Books to celebrate Earth Day 2022

We’re celebrating Earth Day 2022 with a list of books that address the natural world, the climate emergency and nature in all its glory.

100 Poems to Save the Earth – Zoë Brigley and Kristian Evans

100 Poems to Save the Earth. Edited by Zoe Brigley and Kristian Evans

100 Poems to Save the Earth invites us to fine-tune our senses, to listen to the world around us, pay attention to what we have been missing. The defining crisis of our time is revealed to be fundamentally a crisis of perception. For too long, the earth has been exploited. With its incisive Foreword, this landmark anthology is a call to action to fight the threat facing the only planet we have. 

Wild Places UK:UK’s Top 40 Nature Sites – Iolo Williams

Iolo Williams Wild Places UK UK's Top 40 Nature Sites

In Wild Places UK television naturalist Iolo Williams picks his favourite forty wildlife sites from the many nature reserves around the country. As this informative and lavishly illustrated book demonstrates, all forty places are packed with the widest variety of trees, plants, birds, animals and insects. Williams draws on his enormous knowledge to guide readers and visitors to the natural delights of each site. Wild Places will show them rarities like the osprey, where to find almost six hundred different species of moths, or an incredible 51 species of caddis fly. Readers will discover where to find birds, both rare and in huge numbers, where hares box and otters swim, where to spot dolphins and salmon, and where to see whales and sharks.

We Have To Leave the Earth – Carolyn Jess-Cooke

We Have to Leave the Earth Carolyn Jess-Cooke. Fierce and very beautiful - Jen Hadfield

Carolyn Jess-Cooke’s new poetry collection is both keenly political and deeply personal. The opening poem ‘now’ features a seemingly peaceful domestic scene of a family lounging at home as the starting point for meditation on history, time, mortality and the fate of the planet: I think of what tomorrow asks and what is yet/ to be done and undone, how many nows make up a life/ and what is living. There are hints of a struggle with depression stemming from a difficult childhood, inspiring Jess-Cooke to express her experiences with her child and their autism diagnosis.

Blood Rain – André Mangeot

Blood Rain Andre Mangeot A thought-provoking book for turbulent times - Matthew Caley

Resonant, complex, rich in heft and texture, these are mature poems that grapple with serious themes. André Mangeot’s Blood Rain opens with a deeply personal love poem (“Remember, too, our secret pool?”) that also introduces the natural world and it’s endangerment – one of several key themes in a book that addresses some of the most troubling man-made issues now facing us all.  The second poem, ‘Bellwether’, reflects this: a subtle socio-political piece, a warning in a time of populism and radicalisation. This breadth of awareness and range is part of the collection’s appeal, giving the poems an urgent topicality and depth.

Much With Body – Polly Atkin

Much With Body Polly Atkin This is series play indeed – Vahni Capildeo Poetry Book Society Recommendation

Much With Body is the startlingly original second collection by poet Polly Atkin. The beauty of the Lake District is both balm and mirror, refracting pain and also soothing it with distraction: unusual descriptions of frogs, birds, a great stag that ‘you will not see’. Much of the landscape is lakescape, giving the book a watery feel, the author’s wild swimming being just one kind of immersion. There is also a distinct link with the past in a central section of found poems taken from transcripts of the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, from a period late in her life when she was often ill. In common with the works of the Wordsworths, these poems share a quality of the metaphysical sublime. Their reverence for the natural world is an uneasy awe, contingent upon knowledge of our fragility and mortality.

Waterfalls Of Stars – Roseanne Alexander

Rosanne Alexander Waterfalls of Stars My ten years on the island of Skomer

When Rosanne Alexander’s boyfriend Mike was offered the job of warden of Skomer, a small uninhabited island off the south west tip of Wales, they had just ten days to leave college, marry (a condition of employment) and gather their belongings and provisions for the trip to the island. This was the first of many challenges Rosanne and Mike faced during their ten years on the nature reserve, from coping with periods of isolation when they were the island’s only inhabitants, to dwindling food supplies during the winter when rough weather made provisioning from the mainland impossible. Thrown on their own resources they had also to deal with catastrophes like the devastation of the island’s seal colony following an oil spill.

The Shaking City – Cath Drake

The Shaking City Cath Drake A guide to staying clear-eyed, combative and caring in unsettled times. – Philip Gross

The shaking city of Australian poet Cath Drake’s debut poetry collection is a metaphor for the swiftly changing precarity of modern life within the looming climate and ecological emergency, and the unease of the narrator who is far from home. Tall tales combine with a conversational style, playful humour and a lyrical assurance.​ The poet is able to work a wide set of diverse spells upon the reader through her adept use of tone, technique, plot and form.

Nia – Robert Minhinnick

Nia A Novel Robert Minhinnick

Nia Vine is about to fulfil her dream of exploring an unmapped cave system. With her will go two friends who were brought up in the same seaside town.  These companions are international travellers, but Nia, who has recently become a mother, feels her experience insignificant compared with that of her friends. While the three explore, Nia finds herself obsessed by a series of dreams that finally lead to a shocking revelation. Page-turningly evocative, immersive and compelling, Robert Minhinnick has written a novel in which realism and poetry collide and mingle.

Dark Land, Dark Skies – Martin Griffiths

Dark Land, Dark Skies The Mabinogion in the Night Sky Martin Griffiths

In Dark Land, Dark Skies, astronomer Martin Griffiths subverts conventional astronomical thought by eschewing the classical naming of constellations and investigating Welsh and Celtic naming. Ancient peoples around the world placed their own myths and legends in the heavens, though these have tended to become lost behind the dominant use of classical cultural stories to name stars. In many cases it is a result of a literary culture displacing an oral culture.

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Barney Norris – The Wellspring: From Page to Stage

In this guest post, Barney Norris discusses the link between his memoir The Wellspring and his new stage production of the same name currently touring the UK. Catch Barney and his father David Owen Norris performing The Wellspring at the Oxford Playhouse from today.

Barney Norris' 'The Wellspring: Conversations with David Owen Norris' cover; a greyscale sketch of a countryside scene with a single square turret in the middle.

