Glyn Mathias – Raising an Echo

Book Review : Glyn Mathias Autobiography

There are two things about this book that make it such a worthwhile read, one is the writing, so seductive that one can barely tear oneself from the page, and second, the story itself, full of fascinating detail and a choice of content that keeps the reader going on the basis of  ‘want to know’ . During the early part of the book the reader is taken through a brief history of the Mathias family, going back to the first world war, demonstrating the many shades of belief and political leaning within the family, which it serves to do so well. It also gives the reader an awareness of how a child born into the middle of this family would receive a high moral ethic to live up to. Glyn’s father, Roland Mathias was a well-known poet, whose reputation stands to this day and also a teacher and headmaster of more than one school in Wales. It was thought that Glyn would do better in a school where his father was not teaching and he was sent as a boarder to Llandovery College where he did well enough to get into Oxford, with a stint at Butlins along the way, not as a red-coat, but working in the accounts office. His career in journalism began as a cub reporter at the Merthyr office of the South Wales Echo, and it was from there that his life in the arena of media politics took off.  He worked for both ITN and the BBC in Cardiff, (so delighted to be back in Wales) and became Political Editor for both, and in the line of duty he met just about everyone there was to meet in the world of politics. Those encounters are written about here with the skill of an experienced journalist. He does on the page exactly what he did in the days when he was on the television; he extends the circle, including the audience seemingly without strain or difficulty in the conversation. There is a fine talent at work in this book, and it makes for gripping reading. Here was a man who was there at the cutting edge of politics in Britain through it all in 70s and 80s;  the Falklands, Cecil Parkinson’s fall from grace, Thatcher and the poll tax, the growth of Welsh politics, establishing the Assembly, televising the House of Commons, and bringing the information about all of these things into the homes of the nation. It is apparent here and there in the story that the pressure involved in carrying out such a task and doing it well made for some moments of severe stress. His escape from letting this get to him was always his family and still is, as he enjoys his retirement in Wales today.

Glyn Mathias ‘Raising an Echo’ an Autobiography is published by Y Lolfa

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Haven from Hitler

Book : Haven from Hitler

There has rarely been more material about both the first and second world wars, entering the media, than at the present time due to the anniversaries of both. The most affecting of all the books and films that are being released are those where the story is told by someone who brings it home to a personal connection. This is very much the case in Haven from Hitler, last year’s winner in the Welsh language Welsh Book of the Year, and now published by Y Lolfa in English. It is a beautifully written but harrowing and  deeply disturbing read which tells of the family of Kate Bosse-Griffiths, a woman of German-Jewish descent, who fled the brutal regime of the Nazis to eventually become a leading academic figure in Wales, learning and writing in the Welsh language. She was Keeper of Archaeology at Swansea Museum and specialised in Egyptian studies marrying J Gwyn Griffiths whose name will be familiar to some as a famous academic and Egyptologist. He was also a Welsh Nationalist, and a well-known figure at Swansea University and their son was Robat Gruffudd, the founder of Y Lolfa, whilst their daughter is Heini Gruffudd, the author of this book. Hence the personal connection in the book is strong and somehow lends a quality and depth to  this story of how the family attempted to get out of Germany at a time when one Non-Aryan person in a family would bring the regime down on to all of them. The family’s escape and ultimate survival is a profoundly moving story and following the publication of the Welsh version of the book, new material came to light which has now been included in this, the English version. This material centres on the tragedy of a family suicide, committed to allow the remainder of the family to escape, and other material which adds to the feeling of chaos and terror that reigned at the time for those caught up in the holocaust. The Welsh version Yr Erlid was reviewed in Planet magazine by Simon Brooks, whose words capture how for this family the horrific events of the second world war still resonate to this day ‘For Kate’s descendants in Wales the Holocaust is not a terrible event visited on others, but a catastrophe to which the Welsh language community is also witness.’ Sad and brave and somehow terrifyingly close to home, Haven from Hitler is published by Y Lolfa and was launched by Heini Gruffudd in April at the Egypt Centre, Swansea University

Bards, Saints and friendly people.

Bards and Saints and Friendly People

Last evening I went to Hanes Aberporth, (Aberporth History Society) at their invitation to talk to them about Bards and Saints. These two topics, both of which hold a genuine fascination for me, are connected and interwoven throughout both of my historical novels. The first of these, novels, A Court in Splendour, which I wrote in 2009 for the 900th anniversary of Cardigan town in 2010 is about the First Eisteddfod and the bards in it are shown, on the whole to be poets of the minstrel or tenant variety. These were the men sometimes musicians themselves, or even accompanied by a musician who could be female; who either travelled with their poems from manor to manor, or became cheerfully ensconced in a big house with a uniform and a regular pay, treated somewhere between staff and family.  There were others too in those days, the Pencerdded, who was the chief bard, the one who taught in the bardic colleges and, even after these closed, continued to lead gatherings and hold positions of authority. The most important of all however, was the Awenyddion – central to The Bardic Monk, my second historical novel.

This role equated to the ovates of Rome, who were known to speak in a trance-like state where they would foretell the future or relate historical matters from ancient times. Plato talked about Atlantis though he had not been there, so if ever there was a historic figure who fitted the role of Awenyddion, Plato qualifies. Undoubtedly special people, they might simultaneously carry up to 350 poems in their heads along with a multitude of stories and songs and knew everything there was to know about the state of the current royal household, the religious leaders, the high families and the outcome of the intrigues which raged between tribes. It was the Awenyddion who might also take on the role of a monk, or a priest, as the capacity to enter the world of spirit through visions and trance, meant that the protection of a religious role was extremely valuable, if not essential.

Though Saint Caradog is represented in The Bardic Monk my knowledge of saints generally is that they are canonised for a wide variety of reasons, and some of them are not canonised at all! Two new ones during the past month have illustrated the fact that no-one has a perfectly clear picture as to what the qualification is exactly.

These were the matters I talked on last night, and I must say that the gathering of extremely friendly people who welcomed me and asked intelligent questions at the end of the evening, gave me a really enjoyable experience and I trust they too enjoyed it. Researching and writing are both solitary occupations, and though I do not consider myself a ‘historian’ I am a lover of history, as the riches of the past are such fertile ground for fiction. There is a great pleasure to be had from sharing such a love of the past and its stories with others who show genuine interest and appear to enjoy it as much as oneself. So thank you to Hanes Aberporth, perhaps when my lastest book appears on the shelves I will go and talk to them again, next time about the role of the bards in the sixth century, seen from the Romans’ point of view.