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Category: Author Interviews


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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



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AmeriCymru interview  photo.jpgAmeriCymru: 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.




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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.




Welsh American author David Lloyd

David Lloyd



themovingofthewater.jpgAmeriCymru: Hi David and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce your new short story collection, The Moving of the Water for our readers?

David: The Moving of the Water is a collection of stories set in a Welsh-American immigrant community in upstate New York during the 1960s, exploring their struggles, aspirations, and desires; how the past helps creates the present, how the present makes us reinterpret the past. Immigrants and their children live within competing cultural currents - some they welcome, some they ignore, some they struggle against. I want to entertain readers but also address large issues: what is “home” for an immigrant? how does culture shape behavior? what connects us to others, and what divides us?

AmeriCymru: What is the origin and significance of your title, The Moving of the Water?

David: The title is from the New Testament, John 5:2-3 - and that passage is the book’s epigraph: “Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.” My characters, like those at the Bethesda pool, are (in different ways in different stories) hopeful and faithful, but complexly damaged. In a sense they all are “waiting for the moving of the water” - for healing, fulfillment, transformation. “The Moving of the Water” is also the title of the collection’s final story - and my favorite. Those interested can find it at the Virginia Quarterly Review web site: https://www.vqronline.org/fiction/2018/06/moving-water .

My father emigrated to the US with my mother, eldest brother, and sister in 1948. While minister at the Welsh Presbyterian Church in Liverpool, he received a call from Moriah Presbyterian Church in Utica for a minister who could preach in Welsh. So I was born into a Welsh-American chapel community, attending two services on Sunday, Sunday school, choir practice, and so on. It’s no surprise that passages from the Bible and from Welsh hymns echo in my mind and memory!

AmeriCymru: Can you tell us something about the book cover?

David: The cover art is by Welsh artist Iwan Bala. I’ve admired Iwan’s political and cultural art for decades and found the image in a book of his art, Hon: Ynys Y Galon (This: Island of the Heart). It’s a detail from Iwan’s oil painting Cof, Bro, Mebyd (Memory, Community, Childhood), and shows a figure in a coracle-like boat on the open sea, the dark mountains of Wales looming behind. An umbilical cord stretches from this adult figure back to Wales as the archetypal head faces west - in my mind, towards the “new world.” The figure in the coracle is nourished by Wales, tethered to Wales, but striking out into the unknown.

AmeriCymru: One of your stories (included here) is "Dreaming of Home," which won the 2015 Americymru short story contest. What can you tell us about this story?

David: The main character is Llew, short for Llywelyn, an illustrious name in Wales because of Llywelyn the Great, King of Gwynedd, and his grandson Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the last independent prince of Wales, who died in battle in 1282. Llew is a nickname for Llywelyn, and in one of my stories Llew had also been a warrior. Another connection with these medieval warrior-princes is that “Llew” in Welsh means “lion.” In my story, Llew was a soldier in WWI who almost died of his wounds in battle. An immigrant to the US, Llew is psychologically wounded: he’s become an alcoholic, and during the evening of the story, he comes home drunk to his shabby apartment, turns on the TV, and hears news of an attack by the Viet Cong on the Bien Hoa air base. He falls asleep and dreams of his own battle, his wounding in a trench during a German mortar attack. In his delirium, surrounded by dying and dead comrades, his father appears in the trench to comfort Llew - and Llew asks his father to take him home. “But you are home, my boy,” his father tells him - meaning that this trench is a new home for Llew, one he can never leave. Llew wakes up - and remembers nothing of his dream except seeing his father. He falsely believes that he dreamed of his childhood in Wales, the home in the village where he “truly belonged.” But the story suggests that “home” is complicated for Llew, as for all of us. We have many homes that define who we are, and for Llew it is his childhood home in Wales, the flat where he lives in upstate New York, and also a trench in Belgium. The many places to which we belong reminds me of the passage from John 14:2-3: “In my father’s house, there are many mansions.”

