We’re incredibly pleased to hear that Maria Donovan has been long-listed for the Hall & Woodhouse DLF Local Writing Prize for her book The Chicken Soup Murder. It’s a huge achievement considering this year the DLF received over 70 entries, and we’re all crossing our fingers for the next round!
Donovan has been busy lately, and has recently been interviewed by novelist Shauna Gilligan for her Writer’s Chat Series. To read the two discussing breaking down genres, developing complex and sympathetic characters and to hear about Donovan’s upcoming plans, follow the link here: Donovan’s Interview
Today, November 11th 2018, marks the centenary of the Armistice and the ending of the Great War. In commemoration, author and historian Mike Rees looks at the sacrifices made by rugby players from his home town of Newport, revealing details about their sporting and personal lives, as well as their brave and tragic last stands.
Rees is the author of Men Who Played the Game, which explores the development and importance of sport in Britain and the Empire leading up to the outbreak of the First World War, and the part played by sportsmen in the conflict.
The Great War was conducted on a scale hitherto unknown and its consequences remain with us to this day. Such were the losses, over 750,000 in Britain alone, that the idea of a ‘lost generation’ is firmly established in the collective memory. The existence of war graves, carefully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, throughout Western Europe and beyond serve as a reminder of the sacrifices made in this cataclysmic war. Memorials to the missing, their bodies never found, both move and shock us when we visit Thiepval on the Somme, with 73,367 names and the Menin Gate in Ypres with 54,896. Given the scale of these losses it is clear that communities throughout Britain were affected. As we now reach the centenary of the Armistice that brought to an end this dreadful conflict, it is an appropriate time to see just how those badly those communities were affected. Here I will look at the wartime stories from one community in particular – rugby players from my home city, Newport.
Newport Athletic Club has always remembered its war dead. The memorial gates at Rodney Parade contain the names of 86 members of the club who lost their lives in the Great War, among them 6 rugby internationals who represented Wales in what was to become their national sport. Playing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century these men, to a greater or lesser extent, played a significant role in the evolution of the game in Wales. More importantly, they made the greatest sacrifice of all after the First World War erupted.
The first of these men, Richard Garnons Williams, holds a special place in Welsh rugby history as a member of the first ever Wales XV to play international rugby. This historic event took place on 19th February 1881 at Blackheath and Wales were soundly beaten. Garnons Williams, a Newport forward, never played for Wales again.
Born in Llowes, Radnorshire in 1856, one of ten children, Garnons was educated at Magdalen College School, Oxford before studying at Trinity College, Cambridge. From here he progressed to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst and, on completion forged a successful military career with the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment). This was followed by service with the South Wales Borderers (1st Brecknockshire Volunteer Battalion) where he reached the rank of lieutenant colonel. Garnons retired from regular service in 1892, although he did continue to serve in a voluntary capacity until 1906. This determination to follow a military career undoubtedly curtailed his rugby career, details of which are somewhat sketchy. We do know, however, that he played for Cambridge University, Brecon and Newport, from where he won his solitary cap.
On the outbreak of war in 1914 Garnons, by now aged 58, re-joined the British Army and returned to the Royal Fusiliers, the 12th Battalion. He was killed on 27th September 1915 leading his battalion at Loos when he was shot in the head following an attack on German trenches. The battalion had become exposed on each flank and Garnons had just given the order to retreat. He is remembered on the Loos Memorial.
Garnons, at 59, was the eldest of the 13 Welsh internationals to make the ultimate sacrifice in The Great War. He left a wife, Alice Jessie and a daughter, Barbara, who also served in France and lost her husband on the Western Front in 1917. A brother, Mark Penry, died when the HMS Hampshire was sunk by a mine in 1916.
