Ceri Shaw



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Category: Book Reviews

Matthew G. Rees.jpg keyhole.jpg


...the unknown world is in truth, about us everywhere, everywhere near to our feet, the thinnest veil separates us from it, the door in the wall of the next street communicates with it.

'The London Adventure', Arthur Machen

... I saw a star shining over our valley, a keyholeful of light, telling me I was home.

'The Water Music & Other Stories', Glyn Jones

It is always a pleasure to welcome a major talent to the Welsh literary scene and 'Keyhole', by Matthew G. Rees clearly establishes the author's claim to this title. The 18 stories in this collection are set in various locations in Wales although mainly in Carmarthenshire and the Marches. They all exhibit magical and supernatural qualities and exemplify the author's fascination with the 'liminal' or, 'that territory where the known and the unknown meet and interact.'. In this respect his writing is reminiscent of the work of one of his literary heroes - Arthur Machen. Indeed this collection is published by a small publishing house in Newport, Gwent (Three Impostors) which specialises, amongst other things, in reprints of old Machen classics.

Matthew has worked at various times as a journalist, teacher and night shift cab-driver. He also has a PhD in creative writing from Swansea University and is the author of two  plays. He was raised in Gwent, the Welsh border country, an area rich in myth and legend. He has said that - "It's a place where you constantly find yourself stumbling across strange stories, that aren't always myths,...".

All the stories in this collection have a mythical, spellbinding quality to them. Consider the tale of Rhys the inhabitant of a remote Welsh farm - Yr Hollt. His dedication to his hobby (flower pressing) attracts the attention of some visiting local gypsies or migrant workers. Their presence is never really explained but they do have magical powers which are revealed to Rhys with tragic consequences. One detects the influence of James Frazer here, but with an ironic savage twist.

As one might expect a collection like this is filled with bizarre and eccentric characters. In 'Sand Dancer' we meet Jobey whose obsession with Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor and Lauren Bacall amongst others betrays an almost pathological reverence for the popular music and mores of a bygone era. Whilst metal detecting on a local beach he is granted an opportunity to realise his dreams in a most unexpected fashion.

In 'The Lock' we are treated to a cautionary, almost moral, tale concerning a property developer who revisits his youth by taking a narrow boat excursion on the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal. He panics as his surrondings become, by turn, unfamiliar and threatening. In the closing scene nature, 'red in tooth and claw', exacts punishment for his depredations and a primitive justce is served. 

The above short account may give the impression that all Rees's stories lead to a ghastly denouement, and many of them do, but there is also humour and pathos in these pages. In 'Dragon Hounds' two mythical beasts are invoked to resolve a love feud in an old peoples home. The darkly humorous manner in which they render their assistance is one of the many fine passages in this collection.

These superbly crafted and extraordinary tales delight in many ways not the least of which is the vivid description of the Welsh countryside, villages and farm interiors. Coinsider the following . In 'The Press' we read that:- "My parents first brought me here when I was young. As a small boy I was drawn to the heavy black range in the kitchen (that I was forbidden to touch). To me it was a train, inexplicably lodged in the walls of the house, yet of the kind an old man like Rhys would surely catch." Another tale opens with the following evocation of an overcast evening on a Welsh beach:- "Conger eel sky, thick, endless and monger slab-heavy on the shore."

In conclusion this is an exciting debut from a major new talent. These stories never fail to delight and intrigue and we have no hesitation in recommending 'Keyhole' to anyone with a taste for fine writing and exquisite story telling. You will not be disappointed!

from aberfan t grenfell.jpg The title poem of this collection focuses on two manmade disasters which occurred forty years apart but which revealed the same pattern of callous indifference on the part of the political establishment. The Aberfan disaster which claimed the lives of 116 children and 28 adults occurred on 21st October 1966 just down the road from Mike Jenkins' home town of Merthyr Tydfil. The Grenfell Tower fire took the lives of 72 people in West London in 2017.

In discussing this poem in the short 'Notes' section at the back of the book, Mike Jenkins says the following:

"The Aberfan disaster of October 1966 has had a lasting and profound effect on the Vallys and when someone put on Facebook shortly after the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower that 'this is our Aberfan', I knew exactly what they meant."

