Friday Poem – ‘Roots’, Lynne Hjelmgaard

Our Friday Poem this week is ‘Roots’ by Lynne Hjelmgaard, from her collection A Boat Called Annalise.

A Boat Called Annalise Lynne Hjelmgaard‘A Boat Called Annalise is a triumphant collection of poetry, marking a new embarkation for Hjelmgaard as a poet. It’s a collection which can be read time and time again, and will especially be appreciated by readers looking for new beginnings, those experiencing life’s traumas and working through the healing process called grief.’ Wales Arts Review
Lynne Hjelmgaard’s most recent collection, A Boat Called Annalise vividly recalls a sailboat journey, as well as a journey through marriage, and ultimately grief. ‘Roots’ is one of the movingly elegiac poems in the final section, in which the poet reflects on mortality and happiness. Her work is full of sentiment without being sentimental.

 

Roots Friday Poem Lynne Hjelmgaard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Boat Called Annalise is available from the Seren website: £9.99

Enjoy 20% off every book you buy from us when you create a free Seren account.

 

 

Advertisements

An extract from A Simple Scale by David Llewellyn

David Llewellyn A Simple Scale Extract

In David Llewellyn’s compelling new novel, A Simple Scale, a single piece of music starts a story that takes us from Soviet Russia and McCarthyite Hollywood to post-9/11 New York, as the mystery of the lives of two gay composers is uncovered.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, a man arrives in New York to claim that the theme tune of a popular tv series, said to be written by composer Sol Conrad, in fact belongs his grandfather Sergey, an eminent Russian composer who was sent to the gulag by Stalin, and from whom Sol stole the score. Conrad’s young PA Natalie is determined to defend her elderly employer, but as she digs deeper she discovers worlds of which she barely knew – Russian labour camps, McCarthyism, repressive governments, and the plight of homosexuals in the USA and USSR during the twentieth century.
Rich in detail and atmosphere, David Llewellyn explores the points at which the personal and the political meet. Throughout, his depiction of ’30s Leningrad, ’50s California and post-9/11 New York is only too believable.

Our featured extract begins on page 24 of the novel. It opens onto a wintery scene, in what was then Leningrad…

 

