Extract from Fatal Solution by Leslie Scase

Fatal Solution by Leslie Scase once again sees Inspector Thomas Chard confronted with a murder in bustling Victorian Pontypridd.

On the face of it the case appears unremarkable, even if it isn’t obviously solvable, but following new leads takes Chard into unexpected places. A second murder, a sexual predator, industrial espionage and a mining disaster crowd into the investigation, baffling the Inspector and his colleagues and putting his own life at risk as the murderer attempts to avoid capture.

Once again Leslie Scase takes the reader back to a time and place where, despite the pretensions of Victorian society, life is cheap and passions strong. His research brings Pontypridd vividly to life, and historical events drive along the plot of this page-turning story of detection, as Chard navigates a way through the clues and red herrings, and a lengthening list of suspects, towards the poisoner.

Atmospheric, authentic, Chard and the reader are left guessing until the final page.

Our featured extract begins on page 24 of the novel, with Inspector Chard and his colleague interviewing local residents in the wake of a fire…

‘This is Mrs Griffiths who discovered the fire,’ said Scudamore by means of introduction.

‘Very pleased to meet you Mrs Griffiths, I am Inspector Chard. I hope you might be able to help me with my enquiries.’

‘Only too pleased to help. There’s not much that I don’t know,’ stated the woman confidently. ‘Not that I’m a gossip mind,’ she added.

‘Thank you. Now when did you notice the fire?’

‘Well, I had noticed old Mr. Jones go up the road, hadn’t I? Poor old soul, it’s the dust on his lungs, he hasn’t been well for ages. It takes for ever for him to get to the end of the street.’

‘What time would that be?’

‘Sometime after five o’clock then wasn’t it?’

‘Can you be more precise? I mean you must have been out on the street yourself so what time did you set off ?’

‘My old man has a bad cough so I was off to see Mrs Evans, wasn’t I?’

Chard was becoming irritable. ‘Very well Mrs Griffiths, why were you going to see Mrs Evans and how does that help us establish the time?’

The woman looked at Chard as though he was simple minded. ‘I was going to Mrs Evans to get something for my old man’s cough like I said. We don’t have enough money for doctors around here do we? We all have little gardens and grow our own natural remedies. I was short of a few bits and bobs so I was going to get some dried herbs from Mrs Evans. That’s how I know what time it was.’

‘What was the time?’

‘It was definitely sometime after five because I saw Mr Jones. I told you that didn’t I?’

Chard grimaced and decided a different tack.

‘Very well, did you notice anyone else about at the time?’

‘The light was very poor, but yes. There was Mrs Davies out with her little boy, horrible little thing as he is. Always pulling jibs.’

Chard glanced at Constable Scudamore who assisted by saying, ‘pulling faces, sir.’

‘Then there was Mr Phillips from the grocer’s shop, going about his business. He had his window smashed the other day, didn’t he? Now then, we also had Mrs Evans.’

‘The one that you were going to see?’ asked Chard.

‘No, different Mrs Evans. We have four in our street. There was someone I didn’t know, a scruffy looking man in a long coat. There were two men talking together, but they were too far away to see properly. Then young Tommy Jones, he is nearly twelve so will be down the pit soon.’

‘Is that all?’

‘Apart from Mrs Pearce’s children, she lets them run riot you know, not that I’m one to talk.’

Chard turned to Constable Scudamore. ‘Tomorrow morning trace everyone this lady has mentioned and see if they know anything.’

‘Can I go now?’ asked Mrs Griffiths.

‘Just one or two more questions. Did people get on with Mr Hughes, I mean was he popular?’

‘I am not one to cleck on others,’ said Mrs Griffiths hesitantly.

‘She means tell tales,’ added Scudamore helpfully, for even after a year Chard was still unfamiliar with the local idioms.

‘To be truthful, for I cannot tell a lie, Mr Hughes was not a particularly pleasant man. The only person who got on with him was his wife, and he was besotted with her.’ continued Mrs Griffiths. ‘No one else had much of a good word to say about him and he had been very mean spirited of late.’

‘So Mr Dixon told me,’ said Chard.

‘There’s another grumpy bugger. Those two didn’t get on at all. Why are you asking though?’ asked the woman with keen interest. ‘Do you think the fire started deliberately? You can tell me. I won’t tell a soul.’

‘We are keeping an open mind Mrs Griffiths so I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions. Thank you for your help.’

Turning away the inspector led Constable Scudamore out of earshot. ‘If this is murder then it doesn’t make sense. By the sounds of it he was unpopular but why not just slit his throat one evening? Why do it in daylight and then burn down the workshop?’

‘No idea sir,’ answered the constable, rubbing his chin.

‘There is evil here Constable, I can feel it in the air, but I will uncover it, you mark my words.’

Fatal Solution is available as a paperback or ebook on the Seren website

Buy the first Inspector Chard mystery, Fortuna’s Deadly Shadow, as an ebook: £7.99

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Bring a glass of wine or your favourite tipple and join us on Tuesday 25th May at 7:30pm for the online launch. Leslie will be in conversation with Matt Johnson and we’ll host an audience Q&A. Register for free via Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/154383153167.

Celebrating International Women’s Day

This International Women’s Day we’re showcasing books written by or about inspiring women. Find many more on our website.

women's work 2016

With over 250 contributors, this generous selection of poetry by women with an emphasis on twentieth-century poetry in English features poets from the USA, Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Australia, and New Zealand. Arranged by thematic chapters that touch on various aspects of modern life, this anthology aims to be a touchstone of women’s thoughts and experiences; to be entertaining and relevant as well as inclusive and representative of some of the best poetry published now.

Wild Persistence by Katrina Naomi is a confident and persuasive collection of poems. Written following her move from London to Cornwall, it considers distance and closeness, and questions how to live. She dissects ‘dualism’ and arrival, sex and dance, a trip to Japan. The collection also includes a moving sequence of poems about the aftermath of an attempted rape.

The Estate Agent’s Daughter is the eagerly awaited follow up to Rhian Edwards’s Wales Book of the Year winning debut collection Clueless DogsAcute and wryly observed, the poems step forth with a confident tone, touching on the personal and the public, encapsulating a woman’s tribulations in the twenty-first century.

This informative biography restores Elaine Morgan’s reputation and establishes her significant place in writing from Wales. It outlines her early days living only just above the poverty line in the Rhondda, before reading English Literature at Oxford, and examines her careers as an award-winning television writer and visionary anthropologist. Richly detailed it is essential in understanding the life and work of this important writer.

By turns laugh out loud funny and deeply sad, The Amazingly Astonishing Story is a frank and surprising look into a child’s tumultuous mind, a classic story of a working-class girl growing up in the 60s. Her Catholic upbringing, a father torn between daughter and new wife, her irreverent imagination and determination to enjoy life, mean this really is an amazing story (including meeting the Beatles).

When Nula’s husband James, an Irish documentary filmmaker, becomes forgetful they put it down to the stress of his work. But his behaviour becomes more erratic, and he is eventually diagnosed as suffering from Pick’s Disease, an early onset and aggressive form of dementia. The Longest Farewell is the true story of Nula’s fight with her husband’s disease, and how this terrible time held a happy ending.

A city burns in a crisis − because the status quo has collapsed and change must come. Every value, relationship and belief is shaken and the future is uncertain. In the twenty-six stories in A City Burning, set in Wales, Northern Ireland and Italy, children and adults face, in the flames of personal tragedy, moments of potential transformation. On the threshold of their futures each must make a choice: how to live in this new ‘now’. 

In the aftermath of World War II, hundreds of thousands of Yugoslavia’s ethnic Germans, the Danube Swabians, were expelled by Tito’s Partisan regime. A further sixty thousand were killed. Seventy years later, Marie Kohler’s marriage is falling apart. She’s seeing someone new, an enigmatic man named David, who takes her to the former Yugoslavia to find the truth behind her grandparents’ flight to America. Ford has written a moving narrative of emigration and identity, realpolitik and relationships, and asks what happens when the truth is unspoken.

The Women of Versailles Kate Brown

Princess Adélaïde, daughter of Louis XV, is at odds with the etiquette of the French court. Adélaïde envies her brother, is bored with her sister and, when Madame de Pompadour, a bourgeoise, comes to court as her father’s mistress, she is smitten, with dangerous results. Adélaïde pushes against the confines of the court, blind to the difference between a mistress and princess, with tragic results. Forty-four years later, under the looming shadow of the revolution, what has happened to the hopes of a young girl and the doomed regime in which she grew up?

Find many more fantastic titles by female authors on the Seren website serenbooks.com/shop/new-titles.

