Seren at 40 – From strength to strength

Earlier this year, we shared an archive article written by our founder Cary Archard in 1981 shortly after Seren, then called Poetry Wales Press, branched out into traditional publishing. In a second post, Cary shared some of the long-lasting friendships which helped Seren grow into the press it is today. In this new post, he reflects on some of the great books and writers we have published over the years, many of which continue to resonate today.

From Poetry Wales Press to Seren

It may have all begun with the realisation that many poets in Wales were not being published but soon my ambition widened. Not just poets but writers were being neglected. So within Poetry Wales Press, the Seren imprint was set up for prose, and in 1989 the name Poetry Wales Press was quietly dropped and the briefer, friendlier, more aspirational SEREN became the masthead (much easier to fit on the spine too) in recognition that the intention now was to publish the full range of genres – from poetry, of course, to fiction, biography, essays, even art and photography books.

Seren logo

I must mention two early debates. At the start, publishers in Wales applied for grant support (from the Arts Council) on a book by book process. Seren initiated a fundamental change when it became the first publisher to receive a block grant which enabled us to plan an annual programme of publications. The result was startling: from half a dozen titles a year to a dozen and soon to twenty or more. The press’s performance was regularly assessed but the new approach was clearly ground-breaking and soon other publishers in Wales benefitted from the same practice. The second debate could be more heated. Should Seren confine itself to Welsh authors? There was certainly a need. The question was; was Seren a publishing house in Wales or a publishing house for Wales? If a good proposal came from outside Wales, should it be disregarded? What if it made sense commercially to publish? Finally it was decided the focus would always be on Wales and its writers but there should also be a recognition of the wider world, its influences and opportunities. (Even extended later to books in translation.)

The growth of the Series

One of the fruits of the block grant approach was our series of Series. One of the first was the comprehensive Border Lines Series edited by the remarkable poet and critic, John Powell Ward. With over twenty titles it included introductory biographies of writers, composers and artists of the Welsh Marches. A reader might have expected to see Elgar, Vaughan, Margiad Evans, Kilvert and Housman, but the Series also included Chatwin, Ellis Peters and Francis Brett Young. Its distinctive yellow and green jacketed volumes have now become collectors’ items. This was soon followed by the ‘REAL’ Series, edited by the wonderful Peter Finch who started with his own idiosyncratic ‘Real’ guides to Cardiff and then persuaded other writers to write their own very personal takes on their home towns. With more than two dozen titles, the Series seems to grow annually. If you want to find out about the real Port Talbot, Cambridge or Glasgow you know where to go.

Left to Right: Margiad Evans Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan (Border Lines), Real Cardiff The Flourishing City Peter Finch (Real Series) white Ravens Owen Sheers (New Stories from the Mabinogion)

A very different sort of series ran from 2009 to 2013. In New Stories from the Mabinogion, edited by Penny Thomas, ten contemporary Welsh authors chose one of the medieval tales to reinvent and retell in their own ways. The result: ‘Seren’s series….may be the greatest service to the Welsh national epic since Lady Charlotte Guest (The Guardian)’. A mention should also be made of the look of these books and of Matthew Bevan’s beautiful designs.

Three first novels

From all the wonderful books published in the last forty years, I’d like to draw attention to three first novels. In 1988 Seren published Christopher Meredith’s Shifts, a novel that has become a classic of post-industrial Welsh life. It’s that rare thing, a fiction of real working lives. ‘A beautiful, under-stated first novel. More than a bitter, angry novel, Shifts is a sad and loving one. The prose is spare and poetic, at once plain and rich, musical in its rhythms of speech and clear descriptions’, sang the New York Times. It was followed by many more books of poetry and prose by Meredith, most recently Please and Still, that Seren has been privileged to publish.

Left to right: Shifts Christopher Meredith (Seren Classics), Mr Vogel Lloyd Jones, The Last Hundred Days Patrick McGuinness

A 2004 debut novel began with ‘Many years ago a strange incident took place in this town. The event, which went unobserved by the rest of the world, would have sunk into obscurity here also, but for the scribblings of an old bar tender and dogsbody at the Blue Angel’. This was Mr Vogel by Lloyd Jones a man who had walking, crisscrossed the whole of Wales absorbing its stories and characters out of which he fashioned a book which stretched the conventions of novel writing to breaking point. Jan Morris, no less, called it, ‘One of the most remarkable books ever written on the subject of Wales’. It went on to win the McKitterick Award and be shortlisted for the Everyman Wodehouse Prize. Lloyd’s second novel, Mr Cassini, won the Wales Book of the Year Award in 2007. His novels remain two of the most exciting and original books which Seren has published.

And the third of these first novels: The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness, who was better known at the time as a poet, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2011. Set in a paranoid Bucharest in 1989, it vividly captures the tensions of Ceausescu’s last days. This thrilling story was probably the most commercially successful of all Seren’s novels. ‘A wonderfully good read, giving one a convincing taste of how it might be to live under the most surreal kind of communist rule…’ was typical of the reviews it garnered. It won the Wales Book of the Year Award for 2012 and the Writer’s Guild Award for Fiction. Patrick’s exciting ‘detective’ novel, Throw Me to the Wolves (Jonathan Cape) won the Encore Award. Seren has recently published Patrick’s encyclopaedic, Real Oxford in our Real Series.

