Friday, 24 December 2010

Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry

Interrupting my hiatus – how strange a phrase – to extend warm congratulations to Wales's own Gillian Clarke who receives the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry. The Guardian has the full story here.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

2010 Endnote

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

More on the HEFCW cuts affecting University of Wales Press

An article from The Western Mail, citing Zoe Brigley.

Writing workshops at the Glyn Jones Centre in 2011

Here's a lively link to some workshops organised by Academi and taking place at the Glyn Jones Centre, Millennium Centre in 2011, featuring Tom Anderson, Holly Howitt, Susie Wild and John Harrison. The workshops are free, so if you're in or near the Cardiff area, book your tickets asap – and enjoy.

Friday, 10 December 2010

HEFCW withdraws funding from University of Wales Press

I would like to comment on a serious issue which poses a very grave risk to the future of scholarship in both the languages of Wales.

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.

We live in a time of pragmatism now. But it is crucial that what is truly important is not lost. We all need to engage to support the present and safeguard the future. There are actions that can be taken. Here's the link to a Facebook group set up to campaign against this move, which discusses live issues and will also give you further information as to what you can do to help..

Monday, 6 December 2010

I meant to flag up this great site to readers who might not be aware of it some time ago. It fell through the cracks. I'll rectify that. features comment across the spectrum of politics, literature and the wider culture, and is an invariably good read. You can comment, too – which is fortunate since most people seem to disagree online, I find. But you'll get none of the tedious trolling that tends to be unfortunately magnetically-attracted to the Grauniad's Comment is Free and, more pertinently, you'll find Wales. Here's intelligent, constructive disagreement and debate on Wales and its interests by smart people. fills an important space in Welsh reporting. Enjoy.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Dylan Thomas Prize winner announced

Congratulations to poet Elyse Fenton who takes the 2010 Dylan Thomas Prize, a cheque for £30,000 and the all-important profile that the win brings. It's great to see a poet take the prize this time around. (I thought that might happen, but, admittedly, I had my money on Carcanet poet Caroline Bird, with her second consecutive shortlisting.) Fenton's poetry tackles the Big Theme of our times, curiously (or perhaps not that curiously) avoided by many younger poets – the war. You can find out more about Elyse and her winning collection, Clamor, by visiting her website and here is a news snippet from the Beeb covering the win.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Small is beautiful

I thought I'd highlight a recently published book from Cinnamon that looks hugely promising: Exposure. It's an anthology of more than 1000 writers from Wales and beyond, presenting their take on what it means to be human by way of that smallest wonder of small wonders: the micro-fiction. It's co-edited by Holly Howitt, a hugely talented young writer and herself a gifted micro-fictioneer.

I was really fortunate to meet and discuss the genre with Holly and Deborah Kay Davies at an Academi Conference earlier this year, and it was fascinating to pick over the history and purpose of a form that, while reflecting the age of tweets, bleats and Facebookery, is, in many respects, an urform. I've personally adored the genre since my first immersion into it with Borges, that grandmaster of mythic fictions in miniature. At its very best, micro-fiction opens doors that lead into immense, immediate worlds. The landscape of Wonderland. One lingering regret I have about my tenure at the Review is that I was somehow never able to accommodate micro-fiction, though I had planned to. Unsolicited submissions somehow never hit that special, immediate spot the genre simply has to and a plan lined-up to otherwise provide, provide never quite came off. Of mice and micro-fiction.

In the meantime, though, for those that long for the micro or want to find out more, here's Exposure. And, incidentally, do also check out Dan Rhodes's superb, hilarious and whip-smart micro-fiction collection on love, Anthropology.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Picador Poetry Prize Shortlist

A little belatedly, for the editor has been in transit, but congratulations to all those shortlisted for this wonderful initiative – the Picador Poetry Prize for an unpublished (at least, unpublished as a first collection) poet. The winning poet will have a first collection published by Picador and be edited by maestro Don Paterson. Particular congratulations to Helen Mort and Ben Wilkinson, both of whom have recently featured in New Welsh Review. The judges for the prize are Don Paterson, John Stammers, Sarah Crown and Jackie Kay and the winner will be announced in 2011. More information on the prize can be found here.

2011 Cardiff International Poetry Competition

The 2011 Cardiff International Poetry Competition is now open and receiving entries. This year's judges are the esteemed poets Don Paterson and Philip Gross (fresh from his Wales Book of the Year win for I Spy Pinhole Eye and T S Eliot win for The Water Table). Further details can be found here.

