Friday, 24 December 2010
Tuesday, 14 December 2010
One of the most extraordinary aspects of this job is the way in which each individual issue is so very many months in the making. Six months, to be specific. And there I am, with my spreadsheet of delicately balanced and honed deadlines. Chasing. Saying grace. Waiting to exhale. It’s no romance, but, you know, it really is a love story – mapped by Excel. And I know every dramatic cell by rote.
The downside of editing and producing a literary quarterly in an age of immediacy, where life is tweeted and you’ll be lucky for a single to land more than two weeks at the top of the charts, is that so much currency - or 'sense' of such – is inevitably lost. I’ve been approached with proposals for topical reviews or articles on countless occasions and have had to explain that currency for this moment won’t equate to currency for the magazine months down the line, when copy will actually appear. You have to opt for style over fashion. Ah well, I'll share a secret: I've always been a fan of that approach anyhow.
Of course, a little calculation reveals that if each issue is six months in the making and four appear in a year, issues are conceived, commissioned, edited and set in an eternal overlap.
Or should that be infernal?
When I first became editor of New Welsh Review, I was frustrated by the sheer lack of space. Head space. Breathing space. Space, space. There is no editorial, commissioning or production support. Editing copy for one issue, while punting out ideas for the next at the same time, can leave one with a haunted (hunted?) look. And all the time, the clock: ticking, ticking. But, as is often the case, perversely, the things that start out as the bane become the beauty. In a sense, it is as if the magazine, while lacking some 'currency' by the limitations of the form, has its own little eternity. Nothing stops. And where, now, did this magazine actually begin? 1988, by our records, but it's hard to believe it was that short a time ago. And while its eternity simply is, each issue is self-contained. In some strange sense, this routine and each issue's sense of belonging to itself, liberates the editor from a sense of ownership – which is the worst thing that can happen to any literary magazine. Guardianship is what it is all about.
Our winter issue is out – and no sooner out than the next is well into production. Of course, the next issue, published in the spring, is a little different for me this time. It will be my last. And so, while the magazine itself doesn’t stop, this is where, for most people, I suppose I step off, at least in theory.
Despite the unexpected sadness putting this last issue into place (a sadness which should have been perhaps entirely expected), I am looking forward to my remaining months in post until this spring and am still certain that the time is right for me to move on to my own projects and my own creative life, a decision I made early this year. Would that we could be so many people and serve so many purposes all at the same time.
This has been a wonderful year for New Welsh Review – and for me on a personal level. We’ve come through, despite a crippling recession. We’ve continued to publish the very best names around. We’ve participated in some great events. We’ve had enormous fun, for all the hard work. It's been fulfilling, joyful – and the sun shone at Hay.
I want to thank all our engaged readers and our gifted writers. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. More in January.
Monday, 13 December 2010
Friday, 10 December 2010
The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) has just announced that it will withdraw its grant to the University of Wales Press (UWP) for publications in the Welsh language or about Welsh culture. This is a disaster for the academic study of Wales and jeopardises the very future of scholarship about Wales in both the languages of Wales.
Without a viable source of funding for academic publishing in Wales, 'Welsh Studies' - that is scholarship about Wales - and scholarship in the Welsh language will be in an untenable position. It will be unable to perform in the Research Evaluation Framework (REF) and unable to take its place on an international platform. In order to understand its culture, interrogate its past and build a meaningful future, Wales needs its researchers and teachers. Without a means to circulate research, scholarship and teaching will fade and die.
Monday, 6 December 2010
Thursday, 2 December 2010
Tuesday, 30 November 2010
Monday, 29 November 2010
Sunday, 28 November 2010
Monday, 15 November 2010
Thursday, 4 November 2010
Monday, 25 October 2010
Friday, 22 October 2010
The Mirabelles Annie Freud (Picador)
You John Haynes (Seren)
Human Chain Seamus Heaney (Faber)
What the Water Gave Me Pascale Petit (Seren)
The Wrecking Light Robin Robertson (Picador)
Rough Music Fiona Sampson (Carcanet)
Phantom Noise Brian Turner (Bloodaxe)
White Egrets Derek Walcott (Faber)
New Light for the Old Dark Sam Willetts (Jonathan Cape)
Tuesday, 5 October 2010
Tuesday, 28 September 2010
In the thick of production here and annual reporting, to boot. Sometimes it seems that the panther-like stalk that administration has on me will never end. I am also in reflective mood. Just two more issues of New Welsh Review – including the forthcoming one – and I move on in spring 2011. It’s startling how fast time has gone since I started the role. Truly.
