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Category: Book Reviews

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Tolkien And WelshBuy Tolkien And Welsh here

I like this book. It is challenging but accessible, clear and intellectually good fun.  At the outset, the author tells us that this is a “book by a linguist … making the topic accessible to a larger audience.” The truth of this is immediately found in his definition of the traditional Welsh poetic form the cywydd, which consists of a series of seven-syllable lines in rhyming couplets, with all lines written in cynghanedd, a concept of sound-arrangement within one line, using stress, alliteration and rhyme.”

A list of relevant technical definitions that maybe be unfamiliar to the general reader are found upfront, where they are needed and chapter-end notes provide convenient references, additional material and relevant web links. Tolkien aficionados and linguists will be in their natural habitat although, being neither, I was thoroughly at home between the covers. Though not essential, as everything is translated, a familiarity with Welsh is useful, but the native Welsh, novice and monoglot American/English speaker will all find plenty to entertain/inform them, the chapters calling to mind short detective stories with often similarly surprising developments; the whole thing suitable for browsing or immersion.

As to J.R.R. and the Welsh Language, our author lets the Hobbit’s author speak:

 “I find the Welsh Language especially attractive.” At another time Tolkien adds that the Welsh components (of The Lord of the Rings) are what have “given perhaps more pleasure to more readers than anything else in it.” And the quote Welsh people will find most endearing “… even though I first only saw it (Welsh) on coal trucks, I always wanted to know what it was about.”  Wales seems to appear and re-appear like Gandalf the magician, often when you least expect it. For example, even The Hobbit was written while Tolkien was professor of Anglo Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford where his close friend was C.S. Lewis! In his undergraduate days, again at Oxford, Sir John Rhys was his Professor of Celtic Languages. Rhys held some interesting views on his native Welsh, noting that Welsh literature abounds “in allusions to heroes who are usually described with the aid of the mother’s name” such as Gwydion son of Don and Arianrhod daughter of Don.   Apparently, in Wales ’into the nineteenth century, some wives did not change their names when they married, and sons could choose to use their father’s or mother’s name…’ I’ve always thought of Welsh women as founder members of the strong, silent type! Taking this a stage further, the mother of the hero of The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, “was the fabulous Belladonna Took…” and there were rumors of a fairy wife in the family; the whole episode reminiscent of the old Welsh Tale Meddygon Myddfai/ The Physicians of Myddfai. The undergrowth thickens as we are reminded that Welsh myth and literature were “part of the ‘leaf mould’ of Tolkien’s mind…”

One of Tolkien’s place-name creations/borrowings Gwynfa is interesting. We learn that it is associated with a dragon as is a real Gwynfa in Wales, this idea being reinforced by reference to the story about Merlin, Vortigern and the white and red dragons fighting; another tale from Cymru. Gwynfa means a holy or white place and by extension paradise. Over the years and by foreign language invasion we are told that Gwynfa became Wenvoe became Whitland. Dinbych (Welsh for Small Fort/Din Bach) became Tenby; Tyndyrn (Welsh for King’s Fort) became Tintern - as in the Abbey - with the original meanings becoming all but lost. What is truly amazing is that Tolkien’s invented languages show the same type of detailed, linguistically logical progression. There are even those amongst us, in the real world of 2012, writing and speaking Elvish!

A little further along, Isaac Taylor is referenced as having said that “the names of important rivers, posse an almost indestructible vitality.” They are a ‘type of linguistic fossil …’ Most of the rivers in the UK carry often modified Celtic names. Take the River Avon for example which is a bilingual tautology: Avon (afon) is Welsh for river. The English apparently didn’t know this, thereby creating the name River River! The River Usk (Latin Isca, Welsh/Irish Wysg [as in whiskey/Water of life]) is again River River. Bree Hill in Tolkien is Hill Hill and even more hilarious to our linguistic brethren we are informed that a local landmark in Tolkien’s youth, Bredon Hill (Celtic/Old English/English), is indeed Hill Hill Hill! It starts you mentally scanning local, real place names to see if you can find Lake Lake or Town Town.  (I found Table Mesa in my area.)

Tolkien’s created personal and family names are no less invested. The likes of Maggot, Boffin of Yale and Took are explained along with real and created family histories going back to pre-Norman days. Castles, prominences and land marks, as in The Carrock, find real-life exemplars in Castell Carreg Cennen and the like; many replete with similar attendant legends. One is left startled by the shear detail and linguistic consistency of Tolkien’s literary creations. Whether tugged on the sleeve by place or personal names, or a compelling story set in a vivid and believable geography, we are more than willing - in fact eager - to fully enter the illusion of Middle Earth.

The Welsh have always been intensely interested in the history and origins of names, both personal and place. This book will have you looking under your verbal beds and up in dusty attics, hoping to find unexpected yet friendly ghosts of meaning in your own lettered heritage and Shire. I can only hope that one of these days the author writes a sequel: A comprehensive account of actual Welsh place and personal names.

Hwyl am y tro/Bye for now, John Good/Sioni Dda.

El Mirage, Arizona.

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Dale and Lucy are two students with an interest in the supernatural. One weekend, they travel to Sker House, South Wales, a private residence with a macabre history which has recently been converted into a seaside inn. They plan to write an article for the university magazine about a supposed haunting, but when they arrive, they meet a landlord who seems to have a lot to hide. Soon, it becomes apparent that all is not well at Sker House. An air of opression hangs over it, the true depth of the mystery going far beyond a mere historical haunting. This is a place where bad things happen, and evil lurks. Little by little Dale and Lucy fall under Sker's dark spell, and as they begin to unravel the secrets of the past, they realize they also have to do battle with the ghosts of the present.

Welcome to Sker House, a place where fact and fiction collide.

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REVIEW



On a recent work trip away in L.A. I took a day off and realised that I was confined to my motel room all day with nothing to read. Or so I thought. Checking my inbox I found a review copy of C.M. Saunders excellent 'Sker House'. I began reading and finished the same day!

It's addictive.... a real page turner. It will not scare the pants off you, although there are some eerie passages earlier on, but, it will keep you massively entertained throughout. Think 'ripping yarn' or 'H.P. Lovecraft meets Indiana Jones'.

The Indiana Jones connection is alluded to at one point in the narrative when the guests and staff of Sker House make their final stand against the other worldly horrors which infest the place:-

“This is beginning to turn into an Indiana Jones movie,” said Lucy, who seemed increasingly unimpressed with all the problem-solving.

“In that case, I hope it doesn't turn into the Last Crusade,” said Dale.

“Why? Does the hero die in that one? I haven't seen it,” said Lucy, feigning interest.

“No. It was just s**t.”

No fear of that! The final scenes, set in the catacombs beneath Sker House, combine comedy and drama with perfect pace to provide a satisfying and thrilling denoument to the creepy capers that precede it.

If you like your ghost stories with a generous side of humor then this book is definitely for you. Sker House landlord James Machen (an allusion, no doubt, to Welsh master of horror fiction, Arthur Machen) entertains us frequently with his wry observations. The alcoholic Welsh landlord, down on his luck and teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, reveals the sad story of his associaton with Sker in a series of drunken soliloquies. At one point he asks himself:-

"What was it Richard Burton said? Show a Welshman a million exits and he'll always choose the path to self-destruction. Or was it Anthony Hopkins? Maybe they both said it. Whatever. It sounded about right."

All in all I have no hesitation in recommending Sker House to anyone who has a sense of humor and a taste for the supernatural. With summer vacation time looming this book is a perfect accompaniment for long plane or train journeys and ideal for a lazy day at the beach.



INTERVIEW


C.M. Saunders

AmeriCymru: How would you describe your latest novel, 'Sker House'?