Cary Archard

Read more:

Seren at 40: In the Beginning An archive article written by Cary Archard shortly after Seren’s inception in 1981.

Seren at 40: Looking back – Seren FriendshipsCary reflects on the long-lasting friendships that have helped Seren during the last 40 years.

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Looking for Christmas gifts? Browse our 2021 gift guide to find ideas for the whole family.

Seren at 40: Looking Back – Seren Friendships

As we continue to celebrate our 40th anniversary, our founder Cary Archard looks back at some of the long-lasting friendships which helped Seren grow into the press it is today.

Seren Friendships

Looking back, I’m struck by how important friendships have been to Seren’s progress the last forty years. ‘They came into our lives unasked for’ is the first line of ‘The Uninvited’, the first and earliest poem in Dannie Abse’s Collected Poems. I first met Dannie at a reading soon after he and his wife Joan bought Green Hollows, their home in Ogmore-by-Sea, in the early Seventies. It was the start of a forty year friendship. From the beginning of Seren, Dannie was an enthusiastic supporter, always particularly keen we should encourage and develop our poets. When within a year of start-up, running things from home became physically impossible, my living room already overflowing with parcels of books and a bigger space needed, Dannie offered the use of the annexe to his Ogmore house.

Black and white photo of poet Dannie Abse.
Dannie Abse

Ogmore-by-Sea was a wonderful place to be based. From the upstairs office window you could look across the grey sea to Devon or muse on the terrors of ‘the eternal, murderous fanged Tusker Rock’ (‘A letter from Ogmore-by-Sea’). Across the road was the Craig-yr-Eos Hotel (since turned into flats) where at lunchtimes you could discuss work over a pie and seek inspiration at the bar. Subsequent office locations have never been so romantic or so characterful. Seren’s super modern, hi-fied, all modcons, present office in the middle of Bridgend just doesn’t have the same charm. Looking back it’s tempting to think that life generally was better then, the pace slower, the publishing world kinder. A time when friendship influenced the decisions. Pressure now seems greater. Success however modest has its price perhaps. Dannie has been much missed since his death in 2014.

(A footnote: Dannie’s wonderful autobiographical novel, Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve set in Cardiff in the thirties and Forties, published in 1954, never appeared on my Cardiff grammar school syllabus; instead for O level we were offered Harrow and the British army in Churchill’s My Early Life.)

From one chance friendship to another. Also in the early Seventies, I found myself teaching English in the Cynon Valley where I had grown up. I’d applied for the post of a history teacher in Swansea but missed the deadline for applications. Some kind officer in the Glamorgan office had noticed I had appropriate qualifications and sent me the details of the English job. I was lucky. Fortunate also to have arrived there just before Mrs Lewis, highly respected and loved Senior Mistress and German teacher, retired. So it was, ‘totally unasked for’, that I became a colleague of Gweno, wife of Alun Lewis (1915-1944), one of Wales’s finest twentieth century writers. At the time, I knew next to nothing about Lewis’s poetry and stories, even though I had grown up in the same valley. And as far as I can remember, his name had never been mentioned in my grammar school education.

Covers of Morlais, Alun Lewis Collected Poems and Alun, Gweno and Fred (John Pikoulis)
Covers of Morlais, Alun Lewis Collected Poems and Alun, Gweno and Freda (John Pikoulis)

Gweno and I became friends. It was a friendship which led to Seren’s most important publishing achievement, namely the publication of Alun Lewis’s Collected Poems, Collected Stories, and his Letters to my Wife. (Lewis is a wonderful letter writer; comparing him to Keats no exaggeration.) When Gweno returned to her family home in Aberystwyth, I often made that steep climb to ‘The Chateau’, a striking red house, high on the hill overlooking the bay. We talked about Alun, the young Cynon Valley boy (he was under thirty when he died in Burma), his family (I got to know Mair his sister later on), her involvement in his second book of poetry, Ha! Ha! Among The Trumpets, her guardianship of his reputation, and the progress of John Pikoulis’s biography. To be entrusted to publish the author’s work by his wife was a remarkable privilege. It was an unforgettable day when on one visit she brought me a packet inside which was a faded manuscript tied in a red ribbon. It was Alun’s copy of his unpublished early novel, Morlais, which Seren published in 2015, Lewis’s centenary. Just in time. Gweno sadly died the year after.

Cary Archard

Dannie Abse: A Source Book is available on the Seren website: £14.99

Morlais by Alun Lewis is available on the Seren website: £12.99

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To celebrate our anniversary we’re asking our readers to share their favourite Seren books from the last 40 years on social media. Tag us in your photos on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook using the hashtag #Seren40.

Find out more about how Seren was founded in our previous Seren at 40 post: In the beginning

Seren at 40 – In the beginning

This year we’re celebrating 40 years since Seren was established as Poetry Wales Press. In the first of a series of posts looking back at our history, founder Cary Archard shares an archive article written shortly after the press was first set up.

