Category Archives: wales

Devolved Voices – a new project

I am delighted to announce that Professor Peter Barry, distinguished academic based at Aberystwyth University, has been awarded a major research grant from the prestigious Leverhulme Trust. Professor Barry has been awarded the grant to lead the three-year ‘Devolved Voices’ project. The project begins in September of this year, and I am thrilled to be joining Professor Barry on the team, alongside the wonderfully acute critic and scholar Dr Matthew Jarvis.

Devolved Voices will focus on the English-language poetic output from Wales since 1997 – a period that has seen many exciting new voices emerge and, notably, a flowering of powerful and various poetry from women. The project will result in several books, including a scholarly volume and a book of interviews with poets.

During the life of the project, there will be an exciting and media-rich living narrative of the project on our Devolved Voices website. The website will feature interviews with and readings from poets, together with interviews from notable players on the Welsh poetry scene. The website will be open to all, and we intend that both specialists and readers of poetry in general will find stimulating material. We’ll also be on Twitter! All of this will go live later this year.

It’s a great honour to receive a Leverhulme research project grant, and we are all enormously grateful to the Trust for its support.

You can read more about the project by taking a look at the press release.

Leave a comment

Filed under contemporary poetry, devolved voices, wales

Work and Days

I am delighted to say that I was appointed editor of Parthian at the beginning of this month. I’ll be joined by Jon Gower as associate editor. Jon is a noted broadcaster, as well as a superb fictioneer, and I am so pleased to be working with him on what we hope will turn out to be another great chapter in Parthian’s ongoing success story.

We are currently welcoming unsolicited submissions. If you’re interested in finding out more about what we publish and/or how to submit, please visit the About Us section of the website, take a tour of some of our authors (ranging from Niall Griffiths to Stevie Davies to Rachel Trezise and so many more), and then carefully read our guidelines. Along the way, you might find you want to pick up one of our many award-winning and critically acclaimed titles as a winter warmer.

This blog will, of course, keep going; it always does. But if I am occasionally quiet, please bear with me. I am probably reading a great book. And you know where that can lead.

Leave a comment

Filed under books, indie, publishing, wales

Where you come from

I’ve worked out the problem with getting older. For a while, I thought it was the difficulty that wrinkles presented. Could I be a feminist and realistically contemplate getting a jab of Botox? Did I still have the right to enter the changing rooms of Topshop? But this year, it’s all become so very clear. The problem with getting older is that people suddenly start dying more often. Great people.

This past weekend, my grandmother passed away. She was our family matriarch. She was also hilarious; much of that hilarity, it dawns on me now, more intentional than I had previously supposed. It’s a kind of disenfranchised grief, in a way, losing the elderly. People are keen to pass off the death of those who enjoyed a long and relatively healthy life. It’s as if you are meant to carry on regardless. If I once hear the old rejoinder ‘She had a good innings,’ I will not be responsible for my actions. The fact that someone is old or has ‘lived their life’ changes the selfishness of the bereaved not a jot. We want those we love to be with us forever. We fool ourselves until they are not there that they always will be. We want them to protect us. And this world is so replete with a lack of acceptance that their entire acceptance of us is worth more than any kind of success you can achieve in this world. I wish I’d noticed that earlier.

My grandmother did not have a grand life. Not in the way I used to think was grand. She went into service as a girl – yes, the world was really like that, and not so very long ago. She went on to become one of the best landladies in Wales. She loved the man in her life until he left her a widow in her 60s. She loved her daughter. In my father she found the son she never had. She adored her grandchildren. She worshipped her many brothers and sisters. But, of course, as we go through life, we recognise more keenly that great lives can often be small and small lives can often be very great indeed.

My grandmother’s time in service led to a curious situation in which she was the only one of our clan ever to have lived in a stately home – Blenheim Palace, no less. She was evacuated there during the war, along with the upper-class girls who were schooled there and whose lives she made comfortable. ‘They were lovely and so good to me,’ she said, much to my class-conscious teen fury. We went back there in the 1980s, and she lovingly went through every room, remarking how little it had changed. Yes, she went back – as if it was yesterday, recalling her many duties with no hint of self-pity, but, instead, pride. She could explain more about the place than the guidebook we bought. It is with amusement now that I note that, during her period there, the yanks had also landed in the grounds and set up their camp. Nan viewed the era as a golden one in her life.