Chapter 2:
LENINGRAD, FEBRUARY 1950

Another time, another place; the city grey, the snowflakes falling in the street like ashes. Beneath the station’s clock tower, two heavy doors swing open with a gasp, and Sergey Grekov steps out, his coat held around him and his gloveless hands clasped tightly in his armpits. Thirty-seven years old but prematurely grey and uncommonly thin, he looks at Leningrad as if it still might be a mirage.
From everything he has been told these last few years, he was anticipating ruins. Hollow buildings and charred timbers, streets strewn with rubble. Instead, he finds it repainted and rebuilt,and yet the place is different,as if everything has been moved around in his absence, as you might rearrange the furniture in an old room.
He’s unaccustomed to choice. When he comes to a junction, he can go in any direction; left, right, straight ahead. The space is almost limitless. No perimeter fence, no watchtowers, no guard dogs. Yet this isn’t complete freedom. His papers tell him where to go and when. The tenement, the factory. Disobey them, and there’s every chance they could send him
back.
The streets around the station are almost empty. The few people he passes look shabby, not how he remembers them. Moscow was always the peasant city, the place where people look as if they’ve just arrived from the country. Not Leningrad. Not Piter.
Moskovsky Prospect is busier, especially once he’s crossed the bridge. There, he moves through a shuffling black mass of other people, winter coats and hats dusted with snow. A xylophone-ribbed dog shivers and keeps pace with him along the gutter. Red and white trams whisper through the slush, passengers pressed against windows opaque with steam. The bell of a nearby clock strikes one.
The last time he saw this street it was through the windows of a police car, in the early hours of a Tuesday morning. It was August then, the air already humid, and stuffier still inside the car. He remembers an agent, a lad barely older than twenty, lighting his cigarette for him – his own hands were cuffed – and the way the car was filled almost immediately with smoke.
As a young man, Leningrad’s winters seemed so much colder than this – far too cold to consider walking very far – but the last leg of his journey was spent in a train compartment with ten others. They took it in turns to sit, but there was no room to lie down and sleep. Cold as it might be, it’s good to be out in the open. Besides, he has known far colder.
His papers tell him to report to the tenement building no earlier than 3pm and so, to pass the time, he finds a café where he orders coffee, black bread and a bowl of rassolnik.
The secret police and their informants were everywhere in the north; guards spying on prisoners and even prisoners spying on guards. No-one trusted anyone. But what about here, in this café? The skinny lad behind the counter, perhaps. The old woman eating some indeterminate grey mush out of a chipped bowl. The crooked figure hunched over a newspaper in the far corner.
The soup, when it arrives, is mostly barley and carrots, little in the way of meat. Sergey dips his bread into the soup. He hasn’t eaten in more than a day. The broth dances on his tongue. Its warmth spreads out, from his chest and through his limbs and into his fingers and toes. He closes his eyes, and when he opens them again he senses someone staring at him.The figure in the corner; the small man with stooped shoulders, his face drawn, pinched and beetle-browed. Though as threadbare and hungry-looking as everyone else in the city, this man could be secret service.
After studying him a moment longer, the stranger gets to his feet, tucks his newspaper into the inside of his overcoat, and crosses the café.
“Seryozha?” he says, his smile a gash of yellow teeth and greyish gums.“Sergey Andreievich?” Sergey nods slowly, waiting for the stranger’s smile to fade, and for him to say there’s been a mistake, that Sergey should never have been released, that his rehabilitation is incomplete and that he will be placed on the very first train back to Komi, by orders of the MGB.
“Do I know you?” he asks.
The stranger laughs. “Know me? Sergey! Of course you know me! It’s me! Vasily Nikolayevich. Sidorov! Vasya!”
Vasily Sidorov. A name he’s neither said nor spoken nor even thought about in years. When did they last see one another? Perhaps the night of the premiere, or in the days that followed. No, his memory of that time is too clouded to picture the exact scene. When he first laid eyes on him, however… this he remembers clearly.
A rehearsal room, backstage at the Kirov. Secretary Remizov taking Sergey on a tour of the theatre, introducing him as “our latest genius”. Echoing against a polished floor, the sound of a piano playing one of Chopin’s nocturnes. In the studio, holding the bar, a young man, eighteen or nineteen, with dark, lightly curled hair, performing a series of degage, and stopping only when he noticed the presence of a stranger.
Now, in the café, Sergey’s innards clench. He hardly recognises him.
Vasya?”
The man draws out the facing chair and sits.
I knew it was you!” he says. “I work nights at the children’s hospital, and every day I come here for lunch, which is really supper, I suppose. But every day I come here, and I know everyone who comes in, if not by name then by face. I see them every day. But you, as soon as you walked in, I thought, ‘Hold on, he’s new.’ And then I looked at you again, and I realised it was you.”
Yes,” says Sergey, smiling almost painfully. “It’s me.”
How long has it been? Ten years? Fifteen?”
Twelve.”
Twelve years. Well. Can you imagine? Twelve years. Incredible. I heard you were up in Archangel, writing music for a theatre company. That’s what everyone was saying. Is it true?”
Sergey shakes his head.
Oh,” says Vasily. “They must have got it wrong. But you’re here now.”
Sergey nods.
And it’s so good to see you! I hardly see anyone these days. We were, well, you know… One oughtn’t say such things in public, but people like us, the artists, we weren’t exactly front of the queue when the rations were being handed out. Were you here at all, during the blockade?”
Sergey shakes his head.
Of course not. Silly question. But you were lucky. Say, are you going to eat all of that bread?” “Yes.” “Only, if you weren’t, I have some wood in my flat that I could swap. It’s good, too. It’s not damp and it won’t burn too quickly, not like some of the cheap shit that’s going around.”
No, I’m quite hungry, so-”
Do you have a place to stay?” Sergey tells him that yes, he has a place to stay, in Kirovskiy, near the Kirov plant.
Nice, nice,” says Vasily.
Is it?”
Oh, yes. And prestigious, too. You’re lucky. Have you moved in yet?”
Not yet, no,” says Sergey. “I only got here an hour ago.”
Oh, well,” says Vasily. “If you’ve not moved in yet, they might not have wood. In your rooms, I mean. They don’t always give you fuel, when you move in. Some places, it takes weeks. So, you know, if you don’t have any…”
Sergey draws his plate closer and dunks what’s left of his bread into the rassolnik.
You must be hungry,” says Vasily. “I know they don’t always have much bread on the trains. I’ve heard, a friend once told me, if you want a bigger ration of bread…” His voice drops to a whisper. “If you want a bigger ration of bread, you have to give the ticket inspector a blowjob. Is that true?”
Sergey smiles. “I wouldn’t know.”
Oh, then you must be hungry,” says Vasily, laughing and coughing at the same time.“Say, listen. I live near here. When you’re finished, let’s go to mine. I’m on the third floor, so it’s not too cold,and I have some vodka.”
A loaded invitation, but Sergey has nowhere else to go and two hours till he can report to his tenement. When the bill is settled he and Vasily walk the short distance to Vasily’s building, just off Sennaya Square.
Twelve years ago Vasily Sidorov lived not so far from here, in an apartment complex on Sadovaya Street, and Sergey remembers summer parties when they would congregate on a small terrace overlooking the square ,and they would drink champagne; Soviet champagne, of course, but ice cold, and sparkling and as crisp as a fresh apple.
Vasily’s new building has no terrace. One of its two entrances is sealed shut by a frozen snowdrift, and the other opens only when Vasily barges into it with such force that Sergey worries he – and not the door – might break.
Once inside, they are taken up to Vasily’s floor by a gloomy hallway and a flight of stairs that smells strongly of piss, while Vasily’s room smells mustily of tobacco smoke, mildew and dust. Sergey recalls Vasily having a small collection of illicit Persian rugs and a mantelpiece crammed with ornaments, but this new place – if it can be called new – is sparse, decorated only with a few pieces of old furniture. The floor and the walls are bare.
Please, sit,” says Vasily. “I’ll get us some vodka. I only have one glass. Do you mind having yours in a teacup?”
Not at all.”
What am I saying? You have the glass, I’ll have the teacup. As you may be able to tell, I don’t do much entertaining these days…” Vasily opens a cupboard and takes out the vodka, a chipped teacup and a cloudy tumbler. He crosses the room with an awkward, scuttling motion; bug-like, a spider creeping along a skirting board. He was once the most graceful man Sergey had ever met. Small in build, but not feminine. Women and men alike considered him beautiful. Now he reminds Sergey of a gargoyle or some grinning demon, a didko, from an old folktale. He takes to the sagging armchair opposite, and for a moment they sit in silence; Vasily still smiling at him, scrutinising him.
It’s incredible,” he says, at last. “That you came here. To Leningrad. It isn’t often men come back. Usually, well, usually they’re sent to some other place. Remember Remizov?”
As if the room has grown a degree or two colder, Sergey flinches. “Yes,” he says. “I remember him.”

