Friday, 3 October 2014

My Name Is...

by Catriona Troth

Sudha Bhuchar - photo by Robert Day
My Name Is... is a play by Sudha Bhuchar, currently on a short tour with the Tamasha Theatre Group.
It is based on the true story of a twelve year old Scottish/Pakistani girl who disappeared from her home on the Isle of Lewis.

When the story first exploded onto the front pages of British tabloid newspapers in 2006, it seemed like a classic tug-of-love, clash-of-cultures story – a young girl ‘kidnapped’ by her father and taken to Pakistan to undergo a forced marriage with an older man.

The true story was far more nuanced, as Sudha Buchar’s script, drawn from many hours of interviews, reveals.

At the Platform Theatre at Central St Martins in London, a tiny stage encompasses two sitting rooms, one in Pakistan and one on the Isle of Lewis. At the back of the stage, half obscured by a gauze curtain, are the newspaper headlines that sought to force them into one or another stereotypical box. More newspaper cuttings litter the floor.

The picture that emerges is complex and layered. By allowing us to see each family member as a true individual, by allowing their stories to unfold over time, we see how the free and easy mixing of communities in the 1980s was slowly warped by events happening in the wider world. How a damaged young woman’s need to belong drove her to create a version of herself as a perfect Muslim wife until, in her own words ‘Suzy was gone, well and truly gone.’ This is a pressure cooker created, not by the clash of cultures, but by these families and these individuals.

Bhuchar has resisted the temptation to fictionalise the story (apart from altering the names) and instead stays with the authentic voices of the three family members - father, mother and daughter – as they tell their story from different sides of the world. And those voices have extraordinary directness.

But this is not strictly ‘verbatim’ writing either. Bhuchar has shaped the script, interweaving the stories and letting the voices cut across each other, so that we hear two versions of the parents’ first meeting, two versions of family’s hajj to Mecca. At times the actors cross the invisible divide to take part in a remembered scene or speak words attributed to them by one another. At times, too, they break through a kind of ‘third wall,’ to address, not the audience in the theatre, but the original audience of Bhuchar and her tape recorder.

Afterwards, playwright and actors took part in a New Writing Platform discussion with the audience, looking the process of creating My Name Is... and the challenges of verbatim theatre This was first in a new series of events presented by the MA Dramatic Writing course run by University of the Arts London, to explore, discuss and share new ideas.

Bhuchar began by explaining how she was drawn to the story by an article in the Guardian, the first that attempted to reach beyond stereotypes and accusations, and how she approached the family and asked to interview them. She flew to Pakistan and spent several days with father and daughter. The daughter then persuaded the mother to see her, and she spent several more days on Lewis with her. The result was 120 pages of interview transcripts which took eight years to shape into this play.

“The technique came in layers,” Bhuchar explained. “I’d never worked like this in my life! To begin with I thought that I would fictionalise the story, but nothing I wrote had the power of the original words. In the end the promise I made was that, however I shaped it, I must not make up any words”

Asked about her interview technique, Bhuchar spoke of not having her own agenda, about having empathy, about being interested in simply ‘overhearing.’ One of the ways she got the mother to open up was to go back to the very beginning of the story, to when the two of them met, when they had been happy together. “Usually people don’t ask me that,” she was told.

Of the three actors, only Kiran Sonia Sawar who plays ‘Gaby/Ghazala’ wanted to listen to the interview tapes to catch the nuances of the original voices. Umar Ahmed, who plays ‘Farhan’, grew up in Pollokshields and actually knew the father by sight. Karen Bartke who is from Glasgow but from a different background to ‘Suzy’, didn’t want her performance to descend into mere imitation and found it easier to connect with the emotion through the scripts – something she did with incredible power.

Early this year, the cast had the chance to perform the play with mother and daughter (now back living in Scotland) in the audience – something that was terrifying but also profoundly gratifying. Seeing their parents’ early lives together played out, in their own words, was particularly moving for the daughter. She told the actors afterwards that, as the youngest child, she had almost no memory of her parents being happy together.

At the end of the discussion, one of the audience members commented that he had been waiting all through it for the author to come down on one ‘side’ or another. Yet that never happens. By allowing each of the characters their own authentic voice, she manages to preserve a balance, so that your heart reaches out to each of them in turn.

You can read the Guardian article the first inspired Bhuchar to write the play here.

And you can read my interview with Sudha Bhuchar about her time as Artistic Director of Tamasha here.

Sudha Buchar: Making a Commotion with Tamasha

by Catriona Troth

Tamasha is a Hindi word meaning a commotion or creating a stir. And for the last 25 years, the Tamasha Theatre Group, founded by Sudha Buchar and Kristine Landon-Smith, has been creating a stir, first as a voice for the South Asia diaspora in Britain, and more recently as a voice for a whole range of rarely represented cultures.

Sudha Bhuchar - photo by Robert Workman
Now, a few months before she hands over the reins of the company to her successor, Bhuchar talks to Catriona Troth about Tamasha’s past, present and future.

“I began working with Jatinder Verma at Tara Arts. At that time it was just a community group, and I
wasn’t a professional actor. I was a chronically shy teenager and it would never have occurred to me to be an actor. But I became involved because I was hungry to engage like-minded people,” Bhuchar begins.

Her long-term partner at Tamasha, Kristine Landon-Smith, was already a professional actor when she joined Tara a few years later, playing a male part in Broken Thigh, a play based on a story from the Mahabarat. In the course of that tour, the two became close friends.

It was on one of her occasional trips home to see her family in India that Landon-Smith became involved in promenade performance of the modern Indian classic novel Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand. She brought a video of the production back to show Bhuchar, and the two realised there were no equivalent contemporary stories of the Asian diaspora on the British stage. It was to fill that gap that the two women set up the Tamasha Theatre Company in 1989.

“We had some seed funding from Tara and they hosted a reading of Untouchable. Then we got some Arts Council funding to do a tour and got into Riverside Studios. But we were incredibly naive. We didn’t realise that we had effectively underwritten the show. If the production had failed, we would have been £60k in debt. Fortunately it didn’t fail.”

Some of their casting challenges were extraordinary. “Untouchable was a cast of 10 or 11, mostly young boys, and we had this crazy idea to perform it one night in English and one night in Hindi. So we were looking for a cast of bilingual boys! But we have always searched for new talent – not necessarily on the radar, not necessarily from drama schools.

“Back then, there was a real hunger among Asian audiences. Phillip Headley at Stratford East wanted to engage with the audience on his doorstep, so he asked us what we could do. Our first couple of shows – like House of the Sun which was set in a block of flats in Bombay – were adaptations of novels. Back then, there was still subsidy available, so one show led to another.