Our second Newport international was one of the cities’ greatest all round sportsmen, the Wales half back, Louis Phillips. Lou was born in Stow Hill in 1878 and was later a resident of Gold Tops, a prosperous residential area in the town. He made his mark as a swimmer, cricketer and international standard water polo player but it is as a rugby player that he is best remembered. A product of Monmouth Boys Grammar School, he won 4 caps and played half back, partnering club mate Llewellyn Lloyd in the Triple Crown winning team of 1900, the year that heralded the beginning of Wales first ‘golden era’. Lou looked set for a long and distinguished run in this emerging Welsh team but a serious knee injury sustained playing against Scotland in 1901 brought his brief rugby career to a premature close. A qualified architect by profession, Lou continued to display his sporting ability by becoming an international golfer and twice Welsh Amateur Golf Champion.
On the outbreak of war Lou joined the 20th (Service) Battalion Royal Fusiliers where, after first refusing a commission, he served as a sergeant. On the night of 14th March 1916, while out with a wiring party near Cambrin, France, Lou was fatally shot in the chest. The loss of this immensely talented 38 year old was keenly felt in the sporting circles of South Wales.
Probably the best known rugby international to lose his life in the war was Charles Meyrick Pritchard. Charlie was born in September 1882 in Newport and attended Newport Intermediate School and Long Ashton School, Bristol before taking his place in the family wine and spirit business. A well-built, thirteen and a half stone backrow forward, Charlie made his Newport debut in January 1902. By the following year Charlie was a travelling reserve with the Wales team and in 1904 he won the first of his 14 caps in the game against Ireland. In December 1905 Charlie had his finest rugby moment when he was the stand out player in the Welsh victory over the All Blacks. Known for his all-round skills, it was his deadly tackling that drew praise in this momentous victory. Fellow Newport hero, George Travers said that Charlie “knocked ‘em down like ninepins”. Following this historic achievement, Charlie went on to represent Wales until 1910, although he did miss a number of matches through injury, and was part of the Grand Slam winning side of 1908. He also captained his club between 1906 and 1909.
When war broke out, Charlie was quick to enlist and joined the South Wales Borderers as a temporary Second Lieutenant. By October 1915 Charlie was a captain in the 12th Battalion and arrived on the Western Front in time for the Somme offensive of July 1916. He was quickly into the action and wrote home detailing some of his experiences. Tragically, on the night of 12th/13th August Charlie was instructed to lead a raiding party on German trenches. Despite fighting bravely in a successful raid, Charlie suffered serious injuries and was taken to No 1 Casualty Clearing Station. After being reassured that his men “had got the Hun”, Charlie replied with his last known words, “Well I have done my bit”. Charlie, a resident of Llwynderi Road, Newport, was buried in Choeques Military Cemetery and left a grieving widow and two young children. This legendry Newport rugby player and war hero was 34 years old.
Johnnie Williams was the most capped Welsh rugby international to die in the Great War and, until 1976, jointly held the record for the most tries scored by a Welsh player. Born in Whitchurch, Cardiff in 1882 and a product of Cowbridge Grammar School, Johnnie spent the majority of his career playing for his home club. However he began his career at Newport where he played between 1899 and 1903, scoring 19 tries and a dropped goal in 50 appearances for the club. In 1906 he broke into a strong Wales team to play the touring Springboks. Although this match was lost Johnnie only experienced defeat once more in 17 matches in a Welsh shirt. Noted for his swerve and sidestep, this pacey winger played in 3 Grand Slam winning teams and captained his country against France in 1911. Johnnie also toured with the British Isles team to Australia and New Zealand where he played in 2 of the 3 tests and was the second top scorer with 12 tries on the tour.
When the war began, Johnnie left his job as a partner in a coal exporters based in the Cardiff Coal Exchange to join the 16th Battalion of the Royal Welch Regiment. By now a captain, Johnnie led his men in the attack on Mametz Wood, part of the Somme offensive. After ‘going over the top’ on 7th July, Johnnie was severely injured which resulted in the amputation of his left leg. Despite being able to write to his wife Mabel following his injury, thirty-four-year-old Johnnie died of his wounds on 12th July. He was buried at Corbie Communal Cemetery.