I’ve been wondering what I’ll miss – and what I’ll be glad to leave behind, despite the inevitable difficulty of letting go of such an intense working life. Perhaps my observations will prove useful to my successor. Perhaps not.
So, the highlights.
Sending out an acceptance letter to the fair unknowns – those writers that you just know are going to go somewhere. Being among the first to discover them is a privilege and has never ceased to excite me. Completion of production hell. If I was Tina Brown I’d probably toast it with a dirty Martini. I’m not, so a modest glass of Pinot (paid for by my own purse) usually suffices. The arrival, four times a year of the outcome of the blood, sweat, tears and the odd sleepless night: the magazine. I would say it’s like Christmas each quarter. I touch it, turn it over in my hands – though it’s a gift unopened. For one, I know the contents by rote and for another, if I did, I would be sure to open the pages and happen upon the typo that eluded me. That’s the unwritten law of all publishing for editors. Never open it once it's arrived back from the printers. Creating and promoting something that so few people in this world now care about or value: the literary magazine. It’s humbled me. Humbled me likewise, the people who do care and stop to tell you so with a kind virtual or in-person word at precisely the moment when you wonder what lunacy ever possessed you. So: there is light in the darkness – where I’m usually to be found, whistling. All the talented authors I’ve met in person and via email. Their commitment and dedication to their art. How nice and modest so very many of them are and how pleased I am that so many still value being a part of literary print magazine tradition in the twenty-first century. I think their antecedents would be pleased, too. The wonderful events I’ve been a part of, watching new writers and more established ones play to a crowd that appreciates what they do in this disposable culture that seems to dominate now. Being the steward of something that will outlive me and, maybe, forget me. That's the humbling part again. And a useful check for someone who's also a writer. The excitement and the pressure. The show must go on.
I can't say I'll miss the rejection letters. It's rather like breaking up with someone you never even met. The pain on the other end is similar. I know – I've been there, too. And: I've been depressed at the way people send out to a magazine without ever having picked up a copy. Other editors moan about the same thing all the time. A great deal of anguish and frustration could be spared writers (and editors!) if they did and a lot more success prevail. So many people forget that the talent is in the choices. Do your research. Find a place where you belong or, better still, be ambitious and find the place where you want to belong, someday. I should know – I learned that myself the hard way when I was starting out. I now have a badge for it which possibly qualified me to write this.
Recently, in the middle of a minor crisis, one of those fair unknowns I was talking about contacted me to let me know that their showcase in the magazine had led to something bigger for them. Their journey was now really beginning. Sometimes, it feels good to be George Bailey at the Building and Loan with your suitcase full of NWRs.
Wednesday, 22 September 2010
Monday, 20 September 2010
Sunday, 12 September 2010
Tuesday, 24 August 2010
Thursday, 19 August 2010
Wednesday, 18 August 2010
Baylit: Shock of the New returns this October to push even further the boundaries of literature in Cardiff Bay. As in 2008 the festival will focus on new and emerging writers as well as innovative and original writing styles, publications, technologies and performances. Academi will be releasing more information on the festival throughout July with the full programme being launched in August. In the run up to and during the festival Academi, with contributions from our speakers, will be Tweeting, Facebooking, uploading videos and generally keeping the world updated on everything BayLit related. Subscribe to the Academi's e-newletter to learn more on the line-up as it happens.