“That went on for several years. We didn’t think about this ‘company’ per se – we just thought about the next show. Then in 1993, Oxfam approached us to do something connected with their work for their 50th Anniversary. Out of that came, Women of the Dust, a play inspired by Sunil Gupta’s photographs of the women labouring on construction sites in India.”

But it was the success of Ayub Khan Din’s celebrated play, East is East, which Tamasha first brought to the stage in 1996, that proved the real turning point.

“That play went mad and at that point we decided to accept that Tamasha was a company and not just a successions of projects.”

At this point, for the first time, they applied for fixed term funding from the Arts Council. Landon-Smith was becoming serious about the directing side of things, and also about teaching. So Tamasha began to develop a training side, which has now grown into Tamasha Developing Artists (TDA).

TDA, which was formally launched in 2004, is an artist-led professional development programme for emerging and established talent. It offers training courses, workshops, masterclasses, bursaries and ongoing professional support, and aims to ‘train and nurture the artistic individuality of the theatre voices of tomorrow, and to take positive action to encourage greater diversity in British theatre.’ It now represents fifty percent of Tamasha’s business.

Bhuchar has worked as actor, playwright and artistic director. Does her heart lay with one of those roles, or does she see them as interconnected?

“It has all come out of being young and Asian in this country. When we were growing up, we thought what we were experiencing, only we were going through it. Then my sister and I went to a Diwali function at Tara. They were doing sketches about the generation gap and questioning religion and our parents and racism.

“It was all those things that led you to hang out with people like yourself, which somehow led to acting. And then the writing came out of a lack of opportunities as an actor. And the need is still there.

“But I never woke up one day and thought ‘I’m going to be a pioneer.”

Does she think it would it be harder to start something like Tara now?

“It is harder, because the funding it not there. On the other hand, nowadays there are unpaid opportunities like development and scratch nights.

“In the 80s, if you went to the National Film Theatre to see a Satyajit Ray film, everyone you knew would be there. Now there is a lot more going, yet it is still on the margins. It is hard to see proper change, proper shaking up of the mainstream.

“For a while, there a wave both in theatre and in television. I was in an all-Asian programme on Central television that went out at seven thirty in the evening. Yes it was a niche programme with a niche audience. But now there is an assumption that we are all integrated. You have your Asian family on Eastenders and Emmerdale and sure, fine. But the community has grown enormously and the representation is abysmal. So people like me go, ‘Oh, my god, where is the tangible difference?’

“If Tamasha has branched out over the years, it is not because the need to represent South Asian voices has diminished. Rather, we have branched out because we recognised that need was shared by many other groups too. We used to have courses for British Asian writers only, and then we would have others knocking on our doors, saying ‘there is no other place for us – can we be British Asian for the day?’ So we started to ask ourselves why we were creating these barriers.

“Now, someone has said to us that being in a Tamasha rehearsal room is like being on the top of a London bus and actually there are no other places like that.”

Landon-Smith went back to Australia in 2013, and now Bhuchar herself is looking to move on too. So why now?

“We used to say Tamasha was Kristine and me and if we didn’t want to carry on, we would fold up and someone else could start something new. But with the growth of TDA, we realised Tamasha had grown beyond the two of us. And once you acknowledge something has outgrown you, then you start thinking how and when you will be succeeded.

“We had talked about 25 years being the right time to move on. Then she was headhunted for a wonderful job in Australia. [Landon Smith is now a lecturer in acting at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts, in Sydney.] We were in the first year of a three year plan for Tamasha, and it made sense for me to stay on. It was very important for us to pass on the identity of the company, its legacy, its history, to someone who had time to be embedded. Finn Kennedy was appointed through a huge open process. And now he and I are coming towards the end of an eighteen month process of working together.”

So what does the future hold for Tamasha?

“Finn talks about ‘making work along cultural fault lines’ - whether that is race or class or religion. He has had ten years as writer-in-residence at Mulberry School for girls in Tower Hamlets. He has changed the culture of that school, from a time when girls were not allowed to be in a drama group, to taking an all Muslim cast in a play written by him to the Edinburgh Festival.

“Finn was also behind ‘In Battalions,’ a report into the effect of Arts Council cuts on theatres' capacity to develop new plays and playwrights. That came about in response to a conversation with Culture Minister, Ed Vaisey, in which he claimed the cuts were having ‘no effect.’ That has been like a call to arms.

“So he is someone very passionate. Quite political. And he is a writer. So maybe things will become a little more writer-focused.”

And what lies in the future for Sudha Bhuchar?

“That is hard to answer, because I don’t have a new job to go to.

“My job has been about nurturing other artists, about administration, about fundraising. I want to catch my breath, think about myself. I am not a teacher in the way that Kris and Finn are. I want to be creating work.

“Part of our work over the last three years has been under the umbrella of Small Lives, Global Ties. I guess I will always be interested in ordinary people leading extraordinary lives. So I will be exploring new collaborations to tell those stories.

“I do have a couple of projects in mind. One is called Golden Hearts, which is about the fact that Asian men are particularly vulnerable to heart disease. That began as a Scratch Night and then I realised I needed to do something more with it. I am hoping to work with the British Heart Foundation on that.

“The other is an adaptation of White Mughals by William Dalrymple (the true story of a love affair between a British army officer and a Muslim woman in 18th Century India). I am trying to get that off the ground with a company called Dash Arts, who did a version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in eight different Indian languages!

“But the whole thing is predicated on getting partners and getting money. So we will see. Maybe I will just decide to go and do yoga and recharge my batteries for a while!

“As one of the TDA artists told me, ‘Jump off a cliff and the universe will be there to catch you.’”



East is East is being revived in the West End this autumn. Read more here.

And you can read about the development of Sudha Bhuchar’s play My Name Is... here.



We hope to have an interview with Finn Kennedy, Tamasha’s incoming Artistic Director, in a future issue of Words with Jam.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

A Shower of Golden Rules – or How to make social media work for you by Derek Duggan

There are a lot of pressures on writers these days. Not only do you have to write books and stuff but now, with the demands of an ever present public, you have to write about other things across several platforms.

This can seem a little daunting to the novice, but there are some simple rules and once you follow them you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank (and then, as a writer, crying all the way home again). First, and most conspicuously, you will have to make regular posts on social media sites. This can be a little bit tricky as you have to show people that you, as a writer, are better than everyone else while making yourself seem like a regular Joe Soap at the same time. It doesn’t matter which platform you choose, the rules are the same.