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. In addition to being called ‘quite possibly the most interesting pianist in the world’ (Toronto Globe and Mail) and ‘a famous thinker/philosopher of the keyboard’ (Seattle Times), Norris senior is a respected and longstanding television and radio presenter who has worked with a huge range of musicians, conductors and composers in the concert hall and on the airwaves.

The Wellspring

Seven years ago, I was sitting outside Romsey Abbey when the thought came to me that I should write a book of interviews with my father. David Owen Norris, my Dad, has had many jobs – he’s a pianist, a broadcaster and a teacher, among other things. He’s also a composer, and while we were touring a piece of music he’d written, that I’d written some accompanying poems for, I had the idea of writing a book about this aspect of his life. Partly as a way of amplifying his work; partly to trace the journey of one artist from childhood into creativity, as a means of exploring how that journey happens for every artist; partly as a way of knowing my Dad better. I called up Mick Felton at Seren Books, a publisher with the courage and heart to take on quixotic, idiosyncratic projects of this nature, who had previously published my study of the Welsh theatre artist Peter Gill, To Bodies Gone, and who I occasionally besiege with poetry in the hope that he’ll one day let me have a collection (I’m doing the same thing now, here in this blog, not ever so subtly, look!), and he agreed to publish the book if we wrote it.

Barney Norris lays a table cloth on a table while David to his left brings a saucepan on a chopping board to the table.
Photo by Robert Day

What emerged from that process was a sequence of three long interviews with my Dad, loosely grouped around the activities of ‘listening’, ‘playing’ and ‘writing’. I think you can map these onto any artist’s trajectory: they start by absorbing the world, then explore the art form that interests them, and finally, if things go their way (if kind and visionary publishers give them a collection, say), they find a way to make a statement. Dad’s particular version of that journey took in lots of specific things – he’s a study in a particular kind of Englishness, a particular rural culture and a particular artistic context as well. We were very proud of the book, and all the more so when the theatre I was working with at the time, Northampton’s Royal and Derngate, asked me whether we’d consider adapting the book for the stage. Being a book of interviews, it was done in dialogue, after all – so why couldn’t it work live?

Barney Norris sits centre stage on a chair while David Norris sits diagonally to him in the bottom-left corner, facing a piano
Photo by Robert Day

Dad and I got together in the rehearsal room in December 2019 to work out whether it was possible. The first big decision we made was that we mustn’t use the original book too closely as source material – they had to be companions to each other, palimpsests of one another, because an evening where we read out an abbreviated version of the book wouldn’t work. Reading and performing are so fundamentally different, and require such a different kind of writing. In addition, the relationship in the book – that of interviewer and subject – wouldn’t wash onstage. Onstage, everyone visible to the audience has equal weight in the overall picture; one of them can’t be the interviewer, secondary characters don’t exist. I would need to take up more space in the play we made.

Barney Norris sits with his feet on a chair in front of him (centre stage), right index poised in the air, waiting to say something
Photo by Robert Day

So we created something that slightly resembled a winterbourne – the previous Wellspring, my book of interviews with Dad, had passed through this way the previous winter, and now, in a different winter, new water would make its way through the same gullies and eddies of our life stories. Whatever we created would take the same path, passing through all of the same material, but the summer that has passed between the two projects would inevitably mean everything was somehow different. What emerged, then, was a story that seemed both strikingly different, and strikingly the same. It’s a huge privilege to have got to explore this, the idea of telling the same story twice. Part of what I’m writing is my own journey through life, and the changes in my relationship with my father, after all; I am watching my time pass as I retell this tale from its source again, and note how I change it each time.

Both Norrises smile as David sits by the piano(bottom right stage corner)  while Barney stands centre stage addressing the audience.
Photo by Robert Day

Barney Norris

Visit the Oxford Playhouse website for tickets to see ‘The Wellspring’ this week www.oxfordplayhouse.com/events/the-wellspring.

The Wellspring is available on the Seren website for £12.99.

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Gifts for Mother’s Day

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, we’ve rounded up a list of books that would make great Mother’s Day gifts. Browse the list below, or visit our new titles page for more ideas.

Auscultation – Ilse Pedler

This cover shows a digital image of an orange butterfly resting on the cord of a stethoscope. The text reads: Auscultation, Ilse Pedler. "Unique and utterly original" Kim Moore.

Auscultation means listening and specifically, in medicine, listening to sounds that come from the body’s internal organs. If listening is a central theme of this collection, it is also about being heard. Ilse Pedler is poet of breadth and depth. There are poems about waiting rooms and surgical instruments, about crisis calls, about overhearing farmers and pet owners and colleagues. There are poems about surviving a stern childhood and a heartbreaking sequence about being a stepmother. This is a compelling set of poems from a striking new voice.

Writing Motherhood – Ed. Carolyn Jess-Cooke

This cover shows a painting of two mothers and their young daughters looking out at the reader. The text reads: Writing Motherhood, A Creative Anthology. Edited by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

Through a unique combination of interviews, poems, and essays by established writers, Writing Motherhood interrogates contemporary representations of motherhood in media and literature. It asks why so many novels dealing with serious women’s issues are packaged in pink covers with wellies and tea cups, and demonstrates how the exquisite moments of motherhood often enrich artistic practice rather than hinder it. Writing Motherhood is a vital exploration of the complexities of contemporary sexual politics, publishing, artistic creation, and 21st Century parenting.

Cecil & Noreen – Patrick Corcoran

This cover shows a close up sepia image of an elderly couple's hands. The text reads: Cecil & Noreen, Patrick Corcoran.

Cecil & Noreen is a poignant, subtle and amusing love story in which an elderly couple reminisce about their marriage. In a nursing home, Cecil recollects the memories through the aide-memoir of Noreen’s preserved letters which he keeps in a box by his bed. Noreen visits the ailing Cecil twice daily, and provides a more reliable version of the events the letters describe. Both are committed Catholics. The novel opens with their first meeting at church, at which Noreen accidentally floors Cecil with a ceremonial banner. Beautifully-written and deeply compassionate, Cecil & Noreen ennobles the ’ordinary’ lives of its characters. 

