‘Those shoes will send you straight to hell!’ Gee told me on Charlotte Square, Edinburgh. Four-inch heels and straps coiling up the leg like a pair of pervy pythons. The kind men love and women can walk in only as far as their love of male attention holds out. Mine were in my handbag.
It was the 2008 Edinburgh International Bookfair and we were celebrating Gee Williams’ nomination to the UK’s oldest literary prize, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction, for Salvage.
Salvage’s subject – what would you risk to keep a piece of priceless beached contraband – is exactly that of Cynan Jones’ Everything I Found on the Beach, I realized, as the books bobbed into Aberaeron quay at their recent launch within a launch. It goes to show that whatever disunites the writers of Wales - identity politics, language, chips on shoulders – the landscape, and inevitably our coastline, will winkle its way into their work.
Jones’ novel, bookended by two dead bodies saddled with cocaine, is, like Salvage, a literary crime thriller. But Everything I Found… could only have been written by a man. Its two main characters (the drug-dealer doesn’t figure much), Hold and Grzegorz, are men with young families of a sort, who cannot think beyond providing and deciding on their behalf. Their failure to communicate any of these admirable feelings leads to tragic self-sacrifice. Whether skinning a rabbit, gutting fish, queuing to pee at the Polish hostel, or communing with a knife in the shed of a dead best friend, Jones’ writing takes you there. His emotional perception has all the more impact for its base within a philosophy of maleness akin to Hemingway’s in The Old Man and the Sea.
On 19 August, Charlotte Square will again play host to a Welsh writer, when Michael Nath, who grew up in Swansea and Pembrokeshire, hears whether his James Tait Black shortlisted novel La Rochelle won the big prize. This is an author keen to brew up Nietzsche, neurology, war films and quotes from Goethe on Napoleon. Riskily, his protagonist, Dr Mark Chopra, is a misogynous pain. Older than his years and erudite to the point of constipation, he has an opinion on everything and a blind spot on his own dysfunctional love triangle with his best (only) friend’s wife. Nath’s writing is eccentric and very witty: akin to that of Lloyd Jones in Mr Cassini. Just go with the flow of La Rochelle, a place where McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers meets Jules et Jim in the dog-days of Diana’s death. But if you happen on Edinburgh that night and are une femme d’un certain age: forget the heels. Dr Chopra wouldn’t give you a second look.
This was first published in The Western Mail, Saturday Insider column, 2 July 2011