In a nutshell, it's a traditional haunted house story with a contemporary twist and a distinctly Welsh flavour. Sker House is an actual location, near Kenfig on the south Wales coast. When I was a kid I used to go on family holidays to Porthcawl and Sker was a regular haunt, excuse the pun. It was in ruins then – the house been refurbished since – and there was just something about the place. There are loads of local legends and ghost stories connected to it. I thought about it a lot over the years, and always toyed with the idea of writing a book about it. When I was living in China a few years ago I had some time on my hands and decided to tackle the project head-on. During the research phase, I found that the truth is even stranger than the fiction. Of all the historical sites in Wales, Sker House is probably the most deserving of having a fictionalized book written about it. It's also one of the lesser-known sites. One of my aims was to share the story of Sker with a wider audience.

AmeriCymru: You have written many horror shorts for magazines, anthologies etc. What attracts you as a writer you to the horror genre?

I don't really know. It probably comes from being a huge Stephen King fan and being addicted to TV shows like Tales From the Crypt and Outer Limits when I was a kid. If I sit down to write, what comes out is naturally dark. Most of it has a little injection of humour, which unfortunately goes over a lot of people's heads. Writing dark fiction is also a bit of a release. My day job is writing about sport and lifestyle for magazines. I love my job, and consider myself lucky to be able to do what I love for a living, but as with most day jobs, it gets a bit monotonous at times. There's a lot of ticking boxes, writing stuffy corporate stuff, and trying to make uninteresting things sound interesting. My style, and what I write about, is largely dictated by the client or the readers. When I write fiction, I don't write for an audience, I write for myself. That's one reason why I turned to indie publishing a couple of years ago. I like the creative freedom. I control everything from the content and the cover design to the pricing, which has been a big sticking point with publishers in the past who always insisted on pricing my books way too high.

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about your 2003 title:- Into the Dragon's Lair: A Supernatural History of Wales?

That was the first book I ever had published. Having left school with no qualifications, I was working in a packing factory in Rhymney. After my shifts I'd go home, research and write about local myths and legends. Partly because I wanted to identify more with Wales, and partly because I was just interested in the subject matter. When people asked what I did in my spare time I'd tell them, but nobody ever thought it would lead to anything, least of all me. I dreamed about being able to leave that factory. After six or seven years work, I polished the manuscript up and sent it out to about a dozen publishers. Most never replied, and the ones that did turned it down. The very last name on the list was a small Welsh publisher called Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, who liked it and agreed to take it on. It caused quite a stir when it came out, there were newspaper and radio interviews for which I was wholly unprepared, but it won the attention of the Welsh Arts Council who got behind it and I ended up getting a grant to go to university as a mature student. Since then, I've had to pinch myself every day. I am living proof that if you put your heart and soul into something, you can achieve anything.

AmeriCymru: You are also a Cardiff City fan and you have written a history of the club. Care to tell us a little more about this?

That was something I started when I was in university, again as a kind of pet project just because I wanted to know more about the club. Their history is fascinating. They are the only club to ever take the FA Cup out of England, and remain the only football club in the world to ever hold the national cups of two different countries at the same time by winning the Welsh cup the same year (1927). There's a great old photo of the then-captain, Fred Keenor, with the FA Cup in one hand a fag in the other. How the game has changed!

It's not always enjoyable, but supporting Cardiff is never boring. The first game I ever saw was a 1-1 draw with Barnet in the old Fourth Division in 1992 (I think), and I went down to Ninian Park quite regularly until I moved away in 2003. I finished the book in 2007, but couldn't find a publisher for it at the time. Then, when the club won promotion to the Premier League in 2012/13, I had another go and lo and behld, there was more interest this time around.

AmeriCymru: What's next for C.M. Saunders. Any new titles in the works?

I took a huge leap recently and scaled down my day job to pursue fiction. Not 100% of the time, but now I do about half and half. I thought if I don't do it now, I never will. I have a new novella coming out in the summer called No Man's Land, a horror story set in the trenches of World War I. It's the centeniery of the Battle of the Somme, so I'm planning on giving the proceeds to a veteran's charity. My main project at the moment is an adventure series for young adults about a character called Joshua Wyrdd, who finds a magic amulet in a rock pool in Anglesey which transports him through time. I've always been a history buff. The books are written in such a way that they aren't just adventure stories, but are also at least partially historically accurate, so they can be used as educational tools for kids. The first book is about the Roman invasion of Angelsey and the Final Battle they had there with the Celts and the druids, while the second is about pirates and sea monsters and the third will be about the witch trials.

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

The bond Welsh people have, wherever in the world they travel, is something that never ceases to amaze me. If I ever see a Welsh jersey in a random bar in Hong Kong, or anywhere else, I know I'm looking at a friend. We just seem to have an affinity with each other, and that is something to be cherished. I'd also like to thank Americymru, and it's members, for all their support. It truly means everything. Diolch!

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This is a great read! It has every variety of chase sequence that 19th century technology will allow, black magic, voodoo and even zombies! I have often thought that Shakespeare suffers from a lack of zombies but Owen Parry knows that good literature cannot be without them.

This is the sixth book in a series that features Major Abel Jones, Welshman, British army and American Civil War veteran and investigator extraordinaire. As ever, Major Jones is directly commissioned by Abraham Lincoln and in this instance his mission is to investigate the murder of Susan Peabody, a Northern abolitionist, in New Orleans in 1863.

Owen Parry`s works have been described elsewhere as "well-researched entertainments" and it is difficult to resist his vivid depiction of war-torn New Orleans. The city is imbued with an atmosphere of decadence, mystery and intrigue which acts as a perfect foil for Major Jones' swashbuckling adventures.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of these books is the character of Jones himself. Jones is in many ways a stereotypical 19th century Welsh Methodist, albeit with an almost superhuman gift for self-preservation. He is aloof, self-righteous, judgemental and pompous almost to the point of arrogance. He never misses a chance to air his prejudices, particularly where the Irish are concerned. But for all that he is a likeable character who frequently fails to live up to his own very high standards and is entirely capable of self-criticism.

This book is a first class entertainment for the lover of historical fiction and an ideal companion for a long journey.

Owen Parry is a nom-de-plume of Ralph Peters who writes about political and military matters under his own name. Whatever one may think of the political opinions expressed in his more serious works, it is undeniable that he is a fine writer of historical adventures. It is also difficult not to sympathise with the sentiments expressed in the dedication to "Faded Coat of Blue" ( 2002 ),one of the earlier Abel jones mysteries:-

"To the Welsh, Scots, and Irish who built America while the English weren`t looking"

Faded Coat of Blue 2002

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surfing-through-minefields

From our interview with Bel Roberts:- "Surfing Through Minefields belongs to the hybrid genre ‘reality fiction’. I have set the story in a fictional contemporary comprehensive school in Monmouth and have researched the facts surrounding the Senghenydd Pit disaster of 1913 in such a way that the history of the event is seen from the prospective of a modern teenager and by the residents of an old people’s home who have actual mementos of the tragic event. The heroine, Lauren, is an English teenager sent to stay with her grandmother in Wales while her parents sort out their various problems." ...read more here

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This is the story of a teenage girl coming to terms with her parents divorce. To complicate matters she is sent away to live in Monmouth, a small town on the Welsh border so she must also adapt to a new school and learn to make new friends a long way from her former home.

The book touches on many themes that you might expect in a teenage ''coming of age'' novel. Lauren''s early experiences with the opposite sex, school bullying and racism all form part of this well paced and lively story. In the course of a meeting with her Welsh grandmother at a convalescent home she learns that a distant relative ( her grandmothers half brother ) was a victim of the Senghenydd mining disaster on October 14th 1913. The following day at school she learns that she must pick a GCSE coursework assignment and decides that she will write on the Universal Colliery disaster and consult with her grandmother for personal recollections and details of this catastrophic event.

The rest of the book interweaves her historical research with her day to day efforts to cope with her life and circumstances in a rich and compelling narrative which will appeal to many adult readers as powerfully as it will to its intended teenage audience.