Waterfalls of Stars – Rosanne Alexander

This cover shows a photo of Skomer Island surrounded by rough seas. The sky is an eerie green where a storm meets blue sky and sunshine. The text reads: Rosanne Alexander, Waterfalls of Stars: My ten years on the Island of Skomer

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. In Waterfalls of Stars, 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 World, the Lizard and Me – Gil Courtemanche

This cover is orange. Shadowy figures of children fighting in a war and a bright lizard are overlaid in the background. The text reads: The World the Lizard and Me, Gil Courtemanche

The World, the Lizard and Me is a novel of testament to the plight of children caught up in the civil wars of Central Africa. First published in 2009, this translation by David Homel is the first in EnglishThe World, the Lizard and Me follows the life of Claude Tremblay who, from the age of eleven has sought justice for thousands of voiceless victims. Now an investigator at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, he is pursuing Thomas Kabanga, a warlord charged with creating child soldiers in the Congo. Gil Courtemanche draws on his own experiences to write a novel of gripping immediacy.

Women’s Work – Edited by Eva Salzman and Amy Wack

This cover shows a painting of a child looking over the edge of a table, looking a  jug teetering on the edge of falling over. The text reads: Women's Work: Modern Women Poets Writing in English.

With over 250 contributors, Women’s Work brings together generous selection of poetry by women, with an emphasis on twentieth-century poetry in English. Featuring poets from the USA, Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Australia, and New Zealand, it is arranged by thematic chapters that touch on various aspects of modern life. Women’s Work 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 today.

Welsh Quilts – Jen Jones

This cover shows a close up of an intricate grey and red quilt with a starburst shape in the centre. The text reads: Welsh Quilst, Jen Jones. Foreword by Kaffe Fassett, Patterns by Sandie Lush.

In Welsh Quilts expert author Jen Jones presents an authoritative guide to the history and art of the quilt in Wales. Driven by her desire to see this gloriously high-quality craft revived, Jones set out to research the topic which led to the creation of her extensive quilt collection, now housed in the Welsh Quilt Centre in Lampeter. Including stunning, high resolution images of the bold designs and intricate stitching of the quilts in her collection, Welsh Quilts is the essential book on the subject, whether you are a quilter yourself, or simply interested in quilting heritage.

Call Mother a Lonely Field – Liam Carson

This cover shows a black and white photo of Liam Carson's parents in the 1940s. The text reads: Liam Carson, Call Mother a Lonely Field. "A short but intense portrayal of his parents and the divided city where they made their loves. It will leave you enriches no matter your origins." Bernard MacLaverty.

Call Mother a Lonely Field mines the emotional archaeology of family, home and language as the author attempts to break their tethers, and the refuge he finds within them. Liam Carson confronts the complex relationship between a son thinking in English, a father dreaming in Irish ‘in a room just off the reality I knew’, and a mother who, after raising five children through Irish, is no longer comfortable speaking it in the violent reality of 1970s Belfast.

Love and Fallout – Kathryn Simmonds

This cover shows an illustration of a woman lying fully clothed in a bath reading a book. The text reads: Love and Fallout, Kathryn Simmonds.

When Tessa’s best friend organises a surprise TV makeover, Tessa is horrified. It’s the last thing she needs. What’s more, the ‘Greenham Common angle’ the TV producers have devised reopens some personal history Tessa has tried to hide away. Moving between the present and 1982, and set against the backdrop of the mass protests which touched thousands of women’s lives, Love and Fallout is a book about friendship, motherhood and the accidents that make us who we are. A hugely entertaining novel from debut novelist and award-winning poet Kathryn Simmonds.

A Second Whisper – Lynne Hjelmgaard

This cover shows an abstract painting  of two grey figures against a background of a blue, grey and yellow. The text reads: A Second Whisper, Lynne Hjelmgaard. "these poems tell the story of a special late love after bereavement, as well as of loves of all kinds, and the very experience of being alive." – Gillian Clarke

A Second Whisper is a thoughtful and sensitive collection that reflects the changing identities of a woman: in motherhood, in widowhood, in friendship and grief. Hjelmgaard looks back upon her life in New York, Demark, The Caribbean, and London. There are elegies to her late husband as well as to her mentor and partner, the renowned Welsh poet Dannie Abse, who died in 2014. Her lyrics are precise, warm in tone, and suffused with optimism for the future.

The Old And The Young – Margiad Evans

This cover shows a black and white photo of Margiad Evans in a box in the centre. The text reads: The Old And the Young, Margiad Evans. Seren Classics.

First published in 1948, The Old And The Young is a collection of short stories by Margiad Evans (1909-1958). These many of these fifteen stories, all but one written during the Forties, the hardships of rural living are exacerbated by the war. Men are absent, families are separated, women have to shoulder added burdens. This collection is testament to the quiet heroism of the home front, to the stoic resourcefulness of those who have no cenotaph. Indeed, in war or in peace, it is Evans’s ability to delineate the defining nature of small incidents, and to uncover in a precise locality moments of profound spirituality, which raise The Old And The Young to the level of a classic.

The Stromness Dinner – Peter Benson

This cover shows a geometric painting of overlapping blue, yellow and green circles. The text reads: The Stromness Dinner, Peter Benson

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.

Seren Gift Subscription – one year

Seren Gift Subscription

If you’re looking for a gift that will last a whole year, why not treat Mum to a one year Seren Gift Subscription? Seren Subscribers receive three brand-new Seren books across the year – one poetry, one fiction and one non-fiction – plus a host of other exclusive perks. We’ll post them a gift card explaining who the subscription is from, as well as a welcome pack containing a Subscriber tote-bag, notebook and pen in anticipation of their first book arriving in May 2022.

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10 Books for International Women’s Day

To celebrate International Women’s Day we’ve put together a list of ten books by and about women which you should read.

In Her Own Words – Alice Entwistle

In Her Own Words: Women Talking Poetry and Wales. Alice Entwistle.

In Her Own Words: Women Talking Poetry and Wales is a collection of interviews with women poets from Wales. The interviews variously explore topics ranging from personal biography, the complex joys and strains of balancing life with art, issues of cultural politics, gender, family life, to the women’s often contrasting experiences of various kinds of change, including political devolution.