 

 

A Simple Scale is available to pre-order on the Seren website: £9.99

Join our free Book Club for 20% off every book you buy from us.

 

 

An interview with Cardiff author & legend, Peter Finch

Interview Cardiff Peter Finch

The Eisteddfod will soon be in full swing in Cardiff’s beautiful Bay area. We can’t wait to welcome you to Wales’ capital city – and to introduce you to our resident Cardiff expert, Peter Finch, who will be signing copies of his new book on the Welsh Books Council stand (84) on Wednesday 8 August, 1:00pm.

As you prepare for the marvellous week ahead, we thought you might enjoy learning a little more about the Welsh capital – so here is our interview with Peter Finch, who – as ever – is full of fascinating insight into his home city.

Peter Finch

Peter, you have been writing about Cardiff for quite some time now, with the first ‘Real Cardiff’ book having appeared in 2004. What do you perceive as the most radical change Cardiff has undergone in the last decade?
Changes to Cardiff seem to work in twenty year cycles rather than decades.  We didn’t have the Bay nor the Barrage, the Millennium Centre not the Senedd in 1980 but by 2000 we did.  In 2000 and other than right on campus there was barely a purpose-built student let available anywhere in the city.  Today they are everywhere, gargantuan, gleaming, glowing, growing, rocketing up in every district from right next door to the old Gaiety Cinema on City Road to the city’s highest of new high rises, the Bridge Street Exchange, at the bottom of Charles Street.  In the pipeline are plans for more.  Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) erected against a background of weak planning control and easy to manage building regulation they are the cash cows of property developers everywhere.   Put them up and then apply for change of use.  The cityscape will never be the same again.  In 2000 we had a green belt running right round the city.  Today that belt has shifted to become instead a green wedge, a green splash, a green smear.  In its place are the city’s new districts.  Plas Dwr, Churchlands and all the others. Cardiff expands. And expands. And expands.

The ‘culinary odyssey of City Road’ is marvellously well documented in Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City. For hungry Eisteddfod-goers, where would you recommend trying first?
.CN, the internet suffix for China, is the name of the city’s best Chinese eatery by far.  Here you can get top end Sichuan king prawn in chilli and pepper sauce, healthy option Kung Po chicken, and north east China salad in a style you’ll find hard to beat anywhere else in the city.  Failing that and for kebab fans Al Wali’s Omani Restaurant half way down and hiding behind a bus stop is pretty decent.  For Omani read Persian or Iranian or Egyptian, or Middle Eastern.  City Road is a feast from one end to the other offering meals at price points everyone can reach.

If you could be transported to any period of Cardiff’s history, which would you choose?
I think I’d want to see the heroic period of Cardiff’s industrial expansion in action first hand.  That would mean arriving in 1861 at the Royal Arcade and finding the very first Cardiff Free Library on the first floor.  Out the back they’d have a time machine, naturally, so having got here I could then get back.  I’d use it to slide back a further few years to 1849 to see Brunel move the Taff in order to build Cardiff General Rail Station for his South Wales broad gauge railway.  I’d spot a few numbers and then rush forward to 1886 to visit the brand new Coal Exchange, have a drink in the just opened Grand Hotel on the new Westgate Street, buy some cockles at the brand new indoor market and finally climb up the shiny new statue of John Bachelor to top his head with a road mender’s lamp, traffic cones not yet having been invented.   This was the period that made Cardiff, when the population boomed and when modern invention and business innovation flooded the place.  That flourishing must have been simply thrilling to watch.

Psychogeography is a particularly inventive way of mapping a place – how did you first become interested in it?
The Situationists who flourished between the fifties and the seventies were international social revolutionaries and avant garde artists.  I was running the journal second aeon at the time, a Welsh-based home for a world of avant garde poetry, so naturally I took note.  These people interested me.  They were an onward growth of the Dadaists and the Surrealists and seemed to me to be right at the cutting edge.  One of their members was Guy Debord ­– the man who invented psychogeography, the exploration of mainly urban environments for what they were rather than where they led.  The sense of place became more important than the place itself.  Why not view a city as an entity rather than a destination?  This was something I needed to try for myself.

Peter Finch Real Cardiff Flourishing CityWhat did you find most challenging in your process of writing Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City?
In writing these books you don’t sit about waiting for inspiration to strike, no hoping for those rays of Blakean stuff to come pouring down through the air and infest your work.  None of that.  This is work..  I need to immerse myself in my subject. Research it, walk through it, think about, talk about, listen to it, feel it.  I make notes.  Constantly.  I record things on the camera, take snaps, use the phone.  I check out the maps.  I check out the old ones and then the new ones.  I check  just how the used to spell the name of the place I am interested in.  Why was Rumney called Rompney? Why was Cardiff called Kairdiv?

I accumulate what I need to say and then find a way of starting out and saying it.  The starting is so important.  Get that right and the rest will flow. I work hard walking and thinking, note book always with me, and into it I make notes of how my start might go.  The walking helps the flow.  I ignore passers-by, I ignore interrupters, I am working so this poor and rude behaviour is entirely reasonable.

