London and Sean’s Lament

I love to hear of a local artist taking their work to a wider world so I was genuinely pleased to hear that Sean Vicary’s short film ‘Lament’, is now showing in London at the Standpoint Gallery with several others in  (Un)Natural Narratives. Lament, was originally shown in Cardigan, at the Small World Theatre, and I wrote about it at the time for the Tivyside. Even now two years later I have a clear memory of moments within the film which made me catch my breath, or provoked a yearning for something, perhaps a lost landscape or perhaps simply a vanished youth, a lost part of the self.

The film was made as a collaborative piece with musician Ceri Rhys Matthews, and is an evocative and beautifully crafted animation, lifted to an even more affecting experience by the haunting musical element.  Sean Vicary explains that he was inspired to make it in part to capture how deeply his early years of living on the borders of England and Wales in Shropshire had affected him. His awareness of a far away land beyond the hills clearly coloured his childhood dreams, and though it was later in life that he moved to Wales, his awareness of its proximity and its call had been with him throughout his growing years. An early Welsh poem Canu Heledd, offered him a profound insight into the land where he was brought up.  The poem tells the story of the defeat in the 7th century of the Welsh king Cynddylan, and the fall of Powys. It describes a ruined land, a slaughtered royal house and the rich Powys lowlands lost forever to Wales, and thereafter recognised as a part of Shropshire The film itself has a poetic structure, with a rhythmic thread and repetitive symbolic visual language. Its theme could be likened to Dylan Thomas’s Fern Hill, where the adult poet looks back and both celebrates and grieves his lost youth. The visual impact of Lament lies in its combination of  images of the natural environment, with the use of animation to depict the fragility of life, and the gradual decay that occurs inexorably around us. The lament, is the wail that comes across time from the ancient poet, and equally from the bereaved in any age. The whirling trees, the uplifted totems, the dancing skeleton and the throbbing core, or heart,  all speak of the ‘unbearable lightness of being’ and the inevitable aptness of  the aphorism ‘in the midst of life we are in death’.

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Dylan Thomas and The Pubs

The following review is written for publication in the Tivyside newspaper which serves the area around Cardigan in West Wales. The paper has a long reputation of always allowing a space for book reviews. Tradition says that many of the Tivyside’s readers are the kind of people who enjoy a good book, and especially one which talks of their land, their sport or their history. Even better if it written by someone they know or have encountered locally.  This is why when book reviews became relatively rare in  weekly papers, The Tivyside  continued to offer space for local writers and publishers to tell the public about their material. But systems change, and there is now a prospect that the full review cannot always be fitted in to the available space in the Tivyside. By placing it here, I hope that many people who would normally look for a review in the Tivyside, will take the time to come and read it here

Dylan Thomas – The Pubs by Jeff Towns, ( chairman of the Dylan Thomas Society).

Making a gentle assault on the long-time assumptions surrounding one of the most celebrated of poets from Wales and his relationship with pubs, is at the core of the latest book from Y Lolfa by Jeff Towns, the long acknowledged leading authority on Dylan Thomas. Towns has studied all aspects of the poet’s life and in The Pubs, he reviews the places where DT spent his days, and no doubt sometimes, his nights and what their attraction was; what drew him to them, beyond the obvious, the booze.

This is a beautiful book, to handle as well as to read;  a neat, hard-back with an attractive dust jacket. It feels more generous and yet less intimidating than a full-scale biography, bursting with the kind of slip-stream detail, that is eclectic, touching, funny and surprising by turns, so that one feels that one can actually imagine being in the pubs with the great man himself.

These pubs, in Swansea and Gower, Laugharne and London,  New Quay and New York, are each like a small country in themselves. They are distinctly individual, and each brings with it its own cast of characters, with whom Dylan Thomas delighted in friendship. The impression when following him from somewhere like the Fitzroy Tavern in London, to the Black Lion in New Quay, and back  is that he created for himself a larger, more extensive world in which to share exchanges, and in which to enjoy and relish those he might meet. He simply loved language, and was a storyteller because he was a good listener. Towns says ‘It was in these very pubs that Dylan would meet the people who would inspire so much of his work.’

There are plentiful small anecdotes, which are a joy and tales that one may have heard before, but never like this, in context. Conversation thrived in the pubs during the first half of the 20th century, moments of family history, insane barflies, queens of the sofas, and all surrounded by poets, musicians and artists. Something about that, about hearing the story in connection with where it occurred is what makes this new. Towns’ idea in short is to make us look anew at what the attractions of the pub really were to Dylan Thomas, and to measure his need for social company, an inbuilt audience, and the warmth of food and drink, against the image of him falling over  permanently drunk, a womanising, bohemian pained-poet stereotype.