Sunday, 28 November 2010


Christmas approaches. If you're looking for a unique gift that will last all year long, why not give that special literature lover in your life a subscription to New Welsh Review? Four beautiful issues a year, delivered direct to their door – comprising hundreds of pages of the very best writing from Wales and further afield. Or why not treat yourself by pre-booking this antidote to the New Year blues? Visit our subscriptions page to find out more.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Picks of 2010

The year is old. And so I weigh up the fortunes of what's passed. A human impulse, perhaps. Of the type that Larkin would have endorsed and mocked equally. More fun instead is to draw up an inventory of books that thrilled me in 2010. It's been an interesting year for titles from Wales and Welsh writers this year. I'm looking forward to seeing what achieves consensus among the Wales Book of the Year judges for 2011 (Deborah Kay Davies, Francesca Rhydderch and Jon Gower), who will draw from the well of 2010 to find the winner of £10,000 and considerable kudos. The longlist of ten will be announced in March.

Overall, of those books eligible for the prize I've read, my impression has been one of quality more condensed than in previous years. Equal richness, but less dilution across the output. To me it has seemed that there are clear outliers.

With the caveat that I am missing a month (December)... and can't possibly read everything... and this judge's decision is final and no further correspondence etc... I'd like to put forward my own list. The work that has charmed, sometimes delightfully infuriated or provoked incredible envy – and otherwise made the fact that I spend all my scant available time reading books instead of learning how to cook seem utterly sensible, not to mention a true privilege. It's also heartening to note that this is no Welsh-wash. A number of these titles would have appeared on my list even if it was opened out to the world beyond. So, then, in no particular order:

True Things About Me - Deborah Kay Davies (Canongate) – this title, alas, ineligible
What the Water Gave Me - Pascale Petit (Seren)
Diamond Star Halo - Tiffany Murray (Portobello)
Fireball - Tyler Keevil (Parthian)
Jilted City - Patrick McGuinness (Carcanet)
West: A Journey Through the Landscapes of Loss - Jim Perrin (Atlantic)
Of Mutability - Jo Shapcott (Faber)
On the Third Day - Rhys Thomas (Doubleday)
Into Suez - Stevie Davies (Parthian)
Uncharted - Jon Gower (Gomer) – this title, alas, ineligible

True, some are more consistent than others. While two are absolutely exceptional. But all offer fresh approaches in asking the old questions. And it's all in the questions – at this time more than ever.

I'd heartily recommend all of the above as stocking fillers which will – aside from engendering pleasure – support writers and the houses that publish them, especially if you buy or order from your local, hardworking indie bookshop.

Hay at Kerala

A nice blog piece on the Hay Festival at Kerala can be found here.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

New Welsh Review 90

New Welsh Review is now at the printers and will be out very shortly. This issue includes fantastic new writing from Menna Elfyn, Rebbecca Ray, Geoffrey Hill, Clare Dudman, Michael Symmons Roberts, Rachel Trezise, Matthew David Scott, Gee Williams, Robert Minhinnick, Kathryn Simmonds, Helen Mort, Zoe Brigley and more.

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Michael Murphy Memorial Prize

To celebrate National Poetry Day on 8th October 2010, the English Association announced the inauguration of a new biennial prize of £500 for a distinctive first volume of poetry in English published in Britain or Ireland – in the first instance between January 2008 and June 2011.

The Prize has been established by some of his colleagues at Nottingham Trent University, in honour of the Liverpool-born poet Michael Murphy, who died of a brain tumour, aged 43, in May 2009.

Michael Murphy’s first volume of poetry, After Attila, appeared from Shoestring Press in 1998 when he was 33. Shoestring has published two subsequent collections, Elsewhere (2003) and Allotments (2008), and will bring out a posthumous Collected Poems in 2011. In 2001 Michael was awarded the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize by Poetry Review as ‘New Poet of the Year’. The intention of the present prize is to extend the same recognition to another new poet.

The adjudicators for the first award will be:

Poet and critic Deryn Rees-Jones (Michael’s widow)
Poet and literary historian Gregory Woods
Poet, translator and publisher Anthony Rudolf

I met Michael, once, briefly, many years ago, when we were both nominated for the Dearmer Prize, which he deservedly won. I remember him being so very happy and proud that night. It is terribly cruel that within the decade he would succumb to cancer. This prize is a fitting tribute to his memory and his craft.

