Friday Poem – ‘Crocodile’ by Jonathan Edwards

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Crocodile’ by Jonathan Edwards from his collection Gen.

Jonathan Edwards Gen

Gen is a book of lions and rock stars, street parties and servants, postmen and voices. In the opening sequence’s exploration of youth and young manhood, the author sets his own Valleys upbringing against the ’50s youth of his parents and the experience of a range of pop culture icons, including Kurt Cobain and Harry Houdini. These poems give way to a sequence of monologues and character sketches, giving us the lives of crocodiles and food testers, pianists and retail park trees. With his characteristic humour, warmth, formal range and swaggering music, Jonathan Edwards delivers a worthy follow-up to his popular and critically-lauded debut.

Gen is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Hear Jonathan Edwards read alongside Gillian Clarke in our next Virtual First Thursday taking place on Thursday 4 February from 7:30pm. Tickets £2.74, available from Eventbrite here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/136594791699.

Jonathan is also tutoring a week-long online course on ‘Poems and People’ for The Garsdale Retreat at the beginning of March. Full details can be found on their website thegarsdaleretreat.co.uk.

Friday Poem – ‘The Dance of Ararat’ by Eoghan Walls

Our first Friday Poem of 2021 is ‘The Dance of Ararat’ by Eoghan Walls from his collection Pigeon Songs which was shortlisted for the Pigott Poetry Prize 2020.

Pigeon Songs Eoghan Walls

Pigeon Songs follows on from Walls’ much-praised debut, The Salt Harvest. From the first poem, we have a sense of the poet’s themes and preoccupations: we have a richly metaphorical and densely allusive style, a pull towards formal metre and structures. There is also the occasional vigorous vulgarity, adding a touch of blue humour to the canvas, breaking up the formal rigour. Family is a potent presence in poems inspired by parents, grandparents, partners, children. They often emit a sort of energy, a fierce gravitational pull of emotion around the burning heart of a poem ultimately about love, or the sorrow of losing a loved-one.

Pigeon Songs is available on the Seren website: £9.99.

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See Eoghan read from Pigeon Songs and The Salt Harvest in this event from the Seren Stay-at-Home Series.

Recipe: Sticky Toffee Apple Pudding with Vanilla Custard

Whether you’ve put your tree up already or not, there’s no denying that Christmas is on its way. This delicious recipe for Sticky Toffee Apple Pudding from The Seasonal Vegan is the perfect indulgent treat to enjoy during the festive season, especially when served with hot vanilla custard.

The Seasonal Vegan is a kitchen diary of seasonal recipes with a delicious mixture of Sarah Philpott’s fine food writing and Manon Houston‘s beautiful photography. This 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. It’s the perfect Christmas gift for vegan and non-vegan foodies alike.

Sticky Toffee Apple Pudding with Vanilla Custard

Photograph by Manon Houston – https://www.manonhouston.com/.

1 hour 30 minutes | Serves 8

Ingredients

For the pudding:

– 250g dates
– 100g soft brown sugar
– 100g vegan butter, plus extra for greasing
– 3 apples, grated
– 300g self-raising flour
– 2 tsp baking powder
– 2 tsp ground allspice
– A pinch of sea salt
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– 1 tbsp treacle

For the sauce:

– 150g vegan butter, softened
– 350g dark muscovado sugar
– 1 tbsp black treacle
– 50ml oat milk
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– A pinch of sea salt

For the custard:

– 1 litre oat milk
– 150g white sugar
– 2 tsp vanilla extract
– A pinch of sea salt
– 1 tbsp cornflour
– A pinch of turmeric (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Put the dates in a bowl and pour over 250ml boiling water and leave for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Tip in the flour, baking powder, grated apple, allspice and salt and stir well. Add the vanilla extract and treacle and stir again.

Lightly grease a large dish or tin and pour the batter in, making sure to spread evenly. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make the sauce by melting the butter, muscovado sugar and treacle over a very low heat in a heavy-based saucepan. Once the butter is melted, stir gently until everything else is melted too. Now stir in the oat milk, vanilla extract and salt, then turn up the heat and when it’s bubbling and hot, take it off the heat.

Take the pudding out of the oven and leave to stand for 20–30 minutes. To make the custard, put the oat milk, vanilla, salt and sugar in a small saucepan and heat over a medium heat, stirring constantly. Add the cornflour and bring to the boil. Keep stirring until you have a thick consistency, then add the turmeric, if using.

Pour the toffee sauce over the pudding and cut into eight slices. Pour over the custard and serve.

The Seasonal Vegan is available on the Seren website: £12.99

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This delicious Pulled Mushroom Sandwich recipe is taken from the autumn section. Watch out for more recipe videos coming soon.

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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Friday Poem – ‘The Sea at Aberystwyth’ by Tamar Yoseloff

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘The Sea at Aberystwyth’ by Tamar Yoseloff from her collection of selected poems A Formula for Night.