The following piece of optimism was written exactly forty years ago, at Seren’s birth. In it I gave a brief account of what led to the setting up of the press. Its name at the start was Poetry Wales Press and it wasn’t until 1989 that it became Seren. Two of the first three books were first collections of poetry by two young writers called Mike Jenkins and Nigel Jenkins (and encouraging new, young writers is still central to the press), the third was a miscellany of writing by the older, more established Dannie Abse. All three were close collaborations between publisher and authors. All three were produced without any public subsidy or support, though it’s fair to say quite soon such support was offered to enable the infant to grow. At the time, there were people who thought I was crazy, but the risk seems to have paid off.” – Cary Archard

Poetry Wales Press

Photo of Cary Archard by Martin W. Roberts

Sometimes I pretend to myself that my present position as small press publisher came about fortuitously. Circumstances were to blame, not I. After all, would anyone in his right mind enter such a risky business, even in a small way, at such an especially risky time? There may have been times in the past when a fairly bookish person might have longed to start his own press for all sorts of vaguely literary and romantic reasons, but is 1981 the time to emulate Keidrych Rhys or the Woolfs? Surely these hard-headed days are too uncomfortable for such dreamers?

On the surface (pretending circumstances were in control), things were like this. In the summer of 1979, Christopher Davies, the publishers of Poetry Wales, asked J. P. Ward and myself whether we would be willing to take over the publication of the magazine which they had produced and distributed for eleven years. There were probably many reasons for the publisher’s decision, but with the experience of hindsight, I have no doubt that a major consideration was the enormous degree of time and effort that is involved in the production of the magazine. John Ward and I welcomed the opportunity to be both editors and publishers and an agreement was reached which was satisfactory to the outgoing publishers and ourselves. We felt that the magazine couldn’t but benefit by being completely in the hands of its editors. Then, about the same time as our first number appeared in the summer of 1980, J. P. Ward discovered that the pressure of his other work was too great and he decided, reluctantly, to end his active involvement with the magazine. And so, Poetry Wales was left in the relatively inexperienced hands of the present editor who was forced by the exigencies of the situation to learn as much as he could about the business of publishing and distribution.

So, you see, it was, on the surface, circumstances that brought Poetry Wales into my hands. Yet that is too simple an explanation. I had already worked on the magazine for seven years and when you work on a small magazine you get to love it. You care about it and fuss over it as you would a child. (If you were to ask an editor’s family, they might say it assumes more importance than a child.) It’s very difficult to remain unmoved when you hear hard things said about it. Then, besides all this accumulated natural feeling, there was my desire that the magazine should not change its character, something which could happen should it fall into other hands. I saw (and see) its character as broad based, attempting to cover a variety of styles, presenting the best of what is being written in Wales­­–– primarily in English but most certainly in both languages. The magazine should avoid the coterie: no one should be able to talk about the typical Poetry Wales poem. The magazine’s tone, I believe, should be unpretentious and, as far as possible, non-political. (This does not mean, of course, that individual poems or articles might not be ‘political’. Neither am I so naïve as to imagine that political attitudes do not influence my judgements about poetry. An editor, I think, should be aware of this problem and try to compensate for his tendencies.) I am pleased when readers write in, as they have done, to tell me that the magazine is too left-wing, too respectable, too loose, too Welsh, not Welsh enough: all these conflicting views suggest the balance is about right.

The question remains: how did the magazine become the Press? Part of the answer is that from publishing the magazine I became interested in publishing books. After all, producing Poetry Wales is a bit like producing a quarterly paperback. Then there was my position as editor of the last six booklets in the Triskel poetry series which has been started by Meic Stephens in 1966 and which the publishers, Christopher Davies, has decided to discontinue. I knew from that editorial experience that there were good collections of poetry by young writers waiting to be published. (Indeed I am proud to have published among my first books the first book-length collections of two such fine poets as Mike and Nigel Jenkins.) Again, then, it could be said that circumstances spurred me on: some substitute was needed to replace the Triskel series. It was at this time that I began talking about my publishing ideas to Dannie Abse on our walks, near our homes, along the cliffs between Ogmore-by-Sea and Southerndown. I ought to mention here a particular feature that marks all small press publishing, namely, the close relationship that exists between writer and publisher. This active collaboration has been the most rewarding feature of all the books I have worked on so far. It may have been Dannie who had the original idea from which the Press Miscellany series has grown. Certainly, I doubt whether without his encouragement I would have started the press at all. The idea behind the Miscellany series was that I should publish a selection of a Welsh writer’s work to demonstrate his range and versatility, to get away from the idea that a writer was only a poet or novelist and that anything else he wrote could be safely disregarded. At the same time, some very interesting stories, articles and poems could be rescued from magazines. The first volume has already been published and those who had forgotten what an extraordinarily fine prose writer Dannie Abse is have been delighted by Miscellany One. Miscellany Two by Emyr Humphreys and Miscellany Three, a collection of unpublished writing by Alun Lewis, will be published later in the year.

