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.