AmeriCymru: "Anchored in the community of first-, second-, and third-generation Welsh Americans in Utica, New York, during the 1960s, the stories in David Lloyd’s The Moving of the Water delve into universal concerns: identity, home, religion, language, culture, belonging, personal and national histories, mortality." Is there anything unique about the Welsh-American community or are their concerns and experiences in any way universal among the various immigrant communities?

David: Utica, New York, where I grew up, was home to many immigrant communities: Irish, Italian, Polish, Eastern European Jewish, Welsh, Lebanese, among others. And more diverse populations have arrived since I left. While distinct in so many ways (religion, food, music, the language, and so on), the Welsh-American community definitely shared concerns and experiences with their neighbor communities. My family’s social life was centered around Moriah Church, where my father served as minister, similar to how the Catholic church was central to most of my Irish and Italian friends, and the synagogue to my Jewish friends. But culture is not static - it moves and spreads - so we all learned from each other. We all absorb what’s around us. I’m lucky to have a Welsh and an American heritage, and the weird blending that results.

AmeriCymru: You use Welsh words and phrases in many of the stories: how does the Welsh language function in the book?

David: Many contemporary writers from immigrant backgrounds include their languages of origin in their English-language stories. Translating their characters’ speech would sound false, since immigrants would naturally use a hybrid of English and the family language - in my case Welsh. At home my parents spoke English with Welsh accents, and every day from bore da (good morning) to nos da (good night) I heard some Welsh. At dinnertime, my mother would call out, “mae’r bwyd yn barod” - she’d never say, “food is ready.” In my stories the meaning of the Welsh that characters speak should be evident within the context, but at the end of the book I provide “Notes on Welsh Words, Phrases, and Names.”

AmeriCymru: "Lloyd’s stories are in the realist mode, yet sometimes broken up with startling, dream-like, hallucinatory passages that are decisive in opening up another range of experience." Would you agree with this assessment?

David: Yes I do agree. All the stories deal with people facing crises or challenges drawn from the “real world.” But life - for immigrants or indeed anyone - is not simply made up of verifiable facts. It’s also magical, mysterious, irrational, infused with memory - we dream, we fantasize, we hallucinate, we remember and misremember. I want to build those dimensions of life into some of my stories. So for example, in the story “The Visitor” a woman in her 70s receives a nightly visitor - Geraint, whom she’d hoped to marry when a young woman living in Wales, before her parents brought her to the US. She has conversations with this figment from her past - conversations that help her live in her present and understand the conditions of her early life. The conversations are real, but they’re also a fantasy arising from her past in Wales, impinging on her present in the US.

Another example is the story “Crooked Pie,” in which the ten year old son of Welsh immigrants who has assimilated into American culture visits a theme park based on Disneyfied renditions of Grimm’s fairy tales - Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Goldilocks, and so on. He enters the House of the Crooked Man. There, in this magical place, he meets himself as he might be at age fifteen. This is impossible, but his double in a lengthy monologue gives him a vision of what it’s like for a boy to live through American culture of the mid to late 1960s. I hope this dream-like dimension conveys the traumatically rapid pace of deracination, and of dynamic American culture generally as experienced by the children of immigrants during that era (and in our current era!).

AmeriCymru: What attracted you to the short story genre? Will you be publishing more collections?

David: In adolescence I wanted to be a poet. And that identity continued through my college years. But while in the PhD program at Brown University, I took a fiction writing course with novelist John Hawkes - a magnificent teacher and an amazing writer. I was hooked. So I joined the Brown master’s degree creative writing program in fiction - not poetry - while completing my PhD. I soon discovered that I’m less interested in writing stand-alone stories than in extended projects, such as story cycles - that’s the case with my first collection, Boys: Stories and a Novella, and with this new book, The Moving of the Water. I am working on a novel now featuring a Welsh American - I won’t say more so I don’t spook myself!

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little about your poetry?

