Read for Remembrance

November will always be a month in which we remember the sacrifices of our ancestors, those who fought, and those who died doing so. 2015 marks not only 70 years since the end of the Second World War, but also the birth of the Welsh war writer, Alun Lewis, whose centenary we have been celebrating throughout the year.

One of the most important things we can do is to ensure we never forget the fighting that both horrified and defined the 20th century, and so, as we thank both the fallen and those who made it home, we hope you’ll take a moment to peruse some of war-themed titles, and help us to honour Remembrance Day in the best way we know how.

Lest we forget.

after the first death

After the First Death: An Anthology of Wales and War in the Twentieth Century
ed. by Tony Curtis

This anthology contains writing by many of the greatest authors of Wales. From Wilfred Owen and David Jones, Dylan Thomas and Dannie Abse to Christopher Meredith and Gillian Clarke, it spans a century which saw both the barbarism of mechanised warfare and the development of mass communication, mass literacy and a flourishing of creative endeavour.

After the First Death draws on the experience of those who have faced death on the battlefield, and on others who have sought to put into words the complex philosophical, political and emotional responses that military action demands. Including poetry, extracts from fiction, memoirs, letters and biography, the book moves from World War One via the ideological battleground of the 1930s into the Second World War, then through the Cold War, Vietnam, the Falklands and the Gulf wars.

Men_Who_Played_the_Gamergb

Men Who Played the Game
by Mike Rees

The Great War marked a profound change in attitudes to war and the conduct of it. Six million men from the British Isles served in it, 720,000 (12%) were killed. Junior offices had a 20% survival rate; up to 80% of a battalion could be lost. Battle had changed from engagement by professionals to wholesale, mechanized slaughter. The effect on servicemen and those at home was profound, perhaps never more so than in the case of sportsmen, who fought ‘battles’ on the pitch or in the ring according to rules devised for fair play.

Men Who Played the Game 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 book opens with revealing chapters of how various sports – the fans, the governing bodies and the sportsmen themselves – reacted to the outbreak of war.

The bulk of the book tells the stories of individuals and groups of sportsmen, combining accounts of their pre-war sporting success and their military experience. It covers several sports – rugby, football, cricket, athletics, tennis, boxing; social hierarchy – ‘gentlemen’ and ‘players’; several nationalities – English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Australian, New Zealanders; and several  theatres of war – Western Front, Gallipoli, Africa, the Middle East. Here are stories about the famous Hearts football team, soccer stars Leigh Rhoose, Jimmy Speirs and the first mixed race footballer Walter Tull. Rugby Union is represented by All Black captain Dave Gallagher, British Lion David Bedell-Sivright and a swathe of England captains; cricket by the fate of the Kent County side and Booth, Jeeves and Burns: three all-rounders killed on the Somme.

Historian Mike Rees has written an invaluable guide to the relationship of sport and war, to the state of sporting Britain, and a moving testimony to the fate of so many sportsmen.

Alun Lewis Collected Poems_Layout 1

Collected Poems
by Alun Lewis

Alun Lewis (1915-1944), the remarkable poet and story writer, died, aged 28, in Burma during the Second World War. Some critics see him as the last of the great Romantic poets, a twentieth century Keats. Others view him as the bridge between pre-war poets like Auden and Yeats to post-war poets such as Hughes and Gunn. He was born and raised in Depression-struck south Wales and, following degrees in history at Aberystwyth and Manchester, became a teacher there. Early in 1940, despite his pacifist inclinations he enlisted and, after long periods of training, joined the war in India.

Becoming a soldier galvanised Lewis’s writing. By 1944 he had written two collections of poems and one of short stories, all published to considerable acclaim. Firmly established with Keith Douglas as the leading writer of the Second World War, Lewis’s death in an accident while on active service was huge loss to English literature. This Collected Poems comprises a body of work which has endured and which transcends the label ‘war poetry’; it is complete in itself and full of promise of greater things.

lovewar

Love & War
by Siân James

Siân James brings her customary narrative flair and ear for dialogue to this beautifully-observed novel of love, scandal and grief set in wartime rural Wales.

For three years, young teacher Rhian Evans has lived a life of isolation in her small village, patiently awaiting the return of her soldier-husband, Huw. While Rhian struggles to stay true to her strict Chapel upbringing, her carefree lodger Ilona Hughes apparently has no such concerns, seeming to live life as she pleases.

As Rhian’s loneliness grows, Ilona’s influence leads her friend to confront the conflicting passions at work within her. Faced with the interests of art-teacher Gwynn Morgan (a married man with whom Rhian fell in love before meeting her husband) she finds herself questioning the morals imposed upon her by her upbringing, and eventually even her love for her absent husband. Soon, Rhian’s revived affections for Gwynn overpower both her loyalty to Huw and the disapproval of certain members of the community, leading the couple to embark on a passionate affair, just as Gwynn himself is called-up to fight.

But Rhian’s sadness at his departure is nothing compared to her devastation when she learns of his death only a few weeks later; wracked by grief, loneliness and guilt, she endeavours to make peace with her community, and particularly with Gwynn Morgan’s urbane French widow.

Perceptive, funny and moving, Love & War is a poignant and beautifully-plotted portrait of one rural community during the Second World War.

owen, ellen, sian b, arthur:owen, ellen, sian b, arthur

Kerry’s Children
by Ellen Davis

Ellen Davis was born in 1929 in the small German village of Hoof. Her Jewish family had lived there since 1760 but its peaceful existence was shattered when Hitler came to power and German Jews were persecuted.