For further details on how to have a collection considered for the prize, click here.

New Welsh Review seeking next editor, commencing March 2011

The closing date for applications for the post of editor of New Welsh Review is fast approaching – 3 November 2010.

You'll need enthusiasm, energy, tenacity, and a strong understanding of the tradition of Welsh writing in English, as well as the finest of literary writing from Wales today. Likewise, you should be in a position to contextualise Welsh writing in a wider UK and European context. You'll also require confidence, independent thinking, strong organisational skills, grace under pressure and a can-do, self-starting approach. The ability to network and form strong professional relationships with writers, academics, thinkers and other organisations is an absolute must.

This is a wonderful and quite unique opportunity for the right person. If you think you've got what it takes to be the next steward of Wales's literary magazine, which encompasses features, fiction, poetry and literary criticism, visit the New Welsh Review website.

Friday, 22 October 2010

From Aberystwyth to Vancouver – and back

Thanks to all those who came through the cold last night to enjoy Tyler Keevil reading from and discussing his work. It was an excellent event and it was great to see such a large and appreciative audience.

If you haven't already bought Tyler's terrific debut, Fireball, please do. More information on Tyler and other new faces including in Parthian's Bright Young Things series can be found by clicking here.

T. S. Eliot Prize shortlist 2010

The shortlist for this year's T. S. Eliot Prize has been announced. The titles selected are:

Seeing Stars Simon Armitage (Faber)
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)

This year's judges are noted poets Anne Stevenson (Chair), Michael Symmons Roberts and Bernadine Evaristo. The winner will be announced on 24 January 2011.

Congratulations to all those on the list, and particular congratulations go to Pascale Petit and John Haynes, representing Wales's own Seren with two quite extraordinary books. Intriguing to see who will win – and interesting that this is Pascale's third showing on the T S Eliot shortlist.

I heartily recommend that those who can attend the shortlist reading on 23 January 2011 at the Southbank. It's always a fantastic event, but tickets always fly, so book early. Details of the prize and of the readings can be found by clicking here.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

In the pipeline

A hectic and highly enjoyable few months, which have seen the editor take her first holiday in some years. But now the tan has faded and onwards we go into the autumn/winter.

Commitments mean I'll be missing out on catching the many events on offer at Baylit this year, which is a shame. A fantastic line-up of new voices and new approaches. I recommend those who can to join Owen Sheers, Russell Celyn Jones, Niall Griffiths and Gwyneth Lewis discussing their reworkings of stories from the Mabinogion (28 October), an innovative series of past-present collisions from Seren. I'd also flag up TXT2Baylit (27 October), which features, among others, performance poet Liam Johnson. I first saw him in action when I sat on the judging panel for the 2009 John Tripp Award. Johnson was just pipped to the post for our vote on the night, but he made a huge impression on all of us and went on to scoop the audience favourite. Verbal pyrotechnics combined with wit, enormous verve and nerves of steel. He's not to be missed.

In other news, I'm currently completing production on Issue 90. This issue features fantastic new writing from Geoffrey Hill, Robert Minhinnick, Rachel Trezise, Rebbecca Ray, Menna Elfyn, Clare Dudman, Gee Williams, Kathryn Simmonds, Michael Symmons Roberts, Matthew David Scott and more. Plus micro-fiction and stunning photography from Eamon Bourke in Buenos Aires and our reviews pages. I'll keep you posted on the publication date.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

It’s a wonderful job

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

Dylan Thomas Prize shortlist announced

The full 2010 University of Wales Dylan Thomas Prize shortlist has been announced:

Caroline Bird, 23 - Watering Can (Carcanet)

Elyse Fenton, 29 – Clamor (Cleveland State University Poetry Center)

Eleanor Catton, 24 - The Rehearsal (Portobello Books)

Emilie Mackie, 27 - And This is True (Sceptre)

Karan Mahajan, 26 - Family Planning (Harper Perennial)

Nadifa Mohamed, 28 - Black Mamba Boy (Harper Collins)

My tip? Caroline Bird. Her second shortlisting for the prize – and a poetry collection has yet to make it all the way. From a personal perspective, I'm rooting for her. I remember Caroline when we were both young poets shortlisted for a Poetry Review prize back in the mists of time. Well, I was young (but poet-young), while she was actually young: just 15. And yet she acquitted herself like a true pro, delivering her work before the audience with confidence and panache. Neither of us won. But we both smiled.