David: I’ve published three poetry collections: The Everyday Apocalypse, The Gospel According to Frank, and Warriors. All include poems about Wales or Welsh-American experience, but The Gospel According to Frank is entirely about blended experience, the ebb and flow of cultural forms and ideas. The “Frank” of the title is Frank Sinatra, and so in general the poems explore issues relating to popular culture in twentieth-century America, such as fame, greed, creativity, and power. But in doing so, the forty-eight poems merge Sinatra’s public persona with other cultural materials, including the Old and New Testaments (this is, after all, Sinatra’s “gospel”!), Greek mythology, the medieval Irish epic Táin Bó Cúailnge, and the medieval Welsh masterpiece, the Four Branches of The Mabinogi.

AmeriCymru: What's next for David Lloyd? Any new titles, readings in the works?

David: I have a new poetry collection, The Body’s Compass, just accepted by Salmon Poetry (based in Ireland). And I’ve been giving readings to promote The Moving of the Water. Last summer while in Wales I gave readings at Bangor University, the Imperial Hotel in Merthyr Tydfil, and the Workers Galley in Ynyshir. I have readings coming up at Wells College, Aurora, New York on February 26; at Le Moyne College, Syracuse, New York on April 4; and the Utica Public Library, Utica, New York on June 1. I’ll likely give a reading in Portland, Oregon in March.

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

David: I’m thankful to see such dedicated engagement with Welsh culture and language on the AmeriCymru site. Books, music, art, film, photography - they give us pleasure, they expand our horizons. They also need our active support!


Welsh poet Paul Steffan Jones and artist Chris Rawson-Tetley have been collaborating on two projects recently, inspired by the Welsh legend of the Cantre'r Gwaelod. The projects  comprise Chris's visual re-imagining of a lost land and Paul's poems of loss and reverence. AmeriCymru spoke to Paul and Chris about these projects and their future plans.


cantrergwaelod.jpg


 
Photos: 12




Paul Steffan Jones



Paul Albufeira 2017.jpgAmeriCymru: Hi Paul and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. How did the idea for this joint exhibition came about?

Paul: Chris and I have admired each other's work for about a decade and had first discussed a collaboration inspired by a certain type of landscape and its many changing uses about four years ago. In the early summer of 2017, Chris approached me with his idea of a work of images and words responding to the Cantre'r Gwaelod legend and what this suggested to us. I was intrigued by this approach and agreed to work with Chris to produce Gwaelod. I was particularly drawn to the proposition as I was in the throes of researching my family history which I was to find a highly relevant reference point for much of my writing for the project.

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about the Cantre'r Gwaelod legend?

Paul: As a native of Ceredigion, I was brought up with the Cantre'r Gwaelod legend and assumed wrongly that most people in my country also shared this ancient knowledge. My first encounter with the tale was as a young boy being in a car with my parents driving to the Cardigan Bay coast at Aberaeron. My mother suggested that if I listened carefully, that is if I kept quiet, I might be able to hear bells tolling under the sea. This led to me wanting to learn more about this strange land. I soon learned about Seithenyn the gatekeeper, the 16 towns lost to flood due to his drunkenness and that the legend was already over a thousand years old. I learned that my mother's family had always lived on the coast of that bay. I began to see them and me, fancifully perhaps, as the descendants of the survivors of that catastrophe, the inheritors of that rich but inaccessible kingdom. I see the legend as a metaphor for diaspora, due to both natural and man-made causes and see it as an important tale, largely forgotten, in the story of who the Welsh are, who I am. A fascinating development in the story's later life is an attempt in the modern era to explore the area concerned for physical evidence of an inundated land.

AmeriCymru: The project has had one exhibition so far, in Cardigan. Are there any plans to exhibit elsewhere?

Paul: We are hoping to put the exhibition into other towns and cities, and other continents. We are open to suggestion.

AmeriCymru: You have been collaborating with artist Chris Rawson-Tetley on this project. How do you work together? Does Chris respond to your poems or vice versa?