In the course of her researches Lauren unearths many interesting snippets of information from the newspapers of the time:-

"Today His Majesty King George V sent his condolences to the bereaved families of Senghenydd in The Rhymney Valley, South Wales and expressed his genuine shock at the scale of the disaster. He regretted that he could not visit the scene of the disaster immediately, as he was currently involved in the marriage celebrations of Prince Arthur of Connaught and the Duchess of Fife."

"Many of the bodies show horrific burns and other forms of mutilation but most of those awaiting identification are decomposing fast and should be laid to rest with dignity. One young boy hardly in his teens was identified by his new boots, worn for the first time on that fateful morning, another by a champagne cork, a treasured souvenir rescued from the pit owner’s garden and carried as a lucky omen."

It is clear throughout that Bel Roberts has thoroughly researched her historical subject matter and this is to be commended when you remember that the few books on the tragedy are either difficult or nearly impossible to obtain ( both W. H. Davies Ups And Downs and John H. Brown''s Valley Of The Shadow are referenced in the text )

In conclusion this is a book with the potential to delight readers of all ages. Whether you are interested in the problems confronting teenagers growing to maturity in modern society or with the details of Wales and Britains'' worst colliery disaster this book has something for you. An unreserved thumbs up and 5 star recommendation.


Bird,Blood, Snow by Cynan Jones from the Seren New Stories From The Mabinogion series Bird,Blood,Snow was published in paperback on 1st November 2012, priced 8.99 ( GBP )

Award winning Welsh writer Cynan Jones pens the latest addition to Seren''s critically acclaimed series:- New Stories From The Mabinogion

Read our interview with Cynan Jones

Other Titles by Cynan Jones

The Long Dry Everything I Found At The Beach

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As befits any retelling of the Mabinogion ''Peredur'' story this is a grim and sanguinary tale. The original revolves around the hero''s attempts to win favour and esteem at the medieval court of King Arthur.

In re-imagining this myth for a contemporary audience Cynan Jones has adopted for his hero the juvenile terror and scourge of a modern council estate. No mere ASBO, we follow with horror as Peredur graduates from juvenile delinquency to the status of full blown adult psychopath. In the Afterword Cynan speculates that ''Peredur'' is an early, fragmentary and unfinished example of the medieval questing tale. Consequently the story is related by means of a series of testimonies, police and psychiatric reports and occasional press clippings. There is also a sprinkling of handwritten notes left by the protagonist and excerpts from an unnamed ''biographer'' who has ".....hijacked Peredur, tried to mythologise him".

These different perspectives are woven together skilfully to ensure a seemless narrative flow which is never jarring or disconsonant.

At age eight Peredur is the topic du jour at a local police planning conference:-

"All growed up. Oh well. At least he''s livened things up a bit. We were in need of some entertainment....what do you do with a f****** eight year old who sticks a f****** stick in someone''s eye?"

Later in his career of infamy he is interviewed by his biographer and reveals that:-

"...You can get a person all slopey with a collar bone, easy with something heavy. Not highly technical. Good, satisfying crunch when they go. Ribs are tricky. Sometimes they go, sometimes they dont. You kind of know when you''ve popped a lung though; easily confused mind with a cracked sternum: either way f****** cant breath."

The attempt to mythologize and romanticize Peredur referred to in the opening letter to the editor consists of a series of psuedo Nietzschean ramblings which, whilst they may throw some light on the internal workings of a diseased mind, do very little to make the character any more sympathetic:-

"Usually people make peace with the world and work out compromises so that the two will not hurt each other badly.

Well, some few do not make peace. And some of these are locked away as hopelessly insane and full of fantasy.

I know full well I choose now, one way or another, whether to climb aboard, let myself be spun up in my delusion: in the speed and whirl of it. Let the world of my merry go round turn into a blur. It''s all choice. That''s what the sane sometimes don''t recognize....."

All in all this is a ghastly tale superbly well told. Not for the squeamish it is a must read for anyone with a taste for Welsh noir.It might also serve as a reminder to some that the tales of the Mabinogion have little to do with unicorns, fairy tale castles and damsels in distress.They are often accounts of ghastly and murderous events justified by a barbaric pre Roman, dark age and medieval warrior ideology. And of course.....none the worse for that.

Review by Ceri Shaw


Book Details


Bird, Blood, Snow


The eighth installment in the New Stories from the Mabinogion series transforms a classic tale into a modern Quixotian romp.


Written by: Cynan Jones

Published by: Seren

Date published: 2013-01-01

ISBN: 1854115898


Available in Paperback





A Christmas Carol Revisited - Phil Rowlands

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"Ebenezer Clinton Scrooge III presides over a vast media empire from his base in New York City but this Christmas Eve his world is about to descend into chaos. At the centre of the nightmare is a girl with auburn hair." A 21st century re-imagining of the Dickens classic by Welsh writer Phil Rowlands.

Buy A Christmas Carol Revisited here'

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Charles Dickens ''A Christmas Carol'' was an enormously popular and influential book. Indeed there are those who claim that many of our current Christmas traditions and observances are directly attributable to its influence. However that may be ( and you can read more on that subject here and here ) Welsh author Phil Rowlands has gifted us with a mdern re-imagining of this classic tale and a superb seasonal read.

''A Christmas Tale Revisited'' does not concern itself to follow the structure of the Dickens original. Instead of five 'staves' it is written in four parts and there are many departures from the original story line. It does, however, perfectly preserve the spirit of the original. An attempt has also been made to imitate the style of Dickensian prose which, in this reviewers opinion, adds to the books charm.

We first encounter our modern day Scrooge being driven to his luxury NY penthouse apartment in his chauffer driven limousine :-

"Through tinted windows Ebenezer Clinton Scrooge III watched the bustling side-walk crowds slip silently into the waiting night like shadowy grey wraiths spirited away on a bitter December wind. The gaudy festive lights served only to emphasize their desperate anonymity. Scrooge leaned back into the plush leather upholstery of the limousine, comforted by the fact that he no longer needed to mingle with the madding crowd."

Upon arriving home to discover a ''common beggar'' on his doorstep Scrooge reveals his take on the Christmas spirit:-

"He smiled, this was no hired assassin sent on a mission to destroy, only a common beggar chancing his arm, or what remained of it. A diseased symptom of the times. New York was infested with such hopeless individuals seeking solace or oblivion in alcohol or drugs, authors of their own destruction, and as such deserving of no sympathy or special favors. Still, they never usually surfaced in this district preferring instead to haunt the more stagnant cess-pits of the city. Perhaps the fact it was Christmas Eve had emboldened this particular specimen into venturing further afield in the false hope that honest citizens would be more inclined to lunatic displays of charity many being so imbued with festive spirits they would carelessly part with their hard earned dollars."

In the course of the many visitations and revelations which follow, Scrooge''s miserly worldview is shaken to the core and his ultimate transformation and redemption are assured. It is a major strength of this book that we learn much of the forces and circumstances which moulded Scrooge''s character and made him what he became. In many ways he was a victim of the same uncaring and callous attitudes which he espouses at the beginning of the story. But, to reveal any more detail would be to spoil the plot.

Phil Rowlands has created a Mr Bah Humbug for the 21st century in Ebenezer Clinton Scrooge III and his story is as pitiful and ultimately heart warming as that of his nineteenth century predecessor. In short, whether it be for your own reading pleasure or as a Christmas gift we cannot recommend "A Christmas Carol Revisited" too highly.

Ceri Shaw

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Demons Walk Amongst Us

The second Thomas Oscendale novel, following the success of ''The Dead of Mametz''.

Fresh from the horrors of the Great War on the Western front, military policeman Thomas Oscendale is enjoying leave in his South Wales hometown when he is drawn into the investigation of the savage murder of a war widow.