Ellen’s autobiography tells the harrowing story of her childhood struggle to protect her younger brothers and sisters from the terrors of life in Nazi Germany and her escape to Swansea via the Kindertransport.

This is also the moving story of Ellen’s life in Britain, the difficulties of her first marriage and her love for her own Welsh children as she finds happiness in a new relationship. Meanwhile she continues to search for her German family and relatives in Australia, Israel and the US – a search which ends finally, heart-rendingly, in Riga in Latvia. Ellen Davis tells her story simply and honestly. In recent years she has given many interviews about her life and spoken about it especially to young people.

Friday Poem – Autumn, 1939

This week’s poem comes from the Collected Poems of WW2 writer Alun Lewis, whose centenary we are celebrating throughout the year, to mark the Autumn equinox which occurred earlier this week.

Alun Lewis (1915-1944), the remarkable poet and story writer, died, aged 28, in Burma during the Second World War. Some critics see him as the last of the great Romantic poets, a twentieth century Keats. Others view him as the bridge between pre-war poets like Auden and Yeats to post-war poets such as Hughes and Gunn. He was born and raised in Depression-struck south Wales and, following degrees in history at Aberystwyth and Manchester, became a teacher there. Early in 1940, despite his pacifist inclinations he enlisted and, after long periods of training, joined the war in India.

Becoming a soldier galvanised Lewis’s writing. By 1944 he had written two collections of poems and one of short stories, all published to considerable acclaim. Firmly established with Keith Douglas as the leading writer of the Second World War, Lewis’s death in an accident while on active service was huge loss to English literature. This Collected Poems comprises a body of work which has endured and which transcends the label ‘war poetry’; it is complete in itself and full of promise of greater things.

Autumn, 1939

The beech boles whiten in the swollen stream;
Their red leaves, shaken from the creaking boughs,
Float down the flooded meadow, half in dream
Seen in a mirror cracked by broken vows,
Water-logged, slower, deeper, swirling down
Between the indifferent hills who also saw
Old jaundiced knights job listlessly to town
To fight for love in some unreal war.

Black leaves are piled against the roaring weir;
Dark closes round the manor and the hut;
The dead knight moulders on his rotting bier,
And one by one the warped old casements shut.

Order Collected Poems from our website.

The 2015 Timothy Corsellis Prize

ypn

The Young Poets Network have brought back the Timothy Corsellis Prize after a very successful year in 2014, and this year Alun Lewis has a small part to play!

Lewis is one of six WW2 poets – the others being Keith Douglas, Sidney Keyes, John Jarmain, Henry Reed, and Timothy Corsellis himself – whose life and/or work poets from ages 14-25 are encouraged to respond.

Timothy Corsellis was a young pilot, and poet, who was killed in 1941 when the plane he was piloting stalled and crashed. He was only 20 years old. The Timothy Corsellis Prize has been set up in his name, with the support of his family, to encourage people to read the work of the lesser-known poets of the Second World War.

This year there is also a Young Critics Prize, for short essays of 500-1,500 words discussing which of the poets are most likely to be read in 20 year’s time and why.

The deadline is Sunday 6th September, so why not get involved? You can find out everything you need to know about entering, and more information about the prize, here!

Lost & Found

Recent years have been fantastic for Wales in the literary world. 2014 saw the centenary of Dylan Thomas, this year we’re celebrating the centenary of Alun Lewis, and next year, 2016, marks the centenary of Roald Dahl.

This year in particular has been a big year for the publishing world as a whole. As well as our centenary celebrations for WW2 writer Alun Lewis, 2015 marks 150 years since the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and has even seen the publication of Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set A Watchman, 55 years after the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird.

But Go Set A Watchman isn’t the only “lost” novel to be published this year. This year at Seren we’re publishing Morlais, a novel by Alun Lewis that was thought lost until last year.

Morlais cover

Following in the footsteps of Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley, Morlais is set during the Depression in south Wales, and follows Morlais Jenkins and his struggle when he finds himself caught in the middle of the class divide. From a long line of miners, Morlais finds his talents lean more towards poetry and academia, and when he is adopted by the local colliery owner’s wife after the death of her own son his struggle with his identity begins.

Will you be reading Morlais this year?

Don’t forget to follow our Alun Lewis Twitter and Facebook, and check out the Alun Lewis website!

The Centenary of Alun Lewis

100 years ago today, the 1st July 1915, Alun Lewis was born. No one could have known then that he would grow into one of the most remarkable writers of the Second World War, nor that he would die under tragic circumstances at just 28 years old.

Though short, Lewis’s life was tumultuous; he was a talented academic, a gifted writer, a depressive personality, and a pacifist by nature who was faced with a war against fascism. And yet despite all that there aren’t many outside of Wales who’ve even heard his name.

At Seren, that’s something we’ve been trying to change this year.

So if you’d like to celebrate the centenary of this outstanding writer, come and join us in Aberdare today for a whole array of celebrations including the unveiling of a Royal Welsh Regiment blue plaque, re-dedications of the Lewis Bronze in Aberdare Library, an address by National Poet Gillian Clarke, and a reading of Lewis’s poetry by Brigadier Philip Napier as well as contributions from local schools.

Join us at 10:30am at Glynhafod Junior School from where the celebrations will begin, and help us to mark this occasion and remember one of the greatest writers Wales has ever produced.

Order Alun Lewis’s work from our website.