It’s also true that you then need to check and then check again.  I reread and redraft.  I get help from others to check too and I listen to what they say.  I recheck my spellings.  I look at what others have said and I try not to repeat them.  I acknowledge them if I do.

What’s the most challenging?  Transcribing interviews.  Getting that right.  And remembering to ask the right questions in the first place.  I always double check with my interviewees.  I let the subject see what I intend including and ask them if they are happy.  If they aren’t or I’ve got it wrong somehow then I put it right.

And finally, in the closing pages of The Flourishing City, you wonder about Cardiff ‘how it could be’, and tell us, ‘Cities are never finished’. Is it also true, then, that you’ll never be finished exploring this city of yours?
I think that once a city gets above a certain size there will always be new things to discover about it.  Not only is Cardiff big enough to keep me permanently involved but it is also changing constantly, often at a bewildering rate.  No matter which part of it I find myself in there are always new things to look at, new roads to walk down, new paths to follow and new routes to create.  Tracking the lost can be just as thrilling as delighting in the newly discovered.  The moment I finish a volume of Real Cardiff something new or different or previously unseen appears.  Buildings get built.  Buildings get torn down.  Populations flourish.  Roads and walkways bend and turn offering new and different vistas.  This capital of ours is a great Welsh place, far more involving than most people think. Try it. Just arrive and open your eyes. Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City will give you a few hints.

 

Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City is available from the Seren website: £9.99

Join our free Book Club for 20% off every book you buy from us.

 

Friday Poem – ‘Return to Cardiff’, Dannie Abse

Dannie Abse Return to Cardiff

The National Eisteddfod is coming to Cardiff, and with just a few hours to go, we couldn’t think of a better Friday Poem to feature than Dannie Abse’s ‘Return to Cardiff’.

Wales, and Cardiff in particular, haunted the imagination of the great Dannie Abse. In Welsh Retrospective he writes movingly about the Cardiff of his childhood, home of his beloved Bluebirds football team, and also about the small village of Ogmore-by-Sea, location of early holidays and for many years his home in Wales. Selected from the whole of Dannie Abse’s writing career, the book includes such well known and well-loved poems as ’In the Theatre’ and our featured poem today, ’Return to Cardiff’, alongside many previously uncollected poems. Welsh Retrospective gives fascinating insights into Dannie Abse’s Wales and his versatility as a poet.

 

Friday Poem Return to Cardiff Dannie Abse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listen to Dannie Abse performing this remarkable poem at Seren’s First Thursday event, December 2009:

 

Welsh Retrospective is available from the Seren website: £8.99

Join our free Book Club for 20% off every book you buy from us.

 

 

An extract from Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City, by Peter Finch

Real Cardiff Peter Finch extract

Though certain parts may be seeing rain this weekend, the warm weather continues – and what better time than summer to explore all the UK has to offer?

Peter Finch Real Cardiff Flourishing CityOur Real Series – a collection of intimate and entertaining guide books written by local writers – offers an insider’s view of the places it celebrates. The most recent addition to the series is Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City by Cardiff author and legend Peter Finch. So whether you’re an armchair traveller, or someone looking forward to a trip to the Welsh Capital sometime soon, we hope you enjoy this glimpse into the history of Cardiff – specifically, the area in which famous children’s author Roald Dahl grew up.

The whole of the Real Series – and all our other Seren books – are 50% off until midnight, Sunday 29 July, on the Seren website.

 