Buy Demons Walk Amongst Us here

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"Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it''s a letdown, they won''t buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book."   MICKEY SPILLANE

On the basis of the above analysis Jonathan Hicks successfully sold me on both. Beginning as it does in the hell that was Gallipoli we are thrown straight into the horror and drama of WWI. But as if that were not enough to contend with Thomas Oscendale''s leave is taken up with the investigation of a series of grisly murders in his home town of Barry, south Wales. Why are war widows being burned alive and what is the connection with the sinister Major Lucas?

The plot takes many surprising twists and turns before reaching it''s entirely unexpected denouement and the battlefield descriptions  are powerful and harrowing.

At one point Oscendale is picked up by a tank crew in no man''s land. He accompanies them as they assault the German lines:-


''The tank jolted along, lifting and falling with the rise and fall of the ground. After hitting his head on a piece of metal again he curled up into a foetal-like ball with his hands over his head and waited for it all to stop. He knew he was safer in here than he had been lying out in the open but he was aware he was still in mortal danger.

There was a loud bang on the right hand side of the tank and he felt it slew to the left, but to his relief they kept going. Seconds later another anti-tank round hit the right-hand side again and a piece of metal as big as a fist flew across to the other side, catching one of the crew in the head. He saw the man fall screaming to the floor, his hands covering the bloody pulp of what had been his face.''


Amidst the carnage Oscendale struggles to solve the series of interconnected murders that link his hometown to the battlefront.

This book will appeal to lovers of both crime and historical fiction. It combines a first rate murder mystery with a realistic and gruesome account of the effects of mechanised warfare. Not to be missed!

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From the authors blog:- "My publishers at Taylor Street were looking for someone to write about a haunted house. The series "American Horror Story" and the film "The Woman in Black" had hit American audiences in a big way. American Horror Story, with its creepy characters, perverse subplots and psychotic undertones, and The Woman in Black with its eerie atmosphere and dark isolation, had turned the haunted house genre around in the public mind, putting it firmly back on the map. I knew I simply couldn''t copy those two films; it had to be set somewhere different, remote and unrelated. So, ingeniously, (well not really, as we''d just returned from a family holiday in my home town), I decided to set in North Wales during World War Two."

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The House In Wales is Richard Rhys Jones second book; his first The Division of the Damned was a novel about Nazi Vampires in World War Two. Recently released in paperback we learn that the book was written partly in response to the box office success of recent blockbuster ''haunted house'' movies , ''American Horror Story'' and ''The Woman In Black''.

The plot revolves around an evacuee who has been relocated to a lonely vicarage in the hills above Colwyn Bay after his mother is killed in a wartime bombing raid on Liverpool. Daniel Kelly soon realises that all is not well at his new home and that the ''Vicar'', his sinister housekeeper Miss Trimble and the even more sinister Irish Wolfhound Astaroth have plans for him. In the course of avoiding a grisly fate at their hands Daniel is visited by a succession of ghosts, including his dead mother as he feverishly strives to piece together the true nature of the house''s dark secret.

The writing is taut and well paced and the atmosphere is sinister and threatening throughout. The depraved and manipulative relationship between the ''Reverend'' and Miss Trimble is particularly well described. Neither is a sympathetic character and it becomes apparent that they deserve both each other and their ultimate common fate.

This is a book that will recommend itself to all dedicated horror fans. With lashings of delicious depravity and gratuitous gore it is not for the squeamish but if you are looking for a new take on the haunted house/satanic rituals meme then this book is definitely for you. Personally I hope there is a sequel and I am looking forward to whatever comes next from the pen of Richard Rhys Jones. If this was Amazon I''d give it 5 stars.

I should add that we are delighted to announce that Richard Rhys Jones has contributed an original short story to our bi-annual anthology of Welsh fiction - eto. The story, The Left Eye will appear in eto issue two later this month.

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After an initial blaze of glory, during which they became (and still remain) the only non-English club ever to win the coveted FA Cup and came within a whisker of winning the old First Division title, Cardiff City began a slow, painful descent down the footballing hierarchy, into relative obscurity.. Sometimes, however, miracles do happen.

Buy From The Ashes here

Following Cardiff City's historic promotion to the Premier league it is only to be expected that the team will attract more international attention and publicity. Indeed. this season both Cardiff City and their local arch rivals, Swansea City ( promoted in 2011), will be enjoying a bonanza of promotion courtesy of NBC who are broadcasting 380 live matches after securing Premier League broadcasting rights from ESPN and Fox Sports. Premier league sides have been allocated areas in New York and NY Taxis are sporting the teams colors and logos in a bid to increase viewing figures. Cardiff City got Brooklyn and The Swans got the Upper West Side.

Against this background Christian Saunders new book could not be more timely. 'From The Ashes' is an easily readable and enjoyable account of City's more than one hundred year history which charts the rise, fall and rebirth of the side from its humble beginnings in 1899. It doubles as a superb reference work with full accounts of fixtures, results and team personnel for every season from the earliest days to the present.

City's early glory days ended soon after 1927 when they won the F.A. Cup and the team spent a long time in the doldrums till a succession of inspired owners and managers led them back to the top of the English football league system. This is the story which is recounted in painstaking detail in Christian Saunders book.

Wikipedia has this to say about Cardiff's historic 1927 F.A. Cup final win:-

"On St George's Day, 23 April 1927, at Wembley Stadium in London, the FA Cup was taken out of England for the first time when Cardiff City beat Arsenal 1–0 in the Final, cult hero Hughie Ferguson scoring the only goal of the game.

In the 74th minute, collecting a throw from the right by George MacLachlan, Ferguson hurried a tame shot toward the Arsenal goal. Dan Lewis, the Arsenal goalkeeper, appeared to collect the ball but, under pressure from the advancing Len Davies, clumsily allowed the ball to roll through his grasp. In a desperate attempt to retrieve the ball Lewis only succeeded in knocking the ball with his elbow into his own net."

Ernie Curtis, the 19 year old centre-wing said of the goal:

"I was in line with the edge of the penalty area on the right when Hughie Ferguson hit the shot which Arsenal's goalie had crouched down for a little early. The ball spun as it travelled towards him, having taken a slight deflection so he was now slightly out of line with it. Len Davies was following the shot in and I think Dan must have had one eye on him. The result was that he didn't take it cleanly and it squirmed under him and over the line. Len jumped over him and into the net, but never actually touched it."

It is believed that this cup final attracted one of the highest audiences ever, as it was the first to be broadcast by BBC Radio. Captain Fred Keenor received the FA Cup trophy from King George V only 7 years after Cardiff City had entered the Football League and six seasons since they had been promoted to the top division.

The South Wales News reported the historic win in the following terms:-

"To the people (of Wales) it was more than a struggle between two teams: it was a struggle between two nations. This may not be exactly logical but sentiment transcends logic. So this years Cup Final will remain in consideration a Welsh victory."

Today Wales is represented in the Premier League by two excellent sides ( Cardiff and Swansea ) and any true Welshman will wish them both well. Christian Saunders entertaining and informative book is the history of one of them, Cardiff City; arguably the biggest football club in Wales and the only Welsh side to bring the F.A. Cup home to from England. A 'must read' for all Cardiff City and Welsh football fans.

Try our Cardiff City FC quiz below. Download Cardiff City Football Club Quiz Answers here

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QUESTIONS



1. Cardiff City Football Club began life in 1899 as ......?

A. Riverside AFC

B. Splott AFC

C. Grangetown AFC

D. Llandaff AFC

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2. What was the name of the City captain who accepted the F.A. Cup from King George V?

A. Willie Davis

B. Fred Keenor

C. Jack Nicholls

D. Edgar Thomas

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3. City were drawn against which team in the semi-final of the 2010 playoffs. Was it....?