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Queer’s the Word: Readings for LGBT+ History Month

Daryl Leeworthy, author of A Little Gay History of Wales and Elaine Morgan: A Life Behind the Screen, shares some of the top books you should be reading this LGBT+ History Month.

Since the removal of Section 28 from the statute book in 2003, Britain’s queer communities have come together each February to celebrate a history which was for so long hidden in plain sight. Each year, LGBT+ History Month has a theme: in 2021 it is ‘Body, Mind, Spirit’. Anyone who has watched Russell T. Davies’s masterpiece, It’s A Sin, will know just how much each of those elements can be affected by absorbing oneself in aspects of the queer past and present. The books I have chosen for this short article penned as a contribution to LGBT+ History Month, each represent a different side of life.

Let’s start with the master historian, Jeffrey Weeks, who was born in the Rhondda in 1945, and his landmark book, Coming Out. First published by Quartet in 1977, and released in a new edition in 2016, Coming Out brings Britain’s queer history to life. It is radical. It is rooted in the ideas of gay liberation – about which more in a moment – and in the left-wing politics of the 1970s. But it is not an artifact of an earlier time, so much as an endlessly absorbing and fascinating excavation of a past richly experienced but all-too-easily cloaked in the horror of criminal codes and lavender scares. Weeks’s great triumph is to bring queer history back down to street level. In his long career, Weeks went on to write about Edward Carpenter, theories of sexuality, and the triumph of the queer civil rights movement through signature legislation such as same-sex marriage. This spring he turns his attention to his Welsh roots in a masterful memoir, Between Worlds.

To understand the Gay Liberation Front itself, there is no better work than Lisa Power’s No Bath But Plenty Of Bubbles, an oral history of the movement in London, which was originally published in 1995 by Cassell. Long out of print and difficult to get hold of, it has recently been re-released as an e-book to mark GLF’s fiftieth anniversary. By the time the book appeared in the mid-1990s, the world had changed completely from that envisaged by the GLF activists twenty years before – but rarely for the better. The age of consent, set at 21 since 1967, fell to eighteen in 1994 but the opportunity to bring about equality at 16 was narrowly missed. Section 28 was on the statute book and ruining the lives of a generation of queer children (me included). HIV/AIDS wreaked havoc all over the world, amongst queer and non-queer communities alike. Lisa Power wrote a book of history, then, but one designed as a kick into gear, a serious attempt to recover something of the spirit and purpose of the Gay Liberation Front and to make the world better for everyone. Twenty five years later, we know it succeeded.

After a year living with the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are feeling an enormous strain and frustration. We have come to think of the virus as a once in a century event – it is not. But that tells us something about how societies remember and how we as individuals remember, too. Studies have shown that the descendants of those most directly impacted by traumatic events carry with them a genetic memory – an imprint of that harm which cannot be got rid of. It is especially apparent amongst Holocaust survivors and their children and grandchildren. For queer people, especially, it is also true of HIV/AIDS, the other great global pandemic of the past fifty years. To understand the interplay between trauma and memory, there is no better novel than Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers. Published in 2018, it focuses on Chicago and brings to life a community which was forced to adapt and compelled to live with death and danger, day after day. But it is a universal story, one which can – and in its comparison with COVID-19 does – affect us all.

But what of Wales? When I wrote A Little Gay History of Wales a few years ago, I had a delightful afternoon reading Sion Eirian’s 1979 novel, Bob yn y Ddinas. It’s not really a queer novel except for a passage where the title character, Bob, goes into the Duke Of Wellington pub in central Cardiff and encounters a neighbourhood drag queen who buys a drink for everyone in the snug, but not him. He was outside the community. This was truth, not fiction. For a period in the late-1970s, the Duke of Wellington joined its neighbour the King’s Cross and the nearby Golden Cross and Bristol Hotel as part of the small gay scene of those years. This was Real Cardiff, as Peter Finch would describe it, tough and grimy and poor; the place as it was before the corporate towers arrived and the rents shot up.

My last choice takes me back to the Rhondda and to another queer emigré who made his way to London: the novelist Rhys Davies. In his lifetime, Rhys Davies never openly acknowledged his homosexuality. Privately, and to his friends, and partners, it was a different story. He cruised guardsmen on the streets of interwar London; he cruised men in the various European cities in which he lived; he was in Germany like Christopher Isherwood and saw the rise of the Nazis; he wrote very queer novels which take little decoding for modern readers; and became close friends and a beneficiary of the noted American lesbians Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas. Alas, much of the writer’s work is now out of print but his memoir, Print of a Hare’s Foot, first published in 1969, appears as a Seren Classic. More so than Mike Stephens’s prize-winning biography, which doesn’t really get to the heart of its subject’s sexuality, I’m afraid, Print of a Hare’s Foot is the best place to start with a writer who is to Wales what Oscar Wilde is to Ireland.

Daryl Leeworthy is the Rhys Davies Research Fellow at Swansea University. He is the author of A Little Gay History of Wales (2019) and of Elaine Morgan: A Life Behind the Screen, which is out now with Seren.

Elaine Morgan: A Life Behind the Screen is available on the Seren website: £9.99

A Little Gay History of Wales is published by University of Wales Press: £11.99

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Short Story of the Month – ‘All Through the Night’ by Angela Graham

Our new short story of the month is ‘All Through the Night’ by Angela Graham from her debut short story collection A City Burning.

A man looks back to the night his marriage reached its tipping-point on a cliff-top in west Wales.

A city burns in a crisis − because the status quo has collapsed and change must come. Every value, relationship and belief is shaken and the future is uncertain.

In the twenty-six stories in A City Burning, set in Wales, Northern Ireland and Italy, children and adults face, in the flames of personal tragedy, moments of potential transformation. On the threshold of their futures each must make a choice: how to live in this new ‘now’. 

The story ‘All Through the Night’ was first published in the Irish journal Crannóg which nominated it for the prestigious Pushcart Prize in 2019. 

This is an excerpt, read the full story for FREE on the Seren website here.

All Through the Night

I look back now with a kind of dread, yet dread is about the future, about what’s going to happen, not what has already happened. So I dread…? The memory of pain.
          I never thought of myself as a man given to gestures. Imagination I do have, but I tend to keep it to myself.
          I remember the road: the little road under the starlight that summer. It was the year Mam and Dad sold the farm. I didn’t want it. They kept the farmhouse and the little bwthyn that had been the kernel of the homestead. You and I had used it for years already for holidays with the kids. They loved its thick walls and deep window-ledges.
          At Clogwyn Uchel, on the very edge of Wales, the roads are dark (some of them are tracks, really) and the stars sort of spread themselves out overhead, display themselves, with a careless glamour; or like something much more homely, like sugar spilt across a slate, but up there, up above. A sprinkling of sugar overhead. Very confusing if you thought about it too much. And higher into the sky – it’s hard to describe! – there’s a hazy cloud of them.  Growing up at Clogwyn Uchel and I never bothered to learn much about them. Anyway, the stars do what they do whether we notice them or not. They’re not waiting for our attention.
          On a clear night like that one they shed enough light to see your way and the chalky ground of the lane helps. It’s a glimmering path up to the bwthyn, reflecting light from far, far above. Sometimes it even seems to me as though a bit of the sky has dropped to earth because the little white stones are like a rough and tumble Milky Way between the hedges.
          You walked ahead of me, Mari. Blindly, I thought. Or like someone who’d been dazzled by something. Your feet took you.
          Your mind? Numbed.
          Probably. We all have to do so much guess-work about each other! What is she feeling?  What will she do next? What does she want?
          “Do you love him?” I called out. But you didn’t stop, or look back, or speak. I’m sure you heard me. You went on, into the little house.
          I couldn’t. I walked around it to where the sea suddenly presents itself. A shock! Always. Always that shiver at finding yourself on the edge of a cliff. Acres of water ahead in a dark mass. The endlessness of the sea. It doesn’t stop. It goes about its business, rushing and crushing, floating boats, flexing itself. That night it was shuddering.
          The stars. Some flung themselves down the sky. Mad bastards. Most looked on in a dignified way, blinking mildly at this recklessness.  And I thought of the song. Its beautiful tune.
          Holl amrantau’r sêr ddywedant
          Ar hyd y nos.

          Ar hyd y nos. All through the night.
          Nothing like the crappy English version.  Sickly-sweet, that.  And boring. “Soft the drowsy hours are creeping… visions of delight revealing… hill and vale in slumber steeping”. And the stars don’t get a look-in! Not a mention. You pointed that out to me. When you were learning Welsh. “How come…?” you asked. You were always asking that. “Why is the verb here? Why do I have to say…?” Whatever.
          And I’d say, “It just is, Mari. I don’t know why. Ask your teacher, cariad.  Gwyn knows all that stuff.”
          Yes, he did, didn’t he?