Phil Waller was born in Bath in 1889 and educated at Carmarthen Intermediate School but it is as a Newport Rugby Union international that he is best remembered. On leaving school, Phil was apprenticed as an engineer to the Alexander Dock Railway Company and, by 1907, he was a regular member of the Newport pack, specializing in the line out and the loose. A year later 19 year old Phil was in the Wales team that defeated the touring Australians 9-6 and kept his place for the 1909 Five Nations tournament. All four matches were won ensuring that Phil became one of the few players to have defeated a southern hemisphere country and win a Grand Slam in the same season. The following season Phil played in the victory over France but lost his place for the first visit to Twickenham.
Although he never played for Wales again, Phil was selected for the British Lions tour to South Africa where he played in all 3 tests. Taken with the country, Phil stayed in South Africa playing rugby and working in Johannesburg as an engineer. In August 1915 Phil enlisted as a gunner with the 71st Siege Battery SA Heavy Artillery and saw action at Ypres, the Somme, Arras and Cambrai. About to go on leave, driving to the nearest rail link, he and a colleague were killed by stray shellfire. Phil’s colleague was the son of South African statesman, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, the man who initially proposed the observation of the two minutes silence on Armistice Day. Phil Waller, buried in Red Cross Corner Cemetery, Beugny, near Arras, was 28 years old.
Billy Geen was, like fellow war casualty and Newport rugby international Lou Phillips, a resident of Gold Tops in Newport. Born in 1891, this nephew of Frank Purdon who had won four caps in the 1880’s, was educated at Haileybury College in Hertfordshire and then Oxford University. A fine cricketer who represented Monmouthshire in the Minor Counties Championship, Billy made his name as an extremely talented rugby three-quarter and won three ‘Blues’ playing on the wing outside the great England captain, Ronnie Poulton-Palmer. In his first Varsity match Billy scored three tries in a famous Oxford victory.
Billy played his club rugby for Newport and was a member of the team that defeated the 1912 South Africans 9-3 in front of a crowd of over 18,000 at Rodney Parade. Selection for Wales against the same opposition followed and, despite a controversial defeat, Billy kept his place against England. He also played against Ireland that year, this time in the centre, but lost his place through injury.
With the outbreak of war Billy joined the 60th King’s Royal Rifle Corps and quickly became a Second Lieutenant in the 9th Battalion. He saw action in the Second Battle of Ypres and was tragically killed at Hooge on 31st July 1915. Billy was last seen leading his men in hand to hand fighting, one of 17 officers and 333 other ranks of this battalion killed in the exchange. This ‘dazzling left wing’ with ‘dancing footwork’ was one of 740 boys from Haileybury College to be killed in the war. Billy’s body was never found and he is remembered as one of the 54,896 names on the Menin Gate. He was 24 years old.
Perhaps, of all the Newport internationals killed in the Great War, it is the death of Billy Geen, a young man in the prime of his rugby career that best represents the loss to Welsh rugby. However, at this time it is only right to remember all thirteen Wales rugby internationals lost in this dradful conflict as well as countless other rugby players throughout the land. Heroes every one.
We’re in the habit of celebrating poetry all throughout the year but to our delight, it’s National Poetry Day today – and that means there are loads of excellent events taking place, and creativity bursting out of every corner.
The good people behind the National Poetry Day campaign have recommended 36 amazing books for people of all ages to enjoy – and we’re thrilled to say that Seren poets Claire Williamson and Paul Deaton both feature on the list. As a treat today, we’ve filmed Claire and Paul reading a poem from their collections.
Claire Williamson, ‘My brother and mother as horses’
In Visiting the Minotaur, the poet must enter a labyrinth of her own complicated family history, a history beset with secrets and lies, in order to come to terms with her own identity. She borrows from myths, histories, careful observations of nature, of city life, fashioning her artful meditations on experience and mortality.