Good luck to all the listed. The prizewinner will be announced in December.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Bursaries from Academi 2011

If you've ever wondered just how you'll manage to finish that novel, collection of poetry or creative non-fic while negotiating the burdens of the day job or childcare, consider applying for an Academi bursary to 'buy time' for writing – applications are now open. The process is a competitive one – weighing up need with talent – but bursaries are available for unpublished writers, as well as those who are well established in the field. The scheme has an excellent track record for spotting and supporting talent, with many past recipients going on to publish acclaimed works as a result. You must be permanently resident in Wales for the proposed duration of the bursary in order to apply. Visit the website here to find out more.

Writers' Plaques

A new website resource has just been launched from Academi and the Rhys Davies Trust. The resource pinpoints writers' plaques across Wales. Visit the website here.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Kathryn Gray in conversation with Tyler Keevil

I'll be in conversation with the brilliant young novelist Tyler Keevil, discussing his debut from Parthian Books, Fireball, at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre on 21 October at 6pm. Please do join us if you can for an evening that promises lively chat, readings and, of course, the obligatory launch party Pinot.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

New Welsh Review – Editorship

I'll be leaving New Welsh Review in spring 2011, after what's approaching three happy and rewarding years in order to pursue my own writing and other personal projects. As a result, the magazine is now seeking a new editor to commence in March 2011.

This is a wonderful, challenging and unique role for someone with the appetite to drive through their vision and to engage with some of the finest writers and thinkers in Wales – and beyond. An excellent knowledge of Welsh writing in English is required, as is an excellent knowledge of the literary world and works of the wider UK. Ideally, you will have a proven track record in publishing. Energy, commitment and enthusiasm is an absolute must.

To find out more about the role and for details on how to apply, please visit the homepage of our website.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Edwin Morgan 1920-2010

Scotland's finest poet, and one of the finest poets in the UK, Edwin Morgan, has died aged 90. During a publishing career that spanned over half a century, Morgan produced an incredibly various output of originality and brilliance. He will be missed.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Academi Baylit 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.

New Welsh Review 89...

...will be arriving through your letterbox any day now if you're a subscriber. If you're not, and you'd like to enjoy the best new writing from names such as Niall Griffiths, Robert Lewis, Philip Gross, Sheenagh Pugh, Tim Liardet, John Redmond, Lorraine Mariner, Paul Henry, Meirion Jordan, Tiffany Atkinson and many more, then visit our subscriptions page now.

Carrie Etter's The Tethers wins London Festival Fringe Best New Poet Award

Carrie Etter – long-time contributor to New Welsh Review as poet, short story writer and critic –won the London Festival Fringe Best New Poet Award on 16 August for her debut collection of poetry The Tethers. New Welsh Review is delighted for Carrie and doubly delighted that her winning book is published from Wales in the shape of Seren Books. Congratulations to Carrie who will be awarded a cheque for £2500 later this month!

Bright Young Things Launch - 17 September, Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea

Parthian Books presents work from four emergent writers – Susie Wild, Wil Gritten, Tyler Keevil and J.P. Smythe – with readings and discussion, followed by an after-party. For further details on the launch, email For further details on the Bright Young Things programme of books and events click here.

Wales in America

The North American Festival of Wales takes place in Portland, Oregon from 2nd to 5th September this year. Further details on the festival and its work can be found here.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

New Welsh Review Subscription Offer

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

Dylan Thomas Prize 2010 - Longlist announced

The longlist for the Dylan Thomas Prize 2010 is as follows:

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

New Welsh Review - Opportunity

New Welsh Review is looking for a new Development and Administration Manager with flair, initiative and acumen.

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

New Welsh Review 89

It won't be long before the next issue of New Welsh Review is ready and waiting, featuring the best new writing from Sheenagh Pugh, Philip Gross, Niall Griffiths, Robert Lewis. Paul Henry, Lorraine Mariner, Tim Liardet, John Redmond, Francesca Rhydderch, Tiffany Atkinson and more. Don't miss out!

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 Gross scoops Wales Book of the Year

Philip Gross has scooped the £10,000 Wales Book of the Year award for I Spy Pinhole Eye, an ekphrastic collaboration with photographer Simon Denison. This is yet another major achievement for the poet in a year that has seen Gross win the coveted T. S. Eliot Prize for poetry for a full collection from Bloodaxe, The Water Table. Philip will be appearing in the forthcoming New Welsh Review, talking about his inspiration for The Water Table.