Finish reading ‘All Through the Night’ on the Seren website here.

A City Burning is available on the Seren website £9.99

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Seren Christmas Gift Guide 2020

It comes around every year – the struggle of finding a gift for that hard-to-buy-for family member. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with the Seren Christmas Gift Guide. Refreshed for 2020, we’ve grouped together our top suggestions, old and new, across a range of interests to help make that decision a little bit easier. 

Festive Favourites

Twelve Poems for Christmas Ed. Amy Wack: £5.00

This sparkling selection of Christmas poems is the perfect stocking filler for any poetry addict. These are poems full of feeling that resist cliché, that touch on classic ‘Christmas’ themes, but bring them to life from fresh perspectives. The pamphlet opens with Pippa Little’s lyrical and tender poem, ‘St. Leonore and the Robin’, and features poems both humorous and contemplative. Small enough to send with (or instead of) a card, this is the perfect festive treat for your loved ones.

Christmas in Wales Ed. Dewi Roberts: £8.99

Celebrate Christmas the Welsh way in the company of some of the country’s leading writers, past and present. Christmas mass, the nativity play, turkey and plum pudding, the Mari Lwyd, presents, the weather, the shopping and post-festive blues are among the many subjects drawn from stories, poems, diaries and letters. Featuring R.S. Thomas, Dylan Thomas, Dannie Abse, Gillian Clarke, Catherine Fisher, Bruce Chatwin, Sian James, Kate Roberts and Leslie Norris, it’s guaranteed to get you in the Christmas spirit.

Seren Christmas Books Bundles: £9.99

Take the pressure out of present buying and let us do the choosing (and the wrapping) for you. Treat yourself or someone special to one of our Mystery Book Bundles for the fantastic price of only £9.99 and we’ll send you three books from our wide-ranging and wonderful list, beautifully gift-wrapped and ready to put under the tree. Choice of fiction or poetry.

Books for Fiction Addicts

A Simple Scale by David Llewellyn: £9.99

Simple Scale David Llewellyn

A single piece of music starts a story that takes us from Soviet Russia and McCarthyite Hollywood to post-9/11 New York. A single piece of music, and two composers – one American, the other Soviet – but which of them wrote it? How did their lives cross? How were their fortunes shaped by history, and what were the consequences for those they loved? Rich in detail and atmosphere, David Llewellyn explores the points at which the personal and political meet.

The Green Bridge: Stories from Wales Ed. John Davies: £9.99

The short story has long been a popular form with writers and readers in Wales.  The Green Bridge
 collects work by 25 of the country’s foremost writers of the twentieth century in an entertaining and varied anthology. Horror, satire, humour, war, tales of the aristocracy, of navvies, love, and madness, industry, the countryside, politics and sport: these stories provide insight into the changing values of Wales and the world.

What Remains at the End by Alexandra Ford: £9.99

In the aftermath of World War II, hundreds of thousands of Yugoslavia’s ethnic Germans, the Danube Swabians, were expelled by Tito’s Partisan regime. A further sixty thousand were killed. Seventy years later, Marie Kohler’s marriage is falling apart. She’s seeing someone new, an enigmatic man named David, who takes her to the former Yugoslavia to find the truth behind her grandparents’ flight to America. Ford has written a moving narrative of emigration and identity, realpolitik and relationships, and asks what happens when the truth is unspoken.

Books for Home Birds

Miriam, Daniel and Me by Euron Griffith: £9.99

When Miriam fell in love with Padraig life seemed simple. But soon she discovered that love is a treacherous business. Everything changed when she met Daniel. She was taken down an unexpected path which would dictate and dominate the rest of her life. Spanning three generations of a North Wales family in a Welsh-speaking community,
Miriam, Daniel and Me is an absorbing and compelling story of family discord, political turmoil, poetry, jealousy…and football.

The Seren Real Series: £9.99

First started by Peter Finch with Real Cardiff and now containing over 20 volumes, the Seren Real Series is a collection of psychogeographic guides that take a closer look at beloved towns and cities from all over the UK. Always insightful and full of interesting observations, made personal by each author’s connection to the place, these books discover the essence of what makes our towns and cities tick.

Walking Cardiff by Peter Finch and John Briggs: £14.99 

Join Peter Finch and John Briggs on twenty walks around Cardiff, the bustling capital of Wales. Together they visit the new and the ancient, the difficult, the undiscovered, the lesser-known, the artistic, the entertaining, the quirky and the unexpected. They criss-cross the city, informing, discovering, exploring, and enduring, reviving old routes as they go. Their journeys encompass the city’s history, and record daily life on its streets, in its parks and its famous and not so famous, buildings.

At the Bright Hem of God by Peter J. Conradi: £9.99

Radnorshire, a county rural and remote. The lives of its sparse population continue to be shaped by the wild landscape of valleys and mountains in ways that for Britain now lie in the past. Yet down the centuries Radnorshire has fascinated and inspired, as a place of contemplation, exploration, creation and retreat. Peter J. Conradi examines both his own relationship with the place and responses to it by writers from Gerald of Wales, who passed through in 1176, to the present day.

Books for History Buffs

Forbidden Lives by Norena Shopland: £12.99 

Norena Shopland Forbidden Lives

A fascinating collection of portraits and discussions that aims to populate LGBT gaps in the history of Wales, a much neglected part of Welsh heritage. Norena Shopland reviews the reasons for this neglect while outlining the activity behind the recent growth of the LGBT profile here. She also surveys LGBT people and their activity as far back as Giraldus Cambrensis’ Journey Through Wales in the twelfth century.

Wales’s Best One Hundred Churches by T. J. Hughes: £12.99

The archetypal Welsh church is not in town or village, enhanced by generations of patronage: it is the isolated, simple, evocative walls-with-roof, in a landscape often spiritually charged.  Illustrated in colour Wales’s Best One Hundred Churches encompasses a millennium of  churches around Wales. It is an invaluable repository of history, art and architecture, spirituality and people’s lives which will appeal to the historian and the tourist, communicants and those without a god.

Lime, Lemon and Sarsaparilla by Colin Hughes: £9.99

Lime, Lemon & Sarsaparilla is a wonderful evocation of Italian immigration in south Wales from the turn of the century to the postwar years, when the Italian café was central to life in many small communities in the Valleys. In this award-winning study Colin Hughes, himself a south Walian, explains why so many immigrants from Bardi settled in the area. Fully illustrated with contemporary photographs, and with a Foreword by the Welsh-Italian actor Victor Spinetti, it is a revealing history of our recent past.

Elaine Morgan: A Life Behind the Screen by Daryl Leeworthy: £9.99

This informative biography restores Elaine Morgan’s reputation and establishes her significant place in writing from Wales. It outlines her early days living only just above the poverty line in the Rhondda, before reading English Literature at Oxford, and examines her careers as an award-winning television writer and visionary anthropologist. Richly detailed it is essential in understanding the life and work of this important writer.

Books for Nature Lovers

Wild Places UK: UK’s Top 40 Nature Sites by Iolo Williams: £19.99 

Iolo Williams returns with a guide to his top 40 sites in the UK. From Hermaness on Shetland to the London Wetland Centre, from Dungeness in Kent to Loch Neagh, Williams criss-crosses the country. Lavishly illustrated, author and book aim to introduce a new audience to the delights of the UK, be they armchair naturalists or, more importantly, visitors to the forty sites Williams has selected. Follow up to Wild Places Wales.

Waterfalls of Stars by Rosanne Alexander: £12.99 

Waterfalls of Stars Rosanne Alexander

When Rosanne Alexander’s boyfriend Mike was offered the job of warden of Skomer Island, they had just ten days to leave college, marry (a condition of employment) and gather their belongings and provisions. With great sensitivity, and humour, Rosanne Alexander relates their experiences, including her observations of the island’s wildlife and landscape. Her lyrical evocation of the natural world will inspire and entertain anyone who has felt the need for escape.

The Owl House by Daniel Butler: £12.99

Daniel Butler charts his relationship with two barn owls which nested in the barn of his rural mid-Wales home. In this pastoral exploration of his locale, rich in wildlife of all kinds, he roams the mountains and forests, takes trips to the coast, encounters all manner of animals and birds, and grows to understand the relationship between the local people and their surroundings. A rich and vivid portrait of one of the most remote and sparsely populated areas of Britain, broad in its horizons yet full of fascinating detail.