These then were the circumstances that led to the first books, but I would be less than honest– less than human– were I to leave things at that. Actions are governed by beliefs as well as circumstances. One of my beliefs about the Welsh is that they lack confidence in their own achievements and especially in the achievements of their writers. (I’m talking here about the English speakers in particular.) This belief has been reinforced in different ways. To begin with, the story of a friend’s experience. Robert Watson was born in Newbridge and, until recently, taught in Gowerton. He writes articles and reviews and contributes to magazines like Tract, Use of English and Poetry Wales. He also writes novels, working long hours into the night often after a hard day’s teaching. The point of this story is that Robert hoped his novels would be published in Wales. However, Welsh publishers were not interested. Reluctantly, he left Wales to teach in England and soon after his first novel Events Beyond the Heartlands, set in Wales and a serious attempt to engage with contemporary issues, was published by Heinemann of London. It is ironic that Yr Academi Gymreig’s competition ‘A Novel for Wales’ should come too late for Robert Watson – and it says something about Welsh publishing that the publisher involved in the competition should be English. The competition might help a Welsh novelist to get his work published but it will do nothing to help restore the Welsh writer’s confidence in Welsh publishers.

Wherever I glance I seem to see this lack of confidence. When Book News produced a special issue last year for the Frankfurt Book Fair did it confidently support our contemporary English language writers? No. Instead we were given articles about writers such as David Jones and R. S. Thomas, safely established figures whose books are not published in Wales. When I turn to Professor Gwyn Jones’s anthology, The Oxford Book of Welsh Verse in English, I cannot help but notice how heavily he has lent on the part Welshness of established English poets like Wilfred Owen and Edward Thomas and on the translations from Welsh language writers, with the consequent neglect of many fine English language writers working in Wales today. Isn’t this another example of lack of confidence? Or look at the way the new magazine Arcade treats writers. Its series of profiles on writers is an excellent idea but what it has meant so far is that writers are treated as news personalities. Their writings have been largely neglected.

The problem, then, is a general lack of confidence in the achievements and potential of our writers, and at a time, too, when we have, I firmly believe, many good writers working in Wales. This is where I hope Poetry Wales Press can contribute something important. I want to publish new books of poetry regularly, and occasionally books of prose, of articles and criticism. The first three books were published without Welsh Arts Council grants but to continue without their support would mean publishing very infrequently. If the momentum is to be kept up, I shall need their financial help. And this is where I am not sure the present system of grant support is of the right kind. The present method of submitting each manuscript to the Literature Committee for separate consideration is too bureaucratic. If the ‘wrong’ reader is chosen by the Committee, your manuscript may not receive a grant. There are inevitable delays. Besides, no publisher worth his salt wants his judgements discussed and his plans altered by a committee. I think the Literature Committee ought to show more confidence in publishers and award block grants so that they can get on with their job. It seems to be inconsistent, for example, that a block grant can be awarded to a magazine like Poetry Wales which produces what are, in effect, four paperbacks a year but that a block grant cannot be made to a publisher to produce four unrelated books. I am confident that the Literature Committee which has made bold and imaginative decisions in the past (such as the creation of its own bookshop which has made an invaluable contribution to the literary life of Wales) will think constructively about this problem.

Robert Watson prefaced his first novel with a quotation of Nietszche which begins: ‘We no longer see anything these days that aspires to grow greater’. Placing the emphasis on ‘aspires’. I would like to think that Poetry Wales Press aspires to do something to improve the general state of publishing in Wales. Risking immodesty, I would like to think that its inception isn’t only related to personal circumstances but that it is also, in its own way, part of recent attempts (like Sally Jones’s Alun Books) to help Welsh writing ‘grow great’.

Celebrating 40 years of independent publishing in 2021

What’s your favourite Seren book from the last 40 years? We’d love to know! Tag us in your photos on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #Seren40.

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Happy International Women’s Day 2020!

Over the year’s we’ve been fortunate enough to work with a long list of fantastic female authors, all of whom bring something unique to the Seren list. There are too many to mention each by name in a single post, and so for International Women’s Day 2020 we’re shining a light on some of the women writers we are publishing in the first half of this year. Keep an eye out for their books coming your way soon.

Katherine Stansfield
We Could Be Anywhere By Now, March 2020

Katherine Stansfield grew up in Cornwall and now lives in Cardiff. Her poems have appeared in The North, Magma, Poetry Wales, The Interpreter’s House, And Other Poems, Butcher’s Dog, and as ‘Poem of the Week’ in The Guardian. Katherine’s debut collection Playing House (2014), a pamphlet All That Was Wood (2019), and her second full-length collection We Could Be Anywhere By Now (March 2020), are all published by Seren. She is also a novelist, with five novels published to date. Her latest titles are The Mermaid’s Call (third in her historical crime series set in Cornwall in the 1840s) and Widow’s Welcome (a political fantasy novel co-written with her partner and published under the name DK Fields). Katherine is the recipient of a Writer’s Bursary from Literature Wales. She teaches for the Open University and is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow.