Tuesday, 17 August 2010
Take out a subscription to New Welsh Review and pay 20% less than the usual price, plus we'll send you a £5 book voucher as a welcome gift. For just £19 and a year of memorable reading simply take out a subscription before the end of August by clicking here
Friday, 23 July 2010
Adebe D.A., 23 - Ex Nihilo (Frontenac House)
Caroline Bird, 23 - Watering Can (Carcanet)
Elyse Fenton, 29 - Clamor (Cleveland State University Poetry Center)
Katharine Kilalea, 28 - One Eye'd Leigh (Carcanet)
Dora Malech, 28 - Shore Ordered Ocean (The Waywiser Press)
Leanne O'Sullivan, 27 – Cailleach (Bloodaxe Books)
Johnny Mayer, 28 - American Volunteers (City on a Hill Productions)
Eleanor Catton, 24 - The Rehearsal (Portobello Books)
Brian DeLeeuw, 29 - In This Way I Was Saved (John Murray Publishers)
Ciara Hegarty, 29 - The Road to the Sea (Macmillan New Writing)
Emilie Mackie, 27 - And This is True (Sceptre)
Karan Mahajan, 26 - Family Planning (Harper Perennial)
Nadifa Mohamed, 28 - Black Mamba Boy (Harper Collins)
Amy Sackville, 29 - The Still Point (Portobello Books)
Ali Shaw, 28 - The Girl with Glass Feet (Atlantic Books)
Craig Silvey, 27 - Jasper Jones (Windmill Books (Random House)
Good luck to all, as the judges – Peter Florence, Kate Burton, Kurt Heinzelman, Gwyneth Lewis, Bruno Maddox, Natalie Moody and Peter Stead – now deliberate the shortlist, which will be announced this September. Interesting to note that Caroline Bird, talented young Carcanet poet, appears again, after reaching the shortlist back in 2008.
The winner of the prize will be announced in December 2010 and will take away prestige and a cheque for £30,000. For more information on this year's prize and past winners, click here.
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
Responsible for New Welsh Review’s financial and marketing strategy, this is a unique opportunity to work for Wales’s foremost literary magazine in English. You will have a high level of numeracy, combined with superb organisational and interpersonal skills, and the ability to work calmly under pressure and to tight deadlines. Ideally, you will have a track record in marketing. For a job description and details on how to apply click here.
Wednesday, 7 July 2010
You can renew your subscription online here or ring us with your credit card details on 01970 628410. As an extra bonus, when you renew your subscription you can nominate a friend, relative or colleague to receive two complimentary issues, to spread the word about New Welsh Review. If you're not a subscriber yet, why not take advantage of our introductory offer: four brilliant and beautiful issues delivered straight to your door, post free, and all for £19.
As a subscriber you can enter our prize draws and have a chance to win some fabulous literary prizes: subscribe before the end of August and you could win the complete longlist for the Dylan Thomas Prize, see our website for more details.
Thursday, 1 July 2010
Philip was a member of the New Welsh Review board until recently. Talented, tremendous fun, and modest, all at New Welsh Review congratulate him on his huge success.
The full story can be found here.
Friday, 25 June 2010
Monday, 7 June 2010
Then on to my evening event with Trezza Azzopardi and Jon McGregor. Trezza was a delight. Witty, natural, mightily intelligent, she read delicious, sensual passages from her latest novel from Picador, The Song House. This new novel is characterised by her gift for evoking place so expertly – and the two soporific summers in the book that provide a backdrop for her narrative of memory and mystery felt altogether apt for the heat and tristesse of the festival’s close. She talked about how at the heart of her writing the struggle with memory was ever present – our ownership of it, the limitations of it and what it means for our identity, and the ideas we have of ourselves. She was, she said, always reaching for the perfect rendering. But what about her own complex identity? Trezza has Maltese roots and was born and raised in Cardiff. She now teaches on the Creative Writing programme that began everything for her at UEA, Norwich. Does she regard herself as a Welsh writer? No. She’s a writer, she says. Plain and simple. The rest doesn’t (shouldn’t?) come into it.
