Poetry Review: The Mabinogi by Matthew Francis

Poetry Book The MabinogiSpeaking at the Hay Festival last month, Matthew Francis described his first encounter with The Mabinogi (which he read in 1999 when he moved to Wales). “I was both baffled and fascinated by it,” he explained, “It’s extraordinary, and strange in the way it’s constructed, and it also has a strange logic.” He is not a Welsh speaker himself, and this is not a translation – he described it as a “re-imagining” of the myth, in the same way that Shakespeare drew on existing stories for his plays.    Continue reading

A Very Welsh Anthology of Young Welsh Writers

Cheval 10 anthologyA Guest Post written by Thomas Tyrrell

There is a short story called ‘Daffodil Nipples’, two different authors chose the title ‘Welsh Cakes’, and Blodeuwedd (one of the central figures of the Mabinogion) has a poem to herself. The Cheval 10 anthology definitely has a Welsh feel to it, and that’s appropriate for a collection created from pieces submitted for the Terry Hetherington Young Writers Award, (for writers under 30 who live or work in Wales). But there are surprises too: a short story with the familiar title ‘Hiraeth’ turned out to be about an asylum seeker living in Wales, Martina Biavati came all the way from Italy to read her New York-set story ‘Caffe Giallo’, and Katya Johnson’s story about the French painter Cézanne won the second prize for prose.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Fatal Tree by Jake Arnott

Book - The Fatal Tree by Jake ArnottI heard Jake Arnott reading from his novel, The Fatal Tree, at the Hay Festival, and was intrigued by his use of slang words – a historical dialect of thieves and villains, taken directly from the “flash world” of Romeville in 18th century London. The book centres on the true story of infamous jail-breaker Jack Sheppard and his companion, the notorious Edgworth Bess (aka Elizabeth Lions), but it is not a straightforward telling. Arnott’s narrator (William Archer) is a young hack writer, who gains his material directly from Edgworth Bess herself, as she awaits trial at Newgate Gaol.    Continue reading

From Pain to Poetry – Debut Collections by Rebecca Parfitt and Christina Thatcher

Poetry Book - More than you wereIt is often true to say that the most incredible poetry comes from the most painful experiences in life. For centuries poets have been transforming their pain into something beautiful and unique which speaks into the lives of others and helps us to confront our own pain, and two Cardiff poets have recently launched debut collections which do just that. Rebecca Parfitt and Christina Thatcher have both produced poetry collections which strike at the heart of what it means to be human, exploring the most intense and painful of emotions.   Continue reading

A Day at the Ledbury Poetry Festival

amali rodrigo

Amali Rodrigo

I couldn’t have picked a better day for attending this year’s Ledbury Poetry Festival – the sun was shining, the roads were quiet and the poetry was exceptional. I only wish I could have stayed for longer. My first event was an opportunity to ‘Meet the Poetry Editors’, followed by poetry readings from Suzannah Evans, Tom Sastry, Jacqueline Saphra, Katherine Towers and Amali Rodrigo, as well as a personal serenade from a blackbird in Ledbury’s old walled garden.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Muse by Jessie Burton

Book - The Muse by Jessie BurtonAfter reading Burton’s debut novel (The Miniaturist) I was expecting more of the same, but The Muse is quite different, both in style and theme. It is much more exciting and multi-layered, spanning two different time periods and focusing on the origins of an unusual painting. The book begins in 1960s London, where we meet the young aspiring writer Odelle Bastien, who moved to London five years ago from the West Indies. She is thrilled when she eventually lands a job as typist for the Skelton Art Gallery, working for the stylish Miss Quick.    Continue reading

Book Review: Gaslight by Eloise Williams

Book - Gaslight by Eloise WilliamsIt’s always strange to read a children’s book as an adult, requiring a kind of leap backwards to a previous version of yourself. Gaslight by Eloise Williams, is exactly the sort of book the younger me would have enjoyed – with the perfect mix of historical detail, mystery, suspense and danger. The fact that it is set in Victorian Cardiff (in 1899) adds an extra dimension of interest for a historian like me, as I can visualise the old city superimposed over familiar streets.   Continue reading