ROALD DAHL’S CARDIFF NORTH LEY

I catch the train at Cardiff Central. This is the City Line which began in the city’s north east and now, after looping in a great U through the city’s heart is about to head north again. I’m in the two-car Sprinter and I’m standing. Every single seat is occupied by pupils from Bishop of Llandaff High School. Kids, bags, blazers, headphones, chewing.
The windows stream as the train steams. Around us is railway land, an industrial cityscape full of rail sheds, engine bays, carriage washeries, repair shops and assembled new track in stacks like a giant train set. This south west of the city on view from the tracks is the capital with its guard down. Backs of mosques, tottering streets, unkempt gardens, the yards of Brains brewery, warehouses stacked with building materials, and even more open and right now empty rail beds. It reminds me of London, how the land looks as you reach Paddington or Waterloo.
But it doesn’t last. After the carriages have disgorged a hundred uniformed school kids at Fairwater, the cuttings emerge, wooded banks and scrub masking the housing above. It’s leafy suburbia giving an impression of empty countryside. A green west Cardiff, a place that doesn’t change.
It’s freezing. This is January. The train has reached Radyr where it will rest a while before returning the way it came. I’m off, up the footbridge steps, plastered thickly with Network Rail road salt. No one but no one will slip and sue here. In a previous, smaller, steam-filled incarnation, the Radyr train would have served Roald Dahl’s father, Harald, who did a daily commute in to what was then called Bute Road Station. His ghost is there on the platform now, eye glasses, three-piece suit, white starched collar. He looks like a disapproving headmaster. His railway season ticket was found inside his expensive leather wallet when he died in 1920. That was on April the 11th. The ticket was valid until the 23rd.
Like most in Cardiff at this time Harald’s business was coal. With his partner Ludvig Aadnesen he had established a business as a colliery agent and provider of all that ships docking in the world’s leading coal port would need. Provisions, ropes, oil for their lamps, food. The profits flowed.
In 1917 Harald had bought Tŷ Mynydd (Mountain House), set on rising ground a mile north of the Radyr rail station. As befits the successful businessman Harald was, here was life on a grand scale. 150 acres of land, outbuildings, cottages, a piggery, lawns, formal flower borders, terraces, its own electricity generator and an enormous Victorian house.
In photographs it looks like part of Hogwarts. It had multiple chimney stacks, mock Tudor gables, a tiled roof larger than most churches’ and greenhouses to the side to rival those of Dyffryn House, to the west of Cardiff. This is the place Roald, the great author, remembers with nostalgia, recalling the fields full of shire horses and dairy cows. There are photographs of him as a four-year-old out on the lawns and terraces, in the fields among the sheaves of corn, sitting on the wall of the piggery and of the house itself, which is resplendently decorated with both the Union Jack and the Norwegian Flag. No Welsh dragon in sight.
Like Cefn Onn, Tŷ Mynydd also had railway connections. The house had been built in 1883 by George Fisher, Director of the Taff Vale Railway. When he died in 1891 the property passed to his son, H. Oakden Fisher, Chair of both the TVR and the Cardiff Gaslight and Coke Company Ltd, although his real interest lay with the military. He was Lieutenant Colonel of the Glamorgan Volunteer Artillery. Harald bought the estate in 1918. When he died in 1920, his second wife, Sofie Magdalene, moved to smaller premises back in Llandaff. Tŷ Mynydd then became the property of the architect Sir Beddoe Rees, MP and for a brief time in the 1930s was turned into St Maur’s College, a small private boarding school for girls.
In 1967 the house and most if its outbuildings were demolished. This was the first full-blooded rush at clearance following the war. Cardiff was expanding. Property developers had no interest in the preservation of inefficient, draughty piles such as Tŷ Mynydd. On its lands a whole housing estate could be build. It had to come down.
I take the road up out of the station’s gully. Already the old shunting yards and waste ground lining the river have been populated with high density brick town housing. There’s little public space. Most structures are distinct from each other, laid at angles as if thrown there like dice. Room for breath is restricted and corners are rounded. Access is on turning roads named after De Clare, Norman Lord of the City, Aradur Hen, an ancient local croft that gave us the name Radyr, and Goetre Fawr, the farm that once worked these lands. Behind the aptly named Junction Terrace is a field replete with three grazing llamas, tall-necked beasts which, despite the ll of their name, are about as common in Wales as kangaroos. Food To Go which has signs offering coffee and warmth is closed. I head up along rising Heol Isaf in the direction of the Village of Fire.
In 1841 the ten cottages of Pentre Poeth (Warm Village) were all that existed of what is now Morganstown, upper Radyr – that part of Cardiff north of the M4’s périphérique grip. This is where the workforce of the developing fire-filled ironworks at Pentyrch lived, an element of Cardiff’s lost industrial heritage. Heol Isaf was and still is the main road to Tŷ Mynydd. It’s no distance to cover. In my ears I’ve got Emmylou playing through the buds. 1970s country, when what she sang was the edge. Alabama down home. Dahl wouldn’t have stood for this. He preferred Beethoven.
The Tŷ Mynydd estate has been built on; the fields are gone. The line of the original entrance path running up from Tŷ Mynydd Lodge has been preserved in the rising bends of MaesYr Awel. The detached late-sixties houses along it turn eventually to a U-shaped cluster of apartment blocks. Cwrt Tŷ Mynydd is the appropriately named first; after that the developer gave up and resorted to names with a strong English resonance – Norfolk Court, York Court, Windsor. It’s a marketing thing. Here, near the eastern edge of Wales, where the language thins, the Anglo norm dominates.
Beyond the apartment courts, circled like a residential wagon train, there’s a copse, ancient pine trees, all that remains of what once was here. For the Dahls of the nineteen teens this would all now be virtually unrecognisable. A local walking his young daughter to the primary school at the former estate’s southern end tells me, yes, he knows about Dahl and the great house. He points me back towards the still extant Tŷ Mynydd Lodge which faces Heol Isaf. And there it is, the gatehouse preserved, doing time now as an up-market B&B. The Llandaff Society have installed a celebratory plaque above the front door. Over the years since Roald would have known it the building has been much extended. But there’s enough original left for the Dahlian spirit to soar. I can see him outside, short pants, laced leather shoes, hat, overcoat with enormous buttons. Mama holding his hand.

 

Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City is currently half price on the Seren website: £9.99 £4.99

Thinking of visiting cities elsewhere in the UK? Find the perfect insider’s guidebook to enrich your trip:

Poet Ian Spring overlays the current map of Glasgow with the map of his memory and experience.
‘Bard of Barnsley’ Ian McMillan delves into the past of the area of South Yorkshire in which he was born and still lives.
Poet Chris McCabe looks at the art, attractions and ‘oozy’ docklands history of this slice of London.
Novelist Clare Dudman explores her richly historic city as you won’t find it in other guidebooks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


See the full list of Real books on the Seren website: all half price until midnight, Sunday 29 July!

Friday Poem – ‘I Am In Love With Myself People Say’, Marianne Burton

Marianne Burton Friday Poem Kierkegaard

Our Friday Poem this week is ‘I Am In Love With Myself People Say’, from Marianne Burton’s new collection, Kierkegaard’s Cupboard.

