand it. And I don’t think Paul Crouch would have been surprised (it was the same with Stern and Mancy) that a philosopher so severe on other philosophers should be even more severe on theologians. For our ethicist, all the assertions of ‘speculative metaphysics’ about immortal souls, a creator God, etc., were unfounded, because ‘immortal souls, like God, can’t be observed, and no observable differences would follow from their presence as compared with their absence’.

The last claim at least, which had a positivist ring, I think would have struck Paul as begging the question. And he would surely have noticed another thing. To this philosopher, explicating terms, not to mention re-thinking basic principles, was a valuable activity, just so was analysing concepts to Stern and the logical positivists, and scrutinizing ‘modern English usage’ to the linguistic philosophers. Yet they all despised the ‘re-thinking’ now being done by Anglican theologians, representing it as a way of making doctrines cease to be obviously false by rendering them meaningless.

Paul Crouch learns about this re-thinking from a retired clergyman, Dr Sprange, and he also learns what Dr Sprange thinks of philosophy, just as he learns from a Hindu holy man, Swami Satyanand, what the Swami thinks of it. Because we must certainly ‘hear the other side’, as St Augustine said. But your question relates to the Great Debate Paul Crouch was interested in, not directly to Paul Crouch himself—the debate I alluded to in the words you quote. So perhaps I may also recall, as representing another point of view in it, another person I had to do with myself. This will help me both to give a balanced answer and to illustrate further the feature of the debate that I think the most noteworthy—which is that every one of those different ways of philosophizing and transcending is reckoned by everybody who goes in for it to be the only one legitimate and worthwhile.

Although of another communion, the monk I now have in mind took the same view of philosophy, or of ‘philosophizing’, as Dr Sprange did, considering it likely to cause special difficulty for a person seeking faith—“Not because faith is incompatible with a genuine philosophy, indeed faith is the fulfilment of philosophy, but because the philosopher’s mind won’t find it easy to make that worshipful submission to the infinitely superior mind of God which faith involves.” I had gone to his monastery when living in the English Midlands and trying to get on with the inquiry that would eventually issue in this book. I was also then going through a period so barren that without seeing myself as a pilgrim, I couldn’t help wishing for a guide. Is it ever better to travel than to arrive? That must depend on the destination (Stevenson only says it’s better to travel hopefully), and in this department of inquiry you can’t be sure there is any destination. Pascal had his Lord say (this being the realm of paradox) ‘Comfort yourself, you would not seek me if you had not found me’, but Pascal was a believer. Anyhow, over the years I consulted a number of spiritual experts, among them that Trappist monk. Who told me plainly he doubted whether my inquiry would ever bring me much nearer the truth, though he ‘suspected the difficulty and even futility of it might be the means of my being drawn to approach the question of faith in a simpler and more direct way’.

At the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, the esoteric school set up near Fontainebleau in 1922, one of the wise sayings to be studied in the Study House was ‘Judge others by yourself and you will rarely be mistaken.’ (I heard another of those sayings once, at his flat in Kensington, from a man to whom the Christian doctrines were ‘empty formulas’, but who, having likewise swallowed a whole system of thought, didn’t lack ready-made answers of his own—only this one too, like the monk’s, wasn’t an answer to a question I had asked. I may add that to him as to all my experts, who saw themselves not as still seeking the truth but as having found it, the philosophizing of others was, in his master’s phrase, ‘pouring from the empty into the void.’) ‘Rarely mistaken’—the qualifying word was needed. If people who have made a lot of money judge poor people by themselves, they may well think them failures, though not everyone who is poor has tried to get rich or even wanted to. Because Dr Sprange valued faith, which he had, and which Paul Crouch had asked him about, he supposed Paul wanted faith. Not only that, because he himself asked things of God, he saw no reason why Paul shouldn’t ask faith or grace of Him. ‘Help thou my unbelief’ indeed, except that the man in the gospel said first (paradoxically enough), ‘Lord, I believe’. Paul didn’t want to believe by ignoring the facts against belief. And how can you settle any doubtful matter without looking into it? After listening to the abbot’s secretary, and much as I liked him, I felt as if I had been advised by Bishop Blougram. And had Paul actually asked a Being he didn’t believe in to help him believe in Him, he would have felt that his case gave Mancy’s term ‘bad faith’, which to him had meant nothing, a sense and an application.

