Thursday, 10 December 2009

Whose voice is it anyway?

Over the past few blogs, I’ve been thinking about the different elements I’ve had to consider as I write my biography of the woman who was briefly married to a ‘Screen Giant of Electric Intensity’ (New York Times); from questions of identity to how much a biographer should reveal of themselves. One aspect I haven’t written about – probably because I find it the most troublesome – is the ‘voice’. Recently, I read some interviews with ghostwriters who discussed how they managed to locate the ‘voice’ of their ‘ghostee’ (as they call them); Hunter Davies (Gazza - My Story; Wayne Rooney – My Story So Far; Prezza – Pulling No Punches) described himself as being a ‘ventriloquist, trying to capture the character of a person, but it doesn't have to be their exact words, just words and phrases and a style that accords with their received image'. Another, Pepsy Dening (Fern, My Story, by Fern Britton; Learning To Fly, by Victoria Beckham; Extreme, My Autobiography, by Sharon Osbourne) said, ‘A successful autobiography is one where the "voice" is unique, the story fresh and the emotions true. Just setting down what the subject chooses to tell me will never achieve that. Clichés, banality, point-scoring and psychobabble are discarded. What is retained is detail, quirkiness, feeling and truth.'

Although I can’t help thinking you’re halfway there if you’re literally pretending to be someone else, there is something in the fact that you can’t simply mimic or reproduce the language of your subject and hope that it sounds authentic – because it won’t – as anyone who’s ever typed up verbatim conversations between people on buses will know. There has to be something between capturing the ‘sound’ of someone – as you must in an autobiography – and the ‘essence’ of them as you ought to in a biography. One, which I think beautifully portrays the fundamental nature of the person by finding the appropriate means of telling their story, is Ian Hamilton’s In Search of J. D. Salinger written after Salinger famously sued Hamilton for unauthorised use of letters in the original biography. Undeterred by the fracas, Hamilton wrote a new version which he described as telling you ‘just as much about Salinger, in fact more, than the earlier, banned version did'. It did more than that – it raised key questions about the whole business of 'biography' – what is it for? Why do we write it? Why do people want to read it?

Back to the voice; what Hamilton did was to find a new way of interpreting the material which enabled the reader to gain a different understanding. I have experimented with several voices during the writing of my book until hitting upon one which seems the most appropriate way of illuminating the remarkable, much maligned, woman I’m writing about. In the end it was her voice which opened the door: curious, unpredictable, intelligent, savvy and absolutely clear about who she is – Anna Kashfi, whose major claim to fame (or in her case infamy) is that she was briefly married to Marlon Brando.

Sarah Broughton

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

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Monday, 7 December 2009

What Lies Beneath

‘Researching, like writing, is an individual, creative process.’ So says Ann Hoffman, author of Research for Writers, one of the best books on the process. In fact, I would argue that sometimes researching feels more creative than writing – if only because you are truly able to let your mind wander in whatever direction the subject takes you without constraint. When you are researching you are not bound by form or narrative, your responsibility lies in uncovering layer upon layer of a subject until you are down to the bare bones. The creative process begins in the aftermath of your discoveries when you begin to interpret the material, to decide which story you’re telling and how you will go about it. But before you even arrive at the beginning of your adventure, something has to draw you in; something has to make you commit to a virtual marriage with your subject.

Owen Sheers wrote his first non-fiction narrative, The Dust Diaries, after finding a book in his father’s study. This led him into an exploration of the life of his great, great uncle Arthur Cripps – who happened to be both a poet and a missionary in Southern Rhodesia. For me, two seemingly random events collided several years apart. The first was when I discovered, by chance, that my grandfather may have been Anglo-Indian. The second happened when, while I was researching Welsh personalities for a television documentary, I came across a story about an actress who claimed to be Indian but was always referred to as having Welsh or Irish parents. The story stayed with me while I researched other projects including several documentaries on iconic singers – all of whom had various complex and conflicting problems – but none of them concerned identity. They all knew exactly who they were and where they had come from.

When I finally got around to doing some serious research on the ‘Welsh actress’, I began to realise it was the stories in and around her life that were consuming me. The beauty of research is that it enables you to ask questions obsessively: ‘why’ and ‘how’ and ‘what happened next’. Sometimes they are unanswerable and sometimes I am unable to see what’s in front of my face. But all of them led me to what lies beneath the surface – the perils and pleasures of research immersing me again and again in a life less ordinary than my own.

Uncovering random pieces of extraordinary information is one of the best bits about writing a biography – long after you’ve given up trying to weave them into your narrative you remember them with the kind of fondness you have for long lost childhood friends. My current favourite is discovering that Myrna Loy, one of Hollywood’s most famous and highest paid stars in the 1930’s was of Welsh descent. In an article first published in Modern Screen entitled 'The Truth about the Mysterious Miss Loy', Grandmother Williams (Loy’s father’s mother) is held responsible for that ‘Celtic something’ in Loy’s ‘calm, provocative face’. Strange and haunting are the tales told of Grandmother Williams, of her fascination and courage, her Welsh wit and wisdom, the aura of mystery that always hovered over her...

Sarah Broughton

To Reveal or Not to Reveal?

These days it seems like any old celebrity can get a book deal to write their autobiography (as Eva Wiseman, assistant editor of Observer Woman magazine, put it recently, ‘I’m a celebrity – get me on the bookshelf’) but if they want it to become a bestseller, they really have to come up with an attention grabbing scandal: abuse, incest, shoplifting – that’ll do for starters. Now, even literary biographies are getting in on the act. In the last few months alone, a series of heavyweight books has revealed that William Golding despised both himself and Lord of the Flies, Diaghilev was a ‘sexual predator’ and Alison Uttley hated ‘The Blyton’. As Kathryn Hughes remarked in her review of the Uttley biography ‘whether we really benefit from learning that the creator of Little Grey Rabbit was actually a prize cow is another matter.’