Jon McGregor was reading from his new novel from Bloomsbury, Even the Dogs. He’s just 34 but has two previous novels under his belt, both of which won him a place on the Man Booker longlist. And he scooped a Betty Trask award from the Society of Authors, a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and a Somerset Maugham Award for his first, If Nobody Speaks for Remarkable Things. But he’s still, I suspect, relatively unknown to many in the audience. Jon is quiet, intense, polite and genuine. He seems surprised – and relieved – when Trezza and I tell him how incredible his book is. And that surprise – and modesty – is a rare thing in the book world these days. Even the Dogs, with a clear literary progenitor in Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, is a moving and painful portrait of a motley crew of the forgotten: drug addicts, alcoholics, scarred veterans of modern life’s urban sprawl. Jon was moved to write the book by listening to his wife’s own experiences of working in the charity field and was seeking, he said, to give a voice to the unvoiced. His careful and sensitive attention to detail provides optimism, as well as a study in despair. The characters are reinvested with humanity and, as with Trezza’s The Song House, despite the limitations placed on the ownership of our own lives and language, there is always the will to try. This is a must-read novel by a young writer who is surely tipped to become a major one. I am sincerely hoping that the Man Booker judges graduate McGregor to the next level this year. This slim, poetic novel stays with the reader long after the final page. In the audience, there were gasps at the intensity of a long, panoramic passage in which the author takes us from Helmand Province to a junkie’s vein. But they queued and they bought this book. A job well done.
Finally, we raised a toast to the end of the festival. The marquees were empty and what crowd was left was enjoying Stephen Fry’s set. Hay took on the appearance of the last of a happy wedding day. I look forward to next year.
Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor is published by Bloomsbury. The Song House by Trezza Azzopardi is published by Picador.
The Wales Book of the Year 2010 Short List was announced in a special event on Sunday 6 June 2010, at The Guardian Hay Festival.
From a longlist which was notable for its diversity, the judges have chosen award-winning poet Philip Gross for his poems inspired by images of electricity pylons taken with a pin-hole camera, I Spy Pinhole Eye; Anglo-Russian historian Nikolai Tolstoy for his re-examination of the origins of the tales of the mabinogi, The Compilation of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, and Terri Wiltshire for her debut novel about racism in America’s Deep South, Carry Me Home.
Tuesday, 1 June 2010
If you have a play that needs a little help standing up, and would like to workshop it with professional actors, Dirty Protest can help. We're looking for a full-length play, to produce a staged reading of – along the lines of our last full-length staged reading, The Bells of Shoreditch. We plan to offer 2-3 days workshopping the play before rehearsing, and staging in front of a paying audience.
We are looking for a play with more potential than polish, that has minimal staging requirements, with a realistic cast size, and around 1 hour in length. As ever, we operate on a shoe-string.
Send your plays to info [at] dirtyprotesttheatre.co.uk by 20 June.
Monday, 31 May 2010
Opening weekend at the Guardian Hay Festival 2010 and the weather on Saturday was pretty desperate. Last year, we’d been blessed with Mediterranean temperatures. The turnout had been fantastic and the vibe superb. I was worried. British weather has always had a crucial part to play in writers’ fortunes. It’s a defining factor in audience numbers. Thankfully, Hay festival-goers are a plucky bunch. The site was packed, books were clutched and spirits were high, even as the rain poured and the wind... Oh how it blowed.
I was here this year to interview the masterful Dmitry Bykov, a legend in his native Russia – brilliant, controversial and a Renaissance man (poet, novelist, playwright, biographer, print and broadcast journalist, social and political commentator) – and the wonderful Welsh novelist Rachel Trezise who, at the tender age of just 32, has garnered acclaim and awards aplenty (among which, the 2006 Dylan Thomas Prize and a place on the Orange Futures List) with work which includes fiction, playwriting and reportage.