Illustrated throughout by Wyn Thomas whose tantalising water-colours, capture the many pubs through which Dylan travelled adds an enormous quality to the book. They bring each building in its setting to life and in shades which surprise and add character.

The book is a special limited edition of 500 signed copies. It cries out to be enjoyed by anyone and everyone, not only by those  with a steadfast and uncompromising love of Dylan Thomas and his work.

 The Pubs, is possibly one of the most interesting, and certainly one of the most informative, of the books ever written about the locations of the social life of Wales’s most celebrated poet, Dylan Thomas, accompanying him and his friends as it does, through the many pubs with which he had made a personal connection, at some point during his lifetime.

The Pubs published by Y Lolfa is on sale price £19.99 (signed limited editions only)

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The Lucknow Ransom

You may think you have seen a review of this book in the Tivyside, written by myself. You may have done, but if you read this one you will see the extent to which ‘editing’ goes on in the areas of arts reviews of any kind. Not just the Tivyside does this, but all newspapers, so some of the best bits of writing, the nicest compliments etc never see the light of day. So here is the full review as written by me, before the subs got their hands on it..ha ha.

Lucknow Ransom, the new book by Glen Peters is the second outing for the charming heroine Mrs Joan D’Silva, and unlike the first book in which it is Mrs D’Silva’s detective instincts which lead us through the story, this one is less a single detective’s whodunnit, more a crime mystery which is ultimately solved by  an ensemble of characters. As the story runs, each one of them adds a distinct, vibrant thread  to a multi-coloured tapestry portraying India during the 1960’s.

This is a novel with the recognisable flavour and visual sense of  a Bollywood Movie; full of passions, pleasures, dastardly deeds, wicked anti-heroes and of course,  a final romantic rescue for the heroine. The most exhilarating aspect of a really excellent Bollywood  Movie is of course the fact that however serious the plot, or however many wicked deeds are planned and executed, it can all be set aside for at least a short while, in order to allow for some fun, some loving  and some music and dancing. This is accurately depicted here, in a tale of ransoms, murder and poisoning, where every so often there are moments of relief from the dark side of life, with generous descriptions of delicious food, romantic flirtations and gorgeous attire. And all of the detail at every point in the story reassures the reader that the author knows well the place and the mores of those who live there.

The filmic quality of the book continues as the story of the ransom at Lucknow, where Ms D’Silva finds herself with her small son Errol seeking refuge and a new life, is written from a multi-viewpoint perspective. This takes the reader from  experiencing scenes as viewed merely through the eyes of the main character, and adds an immediacy to the whole thing , just as in a movie, we look through the eyes of each of the characters on to the happenings, and see them differently. The single viewpoint, which is often used in detective novels would not necessarily offer this lively, exploratory format, and though at moments the wonderful cavalcade of characters involved in the finding of the guilty party can be confusing, the life and colour in the writing keep one gripped, and the bonus is that we are taking a journey to a time and place unknown to most of us, that of post-colonial India in the 1960’s and the lives of the Anglo-Indian community.

The insights into the position of this shrinking group, the ‘A1’ members of a society, as they see themselves, in times of unsettling political and social changes are fascinating. The language, is wonderful, redolent of England in the fifties and sixties but with its own idiosyncratic usage,  and in the midst of upheaval somehow these strong characters manage to hold on for a while to a way of life which they have enjoyed during their lifetimes. This elite circle has its own rules, and a formality in its image, that brings for  them the valued respect and even admiration, of others.

Keeping up that front of respectability is hard for Mrs D’Silva, who is a thoroughly modern heroine, forward-thinking, independent and despite a lack of money with a desire to achieve things for her son. She moves with beauty and good humour through almost everything, wisely listens to her own dreams, has a care for the underdog,  is a good loving mother, and does not stand for bullying or dishonesty in others.  The reader is moved to like her spontaneously because she acts from her own beliefs, so when she suspects things are going wrong they usually are doing so and, when she falls in love with a man who is not what he seems, just like in Bollywood, there is plenty of song and dance before the final twist in the tale.

The Rhod Annual at Melin Glonc

Small World and the Rhod Show

A talk at the Small World Theatre last Friday evening created a brilliant introduction to  this year’s week long celebration of art by the Rhod Collective at Melin Glonc,  Drefelin, Drefach Felindre.