Cath Drake
The Shaking City, March 2020

Cath Drake lives in London and has been published in anthologies and literary magazines in the UK, Australia and US. Sleeping with Rivers won the Mslexia Women’s Poetry Pamphlet Competition in 2013 and was a Poetry Book Society Choice. She has been short-listed for the Manchester Poetry Prize, and was second in the 2017 Resurgence Poetry School Eco-poetry Prize (now called Ginkgo) and highly commended in the same prize in 2019. Her work has included campaigning, copywriting and storytelling for good causes, environmental writing and award-winning journalism.The Shaking City, forthcoming from Seren at the end of March 2020, is her first full collection.

Sarah Wimbush
Bloodlines, March 2020

Sarah Wimbush comes from Doncaster and currently lives in Leeds. After winning the Yorkshire Post Short Story Competition in 2011 she began writing poetry. Her poems are rooted in Yorkshire with tales of childhood, colliery villages, and Gypsies and Travellers, and they have appeared in a variety of magazines including; the North, The Rialto, The Interpreter’s House, Stand and Strix. She won first prize in the Red Shed Poetry Competition 2016, and second prize in the Ledbury Poetry Competition 2019 where the judge, Daljit Nagra, described her poem as ‘linguistically charged’. A winner of both the Mslexia Poetry Competition (2016) and the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition (2019), she received a New Writing North – New Poets Award in 2019. Her debut pamphlet Bloodlines (Seren, March 2020) is the winner of the Mslexia/PBS Women’s Poetry Pamphlet Competition 2019.

Sarah Philpott
The Seasonal Vegan, April 2020

Sarah Philpott is a freelance copywriter and proofreader for a variety of organisations, and a fluent Welsh speaker who has appeared on S4C and ITV Wales to talk about vegan cooking. She is a regular guest on Radio Cymru, has written for Wales Online and writes restaurant reviews for the Wriggle app and website. She has a recipe column in Cardiff Now magazine and was featured in an article about vegetarianism in the Sunday Telegraph magazine, Stella. Sarah also has a vegan food blog, Vegging It. Her first vegan cookery book, The Occasional Vegan was published in 2018 and her second The Seasonal Vegan is forthcoming from Seren this April.

Kate Noakes
Real Hay-on-Wye, May 2020

Kate Noakes is a poet whose seventh and most recent collection, The Filthy Quiet, was published by Parthian in 2019 and was reviewed by the Poetry Book Society. Her work has been widely published in magazines in the UK, Europe and beyond. She was elected to the Welsh Academy in 2011. She lives in London where she acts as a trustee for writer development organisation Spread the Word. She reviews poetry for Poetry London, Poetry Wales, The North and cultural website London Grip. She can be found reading from her work all over the country, notably most recently at the 2019 Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. Kate has degrees from Reading University and the University of South Wales. She teaches creative writing workshops in London and beyond and offers one to one poetry coaching. Real Hay-on-Wye (May 2020) is her first non-fiction title.

Katrina Naomi
Wild Persistence, June 2020

Katrina Naomi has published four pamphlets of poetry, including the Japan-themed Typhoon Etiquette (Verve Poetry Press, 2019). Her collection The Way the Crocodile Taught Me, (Seren, 2016) was chosen by Foyles’ Bookshop as one of its #FoylesFive for poetry.  Katrina was the first writer-in-residence at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in W Yorks, and since then has been poet-in-residence at the Arnolfini, Gladstone’s Library and the Leach Pottery. Her poetry has appeared on Radio 4’s Front Row and Poetry Please, BBC TV’s Spotlight and on Poems on the Underground. In 2017 she was highly commended in the Forward Prizes. She has a PhD in creative writing (Goldsmiths) and tutors for Arvon, Ty Newydd and the Poetry School. She received an Authors’ Foundation award from the Society of Authors for her new collection, Wild Persistence (June).

Rhian Edwards
The Estate Agent’s Daughter, June 2020

Rhian Edwards is a multi-award winning Welsh poet, renowned for bridging the gap between page and stage poetry. Her first collection Clueless Dogs (Seren) won the Wales Book of the Year 2013, winning the hat-trick of prizes. It was also shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2012.  Rhian also won the John Tripp Award for Spoken Poetry, winning both the Judges and Audience award. Rhian’s pamphlet Parade the Fib (Tall Lighthouse) was awarded the Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice for autumn 2008. Rhian’s poems have appeared in The Guardian, TLS, Poetry Review, New Statesman, Spectator, Poetry London, Poetry Wales, Arete, the London Magazine, Stand and Planet. Her second collection The Estate Agent’s Daughter is forthcoming from Seren in June.