A. Blackpool

B. Nottingham Forest

C. Newcastle

D. Leicester

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4. The first competitive game in Cardiff City's new stadium was played on 8th August 2009. Which team did they play?

A. Plymouth

B. Scunthorpe

C. Watford

D. Middlesborough

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5. City won their first competitive match in the new stadium BUT what was the scoreline?

A. 4-0

B. 3-2

C. 3-0

D. 3-1

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6. What is the capacity of the new Cardiff City stadium?

A. 26,000

B. 27,000

C. 28,000

D. 30,000

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7. 'I'll Be There' ( video below ) is a song unique to Cardiff City fans. It was first sung in 1926 at the time of the General Strike.

A. True

B. False

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8. How much did Sam Hammam pay to secure the transfer of Leo Fortune-West from Rotherham United in 2000? Was it......?

A. 400,000

B. 250,000

C. 300,000

D. 500,000

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9. In the 2012-2013 season City only conceded 45 goals beating their previous record of 51. True or False?

A. True

B. False

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10. In the 2012-2013 season City won 25 League games beating their previous best of 22. True or False?

A. True

B. False



the-llawnt-williams

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Examines the life and work of the Rev. Robert Williams (1810-1881), a Celtic scholar and antiquary who was born in Conwy, Wales, and spent most of his working life as a rural clergyman and private tutor at Rhydycroesau (formerly Llawnt Ucha), near Oswestry. The book uses his diary and his correspondence with other Celtic scholars to reveal the extent of his Welsh and Cornish studies, and to bring to life the man behind the scholar and cleric.

Buy ''The Llawnt Williams'' here

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The Rev. Robert Williams lived the quiet and uneventful life of a mid nineteenth century cleric and this book which relies heavily on his diaries does much to illustrate the lifestyle. What is significant about Robert Williams however, is that he wrote three books in his time, two of them important contributions to 19th century and contemporary Celtic studies.

Such was his devotion to his scholarly pursuits that he may occasionally have neglected his pastoral duties. We learn that during his time at Rhydycroesau ( where he preached for forty years ):-


"It was said by some that his stock of sermons was limited, and seldom increased; that he went through the series about once a year, and then turning over the batch would begin again. Some of the old folks used to say, on coming out of the church, "Oh, we''ve heard that sermon afore, many a time."


This is not to suggest that he was a poor parish priest and his diaries afford numerous examples of his dedication to his parishioners. Nonetheless it is difficult to avoid the impression that he was overwhelmingly preoccupied with his scholarly pursuits.

His magnum opus was undoubtedly the Lexicon Cornu-Britannicum. Although Roberts has been criticised for allowing himself to be ''misled by Welsh analogy'' in the compilation of this 400 page reference work. It has also been said that his dictionary was ''a great advance toward the preservation of the ancient tongue'' and that it was the most ''painstaking and thorough presentation of Cornish as then known''.

Derek Williams has gifted us with a masterful account of the life of an important and much neglected Celtic scholar. This short book also sheds significant light on the composition of Williams major works and in particular on the Lexicon Cornu-Britannicum. Essential reading for all serious students of Celtic Studies.

Free digital versions of the Rev. Robert Williams works can be found below:-

Enwogion Cymru: A Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Welshmen

Lexicon Cornu-Britannicum

The History and Antiquities of the Town of Aberconwy

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Christ Church at Rhydycroesau. The Rev. Robert Williams Preached Here For Forty Years

Christ Church at Rhydycroesau - geograph.org.uk - 325803

Peter Craine [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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The Vanity Rooms by Peter Luther - A Review




the vanity rooms by peter luther , front cover detail

 

The Vanity Rooms is the third episode in the Honeyman saga in which a de-frocked Baptist minister battles an old, demonic Welsh priesthood.

Precious Cargo

Dark Covenant

The Mourning Vessels

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The estate agent begins to pay attention when she learns that he is an aspiring writer and his name is Kris Knight. She remembers her client telling her:-

"He is wanting to be artist.
His name is chesspiece."

She drives at speed across Cardiff Bay to ''The Gathering'' an 18th century dwelling with stunning interior decor and a sinister past. An inscription in the hallway reads:-

"It became customary to gather in front of the Huts or around a large tree: song and dance, true children of Love and Leisure, became the amusement or rather occupation of idle men and women gathered together. Everyone began to look at everyone else and to wish to be looked at himself, and public esteem acquired a price."

The one who sang or danced the best, the handsomest, the strongest, the most skilful, or the most eloquent came to be highly regarded, and this was the first step at once toward inequality and vice: from these preferences arose vanity and contempt on the one hand, shame and envy on the other."

But there is no pressure to take the vacant room:-

"We can leave if you want", she said.
"What?"
"Kris," she said....."It's important that you know that. In fact they told me to say that. You dont have to see the room. You can just go."

But Kris Knight does not leave soon enough and he becomes embroiled in the machinations of Temple 1313. Believing initially, that he has found a benign and benevolent sponsor for his artistic endeavours, he is convinced that his boundless ambition will be rewarded with success and popular acclaim under their guidance. The sinister ''cellphone'' he is given and the extraordinary ''real life'' chess game that he is forced to play soon disabuse him of this notion. He comes to realise that, in order to escape, he must master the game or face a life of hellish servitude.

This is ''sophisticated horror'' and Peter Luther continues to provide his growing audience with exquisitely crafted and electrifying supernatural thrillers.

Whatever your take on the authors fantastical plot devices and whatever you make of his twisted and macabre supernatural themes you will not be able to put this book down until you reach the last page. Be warned! You too will become a temporary tenant of ''The Gathering''.



If you only buy one book about Snowdon in your lifetime make sure it's this one!

It is clear throughout that the author has enjoyed a peculiarly intimate lifelong relationship with Eryri and never more so than when he recounts his plan for a trip around the mountain in the opening chapter:-

"The late Showell Styles, one of this mountain regions most ardent and articulate devotees, in a charming, knowledgeable,garrulous book,The Mountains of North Wales, proposed that you should do just this as a rapid, minds-eye journey,a girdling of the mountain at a distance of a mile or a mile and a half (no kilometric nonsense for old Showell) more across them. When I started to plan this book, Showells idea grew on me.Why not follow the circuit of the peak not just rapidly and in the minds eye, but lingeringly and in reality?"

Starting out from the Miner's Track the author circumnavigates the mountain describing its many faces as he goes. It quickly becomes clear that he is familiar with every path and rock face along the way, indeed we learn that he has been visiting and climbing Snowdon since he was a boy. But the account never descends into mere personal reminiscence as we are regaled with details about the mountain's topography, wildlife, history and folklore and there are constant allusions to the delights which await in later chapters. It also becomes clear that Jim Perrin enjoys a comprehensive knowledge of the climbing routes to Snowdons summit, a theme which is explored more fully in the books final chapter 'Colonising The Vertical'

Photo Wikimedia Commons: Stemonitis The Snowdon Massif from Glyder Fawr



Chapter Two delves into the rich mythology and folklore which wraps its mantle around Snowdon like an ancient mist. Here we learn about the 'Lady Of The Lake', a story common to both north and south Wales, which hints at early and tragic encounters between Bronze and Iron age cultures. We are also introduced to the 'afanc' of Glaslyn, the giant 'Rhita' and the cave of the hairy man (Ogof y Gwr Blewog ). The account of this 'triad of grotesques' is supplemented with Arthurian legend and tales of Merlin and Dinas Emrys.

The Snowdon massif was the final and most formidable bastion in the concentric array of mountain ranges which guarded the granary of Ynys Mon and the Kingdom of Gwynedd. Its importance as a natural fortress in the cultural consciousness of the Welsh people is discussed in Chapter Three.