Paul Deaton, ‘That Bang’
‘That Bang’ was Highly Commended by the Forward Prize judges and features in the Forward Book of Poetry 2019. The poem is taken from Paul’s debut, A Watchful Astronomy.
A Watchful Astronomy is full of poems that are artfully formal, quietly precise, yet full of powerful emotion. A father ‘like a wounded bear’ haunts much of this book, yet nature is a guiding presence and the poet’s gaze turns often to the skies: to wildlife, the weathers and the stars, in powerful reflective pieces.
National Poetry Day events: what’s on? There are over 100 events happening all over the UK today, so why not have a browse of the National Poetry Day events map and see what’s happening near you?
Local to Cardiff? Come along to October’s First Thursday event tonight which (as luck would have it) coincides with the National Poetry Day celebrations. Poet Marianne Burton and novelist David Llewellyn will read from their new books, guest poets Chad Norman and Emily Blewitt will treat us to a couple of poems, and then everyone will be invited to share a poem or piece of prose in the open mic.
Another Seren poet will also be hosting a National Poetry Day celebration – join Carrie Etter in the Chichester library for an evening event with wine, live music and open mic poetry.
Wherever you find yourself today, and whatever you decide to do with your time, we hope you feel inspired and enriched by poetry, new and old. Happy National Poetry Day.
The sun is shining, school’s out for the summer, and – what’s this? All our books are half price!
Whether you’re looking for some poetry to dip into, or an immersive holiday read – we’ve got you covered. We’ve even picked out a few highlights below…
Holiday reading: £9.99£4.99
A dear elderly neighbour has died under suspicious circumstances and the only one searching for justice is eleven-year-old Michael. No-one believes his cries of ‘murder’, so how will he prove his version of events? This is a truly touching coming-of-age story with an addictive mystery at its heart.
Dipping into in moments of peace: £9.99£4.99
Elizabeth Parker’s debut book of poems is delicate, precise, and utterly captivating. From flowing rivers to the Forest of Dean, let yourself be lured into landscapes both captivating and strangely unfamiliar.
Armchair reading: £12.99£6.49
For at least the last 1,500 years, Capel-y-Ffin has been a spiritual retreat: a beautiful, lonely, timeless place where people have gathered to escape from the outside world. And so it was for artists Eric Gill and David Jones: with fascinating insight, Jonathan Miles explores their years spent in this Welsh wilderness, and its promise of religious and artistic evolution.
Livening up a long journey: £9.99£4.99
Whether reading on a stuffy train, whilst waiting at the airport or, perhaps, somewhere more peaceful, these six masterful short stories will transport you: to the South China Sea in 1946 to a nameless place at the end of time, and many others in-between. Christopher Meredith is a writer at the height of his powers – these beautifully crafted stories are all the proof you need.
Broadening the mind: £12.99£6.49
Acclaimed novelist and playwright Barney Norris ponders cultural identity and the nature of creativity in these conversations with his father, David Owen Norris – ‘quite possibly the most interesting pianist in the world’ (Toronto Globe and Mail). This is a deeply personal, entertaining and at times provocative study of how people and societies find their voice.
Keeping you up past bedtime: £9.99£4.99
Norse gods tumble out of Ross Cogan’s new collection, intermingling with the environmental concerns so pressing in the modern day, and eulogies for vanishing wildlife. The pitch-perfect re-tellings of creation myths and bloodthirsty battles will hold you spellbound until the last page.
Our Summer Sale lasts for one week only – so treat yourself and have a browse before midnight on Sunday, 29 July! Who knows what gems you’ll find…
50% discount subject to availability. Excludes forthcoming titles.
Today marks the official release of Sarah Philpott’s The Occasional Veganand to celebrate we are hosting a blog hop – two weeks of content from some of the UK’s best foodie blogs.
What is a blog hop? A blog hop is when group of bloggers all join up to write about or engage with a certain theme. Our theme is delicious vegan food – specifically the food you’ll find inside Sarah’s stunning new book, The Occasional Vegan.