Books for Poetry Fanatics

The Art of Falling by Kim Moore: £9.99

The Art of Falling Kim Moore

In her debut collection The Art of Falling Kim Moore writes vividly about her own life and the lives of others. She sets out her stall in the opening poems, firmly in the North amongst ‘My People’. The title poem riffs on the many sorts of falling “so close to failing or to falter or to fill”, and her experience as a peripatetic brass teacher sparks several poems. Other poems feature: suffragettes, a tattoo inspired by Virginia Woolf, and a poetic letter addressed to a ‘Dear Mr Gove’. Winner of the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize 2016.

The Estate Agent’s Daughter by Rhian Edwards: £9.99

Rhian Edwards won Wales Book of the Year for her debut poetry collection, Clueless Dogs. The Estate Agent’s Daughter is her eagerly awaited second book. Acute and wryly observed, the poems step forth with a confident tone, touching on the personal and the public, encapsulating a woman’s tribulations in the 21st century. Her voice is both powerfully personal, local to her Bridgend birthplace, and performative, born to be read aloud.

Footnotes to Water by Zoë Skoulding: £9.99

Winner of the Poetry Category in Wales Book of the Year 2020, Footnotes to Water imagines a river as a transverse section, cutting through urban and rural spaces, connecting places that are themselves in flux. Zoë Skoulding follows two forgotten rivers, the Adda in Bangor and the Bièvre in Paris, and tracks the literary hoofprints of sheep through Welsh mountains. In these journeys she reveals urban and rural locales as sites of lively interconnection, exploring the ways in which place shapes and is shaped by language.

Regional Poetry Pamphlets: £5.00

Our new series of poetry pamphlets celebrates the beauty, history and lively everyday goings-on in four areas of Wales: PembrokeshireSnowdoniathe Borders, and the capital city of Cardiff. Each pamphlet comes with an envelope and a postcard – the perfect stocking filler for your loved ones this Christmas.

Books for Cooks

The Occasional Vegan by Sarah Philpott: £12.99 

The Occasional Vegan Sarah Philpott

This collection of 70 simple, affordable and delicious recipes is suitable for newcomers and long-time vegans alike. Sarah’s recipes are accompanied by the story of her own journey to becoming a vegan, exploring the ethical and lifestyle arguments for a plant-based diet. Illustrated with photographs by Manon Houston.

The Seasonal Vegan by Sarah Philpott: £12.99

This simple guide to eating with the seasons takes a realistic approach to shopping cheaply and sustainably and proves that the vegan lifestyle is anything but expensive. With a sections on all four seasons, dishes that can be enjoyed all year round, and menu ideas for special occasions, its the perfect kitchen companion. With beautiful photography by Manon Houston.

Books for Music Lovers

Just Help Yourself by Vernon Hopkins: £9.99 

Just Help Yourself Vernon Hopkins

1960. Britain stood at the cusp of new times. In Pontypridd, sixteen-year-old Vernon Hopkins had just found a new singer for his band: a local boy who would come to be known as Tom Jones. Just Help Yourself tells the full story of The Senators – soon to become The Squires – and their lead singer Tom Jones. Vernon Hopkins’ authentic narrative is a revealing look at the highs and lows of the music business, and of London in the allegedly Swinging Sixties. Full of gritty detail about life in Pontypridd, and with great insight into the music business, it is a cautionary tale of ambition and success. Illustrated with previously unseen photographs from the author’s archive.

The Roots of Rock, from Cardiff to Mississippi and Back by Peter Finch: £9.99 

The Roots of Rock, from Cardiff to Mississippi and Back

Peter Finch follows the trail of twentieth century popular music from a 1950s valve radio playing in a suburban Cardiff terrace to the reality of the music among the bars of Ireland, the skyscrapers of New York, the plains of Tennessee, the flatlands of Mississippi and the mountains of North Carolina. The Roots of Rock mixes musical autobiography with an exploration of the physical places from which this music comes. It is a demonstration of the power of music to create a world for the listener that is simultaneously of and beyond the place in which it is heard. It also considers how music has changed during this time, from the culture-shaping (revolutionising) 50s and 60s to the present day.

The Wellspring by Barney Norris: £12.99

Barney Norris The Wellspring

In The Wellspring acclaimed novelist and dramatist Barney Norris conducts a conversation with his even more acclaimed father, the pianist and composer David Owen Norris, on creativity, cultural identity, and how the two intertwine. Their combined experience, in two fields, in two different generations, provides a thought-provoking discussion of how a place and a culture inform the work of artists, and how England and Englishness have changed over the past half century.

Books for Horizon Gazers

No Far Shore: Charting Unknown Waters by Anne-Marie Fyfe: £9.99 

No Far Shore is no ordinary exploration of coastlines. Anne-Marie Fyfe combines travel writing, history, memoir and poetry in an intriguing meditation on the sea, that explores the unsettledness of living on the boundary between two elements. She explores countless coastlines, her own family history and the works of a number of writers for whom the coast has been influential along the way.

Crossings by Nicholas Murray: £12.99 

Nicholas Murray considers the borders he has confronted – geographic, cultural, linguistic, social, class, religious, sexual – and reflects on the influence of borders on how we think of ourselves and others. In the first section he transports
the reader to Spain and North Africa, Gibraltar,
Turkey, partitioned Cyprus, the cross roads that is Trieste, Hong Kong and Australia, and takes a trip along the Danube through the contested lands of the Balkans. In the second he explores his home patch, the border between Wales and England, providing a fascinating counterpoint to the people, customs and mores encountered in the first part of the book.

The Road to Zagora by Richard Collins: £9.99 

When Richard Collins was diagnosed with a progressive incurable disease in 2006 he decided to see as much of the world as he could while his condition allowed. The result is The Road to Zagora, a singular travel book which takes in India, Nepal, Turkey, Morocco, Peru, Equador and Wales. With ‘Mr Parkinson’, as Collins refers to his condition, by their side, he and his partner Flic decide to continue to travel ‘close to the land’ post diagnosis, leaving the tourist trails and visiting places of extremes: the Himalayas, rainforests, deserts. The story of their travels is collected here in a memorable journey around the world, and the self.

To Babel and Back by Robert Minhinnick: £7.99

Join Robert Minhinnick on a journey across a radioactive planet. Researching the use of depleted uranium in modern weapons, the writer follows a deadly trail from the uranium mines of the USA into Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Berlin, Prague, Buenos Aires, New York, Italy, England, Finland, Canada: this globalised world is simultaneously familiar and bizarre, filled with the background noise of contemporary society yet capable of providing places and moments of utter silence. Jetlagged, culture-lagged, Minhinnick returns to his native Wales, its coastline and valleys as extraordinary as anything encountered in a Babel that might be myth or alarmingly real. Winner of Wales Book of the Year 2006.

Books for Fans of Biography and Memoir

The Amazingly Astonishing Story by Lucy Gannon: £12.99

By turns laugh out loud funny and deeply sad, The Amazingly Astonishing Story is a frank and surprising look into a child’s tumultuous mind, a classic story of a working-class girl growing up in the 60s. Her Catholic upbringing, a father torn between daughter and new wife, her irreverent imagination and determination to enjoy life, mean this really is an amazing story (including meeting the Beatles).

Family Business: A Memoir by Peter J. Conradi: £12.99

Family Business is Peter J. Conradi’s multi-stranded memoir. It explores his Jewish background, his rebellious youth, his sexuality, and his relationship with the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch and her husband John Bayley, who became almost a second family for him. Thoughtfully composed and beautifully written, it is a classic in waiting.

The Longest Farewell by Nula Suchet: £12.99 

When Nula’s husband James, an Irish documentary filmmaker, becomes forgetful they put it down to the stress of his work. But his behaviour becomes more erratic, and he is eventually diagnosed as suffering from Pick’s Disease, an early onset and aggressive form of dementia. The Longest Farewell is the true story of Nula’s fight with her husband’s disease, and how this terrible time held a happy ending.

Jim Neat: The Case of a Remarkable Man Down on his Luck by Mary J. Oliver: £9.99 

Jim Neat is a remarkable evocation of the seemingly fractured life of Mary J. Oliver’s father. Tinged with the tragedy of his partner’s death and an orphaned daughter, it ranges across the history of 20th century England and Canada. Using the few documents of Jim’s life and a combination of poetry and prose, Oliver adopts a legal structure, making ‘the case’ for the worth of his life. The result is a fascinating and engaging book unlike any other memoir.

Books for Art Connoisseurs

Welsh Quilts by Jen Jones: £12.99 

Welsh Quilts Jen Jones

Welsh Quilts is an authoritative guide to the history and art of the quilt in Wales. It is the result of expert author Jen Jones’ researches into the subject and her desire to revive what had been a gloriously high-quality craft. Illustrated with beautiful images of the bold designs and intricate stitching of the quilts in her own collection, Welsh Quilts is the essential book on the subject, whether you are a quilter yourself, or simply interested in quilting heritage.