Did you know: all our books (including Marianne’s) are half price this week?  Take a peek at our website before the offer ends.

The life of Søren Kierkegard has inspired this new book of poems, in which Burton delves in to the extensive writings both by and about the influential Danish philosopher. Kierkegaard’s Cupboard is split into six sections, each section inspired by an aspect or event in Søren Kierkegaard’s life.
‘I Am In Love With Myself People Say’ takes inspiration from The Seducer’s Diary  – a fictional parallel to Kierkegaard’s failed relationship with his beloved Regine. Intending to make their broken engagement easier for Regine to bear, Kierkegaard portrays himself as the unworthy seducer to her fictional counterpart, Cordelia. In Burton’s poem we feel the full force of Johannes’ self-serving love: the sonnet form serving in defence of the speaker, rather than praise for its object.

 

I Am In Love With Myself People Say

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kierkegaard’s Cupboard is currently half price on the Seren Website: £9.99 £4.99

Half price offer ends midnight, Sunday 29 July.

 

 

An extract from Larkinland by Jonathan Tulloch

Extract Larkinland Jonathan Tulloch

Larkinland Jonathan TullochJonathan Tulloch’s remarkable Larkinland is a novel which expertly and minutely captures the essence of Philip Larkin and his poetry. Tulloch deftly builds Larkin’s poems into a sustained landscape, fills it with Larkin’s characters and just for good measure adds a version of Larkin himself – meet Arthur Merryweather: librarian, poet and would-be great romantic.

In the extract below, having newly (and rather unhappily) moved to a new town, Merryweather embarks on his first journey to his new place of employment: the university library…

 

This extract begins on page 49 of Larkinland.

8.