The Black Place – Tamar Yoseloff

This cover shows an abstract painting by Georgia O'Keefe of rolling red and orange hills in the desert. The text reads: The Black Place, Tamar Yoseloff."Yoseloff makes us look at the world, and then look at it again to see something new" - Time Dooely

The Black Place is a dark and gorgeously multi-faceted artwork, like a black diamond. Tamar Yoseloff eschews the sentimental, embraces alternatives, offers antidotes to cheery capitalist hype. The central sequence in this collection, ‘Cuts’, is a characteristically tough look at the poet’s cancer diagnosis and treatment. The diagnosis arrives at the same time as the Grenfell Tower disaster, a public trauma overshadowing a private one. These poems focus on the strangeness of the illness, and of our times – they refuse to offer panaceas or consolations.

A City Burning – Angela Graham

This cover shows a fiery sunset above Belfast reflected in the windscreen of a car. The text reads A City Burning by Angela Graham

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’. Some of these moments occur in mundane circumstances, others amidst tragedy or drama.

Women’s Work – Edited by Eva Salzman and Amy Wack

This cover shows a painting of a child looking over the edge of a table, looking a  jug teetering on the edge of falling over. The text reads: Women's Work: Modern Women Poets Writing in English.

With over 250 contributors, Women’s Work brings together generous selection of poetry by women, with an emphasis on twentieth-century poetry in English. Featuring poets from the USA, Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Australia, and New Zealand, it is arranged by thematic chapters that touch on various aspects of modern life. Women’s Work 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 today.

The Longest Farewell – Nula Suchet

A photo of James Roberts, Nula's husband. The text reads: The Longest Farewell: James, Dementia and Me.

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.

Losing Israel – Jasmine Donahaye

Jasmine Donahay, Losing Israel. Winner of Creative Non-Fiction Category Wales Book of the Year 2016

In 2007, in a chance conversation with her mother, Jasmine Donahaye stumbled upon the collusion of her family in the displacement of Palestinians in 1948. She set out to learn the story of what happened, and discovered an earlier and rarely discussed piece of history during the British Mandate in Palestine. Losing Israel is a moving and honest account which spans travel writing, nature writing and memoir. It explores the powerful and competing attachments that people feel about their country and its history, by attempting to understand and reconcile her conflicted attachments, rooted in her family story – and in a love of Israel’s birds.

All the Men I Never Married – Kim Moore

This cover shows a collage of a man made up of tiny images of nature. The text reads: All the Men I Never Married, Kim Moore. "These are searing, musical reckonings." Fiona Benson

Kim Moore’s eagerly-awaited second collection All The Men I Never Married is pointedly feminist, challenging and keenly aware of the contradictions and complexities of desire. The 48 numbered poems take us through a gallery of exes and significant others where we encounter rage, pain, guilt, and love. A powerful collection of deeply thoughtful and deeply felt poetry.

The Colour of Grass – Nia Williams

This cover shows a photo of a tree looking up from the base. The text, laid out as if on a family tree, reads: Nia Williams, The Colour of Grass

The Colour of Grass by Nia Williams is a story about families, past and present, and life’s unexpected connections. Helen’s family is falling apart. There are no answers from her husband. She can’t communicate with her daughter. So she turns to other relatives: the ones who are dead and gone. Straightaway she finds herself floundering in a new world of friends, secrets, enemies and family history enthusiasts. Clandestine meetings, a mugging, and the surprisingly tragic story of her mystery grandmother – all of these weave themselves into Helen’s present and her unknown past.

Japan Stories – Jayne Joso

This cover shows a black and white photo of a young japanese man in a black suit.

Japan Stories is a spellbinding collection of short fiction set in Japan by Jayne Joso. Each centres on a particular character – a sinister museum curator, a son caring for his dementia-struck father,  a young woman who returns to haunt her killer, and a curious homeless man intent on cleaning your home with lemons! Together, these compelling narratives become a mosaic of life in contemporary Japan, its people, its society, its thinking, its character. Illustrated by Manga artist Namiko, Japan Stories provides a window into a country we would all love to know more deeply.  

Forbidden Lives – Norena Shopland

Forbidden Lives: LGBT Stories from Wales. Norena Shopland. Foreword by Jeffrey Weeks

Forbidden Lives is 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.

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Reading for St David’s Day

Happy St David’s Day / Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus. 1st March not only marks the first day of Spring, but also St David’s Day here in Wales. To celebrate, we’ve rounded up a list of great books by some of our Welsh authors. How many of these have you read?

Miriam, Daniel and Me – Euron Griffith

This cover shows a black and white image of a woman's head in profile. She is looking down and is wearing a 1960s style hat. The background is cream fading to blue at the bottom. The text reads: Euron Griffith, Miriam, Daniel and Me

Miriam, Daniel and Me, Euron Griffith’s first novel in English, is a gripping story of relationships and simmering unrest in 1960s Gwynedd, driven by love, jealousy and vendetta. 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.

A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees – Clare Dudman

This cover shows a painting of a tree leaning to the right with green leaves on one side and bare branches on the other. It is surrounded by dry yellow grass. The text reads: Clare Dudman, A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees.

A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees is a lyrical and insightful evocation of the trials of the first Welsh Patagonian colonists as they battle to survive hunger, loss, and each other. Impoverished and oppressed, they’d been promised paradise on earth: a land flowing with milk and honey. But what the settlers found after a devastating sea journey was a cold South American desert where nothing could survive except tribes of nomadic Tehuelche Indians, possibly intent on massacring them.

Gen – Jonathan Edwards

This cover shows a colourful abstract painting of people out on a busy street on a sunny day. The text reads: Gen, Jonathan Edwards. Winner of the Costa Book Award for Poetry 2014.

The poems in Costa award-winning poet Jonathan Edwards’s second collection Gen, celebrate a Valleys youth and young manhood, offering the reader affectionate portraits of family members alongside pop culture figures like Harry Houdini and Kurt Cobain, and real and imagined Welsh histories. 

A Last Respect – Glyn Mathias and Daniel G. Williams

This cover shows a painting of rolling green fields stretching towards a blue lake in the distance. Fluffy clouds hover in the blue sky above. The text reads: A Last Respect: The Roland Mathias Prize Anthology of Contemporary Welsh Poetry. Edited by Glyn Mathias and Daniel G. Williams.