Rachel joined me to discuss her remarkable novel set in the Welsh valleys, Sixteen Shades of Crazy, which explores the effects on the lives of three women when they encounter the English stranger in town – sexy, dangerous, drug dealer Johnny. It’s commendable for its razor-sharp wit, its combination of depth and sheer readability, and for its uncompromising take on how women fit into the social economy of deprived areas. Rachel’s experiences on the British toilet circuit with cult Welsh rockers Midasuno – which resulted in her Dial M for Merthyr – had provided the spark of inspiration to look at the flipside. In Sixteen, it’s not the band (The Boobs) that gets the treatment but the ladies in their lives. It’s a book that offers a window on the darker side of life and the inherent dangers of provincialism. As such, the valleys provide a fitting backdrop. But, as Rachel told us, the narrative could apply to so many disenfranchised areas across the UK.
Dmitry talked to me about his Living Souls, an elegant translation by Cathy Porter of his satirical dystopian fiction in the russian, Zh.D. Dmitry was everything I had hoped he would be, and everything his satire had suggested. He told the audience that his novel was much like himself: ‘big and intelligent’. But beyond the humour, Dmitry outlined the seriousness of his purpose. A man against dogma and alert to the dangers of identity and nationalism, and mindful of the warnings – and endless, tragic repetitions – of history. A packed-out audience, dark material and much laughter. Next Sunday, I’ll be back to talk to Trezza Azzopardi and Jon McGregor.
Living Souls by Dmitry Bykov (translated by Cathy Porter) is published by Alma Books. Sixteen Shades of Crazy is published by Blue Door.
Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Monday, 17 May 2010
6.30 - 7.30 Festival Launch and Reception
7.30 - 9.15 Robert Minhinnick, Childe Roland (aka Peter Meilleur)
11.00 - 13.00 Interactive Word Cloud event. Join us to create a collaborative masterpiece. Hosted by Susie Wild.
2.00 - 4.00 Keri Finlayson, Scott Thurston, Anthony Mellors, Claudia Azzola, Samantha Rhydderch, John Goodby
5.00 - 6.00 John Goodby, lecture: ‘Undispellable lost dream’: Reading Welsh Alternative Poetry.
7.30 - 9.15 Geraldine Monk, Alan Halsey
Films throughout the day curated by Elysium Gallery, Swansea
11.00 -12.00 Phil Maillard, Ric Hool, Richard Gwyn
2.00- 6.00 Randolph Healy, Ian Davidson, Zoe Skoulding with Poetry Wales, Jean Portante, Carol Watts. Art, Film: Kathryn Ashill, The Quantum Brothers, and more...
7.30 - 9.15 Elisabeth Bletsoe, Carolne Bergvall
All events at Oriel Gallery, Salem Chapel, Bell Bank, Hay-on-Wye. Entrance to 7.30 events £5 (concessions £3). All other events free (contribution to costs of £2 welcome but entirely voluntary).
Supported by: Academi Gymreig, The Dylan Thomas Centre, Poetry Wales, Swansea University School of Arts, Ty Llen / The Dylan Thomas Centre.
For further details and bookings, contact
Lyndon Davies on: goodbard [at] yahoo.co.uk
Susie Wild on susiewild [at] hotmail.com
John Goodby on: goby-goodby [at] ntlworld.com
Wednesday, 28 April 2010
On Saturday 29th May at 1pm: Small Wars and Laughter with Rachel Trezise and Dmitry Bykov in conversation with Kathryn Gray
Living Souls is a comic masterpiece set in a futuristic Russian dystopia. Sixteen Shades of Crazy imagines a contemporary South Walian Stepford-Llaregub. Book tickets here.
On Sunday 6th June at 5.30pm: Intimacy with Trezza Azzopardi and Jon McGregor chaired by Kathryn Gray
The Song House is about language and music, memory and place; Even The Dogs is an intimate exploration of life at the edges of society; littered with love, loss, despair and a glimpse of redemption. Book tickets here.
Come join us! And for more details on the festival programme click here.
Tuesday, 27 April 2010
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Wednesday, 21 April 2010
The ten titles will become three when the shortlist is announced at the Hay Festival on 6 June.
Wednesday, 7 April 2010
Wednesday, 31 March 2010
If you're not a subscriber yet, why not take advantage of our introductory offer: four brilliant issues delivered straight to your door, post free, and all for £19.