Sue Gee
Just You and the Page: Twelve Writers and their Art, June 2020

Sue Gee is a novelist and short story writer. She has published eleven novels, including The Hours of the Night (1995), winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year award, The Mysteries of Glass (2005), long-listed that year for the Orange Prize, and Reading in Bed (2007) a Daily Mail Book Club selection. Her most recent novel is Trio (2016). She ran the MA in Creative Writing at Middlesex University from 2000-2008 and was awarded a Royal Literary Fund Fellowship at the University of London Graduate School in 2008. Since 2010 she has taught at the Faber Academy, and worked as a mentor for the Write to Life group at Freedom from Torture. With the novelist Charles Palliser she has for some twenty years run monthly author events at Stoke Newington Bookshop, under the umbrella N16 Writers & Readers. She is a frequent contributor to Slightly Foxed.

Jayne Joso
Japan Stories, June 2020

Jayne Joso is a writer and artist who has lived and worked in Japan, China, Kenya and the UK. Now living in London, she is the author of four novels, including My Falling Down House (2016) and From Seven to the Sea (2019). Her journalism has been published in various Japanese architectural magazines and in the UK’s Architecture Today magazine. She has also ghost written on Japanese architects for the German publisher, Prestel Art. She is the recipient of the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation Award, given to artists whose work interprets Japan to other cultures and was longlisted for the Rathbones Folio Award 2017. Her forthcoming short story collection Japan Stories (Seren, June 2020) reveals Japanese life in city and countryside through a variety of characters notable for their shared humanity.


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International Women’s Day: celebrating Seren’s female fiction writers

International Women’s Day 2016 has arrived. We celebrate this year by highlighting just a few of the talented women we’ve been fortunate enough to publish. There will always be more names to mention and more works to appreciate, and you can find countless gorgeous books written by women on our website. But none-the-less, we hope you enjoy hearing about just a few of the Seren women writers and their achievements.

In this second International Women’s Day blog post, Fiction Editor Penny Thomas highlights just a few of the novels and short story collections by women we have published over the years. Penny has a talent for finding gorgeously written fiction, much of which is written by female authors.

Penny: Over the past few years at Seren we’ve had the pleasure to publish many wonderful women fiction writers from Leonora Brito to Sian James, from Francesca Rhydderch to Jo Mazelis. In the last few years alone we have published novels, short stories and novellas by dozens of women authors, writing stories set around the globe – from WW2 Hong Kong, to the US, the Irish borders, northern France, or Patagonia, or closer to home by the River Severn, Newport Pembs, Tonypandy or Swansea, not to mention exploring the mysteries of the Mabinogion. All have fresh voices, varied and vital writing styles and something to say about their world. 

the_rice_paper_diariesthe scattering star-shotsix pounds eight ounces


Francesca Rhydderch’s debut novel The Rice Paper Diaries was Wales fiction book of the year in 2014 and has since published in China too. Based on the experiences of her great aunt, it explores the life of a west Wales girl, travelling as a young bride to the expat community of Hong Kong in 1940, just before the Japanese invaded.

The Scattering by Jaki McCarrick is a collection of nineteen stories, many set on the Irish border. These stories explore states of liminality: life on the Irish border, dual identities, emigration, being between states – certainty and doubt, codependency and freedom. Some explore themes of catastrophe and constraint. All explore what it means to be alive in a fraught and ever-changing world. This first collection from prizewinning author and playwright, Jaki McCarrick explores the dark side of human nature, often with a postmodern ‘Ulster gothic’ twist.

Star-Shot by Mary-Ann Constantine is a modern-day fable and gives us a network of lonely souls set around Cardiff museum, finding strength in their unlikely relationships with each other to fight the silences invading the city.

Six Pounds Eight Ounces by Rhian Elizabeth brings us Hannah King, the ‘honest’ account of a Rhondda girl who may or may not have lied her way through her schooldays, swapping Barbies and books for Glam Rock and glitter.

Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray. £8.99 Love & Fallout Dark_Mermaids_Web72 swimming_on_dry_land_72






Sugar Hall, a ghost story by Tiffany Murray delves deep into the red mud and murky colonial past of a crumbling post-war mansion on the edges of the River Severn and the secrets it holds.

Love and Fallout by Kathryn Simmonds combines the female relationships at the 1980s’ Greenham Common anti-nuclear camp with a modern day tale of mother and daughter relationships to great effect.

Dark Mermaids by Anne Lauppe Dunbar dives into East German noir with the tale of former child GDR swimmer Sophia, called upon to investigate the doping horrors of her own forgotten past.

Swimming on Dry Land by Helen Blackhurst tells the tale of the Harvey family, uprooted to Australia in a search for paradise, but finding themselves adrift in an alien landscape.

Our female fiction authors have also won awards for their writing.

significanceSignificance by Jo Mazelis
Winner of a 2015 Jerwood Fiction Uncovered award, Significance is ‘feminist, Francophile, urban noir’ focusing on the murder of Lucy Swann and the ripples this event stirs in the lives of all in her vicinity.




american_sycamoreAmerican Sycamore by Karen Fielding
American Sycamore takes us into the lives of congenial American fly-fisherman Billy and his younger sister Alice as they meander alongside the Susquehanna River in an offbeat coming-of-age novel of death, madness and fishing. Gold winner in the Mid-Atlantic Best Regional Fiction category of the 2015 Independent Publisher Book Award.