From March 21 – 05 April, a selection of brilliant bloggers will be sharing recipes, giveaways, reviews and articles about The Occasional Vegan. Get a sneak peek inside the book and find out what experienced bloggers think of it by following along – each blogger will be publishing something new and different.
We will kick things off on the Seren blog with an author interview, recipe and video on March 21, and from there on a different blogger will take the reins each day.
You will have the chance to enjoy tasters of food from the book, and also to hear about Sarah’s vegan journey and the inspiration behind her delicious recipes. Sarah will also be available to sign copies of the book.
Today we celebrate International Women’s Day – a day of recognition for women’s achievements, and also a time to acknowledge and challenge the gender inequality still present in society.
We are also just days away from Mother’s Day, and whilst fluffy books about romance and cooking usually dominate consumers’ gift choices, we say: why not give mum, and yourself, something important instead?
Until Monday, these two significant anthologies are 50% off – and we will also upgrade postage to First Class at no extra charge (why wait longer to enjoy these books than you absolutely have to?)
Writing Motherhood, ed. Carolyn Jess-Cooke RRP £12.99 £6.49
The perfect literary gift, Writing Motherhood explores the relationship between creativity and motherhood, and queries the persistent societal obsession over whether women ‘can do both’. With contributions from writers such as Carol Ann Duffy, Sharon Olds and Hollie McNish.
‘This is a truly inspiring collection, all the more so for its wit and its grit, its poetry and its honesty; here we have women producing ‘good art’ despite – and often because of – ‘the pram in the hall.’ – Shelley Day
Women’s Work, ed. Amy Wack & Eva Salzman RRP £14.99 £7.49
Some may ask: is the literary establishment still as dominated by men as it once was? Who gets to decide the canon? Eva Salzman opens Women’s Work with a lively polemic, making the case for the women-only anthology with characteristic wit and flair. With over 250 contributors, this generous selection of poetry by women features poets from the USA, Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Australia, and New Zealand.
Celebrating Seren’s women writers
The list of women writers Seren has published is a long one – and we would like to take a moment to send out our love and thanks to every talented one who has graced our list – and those we look forward to publishing in future.
This weekend we co-hosted Cardiff’s first weekend-long poetry festival in the beautiful Cornerstone building, and were thrilled to see so many people enjoying the programme of events.
We’d like to say a huge thank you to our sponsors: Tidal Lagoon Power, the Rhys Davies Trust, and the Catholic Archdiocese of Cardiff. Thanks are also due for all at Cornerstone, who hosted us in their beautiful venue, to our official festival photographer David Hurn, and to the talented line-up of artists and authors who took part: Jonathan Edwards, Paul Henry, Brian Briggs, Philip Gross, Cyril Jones, Damian Walford Davies, Rhian Edwards, Gillian Clarke, Gwyneth Lewis, Richard Gwyn, Clare E. Potter, Susie Wild, Emily Blewitt, Katherine Stansfield, Stephen Payne, David Foster-Morgan, The Spoke, Little Rêd, Robert Minhinnick.
The mix of events combined spectacular poetry readings, beautiful music and thought-provoking film. Take a look at the slideshow below, where we have brought together photographs taken by the wonderful David Hurn, by Cornerstone photographer Chas Breton and by Seren’s Marketing Officer Rosie Johns.
What about next year, we hear you ask? Will the festival return? Well, we’re pleased to say that we are already thinking about it…
Masculine Happiness is a provocative yet subtle collection which explores the author’s ambivalence towards models of masculinity handed out to us by the media and modern society. There is also a considerable amount of humour here, along with astute satire and insightful character poems. Foster-Morgan’s work repays the careful attention of thoughtful readers.
I have seen first-hand the positive work done by Assembly employees, particularly the LGBT staff network group Prism and Seren Books and I would like to congratulate the Welsh Assembly on their award. It didn’t surprise me though – given how influential people from Wales have been in British LGBT history, and by extension in societal history here and abroad.