Tide-Race by Brenda Chamberlain: £9.99 

Tide-Race is a remarkable account of life on Bardsey (known as Ynys Enlli to Welsh speakers), a remote and mysterious island off the coast of North Wales. Brenda Chamberlain lived on the island from 1947 to 1961, during the last days of its hardy community. The combination of Bardsey, ancient site of Christian pilgrimage, wild and dangerous landscape, and Brenda Chamberlain, Royal Academy trained artist, results in a classic book, vividly illustrated by the author’s line drawings.

A Fold in the River by Philip Gross and Valerie Coffin Price: £12.99

A Fold in the River is the fruit of collaboration between T.S. Eliot prize-winning poet Philip Gross and the visual artist Valerie Coffin Price. Philip Gross once lived on the banks of the River Taff in Wales and his journals are the source for the powerful poems. Valerie Coffin Price revisited the walking route along the river and evolved the beautiful prints and drawings that accompany the poems. Look out for a follow up, Troeon/Turnings with Welsh-language poet Cyril Jones in January 2021.

Welsh Artists Talking by Tony Curtis: £19.99

Featuring Brendan Stuart Burns, Ivor Davies, David Garner, Robert Harding, Alfred Janes, Christine Jones, Jonah Jones, David Nash, Terry Setch and Lois Williams, this collection of interviews with artists from Wales is further evidence of the renaissance of the visual arts in the country. The ten artists talking to Tony Curtis vary in practice from figurative and abstract painters through a ceramicist to sculptors in stone, wood and metal. Their work and words provide, at once, a history of twentieth century art in Wales and a guide to making in the twenty-first century.

Books for Photographers

Living in Wales by David Hurn: £25.00 

Living in Wales is an album of one hundred and one duotone portraits of people who, in the words of David Hurn ‘have enriched my life and that of Wales.’ It is a roster of the famous and distinguished in the fields of science, business, the arts, sport, the law, health, media, politics and religion. Beautifully composed, and shot with David’s characteristic flair for detail, the photographs linger on the physicality of the person, a telling prop pushing the image towards the possibility of narrative. Here is a photographer on inspirational form.

The Living Wells of Wales by Phil Cope: £20.00 

Author and photographer Phil Cope takes us on a journey through the sacred wells of Wales, from the Anglesey to the Gwent. On his way he discovers wells in city centres and, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere – on mountainsides, in deserted valleys, on the coast, in sea caves. They include healing wells, cursing wells, and wells named for saints, Satan, witches, angels, fairies, friars, nuns, hermits, murderers and hangmen. Packed with colour photographs, including some of long-forgotten wells now rediscovered, The Living Wells of Wales is the new definitive volume on a subject gaining a new popularity.

Taken in Time by John Briggs: £14.95 

Photographer John Briggs continues his project to document change in the Cardiff docklands, revisiting the sites and people memorably recorded in Before the Deluge. In the last thirty years landmark buildings have been demolished, docks filled in, the barrage built, maritime businesses closed, and streets disappeared. In their place, a huge redevelopment scheme, gentrification, and tourism. With characteristic honesty and an eye for compelling detail, John Briggs brings these changes to a wider audience in this not to be missed book.

Books in Translation

Let Me Tell You What I Saw by Adnan Al-Sayegh, Trans. Jenny Lewis, Ruba Abughaida and others: £12.99

Let Me Tell You What I Saw is the first ever publication as a dual-language (English/Arabic) text of substantial extracts from Adnan Al-Sayegh’s ground-breaking epic poem, Uruk’s Anthem, one of the longest poems ever written in Arabic literature, which gives voice to the profound despair of the Iraqi experience. This superb translation brings the eloquent original Arabic epic to a new readership.

Bilbao – New York – Bilbao by Kirmen Uribe, Trans. Elizabeth Macklin £9.99

Bilbao–New York–Bilbao takes place during a flight to New York and tells the story of journeys by three generations of the same family. The key to the book is Liborio’s fishing boat, the Dos Amigos: who are these two friends, and what is the nature of their friendship? Through letters, diaries, emails, poems and dictionaries, Kirmen creates a mosaic of memories and stories that combine to form a homage to a world that has almost disappeared, as well as a hymn to the continuity of life. It is also a reflection on the art of writing, and lies between life and fiction.

Ukulele Jam by Alen Mešković, Trans. by Paul Russell Garrett: £9.99

Miki, a Bosnian teenager, and his family are escaping the Balkan war. They live in a Croatian refugee camp, a former holiday resort on the Adriatic, but it’s difficult to adjust to their new circumstances. With the war rumbling in the background and his brother missing in a Serbian prison camp, Miki and his new friends pick up girls, listen to music and have campfire parties on the beach. Then war breaks out between Croats and Bosnians and friends threaten to become enemies. Miki wants to emigrate to Sweden, but his parents can’t face leaving behind their old life in Bosnia. 

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Ed Beech’s Recipe for Orkney Fish Pie

Ed Beech is one half of Beech Building Services. He’s also a keen cook. Today we’re sharing his recipe for Orkney Fish Pie, one of his favourites. Here’s everything you need to organise prep do done.

Orkney Fish Pie

What you need.

A jug of milk.

Some shallots.

Three average cloves.

Eight hand picked Orcadian scallops.

A fillet of fresh Orcadian caught white fish, preferably tusk.

A small bag of smoked Orcadian mussels.

A lump of butter about the size of a lemon.

A lemon.

Two saucepans.

Some flour (enough to cover the palm of your hand).

Half a dozen tatties of varying sizes.

Knives and spoons.

A bowl of grated Westray Wife cheese.

An oven.

Sea salt and coarsely ground pepper.

Wine.

Nutmeg.

Jazz.

An ovenproof dish.

A cat.

What you need to do.

Put the cat out. Pour the milk into a pan, add the chopped shallots, the cloves and some salt and pepper. Cook the fish in this mixture for a couple of minutes and then let it cool and infuse for half an hour. Drink some wine.

Boil the tatties, mash them with butter, fresh milk and a fistful of the cheese.

Remove the fish from the milk mixture and set aside. Melt the butter in a pan, slowly add the flour and then stir the strained infused milk into the mix until you’ve got a good looking sauce. Let the cat back in.

Pour some of the sauce into an ovenproof dish and add some chunks of fish, four scallops and some mussels. Add some more sauce, the rest of the fish, scallops and mussels, and pour in the last of the sauce. Put the cat out again.

Spread the mash over the top, cover with some more cheese and bake until it’s bubbling and smells right.

Serve with the lemon, a small heap of spinach, some Dave Brubeck and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Cloudy Bay from New Zealand for preference. Let the cat in again. Remember that you forgot to grate the nutmeg over the mash before you put it in the oven. Drink some more wine. Do the washing up.

Ed Beech is one half of Beech Building Services. He’s based in Bermondsey but no job’s too small, no distance too great. So when he’s asked to do some work on a house in Orkney, he loads the van with paint, tools and sandwiches, and takes off. He gets nervous around farm animals and large ships, and he’s never been so far north, but when he’s joined by Claire, his client’s city banker sister, he discovers that in Stromness, anything is possible.

The Stromness Dinner is available on the Seren website £9.99

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We’re hosting the virtual launch of The Stromness Dinner next week on Wednesday 4 November. Peter will be in discussion with Duncan McLean followed by a live audience Q&A so come with your questions ready. Register for FREE via Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/122383543473

An interview with Angela Graham

Ahead of the launch of her debut short story collection A City Burning, we interview Angela Graham to find out more about the book and what inspires her.

In the twenty-six stories in A City Burning, set in Wales, Northern Ireland and Italy, children and adults face, in the flames of personal tragedy, moments of potential transformation. On the threshold of their futures each must make a choice: how to live in this new ‘now’. With a virtuoso control of tone, by turns elegiac, comic, lyrical, philosophical, A City Burning examines power of all types. The result is a deeply human book full of hauntingly memorable characters and narratives.

What is the meaning behind the title A City Burning?

In the opening story, ‘The Road’, a young girl witnesses her city blazing. She understands that this is a sign of the collapse of the status quo, of all the usual certainties. She is confronted with the need to react to this new situation. What values should guide her in this choice? I realised that this story encapsulates the theme of many stories in the collection – witnessing major change and having to work out a response. It seemed a fitting title for the book.

There is a theme of change in this collection, what, if anything, do you hope the reader can take away from this underlying message?