Once you're a subscriber why not enter our prize draw: write, phone or email firstname.lastname@example.org by the closing date of 14th May 2010 and you could win two free tickets to a National Theatre Wales event of your choice: there are twelve new shows in 2010, one each month, and one spectacular finale – in amazing places and unique spaces across Wales. Good luck!
Monday, 29 March 2010
Celebrate Shakespeare's Birthday on 23 April at a poetry party in the all new Elysium Gallery in Swansea. Hay Poetry Jamboree are hosting a 24-hour non-stop poetry marathon with sponsored poets and performers reading their favourite poems, pay-to-perform open mic sessions run by Cardiff's Jam Bones and Swansea's The Crunch and opportunities to create your own dada or post-it poem. Or curl up with a book. There will also be guest slots for poets including Nigel Jenkins, D.E. Oprava and Liam Johnson PLUS a special technical link up with a bunch of Seattle poets and sessions run by Cardiff’s Square Magazine and probably the best fanzine in the world, The Antagonist.
Please RSVP by email: email@example.com to ensure entry. Refreshments will be available in return for donations.
All money raised will go towards funding the Hay Poetry Jamboree on 3/4/5 June 2010. This fringe event will feature performances and lectures from top names, including Robert Minhinnick, Geraldine Monk, Richard Gwyn and Poetry Wales
Thursday, 25 March 2010
If only I had the answers. But I only have the approximations. Of course, you need talent. And you need a polished submission that says you’re a pro (even before you’ve published anything) and that you take this game seriously. But these things aren’t enough. You need to do your research. As unromantic as it sounds, selling poems or fiction is pretty much like selling anything. You have to know your market and be providing it with the things that it wants – and doesn’t have enough of.
So far, so good. Except that of course, editors often don’t know what they want. We only know, you see, when we… see it. But there are some elementary rules. Every editor channels his or her vision through the pages of the magazine they shepherd. If they didn’t, the magazine would be about as impressive and sexy as a limp handshake. It would have no identity whatsoever. So, you can assume that most, if not all, quality magazines will have their own particular line on beauty. Therefore, if a magazine has a strong emphasis on the contemporary mainstream, then it stands to reason that your avant masterpiece may not make the cut. If the magazine has limits on the space that can be devoted to fiction, then clearly your 6,000 word short story will probably not find a home there. Even though – and very often – the editor may find merit in it. Putting a magazine together is a complex business – not merely in terms of shaping it into something you feel is attractive to the mind and the eye, and, yes, useful, but also in terms of the curious jigsaw puzzle nature of it, right up to the wire. There’s no space flexibility. Everything must fit perfectly. It has caused a few sleepless nights here and there, I can tell you. But I’m not complaining – it beats every other job I’ve ever had by quite a margin.
If you’re looking for publication within a magazine’s pages, engagement with it is a must. Pick up an issue. If you like what you find, subscribe, read and, yes, submit to where you feel your work will find a good home. If you don’t, then keep searching until you find a magazine that reflects your own integrity and creative vision.
It helps to know that rejection is not universal, but particular. It’s not about you or your work necessarily, but about finding the right fit. It’s a big world out there, even with the increasing pressure placed on magazines over the past twenty years. There’s room, I’d like to think, for multiple voices and multiple platforms. Moving on from rejection is the single most important lesson every author has to learn. But it has to be learned – or should I say earned. No platitudes. In a box at the top of my wardrobe sits my first rejection letter for a submission of six poems, well preserved and treasured in its original envelope. A souvenir from the start of my own journey. From a magazine called New Welsh Review.
Friday, 12 March 2010
You can renew your subscription online here or ring us with your credit card details on 01970 628410. As an extra bonus, when you renew your subscription you can nominate a friend, relative or colleague to receive two complimentary issues, to spread the word about New Welsh Review. If you're not a subscriber yet, why not take advantage of our introductory offer: four brilliant issues delivered straight to your door, post free, and all for £19.
