Thursday, 24 July 2014

Welsh Voices by Gillian Hamer (Part 1)



This month's theme is ‘Freedom’ which has influenced writers across the world for millennia, voices rising up in peace, anger, defiance and revenge – with words often the most powerful weapons. The lasting legacy today is the individual voices that come from places that have seen conflict, war and hardship … and Wales through its Celtic heritage in ancient history, to its economic history in more recent times, has surely seen its share of all of these.

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, I speak to a 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.

JAN RUTH

www.janruth.com

Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?
I live in Snowdonia, North Wales, UK.

This ancient, romantic landscape is a perfect setting for fiction. I write contemporary stories about people, with a good smattering of humour and drama, dogs and horses.

My first title (Wild Water) found an agent twenty years ago but sadly didn’t find its forever home as I fell into the ‘between genre’ trap. I enjoyed another dalliance with traditional publishing through an agent who wanted to sell love stories which were not in the traditional mould, but she couldn’t raise enough finances to get the project off the ground. Hence, I am now self-published but I do love the freedom of it! I can write in my ‘between-genre’ to my hearts’ content.

I’d describe my style as very contemporary fiction, mostly for women - however, lots of men have enjoyed my short stories. I use the landscape almost as a character in its own right and I do tend to write from the male perspective rather a lot (except for Midnight Sky).

What do you think Wales or Welsh history adds to literature?
I think it adds a unique and rich diversity, one we should all be proud of. Wales is a small area but packed with so much character; legend and history, ice-age landscapes which are both dangerous and beautiful. The constantly changing weather systems; I know we moan about the rain but those sea mists and spooky clouds, when they are suspended above the valleys and draped over the castles can be dramatic, and inspirational. All of these factors blended together make for a truly inspirational setting for both contemporary and historical novels.

Name some of your favourite Welsh writers or books? (Feel free to quote a passage)
It would have to be Dick Francis (born in Tenby, Pembrokeshire) I remember buying Dead Cert, his first title, on a caravan holiday with my parents in North Wales (Yes, it rained!) I was a moody teenager and spent the entire week reading Dick Francis novels and pestering my parents to take me to the trekking centre in Conwy. I’m a horsy girl myself so the racing background made an immediate connection with me and I went on to read all of his titles. Loved the settings and the characters. I think it proves that writing about something you feel passionate and knowledgeable about is incredibly important and I’m sure I was influenced by Mr Francis.

Tell us what books you are planning in the future that include Wales as a location?
All of them! I have a set of three Christmas Stories next in line and these will most certainly enjoy a Welsh background. I travelled to New Zealand, Australia and Singapore last year, thinking what a wonderful travel blog I could write on my return! Did it happen? No. I used all the material to make short stories with a Welsh setting. Slightly strange but the title gives it away: A Long Way From Home.

JANE HICKS

(Author of forthcoming speculative fiction novel, Rats)

Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?
I started writing seriously after I took early retirement from teaching. I’ve always told stories; when I was a child my ‘make-up’ stories were famous, or should I say infamous, throughout the family. Teaching gave me a captive audience – luckily my quirky tales were well received.

Which of your books are set in Wales?
In my first book, Rats, the place names and scenery anchor the story in my homeland. My Rat tribesmen live and fight in Wales.

Tell us about your Welsh background or connections?
I’ve always lived in Wales, as did my parents and grandparents. But both sets of great grandparents were ‘incomers,’ moving from the West Country to find work in the newly industrialised South Wales. I recently discovered that my grandmother’s father, a blacksmith by trade, fought as a bare knuckled prize-fighter on high days and holidays.


What do you think Wales or Welsh history adds to literature?
So much, so very very much. From the legends and mythology set down in the Mabinogion, to the stories and poetry of Dylan Thomas and to Newport’s own W.H. Thomas. Not forgetting the young author of 2005’s Welsh Book of the year, Owen Sheers.

JUDITH BARROW

www.judithbarrow.co.uk

Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?
I grew up in a small village in the Pennines and moved with my husband, David, and three children to Pembrokeshire in 1978.

My work has appeared in several Honno anthologies. My novels are, Pattern of Shadows and Changing Patterns. I am currently working on the third of the trilogy. I am also an Indie author of a fiction built on fact novel, Silent Trauma; the story of the drug Diethylstilboestrol, and how it has affected generations of women.

I have an MA in Creative Writing, B.A. (Hons.) in Literature, and a Diploma in Drama and Script Writing. I’ve had short stories, poems, reviews and articles published throughout the British Isles and had two of my plays performed, on stage and as a short film that toured the Indie Festivals. I am also a creative writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council and run workshops on all genres. I’m also organising for a Book Fair to be held, Saturday 20th September under the auspices of the Tenby Arts Festival.