I haven’t thought in terms of such a message – at least, not while I was writing the stories. It wasn’t until late in the day that I saw that facing change was a link between them, and it took someone else, an editor, to point that out. In an important sense, I had to understand my own work from a more objective perspective. I’d like readers to recognise that ‘the given’ (whether positive or negative) can break down in very noticeable and in very subtle ways. One person sees a city burning, another sees some detail in a single photograph that opens their eyes. Usually, I believe few such opportunities for perception appear out of the blue. We have usually been sensitized to a shift in circumstances but we may be unwilling or unable to respond at an earlier point.

I’ve just looked up the etymology of ‘catastrophe’. The word comes from kata- ‘down’ + strophē ‘turning’. I imagine that as the point at which a wheel, goes into its irreversible downward momentum. We have watched the wheel move upwards and we know something has to give but we are not always prepared for it.

Words Flowering at Ty Newydd

There are a lot of different settings and ideas conveyed in these stories. Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Anywhere that’ll have me! To give an example, the story, ‘Life-Task’ which is set in northern Italy at the end of the Second World War came to me because a person who had just retuned from Italy recounted a story she’d been told by someone who’d had it from someone who’d heard it from the actual protagonist. It must have been brilliantly told originally to be so vivid (after passing through several tellings in this way) for it to reach me so powerfully that I could see the events as the story was shared with me. I went home and wrote it down. Of course, it helped that I had, for completely other reasons, been doing research into post-war Italy, had read Italian novels on the subject, and taken a particular interest in what happened in northern Italy when the Germans (the allies of the Italians) had been defeated. And, in writing a story, one has to aim for a satisfying balance between all the elements. This may introduce material which is not part of ‘the original’.

Do any of the stories draw on personal experience?

This is a book of fiction. It’s not memoir or autobiography. It’s all made up. But it’s true to experience, my own and that of many others.

Coasteering near Dunluce Castle, Co. Antrim

You engage with a number of different languages in the book including Ulster Scots in the story ‘Coasteering’. Why was it important for you to foreground these languages in the collection?

I have always been interested in languages and I’ve worked in Wales for a long time, a country where two languages are in use alongside each other. I learned Welsh as soon as I moved to Wales when I married a Welshman. In Northern Ireland I had much experience of the link between language and identity; even nuances of accent, in a city such as Belfast, are sifted for meaning. Whenever a chance has presented itself to get involved with a language I’ve tried to take it. For example, I did a crash-course in Romanian as part of the writing of a screenplay set in that country and it made a big difference, when I was researching there, that I could follow what people were saying. I learned Italian by ear when I was a teenager and, again, I wrote a screenplay, set in Puglia. Most of the time, people are pleased that one has made an effort to allow them to stay in the language in which they are most comfortable, most ‘themselves’.

In regards to Ulster Scots, that fascinates me. I have written the first draft of a novel in which two major characters are Ulster Scots-speakers and language, including Irish, is key to the book. Clashes over language and culture are deep-rooted in Northern Ireland but there is also great potential to overcome seeing language as an obstacle. I’ve worked with a number of Ulster Scots writers. My father’s family are Ulster Scots. It’s important to me that Ulster Scots takes its place in contemporary literary fiction.

Words from Ulster Scots displayed at the Seamus Heaney Centre, Bellaghy

What is your favourite story and why?

The Road. In its 800-or-so words I’d like to think it pushes that wheel up out of catastrophe; gives it a push into an upward turn.

You’ve added some new stories based on the pandemic in the last few months. Why did you decide to write about it and were they hard to write?

They were not hard to write in that I was fuelled by indignation at the plight of low-paid workers whose interests were not given proper consideration. I have personal experience of the ‘worlds’ of both stories and I felt able to depict them forcefully. I checked out facts, naturally, but the internal impetus was immediate. Once again, it seemed to me, the people who are considered ‘least’ in our society − least important, least powerful − were receiving least attention, whereas if their needs were a priority we’d have a better balanced society in which to live.

You turned to writing full time a few years ago. How did you first get into writing and what has it been like working up to publication of your debut collection during the pandemic?

I committed solely to writing because I was busy with media work and I felt the need to sharpen my focus. Writing is what I have always done, since I was about six years old. My first poem was published in a mainstream magazine when I was seven and I wasn’t one bit surprised at the time. I knew that was what magazines were for – publishing stuff. I had a very child-like view of things. Of course. Very naïve. It’s by no means easy to get work published. And that’s a good sign – there are so many exceptionally talented writers.

I’ve always written but usually for the screen. I’ve done journalism and radio work and non-fiction tv tie-in work and poetry. A City Burning is my first chance to pull a substantial amount of fictional material together into a coherent whole.

Once I’d negotiated the early days of the pandemic – the practicalities − the pandemic (because I was lucky to stay well) made no great difference to the practice of writing at a desk. There were fewer distractions. But there was no access to libraries and I had planned to do an in situ major piece of writing for a month and the restrictions made that impossible. I had to re-invent the form of the work. It’s a book on my childhood in Belfast, partially supported by a Support for the Individual Artist Programme award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the National Lottery.

Acquiring a cover photo was hard in the circumstances. It would have been lovely to have had the launch I had been hoping for in Belfast’s No Alibis bookstore and I would have had a small one in Ballycastle, County Antrim which is where I’ve spent lockdown. Ballycastle Library is accepting a copy of the book, I’m pleased to say. Filming and editing a promotional video had to be done by ingenious means by my director husband, John Geraint. Sending paper proofs back and forth was interesting because of blips in the postal service. But the attention from Seren’s staff has been the key thing and that was undiminished.

Angela Graham on Ballycastle Beach, Co. Antrim

A City Burning is available on the Seren website £9.99

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Join us tonight for the virtual launch of A City Burning which starts at 7pm. Angela will be in conversation with Phil George and there will be readings from the book by Viviana Fiorentino, Liam Logan and Geraint Lewis.

Short Story of the Month – ‘Circling the Night’ by Helen Gordon

Our new short story of the month is ‘Circling the Night’ by Helen Gordon.

“You look pretty,” Gemma says, accusatorially. “You’re going to pull tonight.”

For Leila and her friends a night at the fair is full of opportunities that only the heady world of teenage relationships, fancy dress and friendship can provide. 

Helen Gordon‘s short fiction has won the Cambrensis Short Story Competition, been shortlisted for the Real Writers Short Story Awards and longlisted for both the Bridport Prize and the Fish International Short Story Prize. Her non-fiction has been published in The Big Issue and The Church Times as well as in local lifestyle magazines. She currently lives in Shropshire, where she brings up her two boys and works as a freelance journalist.

This is an excerpt, read the full story for FREE on the Seren website here.

Circling the Night

Leila makes her father drop her by the bridge, where they can hear the muffled boom of the fairground shaking through the dusk.

“You look beautiful,” he tells her as she slides out of the car and fluffs her skirts back into a bell.

“Go!” she hisses. But he doesn’t. He watches her tug at the ringlets she’s spent the whole afternoon curling, fiddle with the silk daisies in their midst. And he’s still watching as she picks her way down the alley, turns the corner and lets the fairground take her.

It’s a scratchy excuse for a fairground; a few spidery rides cornered into the tiny car-park that can barely contain them. It’s a sideshow to the pub-spilled streets, thick with messy delight; a gathering-ground for teens too old for costume competitions but too young to squeeze up against heaving bars in the hope of getting a pint.

Leila’s shoes – her mother’s old tap shoes that she found crushed at the base of the dressing-up trunk – tap across the pitted tarmac towards the waltzer, where Gemma and Lizzie are waiting.

Gemma has added a short chequered tie to her school uniform, pulled a flimsy police hat firmly over her curls and rolled her skirt so short that the gusset of her fishnet tights is showing. She has a thick truncheon in one hand and a bottle of 20/20 in the other, and both of them look dangerous.

She puts the bottle down on the bottom step of the waltzer to take in the pink ribbons curling through the net of Leila’s skirt, the pinafore frills of her top, the improbable white of her tights.

“What the fuck are you? Little Bo Peep?”

“A clockwork doll” Leila says, turning to show the gold-sprayed cardboard key sticking sideways out of her back and then completing the circuit self-consciously, fingers splayed, just as she had for the camera at home.

“You look pretty,” Gemma says, accusatorily. “You’re going to pull tonight.”

It’s a promise and a threat, and Leila’s heart leaps and cramps, leaps and cramps until it merges with the disco beat pounding through her veins.

