Ceri Shaw



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Category: Author Interviews

An Interview With Lesley Coburn

By Ceri Shaw, 2015-05-14



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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AmeriCymru: What are you reading? Any recommendations?

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

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

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

AmeriCymru: Any final message for our readers?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AmeriCymru: Where can one go to purchase Stormteller online?

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

AmeriCymru: What's next for David Thorpe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AmeriCymru: How is Thomas remembered in Korea today?

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

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

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

AmeriCymru: What's next for Stella Price?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AmeriCymru: What's next for John Dingley?

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

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

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

Click the image above or here for Amazon listings.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about Inspector Marco?

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

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

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

AmeriCymru: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

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

AmeriCymru: Who are your favorite crime writers?

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

AmeriCymru: Favorite TV crime series?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Keil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Star Supply Stores Garnant

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

Follow his progress on his blog:-

Murder At The Star


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commerce Place

Commerce Place Garnant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wales Married To The Eye by R D Berner


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

Wales Married To The Eye on Blurb


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

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

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

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

St David's Cathedral interior

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

Between us, we took nearly 3000 photographs.

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

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

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

Brecon canal

Brecon Canal ( Click for larger image ) 

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

We want to spend more time in the north.

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

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

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

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

Boats in Aberaeron, Wales

Aberaeron Boats ( Click for larger image )

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


Marly Evans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Peters in blue suit

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

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

Books by Andrew Peters


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Andrew: Yes! But only to excess.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrews cats ( in boxes )

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