Book Review: Strangeland by Tracey Emin

Book - Tracey Emin's StrangelandI picked up Strangeland in the Hay Festival bookshop (just to take a quick look) and, ten minutes later, realised I was hooked. It’s a collection of autobiographical pieces written by Tracey Emin about her eventful life and, though it’s full of abuse and heartbreak, it’s certainly a gripping read. It’s described on the front cover as “the jagged recollections of a beautiful mind” and “jagged” is a good word for this strange and powerful book.     Continue reading

Looking Forward to the 21st Ledbury Poetry Festival

Phillippa SlingerThe Ledbury Poetry Festival is now well established, and 2017 will be bigger than ever, as they celebrate their 21st year. Described by Andrew Motion as “the best” poetry festival in the UK, it will be crammed full of events, including kids activities, free ’20 minute’ readings and writing workshops, alongside the big names in poetry. I interviewed the Festival Manager, Phillipa Slinger, to find out more.       Continue reading

Book Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Book - The Miniaturist by Jessie BurtonThe Miniaturist is an intriguing work of historical fiction which immediately draws you in to the world of seventeenth century Amsterdam – a world ruled by Burgomasters and Guilds, where neighbours spy on each other and traders show off their riches. Burton tells the story of Nella, a young country girl arriving at the home of Johannes Brandt (her new husband and a wealthy merchant) who seems distant and uninterested in her. But he does present her with a wedding gift – a perfect miniature replica of her new home.    Continue reading

Diary of a Hay Festival Steward – Illustrating Films, Tolkien, Skeletons and Hay Mela – the Last Day!

Hay Mela musicThe fun part of stewarding at Hay is that you never know what to expect. The venues change each day, some events get cancelled, and new events are organised. Day 6 began with another delicious cooked breakfast, and the discovery that two of our events had been cancelled – leaving gaps in the afternoon and an early finish, so I decided to try stewarding in a different venue…    Continue reading

Diary of a Hay Festival Steward Day 5 – Nazis on Drugs, the Mabinogi and Live Music

hay festival steward - meDay 5 of stewarding at the Hay Festival began very well, with an early start in the catering tent for a cooked breakfast. Stewards get a free meal for each session they do, and if you’re camping, a free (cooked or whatever you prefer) breakfast is just the thing to start your day. This was followed by a solid hour of comedy (The Early Edition) with Marcus Brigstocke, Carrie Quinlan and Andre Vincent, taking a look at the news and poking fun at all sorts, including socks and Jeremy Paxman’s underpants…    Continue reading

Diary of a Hay Festival Steward Day 4 – Friends, Enemies and the Rabble

rhiannon hooson poetMy fourth day of stewarding at Hay began with a much-needed sugar rush in the form of a Danish pastry. It’s incredible how exhausting it is, and yet so addictive as well. The queue management is a real art, and it gets complicated sometimes, with queues overlapping queues and stampedes for the book tent – the most manic of which was the stampede for Neil Gaiman. The day continued with a rather depressing event about dementia, a smattering of politics and an unexpected new event with Tracy Chevalier…    Continue reading

Diary of a Hay Festival Steward Days 2 and 3 – Truth, Lies, Fake News, Fact and Fiction

Tracy EminMy second day of stewarding at the Hay Festival continued in a whirl of crowds, queues and high winds, with Lucy Worsley on Jane Austen and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, from Russian punk band Pussy Riot (both fascinating in different ways), followed by a late night traipse back to the tent and an early start the next morning for the hilarious Andy Hamilton, followed by a real mix of events including Tracy Emin…    Continue reading

Diary of a Hay Festival Steward – Days 1 and 2

hay festival flagsThere’s something unique about the Hay Festival, apart from its size and global reputation; it is such a mish-mash of culture, politics, literature, comedy and even some music – all concentrated down into something quite intense. I stewarded last year and found the experience addictive – the thrill of waiting for the next event to start, wondering how full it will be, discovering new authors you’ve never heard of… So here I am again, stewarding, camping and breathing in the literary air of Hay.    Continue reading