Which of your books are set in Wales?
Both Pattern of Shadows & the sequel, Changing Patterns, published by Honno, the Welsh Women’s Press are partly set in Wales, partly in Lancashire. I am currently writing the last book of the trilogy

What is your favourite Welsh story or legend?
Ah, now then. I tutor creative writing for Pembrokeshire County Council and, once, I set a task on using Welsh legends for a plot for a story. This led to a lot of research on my part. The following was one of my favourites: A local legend relates how coal was discovered in the Rhymney Valley. The fairies of the valley were being harassed by a giant who came to live at Gilfach Fargoed. One of the fairies, a boy whose parents had been eaten by the giant, finally decided to kill him. An owl from the nearby Pencoed Fawr farm agreed to help him. One night, when the giant was courting a witch under an apple tree, the owl shot an arrow into his heart and he died. Meanwhile the witch was killed by a flock of the owl’s friends. When the fairies burned the giant’s body in a huge pit, the ground caught fire and exposed the coal lying underneath. It’s said that, on moonlit nights, the owl’s descendants still come to Gilfach Fargoed and celebrate the giant’s death in song. I suppose it’s favourite because it harks back, yet again for me, to the lost days of mining in the valleys.

Do you speak Welsh? And what are views of Welsh language in literature?
Ever since we came to live in Wales, thirty-seven years ago, I have tried so many times, to learn to speak Welsh. It’s always been the actual writing of Welsh that has finally beaten me. But how I wish I could – my children and grandchildren have learned the language in school. It’s a rich language that, at last, has come into its own in literature. Last week, at the Hay Festival, I went to the inaugural meeting of Wales PEN Cymru. I was thrilled when told that both Welsh writers in English (even adopted Welsh writers such as me!) and Welsh writers in Welsh were joined together in this venture. It’s all-inclusive – as it is all over the world.

CHRISTINE STOVELL

http://www.christinestovell.com/

Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?
I live and write on the west Wales coast near Cardigan. I’m a committee member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and a member of Literature Wales. I’m primarily known as a writer of long and short fiction. My third novel, ‘Follow a Star’ published by independent publisher Choc Lit, is due out in Kindle in June and in paperback in July. I’ve also had work published in the Honno anthology ‘Strange Days Indeed’ and was the winner of the Honno ‘One Sentence, Coming of Age’ competition. I write poetry too and my work was featured as Honno’s Poem of the Month in March this year. I blog at http://homethoughtsweekly.blogspot.co.uk/

Which of your books are set in Wales?
The seeds of my second novel, Move Over Darling were sown when I moved to west Wales and discovered that the population of the county I’d moved to was roughly equal to the small Surrey borough I’d left behind. Although there’s a love story at its heart, Move Over Darling also considers the issues of the exodus of young people out of rural areas, the economic problems of areas dependent on agricultural and tourism, rural isolation and difficulties of access to services. My work in progress is also set here.

Name some of your favourite Welsh writers or books? (Feel free to quote a passage)
I find reading poetry a great solace and always keep a couple of favourite volumes to hand. One I particularly like – and which I’ve given away several times as a present - is Poems of Love and Longing (edited by Viv Sayer. Pont Books. 2008). I especially love Chris Kinsey’s beautiful and moving sequence of poems about her greyhounds. Another two great favourites are Gillian Clarke’s Collected Poems and Owen Sheers’s Skirrid Hill. I also heartily recommend Honno author, Juliet Greenwood’s debut novel Eden’s Garden and I thoroughly enjoyed Tiffany Murray’s Diamond Star Halo.

CONRAD JONES

www.smashwords.com/profile/view/conrad

Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?
Conrad Jones from Holyhead, Anglesey. I began writing in 2007 and have 13 novels, 2 biographies a series of writing guides published. I have a mixture of self-published books and traditionally published books. I was six books in before I took a traditional deal and I like the balance of having both.

Which of your books are set in Wales?
Soft Target, Soft Target III ‘Jerusalem’. 18th Brigade. The Hunting Angels Diaries are all set in Snowdon and Holy Island.

Tell us about your Welsh background or connections?
My family roots go back generations to areas around the Island and Snowdonia and they live there still in the Holyhead, Trearddur Bay areas.

What is your favourite Welsh story or legend?
The story of Beddgelert is a sad tale. As a dog lover you can’t help but love that one.

http://www.beddgelerttourism.com/gelert/

KIT HABIANIC

http://kithabianic.com/

Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing.