1. Wine/alcoholic beverages. You have to mention wine in at least every other post or people will think you’re not an alcoholic and therefore not a real writer. It doesn’t matter if you’re really a teetotaler, you still have to post things like – Hey, is it wine o’ clock yet? – or – It must be beer thirty – or – It must be time to down a bottle of whiskey and shit the bed by now! Nobody will buy your work if you don’t do this. In a recent study at the British University of Made up Studies it was found that the amount of times wine was mentioned on a writer’s time line was directly proportional to the amount of sales achieved. And that’s a fact. If you can’t think of any wine related thing to say why not simply post a link to some online article that says drinking lots of wine makes you really good at doing everything and makes you really healthy and people who live under bridges and shout at traffic are just doing it wrong. This will help you to connect with regular alcoholics and convince them to buy your stuff.

2. Work in progress. You have to mention this from time to time or people might forget that you’re not just someone who lives under a bridge and shouts at traffic. Don’t go into details – just say something about drafts and word counts and that should keep everyone happy. In this way you can connect with regular people by pretending that you do some work too and don’t actually spend the whole day farting about on the internet.

3. Stuff about dogs/cats. It’s a well-known fact that people who are interested in buying books are much more interested in photos of your dog than they are in your reviews. Think about it - How many times have you come across a novel that has all five star reviews on Amazon only to be put off buying the book when, on inspection of the author’s Facebook page, it turns out they haven’t posted twenty five pictures of their dog sitting on the couch in the last half an hour? I think you can see the logic in this. It will help to show that you have as little in your life as ordinary people and thus connect with them.

4. Wine. See number 1.

5. Links to grammar tests. You need to post one of these a month to show how good you are at doing English and to remind other people that they are shit at it. This will show people that you’re dead clever and that because you got ten out of ten on this online test your book is obviously a work of genius and is definitely worth reading. People don’t want to think that the book they’re reading is stupid as they feel it might reflect badly on them and people will think they’re a thicko. Dan Brown probably got ten out of ten on several online grammar tests. I rest my case.

6. Food stuff. In case all the animal pictures haven’t convinced the general readers out there that you are at least as boring as them there is always room for the occasional food post. Just stick up a photo of your dinner and watch your book sales soar. Everyone loves a good picture of someone else’s dinner. A recent study done by a University somewhere found that when normal people sit down with their families at night after being at work all day all they want to do is pick up their tablets and look at pictures of other people’s dinner. They can’t get enough of it. And the study found that when people see a picture of some potatoes and random meat and boiled-to-fuck vegetables on Facebook, the first thing they do is to go to Amazon and buy a book. It’s in a scientific study so it must be absolutely true.

7. Links to a good review you just got. There’s nothing that excites common people more than knowing that a writer they know has just received a five star review on Amazon or somewhere. Most ordinary folk can’t wait to read how LoveCats169 couldn’t put your book down and they’ll be delighted that she’s managed to spell most of the words correctly in her review. This shows how normal people, just like the other people you know on Facebook, would like your book if they read it.


8. Wine. See number 1.

And that’s it for social media. See? It’s nothing to be worried about.
Glad I could help.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Industry View - Reedsy's Ricardo Fayet

Ricardo Fayet
Ricardo Fayet is a co-founder of Reedsy, a curated marketplace connecting publishing professionals. He’s primarily a startup enthusiast who likes to closely follow the publishing industry. He spends most of his spare time analysing European football games and complaining about the London weather.


So how would you define Reedsy? 

There are a lot of definitions of Reedsy, from the succinct “curated marketplace for publishing professionals” to long paragraphs explaining exactly what we have in mind for the near future.

However, there is one that really expresses the brand we are trying to create: Reedsy is a publishing company where authors get to choose the people they want to work with and keep their rights and royalties.

Many fantastic editors and designers have left the big publishers in the past few years to work as freelancers, and almost all like to tap into the self-publishing market. We’re creating a place for them to regroup in with other top-notch freelancers so authors can easily find them.

Many author assistance schemes have attracted a certain amount of scepticism for selling sub-par services at a premium price. What makes Reedsy different?

Self-publishing should not mean “vanity publishing”, as seemed to be the case 5-10 years ago. There are tons of professional “indie” authors out there, seeking to make a living out of writing, and we believe they should have access to the same level of quality they would get through a big publisher.

We are all about that. We call ourselves a curated marketplace because we are going to check all the profiles of the freelancers featured on Reedsy to make sure they comply with our standards. We don’t want to stop there though, we are working on exciting collaboration and project management tools to save authors and freelancers both time and money. We think the way authors work with editors today is a bit outdated (we already had MS Word and email 10 years ago, maybe it’s time to move on?…) though we will naturally let people use whatever tools they prefer.

What drew you to the self-publishing market?


Emmanuel (my co-founder) and I were among the first people in France to read on tablets. Emmanuel actually imported his from across the pond. We were enjoying the “digital revolution” as readers and started thinking about what that revolution actually meant for authors. We started digging into self-publishing, spent a couple of years researching “the industry” and felt like almost all services offered to “indie” authors today were “vanity publishing” ones, so we came up with Reedsy.

The media likes to fan the trad v. indie debate whereas others believe the industries are complementary. What’s your take?

I don’t think the trad v. indie debate we currently have is the right one, because one side of the debate is totally anachronistic. Publishing companies haven’t changed their business model at all over the past 50 years.

Today, with some work, money and dedication, you can get a pretty good book out and sell it to the world. What publishers do, today, is save you the investment and some of the work, give you a small advance, and add one distribution channel that is shrinking year after year (print) to your distribution strategy. For that they take 90% or more royalties, the same share they took 10 years ago, when you basically had no other choice as a writer than going with them…

If this business model changes (and that’s what people like Hugh Howey have been calling for, basically), then we can have a debate. We can say “if you’re entrepreneurially minded and good at marketing, you should self-publish, else try to find yourself a publisher”. But right now for me there’s no debate. Which company is ever going to give away 90% equity in exchange for a couple thousand dollars and access to a shrinking distribution channel?… If you do that it means that you don’t really believe in your company.

You’’re a speaker of more than one language– - are translators going to be a significant resource at Reedsy?

Definitely. This has been our vision since the very beginning. We had to start somewhere, so we are doing it with the most basic services, the ones without which you cannot self-publish (editing and design). But our goal is to recreate a publishing company and be a kind of “one-stop-shop” (without ever sacrificing quality, but I’ve made that clear already).

In year 2 of Reedsy, we will be adding new languages (countries) and opening our marketplace to translators. Finding good literary translators is the next big thing for today’s successful indie authors, and it’s no easy thing.

In our last issue, David Gaughran gave his opinion on the Amazon/Hachette battle. It’’s a business dispute but how does it affect authors?