Book Review: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Book - On Beauty by Zadie SmithI really enjoyed Zadie Smith’s debut novel (White Teeth), though I have forgotten most of the plot. I wasn’t sure what to expect with On Beauty, except perhaps more of the same insightful humour and character driven narrative. To be honest, it took the first 100 pages or so for me to really get into this book, but that’s probably because the cast of characters is large, and each one has their own say.    Continue reading

Book Review: Too Brave To Dream – newly discovered poems by R.S. Thomas

Too Brave To Dream - Poems by R.S. ThomasThe poet R.S. Thomas passed away in 2000, and two books on modern art were discovered in his library, with previously unseen poems inserted between the pages. Too Brave To Dream: Encounters With Modern Art brings these poems together for the first time, alongside the images themselves. The poems are varied, short and impressionistic, similar in style to the ekphrastic work published during his lifetime. They are surreal, reflecting the appearance of the art he is writing about, but they are also intriguing in their own way.    Continue reading

Book Review: Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine ThienDo Not Say We Have Nothing is an epic tale written in lyrical prose. It begins in the present, with Marie (also known as Li-Ling) baffled by her father’s unexplained abandonment and suicide, and intrigued by the visit of the teenage girl Ai-Ming, daughter of her father’s friend, on the run from China and seeking safety abroad. The narrative soon delves back into the past, revealing the story of Big Mother Knife, Swirl and Wen the Dreamer, all mixed up with an ancient tale that never seems to end.    Continue reading

Reflections on Edward Thomas 100 & National Poetry Writing Month

Glyn Edwards poet

Glyn Edwards

National Poetry Writing Month is over at last, and it seems like only yesterday that I was cosied up on the sofa listening to the autumn storms, thinking April seemed a long way off. It was back in October that I began to plan a series of events for #EdwardThomas100, to mark the centenary of the World War One poet, and to make Cardiff University’s incredible archive collections more visible to the public. It’s been an exciting few months, and it’s hard to believe it’s all over, so here are some reflections on the experience…    Continue reading

Poetry Review: And Suddenly You Find Yourself by Natalie Ann Holborow

Poetry book Natalie Ann HolborowNatalie Ann Holborow’s debut poetry collection presents us with a raw, emotional journey of self-analysis, exploring family estrangement, broken relationships and the vulnerability of human experience. Holborow turns life, love and myth into stark reality, with unnerving language and compelling imagery. This is poetry grounded in the physical, from the “silvered, reeking bass” consumed in a restaurant, to “the housefly buzzing, hysterical, / butting its skull to get out”.    Continue reading

Poetry & Music at the Abergavenny Writing Festival

Rufus Mufasa (2)The Abergavenny Writing Festival began last year, but I wasn’t able to make it, so I was determined to get to at least one of their events this year if at all possible. Life is busy! But I managed to get to the grand finale – an event which combined music and poetry. It was a beautiful drive up into the Welsh hills, to the Kings Arms Hotel, where we sat in a cavernous room with unusual acoustics to hear from some talented local musician-poets.    Continue reading

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

letter boxWhen was the last time you received a handwritten letter? With developments in technology and social media, the fact that we can now communicate, instantly, with someone on the other side of the globe, it seems that letters will soon become no more than a distant memory, along with typewriters and telegrams. But I am convinced that we will be missing out on something significant, something valuable, something that provides us with a form of communication that is quite unique, but which also helps us to remember… Continue reading

Book Review: Falling Creatures by Katherine Stansfield

Falling creatures by Katherine StansfieldFalling Creatures combines the genres of historical fiction, detective story and gothic ghost story in a rather unsettling way, producing a novel that is both haunting and full of suspense, though it is actually based on historical fact. The author, Katherine Stansfield, grew up on Bodmin Moor, where the novel is set, and the tragic murder of Charlotte Diamond is a familiar story to local residents. At the book launch, Stansfield explained that she has always wanted to write about this case, but it was only recently that she discovered a way into the story.    Continue reading