She married my grandfather, after he somehow managed to charm her, despite his enduring mischief – they met when, behind her in the queue, he exposed her ration fraud to a shopkeeper. They entered the pub trade and she became landlady of The Greyhound (a pub I re-imagined as The King’s Head in a poem of mine). Neil Kinnock was a young radical, supping regularly. They both thought him a mouthy and disrespectful fake and later keenly pointed this out every time he appeared on the news, roundly mocked by commentators, in the 80s. My grandfather sacked Tom Jones and his then band (Tommy Scott and the Senators) from their appearances at the pub, thus freeing up the Welsh Pelvis’s schedule, and allowing a bit of rock and roll history to happen. ‘Tom Jones can’t sing,’ they both insisted. Many great people passed through their hours there.

But she was special to me because she was such a committed personality. Intractable in her beliefs, always exhibiting outward strength in times of great despair, unwavering in her devotion and loyalty to family and all that that meant and obligated one to. She was the perfect, textbook Welsh woman. Her support of me was enormous. She took great pride in my achievements, especially when I received my degree. And she could be quite uniquely ingenious in her magpie hunts around Swansea, once turning up a vintage issue of Poetry Wales she discovered in some car boot sale or other, just as I was starting to write my own poetry. ‘It’s perfect,’ I told her. And it was. But not every discovery was quite so successful. The whole family found themselves regularly gifted with eccentric objects, most pretty useless – and she converted her living room, after my grandfather’s passing, into a cave of bizarre delights. ‘It’s like santa’s bloody grotto in here,’ my brother once dryly observed. She laughed. She was impossible to offend and unconcerned with conformity.

There was no one quite like her. It’s such a sad thing to lose someone who knew you and loved you your whole life. It’s almost like a part of who you were then has been taken with them.

But here she is as a young girl, in a photo weathered through the time travel. She was remarkably pretty. And her good looks lasted her entire life. She was always very pleased about that. She was incredibly and amusingly vain. Perhaps her only flaw. Along with her bingo habit. And we loved her for it, and for everything. 

Leave a comment

Filed under family, the past, wales

Chief Executive of Literature Wales

Following the departure of our gifted Chief Executive since 1998, Peter Finch, Literature Wales is now seeking to appoint a new leader to carry the organisation forward into an exciting and ambitious future.

We are seeking an individual with a raft of energy, creative and entrepreneurial flair, and the ability to provide a truly inspirational and visionary leadership which reaches out to all sections of our literary community and general public. This is a rare opportunity to lead literature provision, programming and appreciation at a time of great renaissance in the two literatures of Wales. The ability to speak Welsh is essential for this post.

For further details on the job description and how to apply click here.

Leave a comment

Filed under literature, opportunities, the future, wales

Wales Book of the Year announced

The Wales Book of the Year 2011 was announced last night. The gong went to Parthian author John Harrison – a remarkable travel writer – for Cloud Road, a book recounting his adventures walking the great road of the Incas, the Camino Real. John’s a very nice man as well as being accomplished. This recognition of his work is pleasing indeed – and it comes with a £10,000 cheque, too, which is always handy for a writer. Also on the shortlist were Alistair Reynolds, for his SF novel Terminal World, and the unique Pascale Petit, for her arresting verse biography of Frida Kahlo, What the Water Gave Me – a poetry collection from 2010 which I’ve especially admired.

It was heartening to see such an intelligent but varied collection of books and genres from the judges – from the longlist right through to the shortlist. Francesca Rhydderch, Jon Gower and Deborah Kay Davies have done, I think, a very fine job of producing a list of books from Wales or with Welsh connections that reminds us all of the leaps and bounds our literature has made since the renaissance that began a decade ago.

I should add that the Readers’ Choice Award went to Tyler Keevil for Fireball. If you haven’t read it yet, then do. It’s a wonderful, gripping, moving, coming-of-age novel, with echoes of Hinton’s The Outsiders, King’s The Body (later made into the iconic film Stand by Me) and Nicholas Ray’s star-making Rebel Without a Cause. In a wonderful twist on our open and international nation, Tyler’s a Canadian, the book is set in Vancouver, and he’s published by Wales’s Parthian Books. I interviewed Tyler last year, and it proved to be one of the most enjoyable conversations I’ve ever had with an author about their book. He knows what he’s about and what the work is about. Good luck to him with his future projects.