Wow, it’s kind of difficult to come after David Gaughran and all that has already been said about it…

What has struck me in this dispute, from the author’s perspective, is the trad. vs self-pub. clash that has emerged, and how both parties have handled the situation… If you sum up and caricature it a bit, the first group has paid a ton of money to get an ad in a newspaper, while the second one has created a (free) online petition that has almost immediately gathered thousands of signatures…

I’ve tried to follow this neutrally, as a reader, but as I discussed it with Andrew Rhomberg from Jellybooks over Twitter, it really makes you wonder where these best-selling traditionally published authors took their PR advice from…

In any case, I think this battle mainly affects traditionally published authors, because they are the ones in danger if Hachette comes victorious out of it and prices ebooks high (in order to protect print). And they are the ones in danger if the “negotiations” (or absence of it) carry on and pre-order buttons are not reinstalled.

The good thing for them is that indie authors genuinely care about them. Let’s think about it for a moment, if Howey’s/Konrath’s/Eisler’s theory is right and publishers are actually fighting to price their authors’ ebooks too high, it’s actually a good thing for indies’ marketshare, right?

Well, I voiced this question to many indies, and the global response was: “yes, but we actually care about authors in general, not just indies”. I feel that right now Hugh Howey and co are fighting the mid-to-low-list mainstream authors’ battle, because these authors basically don’t have a voice. And that’s a good thing. Now, I could be totally wrong and mid-list “mainstream” authors may actually be on Douglas Preston’s side, but as they have no voice, it’s difficult to know…

I know you’’re a serious reader. So which book, regardless of publication source, has impressed you most this year?

I realised a few months ago I had probably never read a self-published book before. So I started reading Ben Galley’s Emaneska series as I enjoy the occasional “dark fantasy” book (as he likes to call his genre).

I was incredibly impressed by his second one (Pale Kings). Don’t get me wrong, the first one wasn’t bad, it was pretty entertaining, but not much more than that. From the first pages of the second one, though, I really felt like I was entering his world, and not only “reading” it.

Seeing this incredible improvement from one book to the other makes you feel close to the author, so I actually reached out to him to congratulate him (something I had never done before). I can’t wait to read his next novel, Bloodrush.

Nice easy one to finish with - how do you see the future of the publishing industry?

Honestly? I see it as a combination of two complementary type of companies. On the one hand, companies like Reedsy, making quality self-publishing possible and “easy” since the very beginning. On the other hand, actual publishing companies with a fair business model (like FG Press).

Some authors are just not supposed to self-publish, those who don’t want to have to pick their editorial and design team, negotiate prices, do all the marketing, etc. At Reedsy we can make self-publishing easy but it will always make sense for some authors to just have the publisher handle everything which is not writing.


 By JJ Marsh

Friday, 26 September 2014

Sophie Hannah in conversation with Gillian Hamer

Two modern-day crime queens discussing the ultimate crime queen.

No one will ever take Agatha Christie’s crown, but it’s thrilling for me to see a brand new Poirot novel hit the shelves … and the headlines. Since the publication of her first novel in 1920, Christie has sold over two billion copies of her books around the globe. She remains the best-selling author of all time.

 Now, for the first time, the Christie estate – guardians of her legacy – have approved a brand new novel, featuring her enigmatic, beloved character – Hercule Poirot. The novel will be welcomed by crime readers around the world, attracting new fans and captivating older ones.

It has fallen into the more than capable hands of international best-selling crime writer, Sophie Hannah, to breathe new life into Christie’s creation, in new novel, The Monogram Murders

In the same way Anthony Horowitz took readers back to the era of Sherlock Holmes in the wonderful, House of Silk, Hannah weaves a thrilling tale that embroils readers into a 1920s' London mystery – with Poirot at its centre. And with the usual touches of her wonderful talent for complex plots and sub-text, I can’t imagine any Christie fan being more than thrilled with the result.

So, WWJ asks Sophie Hannah just how it feels to be part of the Christie legacy …

Welcome back to Words with Jam, Sophie, and as a lifelong Agatha Christie fan I am delighted it is under these circumstances. Can you tell us how The Monogram Murders came to life and how you were commissioned to write it?

Well, it was really just a massive coincidence. My agent, Peter, happened to be talking to somebody from Harper Collins, Agatha’s publishers.  He said, ‘Hey, you should get Sophie Hannah to write a new Poirot novel – she’s a massive Agatha Christie fan.’  At the same time, the Agatha Christie Estate had started to think that now might be a good time to do a continuation novel – so it was serendipity really, those two things happening at the same time!

I believe that like me you’re also a huge Christie fan, how did it feel when the novel got the go ahead?

That’s right. My dad bought me my first Agatha Christie novel, The Body in the Library, when I was 12. He spent a lot of time at second-hand book fairs looking for old cricket books, and I soon realised I could ask him to look out for Agatha Christie’s for me at these fairs – which he did. By the time I was 14 I’d read all of her work and had all her books on my shelf. When The Monogram Murders got the go ahead, I felt honoured and determined not to let either Agatha Christie or her family down.

I read in a Telegraph review of the novel, that the reviewer first questioned why you would want to turn your hand to rewriting a Poirot novel, but once he’d read it felt it was ‘so full of love and energy that if the Christie estate hadn’t commissioned this book –  I am quite convinced Hannah would have written the whole thing gratis for a fan fiction site.’ I think that’s a wonderful quote and tells us a lot about you as a writer and as a person – but what where your motivations?

Yes, it’s true!  I was so excited about writing a Poirot, I would (as I regularly say) have done it for twenty quid and a packet of Minstrels!  My main motivation was love for Agatha and Poirot – I see The Monogram Murders as sort of my love letter to them!  Fan fiction is a v accurate term for the book, I think.  But to be clear, my novel is not a ‘rewriting’ of any existing Poirot novel – it’s a completely new novel, a continuation novel of one author’s series by another.  I see my role as faithful sidekick to great genius (Agatha!)

Did you ever have any doubts about taking on the project?

It was a huge challenge, but no, I was so creatively excited, energised and inspired by the prospect, there was no way I’d have refused to take it on.  I try to make decisions based on hope not fear wherever possible! 

What were the hardest parts for you in writing the book?

Getting the plot exactly right, structurally, was the hardest part.  Like some of Agatha’s plots, mine is quite complex. The notes I made were extensive and ran to over a hundred pages, but once it was all planned out in the notes, the writing process was huge fun!

And did you have any ‘Oh my God, I am writing dialogue for Poirot…’ moments!

Once I started work on the book, I was so immersed that I was focused only on the book, not on the surreal and almost implausible fact that I was writing a Poirot novel.

Are there any future plans for more Agatha Christie novels that you can tell us about?

No plans at all for future books at this stage! We’ve all been so focused on this book, no one has thought beyond it.  It feels like more than enough for the time being!

There’s no doubt this is going to catapult your name to the stratosphere, are you ready for the publicity and journey to come?

