Following his recent Daily Mail piece slamming Bred of Heaven, reviewer Roger Lewis is a dead cert for the Tacsi gong, a Kingsley Amis-sponsored prize for Welsh baiter of the year, previously held by AA Gill. He’s also in the running for the special Kapoor category for self-loathing (presented by Goodness Gracious Me’s Kulvinder Ghir). Raised in Bedwas, Lewis blames the country for a gamut of emotional dysfunctions including ‘hyper-restlessness [and] insane ambition’, even dipping his pen into blood with the racist term ‘appalling and moribund monkey language’.
I hesitate, therefore, to pat a shoulder already weighted with chips. And yet, apart from this slur and the ineradicable image Lewis creates of himself as a man en route to Outta Here trailing skid-marked personals across Cardiff’s departure lounge, his review is basically sound. As I discovered listening to Radio Four’s Book of the Week adaptation (8-12 August).
Independent publisher Profile deserves credit at least for securing this primetime media slot of Jasper Rees’ book, subtitled One Man’s Quest to Reclaim his Welsh Roots. But, give us a break, Radio Four! BBC radio executives continually pitch original writing (fiction and nonfiction) by authors who have a tad more than Rees’ Welsh grandfather to ground them here (and I’m not talking ethnicity or linguistics). Yet here is R4 giving voice to this superficial, stereotypical and outdated vision of Wales via Ben Miles’ mangled vowels (yes we have plenty, Roger)! It is packed (‘like Welshcakes with raisins’, Rees would gush) with ‘bustling’, bosomy mamgus, ‘regal’ swans, plates which ‘groan’ with food and a twee ‘Welsh kind of merriment.’ Annoyingly, Roger Lewis’ assessment that Rees is ‘an author in search of a gimmick’ is spot on.
BBC Wales’ executive producer for radio drama, Kate McAll, told me once that Welsh authors’ ‘bleak’ outlook was often the obstacle to their being adapted on the network as drama, short story readings or serials. But I would rather eat arsenic-laced bara brith than hear another word of Rees’ poorly written jolly to a spectacle of choirs, coracles, coalmines, mountains, rugby fields and (strangely, considering our nonconformist tradition) Caldey Island monks. And wash it down with the bitter Glengettie tea of Niall Griffiths, Caryl Lewis, Cynan Jones or Richard Collins’ fiction. However, we could use more homegrown creative nonfiction set in Wales (building on Seren’s excellent ‘Real’ series). Perhaps Rees’ travesty will inspire memoir writers such as Richard Gwyn and Griffiths, whose most recent works were mainly set respectively in Europe and Australia, to look closer to home for their material. Unlike Roger Lewis, most of us shrugged off the slate chips a few decades ago. We can turn our heads without obstruction. So let’s stop looking over our shoulders.A version of this was first published in the Western Mail, Gwen's Insider books column, on Saturday 20 August 2011
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