Paul: Chris and I meet regularly at his studio to discuss ideas, progress and direction. We also get inspiration from taking our cameras out and visiting coastal West Wales locations together. A key factor in the co-working is the sharing of family photographs, some going back to the late 1800s. We bounce ideas off each other but our constituent efforts are formed in isolation-Chris in his studio, me in my lap in any space I can get into that position. I have performed some of these poems live and they, and the ideas behind them, have been well received.

AmeriCymru: You are currently working on a related project 'Gwaelod-Pictures of Us'. What can you tell us about this project? How does it relate to 'Gwaelod' and will it be published?

Paul: Gwaelod-Pictures of Us is a natural progression from Gwaelod as it is an attempt to populate the landscape that Chris created in his earlier pictures for this project, an imagined Cantre'r Gwaelod. We want to depict the people displaced by the Cantre'r Gwaelod cataclysm (and other disasters) and those who followed them as individuals with their own interesting stories, their individual voices, not anonymous cannon-fodder. Chris is now painting very evocative figurative works as a result. We are in the early stages of discussions about putting out a book of pictures, photographs and poems.

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

Paul: I would like to thank members and readers of Americymru for their continued support for my writing. I hope to bring out a new collection of poems in next 12 months including a small number of Welsh language poems and photographic images, provisionally entitled The Ministry of Loss.



Otherlander




He came from a lost village

he couldn’t remember which one

or how it came to be missing

as it was so long ago

perhaps it had been a frowned

drowned sort of place

or a bulldozed overdosed one

somewhere that wouldn’t be missed


he had been wet behind the ears

but soon fitted in with

the new strangers

although they spoke differently

and seemed disinterested

in anything that was other


his parents never talked about

their origins

and stayed that way until the end


those nights when he could sleep

deep in the cosy burrow of forgetting

he dreamt of a place

that smiled

that worked

that knew its history


what he couldn’t know

was that everyone else

was dreaming

of returning to somewhere

they had never been


he got over it

there had been many villages

lost for various reasons

that’s the way it was

people becoming unwitting

pieces on a giant chess board

that used to be their country

 

 

 




Chris Rawson-Tetley



crt.jpgAmeriCymru: How did you initially become interested in the 'Gwaelod' and 'Gwaelod - Pictures Of Us' projects?

Chris: I visited the area of West Wales on a regular basis for thirty years, and it both fascinated and evaded me. The landscape continued to elude in spite of all the research I carried out over the years into its cultural and geological history. Puzzling over the engagement prompted an assessment of my involvement from a practical artistic point of view.

My wife and I moved to Ceredigion permanently in early 2014 to be with good friends, and now I feel that perhaps I might just be approaching an understanding of what it was that I was missing.

There are many places in West Wales with the word gwaelod in their name. Gwaelod in straight translation is lowland, but of course there are also other connotations. It can also be a part of the nomination Cantref ‘r Gwaelod, the lowland hundred, and part of the myth that is Maes Gwyddno or Gwyddno’s land, the sunken kingdom that supposedly occupied the area that is Cardigan Bay, an area of land so fertile that, “one acre there was worth three elsewhere”.

AmeriCymru: How many media do you work in? Do you have a particular media that you consider your favorite to work in? Why?

Chris: My chosen medium at the moment is painting. But the supports I use for it may vary according to the “feel” of the image I wish to create. Paper, wood and slate have all been used. Slate as a support for work demands a different approach to presentation, the image is only a part. A slate is an object in itself and therefore the whole thing demands more care when presenting.

I wouldn’t say that I have a “favourite” media, but slate certainy presents more possibilities as part of a piece.

AmeriCymru: Do you have a particular message in your work, an effect you want it to create in your audience or does this vary from piece to piece?

Chris: My first series of works, “Gwaelod – Imagining a sunken kingdom.”, dealt with the myth and imagined the kind of imagery that might be created by such a culture as well as responding to an actual geological past in a similar manner.