My debut novel, Until Our Blood is Dry, was published April 2014 by Cardigan-based Parthian Books. It tells the story of two families from the South Wales coalfield whose lives are ripped apart by the Great Miners Strike of 1984-85. It is being serialised in 350-word chunks in the daily newspaper, Western Mail, to mark the 30th anniversary of the strike and was the Welsh Books Council’s Book of the Month in May

What do you think Wales or Welsh history adds to literature?
When I left Wales to study literature, Wales seemed to vanish off the curriculum unless you count the brief mention of Owain Glyndwr in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, a shaken Westmoreland reporting back from battle that the fearsome Welsh woman are castrating the English soldiers’ corpses.

Welsh writing was absent from The Canon in the FR Leavis sense but also from the edgier curriculum taught at the more radical universities of the time. It’s only more recently that I’ve started to rediscover Welsh writers, from Dorothy Edwards, who hovered on the fringes of the Bloomsbury Set and died young, to contemporary writers such as Joe Dunthorne and Rachel Trezise.

Tell us what books you are planning in the future that include Wales as a location?
Having spent the best part of eight years writing my novel, I might take time out and write short stories or non-fiction for a bit. But never say never. Although it’s been hard to shake off my characters from Ystrad and I often wonder what their lives would be like now – the ones who survived the strike and who stayed.

What is your favourite Welsh story or legend?
The Bride of Nant Gwertheyrn – there’s a Gothic creepiness to this story of a wedding quest gone wrong that dooms the souls of two childhood sweethearts forever to roam the unquiet earth.

http://www.celtnet.org.uk/legends/ceubren_ellyll.html

BOB SUMMER

www.bobsummer.co.uk

Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?
I didn’t wake up one day and think, ‘I’m going to be a writer.’ I sort of evolved into a writer from being an avid reader. I’m one of those people who hate to do nothing and become bored quite quickly. I always carry a book everywhere just in case there’s time to fill. When it isn’t practical to read, I make stories up in my head and it felt a natural progression to write those stories down - just shorts to begin with. The novels came later. My stories often reflect the less favourable aspects of society and tend to be character driven. Strong and complex characters are essential to a good story, I think.

What do you think Wales or Welsh history adds to literature?
Wales has a long history. And history is fantastic fodder for writers who like ‘what if’ ideas. Right back to people like Boadicea and Owain Glyndwr to events like the last invasion of Britain. And there is something about the landscape of Wales which roots people to their history; the scarred mountains and the pit villages. And the pubs – there’s nothing like a good Welsh pub - none of that themed yanky-diner nonsense. Real ale and an open fire, that’s what makes for a tidy pub. After the coastal walk, gaze into an open fire down the local and think, what if?

Name some of your favourite Welsh writers or books? (Feel free to quote a passage)
I have to mention Dylan Thomas here, don’t I? This year being his centenary I’ve been re-reading Under Milk Wood. Of course, it’s meant to be read to you by a man with a deep, strong, Welsh voice; preferably while you’re relaxing in the bath - glass of champagne, chocolates. The characters are incredible and yet so real –raw even - Dai Bread and Nogood Boyo. Dylan Thomas must have been one of the most intuitive men who ever lived. How else would he be able to climb into so many people’s heads? And when I read it next time, I shall likely find something new to admire or laugh at. He wrote such long, rich sentences with simple but evocative words -

Alone until she dies, Bessie Bighead, hired help, born in the workhouse, smelling of the cowshed, snores bass and gruff on a couch of straw in a loft in Salt Lake Farm and picks a posy of daisies in Sunday Meadow to put on the grave of Gomer Owen who kissed her once by the pig-sty when she wasn't looking and never kissed her again although she was looking all the time.

What is your favourite Welsh story or legend?
Well I live in Pembrokeshire so I’m going to go with St Govan. The story goes, that Govan was fleeing pirates when the coast opened up and the cliffs cwtched him in to hide and protect him. The pirates wandered away and the shoreline opened up again to let him out. Govan was eternally grateful of course, as anybody would be, and settled in Pembrokeshire to pray to whoever he thought responsible. A visit to St Govan’s church is a must if ever you visit Pembrokeshire.

Do you speak Welsh? And what are views of Welsh language in literature?
Oh I so wish I could speak Welsh. I’m learning, but it’s a slow old process when I have nobody to practice with. I live in south Pembrokeshire and Welsh speakers are few and far between. I’m persevering though. I have lessons on CD and listen to them in the car, so if you see a strange woman driving around Pembrokeshire talking to herself, it’s me.

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