I’m not sure what I think about this. For me, biographies ought to reveal information of a deeply personal nature – why else would I take the trouble to read them? I’m not interested in a glossy skate across the surface of someone’s life; I am interested in trying to put together the bits where the work came from in the first place – that doesn’t mean that they have to be prurient. Recently, I read Hermione Lee’s Biography: A Very Short Introduction, published earlier this year, which looks at what literary biographies do and how they work. She is fascinating on the ‘fear and loathing’ that revelatory biographies can inspire in both the reader and the subject. She cites Justin Kaplan, the American author of biographies of Twain and Whitman amongst others, who maintained that ‘by current standards, biographies without voyeuristic, erotic thrills are like ballpark hot dogs without mustard’ (he was referring specifically to Kitty Kelley’s sensational 1991 book on Nancy Reagan – which he said was ‘essentially a drive-by shooting’) and Germaine Greer, who described biographers of living writers as ‘the intellectual equivalents of flesh-eating bacterium’.

To be incredibly topical; Tiger Woods’ statement concerning the current media blitz he is engulfed in is a salutary insight into what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a ‘drive-by shooting’. It includes the following: ‘No matter how intense curiosity about public figures can be, there is an important and deep principle at stake which is the right to some simple, human measure of privacy. Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn’t have to mean public confessions.’

The problem is, that in the celebrity-eating bacterium age in which we live, personal sins do indeed seem to equal public confessions. I have to admit that I am now more interested in Tiger Woods than I was before he was involved in a ‘single vehicle car crash’ because he has inadvertently revealed himself to be a rather more complex and sympathetic character. Since there is no such thing as a neutral biographical narrative, what I long to read is a revelatory life story written by a considerate and compassionate author.

Sarah Broughton

Monday, 30 November 2009

Cataloguing Lives

When you’re famous and then you die, you could find yourself in the potentially awkward and deeply invasive position of having everything you own placed on public display, photographed, labelled and valued in monetary terms. Each and every one of your beloved and not so beloved possessions will then be sold to the highest bidder. It might not be what you wanted, although chances are you’re past caring, but for everyone else the opportunity to crawl through the detritus of your life is invaluable. For writers, I think there is something wholly fascinating about discovering the details of other people’s lives – and particularly which books people read. Think about it. If you were to discover that an actor, or musician or someone whose creativity you respected (I’m deliberately not including writers here as it is unthinkable that they wouldn’t have a book collection) had a shelf of books that added up to a Dan Brown, Ant and Dec’s autobiography (Ooh! What a Lovely Pair) and something called My Shit Life So Far by Frankie Boyle – all currently in Amazon’s top ten so obviously sitting on someone’s shelves – I think you would be disappointed.

On the other hand, when you discover, as I did recently, that a very famous film star’s library contained four hundred and twenty-four biographies and autobiographies (not to mention two hundred and twenty-nine books on politics and philosophy and three hundred and thirty-four books on self-help, health, psychoanalysis and psychology amongst many others), many of them annotated by the man himself, it’s both inspiring and addictive. The items were in a Christie’s catalogue – a tastefully produced paperback consisting of the contents of the film star’s house at the time of death. So, what do the accumulated objects of a lifetime tell us about the person? Graham Greene had James and Conrad and Evelyn Waugh on his bookcase in a fairly anonymous apartment on the French Riveria – are we surprised? Probably not. In Roald Dahl’s writing hut in Great Missenden we can see that he wrote sitting in a large armchair with a china pot of yellow pencils beside him – can we imagine him conjuring up the worlds he invented? Sort of. Visiting the houses in which writers lived and work is a popular leisure activity and across Britain; we can walk where Dickens, Austen, Wordsworth and Thomas once walked – these are the living catalogues. Rarely do we have the opportunity afforded to Jay Parini, biographer of Robert Frost, who lived in Frost’s house in Vermont for several summers and lay in the claw-footed tub, imagining the writer in the same bath, listening to the wind in the bushy hemlocks outside the bathroom window. But still, by absorbing the artefacts of their lives whether it’s online, in person or through the pages of a book we peek slyly (always uninvited by them) into their private space, and it’s illuminating.

Significant Others

There is a distinguished list of ‘significant others’ in cultural history – usually wives or lovers or sisters of celebrated writers, artists and musicians who are famous for their proximity to the celebrated person, rather than their own achievements (which are often in the same field). Scott Fitzgerald’s wife and daughter have both had biographies written about them (Zelda by Nancy Milford and Scottie, The Daughter Of... The Life of Frances Scott Fitzgerald Lanaham Smith by Eleanor Lanaham Smith) and although both Zelda and Scottie were published and performed writers, their names are seldom evoked without Scott’s. Milford’s Zelda was the first biography I can remember reading. My dad had been given it as a Christmas present by an American friend and, in the course of working my way through his books as a teenager, I came across it and loved it. Zelda Fitzgerald’s contribution to her husband’s work is well known – he used portions of her diaries verbatim in his novels and even directly attributed Zelda’s words on the birth of Scottie to Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby: 'I hope it’s beautiful and a fool – a beautiful little fool.' Although Zelda’s novel, Save Me the Waltz, is now regarded as ‘moving and fascinating’ and comparable to Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, and her intense personality the inspiration for his female characters, she is still largely remembered largely for being the less significant half of a notoriously wild couple whose outrageous behaviour was in direct proportion to their alcohol consumption.