A Last Respect celebrates the Roland Mathias Prize, awarded to outstanding poetry books by authors from Wales. It presents a selection of work from all eleven prize-winning books, by Dannie Abse, Tiffany Atkinson, Ruth Bidgood, Ailbhe Darcy, Rhian Edwards, Christine Evans, John Freeman, Philip Gross, Gwyneth Lewis, Robert Minhinnick, and Owen Sheers. It is a who’s who of contemporary poetry which shows the form in good health in Wales.

Inhale/Exile – Abeer Ameer

This cover shows a close up painting of someone cutting yellow reeds in the heat of the sun. The text reads: Inhale/Exile, Abeer Ameer. "These poems remind us that even in the darkest times, there is light and there is love" - Katherine Stansfield

Cardiff-based poet Abeer Ameer writes of her forebears in her first collection, Inhale/Exile. Dedicated to the “holders of these stories”, the book begins with a poem about a storyteller on a rooftop in Najaf, Iraq, follows tales of courage and survival, and ends with a woman cooking food for neighbours on the anniversary of her son’s death.

Wales’s Best One Hundred Churches – T.J. Hughes

This cover shows a photo of a ruined Welsh church surrounded by green hills beneath a blue sky. The text read: Wales's Best One Hundred Churches, T.J. Hughes. "A really wonderful book" – Simon Jenkins

Illustrated in colour Wales’s Best One Hundred Churches encompasses a millennium of churches around Wales, from tiny St Govan’s tucked in its cliff-face, through ruined Llanthony to the magnificence of the cathedrals at Llandaff and St David’s. 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.

Four Dervishes – Hammad Rind

This cover shows an cartoon of an old box TV sitting on the hazy, dry ground. The text reads: Four Dervishes, Hammad Rind. "Easily the most remarkable work of fiction to come out of Wales in a thousand moons" – Jon Gower

Four Dervishes draws on a long tradition of storytelling as it skewers issues like religious bigotry, injustice, the denial of women’s rights, and class division. Lavishly inventive, verbally rich, an exotic confection, this novel is both darkly thematic and humorously playful.

The Meat Tree – Gwyneth Lewis

This cover shows a cardboard cutout of a tree and a woman with a ragged dress in relief against a red background. The text reads: Gwyneth Lewis, The Meat Tree. New Stories from the Mabinogion.

A dangerous tale of desire, DNA, incest and flowers plays out within the wreckage of an ancient spaceship in The Meat Tree: an absorbing retelling of the Blodeuwedd Mabinogion myth by prizewinning writer and poet Gwyneth Lewis. An elderly investigator and his female apprentice hope to extract the fate of the ship’s crew from its antiquated virtual reality game system, but their empirical approach falters as the story tangles with their own imagination. By imposing a distance of another 200 years and millions of light years between the reader and the medieval myth, Gwyneth Lewis brings this tale of a woman made of flowers closer than ever before, perhaps uncomfortably so. After all, what man can imagine how sap burns in the veins of a woman?

We Could Be Anywhere By Now – Katherine Stansfield

This covers shows an abstract collage of a woman in 1920s style dress looking out over a balcony with into the blue sky. The text reads: We Could Be Anywhere By Now, Katherine Stansfield. "multi-layered and full of surprising transitions" - Patrick McGuinness

In her second collection, We Could Be Anywhere by Now, Katherine Stansfield brings us poems about placement and displacement full of both wry comedy and uneasy tension. Stints in Wales, Italy and Canada, plus return trips to her native Cornwall all spark poems delighting in the off-key, the overheard, the comedy and pathos of everyday life.

Please – Christopher Meredith

This cover has a blue background. The yellow text reads: Please , Christopher Meredith.

Christopher Meredith’s fifth novel Please, full of humanity, sly humour and verbal invention, is his shortest and arguably his funniest, most innovative and most outrageous. It’s a tragicomedy touching on themes of the limits of knowledge, on isolation, and male frailty in new and playful ways as octogenarian language geek Vernon, whose never written anything longer than a memo, tries to write the story of his long marriage.

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Seren at 40: Looking Back – Seren Friendships

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

Seren Friendships

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

Black and white photo of poet Dannie Abse.
Dannie Abse

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

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

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

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

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

Cary Archard

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Elaine Morgan on her centenary

Elaine Morgan (1920 – 2013) was a pioneer. Born into a working-class family, she was the first person from her school in Pontypridd to go to Oxford University. She went on to pursue multiple careers, first as an award-winning TV writer, then anthropologist, whilst maintaining a role in political activism throughout her life. Daryl Leeworthy, author of Elaine Morgan: A Life Behind the Screen, introduces us to this extraordinary writer on the eve of her centenary.

This informative biography restores Elaine Morgan’s reputation and establishes her significant place in writing from Wales. Richly detailed it is essential in understanding the life and work of this important writer.

“A scintillating new biographical study, impressively researched and elegantly written.” – Dai Smith

“Thanks to this book… many more can take inspiration from Elaine Morgan and a legacy that spans both arts and science. In this, her centenary year, there can be no more fitting tribute.” – Carolyn Hitt

Elaine Morgan has always been a hero of mine.

I suppose I first heard her name when I was in secondary school – we went to the same one. To me it was Coedylan Comprehensive, to her Pontypridd Intermediate School for Girls; these days Pontypridd High. One of my teachers, whose own life had been so influenced by Elaine’s iconic feminist book, Descent of Woman (1972), pointed out to me that being someone from ‘our town’ studying at Oxford not only brings great opportunities but also sets you on a path set down by one of Wales’s truly great writers. A national treasure.

Elaine Morgan at matriculation, autumn 1939 – front row, second from left.
By Kind Permission of The Principal and Fellows of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.

That idea of Elaine has stuck with me over the years. When I set out to research Elaine Morgan: A Life Behind The Screen, I knew that I wanted to look more carefully at her screenwriting and her contribution to our collective sense of the valleys and their people – those aspects of her career now very much overshadowed by the aquatic ape theory and Elaine’s undoubted contributions to popular anthropology. How, I wondered, did Elaine get her break at the BBC; how did she fit into an overwhelmingly masculine world; and how did she reach the top all from a desk in South Wales – a feat that seems so impossible nowadays.