Speaking at Small World were Sara Rees, curator of this year’s show, and also Maria Rebecca Ballestra the Artist in Residence for the duration of the show, who talked about the work she has been bringing together from around the globe with an ecological significance. All of it having influenced her planned contribution to this year’s Rhod.

The speakers introduced the theme for the show; Future NatureCulture which is the  title and the subject matter of the work being assembled by a number of international and local artists. By Sunday, when the event opened there was an enthusiastic crowd gathered at the site of the show, many having been drawn to the event by the talk at Small World.

Within the grounds of the mill were some wonderfully imaginative installations and sculptural pieces, Johana Hartwig’s Catapult Tree, with its colourful and eye-catching reach, brought a small round of applause from several people seen admiring it; Pascal-Michel Dubois’ Nowhere to Hide your Horsepower’ where the interior of the car with its  black and white freesian style seats sat beside the river, was both witty and interesting and Stefhan Caddick’s Mothmusic which lit up with noises at night, was quite beautiful. The installation by Rebecca Ballestra, the artist in residence, was an important addition to the international work she has been constructing and compiling during her travels round the world and her Gold Bullion and Art Sowing were thought-provoking and imaginative.  In an exciting departure from the material world into the virtual one, local film and animation artists Sean Vicary and Steve Knight created a virtual sculpture which for the exhibition was embedded in the landscape, visible only via the app on screen, and a fabulous surprise to see such a futuristic piece of work in place. There was more, much more, artists like Jo Lathwood, Rawley Clay, Helen Clifford, Fern Thomas and Matthew Smith, all contributed so much to what was a remarkable array of excellent work, and in spite of the weather promising less than fair, spirits were high, and the general atmosphere was one of appreciation that such a strong showing of artists from both Urban and Rural environments should once again feel drawn to display their work at Rhod this year.

Reviewing Roadrage

I must say that I do not often read a thriller – and I had no idea whether I would enjoy this one when my editor passed the info about it to me. When the book arrived and I began to read it was a surprise to find myself immersed in it very quickly. This is the review I wrote for the Tivyside – it’s a great read for a lazy week-end, one of those where you want to do nothing else, but sit around reading. Maybe it’s only me that does that….is it? Can’t be surely.

Book Review

A Gripping Tale

Anyone who reads ‘Roadrage’ the thrilling first novel by M J Johnson, will never see the cosy rurality of a  holiday cottage in Llangranog, in quite the same light again. Just released from Odd Dog Press, this is a truly gripping tale which, even from the earliest pages creates a shiver of fear, so strange and unsettling are the opening shots with their promise of the incomprehensible terrors to come.

The first stirrings of  what lies ahead occur in a late night journey on the motorway, when everyman Gil Harper, is driving home from spending Christmas with the family of his dead wife.  It’s a dark night with driving rain, he is dwelling on his solitary state and memories of his lost love, and becomes aware that his is the only car on the road. His feelings of loneliness are exaggerated by this, and it is almost a relief to see another pair of headlights coming up behind him. The fact that his dog Spike suddenly offers a growling warning of something unpleasant  to come is initially ignored by Gil. But then things start to happen which are very far from normal or comfortable. The behaviour of the second car as it tries a number of tactics which threaten to drive him off the road, or give him heart failure,  at first induces panic, the thought of a drunk out of hand, but soon escalates to something infinitely more threatening and ultimately terrifying.

Though Gil somehow manages to get away, believing he has escaped the threat, it is actually far from over as the reader recognises when offered an insight into the mind of the perpetrator. The interesting combination of observing the thoughts of both tormentor and tormented is a clever device and continues throughout the story as things get worse and worse.

Though the reader is privy to the voice of the criminal mind, they cannot identify him any more than Gil himself can. Despite that they are taken into the planning of the mysterious and unpleasant happenings, and even murder,  the motivation which drives it all remains in deep shadow, and this is the most terrifying aspect of the story. Who is he and why is he doing these things? While Gil struggles to explain what is happening to the police, things simply deteriorate around him with no clue as to what he has done to be targeted with such venom. In his private life he is making efforts to begin a new life, with a new relationship, but consistent terrifying attacks on those closest to him, and on his property continue, as does his bewilderment about why.

This is a really well-written thriller, with a tight scary plot, that carries some genuinely original ideas, and cleverly builds terror and tension, finally bringing a real ‘edge of the seat’ denouement and dramatic conclusion on the cliff top at Llangranog.