Subsequent chapters examine the mountain from the perspectives of antiquaries, cartographers, artists, art historians and modern tourists and local inhabitants. The final chapter deals with rock climbing routes on Snowdon and the history of their discovery and development. It should come as no surprise that Jim Perrin gives us an authoritative account here, since he has written extensively on rock climbing in Britain and with particular reference to the Welsh mountains and Snowdon ( see this page - Jim Perrin search results - for further titles )

Jim Perrin's treatment of these themes is richly detailed and massively engaging throughout.

This is truly 'the story of a mountain'. The next best thing to being there!

'Barkin' by Mike Jenkins - A Review


By Ceri Shaw, 2013-02-23


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A review of Welsh poet and novelist Mike Jenkins new anthology Barkin. "A former winner of the Wales Book of the Year competition for 'Wanting to Belong' (Seren), Jenkins is a former editor of Poetry Wales and a long-term coeditor of 'Red Poets'."

...

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It is always a pleasure to welcome a new anthology from one of Wales most renowned and talented poets. But 'Barkin' is no ordinary poetry anthology. A quick scan of the contents page reveals that this collection comprises 31 poems and 3 short stories and the titles reveal a common theme. The poems and short stories,'Settin Fire t Tesco's' and 'The Girl oo become Blonde' to name but two, are all written in Merthyr dialect and mainly from the perspective of persons who are struggling, or perhaps failing, to survive economic hardship.

That is not to suggest that there is a lack of humour in these pages. Far from it. In 'Fish Foot Clinic, a patron of the Wyndham Arms ( one of Britain's "top 10 'ardest pubs" ) visits the recently opened clinic and announces:-


'I wan mine done!' ee demands,
'on'y make it f****n piranhas,
not them poncy fish yew do ewse!

Aye, they cun feed off my tattoos.
On'y piranhas are ard enough
fr a pair o feet like these.'


In 'Settin fire t Tesco's' we find a beneficiary/victim of Britain's 'benefit culture' indulging in a form of individual protest against his straitened economic circumstances:-


I woz liftin clothes tha's all
coz I carn afford none:
arf my benefit goes to-a dealer
an the rest is jest f survivin.


The poems and stories all focus on ordinary working class life at the sharp end in Camerons 'condemnation' and if the protagonists all appear to be 'barkin' it is perhaps an inevitable response to impossible or overwhelming circumstance.

From his Wikipedia entry we learn that Mike Jenkins took voluntary redundancy from teaching in 2009 and 'now writes full-time capitalising on experiences gleaned from former pupils.' This collection demonstrates what a rich vein Mike is working and provided you can cope with the dialect, will provide chuckles, inspiration and food for thought for a paltry 7.50 GBP ( $12 US ). Unreservedly recommended!!

'Barkin' is published by Gwasg Carreg Gwalch

LINKS

Mike Jenkins blog

An interview with Mike Jenkins

'Journey of The Taf' Mike Jenkins

Review by Ceri Shaw Ceri Shaw on Google+

'Snow' by Madoc Roberts - A Review


By Ceri Shaw, 2011-12-16




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Buy 'Snow'  HERE ( Kindle edition available )

Snow is that rare thing an important work of historical research that reads like a fast-paced spy thriller. Although it must be added that the events recounted therein would be deemed highly improbable if they were fiction. The central character Arthur Graham Owens is a study in vanity, folly , recklessness, courage and determination combined. This deeply flawed character commands respect, despite his many weaknesses, because his antics contributed more to the Allied war effort than he, or his MI5 'handlers' could ever have imagined.

Snow offered his services to German Intelligence in Hamburg in 1935. The strength of his allegiance to the Nazi cause must be doubted however when we take into account MI5 observations which record him shopping for photographic equipment and magazines packed with pictures of outdated military vehicles . Indeed it is doubtful that he ever supplied his Abwehr paymasters with anything of real significance.

During a bizarre episode in Wandsworth Prison in 1939 Snow attempted to contact the Abwehr in Hamburg with a radio set which had been supplied for the purpose. He had been detained by British Intelligence on the suspicion that he was a double agent and was attempting to prove his potential value to MI5. The transmitter promptly blew a fuse and after repairs had been carried out several more attempts were made before the response signal, 'OEA' was received. A few miles away at an RSS ( Radio Security Service ) listening station an amazing discovery was made. Instead of going directly to Hamburg the messages from Owens were intercepted by a spy trawler off the coast of Norway. From here they were re-transmitted after being encoded using the German Enigma machine. Consequently British Intelligence were able to listen in to both transmissions , one coded and one in plain text. Since Owens had been instructed to broadcast at 4 in the morning all that the RSS had to do to break the German cipher for the day was compare and analyse the two messages. Thus, unwittingly, the Welsh 'master spy' gave British Intelligence access to secret German military communications throughout Europe.

After serving as a double agent for two years Snow was debriefed following a top level meeting with the head of the Abwehr in Portugal. The account of these interrogations is as detailed as it is fascinating. According to Snow he was confronted with the fact that he had been operating as a double agent almost immediately upon arrival in Lisbon. And yet, the Germans chose to do nothing about this and sent him back to Britain with 10,000 GBP and a variety of concealed explosive devices to carry on his good work! One can hardly blame MI5 for being somewhat sceptical.The detailed exchanges between Snow and his interrogators are a study in mind-boggling duplicity. The records of these discussions have been meticulously reaearched by the books authors with reference to original source materials from the archives of the British Security Service ( MI5 ). Fortunately they are presented in a thoroughly engaging manner and the reader will have fun trying to work out what really happened in Lisbon. Whatever your conclusion you are sure to sympathise with the MI5 operative who concluded that "I am more than ever convinced that Snow's is a case not for the Security Service but for a brain specialist" and also with interrogator Tommy Robertson:-

"....Robertson was sure that he was lying. But Owen's story was so inconsistent that he could not determine the nature of the lie or its purpose."

Following the Lisbon incident Snow spent some time at HMP Dartmoor. MI5 did not feel they could trust him anymore and they wanted him out of the way. Even while in prison Owens was able to procure information from fellow prisoners which was of value to the war effort. Conversations with a fellow prisoner ( a Danish internee ) led to revelations concerning the German V2 program which were promptly passed on to MI5.

Following the war and his release from prison Owens retired to live quietly in Wexford, Ireland where he died in 1957. He had a reputation as a Welsh Nationalist and became a regular attendee at Sinn Fein meetings where he would clap speechesvery loudly , often delivered in Gaelic, even though he did not speak the language. He was also a regular fixture at the local pub from where he often had to be carried home.

As a work of historical research 'Snow' is a gold mine of information on British clandestine operations in WWII. As a biography it reveals a complex and conflicted character whose true motives may have been as much a mystery to himself as they are to the reader. I have no hesitation in recommending this book to anyone with a love of history or a fascination with the complex, inscrutable and frequently perverse characters who make it.

The short promotional video below perfectly demonstrates why this book cries out for a movie adaptation. Any budding script writers out there?


Review by Ceri Shaw Google+ Email


This book opens dramatically with a description of a major cardiac incident resulting in hospitalization for the author. Thankfully the attack was survivable and we move on rapidly to a description of the rather stressful lifestyle which produced it.

For anyone who doesn''t know who he is, Howard Marks a.k.a Mr Nice a.k.a Marco Polo , born in Kenfig Hill, South Wales is one of the world''s most notorious and successful drug dealers. In a career which spanned the 1970''s and 1980''s he moved vast quantities of cannabis around the globe and became one of the most wanted international criminals in the USA. Eventually apprehended in 1988 he served seven years in the infamous Terre Haute Correctional Facility in Indiana. Upon his release Howard left dope-smuggling behind and rapidly transformed himself into a best selling author and media personality. Recently his first book ''Mr Nice'' was made into a film starring Rhys Ifans in the title role. Would be viewers in the US will have to wait as it has, as yet, no US distributor. Howard Marks is now regarded as a folk hero by many in Wales and this book finds him exploring his Welsh roots with surprising and fascinating results.