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

Heatwave but no haitus

You may be forgiven for thinking I've gone on holiday. Not a bit of it. I've been hard at work in the heat, shaping up Issue 89. And what a good issue it looks. Published in August, 89 features new writing from Niall Griffiths, Robert Lewis, Philip Gross, Francesca Rhydderch, Sheenagh Pugh, Tim Liardet, Paul Henry, Lorraine Mariner, Tiffany Atkinson and more. Plus stunning photography from Rhodri Jones, and our rigorous review pages.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Hay Round Two – Trezza Azzopardi and Jon McGregor

Last day at Hay, and the festival confounded the weather forecasters. Hot and humid. First stop was the Culture Cymru tent to discover which six writers had made their way onto the Wales Book of the Year English and Welsh language lists. On the English side, the longlist had been something of a surprise to me, although I had been really delighted to see some unusual suspects on the list this year, including soon-to-be editor of Planet, Jasmine Donahaye. So I was intrigued to see which three titles would triumph in the shortlisting. Poetry made the final cut this year by way of Philip Gross for his ekphrastic collaboration with photographer Simon Denison from Cinnamon Press, I Spy Pinhole Eye. 2010 is shaping up to be quite the year for him, with a T. S. Eliot win and much deserved attention for a wonderful full collection from Bloodaxe, The Water Table. Fiction was represented by Terri Wiltshire for Carry Me Home and Nikolai Tolstoy earned his place for The Compilation of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. The most unexpected shortlist in many years. The three will now battle it out for the £10,000 prize, announced on 30 June. An enjoyable mingle afterwards, hoping that the ever lovely Luned Aaron wouldn’t catch an embarrassing candid shot – she was prepping up to pap the celebrated writer, comedian, thinker and raconteur Stephen Fry for Barn magazine.

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.

Wales Book of the Year Shortlist - 2010

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

Dirty Protest: on the hunt for new plays...

Having trouble getting your play read? Not famous enough for the big guns? A bit too edgy for the rest? Or just never sent that big idea to anyone? Then fear not. Dirty Protest is here.

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] by 20 June.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Hay Round One - Dmitry Bykov and Rachel Trezise

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

New Welsh Review at Hay - free tickets

We've two tickets to give away for New Welsh Review's event at Hay this Saturday 29th May at 1pm, when editor Kathryn Gray will be in conversation with authors Rachel Trezise and Dmitry Bykov. The first two blog readers to email their name and postal address to admin [at] before tomorrow, Wednesday 26th May (midday) will each get a ticket. Good luck!

Monday, 17 May 2010

Hay Poetry Jamboree 2010

This year's Hay Poetry Jamboree will take place from June 3rd to June 5th at the Oriel Gallery of Contemporary Art. This year's eclectic programme runs as follows:

June 3rd

6.30 - 7.30 Festival Launch and Reception

7.30 - 9.15 Robert Minhinnick, Childe Roland (aka Peter Meilleur)

June 4th

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

June 5th

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]
Susie Wild on susiewild [at]
John Goodby on: goby-goodby [at]

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

New Welsh Review at Hay 2010

New Welsh Review will have a strong presence at Hay this year.

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

New Welsh Review 88

New Welsh Review 88 will be published in a few weeks. Featuring truly fantastic writing from Ruth Padel, Damian Walford Davies, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch, Pascale Petit, Richard Collins, Mary-Ann Constantine, Siân Melangell Dafydd, Sarah Broughton, Ben Wilkinson, Russell Celyn Jones – and more. Plus, rigorous reviews of the very best new books.

If you're not yet a subscriber, visit our subscriptions page to enjoy a year of fantastic original critical and creative writing for just £19.


To New Welsh Review board member Tiffany Murray, who wins a place on the shortlist of the 2010 Wodehouse Prize, alongside Ian McEwan. The winner will be announced at the Guardian Hay Festival.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Wales Book of the Year 2010 Longlist announced

The longlist for the English language Welsh Book of the Year has been announced. The titles in contention for the £10,000 prize are as follows: Carry Me Home by Terri Wiltshire, Pocket Notebook by Mike Thomas, Self-Portrait as Ruth by Jasmine Donahaye, The Meaning of Pictures by Peter Lord, The Woman at the Window by Emyr Humphreys, I Spy Pinhole Eye by Philip Gross, The Songbird is Singing bu Alun Trevor, A Single Swallow by Horatio Clare, Wan Hu's Flying Chair by Richard Marggraf Turley, Nikolai Tolstoy, The Oldest British Prose Literature: The Compilation of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi by Nikolai Tolstoy.