Zelda Fitzgerald had much in common with Caitlin Thomas who was thirteen years younger. They were respectively thirty-nine and forty years old when their incredibly famous husbands died. Both women shared unpredictable, fearless personalities, a passion for dance, the boredom and loneliness of whiling away the hours while their husbands wrote – and both drank copious amounts. They were also creative – Caitlin published three books; Leftover Life to Kill, Not Quite Posthumous Letters to My Daughter and, with George Tremlett, Caitlin – A Warring Absence, while Zelda, as well as writing, was also a painter, influenced by Van Gogh and Georgia O’Keeffe, and whose work is now exhibited across Europe and America. What Zelda and Caitlin might have achieved if their lives had not been overwhelmed by the iconic literary geniuses with whom they lived is unknowable – indeed, it’s arguable that their proximity to the disciplined creativity they were engulfed in nurtured their own efforts which may not have surfaced otherwise. Their lives make fascinating material for biographers – and obviously not just as an invaluable insight into the personalities of the men they shared their lives with, although this is frequently where the interest lies. I recently changed the title of the biography I’m writing to reflect the ‘significant other’ – it was both liberating and perplexing – reflecting the complex feelings I have about the nature of ‘significance’ in the first place. What is it that makes some people’s stories of consequence and worth telling despite the trivialising of their lives by others?

Thursday, 26 November 2009

New Welsh Review 86 - Out now

New Welsh Review 86 is out now. Buy or subscribe now and enjoy the best new writing from Glyn Maxwell, Gwyneth Lewis, Kona Macphee, Jim Perrin, Tiffany Murray, Stevie Davies, Jon Gower, Tristan Hughes and more. To find out more, click here or click on the NWR cover to your left.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Borders on the brink?

Borders facing possible administration, the Guardian reports.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

John Tripp Award for Spoken Poetry 2009

I was one of the judges for the 2009 John Tripp Award in Cardiff last week. It proved to be a hugely enjoyable event for me and my fellow judges Deborah Kay Davies and Wiard Sterk. The venue was packed out, the inclusive and supportive audience ranged from in their teens to in their seventies, the atmosphere was right there. Who says there's no audience for poetry?

This year, the award went to Dafydd Wyn, whose charismatic presence, superb delivery and great poetry won our vote. But it was a tough call, with some terrific performances on offer – infused with wit, passion and, it should be said, staggering reserves of personal and professional courage. Spoken word is really putting yourself out there, on the line. Everyone did themselves real credit. Congratulations to them all.

Among the finalists, we spotted some hugely impressive younger talent, particularly in our runner-up (and the audience choice winner), Liam Johnson, whose machine-gun delivery and verbal pyrotechnics left us stunned, appreciative and me pondering how on earth he could remember it all. Maybe it's just my age.

Read about the event here.

Dannie Abse wins 2009 Wilfred Owen Poetry Award

Dannie Abse has won the 2009 Wilfred Owen Poetry Award for a distinguished body of work which includes notable war poems. Previous recipients of the honour include Harold Pinter and Seamus Heaney.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Questions of Identity

I’m writing a biography of a woman routinely described as Welsh and sometimes, more specifically, Cardiff – as in ‘Cardiff girl’, ‘Cardiff actress’ etc. To be fair, she has also, occasionally, been described as Irish – but my point is, she is rarely identified by the nationality she actually holds. She is now seventy-five years old and a full sixty-nine of those years have been spent outside Wales – including the first fourteen of her life.

This makes me think long and hard about what qualifies you (aside of the Vinnie Jones rule) to be claimed as Welsh.

For instance, at the other end of the spectrum is the distinguished writer Penelope Mortimer who was born in Rhyl, yet doesn’t merit an entry in either the New Companion to the Literature of Wales or in the Welsh Academy Encyclopedia of Wales. She does, however, make the following appearance in the Oxford Companion to English Literature: ‘MORTIMER, Penelope Ruth, nee Fletcher (1918...) novelist, born in North Wales and educated at London University; her works, with their emphasis on frankness about female experience, contributed to the development of the woman’s novel in the 1960s.’

Her career as a writer was actually far broader than this entry suggests; as well as publishing nine novels, a collection of short stories, two volumes of autobiography, a travel book and (bizarrely) a biography of the Queen Mother, she was also film critic for the Observer, an Agony Aunt for the Daily Mail and adapted Nigel Nicholson’s, Portrait of A Marriage, for the BBC in 1990. With her then husband, John Mortimer, she wrote the screenplay for the Otto Preminger film Bunny Lake is Missing and, in 1974, The New Yorker printed her novel Long Distance in its entirety – the first time they had done so since J. D. Salinger’s Raise High The Roofbeam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction a decade earlier. Hard to know then, given all that, why she has been wiped from the Welsh literary canon...

She, of course, may not have identified herself as ‘Welsh’ and she certainly didn’t set any of her novels here. She did, however, write about her childhood in Rhyl and the clergyman father who had lost his faith and used the parish magazine to celebrate the Soviet persecution of the Russian church. She also wrote about the universal experiences of women in the post-war world of illegal abortions, illicit affairs and paralysing marriages – experiences which were as familiar to Welsh women as they were to their English and Scottish counterparts. It’s ten years ago last month since Mortimer died – time perhaps to acknowledge her existence?

Sarah Broughton

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Arthur Giardelli

Celebrated artist Arthur Giardelli has died at the age of 98. David Moore's obituary in the Guardian outlines his life and career here.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Gift Subscription Offer

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Visit our Gift Subscription page now and save 20% on the usual price for a wonderful – and different – gift that will last all year.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

New look website

Our website has undergone (and continues to undergo) something of a refresh. We hope navigation of the site is now a cleaner, clearer and more enjoyable experience. In addition, you can now sample a selection of choice articles from New Welsh Review's twenty-one year history. Visit the website homepage and click on 'New Welsh Review Online' tab to the right. Articles are still in the process of being uploaded but there's plenty of excellent material already available. Enjoy!

New Welsh Review - Issue 86 - Coming soon

Issue 86 will be published later this month. This quarter, enjoy the work of Glyn Maxwell, Tristan Hughes, Gwyneth Lewis, Jon Gower, Kona Macphee, Stevie Davies, Tiffany Murray and Jim Perrin, among others. Available in selected fine bookshops or, alternatively, subscribe by visiting and get Wales's finest literary quarterly delivered directly to your door.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Patrick Hannan, Broadcaster and Journalist, 1941-2009

The great Welsh broadcaster and journalist Patrick Hannan sadly died on October 11th. An obituary can be found here.

