The Poet and the Private Eye

A Novel Dylan Thomas Perspective.

In this anniversary year of celebrations for the life of Dylan Thomas, one of the most interesting books to appear featuring a famed poet, has to be The Poet and The Private Eye a novel from writer, Rob Gittins, better known for his work on television and radio. From Eastenders to Tracy Beaker and much, much more, Gittins is a writer who not only writes dialogue which rings true to character, he writes brilliant characters who ring true to us all. The main characters here are the private investigator, whose name is Jimmy, and the ‘mark’ known at all times as Subject Thomas, who never gets a first name throughout the book but we the readers are not in any doubt to whom he refers. Running alongside the cat and mouse plot as the private eye chases the poet around and through the bars and theatres of New York, Subject Thomas’s own wife also enters into the story when Jimmy leaves the US to visit Wales on a mission to gather ‘background’ on the poet. In Laugharne to his surprise, the famous poet’s wife is not sitting at home knitting, but is out and about, behaving every bit as riotously as her husband appears to be doing in the States.

This is an excellent read with all the excitement and page-turning enjoyment of a good story and the additional buzz of seeing stories of Subject Thomas which have not perhaps been seen before. The quality of the writing is high, the research immaculate. It has thrills, shocks, humour and perhaps even a subtext of devotion. It is only now and again when faced with a genuinely bizarre situation, that we are jolted back into recognising that the person being written about here wrote some of the most astonishing and beautiful poetry ever, and that he was a man respected throughout the world for his gift. Despite the fact that Jimmy does not initially understand the poetry, what he does see and appreciate is the effect the poetry has upon others wherever his mark goes. Especially if he performs.  Gittin’s introductory statement at the opening of the book claims that the events recorded are a true record, though not necessarily chronologically captured, of the situations that occurred during the lifetime of Wales’s most famous and highly regarded poet. Jimmy’s reflections on the poetry itself, and on Under Milk Wood, the ‘Play for Voices’ are amusing and reflect an almost universal response to poetry when understanding does not instantly occur. Interestingly there are lines which crop up in the story, to light the way for the uninitiated, ‘as I was young and easy under the apple bough’, ‘rage against the dying of the light’ and ‘death shall have no dominion’ as though the writer is urging the reader to look for it for themselves. It is a morality tale and one which sits well with the other works which have been produced in memory of Dylan Thomas, an extraordinary man whose words stirred the hearts and minds of so many.

The Poet and the Private Eye by Rob Gittins is published by Y Lolfa and is available in all bookshops or online at ylolfa.com

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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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