As a subscriber you can enter our prize draws and have a chance to win some fabulous literary prizes, see our website for more details.
Tuesday, 2 March 2010
Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Make sure your subscription is up to date and you can also enter our prize draws: you’ve a chance of winning a copy of Welsh Time from Gregynog Press if you send us your name by February 26th. Welsh Time is a fabulous prize – beautifully crafted and hand bound in quarter leather the book is one of a limited edition of 75. The book celebrates Emyr Humphrey’s work from the past 50 years alongside Paul Croft’s hand-printed lithographs. Welsh Time would normally cost you £320: subscribe now from only £19 for 4 issues and this wonderful book could be yours.
Tuesday, 16 February 2010
As reading is a more or less constant activity for me, there is always something on my 'to read' list. Aside from the plays and other work-in-progress I am asked to read, there is always an array of new material jostling for my attention.
Firstly, there are all the published plays that I feel I should keep up to speed with. Without being able to visit all the new writing theatres, a published text is generally the next best thing, so I keep a ready supply of recently published work to hand. Robert Holman is my current victim.
Additionally, there is a burgeoning range of assorted theoretical and practice-based theatre books. Routledge and Nick Hern seem to be leading the field in this, offering the interested reader a goldmine of insight and access that at one time would have been beyond reach. This is not so bad, I would argue, as I juggle these on a constant basis and constantly cherry-pick ideas that will be useful for my work.
Beyond that, there is a range of non-fiction writing that I feel I should read for one reason or another. This can range from historical writing – for example, reading up on the French Revolution seemed to be something I simply had to do recently, although it doesn’t seem quite as necessary now – or reading semi-philosophical writing that challenges my preconceptions. On that score, I can partially recommend Truth Matters by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom; I say partially, as I haven’t actually finished it yet.
These days novels are a lesser priority for me, but contemporary American fiction still attracts my attention. It may take a while, but I can usually get to the end of a Phillip Roth or a Saul Bellow. Eventually.
Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter was a book I did recently finish.
However, superb as it was, it hung around so long that I had to re-read long sections I had forgotten about in order to make sense of where I was supposed to be starting from. When that became interrupted also, I was temporarily lost in a fog of déjà vu (or maybe that should be déjà lu).
Then there are the guilty pleasures. For me that involves the graphic novel. When I was young, comics were not particularly welcome in our house, as it wasn’t considered proper reading. Pocket money was usually deployed on this surreptitious pursuit and the result was an abiding love of Herge’s Tintin books. However, it’s taken until quite recently for me to accept that reading Frank Miller and Alan Moore was okay. That said, the pictures are really quite handy for short bursts.
The net result of all this is that I now have a churn of about seven or eight books that are in a sad limbo, waiting perpetually to be finished. One of them – David Mitchell’s rather brilliant number9dream – is probably destined to remain unread. I have semi-abandoned it at the second chapter. Having read Mitchell’s Ghostwritten about ten years ago, I know it‘s absolutely necessary to stick with it, which, of course, I haven’t. But there is always hope that I will return to it one day, whereas that will never be true of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s classic - One Hundred Days of Solitude. I will never forget the look on a friend’s face when I said that I’d given up on it about eighty pages from the end.
I felt like a criminal, as opposed to the restlessly curious junkie that I am.
Friday, 29 January 2010
I've written the guide from both sides of the table, as a writer and as an editor myself. You'll find nuggets of wisdom I've learned from brilliant writers and editors I've encountered, hard-won lessons I've learned for myself, straight-up advice on how things work, and loads of lively links to help you explore further and get in touch with the literary communities that are out there. There's the talent, of course. And then there's another kind, the talent that's in the choices. If you want to take a look at the writer's guide click here. All access is completely free. Happy writing.
Thursday, 28 January 2010
But, of course, all's not exactly rosy over the border.