Seeking the answers to those questions took me to the BBC’s written archives near Reading, a marvellous building with truly wonderful staff, where you half expect George Smiley to wander through the corridors. Out of Elaine’s voluminous files came letters sent back and forth to producers like Donald Wilson, Michael Barry, Sydney Newman, and Verity Lambert. The Doctor Who fan in me got very excited when I saw their names! Writers such as Gwyn Thomas and Dennis Potter were mentioned with casual ease. And there were occasional tête-a-tête when Elaine felt she was being undervalued – and underpaid – because she was a woman. The writer who emerged from those files was strong-willed, determined, and keen to learn. She was every bit the feminist my teachers had told me about.

The greatest finds in those files related to Elaine’s debut serial – now lost from the television archives – A Matter of Degree. First broadcast on the BBC in 1960, it told the story of the Powell sisters, and their experiences of South Wales and Oxford. Like the producers who brought it to the screen, I could not help but read an autobiographical presentation of Elaine’s life. She had always maintained that she loved Oxford, but here was the clash of cultures so familiar to me and to many others who have gone up from the valleys to those dreaming spires. Here was a kind of sequel to Emlyn Williams’s famous play The Corn Is Green (1938) but which anticipated the famous television serials of Oxbridge life, Brideshead Revisited (1981) and Porterhouse Blue (1987), decades before they were aired. This was Elaine Morgan, then, the television pioneer.

There was, I discovered, another side to Elaine, too – her politics. She grew up in a household which read the Labour-supporting Daily Herald and her own political activity took her to the pinnacle of student activism whilst she was at Oxford and into circles which included Clement Attlee and Roy Jenkins. Then she worked for the Workers’ Educational Association, just like Gwyn Thomas and Raymond Williams. As a young mother, she kept up her public activism and at one point taught for the Extra Mural Department of Manchester University. She helped to set up the United Nations Association in Burnley and led the town’s first celebrations of International Women’s Day. She even joined the Communist Party, although later returned to the Labour fold. Her radicalism had its fullest expression in a passionate belief in nuclear disarmament, in combatting climate change and humanity’s exhaustion of the planet’s natural resources, and in the campaign to ensure the survival and vibrant future of the Welsh language.

But, of course, if we are to remember one thing about Elaine Morgan on this, her centenary, it is her contribution to the women’s movement and to the self-belief that all women, regardless of their origins, can reach the top. Though she is not traditionally remembered as a historian, her television work, her radio broadcasting, her teaching, and her activism, all contributed to the active recovery of women’s collective, historical experience. In those decades of the twentieth century when Welsh women were absent from parliament, from leadership roles, from the apex of public life, Elaine Morgan stood out. She understood this and made the most of her remarkable influence.

In many respects, Elaine Morgan was the embodiment of what I like to think of as the ‘South Walian Dream’. She took the opportunities afforded her by an education which lasted for as long as she wished, but never forgot her origins. Never lost sight of the fact that she had grown up in a small terraced house in Hopkinstown. Never lost her ear for the rhythm of the valleys and their people. Alongside Gwyn Thomas, she helped to define what Wales meant for television and radio audiences all over the world. Whether as the pensioner, the playwright, the protester, the poet’s muse, or the student politician, Elaine Morgan was determined to say to her own community, to her own people, first and foremost, it does not have to be this way.

Daryl Leeworthy

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

Join us for the virtual launch of this important new biography on Wednesday 11 November at 7pm. Author Daryl Leeworthy will be in conversation with Carolyn Hitt. Register for FREE via Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/125898462691.

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.

‘No Far Shore’: An Interview with Anne-Marie Fyfe

No Far Shore  by Anne-Marie Fyfe is no ordinary exploration of coastlines. She combines travel writing, history, memoir and poetry in an intriguing meditation on the sea, the land, and the maps, lighthouses, islands, north, journeys and other things which mark them. In the process, she also looks at the work of a number of writers for whom the coast has been influential including Elizabeth Bishop, Herman Melville and Virginia Wolf.

In this interview she tells us more about why she moved away from poetry in this exploration and how the book developed during her journey.

You write that the collection takes ‘no settled form’, and it is written in a mixture of poetry, prose and music. How do you think this enriched the story you were telling?

It wasn’t so much a means of enriching the story, as recognising that unsettledness of form – like the unpredictability of coastal seas – was a way of exploring the story in all its depths. Having published  five collections of often strange & slightly surreal poetry, I’d let much remain beneath the surface. It isn’t just that poetry allows one to avoid explaining – it had also allowed me to avoid exploring. Since I’ve been teaching poetry & creative non-fiction in the US, I’ve been struck by how much hybridity of form, mixing traditions, crossing boundaries, offers certain writers not just a new aesthetic, but precise metaphors for subject matter. And it seemed that, for me, setting out into new forms paralleled setting out into the unknown waters of a deeper narrative.

What commonalities would you say that the writer and sea fearer share? Why do you think literature has such an enduring romantic association with the sea?

I’m not sure it’s specific to writers. So many creatives, whatever their artform, music, film-making, painting, etc, feel the need to grapple with the sea. We have to face its threats & dangers if our options aren’t to narrow down into one safe piece of dry land; & its vastness, its distant horizons have always been somehow magnetic. My puzzle wasn’t just why so many writers are drawn to the sea, or why I’m particularly drawn to those writers, but why so many sea-farers & those who spent childhoods by the sea, went on to become writers.

In the collection, you discuss the idea of ‘journeying map-less’, arriving somewhere without expectation. How much direction would you say you have when you begin writing?

I can answer that with Bob Dylan’s line about No Direction Home, or TS Eliot’s idea that all our exploring will lead us back to where we started and that we’ll know the place for the first time. I guess the book was always going to come full circle, back to Cushendall (where I grew up) after the actual journey (Felixstowe, Orkney, Barra, Hook, Swansea, Martha’s Vineyard, North Haven, Maine, Nova Scotia & on to Cape Breton), after the literary journey, exploring coastal writers’ lives. And, of course, after the emotional journey into my own & my own people’s sea-girt pasts. But I didn’t set out knowing what I would find in terms of ‘understanding’ other writers’ passions, or knowing how my family’s story would fall into place.

No Far Shore is filled with meditations on horizons and edges, which seem symbolic of knowledge and certainty. How do you explain both the thrill and fear that seem embedded in self-discovery?