Tamar Yoseloff A Formula for Night

Tamar Yoseloff is a poet whose career has been profoundly influenced by the visual arts. A Formula for Night: New and Selected Poems encompasses selections from four published print volumes: Sweetheart, Barnard’s Star, Fetch and The City with Horns (now mostly out of print); and poems from her collaborations with artists: Formerly, Marks and Desire Paths. The book also includes a generous selection of beautiful new poems. 

A Formula for Night is available on the Seren website: £12.99

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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.

Lucy Gannon introduces The Amazingly Astonishing Story

Award-winning TV writer Lucy Gannon introduces her new memoir The Amazingly Astonishing Story which is published today.

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).

“The saddest, happiest, funniest book I’ve read for ages” – Dawn French

“In her own real life story she excels herself… she’ll have you in tears, barking in anger, and laughing out loud in the space of one beautifully crafted sentence.” – Kevin Whateley

One of the questions writers grow used to, and tired of, and flummoxed by, is “What makes a writer?” and another one is “Where do you get your ideas from?”

The answers I give are usually apologetic shrugs followed by lame and unsatisfactory suggestions, because both those questions are unanswerable. Until now. From now on, in answer, I can point to this book and say “I think the clues are in there.”

This book tells, of course, just the beginning of a long and eventful life. It’s a start, you could say.

Dickens was onto something when he said “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” That’s life. And my life has been an adventure from first cry right through to now and Covid, losing my mother at 7, living through a crash landing at Orly Airport, nearly drowning in the Med, surviving a boating disaster in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, coming off a motorbike on an icy road, spending  Christmas Eve in a small tent in a gale on Beachy Head, going through a divorce, being broke, marrying again, becoming a Mum, winning The Richard Burton Drama Award, being widowed at 43, and going on from there to have a successful and happy career as a dramatist.

This morning, at 71 years old,  I stood on the beach, deafened by the roar of the wind, under a wild and beautiful sky, and it was as if I saw myself, on this small stretch of sand, on the edge of an ocean, and then as if I saw beyond and beyond – to the billions of stars and suns and moons and the wildness of the cosmos. My eyes saw waves and sky and wheeling gulls, but my mind saw everything.  My wonderful mind. Your wonderful mind. Our minds, eh? They reach out to each other. That’s what this book does. It reaches out. I hope it finds you.

I wrote it for many reasons, but the essential hope was that it would show that from the coldest of beginnings, life can spin into something rich and warm and wonderful. To say that there is more to every life than whatever we are going through at this moment, that the future can be tumultuous and exciting, and even that in the  middle of loneliness or need , we all have wonderful internal worlds, we can carry on a funny, loving conversation within our own minds, we can reach out and sense the eternal and the wonderful life force. We can meet that life force. We can meet God.

A rich life is made up of the best and the worst, both the greatest joy and the deepest sorrow. I am very, very blessed to have had both in great big spadefuls and I wouldn’t change a single day or hour of it, and I wouldn’t miss out on  meeting any of the rich characters in all the crazy episodes along the way.  

So, should I have called this memoir “The making of a writer”?

Maybe.

Lucy Gannon

The Amazingly Astonishing Story is available on the Seren website: £12.99

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Join us for the virtual launch on Tuesday 17th November from 7pm. Register for FREE via Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/125903521823.

Friday Poem – ‘The Clockwork Crow’ by Catherine Fisher

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘The Clockwork Crow’ by Catherine Fisher from her collection The Bramble King.

The Bramble King is full of darkly resonant tales, ingenious parables, curiously haunted rooms and palaces, and beautifully observed images of the natural world. A prolific, popular and prize-winning author of fantasy fiction, Catherine began her career as a poet, and Seren published her early volumes: Immrama, The Unexplored Ocean and Altered StatesThe Bramble King is Fisher’s first collection of poems since 1999.

The Bramble King is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘Autumn’ by Rhiannon Hooson

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Autumn’ by Rhiannon Hooson from her collection The Other City.

Rhiannon Hooson’s debut collection The Other City was shortlisted for the Roland Mathias Prize. Sharply focused, beautifully resonant, and deeply felt,  these poems reference and re-make narratives from classical Greek myth, while others rework elements of Welsh history, ancient and modern.

Rhiannon runs workshops and courses throughout the year, visit www.inkandoaktree.com for more details.

The Other City is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘In the Welsh National Museum’ by Dannie Abse

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘In the Welsh National Museum’ by Dannie Abse from his collection of selected poems Welsh Retrospective.

Welsh Retrospective is a selection of poems about his native Wales by one of Britain’s most popular poets. Dannie Abse’s Welsh and Jewish backgrounds have been essential to his writings. Wales and Cardiff, in particular, have haunted his imagination. In this revealing book he writes movingly about the Cardiff of his childhood, home of his beloved Bluebirds football team, and also about the small village of Ogmore-by-Sea, location of early holidays and for many years his home in Wales.

Welsh Retrospective is available on the Seren website: £8.99

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