Howard Marks genealogical researches reveal that his great great grandfather was Billy the Kid''s brother. He also establishes that he is distantly related to the infamous Welsh smuggler William Owen whose previously unknown autobiography was discovered in 1982. Marks says of him that:- "...his chronicle of scams, acquittals and debauchery would put any modern day smuggler or playboy to shame." Additionally there is a Chicago mob connection. We learn that Howard is related to Willie Bevan Marks. At one point in the book his aunt Afon Wen informs him that:- "...., your great-grandfather Dafydd''s brother, became a notorious Chicago gangster, He was Bugs Moran''s first lieutenant. I wasn''t a bit surprised when you became a famous smuggler. Not a bit"

The book has its more serious and reflective moments. Recalling a subsequently cancelled BBC project to produce a biopic based on his life the author observes that:- "...opinions vary when people consider whether criminals should benefit indirectly from their offensive behaviour." He goes on to point out that:- "I am still making money writing and talking about my past criminal adventures, and I am having a wonderful time." Wherever one stands on this issue I believe that Mr Marks deserves kudos for having raised it and for demonstrating an acute awareness of the moral dilemma which his post incarceration activities pose for many people.

The title ''Two Dragons'' reflects the books true theme. The contrast between the Wales that Howard Marks hated as a child and couldn''t wait to get away from and the modern Wales which he has returned to. Overall he takes an optimistic view:- "But now, the country is alive. One giant cauldron of musical talent, mysticism and enthusiasm" This view is balanced by a rather stoical, if defiant, observation made elsewhere in the book:-"No doubt the bad times will come again. But we are aware of that and we know ourselves. A few centuries of English force-feeding isn''t going to change anything as going through slavery and imprisonment is an integral part of growing up."

In the final chapter we find Howard Marks returning to his former globe-trotting ways. But no longer to facilitate megaton shipments of cannabis. This time he is visiting the former haunts of his boyhood hero Henry Morgan, former buccaneer and Governor of Jamaica. The account of his visit to Henry''s final home in Llanrumney, Jamaica is a delight to read . In particular it is fascinating to reflect that a labyrinthine series of caves underneath the site may contain vestiges of Captain Morgan''s fabled treasure. Howard is pictured at the site standing next to a large stone inscription which reads simply - ''Cartref'' ( home ).

All in all there is so much in this book, and so many further fruitful avenues to explore, that anyone with a love of Welsh history would be foolish to deny themselves the pleasure of reading it. There can be no hesitation in giving the book a five star rating and recommending it as the perfect christmas gift for anyone with a taste for lovable ( and not so lovable ) Welsh rogues.

A Review of Jon Gower's 'Uncharted'


By Ceri Shaw, 2010-11-21

This book surprised and delighted me in equal measure. At one point author Jon Gower observes that:-"The world of coincidence is uncharted mystery". This might be understood as the books theme as it charts coincidental occurrences in Buenos Aries, Oakland Bay and Cardiff bound together, albeit tentatively, by the onward progress of a paper boat. The boat, made of newspaper, is home to the mortal remains of Flavia, a former resident of Buenos Aries whose 'undead' body travels the globe inspiring scientific speculation and religious devotion in its wake.

In a recent interview with AmeriCymru Jon described the book in these terms:- "A friend said that it "mythologizes an Argentine woman's journey around the world" and that pretty much sums it up. The woman, Flavia, is in a sort of purgatory, neither alive nor dead. Her story becomes a myth which becomes a religion, a case of global Chinese whispers." Her condition is in some way a consequence of and a testament to the undying love between her and her former, still earthbound, husband Horacio with whom she used to dance the tango in the back streets of Buenos Aries.

In the course of her journey she touches a great many lives and creates a profound impression but it should not be thought that the book is without humour. In fact the final section, set in Cardiff is suffused with surreal humour and bizarre incident. If you'll forgive a rather long quote, here is Jon's description of the passing of 'Bloomers' , a famous incident in the history of Caroline Street:-

"Half way along Caroline there used to be a famous club called Bloomers but someone attacked it with a petrol bomb, burned it to the ground. In the Echo the day after the conflagration the stalwart cartoonist, Gren, had captured the moment in an exquisite image. Caroline Street with a gaping hole like a tooth extraction: above it, dwarfing all the buildings, is an atomic mushroom cloud and there are two men flying through the air above the caption 'Now that's what I call a curry.' There is much more in this vein as the seemier side of Cardiff's nightlife and it's culture of heavy drinking and toxic takeaways are mercilessly ( and humorously ) exposed.

If you were planning to give someone a book for Christmas and were looking for something 'different', then look no further. 'Uncharted' has everything:- pathos, humour and a pace that makes it 'unputdownable'. The book is , unfortunately, ineligible for a Wales Book of the Year Award in 2011 because Jon is on the judges panel. It surely would have been a strong contender for first place.

Resistance by Owen Sheers


By Ceri Shaw, 2010-04-22

Resistance by owen sheers

This novel is set in an alternative universe. One in which the Nazis succeed in conquering Russia and invading Britain after the failure of the D-Day landings in 1944. Such literary contrivances can seem very intrusive in a work of 'mainstream' literature but to Owen Sheers' credit the conceit is rendered with a masterful touch and seems almost essential in order to intensify the focus of the books' main theme. In the depths of a freezing winter in a remote corner of the Black Mountains in South Wales two people consider whether it is possible to 'cheat' history; leave the past behind and assert their shared humanity in the midst of bloody conflict. This is no pastoral idyll, nor is it history writ large in the manner of Raymond Williams' - "People of The Black Mountains", but the landscape and its history do figure prominently in the narrative. At one point during her childhood, Sarah, the heroine of this tale meets David Jones, the Welsh poet and artist who stayed with Eric Gill at Capel-y-Ffin in the 1920's. Her meetings with him are recounted thus:-

"And that was when the poet began to tell Sarah his stories, recasting the land and hills she'd known all her life as the backdrop for his Celtic myths, for tales of saints and soldiers, of kings and bards. His stories worked upon the valleys around them like his paintings. he spoke of places she knew or that she'd hard of before, St Peter's well, The Abbey, The Cat's Back, St Davids Cell, but the lens of his stories made them all new again. Some of the stories she'd even heard before, but never like this, never growing from the very hills of her birthplace."

Sheers here hints at the perhaps unique relationship which the Welsh people have with their landscape. The hills of Wales are indeed magnificent but they pale into insignificance, at least in topographical terms, when compared with the European Alps or the North American Cascades. Their special gravity and power lies in the fact that every nook and cranny, every fold and crevice, is invested with some human significance. The sum of history and legend which the landscape reveals is almost an externalization of Welsh identity itself. As R.S. Thomas puts it:-

"You cannot live in the present, At least not in Wales,"

Sarah, however, is bound to the valley she lives in by far more tangible ties. There is the instinct for survival which impels her to observe the cycle of the rural calendar and her loyalty to her husband, who goes missing early on in the book when he is called upon to participate in the resistance to the German occupation.By contrast, Albrecht, the German officer sent into the Olchon valley on a secret mission, is suffering from a severe case of 'hiraeth', or longing, both for his home and for his past destroyed by war. Unfortunately, he has no home to go back to. It was destroyed by Allied bombing. His war-weariness manifests itself in a desire to prolong his mission and in the uneasy truce which he and his men establish with the valleys' inhabitants.

The precarious situation which develops can only prove temporary. The climactic moments of the novel are reached as both characters have to decide how they will react when the cataclysmic events in the outside world threaten to come crashing in on them.The distant rumbles of war are heard from beyond the Olchon throughout the book. Owen Sheers handles these interruptions skilfully. His references to these events are subtle and sparing... just sufficient to preserve the tension of the main theme.