The ten titles will become three when the shortlist is announced at the Hay Festival on 6 June.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Planet Magazine - Editor vacancy

Planet is calling for applications for the post of Editor of Planet. An exciting opportunity. Details, including job description and how to apply can be found by visiting the Planet website.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Close of Play

A quick reminder that if you renew your subscription before the end of March, we'll send you a £5 book voucher as a small thank you. It's easy to renew on line, do so before midnight tonight and you'll receive £5 towards your next book, enjoy delivery to your door and support us. Happy reading!

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 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

Hay Poetry Jamboree Fundraiser

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: 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

My aim is true

I was speaking with some new creative writers the other day, focusing on how to get published, maximizing success. It’s always great conducting seminars such as these. Being peppered with tricky questions. How do I make it? What are the chances? Why don’t you publish this and publish that instead?

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


We hope all our readers are enjoying the current issue of New Welsh Review. Renew you subscription before the end of March and we'll send you a £5 book token: you help us by a speedy renewal (let's face it, it saves on admin!) and we give you a little something back to say thank you.

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, 23 February 2010

New Welsh Review 87

New Welsh Review 87 will be out very soon, with some great writing from, among others, Tishani Doshi, Lloyd Jones, Menna Elfyn, Dai Vaughan, Sarah Corbett, Andrew McNeillie, Deborah Kay Davies and Tom Bullough.

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

Simon Harris on The Art of Finishing

It’s something of an embarrassing admission, but I can’t remember the last time I actually finished reading a book.

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.

Sleep Furiously wins Guardian's Best First Film Award

Read the story here. Read Peter Bradshaw's review here.


For those who've yet to discover the pleasures of Canongate's ambitious, fun and eclectic cultural hub, Meet at the Gate, here's a belated link. A truly wonderful thing to behold, with independent comment on literature, film and music. The site features Welsh authors on Welsh authors and looks at some of the most exciting work out there. Hot and very now. Enjoy.

Jordison on The Old Devils

Nice piece by Sam Jordison in today's Guardian on Amis's 1986 Booker winner The Old Devils.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Absolute Beginners

Recently, I was commissioned by Academi to write an online guide about how to become a writer, what the literary landscape looks like today in Wales, and what opportunities were on offer. The online guide – book-length – is now available. I hope it will prove useful whether you're just starting out as a new writer or are a more established writer who's new to Wales and wants to find out how things work. Although the guide is designed with the writer in Wales in mind, a lot of advice will hopefully prove both practical and, crucially, supportive wherever you are based in the world.

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


Over at Wales Home, Patrick McGuinness has an article rightly bemoaning the lack of mainstream arts coverage in Wales. It's an interesting piece and raises important – and familiar – points regarding the lack of mainstream arts coverage in broadcast and, of course, the lack of a daily broadsheet in Wales. Years ago, I heard rumours that there was a plot afoot to set up an exciting broadsheet in Wales. It never did happen. With the current climate, it's unlikely to in the foreseeable future.

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.

Still Rock 'n' Roll to me

Author of Diamond Star Halo and New Welsh Review board member Tiffany Murray on her pick of the rocks.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Education, Education, Education

Sarah Waters and others on the teachers who inspired them in today's Guardian.

T. S. Eliot Prize goes to Philip Gross

The 2009 T. S. Eliot Prize has been won by Philip Gross. The prize is the most prestigious in British Poetry. Philip's winning book, The Water Table, was selected from a shortlist which included many accomplished poets, including Alice Oswald, Christopher Reid and Hugo Williams. As well as being a great poet, Philip is also a novelist, playwright, Professor in Creative Writing and a member of the New Welsh Review board. Congratulations to him.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Synecdoche, Adamsdown

As everyone with a good dictionary knows, a ‘synecdoche’ is a literary term where the part stands for the whole and vice versa. It is also a play on words for Schenectady in a film by Charlie Kaufman.

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.

Guest blogger – Simon Harris

Over the next few months, Simon Harris will be dropping in to blog for us. Simon is a Cardiff-based director and dramatist. He was Artistic Director of Sgript Cymru, the first Wales Fellow on The Clore Leadership Programme and a Creative Wales Award winner in 2009.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all our readers. We'll be back and in the swing of things soon enough, with some contributions from a new guest blogger, as well as news and views.

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.