Hiding behind his (local) morning newspaper on the trolley, Merryweather felt as though he were going not to a library but a hospital for the prognosis of some lump. The Monday morning breakfast table repeated on him as much as the kippers: that barrage of sauce bottles, chewing jaws and bad breath.
Contrary to expectations, a pleasant surprise awaited him at the university. Instead of the utilitarian, redbrick barrack rising from a raw building site his successful novelist friend had led him to expect, he found half hidden in lawns and willows, a country house brocaded with ivy. A post box was quickly located, and the weekend’s letters dispatched.At the Aide to the Vice-Chancellor’s office he had to wait for half an hour. ‘What does he want?’ he heard the administrator ask his secretary.
‘Something about the library, sir.’
‘Library? What does he want with the library?’
‘You appointed him as the new head librarian, Sir.’
‘Did I?’
Throughout their brief cup of tea, the Aide to the Vice-Chancellor continually rearranged pens on his desk as though working out some enigmatic puzzle. His curly beard and fringe gave him the look of a merino sheep. This ovine resemblance reminded the librarian that the man on the other side of the desk had been the silent partner in the interviewing panel at the British library, though he clearly didn’t remember Merryweather. ‘Found digs yet, Merriman?’
‘Yes, thank you.’ His mother’s son, in the face of authority Merryweather demurred from making correction.
The Aide to the Vice-Chancellor paused in his pen arranging. ‘The town does have some good areas; I’ve always maintained that. How do you find arrangements on the river? Yes we are rather out on a limb. Where the train runs out, the land too, wot? And we’re just left with the mud and the sky. The natives, well you might like them or you might not; on the whole the students can sometimes be keen. Not a bit like that dreadful novel doing the rounds.’ Merryweather suppressed a grin. His friend, and chief correspondent, was the writer of the deliciously scandalous academic novel doing the rounds. ‘Well, no doubt you’ll be anxious to see your little fiefdom. Very good of you to come in today, Merriman. Above and beyond…’
Was everybody off their rocker here? The librarian puzzled as, interview over, he headed in the direction the Aide to the Vice-Chancellor’s secretary had pointed out.
Merryweather’s fiefdom was yet another surprise. Had his luck changed? Leaning out of some children’s story, a pair of manorial gateposts offered a secretive avenue of chestnut trees. The avenue graciously ushered the librarian to a brownstone building bearing the simple sign: Library. In summer, that dead wood adhering to the walls would be rambling roses; spring, when it arrived, promised bluebells. For now, a robin piped the melancholy carol of a T.S. Eliot April; all that was missing was a gardener’s fork for it to perch on and begin conducting the way to a secret garden.And there was the garden fork!
Not a city sound to be heard as the new head librarian mounted his library steps for the first time. Above the door, a sculpted stone figure in the art deco style reclined on lintel. The figure – reclining or hovering? – peered down at him. Was it an angel? Art deco, the final and least expected touch. The ghosts of Evelyn Waugh’s bright young things. Et in Arcadia Ego blah, blah, blah. That was one thing about librarianship, it might be sexless and bloody boring, but, like a convalescence from a good bout of measles, it gave one plenty of time to read.
The angel watched Merryweather push and pull the entrance door, shunt and shove, thrust and shoulder. All in vain, it was locked. No sign of anyone within. No lights. Nose pressed against the glass, all the new man could see was a darkling, marble vestibule. Skulking in the shadows like a Neanderthal peering from his cave, the bust of some beetle-browed philanthropist frowned at the disturber of his peace. Knocking unanswered, Merryweather got on his knees and called through the low letterbox.
‘Oi!’ A shout from the chestnuts. The librarian struggled to his feet. Was it directed at him? ‘Yes, you, you lanky sod. What’s your game?’
For a moment, he thought the person breaking from the undergrowth, all whirring arms and neck, was a policeman. Only when the official reached him did the librarian realise his mistake. ‘I’m trying to get in,’ Merryweather explained.
‘Oh you are, are you? Well you’re not going to.’ Not the sprightliest of men, the college porter was out of breath. ‘Can’t you see it’s closed?’ Merryweather’s trilby, tie, briefcase and British Warm seemed to mollify the custodian. ‘Thought you were some grubby student.’
‘Actually – I’m the new head librarian.’
Torn between suspicion and a professional sense of caste, the porter took off his hat and scratched his head.‘Didn’t they tell you? Nowt’s open today. No students. Nothing.’ Suspicion reared to the fore.‘ How do I know you’re who you say you are? No one told me. I didn’t even know the last one had gone.’
Feeling rather ludicrous, Merryweather opened his briefcase to bring out a copy of The Library, the journal of the Bibliographical Society. The porter flipped through the pages with a yawn. ‘No, I don’t suppose you’d read something like that unless you really were a librarian.’
‘Well exactly.’
The porter fell back on the eternal sigh of his breed, as well as the habitual mix of pronouns. ‘Better come with me, sir, and I’ll see if we can’t sort you out for yourself. I’m Harry. Harry Oxley.’
Harry led him back up the chestnut avenue and across a chain of secluded lawns to where a more municipal, Winifred Holtbyish building stood. A hushed maze of parquet floors contained the porter’s lodge. Merryweather was installed on an ancient chair beneath an enormous dovecote of pigeonholes. Smelling the lodge’s varied woods and listening to the porter on the phone, he felt gratitude for having missed both the war and national service. Easy to imagine a rifle range, wet feet, and the porter, a sergeant major, explaining how to strip a Bren gun for the hundredth time. Four separate phone calls had to be made, two of them trunk. At last the hugest bunch of keys Merryweather had ever seen was plucked from a hook. ‘If you’d like to come along with me, Mr M.’ Jingling like some Dickensian turnkey, the porter led him back through the parquet labyrinth, over the lawn, through the enchanted gates and down the chest- nut avenue to the library. ‘That wants taking down,’ Harry declared, looking up at the angel as he unlocked the door. ‘Or one of these fine days it’ll come down and crush a student flat.’
Passing through the philanthropist’s marble gaze, they entered the library proper. After the imposing entrance and almost grand vestibule, the first impression was frankly underwhelming. Something about the size of a real tennis court presented itself. Less fiefdom than corner shop. Well, not quite that bad. As Merryweather’s eyes grew accustomed to the half-light, he saw that the shelves were almost spectacularly tall. They towered into a shadowed silence bound by a lofty gallery. Above that, high windows. Following Harry, Merryweather found that the premises had a second, identical room, which gave access to a couple of smaller reading rooms. In total, the whole concern was on the scale of a thriving branch library. The high windows gave the vague feel of a mausoleum. Merryweather felt half at home. When Harry switched a flick, the gruelly light barely thickened. ‘Bloody bulb’s gone again,’ he said, voice amplified to a giant’s timbre by the cavernous emptiness. ‘Pardon my French.’
There was another surprise. Following his guide between tight, dark shelves, the new librarian stepped into a well of light. A dome rose high above him. It had been hidden from him by the tall stacks. A metal staircase wound steeply up the side of the dome. ‘Careful coming up here, Sir.’ The steps creaked as the pair mounted them, the echo rippling through the several deeps of the library.‘They all like this?’ the porter asked, stopping halfway up.
‘Beg pardon?’ asked Merryweather, not sure the stairs were exactly safe.
‘Are all libraries so loud?’
‘I’ve never really thought about it.’
‘They’re supposed to be quiet, but they’re not, not when nobody’s in them. It’s only when they’re full that they’re quiet. What do you make of that?’
‘Interesting,’ said the new head librarian only quarter lying.
The winding stair led to a smoked glass door marked Head Librarian in rather skittish swirls. The porter opened up. By some architectural sleight of hand, instead of the storeroom attic Merryweather had been expecting, the room was commodious to the point of extravagance. Decorous cornices, oil paintings, armchairs, and, wonderfully incongruous, a chaise longue. Two pairs of generous windows to boot. After the crypt-like library, the view – chestnut avenue, gateposts, a lawned middle distance bound by tree-lined road – opened up like the vista from a headland. ‘Its acoustic is the opposite of a theatre,’ Merryweather said, without turning from the window. ‘That’s what makes them so loud. Libraries. Paradoxically so, given all the signs for silence.’ His eyes narrowed as he continued to gaze at the view whose limit was described by a bicycle trolling through a tracery of leafless branches. ‘A theatre is designed for projection, a library, introspection. On stage, one seeks to be heard by hundreds, a library has a far greater ambition. It aims to reach…’ Merryweather broke off. He could see Harry making off under the chestnuts. ‘And so forth.’
Shoulders easing with this unexpected bonanza of solitude, Merryweather sat at his desk. Solid as a tug. Just as well, more than likely it would be required to haul him into the waters of middle-age. Perhaps beyond. It offered all the tools of the trade. Ink bottle, ink well, blotting paper, telephone, in and out trays, an ashtray (plain), pen holder (rather decorative), enough drawer space for concealing a dismembered corpse let alone a bottle of Glenlivet, paper too, sufficient thereof for the writing of a novel. Except his novel-writing days were over, that was a business best left to his successful friend. Merryweather suppressed a belch of regret, but it was that morning’s kippers not the brace of his own unsuccessful novels, which had found little favour with the reading public when published just after the war. With the nearly pleasurable air of being a ship’s captain finding himself alone not only on his bridge but on the whole vessel, Merryweather lit the fire from the ample basket of logs, and then his first Park Drive of the day. A relatively exciting though not entirely trustworthy feeling flickered with the flames as he sat on the chaise longue: he’d be able to write poetry here.