Most of the poems in this collection are, however, concerned with purely personal tragedies which are detailed in poems such as 'Steve the bus'. Steve is a pensioner whose wife has recently passed away. He takes to riding public transport all day using his bus pass:

It's winter time
now my missis ave gone
I'm straight down-a bus station.

All day I keep warm
If they took my pass away
I'd surely pass away.

The invaluable bus pass also helps him to keep boredom and loneliness at bay:

The missis woulda said-
'Yewer loop-the-loop,
all's yew need's blankets an soup!'

But I meet all kindsa folk,
drivers know me as 'Steve the Bus' -
better 'an ridin in an earse.

Then there is 'Ow Far Down' in which the protagonist has lost his wife, home and job and is now homeless and suffering from depression which the prescribed medication only makes worse:

Don' 'member what order
they come in-
mixed t'gether, Molotov cocktail
in is brain.

But there are also moments of light relief and in 'Famous f doin nothin'we find our hero drunk and collapsed in the Merthyr Poundland doorway. Unfortunately he has triggered the alarm and caused a commotion with police sirens wailing and choppers circling overhead. He confronts his wife when he returns from his nocturnal adventures:

Tol is missis when ee got ome
'Google it...I'm fake news, see....
I woz famous f doin nothin.'
She sayd, 'Nothin's changed 'en!'

The illustrations, by Alan Perry, are exquisite throughout and wrap around the words on the page to produce an almost graffitti-like effect which enhances the power of the poems.

Fans of dialect poetry may recall our reviews of previously published collections by Mike Jenkins. If not you will find them here: Barkin! and here: Sofa Surfin . 'From Aberfan t Grenfell' will delight all aficianados of Mike's dialect poetry and hopefully win him new admirers as well. In giving the dispossessed and disadvantaged a voice Mike Jenkins is creating a growing body of work which is at once insightful and compassionate, humorous and harrowing. Unreservedly recommended, buy it now, here:- From Aberfan t Grenfell

Link to purchase on Amazon:- Bring The Rising Home!

bringtherisinghome.jpg 5star.jpeg

For anyone who is unacquainted with the historical details of the 1831 Merthyr Rising, the following link should be of some assistance - Merthyr Rising . Of course, the most thorough and authoritative account of these events can be found in Gwyn Williams' - The Merthyr Rising.

The Rising is commemorated with an annual festival in Castle Street, Merthyr where twenty four of the protestors were shot and killed in 1831. This collection was published to coincide with the 2017 event.

The anthology consists of 25 poems (four in Welsh with English translations) and accompanying illustrations by Welsh artist Gustavius Payne. For more details about Mike Jernkins and Gustavius Payne please see the biographical details and links at the bottom of this page.

In 'Ble?' Mike Jenkins asks:-

Ble mae'r enwau'r pedwerydd ar hugain,
gafodd eu saethu gan y fyddin?

Where are the names of the twenty-four,
killed by the army in this square?

Other poems in the collection directly refer to the historical events of 1831 but more concern themselves with contemporary living conditions in Merthyr Tydfil and elsewhere.

In 'Bag Full of Writings (For Merthyr Rock Bands)' we meet a street poet/songwriter who is down on his luck:-

He's been living in the dole age
since they invented it;
his plasticine face moulded
by worry and rage.

A chance encounter with a young lad fresh out of Swansea jail is immortalised in 'Outa Jail':-

Don' know wha I woz doin, see,
pissed outa my ead-
least I gotta job washin cars,
better 'an-a las one
in-a juice factree
all overtime, no breaks an unions,
treated like bloody sheep.

Many of Mike's poems give voice to the disadvantaged, the homeless and the destitute. For example 'In Portland, Oregon' recounts an incident at the local bus station when a homeless person temporarily waylaid Mikes bus when he was on his way to a West Coast Eisteddfod event in the town:-

A downtown junkie came out
from the toilet ranting
and hi-jacked our bus,
the black woman driver calming him
until the cops turned up.

The collection ends with the somewhat disturbing 'We Want it Back!' in which the protagonists are heard to demand:-

We want it back
we want our country back!
We want Grammar Schools
(though not Sec-Mods),
where working-class kids
can achieve (well, a few of them)
we want corporal punishment
like the cane and the tawse,
pupils will be grateful
when they are abused

There is perhaps a certain irony in demanding a partial return to conditions that once led to insurrectionary violence and bloodshed in the streets. But, Mike Jenkins is no preacher and readers are left to their own deliberations and to draw their own conclusions.