Some people do say they wish they had faith, most of them I think fancying it gives comfort—as it may, though it may also give none even to the most devout (like Cowper, ‘snatch’d from all effectual aid’). But how in any case could a man of faith imagine inquiring about faith yet not desiring it if he hadn’t understood that for a person who doesn’t believe in God, God doesn’t exist? To Paul Crouch, who for his part couldn’t imagine a supreme being desiring his worshipful submission, to be told “Don’t close the door on God!” would certainly have seemed strange. For him to have called on God for help, to have acted as if he did believe in God, would have been a sham.

And yet his position wasn’t one of disbelief. In fact if an agnostic holds that whether God exists we neither know nor can know,—if the name means what Huxley seems to have meant by it in coining it, Paul wasn’t an agnostic. His position was one of unbelief. The old sceptical philosophers may have doubted whether real knowledge is possible, whether any facts can be certainly known, still to scepticize in the etymological sense is at least to ‘consider’ the facts, to ‘inquire’ into that possibility—to ‘seek’ after truth.

But not after ‘the truth‘, so such an inquiry can’t be futile as the monk had conceived it to be—not being an attempt to acquire faith—, and what he had said about it was no discouragement.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Peter Jordan? Any new works in the pipeline?

Peter: A book literary agents would think worth reading would be next for me, if I could think it worth writing.

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

Peter: I set One Sprinkling Day in Wales because to pay a debt to Wales was one of my aims in writing it. But I hope it will interest AmeriCymru readers for other reasons as well, and I’m much obliged to AmeriCymru for the opportunity to speak about it.


AmeriCymru: Hi Philip, and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. When did you first start writing? What inspired you to write the many tales of 'everyday' life in Merthyr that have entertained and amused many visitors to this site over the years?

Philip: A) It was around 1967 and my first writing was like the Egyptian hieroglyphics at Tutankhamun’s tomb- unfortunately it was my parent’s new wallpaper in indelible marker pen-it didn’t make any sense to anyone, but I was aged 3 and I am now 54 but I am still not making much sense.

B) The local newspaper – the Merthyr Express (the Depress)- in a backwoods Town (not backwards)- there is very little news worthy items for a reporter to produce- so I created aliases such as Lamby Davis Junior, Sue Ellen Eweing and Colt Seevers to liven up the letters page and parody the news items that were included. The first few got through but then they I was rumbled and my game was up. The local librarian, Carolyn Jacob spotted my ‘talent’ and asked me to write a story for a local book called ‘My Town’ in which professional writer Phil Caradice selected the story ‘Cliffhanger’ about Gerry Mander a disgraced MP, which I had to read out an extract in the Council Chamber- people were in stitches and the genie was out of the bottle . No matter how many times I wish he won’t go back in.

C) Inspiration is everywhere in the Valleys, Welsh people have a distinct black sense of humour- we can laugh at ourselves- something those across the bridge have extracted at birth-we have a we’ve lost until we have won-but once we have won- boy do we enjoy the moment!

AmeriCymru: A quote from one of your recent stories:- "In a recession there is only one growth industry and that is gambling and Merthyr Tydfil had been in recession for over 200 years now." Care to tell us a little more about Merthyr's recent history? Why do you think the town has fared so badly in economic and employment terms?

Philip: Alexander Cordell sums it up in one book title- ‘The Rape of the Fair Country’, Merthyr was exploited by the English Ironmasters and has been a ‘Rotten Borough’ ever since. It has been forgotten by successive Governments in Westminster – with the continual brain drain it has for the last 200 years been in perpetual recession and with capitalists preferring to take their factories and sweatshops to Asia and beyond- there is zero opportunity for the unskilled to find meaningful employment with the inevitable loss of the work ethic. Poor people chase the dream of becoming ‘scratch-card rich’ or idolise reality show ‘stars’ – it is so sad. Although conversely with the loss of heavy industry and the export of it’s unintentional by- product of pollution to China, there are echoes of Wales two Centuries ago- and a new question raises it’s head, How Green IS my Valley?

AmeriCymru: Do you write anything other than comedy? Are there any special difficulties when writing humorous stories? I guess it's essential to be funny at a bare minimum but how does the creative process differ?