Lizzie, in a pink fur-trimmed cowboy hat and thigh-high leather boots that go no way towards closing the gap on her skirt, takes a deep swig of the 20/20 and thrusts the lurid green liquid in Leila’s direction. She’s got a psychedelic rock dummy strung round her neck and she sucks on it provocatively, her eyes fixed on the bare chest of the boy spinning the cars of the waltzer.

Leila drinks, breathes through the syrupy burn, and looks out across the night. The fairground’s already busy. Clumps of oddly dressed youths cluster together letting the disco beat thump them into a state of excitement. She scans them, endlessly, her heart twitching in hope and fear, but she can’t see Rhys Davis amongst them.

“Come on then, who d’ya fancy?” says Gemma, curving her back against the waltzer railings and puffing out her chest. “Oh don’t be a stuck up bitch. Come on.”

She thrusts the half-empty bottle into Leila’s face, watches her swig, then pushes it back until it re-connects with her lips.

“It’s not fucking cough mixture” she says, “Drink!”

“Right then,” she repeats, when Leila’s swallowed to her satisfaction “Tell us who you fancy.”

“I don’t-“

“Come on. It’s Rob Thomas isn’t it?”

“No-” she says far too quickly, because a year ago it had been, and the thought of Gemma knowing makes something delicate crunch inside her, like a ladybird under a boot.

“It is!”

“No, it’s not. It’s not. ”

Shame’s burning through the pink circles she’s painted so carefully onto her cheeks and Gemma’s watching it cat-like, her claws twitching in anticipation of the kill.

“Honestly. Not Rob Thomas. Someone else.”

Gemma eyes the bait coolly, waits for it to turn its pale belly towards her.

“Go on then…”

“It’s Rhys Davis,” breathes Leila and even the words have a music to them, a soft rustle of pleasure that whispers somewhere in the tissue of her skirt and lingers like a sigh, cooling the burning circles of her cheeks. Rhys Davis. Rhys Davis. Rhys Davis.

Gemma curls her lip in revulsion.

“What d‘you fancy that lanky dick for? He’s rank. Anyway he’s been getting off with my cousin.”

Gemma’s cousins are many and nameless and Leila knows better than to mess with the suggestion of one. She reaches instead for the booze and holds the fiery green liquid in her mouth until it dissolves the surface of her teeth, burns away the horror crawling at the base of her belly.

“Alright alchy!” says Gemma, snatching the bottle back and taking a long answering swig of her own. “It’s not just for you, you know.”

Leila hardly notices. Because there, at the far end of the car park, is the silhouette she’s been looking for all night, and a tight spiral of joy is corseting her lungs, making it difficult to breathe. Rhys Davis: in khaki shorts and a cork-dangled hat, with two white streaks of sunblock slanting each side of his perfectly crooked nose, is walking across the car park.

Finish reading ‘Circling the Night’ on the Seren website here.

An Interview with Euron Griffith

When he smiled it really did feel as if the chilly Caernarfonshire wind had stopped for a few seconds and as if the place had suddenly got warmer.

When Miriam fell in love with Padraig life seemed simple. But soon she discovered that love is a treacherous business. Everything changed when she met Daniel. She was taken down an unexpected path which would dictate and dominate the rest of her life.

Spanning three generations of a North Wales family in a Welsh-speaking community, Miriam, Daniel and Me is an absorbing and compelling story of family discord, political turmoil, poetry, jealousy…and football.

Miriam, Daniel and Me is the first novel in English by Welsh author Euron Griffith. In this interview, Euron tells us what inspired the novel and discusses what its like to bring a book out during a global pandemic. Scroll to the bottom to see the details of the virtual launch taking place this Thursday (30th July).

What was the inspiration behind Miriam, Daniel and Me?

Believe it or not, initially this was going to be a book about my lifelong obsession with the Beatles – a kind of ‘music memoir’ of how the band’s music reflected incidents in my own life. This seemed to make some kind of sense since I’d already written a short story collection called The Beatles in Tonypandy (which was a satirical fantasy on what ‘happened’ when the band moved to South Wales and took up pigeon fancying in 1967!) and so I wanted to write about them in a more personal and less surreal way. It soon became clear to me, however, that I was becoming more interested in the context of the piece – that is, my own experiences of my upbringing and my family history – than I was in the Fab Four’s peripheral and distant part in it. I found that the concept was becoming laboured and that I wasn’t making it come alive for myself and, therefore, it probably wasn’t going to work for anyone reading it. So the Beatles were soon rejected in a cruel, Decca-like fashion!

There were parts of my family history that I only had a vague knowledge of – my paternal grandfather for instance, whom I had never met because he died before I was born. I remember my granny and my dad telling me the story of how he had died suddenly in his chair after returning from the quarry one night but that was all I knew. I filled in the blanks myself – guessing here and there as to how things might have happened. The same was true of my mum. She had fallen in love with an Irishman before she met my dad but I didn’t know the whole story. As a kid I recall my maternal grandad showing me little bits of electrical handiwork this Irishman had constructed – little light switches etc. – so I knew he’d been an electrician and I’d seen photos of him so I knew he had red hair…but nothing much else. Only tantalizing fragments.

Once I’d stumbled across a photo of my mum walking down a street with him and, on the back, someone had written ‘Dublin’. She must have really loved him to go there for a visit. Especially in those days when travel wasn’t such a common thing. So here I did the same as I did with the story of my paternal grandad – I just tried to fill in the gaps. To make sense of it all. It soon grew into something of an obsession and, slowly, I saw that there was a novel brewing here. I weaved in my dad’s experiences as a poet and a goalie – how he had been invited for a trial with a big club once (in real life it was Bolton Wanderers but I changed it to Preston North End in this book…not entirely sure why to be honest!). Now, as I stand back and look at the finished piece, I can see that the overarching theme seems to be the notion of chance, often driven by love or passion, and of how it can affect the course of our lives.

The story is told through the eyes of multiple characters, particularly by three generations of Miriam and Daniel’s family. How is this inter-generational perspective important to the story?

The flippant answer would be that I get bored quite easily and I like to allow myself to dive into different characters and styles of narrative. But there is a more stylistic reason for it too. I love the way classic Victorian fiction such as Wuthering Heights and The Woman in White utilize a playful and effective way of presenting events through different viewpoints. I was also influenced in this by the films of Kurosawa and Quentin Tarantino. I was keen to hurl the reader back and forth without always giving an initial indication of when something was happening in ‘linear’ time because I thought it would heighten the dramatic effect. I suppose a simple example of this would be the rat poison incident (no spoilers!). The novel began with Miriam and Daniel’s story but, around this, there gradually grew the context of their lives- what happened before and what happened after (with the unnamed son). I played with time more outrageously in my last Welsh language novel Tri Deg Tri about a hitman where chapters were numbered in relation to the sequence of the central character’s ‘kills’ rather than to chronology. So I have form! Some readers found it puzzling but more, so I’m told, found it exhilarating!

My other challenge here – admittedly rather grand and insurmountable – was to try to write a kind of Welsh ‘bildungsroman’ – the story of a family and personal development featuring several characters. I was introduced to Buddenbrooks as a student and Thomas Mann’s masterpiece has stayed with me over the years. It certainly influenced me more strongly as this novel developed and the overall shape became clearer. Needless to say I could never come close to such a perfect piece of art but it gave me something to aim for! Aim high. Always aim high…

You build a clear picture of village life in 1950s and 60s Gwynedd by bringing in other members of the community and the events affecting their lives, namely the investiture of Prince Charles. Why was it important to you to bring this to life in Miriam, Daniel and Me?

It was a matter of context. Of filling in the canvas and making the whole world more real and multi-layered. I am a keen painter and there is a clear link, I reckon, between visual art and writing. Paul Klee once said that he liked ‘taking a line for a walk’ and that’s how writing begins for me. A line followed by another and, gradually (if you’re lucky), a world forms – a picture. Then it’s a matter of filling in the details. Picasso once said that the most difficult part of any painting was knowing when to stop. He was obviously right (when was Picasso wrong about anything??). In my own case I only recognise when to stop when it comes to re-writing. The first draft is always a sketch. I really don’t think you know what the book is until you’ve stepped back and studied the overall shape and pattern. It needs time. Re-writes. This novel went through at least three major re-writes! Curiously perhaps, this novel was also mainly written in London so there was an extra layer of distance there. James Joyce once said that he had to move to Zurich to write about Dublin. He wasn’t wrong about much either…

The book is coming out in very different circumstances to those any of us could have imagined but the BBC reported last week that Brits have been buying more books during lockdown. What makes Miriam, Daniel and Me a good lockdown read? What do you hope readers will take away from reading it?