The illustrations are powerful and provocative throughout and perfectly evocative of Mike's poetic themes. In a note at the end of the book Gustavius Payne, after detailing their many shared interests, has this to say about his artistic collaboration with Mike Jenkins:-

"It may be that the basic ingredients of our artistic endeavours have more in common than many, and perhaps explains why the visual work I've done resonates so closely with the series of poems that Mike has written."

Whatever the shared background and interests, their collaboration has produced an outstanding book. We have no hesitation in recommending this collection to anyone with an interest in contemporary Merthyr, Welsh working class history or fine poetry and artwork.

Notes on Two Welsh Artists

Mike Jenkins is a retired teacher of English at comprehensive schools. He lives in Merthyr Tydfil, has co-edited 'Red Poets' for 23 years and has blogged weekly on his website www.mikejenkins.net since 2009. He runs creative writing workshops with children and adults and organises regular poetry events in Merthyr and elsewhere in south Wales. He is winner of the 1998 Wales Book of the Year for a book of short stories, Wanting To Belong (Seren); his latest book of poetry is in Merthyr vernacular Sofa Surfin' (Carreg Gwalch); and he was shortlisted for the Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2017.

Gustavius Payne is a Welsh figurative artist, represented by Ffin-Y-Parc Gallery, Llanrwst, where his work is regularly exhibited and held in stock. His paintings are also held in collections including at the University of South Wales and the Museum of Modern Art, Wales. He has exhibited regularly since 1994 including a touring exhibition with Mike jenkins in 2011/2012, funded by Arts Council Wales.


Hear The Echo by Rob Gittins - A Review

By Ceri Shaw, 2018-11-26

Hear The Echo by Rob Gittins 5star.jpeg

When I was a lad in Pontypool I would frequently visit 'Aldo's' on the way home from school to play pinball, drink coffee and socialize. I don't know if it's still there but in my youth it was one of many Italian cafe's that graced the south Wales mining valleys. From Pontypool to Ammanford or from Treorchy to Cardiff you would likely spot a 'Rabaiotti's', 'Bracchi's' or 'Carini's'. These cafe's were run by Italian immigrants who left home to escape poverty, Mussolini, or both.

'Hear The Echo' is Rob Gittins' fifth novel and in choosing to set it against the background of this migration and a related tragic historical incident, he has once again succeeded in crafting a superbly intriguing and suspenseful novel.

In the 1930's, Chiara emigrates from Italy to forge a new and better life in Wales. She encounters bigotry and xenophobia as she and her employer battle to keep their italian cafe in business in the shadow of World War II. But all that's soon eclipsed by a love triangle that threatens to destroy everything.

Meanwhile present-day Welsh-Italian Frankie struggles to find the money and hope to hold her family together in the same valleys community. Along the way she has to decide how far she's prepared to go to do that - and whether what she has is actually worth the fight.

The two women never meet. But as their joint experiences begin to resonate down through time, their journeys intersect. And each becomes as real to the other as if they'd physically breathed the same air.

Arandora Star 1940

One of the novels' principal characters is interned at the beginning of World War II and sails on the ill-fated Arandora Star. In order to discover more you will have to read the book but we have included some useful information and links concerning the ships'  tragic fate below.

This is a superbly crafted  and suspenseful thriller which will hold the reader spellbound throughout. It also has much to say on topics of vital contemporary concern such as immigration and integration.

Arandora Star

From the Wikipedia:- " SS Arandora Star was a British passenger ship of the Blue Star Line. She was built in 1927 as an ocean liner and refrigerated cargo ship, converted in 1929 into a cruise ship and requisitioned as a troop ship in World War II. At the end of June 1940 she was assigned the task of transporting Italian and German civilians among a small number of prisoners of war to Canada. On 2 July 1940 she was sunk in controversial circumstances by a German U-boat with a large loss of life, 865."

'Sofa Surfin' by Mike Jenkins, A Review

By Ceri Shaw, 2018-08-14

"It's Marmite poetry....but I like Marmite!" - Mike Jenkins




A review of Welsh poet and novelist Mike Jenkins new anthology Sofa Surfin .

" 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'. "



The poems in 'Sofa Surfin' are all written in local dailect and they address themes of homelessness, unemployment and general decline in post-industrial Merthyr Tydfil. This is not Mike's first experiment with dialect poetry. He has published three previous anthologies: 'Graffiti Narratives' 1994, 'Coulda Bin Summin' 2001, 'Barkin' 2013. (Read our review of 'Barkin' here).