A Bird Becomes A Stone from Ritual, 1969 by Jo Mazelis2016 will be another exciting year for fiction published by women writers, with Jo Mazelis’ haunting new short story collection Ritual, 1969 arriving in April (now available to pre-order), Bethany W. Pope’s Masque (a richly gothic retelling of The Phantom of the Opera) in June, and other delights later in the year.



International Women’s Day: celebrating Seren’s female poets

International Women’s Day 2016 has arrived. We celebrate this year by highlighting just a few of the talented women we’ve been fortunate enough to publish. There will always be more names to mention and more works to appreciate, and you can find countless gorgeous books written by women on our website. But none-the-less, we hope you enjoy hearing about just a few of the Seren women writers and their achievements.

In this blog post, the first of two, we focus on the Seren female poets. Poetry Editor Amy Wack has been with us at Seren for over twenty years, publishing countless collections by women. The gender balance of most UK publishers favours men but in our case, with Amy at the helm, the balance is far more even.

Amy: Seren has a very good record for promoting, and bringing forth women writers and we owe this both to the Seren Board, and the forward-looking people at the Welsh Books Council, as well as the skill of my co-commissioner: Fiction Editor at Seren, Penny Thomas.

women's work 2016Women’s Work, edited by Eva Salzman and Amy Wack
March 2016, £14.99
Featuring over 100 poets, Women’s Work: Women Poets Writing in English, has been re-printed.  The 2016 edition features a revised introduction and updated author biographies.
Women’s Work contains classic poems by famous poets as well as lesser-known works. Editor Eva Salzman has provided an opening essay that artfully picks apart the statistics involving women’s work in anthologies and points out, with her characteristically vigorous wit,  just who gets to choose the canon, and why. Along with co-Editor Amy Wack (Seren poetry editor), they’ve both ranged broadly over the English-speaking world, and aimed to represent women of colour as well as those from the more esoteric wings of the style spectrum.

Poets published by Seren included in Women’s Work:

Kate Bingham
Jean Earle
Carrie Etter
Catherine Fisher
Hilary Menos
Deryn Rees-Jones
Vuylwa Carlin
Pascale Petit
Carolyn Jess-Cooke
Anne-Marie Fyfe
Kathryn Gray
Siobhan Campbell
Kathryn Maris
Anne Cluysenaar
Hilary Llewellyn-Williams
Tamar Yoseloff
Kathryn Simmonds
Zoe Skoulding
Christine Evans
Sarah Corbett
Carol Rumens

The Art of Falling Kim Moore Tamar_quicksand cover the man at the corner table rosie shepperd playing house katherine stansfield






Collections published in the last few years include Kim Moore’s critically acclaimed debut The Art of Falling, Tamar Yoseloff’s A Formula for Night: New and Selected Poems, Rosie Shepperd’s The Man at the Corner Table, and Katherine Stansfield’s debut, Playing House.

Elterwater Rain Crowd Sensations Judy BrownA Boat Called Annalise






Hot off the press, we have Crowd Sensations by Judy Brown, which is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and Lynne Hjelmgaard’s A Boat Called Annalise, which recalls a journey the author took with her late husband on a sailboat, to the Caribbean and back.

The-Dogs-That-Chase-Bicycle-Wheels-rgbthe way the crocodile taught meanimal people






You can look forward to many more collections by female poets, and on the horizon we have Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition winner The Dogs that Chase Bicycle Wheels by Ilse Pedler (available to pre-order), Katrina Naomi’s hard-hitting The Way the Crocodile Taught Me (April), and Animal People by Carol Rumens (April).

Spooktacular Books

As Halloween approaches, the Seren team share some of their favourite spooky books!

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Amy | Poetry Editor

“Damian Walford-Davies’ poetic play-for-voices Witch, is a profoundly disturbing portrait of a village in Suffolk in the throes of the witchcraft hunts of twitch72he 17th century.

I was lucky enough to see a debut performance of this in the Aberystwyth Arts Centre where some terrific poets like Matthew Francis and Tiffany Atkinson played some of the main parts of the villagers slowly succumbing to the tense atmosphere as they became embroiled in suspicion and counter-accusation. I agree with Bernard O’Donoghue who calls Witch ‘an unsettling and original masterpiece, addressing our world as much as 1640s England.’”

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Rosie | Marketing Officer

“I love all things Gothic and ghosty, so picking one story to talk about was a pretty hard task.

The one I keep going back to isn’t technically a ghost story at all, but is possessed with an overpowering sense of haunting– I’m talking about Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

rebeccaDu Maurier is an absolute genius and (IMHO) Rebecca is her most well-known novel for a very good reason. The story is so compelling that if I had to choose between carrying on reading and free pizza, I might just pass on the pizza. Shocking, I know.

What I love most about Rebecca is that even though we never gain a full picture of the title character, she pervades every aspect of the story as an inescapable, mystifying presence. The narrator’s recurring self-doubts and feelings of inadequacy make her truly relatable, too. Definitely one to take a look at if you haven’t already!”