There is a huge doubt!  The big names here are Agatha Christie and Poirot.  I imagine my ‘well-known-ness’ level will remain much the same, because even if The Monogram Murders does amazingly well, it’ll be Agatha and Poirot’s names that people think of more than mine.  But that’s fine!  I don’t want to be any more famous than I am.

Thanks so much for your time, Sophie.

Our review of The Monogram Murders here for more details.


Thursday, 25 September 2014

Scotland the What? Procrastinating with Perry Iles

Dumfries is broken. It’s a Netto Ghetto, Lidled into submission by German market economics, charity outlets and pound shops. Sometime soon the charity shops are going to eliminate the middle man and start handing out their takings to anyone walking past. The Loreburn Shopping Centre is full of damaged people with limps wearing beige polyester and combovers as they make for the ranks of mobility scooters parked outside the perma-shuttered branch of HMV. Saturday virgins in panstick makeup sashay down faux-marble shopping centre catwalks in spray-on clothes; teenage boys with gelled hair and spots swagger in Bench and Superdry, looking almost but not quite completely unlike the chisel-chinned blue eyed photoshopped Hollywood heroes they aspire to be. They have the same number of limbs and heads, and that’s where the resemblance stops.

I’m reminded of Charlie Brooker’s comment about humanity—six billion farting skittles with their haircuts on. Over by Specsavers, the auto-doors let you out into the drumming rain with a hiss that sounds like an old woman’s rebuke. A busker plays Mandy, badly; in the street the women come and go, talking of Barry Manilow. Outside Superdrug there’s a kids’ carousel wired up to a generator. Most mothers ignore it, because it’s £2 a go. The owner is wise, however. He’s priced three goes at a fiver, which is just about long enough for the mothers to smoke a cigarette and scratch their misspelt home tattoos before heading off to Greggs for a pasty. There’s a Greggs either end of Dumfries’s pedestrianized High Street and one in the middle, appropriately sited next to the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s furniture shop which offers plywood and MDF starter-packs to those pregnant teenagers lucky enough to have been given local authority accommodation in the boonies on the floodplain beyond the Whitesands. Broken bottles and jacked-up cars with the wheels gone.

Ah, the humanity.

My wife’s in New Look taking clothes from a hanger, my daughter’s in Waterstone’s checking out Manga. You read it from the back, evidently. This also works for Murakami, I’m told, but I don’t speak Japanese and the insipid translations always put me off. I’m sitting on a graffitied bench with my mobile waiting for the Hay Day paddlesteamer, and when I finally stand up and catch my reflection in the window of Poundland I realise I’m broken too. Fifty years of pies and lager, forty years of twenty-a-day and no exercise other than a vague and uninterested stroll to the nearest field to empty the dogs. Lard, booze and fags, Scotland’s new triumvirate of narcotising pharmaceuticals. They’ve done for me, rendered me shapeless, uninteresting and uninterested. They’ve done what all drugs do. They’ve killed the pain and made me love Big Brother, even when Jim Davidson wins. I look like the sort of man who lives alone, of whom neighbours would later tell reporters “you know… quiet… you’d never have thought it of him…” I’m a fat bastard in a stained t-shirt and joggers. I blend in perfectly. My wife and daughter appear from different shops and I’m absurdly glad to see them because they love me.

Up above the shower passes and the sky turns a bluer shade of autumn. The trees, stunted and cowed in their squares of dried earth and dogpiss set in High Street concrete, are going the colour that makes autumn my favourite season. A brace of Easyjets, crossing as they head for Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, leave a perfect saltire vapour trail scratched across the blue. A perfect sky-cliché that reflects the more earthbound Scottish cliché of life in Dumfries on a Saturday afternoon. Smile, at least you’re not in Kilmarnock…

The sun’s come out and the day’s grown windless and warm, but the trees in the frost hollow at St Anne’s Bridge have gone that autumn colour. I’m driving home in the last aircon of summer. My wife is dozing, nursing a can of Vimto (I’m thirsty so I debate taking the can from her slackening grasp, but I couldn’t possibly drink anything that was an anagram of vomit). My daughter’s nodding to music that sounds like white noise and roaring reproduced through the moody set of Dr Dre headphones I got her from a Porto Pollensa market stall in Majorca last year. It sounds like there’s a small bird trapped inside her head trying to get out. A useful metaphor for Scotland, I think.

It is of course, not fair. I’ve just spent the afternoon shuffling through the political and social debris of what it means to be British these days. But five hundred years ago Scotland gave England a king. He was James the first of England, although we’d already had five previous Jameses up here, so he was the sixth for us. As such, it seems a little unfair that we’re having to beg to be set free from England. It should be the other way round, really, considering we loaned them a whole royal family. We should be cornering England behind the bike sheds every morning and stealing its pocket money. We should be beating the shit out of it on the sportsfield, in the science labs, on stage and on screen, round the back of the pub on a Saturday night armed with Stanley knives and fuelled by lager and aggression (hang on, I’m reliably informed that we do in fact have that last one covered…) But generally speaking, we’re forced to abide by decisions made in parliament four hundred miles away in another country; we were the experimental field for the Poll Tax, we’re a Tory-free zone governed by Tories who look at us in the way a retired colonel looks at his pet Labrador. We’ve been England’s bitch for a few centuries, and we’re comfortable with it now. But if Scotland is an oil rich state and the United Arab Emirates is an oil rich state, how come we don’t have their wealth? Why isn’t Glasgow like a slightly chillier Dubai, all skyscrapers and students learning how to base-jump in their gap years? Scotland should be minging with MILF shopping at thousands of Waitrose branches the length of the land. Scotland should be awash with Italian supercars and upper crust shoe-shops where you can slip into something less comfortable for the price of a small car. Dumfries should be a little southern Scottish outpost for Hermes, Chanel and Jimmy Choo. Instead its herpes, River Island and Shoe Zone Direct. We go shoplifting in Primark when we should be drinking double latte decaffs in the upstairs bistro at Harvey Nicks.

So really, what the fuck? Where is our money? Well, here’s a clue: the vast majority of high profile politicians in Westminster are Eton-educated millionaires who are currently putting on their serious faces and pretending to give a fuck about what they consider to be five million or so barely continent knuckle-scrapers north of an imaginary border the Romans built a couple of millennia ago. These politicians have all read Machiavelli, possibly even in the original Italian at Cambridge. “Men have imagined republics and principalities that never really existed at all. Yet the way men live is so far removed from the way they ought to live that anyone who abandons what is for what should be pursues his downfall rather than his preservation; for a man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin, since there are so many men who are not good.”