Books and records are an obsession for me and if people are reading more and listening to more music then, in my world, that’s a good thing. Online trading is obviously booming in both these markets but I do worry about the wider context of physical retail – not only from the perspective of people’s livelihoods but also from a rather more selfish one. I really find wandering through shops and cities soothing and exciting so, in lockdown, I miss the bustle of the high street – the sights and sounds. When I was in London I would often hop on a bus in the afternoons and go to the middle of Piccadilly Circus and then wander around Soho just to soak up the atmosphere and work out things in my head to do with this novel and with other matters. I’m hopeful that things will return to normal soon.

In terms of what people will take away from this book there is the obvious factor of enjoyment of course but one of the reasons I wrote this book in English was because I don’t think north Wales and the ‘north Welsh experience’ has been explored as often in English language fiction as its southern counterpart. Most people when they think of Wales think rugby and the valleys but this is not strictly accurate. Rugby meant nothing to me when I was growing up and still doesn’t. Indeed, I vividly remember our PE teacher damning it as ‘a game for fat boys who are too slow for football’! My world when growing up was formed by television, football and pop music – the Monkees, The Man from UNCLE, Leeds United, Thunderbirds and Monty Python. Not by chapel or the Eisteddfod or Gareth Edwards. I never ‘got’ Shirley Bassey or Max Boyce and there were no coal mines in my part of Wales. I’m not entirely sure what ‘Wales’ is. My guess is that there are at least twenty versions of it and I didn’t think the story of mine had been told.

We’re hosting an online launch for the book later this week. What can attendees expect at the event?

Well Jon Gower is a perceptive reader and I’m intrigued to know what he thinks of the novel. He always has an interesting perspective on things. I’m thrilled that Rakie Ayola has agreed to read a few passages from the novel. She is such a brilliant actor. Hopefully the conversation and the readings will stimulate all the many thousands tuning in via Zoom to buy the novel and send it to the top of the Sunday Times best seller chart…

Finally, a question lots of writers have probably been asked recently, but have you found lockdown a particularly creative time? Is there anything you’re currently working on?

Writing never stops for me. After finishing this novel I immediately returned to a manuscript I started ten years ago and have been working on intermittently since then. I finally finished it just before last Christmas. It’s a peculiar, surreal ‘historical’ novel based on the adventures of a gentleman traveller. Influenced by ‘Don Quixote’ and more modern pieces such as ‘Life of Pi’ it features a man mistaken for Jesus, a three-legged cat, a serial killer and cannibalism. So it couldn’t be more different to Miriam, Daniel and Me! It’s called The Confession of Hilary Durwood. Since lockdown I’ve started another novel. I was up to 40,000 words before realising that it wasn’t much good so I scrapped it and started again. It’s much better now.

Before Covid struck I played regularly in my band Six Sided Men but, naturally, all that is on hold now. But I’ve been writing tons of songs and recording them myself on my little portastudio (driving my wife mad in the process as we have inadequate soundproofing!). I’m currently recording some Christmas songs I’ve written and will include these on a CD for friends when the season for merriment arrives…

I’ve also been painting and drawing. So yes. A worrying time in many ways. But I can’t say it’s been entirely unproductive…

 

Miriam, Daniel and Me is available now from Seren: £9.99

Join us for the virtual book launch – Thursday 30th July, 7:30pm. Euron will be in conversation with Jon Gower and actress Rackie Ayola will be reading excerpts from the book. Email sarahjohnson@serenbooks.com for the link. Full details here.

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Short Story of the Month – ‘Sugarcane for My Sweetheart’ by Maggie Harris

Our new Short Story of the Month is ‘Sugarcane for My Sweetheart’ by Maggie Harris which features in her short story collection Writing on Water.

Writing on Water Maggie HarrisMaggie Harris’ short story collection Writing on Water  is informed by the Caribbean, where she was born, and Britain where she has lived as an adult, and through them, the wider world. Issues of belonging and migration feature, but alongside these are growing interests in voice, narrative, gardening and botany, music and family. There are both UK and Caribbean voices in these tales, told by children, migrants, mothers, grandparents.

This is an excerpt, read the full story for FREE on the Seren website here.

Sugarcane for My Sweetheart

Maya is dreaming of kitchens. New kitchens. Not open to the air, wood-smoke kitchens; not kerosene stoves or coalpot kitchens. New kitchens. Kitchens of pine and oak and beech. Kitchens with solid wood doors and MDF shelves, kitchens with laminate and chrome, Mediterranean tiles, Victorian pulleys, cork and slate floors, quarry tiles.
In her dreams she enters those kitchens as she has taken to entering all those showrooms on lunchtime Sundays: with the slow excited steps of a traveller arriving. Eyes stray past customs, the loitering salesman, the swing doors past Immigration. Gleaming glass-fronted doors hold her gaze like shimmering tarmac. They draw her in like mirrors, framing the new arrival. Excitement is mixed with fear and longing, slowed by the shuffling progress of the queue.
Her kitchen measurements are clutched tight in her hands like a passport; over and over she checks them: the permit, the invitation letter, traveller’s cheques crisp and new in their plastic sleeve.
She has reason to feel afraid. On her return from the island the eyes of the officer had scalded Maya. They highlighted her like a spotlight, running her up and down as if they could see right through her. A chorus had risen from the queue like the tide, washing over her with a high Atlantic wave. In this dream her mother is by her side, her spirit hands even more frantic in death, fluttering a British passport that only Maya could see, tickets and boarding passes scattering on the desk like the plucked feathers of a broiling bird.
In her dream the showrooms stretch: long corridors of gleaming perfection. Miles and miles of shining flooring glide her on its conveyor belt, kitchen after kitchen smiling like models, preening their leaded light and bubble-glassed doors, their plaited cornices like wooden pigtails, their panels in Bermuda Blue, Nevada Blond, Pine Forest. Her dreams have kept up with fashion, solid pine and farmhouse oak that had once beamed their rustic Englishness, Middle England Agas nestling securely like the Cotswold Hills, no longer feature. Now chrome and beech and Shaker kitchens lure her, will her to run her fingers on their smooth fine grain, their granite and Corian worktops combining style and utilitarian twenty-first century designs.
The salesman disappears. Other dreamers have re-commissioned him; they sit in the conservatory-style office with their dream kitchen coming alive on a computer screen, Mr and Mrs Doggy nodding, car-window heads beaming. Their Cheshire smiles fill Maya’s vision and suddenly she is horizontal, being whisked along white corridors with ceilings of ceramic hobs, their halogen spotlights steaming her face like Granny’s Vicks. Perspiration is running down her cheeks, the small of her back. The steward has opened the aircraft door and Maya is descending. Heat washes over her like invisible rain. Tarmac ripples in the haze. The redcap boys run with their luggage trolleys. Water runs down her back. She is a dog in the shadows, turning over and over in the liquid heat, an insistent voice riding over the surf.
‘Maya! Maya!’
Denver is nuzzling his face into her neck. His hand rests on her hip. Her eyes flutter into a still-dark morning. She senses his body wakening. He is not yet, fully. In a minute he will be, and remember. He’ll turn away then, face his own wall, summon the energy to rise, get ready for work.
Beneath her the towel is damp and hard. Many washes in this limescaled water has wrung any softness out. She thinks of the towels in Uncle Danny’s bathroom, the white fleshy softness, her body cosseted, white tiles reflecting her face. There was no limescale back there. How she loved to hang the washing out then! Hook them on the line, watch them dance like kites in the wild wind, sing in a soft breeze. She had washed everything in sight, tea cloths, Uncle Danny’s clothes, her own. Just to smell them, feel them, watch them dry face up to the sun, unaccustomed in cold dank London.
The first thing they tell you when you return is to tek it easy, you back home now. So fill your eyes with the coconut trees, the endless beach, the boats turning out to sea. Lone fishermen pushed their bikes across the sand, their dogs nosing alongside. And the sky, the sky! That brilliant cobalt blue, stretching a panorama between memory and reality. Tourists didn’t make it this far. Here it was too rough to swim, the waves still angry at history, guarding the wrecks viciously. Their anger had moved from scuttles to schooners and jet skis, to slippery fishing boats with secret cargoes. And you try and take it easy. Borrow that inherent ambiance, live one day at a time. But soon you realise that what you’re doing is waiting. Waiting for time to stand still. Time has stood still for Maya in this particular place.
Waiting. Watching the shifting blues, the white haze, the fisherman becoming a dot. The clothes on the line have dried, her swimsuit a kitten at play, relishing this now-time, this brief sojourn before being folded into a drawer, nestling in the dark like a hyacinth bulb.

Finish reading ‘Sugarcane for My Sweetheart’ on the Seren website here.

Writing on Water is available on the Seren website: £8.99