The preparation and training of the the Auxiliary Units of the British Resistance Organization are also woven into the fabric of the narrative; as is their ultimate fate.The book ends with both protagonists facing a stark choice which is really no choice at all. In order to survive they must turn their backs on everything they have known and attempt to find personal salvation in a future that is as uncertain as it is dangerous. Do they succeed? I leave it to you to discover how this final act of 'resistance' plays out .

Buy 'Resistance' HERE.



Owen Sheers Biography: BBC Wales  Amazon: Owen Sheers

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More Information on The Black Mountains

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Border Boss

OK so "The Lone Ranger" is a fictional character but the fact remains that he is probably based on John Reynolds Hughes whose life and exploits are recorded in Border Boss . John Reynolds Hughes whose family were of Welsh descent was born in Illinois on February 11th 1855. Dafydd Meirion, writing in Welsh Cowboys and Outlaws observes that.:- "Hughes grandparent had left Wales for America and his father, Thomas Hughes, had visited Wales twice to see his relatives."

"Border Boss" is essential reading for anyone wanting a detailed account of Hughes'' adventures. John Reynolds Hughes single-handedly tracked and subdued two gangs of murderous cattle-rustlers before deciding to do it professionally and joining the Texas Rangers. After that his career reads like a history of the old Wild West. He knew tthem all:- Butch Cassidy, Judge Roy Bean, Pancho Villa, Pat Garrett, Billy the Kid, John Wesley Harding etc. Not only that but he survived to tell the tale. After his retirement he lived in Austin, Texas where he died in 1946 having reached the ripe old age of 91.

And the Lone Ranger connection?

"The famous western writer Zane Grey spent some time with Hughes while he was on the job. Later, his friend Grey wrote the famous book The Lone Star Ranger and dedicated it to Hughes and the Texas Rangers. It is written that his book was also the basis for the character of radio and movie fame, the Lone Ranger. Thus, some have concluded the Lone Ranger was based on the life of John R. Hughes."

( Quoted from SIPES Houston http://www.sipes-houston.org/story_behind_the_photo.htm )




This book is a joy to possess. It is a must for the serious researcher and the collector of historical trivia alike. With over 2,700 entries, author Peter Williams covers a lot of ground in this volume. On page 284 we find an entry entitled "Oldest Survival of Old Welsh". This is cross referenced with the entry for St. Cadfan where we learn that he was:- "...a missionary from Brittany, whose commemorative stone at Tywyn, Merionethshire has the oldest surviving example of Old Welsh."

This is one of the books many strengths and makes it almost suitable for casual browsing. Its major purpose though is to serve as a quick reference book and a starting point for further in-depth research. Anyone who is involved in compiling questions for Welsh quiz nights would be well advised to provide themselves with a copy. (see example quiz at the bottom of this page)

What is the "Longest Poem in the Welsh Language" and what is the "Largest Welsh Male Voice Choir"? ""What were the first Welsh words heard on radio" and "Where was the first photo taken in Wales"?. The answers to these questions and many more can be found cross-referenced on the pages of this book. There are many things in this volume which would take a considerable amount of "googling" to uncover.

The current revision is an updated edition of "An Alphabetical Guide to Wales and The Welsh" first published in 2005. The book can be obtained by contacting the author at Celticinfo.com.




Notes About the Author

"Peter N. Williams was born in Mancot, a little village in Flintshire, North Wales, just inside the border with England. Brought up in the industrial town of Flint, he was educated at Kings School, Chester, England and at the University College, Swansea, South Wales.

Peter came to the United States in 1957. Following his military service with the US army in Germany, he taught high school in Delaware for a number of years before completing his M.A. and PhD at the university of Delaware. He then taught English at the University before becoming Chairman of the English Department at Delaware Technical and Community College. Peter is the editor of CelticInfo.com , Celtic_Worlds.com and The Eagle and Dragon ( the official publication of the National Welsh American Foundation ).

Founder of the Welsh Society of Delaware and a Director of the National Welsh American Foundation, Peter was honored for his work on behalf of Wales and Welsh Americans by being made a member of the Gorsedd of Bards at the National Eisteddfod of Wales in 1999. He is the author of The Sacred Places of Wales; From Wales To The Lehigh; The David Thomas Story; The Seven Wonders of Wales; A new Look; The History of Wales in Verse; Wales From A to Y; The Book of Wales, and the editor of 38 Hymns in Welsh and English."



See our "Wales and The Welsh" pub quiz HERE. Or download here:- walesandthewelshquiz.pdf Interview with the author HERE.

"My First Colouring Book" - A Review


By Ceri Shaw, 2008-11-15

My First Colouring Book - Lloyd Jones

Speaking as a hard-core short story fanatic, I can honestly say that Lloyd Jones' "My First Colouring Book" has been the high point of my literary year so far. It's great to see a Welsh author who has so far mastered this genre as to be worthy of mention alongside Carver, Cheever, Maupassant, Mansfield and, dare one even suggest it, Chekhov himself.

Lloyd Jones is fond of referring to his writing as "scribblings". In this collection he has elected to "scribble" in a dazzling variety of colors, all of which are intensely evocative.

There are many fine things in this anthology. There is "Blood," which warns of the potentially cataclysmic dangers of "exotic blood transfusions". There is "Post Office Red," which asserts the critical importance of preserving a sense of mystery and wonder. The closing sentence of this story reveals the "moral" of the tale with the same blinding clarity achieved by Mansfield in "The Doll's House". In "Black," an intellectual atheist meets a lady friend at a lake near the oldest church in Wales. It is close to the festive season and they are invited to join the Christmas service. The protagonist spends his time in the church indulging sexual fantasies about old girlfriends and the female occupant of the burial plot in the pew beneath his feet. On the drive back home they pass a dark and sinister stranger on the road and he has perhaps the closest thing to a religious experience that he will ever know. "Wine" is a heart-warming "feelgood" tale about a devout christian who performs a charitable act in order to fill a gap in the "O" section of his address book. It contains elements of high farce and compares favorably with the best of O Henry.

Also not to be missed are the four short essays at the end of the book which describe walks in North, South, East and West Wales. As a South-Walian and a keen hill-walker back in the day, I deeply appreciated his account of a sojourn in the Black Mountains and his visits to Cwmyoy and Partrishow churches. Both are magical places and evoked masterfully.

Lest anything I have so far said gives the impression that this is a light-hearted collection, please allow me to observe that these stories contain some of the most profound and poignant meditations on life, love and death in 21st century literature. In a recent interview with Americymru, Lloyd Jones was asked about his future literary plans. He replied, "Maybe some more short stories?". We sincerely hope so.


In short, this book is a treat for short-story fans, lovers of literature and lovers of Wales. If you fall into all three categories, then it is simply a "must read". If you are buying a gift for Christmas, either as a gift to yourself or for someone else, you couldn't do better than "My First Colouring Book."


CS


This, admittedly rather slim, volume is an absolute gem and deserves to be much more widely known. On the back cover the author enquires:-"Did you know, that at one time, many of America's most infamous criminals were of Welsh descent?" Not a proud boast perhaps but nevertheless there is some fascinating material here on the James Brothers and lesser known but equally malevolent scoundrels like Issac Davis.

Fortunately the book does not concern itself solely with these superstar desperadoes, colorful though they may be. There are short sections here on Welsh cowboys, ranchers, prospectors, miners and railway workers all of whom played their part in the building of the West.

The real strength of this volume is that it treats of characters who did not make it into the history books. You will find no Wikipedia entry for John Reynolds Hughes who single-handedly tracked and subdued two gangs of murderous cattle-rustlers before deciding to do it professionally and joining the Texas Rangers. Likewise, history does not record much about the exploits of Jack Farmer - railroad pioneer, who successfully treated his rheumatism with Kentucky Bourbon whilst surveying in the Rockies.

Published by Y Lolfa at $12 (approx) this book is an excellent introduction to the Wild Welsh in the old West.