Ah, Niccolò, never a truer word…

But however we live, we deserve some kind of say in it or democracy is lost, and we might as well be the thirty million Indians who starved to death in the eighteenth century while their British rulers feasted on imported delicacies, or the millions of native Americans slaughtered by the Manifest Destiny policy of the conquering heroes of the west, or the twenty million people who died during Mao’s Great Leap Forward, or the other twenty million who died during his Cultural Revolution, or the thirty million that died from Stalin’s purges, or the seven million Jews in World War II. Whatever we might think about our Blairs and Camerons and even our Thatchers, they’re positive saints compared to the peoples’ champions of socialism who grabbed the reins in twentieth century Europe and beyond. But the idea of actually being ruled by Tories is akin to being adopted by the sort of people who pick the disabled kids because they’ll be able to spend their DLA. We’d quite like to slouch towards Bethlehem on our own hands and knees to be reborn, if that’s OK with everyone else.

So of course, in this issue concentrating on the power of change, it’s Scotland that springs to mind for me. Cradle of literature from Walter Scott to Irvine Welsh, our identity calls us home like Caledonia. The main problem for me, of course, is that I’m English, but given that I married a Scotswoman (it’s a bit like marrying an Italian girl except with less reason or accountability, more bruising and much bigger tits, in case you’re ever tempted) and have a half-Scottish daughter that talks like a native and swears like one, I hope that after nearly twenty five years I’ll be allowed to stay.

England probably wouldn’t want me back anyway.

But in the morning when I look out through my window over the fields to the low hills of the Southern Uplands, I realize I’d like to have a bit more say in how things are run. These same mist-covered mountains I’m staring at are probably owned by Lord Cunt of Cuntshire, who grows pines or plants windfarms and hides his income in the Maldives so that we can’t have it. But like Icarus ascending on beautiful foolish arms, we can reclaim this land. We can be owners of all we see, not just the curtains. Oil reserves, natural resources of wind and wave power, tourist income from all the shortbread and jimmy-hats, and some form of national heritage that incorporates stab wounds, ginger people, alcohol and a national musical instrument that’s as close to actual violence as music gets without amplification.

It’s Wednesday, September 17th, and it’s in our grasp. Here, the local farmers have big “No Thanks” signs in the backs of their Range Rovers and the housing estates are covered in “yes” posters sellotaped into grimy windows. There won’t be an election more important than this, there probably won’t be a British political decision as important as this in my lifetime. We can bring it all crashing down. Cameron as “the man who lost Scotland”, the Tories as a spent fizzle like a damp firework, sad and ridiculous in their postures of spurious concern for pretty much anything north of the M25. For our children’s sake, if not our own, for their free health care, for their free education even unto university, for a welfare state that’s not run by millionaires bent on breaking it. In the final analysis, for a country that’s a little bit distanced from the really dangerous loose cannons, the politicians pretending to be hapless buffoons: Boris Johnson and his haircut, Nigel Farage sipping a pint of real ale outside the Bigot’s Head. Independence is a vote against the UKIP fools who stood up as one and turned their backs on the European president at the first sitting of the European parliament a month or so back, a vote against burgers and fries and 51st state politics, a vote for the calm waters of Europe, seaside icecreams, wine and mañana, French food, the architecture of Florence, the art of Spain, the scenery of Switzerland and whatever good things the Germans have.

We’re in the last chance saloon. If we say no we’ll be punished severely, like a wife who dared to have an opinion of her own, we’ll be walking into some doors soon if we don’t run, now, over the hills and far from this abusive relationship we’ve endured for so long. Now, for the sake of the kids, while the highway’s jammed with broken heroes, grab your opportunity and run like a bastard…

They say that to vote for change is harder than to vote for the status quo. It’s a leap of faith, with unknown consequences. That’s the only possible reason I can give for the outbreak of cowardice that gripped the Scottish public yesterday. It’s Friday September 19th. Scotland is still broken, limping and lame, but the wound is self-inflicted this time around. It wasn’t even close in the end. Bits of Glasgow and Dundee said yes, but that was about it. So next time anyone Scottish moans on about the Tories or the government 400 miles away that doesn’t care, just tell them to shut the fuck up and fuck the fuck off (unless they’re bigger and drunker than you are). We had our chance and we blew it. They can do what they want to us now. They’ve taken the oil and given us their nuclear weapons storage facilities in return; they’ve played political experiments with us and now we wanna be their dog, willing victims begging for more. It’s depressing, demeaning, dispiriting and disappointing.

There is of course a school of thought that says it’s better to subvert from within. That school of thought probably never witnessed Britain’s slow, methodical abandonment of Scotland—the shipyards and the coalmines gone, the heavy industry and the trade gone. If people were frightened that English businesses would leave Scotland if it gained independence they’ve only to look at the last forty years to see that a precedent has already been set. So subversion from within is the only option now. Salmond’s going, Sheridan and Galloway are walking political cartoons and there’s no solid opposition, the road is clear for UKIP and an extension to British Nationalism under one flag. There ain’t no tartan in the Union Jack—just underneath it. This is something we’ll need to struggle against constantly and slowly. They say it’s impossible for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, but that’s not strictly true. Someone once said (it might have been Terry Pratchett, it certainly sounds like one of his) that it’s entirely possible; all you need is a blender, a fine-needle syringe and a great deal of patience. That’s what we’ll need now; patience is our only option, but in the meantime the nightmare stalks the land and there’s no lights. Bagpipes are droning down into silence all over Scotland, we will not in our lifetimes hear them squeal again. Hey, every cloud. In the meantime, there’s a road in Lockerbie called Cameron Close, and someone has scrawled a message under the street sign that reads “He fuckin is now”. David Cameron is a happy man. Well, come away in, Dave, you’ll have had your tea.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Welsh Voices by Gillian Hamer (Part 2)

Welsh Writers II

As some of you will know, my books are all based in North Wales and I have a deep affinity with the country, its landscape and its people.

Here, in the second part of my discussion with Welsh authors, I speak to another collection of talented writers, some who are Welsh born, others now live in Wales and some are simply moved to write about Wales or set their books there.

Whether it’s location, language or legend – there seems to be something special about Cymru.



JUDITH ARNOPP
www.juditharnopp.com

Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?

I am the author of six historical novels and a few short story collections. Since I studied creative writing and history at uni, it seemed the natural course to take. My earlier books have an Anglo-Saxon or medieval setting but recently, due to reader requests, I have been writing in the Tudor period. My books are mostly from a female perspective although the multi-narrated plots have a male point of view. I am interested, some might say obsessed, in perspective and like to show how a single event can appear so differently to each witness, which proves my point that there is no ‘truth’ in history.

Which of your books are set in Wales?