In a blog post ( Famous F Doin Nothin ) Mike explains the root of his fascination with this form of poetic expression:-

" I was especially inspired by West Indian writers like Derek Walcott, black English poet James Berry , the songs of Bob Marley and one particular poem by David Hughes 'Swonzee Boy, See', which appeared in 'Planet' magazine, edited by Barnie."

He goes on to outline the reception that his work in this genre has received:-

"My previous book 'Barkin!' had decidedly mixed reviews yet got short-listed for Wales Book of the Year, while the following one 'Shedding Paper Skin' ( in standard English) received great reviews and not a sniff of prizes.

An English person responded to 'Sofa Surfin' by commenting that it would have limited appeal, yet West Indian and Scots are widely accepted and , ironically, the poems have so far been greeted far more enthusiastically in England than Wales ( with 'Planet' again the exception)."

I guess we'll just have to disagree with the 'English person'referenced above. It is certainly true that West Indian and Scots dialect poetry has succeeded in reaching a broader audience. We believe that Mike Jenkins' Merthyr dialect poems similarly deserve to be widely read and treasured for their originality, humour and insightfulness.

In 'They Stopped My Benefits' we are firmly in 'I, Daniel Blake' territory as the protagonist decries the beaurocratic rigmarole which leaves him suspended and penniless:-

They stopped my benefit
an what ave I got
left in-a-flat?
Two boggin tea-bags
an a tin o sardines
outa date!

Say I never
signed on, but
I know theyer
system's t blame;
it's appened before
'F*** off!' a-compewter sayz.

Many of the poems in this collection explore life on the dole and the frustrations of dealing with a callous and unresponsive benefits system. In 'Sofa Surfin' however, Mike focuses on the plight of a young woman who has recently become homeless after an argument with her partner. She is reduced to sofa surfing i.e. "staying temporarily with various friends and relatives while attempting to find permanent accommodation":-

Ee've kicked me out
It woz a stewpid argument
'bout a juke-box
'Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep' -
I f***in sayd 'No way!'
(shame no Beef'eart).


Coz I'm talkin 'bout the breakers
ewger than any sea's -
divorce an booze, gettin sacked an speed.
Ow I stood on-a board
f'moments before being dragged down
t the subway, like an underwater tunnel
where I could ardly breathe

But, fans of Mike's dialect poetry will be aware that there are always oases of humour interspersed amongst the grimmer offerings exemplified above. In 'No Offence' the narrator unleashes a tirade of personal insults at his unidentified victim while insisting all the while that he means no offence:-

No offence like,
but yew're a baldy bastard
with an ead like an egg,
if I woz't crack it open
yewer brain ud be
like a Cadbury Cream Egg


When yew talk it's like a bloody screech,
so igh-pitched the dogs go mad
and people in-a shops think
the fire-alarm's gone off,
anybuddy ud think
you'd ad yewer goolies chopped off!

No offence like!

In this context we cannot fail to mention the wonderful and whimsical 'A Pijin In Greggs', a personal favourite:-

This pijin was struttin is stuff down town,
ee wuz in Greegs lunchtime -
think ee wuz arfta the offer
of 5 ring donuts f'r a pound


I come yer f'r a pastie
coz I wanna do a college course
t learn ow t be a seagull
an yeard this is where you enrol

And so, however you feel about the real thing, we think you will warm to literary 'Marmite'. If you are responsive to the idea of a poetry anthology infused with pathos and humour and delivered in contemporary working class vernacular, then this book is for you. Unreservedly recommended!

In fact why not buy all four of Mike's dialect collections? We include titles and links below for your convenience.

Sofa Surfin


Coulda Bin Summin

Graffitti Narratives

From the Wikipedia. A note on Marmite for our American readers :- "Marmite is a sticky, dark brown food paste with a distinctive, powerful flavour, which is extremely salty. This distinctive taste is reflected in the marketing slogan: "Love it or hate it." Such is its prominence in British popular culture that the product's name has entered British English as a metaphor for something that is an acquired taste or tends to polarise opinions."


Tolkien And Welsh Buy 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.

Back to Welsh Literature page >

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.




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.


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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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



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


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

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