His most recent book, A Useful Fiction: Adventures in British Democracy, was published in May of this year.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

This issue's Prize Draw

This issue's prize draw is Welsh Furniture 1250-1950. A sumptuous two-volume work from Saer Books covers a cultural history of craftsmanship and design from the perspective of Welsh furniture.

Beautifully illustrated throughout and meticulously researched, subjects range from chairs, chests and cradles to church screens, clocks and the Welsh dresser. This comprehensive study is by Richard Bebb, the recognised authority on the subject. The book is the result of sixteen years’ worth of research, and attempts to explain furniture history to those who have an interest in all things Welsh, and Welsh culture and history to those interested in furniture.

This unique and lovely work is worth £150.

The prize is open to New Welsh Review subscribers. To enter, simply email admin@newwelshreview, or write or phone, by the closing date of November 27th, and the book could be yours. Good luck!

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Dylan Thomas Prize goes annual

The Dylan Thomas Prize is to run annually from next year onwards. A smart decision, I think.

Dylan Thomas Festival 2009

A reminder that I'll be in conversation with Stevie Davies on October 29th as part of the 2009 Dylan Thomas Festival which runs from 26th October to 9th November. This year's festival also includes Cerys Matthews, Fflur Dafydd, Dannie Abse, Owen Sheers, Peter Finch, a conference on Lynette Roberts and a celebration of Yeats, among other treats. I do hope you'll be able to join us this year and also sample some of the other excellent events.

This link will take you to the festival site. The online brochure-book may take a few seconds to load.

Machen in the Guardian

A blog on Machen in yesterday's Guardian online by Damien G. Walter.

Do check out New Welsh Review's summer issue (published back in May), with a tribute to Machen by bestselling horror and fantasy writer Tim Lebbon.

On the Machen-championing front, I am pleased to say that Machen's classic works The Hill of Dreams and The Great God Pan will be widely available in spring 2010 from the Library of Wales series, published by Parthian in highly affordable paperback editions. Great news for Machen, and those who've yet to come across his work.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Up Close and Personal

A couple of weeks ago I went to the launch of Blown, a new magazine for the culturally intelligent (or so it says on the tin) in the National Museum in Cardiff. Ric Bower, the editor, had commissioned me to interview Sarah Waters and while I liked the idea of meeting her again (the last time was a while back when she was writing The Night Watch) I didn’t want to repeat the process I’d gone through before... re-read the previous novels and discuss her approach to the current one. So, Ric suggested I try writing it ‘Gonzo-style’ – an idea I found simultaneously terrifying and intriguing. After my usual period of procrastination, I decided to invite Sarah to the movies. In retrospect, I should have had the guts to go to Leicester Square and see The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2 or even something sensibly gripping like Burn After Reading, both of which were out at the time, but I lost my nerve. Instead we met up at the BFI and watched a motley selection of films made by the GPO. My plan had been to have an intelligent conversation about what we’d seen and then write up the interesting bits. Okay, not that Gonzo but hey – it was a Friday night out in London - that counts for something, doesn’t it?

Things didn’t go quite to plan... By the time I met Sarah late last September (we’d made the arrangements in June) the wheels were coming off bits of my life and instead of conducting a clever discussion about the merits of pre-war short films, we drank Campari and soda and then we drank a bit more. Luckily I remembered to switch the recorder on at some point or the whole evening would have turned into The Lost Weekend. Which brings me to my point. How much of yourself should you reveal when interviewing someone or writing a book about them? What is appropriate or, more importantly, vaguely interesting to the reader? I confess to being torn between irritation and curiosity when I watch Nick Broomfield’s documentaries, for instance, but am always desperate to know more about the writers I love. Reading Simon Gray’s The Smoking Diaries led me back to his plays with more enthusiasm than I had for them in the first place and, Susie Boyt’s My Judy Garland Life (purchased purely for the title) has given me a somewhat unhealthy obsession with all things Susie. Reading the article in Blown, nearly a year after I wrote it, felt a bit like hearing a snatch of a song that once meant something, almost visceral yet strangely remote. I haven’t watched The Wire for a year now, either.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Sarah Waters on Booker shortlist

Sarah Waters is Booker-shortlisted for her latest novel, The Little Stranger, which is reviewed in depth by Lucie Armitt in the current issue of New Welsh Review.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Dic Jones 1934 - 2009

A fine obituary of Welsh poet Dic Jones who recently died.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

When is a biography not a biography?

Answer: when it’s a metabiography.

I’ve been thinking about how to write a biography of a woman whose major claim to fame (or, in her case, infamy) is that she was briefly married to a man who has, at my last count, generated fifty-seven different biographies, one autobiography and countless newspaper inches and television documentaries. Typing his name into ebay reveals one thousand and forty-five items currently up for grabs. That’s forty odd pages of talking birthday cards, T shirts, thimbles, mousemats, cuff links and fully poseable action figures (with ‘real-like heads’) – never mind the ubiquitous DVDs, posters and photographs. The man isn’t an actor, he's a manufacturing business like no other!

I wondered about who in Wales might be metabiographical material. Richard Burton and Dylan Thomas, of course, spring to mind, but the ebay test disappointingly throws up only six hundred and eleven items for Burton (some of which are actually for the other Richard Burton – translator of The Kama Sutra) and four hundred and twenty for Thomas. There are no thimbles or mousemats and certainly no fully poseable action figures with ‘real-like heads’ – definitely a gap in the market there. In fact, the items are almost all DVDs (Burton) or books (Thomas). Of course – one was an actor, the other a writer. Yet although entire, industrial-sized, myths have also grown up around these two, this is not reflected in wider popular culture – as in the case of the man who was once married to the woman I’m writing about.