Roadrage by MJ Johnson is due out on 3 June, and is available from good bookshops; on Amazon as hardback or ebook, and is available online from www.odddogpress.com price £12.99

Paul Steffan Jones Reviewed

Poetry Triggering Happiness

The new collection of poems by Paul Steffan Jones, touches on familiar themes that readers would have discovered in his first collection, Lull of the Bull. His clear poetic eye is trained on similar subjects, with a note of humour which appears here and there, as he introduces fresh ideas and treats the reader to some genuinely interesting variation of tone and use of language. At the recent launch in Cardigan Library those attending were treated to Paul reading from his new collection, once more published by Starborn Books and called The Trigger Happiness.  The event attracted a pleasing number of people, actually requiring extra seating, the evidence if needed of the popularity of the local poet and his work. How a man is seen in his own community is one of the curious aspects of being a poet, since poetry lays bare the man within for all to see, one reason many poets shrink from  performance. Paul has none of that trepidation, and stands fearlessly before the crowded room to read the words he has written, about love, about nationhood, about lives in turmoil or desperation, and enjoyed and admired by those who listen.

His manner is still self-deprecating, but more confident than his last appearance in the Spring of 2010. He reads well and is an impressive figure and  he has had sufficient accolades, and an award from the West Coast Eisteddfod in Oregon U.S., to be assured that his work is of a high quality and widely admired.

His popularity does not mean that his poetry is simple. It takes thought to appreciate it fully, and has depth; an eye for the universal in the personal. Take ‘Forty Four’ with its searing phrases dedicated to the everyman of middle years who hears the  ‘callous patois of mandarins’ and whose changing shape demands to be ‘lashed to the skeleton by belts’. Dead Foxes singes the page with its extraordinary combination of hot anger and cold logic, Christmas Lights is made for fun, but is also simultaneously ironic and celebratory. A part of his gift is in this cleverly combining two opposing views, weaving them together into something which makes the reader think, and even reconsider their own opinions with a fresh interest. For many who have read and enjoyed Lull of the Bull, there is already an awareness of Paul’s gift for original thinking, demonstrated in his poems. This one demands more, and gives more to the reader.

The Trigger Happiness by Paul Steffan Jones is £8.00 from all good bookshops.

Local Author’s Charming Read

Book Review

I’m putting this review in because I know that sometimes a local author gets overlooked because they are not writing for the mass market. Peter George’s Mr Tim is a lovely book with a real heart to it, and leaves the reader with a feel-good aftertaste which is good for us surely.

Charming and Easy Read

Mr Tim, the new novel by local author and poet Peter George, is a period piece, re-creating the 1950s with a deft hand for detail.Because of the kindly eye with which the author captures the period this book will be enjoyable to older readers as a way of re-capturing their early years. Equally the quaintness of its attitudes and manners may well appeal to young people with an interest in what their elders got up to in those days!

It is a story of a trainee land agent, whose job takes him to live and work in rural Wales, right in the heart of a local community unused to incomers. It carries echoes of other ‘rites of passage’ novels, bringing to mind James Herriot’s veterinary stories, and Thomas Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree. Each one of them follows an outsider’s journey into a close-knit, traditionally-minded community. But Mr Tim’s special quality for readers in Wales is in the details with which he describes the environment. The culture, the people, and the landscape of Wales are captured skilfully by one who has lived amongst them. The scenes described blend together to produce some very amusing action, and characters, like ‘Gramps’, the old man who is full of advice and wisdom but not beyond displaying a sly humour. In describing the typical adventures of the inexperienced young Tim, we watch him grow as he attempts to fit in and to become the more mature, Mr Tim, accepted by the locals. Being away from home, and without parental guidance, he stumbles through the challenges of his working life, and through the more intimate adventures which come his way, without suffering any real harm. His mistakes, of course, are seen to help him to gain confidence, and ultimately to enable him to act on the first stirrings of  love in his life. Though it is written with real humour and some very funny moments, Mr Tim’s story also carries a genuine sense of the uncertainties through which ordinary people travelled in the years following the second world war. Having experienced those difficult times together, community life was strong in a way long gone, when people knew and trusted their neighbours and were willing to help and support those who fell or could not do for themselves. That said, this is not a serious book and its light-hearted charm genuinely leaves the reader with a smile.

Mr Tim by Peter George is published by Cam Ffoi and can be ordered from bookshops and purchased online from Amazon where it is also available as an ebook.