 

Larkinland is currently half price on the Seren website: £9.99 £4.99

Half price offer ends midnight, Sunday 29 July.

 

 

Summer Sale: a whole week of half price books

Seren Summer Sale Half Price books

The sun is shining, school’s out for the summer, and – what’s this? All our books are half price!

Half price summer sale
Fiction, non-fiction and poetry – and this is just a tiny portion of it…

Whether you’re looking for some poetry to dip into, or an immersive holiday read – we’ve got you covered. We’ve even picked out a few highlights below…

Best for…
Holiday reading:
Maria Donovan The Chicken Soup Murder£9.99 £4.99
A dear elderly neighbour has died under suspicious circumstances and the only one searching for justice is eleven-year-old Michael. No-one believes his cries of ‘murder’, so how will he prove his version of events? This is a truly touching coming-of-age story with an addictive mystery at its heart.

 


Best for…
Dipping into in moments of peace:
£9.99 £4.99
Elizabeth Parker’s debut book of poems is delicate, precise, and utterly captivating. From flowing rivers to the Forest of Dean, let yourself be lured into landscapes both captivating and strangely unfamiliar.

 

 

Best for…
Armchair reading:
£12.99 £6.49
For at least the last 1,500 years, Capel-y-Ffin has been a spiritual retreat: a beautiful, lonely, timeless place where people have gathered to escape from the outside world. And so it was for artists Eric Gill and David Jones: with fascinating insight, Jonathan Miles explores their years spent in this Welsh wilderness, and its promise of religious and artistic evolution.


Best for…
Livening up a long journey:
Christopher Meredith Brief Lives£9.99 £4.99
Whether reading on a stuffy train, whilst waiting at the airport or, perhaps, somewhere more peaceful, these six masterful short stories will transport you: to the South China Sea in 1946 to a nameless place at the end of time, and many others in-between. Christopher Meredith is a writer at the height of his powers – these beautifully crafted stories are all the proof you need.


Best for…
Broadening the mind:
Barney Norris The Wellspring£12.99 £6.49
Acclaimed novelist and playwright Barney Norris ponders cultural identity and the nature of creativity in these conversations with his father, David Owen Norris – ‘quite possibly the most interesting pianist in the world’ (Toronto Globe and Mail). This is a deeply personal, entertaining and at times provocative study of how people and societies find their voice.

 

Best for…
Keeping you up past bedtime:
Ross Cogan Bragr£9.99 £4.99
Norse gods tumble out of Ross Cogan’s new collection, intermingling with the environmental concerns so pressing in the modern day, and eulogies for vanishing wildlife. The pitch-perfect re-tellings of creation myths and bloodthirsty battles will hold you spellbound until the last page.

 

 

Our Summer Sale lasts for one week only – so treat yourself and have a browse before midnight on Sunday, 29 July! Who knows what gems you’ll find…

50% discount subject to availability. Excludes forthcoming titles.

 

Friday Poem – ‘History’, Zoë Skoulding

Last night, in front of a packed audience, we were thrilled to witness Zoë Skoulding accepting a Cholmondeley Award for an outstanding body of poetic work. In celebration, our Friday Poem today is ‘History’, a poem from Zoë’s latest collection, The Museum of Disappearing Sounds.

Friday Poem Zoë Skoulding

Zoë Skoulding Museum of Disappearing SoundsThe disappearing sounds of Skoulding’s collection may be either in the rich sonic environments that the poems observe, or in the resonance of words themselves, which exist in traces of speech and breath. These poems can provoke states of eerie unease, or of passion evoked with shimmering densities of verbal texture. Exploratory and alive to the senses,The Museum of Disappearing Sounds creates new perspectives on language and the world in which it exists.

 

Friday Poem Zoë Skoulding History

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Museum of Disappearing Sounds is available from the Seren website: £8.99

Join our free Book Club for 20% off every book you buy from us.

Friday Poem – ‘Swan’, Ross Cogan

Friday Poem Ross Cogan Swan

Our Friday Poem this week is ‘Swan’, from Ross Cogan’s new collection, Bragr.

Ross Cogan BragrWhether it’s myth intended to explain the constellations, the secret of eternal life, or the bloodthirsty tale of the mead of poetry, Ross Cogan’s collection Bragr (meaning ‘poetry’ in Old Norse) is a reimagining of Norse mythology for our times. The collection also focuses on environmental concerns: the earth’s incredible beauty seems all the more fragile in the face of habitat loss and global warming.
In ‘Swan’ the poet recalls an archaeological excavation of a neolithic settlement in Denmark that unearthed a remarkable grave. The excavation was detailed in Simon Mithen’s book, After the Ice.

 

Swan Ross Cogan Bragr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bragr is available from the Seren website: £9.99

Join our free Book Club for 20% off every book you buy from us.