Peaceweaver is the story of Eadgyth, daughter of the rich and powerful Earl of Mercia. Eadgyth’s story begins when she is sold into marriage to Gruffydd ap Llewellyn, leader of the Welsh; a man old enough to be her grandfather. Her life in turmoil, she discovers both friendship and romance, but not from her husband. Ultimately she finds herself accused of treason, fornication and incest.

The peace of Rhuddlan is shattered by Harold Godwinson’s surprise night attack on the palace. Gruffydd and some of his household escape but Eadgyth is abandoned and falls into the hands of the Saxon invaders.

After the betrayal and brutal murder of Gruffydd, Eadgyth is separated from her sons and taken to the court of the Saxon King, Edward the Confessor. There, desperate to be reunited with her children, she befriends the queen and her feminine charms enable her to infiltrate the sticky intrigues of the Godwin family.

My novel The Song of Heledd is loosely based on a collection of fragmentary middle Welsh poetry detailing the downfall of the 7th century Kingdom of Pengwern.

Most scholars date the Canu Heledd poems to the ninth century but generally agree that they are representative of an earlier oral tradition. The beautiful Welsh lament, the Canu Heledd, together with the poems of Llywarch Hen, describe the fall of the Cyndrwynyn dynasty. The narrator is Cynddylan’s sister, Heledd, her pain and loneliness is in every word of the ancient poem and also apparent is her strong sense of guilt.

We can never know the true story but I began to wonder about this woman who lamented so woefully for her brothers and the lost kingdom of Pengwern. Over the next few months I sifted through the smoke ruined halls of Cynddylan to piece together a story for Heledd, a fiction of what might have been.

What do you think Wales or Welsh history adds to literature?

Readers of historical novels love to stumble upon something new, they like to learn as they read and, as I mentioned earlier, Welsh history isn’t taught in English schools. They can’t help but be biased because they are ignorant of the Welsh story. My books are enjoyed not only by the Welsh or those of Welsh descent who are now overseas, they are read by readers of English history who are keen for new perspective. Often people don’t even realise there is another side to it. Wales is always depicted as the underdog, the thorn in the flesh of the English kings, they don’t realise how it must have been for the Welsh to be so persecuted, although they should do for it was a very similar story for the Anglo-Saxons after the Normans came. Literature is a great way of reaching out and getting the former enemies of Wales to see that, actually, we do have a point.

Name some of your favourite Welsh writers or books? (Feel free to quote a passage)

Of course I love the Mabinogion or Dylan Thomas with something bordering on passion. The Mabinogion has a great mystical atmosphere that I adopted when writing The Song of Heledd. This excerpt is from The Song of Heledd, the llys is under attack and the women have taken refuge in the hills.

At last, to everyone’s relief, we huddled in the shelter of a large outcrop where scrub grew up to screen us from the enemy below. If I stood on the tip of my toes, I could just see the llys far below us, and the river running into the flooded valley and on toward the sea.

From our great height the skerries looked tiny and the men milling about them as small and as insignificant as insects, although I knew that each and every one of them had a family and home. I suppose, when seen en mass, we all appear as nothing more than insects; our approaching enemy had no concept of us as people who wept and loved and laughed. We were just in their way, like a nest of wasps and so must be destroyed. I think that was the moment, although I had not the time to contemplate it, that I first conceived the true cost of war.

I scanned my eye in the other direction, across the purpling mountaintops until I perceived in the distance a cloud of dust far off on the valley road.

‘They are coming,’ I whispered and Rhonwen began to cry, her head in Gwarw’s chest. The old woman patted her shoulder, crooning comfort as she so often had to me. I turned away from them, into the wind. I could offer them no consolation, would make no false promises. In the next few hours anything could happen.

And then, quite suddenly, as if from nowhere, an eagle flew down, the wind from his wings lifting my hair, his mournful cry penetrating something buried deep within my mind, bringing the memory of heartbreak and defeat. And pain and dread lurched in my stomach as I recollected a childhood dream.

Gerald of Wales was a helpful resource too with his detailed diaries of his travels through Wales in the 12th century. His work also illustrates how little things have changed here. It is still possible to stand close to a spot where he once stood and enjoy the same view he did.

As a girl I used to read R.S Thomas’ poems because they spoke so richly of the place I was missing. His imagery is so perfect you can almost smell the rain. I think my favourite is Ninetieth Birthday, I feel I am walking up the track beside him, inhaling the scents of the landscape.

You go up the long track
That will take a car, but is best walked
On slow foot, noting the lichen
That writes history on the page
Of the grey rock. Trees are about you
At first, but yield to the green bracken,
The nightjars house: you can hear it spin
On warm evenings; it is still now
In the noonday heat, only the lesser
Voices sound, blue-fly and gnat
And the stream's whisper. As the road climbs,
You will pause for breath and the far sea's
Signal will flash, till you turn again
To the steep track, buttressed with cloud.

And there at the top that old woman,
Born almost a century back
In that stone farm, awaits your coming;
Waits for the news of the lost village
She thinks she knows, a place that exists
In her memory only.
You bring her greeting
And praise for having lasted so long
With time's knife shaving the bone.
Yet no bridge joins her own
World with yours, all you can do
Is lean kindly across the abyss
To hear words that were once wise.

I studied the metaphysical poet Thomas Vaughn at university but I prefer the less flowery approach of Dylan and R.S. Thomas. For me they represent the essence of Wales, omitting nothing and painting a truer picture.

Modern Welsh novelists I enjoy are Jan Ruth who writes contemporary grown up romances novels set in north Wales. They have everything, humour, sorrow, and a sense of how irrational and silly relationships often are. Jean Mead’s books are great too, she writes Welsh historical fiction, her Widow Makers is really worth reading. I also enjoyed Judith Barrow’s Changing Patterns and Pattern of Shadows, again they have a historical slant but that is what I enjoy. Reading about the past illustrates what shaped us into the society we are today. I can’t get enough of it. A new (to me) author I discovered recently is Kate Murray, her writing and her illustrations are fabulous, so look out for her, I can see her going far. That is the great thing about the Welsh writing community is that it has a bond and we can support and share each other’s work. It is how we grow.



What is your favourite Welsh story or legend?

Well, my vote has to be for the Canu Heledd and the poems of Llywarch Hen. It has everything; history, love, loss, betrayal, war, death. Any tale that mourns the end of a great dynasty does it for me. I am a great romantic. The poems, although they only survive in fragments actually tell us a lot about Cynddylan’s hall, his purple cloak, and speaks of the war with Oswiu of Northumbria. I just wish we could find the middle part of the story to discover the catalyst of the disaster (which appears to have something to do with Heledd) although that might mean I’d have to rewrite The Song of Heledd. Historically we know nothing about Heledd herself but her brother, Cynddylan is believed to have united with Cadafael of Gwynedd and Penda of Mercia against Northumbrian forces in the battles of Maes Cogwy, Chester, Lichfield and Winwaed, where Penda was slain.