My final, deeply scientific, bit of research was checking out the Brontës on ebay. This is largely because the current trend of metabiographies includes the acclaimed The Brontë Myth by Lucasta Miller (as well as The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe by Sarah Churchwell. Marilyn on ebay – don’t even go there. A whopping five thousand and twenty seven items including ballpoint pens and pillow cases. I myself bought a pair of Marilyn flip-flops from a charity shop in Newmarket last weekend which, come to think of it, I could now sell on ebay thereby upping the count to five thousand and twenty eight.). Back to the Brontës. For all that they are now collectively known as a phenomenon, they could only rise to one hundred and seventy six items. Interestingly, these were largely books about them rather than by them – meat and drink for the metabiographer of course, with multiple representations galore!

So, how am I to write the biography – meta or otherwise? ‘Why?’ is the most useful starting point: the career is small and the books about her add up to one, unreliable, autobiography. Yet the legacy is lasting and notorious – why? Because the fifty-seven biographies and miles of column inches about her erstwhile husband continue to peddle myths and rumours about her as ‘the indisputable truth’. And because it’s a great story.

Sarah Broughton

Guest blogger – Sarah Broughton

Over the next three months, Sarah Broughton will be joining us with guest posts. Sarah is an acclaimed documentary filmmaker and her excellent debut novel, Other Useful Numbers, was published by Parthian in 2008. Sarah will be dropping in to contribute news and views.

This marks the start of a series of guest bloggers on the NWR blog. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

New Welsh Review Prize Draw

To celebrate our 21st anniversary we are offering the chance to win a complete set of New Welsh Review, from issue 1 to 84. The set is a fascinating collection of Welsh writing in English from 1988 to the present day, mapping tradition and innovation in the Welsh literary landscape, and beyond – from PD James to Terry Eagleton, from Gillian Clarke to Dannie Abse, from Owen Sheers to Rachel Trezise.

The draw is open to all our current subscribers. For a chance to win, subscribers should write, phone or email before 31st August. Good luck!

If you're not yet a subscriber, you can subscribe online now and save the price of your subscription by this time next year. You can also enjoy the very best new writing from celebrated authors in Wales and the wider world delivered directly to your door. Click here for details.

New Welsh Review at the Dylan Thomas Festival 2009

I'll be in conversation with celebrated Swansea-based novelist Stevie Davies on 29th October at the Dylan Thomas Festival as part of our ongoing 21st anniversary celebrations. We'll be discussing Stevie's life and work, and looking ahead to her forthcoming novel, Into Suez. Stevie will also read from her work. We hope to see you there. More details will follow shortly.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Keeping it new

If it seems I've been quiet... Forgive me. This is the summer hiatus... More posts will be on their way very soon.

In the meantime, a few little updates.

Issue 85 of NWR published within the next few weeks, packed with the best of new writing from Wales and beyond, from authors including Byron Rogers, Pascale Petit, Claire Crowther, Kelly Grovier, Jasmine Donahaye, Nigel Jenkins, Meirion Jordan, Robert Minhinnick, Tyler Keevil and many more.

And we've been busy with our plans for our website, too, which will be undergoing a little sprucing and some enhancement (some nice surprises in store for our readers, both current and future, I hope).

At the beginning of September, our first guest blogger will be joining us: brilliant writer and documentary filmmaker Sarah Broughton. So stay tuned, as those who know are apt to say.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Aeronwy Thomas-Ellis, daughter of Dylan Thomas, dies aged 66

Tributes paid following the sad news of the death of Aeronwy Thomas. Read the full story here.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Forward Prize nomination for Meirion Jordan

Congratulations to Meirion Jordan, who has been nominated for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Read the story here.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Coming up in Issue 85 - published next month

Issue 85 of New Welsh Review will be published next month and includes Byron Rogers on (auto)biography, Jasmine Donahaye on migration, Lucie Armitt on Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger, John E. McGrath on National Theatre Wales, Meirion Jordan on poetry and history, and Stevie Davies on researching her forthcoming novel, Into Suez. Fiction comes from Robert Minhinnick and Tyler Keevil, with new poems by Pascale Petit, Kelly Grovier and Claire Crowther, among others. All this plus reviews of the very best writing from Wales. To subscribe to New Welsh Review click here.

Oxfam Bookfest - Fflur Dafydd and Deborah Kay Davies at the Wales Millennium Centre

Wales Book of the Year winner Deborah Kay Davies and Fflur Dafydd, who won the Oxfam Emerging Writers Award 2009, will join Peter Florence tonight at the Wales Millennium Centre from 6.30 pm to discuss their work. I've been hugely impressed with both writers' work – Deborah Kay Davies's Grace, Tamar and Laszlo and Dafydd's Twenty Thousand Saints. Highly recommended.

Tuesday 14 July, 6.30 pm - 8.00 pm
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff (Seligman Room)
Tickets available at the door or pre-ordered from Academi
(Tel: 029 2022 2275)

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Email submissions

A reminder that we are now receiving email submissions for poetry and fiction – our way of making submissions more convenient and saving trees.

Please note that we can only consider six poems in any three-month period or one piece of short fiction (2500-3000 words). Due to the amount and high quality of work we receive, potential contributors are strongly encouraged to read the magazine prior to submitting their work. Please ensure that you include a covering letter with your submission.

Email submissions may be sent to submissions [at]

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

TV Matters and Culture Coming Out of the Closet

A blog post over at The Kenyon Review on the power of television in bringing literature to the people, picking up on the sales hike for poets featured on the Beeb's recent poetry season. Myself, I've been fairly astonished at the number of friends and acquaintances, unlikely suspects many, who've tuned into, and actually (whisper it, now) enjoyed, the season. Could it be that Britain is secretly home to many thousands of people whose interests actually extend beyond Kerry Katona's lipo?