Two Roads, Two Poets: The Friendship of Edward Thomas and Robert Frost

Edward ThomasThe first thing that struck me about Edward Thomas, when I began to research his life and work, was his close bond with the American poet Robert Frost. Frost’s famous poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ was actually written for Edward Thomas, during a period of indecision. It was 1915, and Frost himself had returned to the US, whilst Thomas was intending to follow him there. But the First World War was still raging, and Thomas’s conscience held him back. He did not want to enlist but, as he explained in a letter to his friend, “hardly a day passes without my thinking I should.”    Continue reading

Book Review: Now All Roads Lead to France – The Last Years of Edward Thomas by Matthew Hollis

Now all roads lead to FranceMost biographies begin at the beginning. Not this one. This one reads more like a novel – and the last few years in the life of much-loved poet Edward Thomas certainly provide an engaging plot. Hollis begins his tale with an introduction to Harold Munro’s Poetry Bookshop, which opened in London in 1913, providing a unique hub around which the poets of the day gathered… But Edward Thomas is not yet a poet at this stage in the story; he is a stressed poetry reviewer, churning out travel books and reviews, struggling to make ends meet…    Continue reading

Death Writing and Poetry: An Interview with Christina Thatcher

Christina ThatcherChristina Thatcher is a poet and creative writing tutor from the US. She moved to the UK in 2009 after winning the prestigious Marshall Scholarship (studying MAs at Cardiff and York). She is currently working on a PhD at Cardiff University, and her debut poetry collection, More than you were, will be published by Parthian in May. I met her through Roath Writers, the community writing group which she has been running since 2012.    Continue reading

Book Review: Time’s Echo by Pamela Hartshorne

Time's Echo by Pamela HartshorneTime’s Echo is one of the most gripping novels I’ve read in a long time. It follows the story of Grace Trewe, who is staying in York to settle the affairs of her late godmother (Lucy) who drowned in mysterious circumstances. Grace is a keen traveller, fully intending to move on once the house has been sold, but memories of surviving the Boxing Day tsunami still haunt her, and she soon begins to have nightmares of drowning. These strange dreams, which appear to be set in sixteenth century York, seem frighteningly real, until past and present begin to merge into something quite extraordinary…    Continue reading

Edward Thomas 100: Celebrating A Poetic Legacy

Edward Thomas I recently discovered that Cardiff University holds a unique collection of rare books and manuscripts. Amidst this literary treasure trove, there sits a shelf or two of unassuming boxes, containing the Edward Thomas archive – a set of objects, original manuscripts, letters, notebooks and other material relating to this popular poet. And it just so happens that it’s exactly one hundred years since Edward Thomas was killed, at the Battle of Arras in April 1917…    Continue reading

Climate Change Fiction and Celtic Legends: An Interview with Author David Thorpe

David ThorpeI recently came across a rather unusual book: Stormteller by David Thorpe. The premise intrigued me – the combination of two seemingly divergent themes: the Celtic legends of the Mabinogion and the issue of climate change. In fact, it’s been classed as part of a new genre called ‘cli-fi’, which stands for ‘climate fiction’ (fiction which “imagines the past, present, and future effects of climate change”). The opening is surreal, as the ancient characters of Ceridwen and her son (Afagddu) attempt to re-tell their own stories and re-direct their fate through the lives of three young people living in modern day Mid-Wales…    Continue reading

Verve Poetry Festival Highlights – A Celebration of Diversity

Geraldine Clarkson

What I enjoyed most about the recent Verve Poetry Festival (first of many, I hope) was the fact that it embraced poetry in all its guises, from the academic to the experimental, the hilarious to the downright ridiculous. We had spoken word at its most ostentatious, the big names and the new faces, plenty of opportunities to hear about the writing process, and workshops on themes as varied as ‘taking risks’ and performance technique…    Continue reading