Shortly after Winwaed in 655AD Oswiu invaded Mercia and Powys, launching an attack upon the royal llys at Pengwern and practically obliterating the dynasty in one night.

It has been suggested that, in order to cement the alliance between Powys and Gwynedd, Heledd was married to Cadafael, then King of Gwynedd.

For reasons we will never know, on the eve of the battle at Winwaed, Cadafael suddenly withdrew his troops and rode back to Gwynedd, abandoning Powys and Mercia to their fate. This act earned him the title of Cadafael Cadomedd, which translates as ‘battleshirker.’ There is no record as to his motivation but it did his reputation little good and shortly afterward, although the circumstances remain sketchy, the rule of Gwynedd passed back to Cadwaladr.

It is extremely rare for a female narrator to appear in early poetry but in Canu Heledd, Heledd speaks out loud and clear. The first time I read it I was compelled to help her spread her message.





WILL MACMILLAN JONES

Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?


My name’s Will and I’m an authorholic. That means it could be dangerous for me to stop writing: at least, that’s what I used to say to my ex when she wanted me to mow the lawn. I’m a fifty something lover of blues, rock and jazz who has recently fulfilled a lifetime ambition by filling a wall of my study with bookcases. And then filling the bookcases. When not writing speculative fiction for children, teenagers and adults, I can be found walking the hills of Wales peering into caves for dragons. I haven’t found one yet, but it is only a matter of time.

I write horror, children’s books for the 5-8 age group, and what I fondly imagine to be a hilarious fantasy comedy collection called The Banned Underground which is centred on a dwarf rock n roll band working in modern Britain. Speculative fiction is the best encompassing term I’ve heard.

Which of your books are set in Wales?

Not all, but most, of my books include a Welsh setting or locations. I enjoy writing about the places that I love, or as one of my characters once said: he’s too idle to go looking for somewhere new to write about.

Tell us about your Welsh background or connections?

I’ve lived here now for over fifteen years: I’ve wanted to live here a lot longer, but circumstances were against me. My father always told me that one of my ancestors had fled Powys after being accused of sheep stealing. He grew up on a farm in Norfolk, so I’m not prepared to discount the theory. And of course I’ve been walking/climbing in Snowdonia for over forty years.

What is it about Wales that inspires you to include it as a setting in your novels?

The scenery is just tremendous, isn’t it? How can you not want to write about the hills and mountains and the myths and legends the surround them and flow across the landscape like a mist? Just walking out of my door – I’m lucky enough to live rurally – and looking out at the landscape is enough to get a writer’s imagination firing on all cylinders.

What do you think Wales or Welsh history adds to literature?

What hasn’t it added? The Mabinogion, one of my favourite books, is the source material for countless books. I write speculative fiction – aka fantasy of sorts. Wales has dragons, knights, ghosts, elves, enchanted forests and lakes and mountains… everything any writer in my field could ever need. We even have the essential rain! (it helps to keep us writers indoors at our keyboards, you know). Our mythology is so rich and varied it seems inexhaustible.

Tell us what books you are planning in the future that include Wales as a location?

I’ve got a YA –teenage- fantasy novel set here which will be coming out in 2015, and also a paranormal/horror novel called The Picture which will be out towards the end of 2014 or the start of 2015. The Picture started in my head one day whilst I was sat in a café in one of the Arcades in Cardiff, watching reflections in a glass window opposite.

What is your favourite Welsh story or legend?

Oh, that’s really hard. I like so many of the legends and stories, from the enchanted lakes at Llyn Y Fan Fach and Llyn Lech Owain, to the mountains whose slopes turn benighted visitors into poets or madmen (or, presumably, both)… but I think I’d go for The Dream of Macsen in The Mabinogion. As long as I can remember I have been fascinated with the history of this land at the time of the Roman invasion and occupation, and this story relates a version of a part of that time. It isn’t overly accurate in historical terms, but dreams aren’t meant to be factual, are they? They are there to tease, tantalise, intrigue and inspire.



WENDY STEELE
www.wendysteele.com

Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?

I've lived in Wales for a year now, on a hillside, in Cribyn, Lampeter. I started out in a tent, moved up to a caravan and finally, 10 weeks later, moved into a tumbledown 300 year old farmhouse, with my partner and four cats.

I worked in the City, BC (Before Children) but since 1999 I've indulged my creative side, training in natural therapies, belly dance and writing. Publication of dance articles led to writing courses, and summer school, producing my first novel 'Destiny of Angels - First book in the Lilith Trilogy.'

In 2012 I published my first non-fiction title 'Wendy Woo's Year - A Pocketful of Smiles', as well as two short story anthologies and an erotic accompaniment to the Lilith Trilogy 'Too Hot for Angels'.

In June 2014, I published my second novel 'Wrath of Angels – Second book in the Lilith Trilogy', available on kindle and in paperback.

Which of your books are set in Wales?

The Lilith Trilogy is set in Wales and London, though my characters also visit Rome and Paris. In Destiny of Angels, you'll discover that Angel was sent to live with her maiden aunt in Wales at age 16, while her parents go abroad on their missionary duties and her love of the country stays with Angel as she buys a home near Corris. Angel and her friends celebrate the Spring Equinox there in the second book, Wrath of Angels, and all the final scenes of this book are set at Cader Idris.

Tell us about your Welsh background or connections?

My aunt and uncle lived at Llysfaen near Llandudno so my first introduction to Wales was walking the dogs over the hills when I was 3 years old. I have no other family connections but after our first holiday in Wales 15 years ago, I didn't want to go home and subsequent camping and cottage holidays inspired my dream to live in Wales one day.

What is it about Wales that inspires you to include it as a setting in your novels?

Wales is awesome in every sense of the word! From the greenest, verdant pastures to soaring mountain peaks, from sheep spattered hillsides to narrow, winding lanes and from waterfalls to fast flowing rivers, everything about the scenery is beautiful.

What do you think Wales or Welsh history adds to literature?

The fact that Wales promotes it's history and culture as well as the amazing scenery and extraordinary weather, makes it an inspirational setting for novels of all genres.

Tell us what books you are planning in the future that include Wales as a location?

I am writing the third book in the Lilith Trilogy, Angels and Demons and there are scenes in the house near Corris and near Machynlleth and I've begun a Christmas story set partly on the site of a bronze age settlement near where I live.

What is your favourite Welsh story or legend?

It would have to be the legend of Bran the Blessed which embodies Wiccan values of giving, light and rebirth. Bran's story is one of royal responsibility and great personal sacrifice as well as showing a king's love for his people and the land.