Philip:  A) Comedy is my bitch. I write for my own pleasure ( I laugh a lot of my own jokes) the purpose is a cathartic and once I have written the story and I have exorcised the demon of stress. Whilst my comedy shorts (not the Don Estelle ones) come and go, once I have written them they are forgotten. More recently (last 5 or so years) I write comedy football match reports on my local Non-League team, Merthyr Town, which I post on the Merthyr Town Fans Forum fortnightly, they rarely reflect the actual game but cheer people up. Opposing Teams have included my match reports in their programmes (the ultimate accolade) or retweet them to their fans- one match report was on a postponed match due to a frozen pitch but few people noticed such was their laughter.

B) Humour is very subjective- I would hate to offend any one person but I don’t agree with political correctness…for something to be funny it must be on the edge, celebrities put themselves in a position to be lampooned….but every celebrity that I have made laugh on Twitter which includes Ricky Gervais, Rob Schneider, Richard E Grant, Warwick Davis and the legendary Reg D Hunter are real good sports.

C) If I can make one person a day smile or forget their troubles then I have won. My readers in the past have complained that people think they are mad reading one of books poolside on holiday- for spontaneously bursting out in laughter- people have referred to my stories as ‘hilarious’ ‘hysterical’ , ‘zany’ and on occasion ‘pure genius’ and ‘criminal’ (Their words, not mine) - I have one even ruined one reader’s kitchen ceiling from her overweight husband reading a book in the bathtub, caused an injury off a sunbed and had a 90 year old Granny lock herself in the bedroom to finish a book in peace.

AmeriCymru: Where do you draw inspiration for the individual stories? Do they spring from overheard conversations, newspaper articles etc or are they simply inspired products of the authorial imagination?

Philip: Like my predecessor the late great Charles Dickens, I am a social commentator- I even pinched his pseudonym ‘Boz’ – he doesn’t need it as he is DEAD- just like Dickens I am a lawyer by profession- the same Dickensian characters exist today – albeit morphed into different people- inspiration comes from colourful characters- we all know them- in our minds eye, we see who we want to see in the leading role- the key is making the story almost believable – that it COULD happen – reading is the ultimate escapism and rich or poor can enjoy it in equal measures- I have been likened in style on more than occasion to Tom Sharpe (In Welsh-Dai Blunt?)- and of course a warped mind is essential.

AmeriCymru: Do you have any favorites amongst your stories or any that you are particularly proud of? If so , which ones.

Philip: The Ex-Files (My Boss gets caught dogging), Mass Murder (A Catholic Priest goes nuts), Chariots on Fire (Millenium Edition) – the only time you are allowed to be legally racist in Wales- the Wales v England Rugby Match-I particularly loved this one as BBC Comedian and genius Boyd Clack of High Hopes & Satellite City Fame did me the honour of reading it aloud in a local Rhymney Brewery public house- the Winchester- just like the beer and the tale he is pure class, - Big Top ( A local disabled child runs away to the circus) , A Knight at the Museum (Rolf Harris’ painting comes alive at Cyfarthfa Castle Art Gallery) and the ‘Raj Quartet’- four stories about the Royal Family – Harry’s Game (Set in Afghanistan) , Stuck Up – a Prince is Born at the Queen Camilla Hospital- The Royal Wee (HM stuck in a lift) and How Very Troll (Twitter gets a Royal Assent)- unlike Sir Rolf or Sir Jimi I am not likely to get a knighthood.

AmeriCymru: How many stories have you written in total and where can the connoisseur go to read them all?

Philip: Last Count 223 complete – one in its embryonic stages- they are only a limited edition- I produce five of each volume purely for close friends- the only places to go will be the Americymru Website and occasionally on the Merthyr Town Fc Fans Forum.

AmeriCymru: Do you have any publications currently available? Do you plan to publish in the future?

Philip: No- I had a free venture with a book called ‘The Hills have Dai’s’ a few years ago – on a ‘vanity’ publishing company based in Austria- it outsold Mein Kampf but it struggled a bit. I plan to publish Volume 45 called ‘Obese City’ for my friends in Wales and the ex-pats across the Pond. Past volumes have reached Italy, Australia and Canada and Rheola market, Neath Car Boot Sale- one day I hope to emulate JRR Hartley – I wonder if Fly Fishing is still an offence.

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

Philip: In Merthyr, our perceived life expectancy is shorter than Sierra Leone (Source: the Sun newspaper) , if a Tydfilian reaches 50 years of age we get a telegram from the Queen- so the message is don’t buy the Sun ….oh and that life’s too short not to laugh- and thanks to Ceri Shaw and Gaabi on Americymru, the World can now laugh with you.

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