The season was, on the whole, stylishly executed. A few misfires, sure – the Donne programme had rather a little too much of Fiona Shaw, and an Eliot documentary, sanitised as it was, managed to make one of the most self-contradictory and complex figures in twentieth-century literature seem quite squarely dull – but some expert negotiation of the difficulties of balancing accessibility with intelligence elsewhere.

I hope the season's success will prompt the BBC to start regularly developing more of the programming that once marked them out as a gold standard of arts broadcasting in the world, rather than be simply regarded as an exception, a curio.

Let's have contemporary writers and other artists talking about the tradition. Let's have contemporary writers and other artists talking about the now, while we're at it. Can someone rescue Monitor from the archives and press play? Can someone develop a Monitor fit for the twenty-first century?

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Wales Book of the Year 2009: Winner

Many congratulations to Deborah Kay Davies on winning the Wales Book of the Year 2009 for her debut collection of short stories Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful published by Parthian. The collection is truly remarkable and a deserved winner.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

A Poet's Guide to Britain: Lynette Roberts

The fifth in a series of six documentaries presented by Owen Sheers explores the life and work of Lynette Roberts. If you missed the programme, you can catch up. Click here to view again on iplayer.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Wales Book of the Year 2009: The Shortlist

Belatedly (I've returned from a wonderful time at Hay), the shortlist for the English language Wales Book of the Year has been announced and is as follows:

Deborah Kay Davies - Grace, Tamar and Lazlo the Beautiful (Parthian)
Gee Williams - Blood etc. (Parthian)
Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch - Not In These Shoes (Picador)

The winner will be announced on Monday 15 June 2009, 7.00 pm at the St David’s Hotel and Spa, Cardiff. More details on the prize, as well as details on how to book your ticket for the awards ceremony, can be found by visiting Academi

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Make Hay - two free tickets

I've got two tickets to give away for New Welsh Review's event at Hay this Sunday 24th May at 4pm, when I'll be in conversation with Fflur Dafydd and Nam Le. First two blog readers to email their name and postal address to editor[AT]newwelshreview[dot]com before this Thursday (midday) will each win a ticket.

Monday, 18 May 2009

New Welsh Review - Issue 84

New Welsh Review 84 – the 21st Anniversary Issue – is out now.

This issue's contributors include Owen Sheers, Anne Stevenson, Kitty Sewell, Rachel Trezise, Richard Gwyn, Christopher Meredith, Tim Lebbon, Richard Lewis Davies, Meirion Jordan, Joe Dunthorne, Carrie Etter and Damian Walford Davies. The issue also includes an exclusive final interview with one of the twentieth century's greatest photojournalists, Philip Jones Griffiths. Subscribe now or buy individual issues of Wales's finest literary magazine. Visit

Plus: don't forget to join us at Hay on Sunday 24th May, as I chat to leading young authors Nam Le (author of The Boat and winner of the 2008 Dylan Thomas Prize) and Fflur Dafydd (author of Twenty Thousand Saints). Visit the Guardian Hay Festival website to book your ticket.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

A Poet's Guide to Britain

Owen Sheers presents a series of programmes examining the influence of place on classic poems. The series looks at the work of William Wordsworth (May 4), Sylvia Plath (May 11), George Mackay Brown (May 18), Matthew Arnold (May 25), Lynette Roberts (June 1) and Louis MacNeice (June 8), and includes contributions from contemporary poets Don Paterson, Gillian Clarke, Simon Armitage, Paul Farley, Clare Pollard, Adam O'Riordan and myself. The series is part of a welcome season of poetry programming by BBC2 and BBC4 running from May to June. Further details on the season can be found here , and Owen will be considering his experience of bringing poetry to television in the summer issue of New Welsh Review which will be published shortly.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Wales Book of the Year 2009: The Longlist

The Wales Book of the Year longlist is as follows:

Deborah Kay Davies - Grace, Tamar and Lazlo the Beautiful (Parthian)
Joe Dunthorne - Submarine (Hamish Hamilton)
Matthew Francis - Mandeville (Faber and Faber)
Stephen May - TAG (Cinnamon)
Robert Minhinnick - King Driftwood (Carcanet)
Sheenagh Pugh - Long-haul Travellers (Seren)
Zoë Skoulding - Remains of a Future City (Seren)
Dai Smith - Raymond Williams: A Warrior’s Tale (Parthian)
Gee Williams - Blood etc. (Parthian)
Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch - Not in these shoes (Picador Poetry)

A great year for poetry (comprising half the list). Some imaginative choices, too. And good to see Deborah Kay Davies making the cut. The shortlist will be announced at the Guardian Hay Festival on Monday 25th May.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

New Welsh Review at the Hay Festival

I'll be in conversation with two very gifted and original young writers, Nam Le (author of The Boat and winner of The Dylan Thomas Prize in 2008) and Fflur Dafydd (author of Twenty Thousand Saints), on Sunday 24th May at the Guardian Hay Festival. Do join us there. Visit to book for this and and other events.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Talk of the town

I’ve been dipping into Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. I’ve come to the book late after enjoying his masterly Blink. The tipping point is a pretty old theory as theories in modern culture go – and it’s not Gladwell who’s responsible for it, but Nobel-winning economist Thomas Schelling. (So, in a neat example of the tipping point, Gladwell made the tipping point into a… tipping point.) The book seeks to examine how and precisely why some things take off into the stratosphere and why some things… don’t. As a literary editor in these difficult times, you can probably guess why I’m reading it. Unfortunately, the book can’t turn you into a worldwide cultural phenomenon – although it does highlight the factors and context required for that to happen. Why it’s essential reading for everyone is because what it explains is the seemingly irrational, from skinny jeans to Sesame Street, by demonstrating that there’s nothing irrational about it at all.