So: congratulations to the winners. And congratulations to all those who made their way onto the longlist in such a vintage year.

You can find out more here. And to discover more about Literature Wales which administers the Wales Book of the Year, among many other crucial activities in promoting Welsh literature, click here.

Leave a comment

Filed under literature, literature promotion, the best of the best, wales

Women, Wales, Publishing

Next month, I’ll leave my role as editor of New Welsh Review. I’ll be succeeded by a woman. ‘Another woman in the role! Things are beginning to come on fantastically for women in Wales, aren’t they!’ a colleague recently exclaimed to me.
I pondered it afterwards. After all, the three major English-language literary/cultural journals have been in the hands of women for quite a while now. Poetry Wales since 2008, edited by Zoe Skoulding; Planet from 2006 – 2010 edited by Helle Michelsen (herself an Assistant Editor prior to that), recently succeeded by Jasmine Donahaye; New Welsh Review, edited by Francesca Rhydderch from 2002-2008, myself (a former Poetry Editor of New Welsh Review) from 2008-2011. New Welsh Review’s founding editor back in 1988 was a woman: Belinda Humfrey. Planet has enjoyed the skills of women who have gone on to become central figures in the literary-cultural life of Wales over the years, including Francesca and Gwen, and retains the talents of Emily Trahair as an Associate Editor. Cambria Magazine, which straddled politics, lifestyle, literature and more, was edited by Frances Jones-Davies. And let’s not forget that Gillian Clarke was a co-editor of the mighty, erstwhile Anglo-Welsh Review. If we take a look at the Welsh-language magazine scene, we see young talents Angharad Blythe and Sian Melangell Dafydd – editors of Taliesin – who succeeded two women – Manon Rhys and Christine James – when they took the helm in 2010.
Meanwhile, at the English-language publishing houses, Penny Thomas at Seren has been picking up some of the finest and most various new fiction from Wales, deserving a special mention for blending the old school with the quirky with sensitivity and style. Also at Seren, Amy Wack has edited a list of award-winning poets for many years with panache and considerable nous, and was also once an excellent Reviews Editor of Poetry Wales. At Richard Lewis Davies’s Parthian, Lucy Llewellyn has led the fiction list onwards with vibrant and unusual titles, and developed the Bright Young Things series from young, urgent, first-time authors Susie Wild, Wil Gritten, J.P. Smythe and Tyler Keevil. Jan Fortune-Wood is the founding editor and publisher of Cinnamon. Hazel Cushion is the founder of the successful Wales-based indie, Accent. And, last but not least, there are the industrious women at Honno, who have reprinted a back catalogue of once-forgotten women’s writing we all might otherwise have missed, and who are discovering new, exciting contemporary female writers even as I write.
So it’s less a case of sisters doin’ it for themselves, but rather the case that sisters have been doin’ it for themselves – for quite a while now. And they’ve been doing a pretty good job of scooping up talent, and shaping a robust and original output, as it happens.
A sense of novelty can, of course, afford a sense of excitement. Now, I’d never want to deny excitement in publishing at a time when people should feel excited about the scene in Wales (yes, Wales, in particular) – now more than ever, recession or not. And I’d never suggest that those who have noted with interest the rise in women in publishing in Wales have been anything less than supportive, welcoming and complimentary. So why am I troubled by the novelty attached to our dominance? I think novelty can be reductive. It can lead to the key becoming the mere curiosity. It can encourage a notion of chance rather than circumstance – and deny explorations of why and how women have entered into the culture in this way. Novelty is misleading. Encouraging a view of exceptions. It denies our momentum, forgetting a tradition of women as capable, very often inspired, editors in Wales along the way – front of house, behind the scenes. A tradition that I want young, literary- and culturally-minded women growing up in Wales now to see as something they can aspire to being a part of themselves, one day – in total seriousness and to be taken totally seriously. So, I just want to assure: we’re not new. We’re just news that stays news. Not quite the same thing.

1 Comment

Filed under books, publishing, wales, women