Untitled design (5)Jess | Marketing Assistant

“I don’t tend to read much horror because I’m a huge wuss; I don’t even like watching Shaun of the Dead on my own. That being said, I’ve always loved spooky stories, particularly ghost stories. We like scaring ourselves. I’m sure Freud would have a lot to say about that.


Ghost stories, particularly ghost stories set in decrepit houses, are my favourite kind of spooky read for Halloween. I recently read The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters and adored it; I love its setting of post-war Britain, of a time in which the aristocracy were beginning to fade away and lose their place in society, and I love its atmosphere. Atmosphere is what makes a ghost story for me, and it seeps from the pages of this book. It reminded me of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, another favourite of mine, in that the house is as much a character as it is a setting. It’s a brilliant book – give it a read!”

Rebecca | Editorial Assistant for Poetry Wales

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mrjgsAround this time each year I dig out an old battered copy of M.R. James’ Collected Ghost Stories and read about three or four and then put the book away again for the following year. I do this because they are so good, I want to savour the collection for as long as possible. This year I will have read the final few. What will I do next year? Probably start from the beginning again!”

What are some of your favourite reads for the spooky season?

You are invited to Seren’s 30th Birthday Party

Seren would like to invite you to help celebrate 30 years of publishing.

We are having a street party here at Bridgend on the 1st October 2011.

There will be a slice of birthday cake and a soft drink for everyone, also a lucky dip – a free read on us!

Meet the editors and a few of the Seren authors. We will be selling Seren books at discounted prices. Special offers on a range of food all day from the deli based next door to Seren.

Please feel free to bring along family and friends – the more, the merrier.

Fixed Events throughout the day:

12pm-2pm: ‘Meet the Editor’ (Poetry, fiction and non-fiction). Get advice from Seren editors about your unpublished work – to book your 10 minute time slot please send your name and email address to – we will allocate a time for you. Spaces are limited!

12pm-1pm and 2pm-3pm: Open Mic slots. Sign up on arrival and read your poetry, fiction or sing some songs. Mike Jenkins and Robert Minhinnick will also be reading at Open Mic.

3pm: Guest of Honour Dannie Abse, to make a speech and a short reading.

Raffle tickets on sale throughout the day some great prizes to win including:

A set of six books from the Seren’s Mabinogion series. Signed by authors Owen Sheers, Russell Celyn Jones, Gwyneth Lewis, Niall Griffiths, Horatio Clare and Fflur Dafydd.

A signed copy of the Man Booker Prize 2011 long-listed title ‘The Last Hundred Days’ by Patrick McGuinness.

This event is supported by Literature Wales

This event coincides with Bridgend town’s annual ‘feastival’ – an alternative food festival

Two Seren poetry titles up for Forward Prize ‘Best First Collection’ 2011

The Forward Prize shortlist has been announced today, and we here at Seren, are thrilled to see two of our poetry titles on the shortlist for ‘Best First Collection’ 2011.

Both Sound Archive by Nerys Williams and Loudness by Judy Brown find themselves shortlisted along with another four poets.

Sound Archive is a strikingly original first collection of poems. Using formal Sound Archivestrategies similar to modernist painting: abstraction, dislocation, surrealist juxtaposition, the poet conjures a complex music, intriguing narratives, and poems full of atmosphere that query identity, gender, and the dream of art as a vehicle for emotion and meaning.

Nerys Williams is originally from Pen-Y-Bont, Carmarthen in West Wales. A recent winner of the Ted McNulty Poetry Prize, she lectures in American Literature at University College, Dublin.

“Sound Archive is an innovative volume..”– The Irish Times.

Video of Nerys Williams reading from Sound Archive

Judy Brown’s beautiful first collection Loudness, is a straightforward manner Loudness and a gift for ironic humour belie the artful complexities and the exacting observations evident in her work. Loudness will be available to buy at the end of September 2011.

Judy Brown was born in Cheshire and has lived in Northumbria, Cumbria and Hong Kong. She has studied English Literature at Cambridge and Newcastle-upon Tyne and now lives between London (where her ‘day job’ is working part-time as a lawyer) and Derbyshire. She has won the Poetry London and Manchester Festival Poetry prizes and she has placed in the Cardiff International Poetry Competition and others. She is also the author of a prize-winning pamphlet, Pillars of Salt.

The Forward Prize for Best First Collection shortlist:

Rachael Boast Sidereal
Judy Brown Loudness
Nancy Gaffield Tokaido Road
Ahren Warner Confer
John Whale Waterloo Teeth
Nerys Williams Sound Archive

The Forward Prize Best Collection shortlist:

John Burnside  Black Cat Bone
David Harsent Night
Geoffrey Hill Clavics
Michael Longley A Hundred Doors 
D Nurkse Voices Over Water  
Sean O’Brien November 

The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem in memory of Michael Donaghy shortlist:

R. F. Langley To a Nightingale
Alan Jenkins Southern Rail (The Four Students) 
Sharon Olds Song the Breasts Sing to the Late-in-Life Boyfriend
Jo Shapcott Bees

Berg by Hilary Menos (Seren 2010) was winner of ‘Best First Collection’ 2010.