The central question is: what makes for an epidemic? And one of the most interesting questions within that is: who are the carriers, exactly? The answer being connectors, mavens and salesmen. Connectors are those who bring people together. They have wide social networks and are very strong in forging large numbers of long-lasting, friendly acquaintances (better at this than, say, forging a long-lasting, intimate circle of friends). Mavens are the super-savvy. The people who know everything about a product and what it’s worth, and where (and don't need any prompt to tell you so). Salesmen, of course, are the great persuaders. The compelling and charismatic (Kate Moss in her skinny jeans). If you're all three personality types, congratulations! You’re probably a billionaire. Or Malcolm Gladwell.

It’s the first two types who have spread one of the most important epidemics the world has ever seen: the internet. Central to the internet’s success is the world of the friendly (and sometimes not so friendly) acquaintance, from the early days of the listservs to the modern day forums, from personal blogging to the Guardian’s Comment is Free (with this latter type of blogging, the same usernames reoccur, over a wide variety of topics, with alarming frequency), from Second Life to Facebook. Before corporations truly anchored themselves in the internet through online buying, the internet mavens were the tech-savvies, the founts of all knowledge. The kind of people who knew everything about everything. And spent a good deal of time debating the finer points with other mavens who also knew everything about everything. A trawl through modern day forums show they still exist. And how. But it was precisely because of them that the online buying experience proved so wildly successful and ‘made’ the internet. The internet appealed to the maven, just as the needs of the maven influenced it. The internet became both an agent and a context for the social epidemic; indeed, the agent and the context were the epidemic in itself. It removed a lot of the information asymmetry (inequality) that meant that businesses could charge us what they wanted because we, the consumers, didn’t know what it was actually worth (see Freakonomics) and made information easily available. Price comparison websites are now everywhere on the internet. Discount retailers such as and Amazon dominate entertainment sales. The internet broke out of the confines of a virtual world and influenced the real world, too. Life and car insurance, dvds, your average lawnmower are all cheaper as a result, even if you don’t buy online.

But in this online world, the salesmen were and still are… the salesmen.

The recent Amazon scandal over censorship highlights the darker side of social epidemiology for the businesses it has spawned. Amazon have now claimed that the disappearance of LGB works, together with other books that contain adult content, was the result of an innocent ‘glitch’. Alas, the connectors and mavens beg to differ, as Twitter and Facebook attest. The internet has brought these two types together, and now they talk to each other. In fact, the internet is turning us all, by degrees, into connectors, mavens and… the salesmen. A life lesson in the conventional (but none the less accurate for that) wisdom: what can make you can also break you.

New Welsh Review 84

New Welsh Review 84 will be published next month.

This issue's contributors include Owen Sheers, Anne Stevenson, Kitty Sewell, Rachel Trezise, Richard Gwyn, Christopher Meredith, Tim Lebbon, Richard Lewis Davies, Meirion Jordan, Joe Dunthorne, Carrie Etter and Damian Walford Davies. The issue also includes an exclusive final interview with one of the twentieth century's greatest photojournalists, Philip Jones Griffiths. Subscribe now or buy individual issues of Wales's finest literary magazine.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Required reading?

Scottish literature cut out of English GCSE syllabus
You may now turn over your papers and begin.

Roland Mathias Prize 2009

Congratulations to Jane Aaron who has won the 2009 Roland Mathias Prize for her work Nineteenth Century Women’s writing in Wales: Nation, Gender and Identity (University of Wales Press, 2007). Jane is a distinguished scholar in the field of Welsh women's writing, and this prize is well deserved.

The Roland Mathias Prize is biennial and is awarded to those working in the fields of poetry, short stories, literary criticism or Welsh history. The prize reflects the interests and achievements of the late Roland Mathias. This is the first time that the award has been given to a work of literary criticism.

For more details click here

Hay Festival 2009

This year's Hay Festival will run from 21st - 31st May. New Welsh Review will have a good presence at the festival, and I'll keep you updated on the details. In the meantime, visit the website for the exciting line-up currently confirmed.

The Laugharne Weekend: 3rd April - 5th April 2009

This year's Laugharne Weekend runs from April 3rd to 5th April. It promises to be a great festival, with a fantastic line-up including Stella Duffy, Patrick McCabe, AL Kennedy and Simon Armitage, together with a host of Wales's brightest and best writers - Robert Lewis, Peter Finch, Rachel Trezise, Catrin Dafydd, Joe Dunthorne, Fflur Dafydd and John Williams among them. All that and you get Howard Marks, too. Some tickets are still available but limited. Visit the festival website for further details.

Friday, 13 March 2009

New Welsh Review Poetry Prize announced

The results of the New Welsh Review Poetry Prize, in association with the University of Aberystwyth, were announced last night.


John Goodby for 21st October 1966


Philip Tomkins for The Bed
Katherine Stansfield for Swine Song

The prizes were awarded by poet Philip Gross at a ceremony in Aberystwyth last night. Congratulations to the winners. Winning poems will be published in New Welsh Review in the autumn.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

New Welsh Review Poetry Prize Event

Join New Welsh Review, in association with Aberystwyth University Department of English and Creative Writing, when we announce the winners of our 2009 Poetry Prize:

Thursday March 12th from 6.30pm at The Bookshop, Aberystwyth Arts Centre

Alongside an opportunity to hear the winning poems, there will also be a chance to catch what will no doubt be an engaging reading from one of the UK's finest poets, Philip Gross.

The event also launches our spring issue, out now.

Entry is free, and we hope to see you there.

Magma Poetry

The latest issue of Magma includes an article by me on the contemporary poetry scene in Wales and the output from Welsh poets.

This edition also includes some fine reviews of recent collections, a great interview with Glyn Maxwell (recent nominee for the T S Eliot Prize) and Michael Symmons Roberts on research and poetry.

Monday, 2 March 2009

New Welsh Review 83

Out now.

or subscribe and enjoy the very best of new Welsh writing

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Happy St David's Day

There is much for the Welsh to be proud of on this St David's Day. Cole Moreton, who has family in the valleys, reports in today’s Independent on Sunday.