In 2017 we celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Wolfenden Report (1957) and the fiftieth of the Sexual Offences Act (1967). I was delighted to be invited to speak at a House of Commons event on the roles played by people from Wales. I took as my theme that great period of flux in the mid-twentieth century when so much happened with regard to LGBT people: prosecutions against gay men reached its highest point; in 1931 there were 622 prosecutions, a figure which rose to 6,644 in 1955 – because of a law that prohibited gay men from simply being. We know that Alan Turing was convicted for nothing more than confessing he was a homosexual, and whilst gay women and transgender people were not prohibited under law, simply being so was socially unacceptable and discrimination was high. When society began to question the purpose of this law, particularly following the sensational Montagu trial (1954), an increasing number of people began speaking up.
Opponents included Roy Jenkins MP, and Rev. Llywelyn Williams MP from Abertillery among others, but it was Pembrokeshire’s Desmond Donnolly MP who first brought the subject of decriminalising homosexuality up in the House of Commons, a risky move at the time. Robert Boothby MP pressurised the Home Secretary, David Maxwell-Fyfe into considering the situation and reluctantly Maxwell-Fyfe agreed, tagging homosexuality onto a commissioned report on prostitution, which became known as the Wolfenden Report.
Initially the Wolfenden committee refused to speak to homosexual men, as they could not consider talking to criminals. Welshman Goronwy Rees, described as the most ‘lateral thinking and perceptive member of the committee’, thought differently and complained that few members had ever encountered a homosexual ‘in a social way’. He persuaded John Wolfenden, the chair, to meet some homosexual men and to accept the testimony of Peter Wildeblood, who had been imprisoned following the Montague trial. Wildeblood had subsequently written a book and Wolfenden therefore considered him an ‘attention seeker’. Rees also facilitated the inclusion of Patrick Trevor-Roper, a Harley Street consultant; Carl Winter, the director of the Fitzwillian Museum; and author Angus Wilson. Only these four self-identified homosexual men appeared before the committee but they played an important role in influencing the outcome of the Wolfenden Report.
The recommendation of the report for more leniency towards homosexual men was on the whole positively received, but whilst the recommendations on prostitution were enacted, those on homosexuality were not. Maxwell-Fyfe, having reluctantly commissioned Wolfenden, was now stalling it and Harold Wilson, then Prime Minister and personally supportive of change, felt that it would cost the labour party too many votes.
When it became apparent that nothing was going to happen, Tony Dyson, an English lecturer at Bangor University, wrote to every notable person he could think of, asking them to sign an open letter to The Times requesting Wolfenden be enacted. Writing on Bangor University headed note paper, Dyson was placing himself at great risk of being either arrested, sacked or both. As it happened, the university took no action against him – a progressive reaction at the time. The Times obituary for Dyson in 2002 drew attention to his contribution: ‘it is difficult to comprehend,’ they said, ‘the danger of living as a homosexual before the law was reformed in 1967, with the ever-present threat of criminal proceeding or blackmail.’
On the back of The Times letter, Dyson and others set up the Homosexual Law Reform Society, the first openly gay campaigning group in Britain – others followed. What was needed was someone to spearhead a campaign to get Wolfenden enacted and that person was Leo Abse, Cardiff solicitor and MP for Pontypool. As a backbencher he was able to concentrate on unpopular causes and did much for women’s rights, among other achievements. But even he struggled to get this bill through and it was Roy Jenkins, then Home Secretary, who gave the final push needed for the legislation to pass and so changed British society for good.
Of course others have been at the forefront: Katherine Philips; Mary Lloyd; Cliff Tucker; Cranogwen; John Randell; Cliff Gordon; Jan Morris; Gwen John; Ernest Jones; Cedric Morris; Griff Vaughan Williams; Lady Rhondda – I could go on and on about the number of Welsh people who have influenced LGBT and British life.
Wales is a small country but in LGBT history it has always had a huge presence – and that is why the Welsh Assembly award shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.