The legendary watery inundation of “Gwaelod” was the cause of a diaspora, or scattering of the people. Diaspora, as a term, has come to be associated on a global scale with forced removal from homelands, genocide and political upheaval as well as natural disaster. But all mass tragedies contain many intimate ones – the past may be shared but the experience of it is individually personal, and diaspora may also be the scattering of family and friends by forces beyond individual or communal control.

The works I am creating in the “Gwaelod – Pictures of Us” continue the story in a modern setting and are not intended as a dip into nostalgia but as representaions of who we are and where we are from. Important remembrances, for without an intimate and fiercely guarded knowledge of shared history a people are at the disposal of whatever despotic whim a cynical regime may consider. The images are of social interaction not work. A fact often overlooked is that work while being of importance as a means of providing the means of survival is not the reason for it. Human beings by nature are gregarious and it is within a shared social history that our roots are located.

I began to work collaboratively with the poet, Paul Steffan Jones in 2017, having become friends some seven years previously.

What such a collaboration as mine and Paul Steffan Jones hopefully creates is something born from a mutual understanding and respect for the practice of the other. Paul’s poetry has inspired my works and my works have inspired Paul.

AmeriCymru: How many hours a day do you spend creating?

Chris: I try to work every day. Even when not actually making work I am contemplating my next move or preparing for a piece. Art isn’t a nine-to-five job, although a major part of the actual practice may be carried out during those hours. Actual creation takes place in bursts of activity, the rest of the time is spent setting up the conditions in which those “bursts” can take place. I have worked commercially and on academic collaborations over the years and so probably have a slightly more pragmatic attitude than is generally thought to be the norm for an “artist” - not a term I use, “stuffist” being preferred as I make “stuff”!

AmeriCymru: Where can our readers find your work online ?

Chris: Since retiring, I was a university lecturer in the arts, I no longer maintain a web presence. I do however have a Facebook page (most people do) which I use only for “art” information purposes, generally. All the art works I publish there are in the public domain.

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

Chris: Perhaps one of my favourite quotes from John Ruskin – “Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts;—the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others; but of the three, the only quite trustworthy one is the last.” (John Ruskin, “St Mark’s Rest”.)




Cantre'r Gwaelod - The Legend

From the Wikipedia:- Cantre'r Gwaelod, also known as Cantref Gwaelod or Cantref y Gwaelod (English: The Lowland Hundred), is a legendary ancient sunken kingdom said to have occupied a tract of fertile land lying between Ramsey Island and Bardsey Island in what is now Cardigan Bay to the west of Wales. It has been described as a "Welsh Atlantis" and has featured in folklore, literature and song.

Cantre'r Gwaelod was an area of land which, according to legend, was located in an area west of present-day Wales which is now under the waters of Cardigan Bay. Accounts variously suggest the tract of land extended from Bardsey Island to Cardigan or as far south as Ramsey Island. Legends of the land suggest that it may have extended 20 miles west of the present coast.

There are several versions of the myth. The earliest known form of the legend is usually said to appear in the Black Book of Carmarthen, in which the land is referred to as Maes Gwyddno (English: the Plain of Gwyddno). In this version, the land was lost to floods when a well-maiden named Mererid neglected her duties and allowed the well to overflow...... MORE HERE

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the devil tree


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diolch i chi gyd!




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

Back to Welsh Literature page >


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

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

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

 



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Most Welshmen are worthless,

an inferior breed, doctor.’

He did not know I was Welsh.

Then he praised the architects

of the German death-camps—

did not know I was a Jew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Welsh Literature page >


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

AmeriCymru Interview With Bernard Knight 4/17/12

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AmeriCymru Interview With Bernard Knight 3/12/12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AmeriCymru: What''s next for Bernard Knight?

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

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

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

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

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



Works by Bernard Knight on Amazon

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An Interview With Lesley Coburn


By Ceri Shaw, 2015-05-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AmeriCymru: What are you reading? Any recommendations?

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

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

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

AmeriCymru: Any final message for our readers?

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

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


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

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AmeriCymru: Where can one go to purchase Stormteller online?

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

AmeriCymru: What's next for David Thorpe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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