In recent years, the book review pages of the broadsheets have become that much more slender (and less rigorous). Less commercial titles – particularly volumes of single-authored poetry – have been jettisoned. When the BBC recently commissioned a poetry season (screened through spring to autumn last year) it was something of an event – one of the rare instances over the last decade when original arts programming was commissioned on such a scale, and for national broadcast, too. With the exception of the Culture Show and the Review show, those hungry for arts coverage on the Way We Were will have to largely content themselves with repeats from the golden era of the seventies, which, if they're lucky, they'll accidentally catch on BBC4. If you want more on the Way We Live Now, you'll be going to bed on an empty stomach, by and large. So, I don't think the limitations on a comprehensive, vibrant arts scene in broadcast or print media is a problem for Wales alone, although it's certainly true that Wales could be said to be in extremis.
I think Patrick raises particularly important points (in the piece and the ensuing comments) with regard to education and how this impacts upon the cultural consciousness and those who will come to be the future's opinion formers. Not so much making a case for drilling children in valley writing or the legacy of women's writing from Wales by rote. Who'd want that? No. More a case of making them aware of it in the first place. How many are? I wasn't. It takes a lot of effort and bloody-mindedness to find your way alone. Is that how tradition and culture should come to you? I wonder.
Anyhow, you can find the piece and the comments here.
Tuesday, 19 January 2010
Tuesday, 12 January 2010
I had been looking forward to watching Synecdoche, New York – his film starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman – for some time, as I had missed its theatrical release, but I had the chance to watch it over Christmas. It’s not obvious festive viewing and wouldn’t compare favourably with, say, It’s A Wonderful Life when it comes to all-round holiday entertainment. In fact, my wife burst into tears at the end and said that it had been unfair of me to put her through it without advance warning.
It’s the story of a middle-aged theatre director called Caden Cotard, who wins a grant or ‘genius award’ from a prestigious philanthropic foundation at the very point where his life begins to fall apart. He is filled with doubt about his latest production. His wife leaves him and takes their child away with her. Afflicted by a variety of mysterious ailments, he believes that he is going to die. There is a particularly affecting moment where Hoffman peers into a toilet bowl and prods a recent evacuation with a spatula.
With the proceeds from his grant, Cotard embarks on a project filled with ‘real honesty and truth’. He builds a replica of his own neighbourhood in a huge warehouse, casts himself as a character and spends the next thirty years of his life rehearsing an enormous ensemble cast in a play based in the minutiae of his life. The play is never performed and Cotard dies friendless and alone, rejected or abandoned by the people he cared for most.
Becoming a poetic meditation on the sense of death in life, the film even underlines this by naming its central character after Cotard’s Syndrome – a psychiatric condition whereby the victim holds the delusional belief that he or she is dead. Kaufman described it like this: ‘I was trying to present a life, with its moments of nothing. There is something that happens to people when they get old, which is that they get sidelined. There isn't a big, dramatic crescendo and then their life is over. They're forced out of their work, the people in their lives die, they lose their place in the world, people don't take them seriously, and then they just continue to live. And what is that? What does that feel like? I wanted to try to be truthful about that and express something about what I think is a really sad human condition.’
The film is also an extraordinary, hallucinatory, multi-textured piece of work and that rare thing – an intelligent, allusive and innovative American movie. Some people will love it, most people will hate it, but barely anyone could be unaffected by it.
Writing rarely inspires envy or jealousy in me, but I must admit I’d be quite happy with Charlie Kaufman’s work appended to my CV. He is the most distinctive American film maker since David Lynch and my identification with the film was absolute.
One reason is that a few months ago I was given a Creative Wales Award by The Arts Council of Wales to develop my ‘creative practice’ as a theatre director.
If you’re wondering, it’s just the same as ‘a genius award’.
So, if you end up passing through Adamsdown in the decades ahead, that’ll be me.
Or, at least, someone looking a bit like me.
Tuesday, 5 January 2010
Looking ahead to the spring issue, some great contributors and work to relish, including Menna Elfyn, Tom Bullough, Lloyd Jones, Tishani Doshi, Sarah Corbett, Siriol Troup, Gary Owen, Peter Finch, Isabel Adonis, Dai Vaughan and Deborah Kay Davies. The issue will be published at the beginning of March, so do look out for it.