Looking at literature from Wales, Moreton cites David Jones, Roald Dahl and the two Thomases. The only two living writers mentioned are Dick Francis and Gwyneth Lewis. Unfortunately, Lewis is described as the National Poet. Of course, the talented Lewis was the first National Poet for Wales and she did a great job during her tenure – in 2005-6. Gillian Clarke is in fact the current incumbent.

And why no mention of any of the following, just for starters: John Williams, Owen Sheers, Trezza Azzopardi, Joe Dunthorne, Robert Lewis, Meirion Jordan, Lloyd Jones, Sarah Waters, Malcolm Pryce, Stevie Davies, Robert Minhinnick. Niall Griffiths, Richard Gwyn, Tristan Hughes or Rachel Trezise?

On the plus side, Trezise provides engaging comment on modern Wales for the IoS for the occasion. You can read it here.

And if you want to discover just how much Welsh literature has to offer then click here.

Dydd Gwyl Dewi Dedwydd!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

New Welsh Review - Issue 83 published in early March

New Welsh Review 83 will be published in early March and will feature Tom Anderson on La-La Land and the Culture of Impulse, Jane MacNamee on the life and work of Eiluned Lewis, Judy Kendall on Edward Thomas and John Sam Jones on gay literature. In our opinion and comment pages, David Adams considers the death of theatre criticism in Wales and Robert Minhinnick considers his latest work-in-progress, In Goliath's Country.

Poems and Fiction come from Charles Simic, Kelly Grovier, Paul Henry, Richard Marggraf Turley, Carrie Etter, Katherine Stansfield, Henry Shukman and Bethan Roberts.

For details on how to subscribe visit our website

Monday, 9 February 2009

It's a hard knock life

Peter Finch, in a recent Insider column for The Western Mail, writes an interesting and witty piece on that relentless triumph of hope over experience: the literary magazine.

The literary magazine scene has always been fraught with difficulty and financial crisis – across the UK and Ireland. For the majority of small magazines, privately run in someone’s front room and without subsidy, the mortality rate is beyond high. For those with subsidy, nothing can be taken for granted any longer. We’re in a recession. Belts must and will be tightened. It will be enough to break many magazines.

If only the number of unsolicited submissions to small magazines were reflected in the sales and subscriptions. Thousands, it would seem, want to appear in magazines. But, strangely, many don’t want to buy them and read them. Certain writers overlook an indisputable truth: that you really do have to be in(to) it to win it. Submitting without an evidenced knowledge of the magazine limits the chances of success to almost non-existent. And if you want an audience for your work you have to play a part in supporting the magazines that first connect you with such. It’s a cooperative, you might say.

The e-zine scene hasn’t yet taken off – having so many of the problems of the smaller print magazines in attracting leading writers who quite rightly want payment, credibility and cachet. It will eventually, however, as much of our current print experience moves online over the next five to ten years – in tandem with advertising, and enhanced and cheaper mobile technologies.

Life online, in 2019, despite cost savings on print, won’t be any easier for the magazine seeking a wide, engaged audience or those committed stewards who edit and promote them, who believe – as they should – that magazines shape and drive the future of a literature, however subtle or unattributed that can sometimes seem. Yet the small magazine will continue to come - and go. Reanimation has always been the chief characteristic of the scene. Mags will still be around to take the risks, to push the boundaries, to get it wrong and sometimes get it so right.

Tough times are indeed ahead. But necessity is the mother of invention. And invention – and re-invention – is what it’s all about.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Dirty Protest - The Bells of Shoreditch

15 January 2009 - 16 January 2009

The Bells of Shoreditch
By Tim Price

Paul has been suffering from anxiety attacks. He can't stop himself throwing his property over bridges. He goes to work with no shoes. He's a man falling apart. So he puts an advert in the newspaper for a bedmate. Someone to sleep, to help him through the night. Follow Paul on his journey through London, with the loneliest people he can find.

With the support of Sherman Cymru and the Arts Council of Wales, Dirty Protest have workshopped this full-length play. Seeking to fill the vacuum between rehearsed readings and full scale productions, they hope this development production will be the first of many.

Visit Sherman Cymru for further details

To keep up to date with events in the Dirty Protest diary, become a fan on Facebook.

Monday, 12 January 2009

And now for something completely different

Steven Spielberg fails to see the funny side - lawyers send 'cease and desist' letter to University of Wales Lampeter.

Prizes from New Welsh Review and Poetry Wales

A reminder of the details of the New Welsh Review Poetry Prize - closing date 30th January:

New Welsh Review, in association with Aberystwyth University Department of English and Creative Writing, is delighted to announce a new prize for poetry.

The prize, to be judged by award-winning poet Philip Gross, is open to New Welsh Review subscribers, and to students in the Aberystwyth University Department of English and Creative Writing. Entry is free. The winner will receive £200, with £50 each for two runners-up, at a ceremony in March 2009.

Visit the New Welsh Review website to download an entry form.

Over at Poetry Wales, there's the The Poetry Wales Purple Moose Poetry Prize. Sponsored by Purple Moose brewery, Porthmadog, and judged by poets Zoë Skoulding (Poetry Wales Editor) and Patrick McGuinness, this is an open competition for short collections of 20-24 poems. The winner of this pamphlet competition will receive £250 and publication of their short collection. Closing date 1st May.

Poet Mick Imlah dies

Scottish poet Mick Imlah has died at the age of 52, the Guardian reports.

Imlah debuted with the highly acclaimed Birthmarks in 1988. A twenty year hiatus followed. Astonishingly, despite battling Motor Neurone disease, he returned with The Lost Leader last year – garnering him plaudits and the Forward Prize for Best Collection. Imlah was poetry editor of the Times Literary Supplement. News of his death is deeply saddening and arrives just as the winner of the T S Eliot Prize, for which he is nominated, is about to be announced.