It’s knowledge & un-certainty really: we know when we’re leaving behind the familiar & trying to map the unknown. The two defining edges are the near edge, shoreline/tideline/coastline, between known & unknown, & the illusory far edge. The horizon appears geometrically straight but actually curves horizontally, as well as falling away from us into the distance & off the edge of the known world. So there is No Far Shore in one sense.  And when I lead workshops entitled Edge of the Depths as I’ve done all along the coastlines I’ve travelled, I’m thinking of both near & far ‘edges’.

As for ‘self-discovery’, in a sense that Joseph Conrad would recognise as clearly as TS Eliot, all voyages are self-discovery &, as with any other journey, excitement & dread are involved.

In some senses it’s been the opposite of write about what you know. It’s rather write because you don’t know! The act of bringing together memory, myth, fact, history, poetic fragments, snatched thoughts, conversations, the act of writing it, is less about retelling & more about exploring.

No Far Shore is peppered with references to mythology. In what ways do you think the sea/or a sea-faring journey reflects aspects of human identity? What can we learn about ourselves from looking to the land and seascapes around us?

In a way all our sources, literary, cultural, historical, local, & family, are what shapes us growing up. So Treasure Island & Greek myth &, say, news reports of a local shipwreck in the years before I was born, stories from local fishermen, conversations on a family car journey, all have equal status: what they all do evidence, though, is the looming presence, since the earliest times, of the sea in our geographic & psychological mindscapes. What we learn from those stories, & from simply gazing at oceans & horizons, is more complex than simply longing, aspiration or awe. Which is what the journey & the book taught me, & is the book’s hesitant conclusion.

You cite Elizabeth Bishop’s value of ‘aloneness’ and write of your own desire to discover that ‘other self, deep down’. How do you think the figurative journey through poetry and the physical journey across the sea, differ in unearthing the ‘other self’? How would you define the ‘other self’?

I’d long cherished Bishop’s ‘aloneness’ remarks as touching on something both positive & negative in my own feelings about coasts, isolation & home. Finding or not finding a ‘far shore’, finding the ‘other self’, is simply the long journey towards understanding oneself: an understanding that I’m sure, for some, could be found simply by reading, writing, & contemplating. But for me that understanding required the physical journey, going back to coasts, headlands & harbours, gazing at islands & lighthouses & horizons that Bishop, Woolf, MacNeice, Melville, Tove Jansson & so many more had gazed upon: the difference between ‘research’ at one’s writing-desk & an actual ‘quest’, an ‘odyssey’ perhaps.

You talk about the ‘lure’ and ‘lore of islands’, that ‘Island is illusion’. How influential is the concept of intangibility over your poetry and prose?

On islands/isolation, of course, I’m playing with words & concepts, & while the idea of the desert island in children’s literature always fascinated me, islands can be isolated from the world & yet be some of the most closely-knit, supportive places to live. Like Barra in the Outer Hebrides where my McNeil family originated. Like North Haven in Maine, where I found one of Elizabeth Bishop’s holiday homes: it’s an island outsiders love for its remoteness, its escape from the busy world (unlike, say, fashionable Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket) and that year-rounders, conversely, love for its close community & family ties.

I’ve lived happily with intangibility & a certain evasiveness in poetry that’s never seemed difficult, just a little strange, perhaps, oblique or mysterious. But this new strategy of combining, around each coastal theme, poetry fragments, observations, reflection, memories, facts & – as you’ve mentioned – myth, creates much more tangibility. It’s an approach that allows the reader many different ways of joining me on the journey.

What was your favourite place to visit during the travels that inspired this collection?

Difficult to weigh up, favourite-wise, the tranquility of blue harbours at Loch Eireboll, Fresgoe in Caithness, Fethard in County Wexford, or Lubec on the US/Canada border, against the magic of a moon-silvered midnight in the Western Isles. But the most important times for me were the nights spent in Elizabeth Bishop’s childhood home in Nova Scotia, which were pivotal in my thinking not just about her life, but about my mother’s, and my own.

Although the text predominately explores themes of isolation and solitude, it also demonstrates remarkable ties of connection between literature, people, home and place. Would you say we can only understand our ‘aloneness’ by understanding the ways in which we are connected to others?

The ’story’, the exploration, unfolds to show that a desire for solitude can arise from the need, not to imagine an elsewhere, or a future, but for sufficient remoteness from the world to allow us to recapture, momentarily, a vanished past, to spend time in the imagination with people who mattered to us and whose memory is often lost in the noise & busyness of the world. Oddly that desire to be alone with one’s reflections isn’t inconsistent with the desire, as a writer, to share one’s solitary, personal reflections with the wider world in poetry, novels, or books like this.

You end the collection with a coastal soundscape, which among many things, consists of Morse code and music. What inspired you to end the collection this way? How do the visual and audible aids capture what you were trying to convey in a way that poetry and prose alone could not?

Having set out with a sense that many different literary & oral forms of communication have a place in understanding what makes us who we are, I was also aware that – although Yeats says words alone are certain good – there were other forms of communication jostling for attention throughout the essays/chapters: sea sounds, wireless experiments, songs my mother sang, radio waves, lighthouse signals, Mayday messages, a ringing telephone, even car headlights on a coast road… all part of a visual & aural picture that would bring together the various strands, the interwoven stories, the literal & metaphorical journeys.

No Far Shore: Charting Unknown Waters is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Seren Gift Guide: Give the Perfect Gift this Christmas

We all have them. That one person in the family who is impossible to buy presents for. They’re very particular so food or alcohol is out of the question and you bought them novelty socks last year so what are you going to do? Buy them a book of course!

Here at Seren we’ve got books to suit everyone: fiction addicts, nature lovers, poetry fanatics, art & photography connoisseurs, history buffs, current affairs enthusiasts, fans of biography & memoir – the list goes on. Here are a selection of our top suggestions for those difficult to buy for family members to help you give the perfect gift this Christmas.

 

Books for Fiction Addicts

Significance by Jo Mazelis £9.99 

significanceLucy Swann is trying on a new life. She’s cut and dyed her hair and bought new clothes, but only gets as far as a small town in northern France when her flight is violently cut short. When Inspector Vivier and his assistant Sabine Pelat begin their investigation the chance encounters of her last days take on a new significance. Lucy’s death, like a stone thrown into a pool, sends out far-reaching ripples, altering the lives of people who never knew her as well as those of her loved ones back home.

Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray: £8.99 

Sugar Hall Tiffany MurrayEaster 1955 and Britain waits for a hanging. Dieter Sugar finds a strange boy in the red gardens at crumbling Sugar Hall – a boy unlike any he’s ever seen. As Dieter’s mother, Lilia, scrapes the mould and moths from the walls of the great house, she knows there are pasts that cannot be so easily removed. Sugar Hall has a history, buried, but not forgotten. Based on the stories of the slave boy that surround Littledean Hall in the Forest of Dean, this is a superbly chilling ghost story from Tiffany Murray.

Brief Lives by Christopher Meredith £9.99 

Brief Lives Christopher MeredithFrom the nightmarish first story set in the South China Sea in 1946 to the final piece, set nowhere at the end of time, Brief Lives demonstrates in a short compass a huge range in technique and milieu and a unity of theme and sensibility. It opens naturalistically but is distinctly non-realist by the close. We meet an ex-collier in 1950 anguishing over whether to return to the pit, a young mother in the early 1960s quietly shepherding those around her through a bleak Christmas day, an industrial chemist in this century plunged into vortices of memories that cause him to question his grasp of the world, and more.

New Stories From The Mabinogion – The Complete Box Set (Unsigned): £80 

In New Stories from the Mabinogion ten great authors take the Celtic myth cycle as a starting point to give us masterly re-workings with a modern twist in a series both various and wonderful. In these retellings of medieval stories from Celtic mythology and Arthurian Britain, we reach the orbit of Mars, the Tower of London and the edges of India, travel in time to WW2 and forward to the near future, see Iraq in drug-addled dreams, and view Wales aslant, from its countryside to its council estates. Each author makes the story entirely their own, creating fresh, contemporary novellas while keeping the old tales at the heart of the new.

 

Books for Home Birds

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.

 

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.

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.

 

Books for History Buffs

Conflict, War and Revolution: My Life by Alessandra Kozlowska: £12.99 

Discovered by the author’s grandson, and written originally in Italian, Conflict, War and Revolution: My Life is the memoir of Baroness Alessandra Koslowska (1892-1975) and is a vivid depiction of her life from childhood to the end of the Second World War. In essence it is the story of her struggle to keep her family together through the huge and sometimes deadly social and political changes of early twentieth century Europe including the survival of two revolutions in Russia and the subsequent civil war, her travels in central Europe during World War One, her life in Italy during the inter-war years, and her internment there, which was almost terminated by German forces.

Forbidden Lives by Norena Shopland: £12.99 

Norena Shopland Forbidden LivesForbidden Lives is 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. In it 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 where he reports on ‘bearded women’ and other hermaphrodites. Other subjects include Edward II and Hugh DeSpenser, seventeenth century poet Katherine Philips, the Ladies of Llangollen, Henry Paget, artists Gwen John and Cedric Morris, and actor Cliff Gordon.

Caradoc Evans: The Devil in Eden by John Harris: £19.99 

Caradoc Evans Devil in Eden John HarrisIn Caradoc Evans: The Devil in Eden John Harris has written the definitive biography of Welsh author Caradoc Evans. He investigates what lay behind his writing, and its impact on Wales and beyond. Evans is revealed as a polemicist on issues like the rights of workers, the conduct of the Great War, and the status of women. A leading London journalist, Evans had a popular weekly column in which he responded to readers’ views in trenchant fashion. As Harris argues, challenging convention was his life’s work. Extensively researched and brilliantly written, it is a revelatory and necessary insight into the man, his country and his times.

 

Books for Nature Lovers

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

In 2016 television naturalist Iolo Williams brought us the definitive guide to the top nature sites in Wales. Now he 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.

Waterfalls of Stars by Rosanne Alexander: £12.99 

Waterfalls of Stars Rosanne AlexanderWhen 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 for the trip to the island. With great sensitivity, and humour, Rosanne Alexander relates their experiences, including her observations of the island’s wildlife and landscape. With her lyrical evocation of the natural world and its enthusiastic and resourceful approach to the problems of island life, Waterfalls of Stars will inspire and entertain anyone who has felt the need for escape.

Once by Andrew McNeillie: £9.99 

Once is the journey from boyhood to the threshold of manhood of poet Andrew McNeillie. From an aeroplane crossing north Wales the middle-aged writer looks down on the countryside of his childhood and recalls an almost fabulous world now lost to him. Ordinary daily life and education in Llandudno shortly after the war are set against an extraordinary life lived close to nature in some of the wilder parts of Snowdonia. Continually crossing the border between town and country, a fly-fisherman by the age of ten, McNeillie relives his life in nature during a period of increasing urbanisation.

 

Books for Poetry Fanatics

Erato by Deryn Rees-Jones: £9.99 

Named after the Greek muse of lyric poetry, Erato combines documentary-style prose narratives with the passionate lyric poetry for which Rees-Jones is renowned. Here, however, as she experiments with form, particularly the sonnet, Rees-Jones asks questions about the value of the poet and poetry itself.  Erato’s themes are manifold but particularly focus on personal loss, desire and recovery, in the context of a world in which wars and displacement of people has become a terrifying norm.
Shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize.

Gen by Jonathan Edwards: £9.99 

Jonathan Edwards GenGen 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. Other poems place a Valleys village and the characters who live in it alongside explorations of Welsh history and prehistory, and the collection concludes with a selection of sometimes witty, sometimes heartfelt love poems.

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: Pembrokeshire, Snowdonia, the 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.

 

 

Twelve Poems for Christmas: £5 

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.

 

Books for Cooks

The Occasional Vegan by Sarah Philpott: £12.99 

The Occasional Vegan Sarah PhilpottThe Occasional Vegan is a collection of 70 simple, affordable and delicious recipes, suitable for newcomers and long-time vegans alike, that will keep you well-fed and healthy. Author Sarah Philpott’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.  Food lover Philpott shows that embracing veganism certainly doesn’t need to break the bank. Her recipes are homely and easily cooked, suitable for old and young, gourmet cooks and the kitchen novice.

 

Books for Music Lovers

Just Help Yourself by Vernon Hopkins: £9.99 

Just Help Yourself Vernon Hopkins1960. 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 BackPeter 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.

 

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.

 

Losing Israel by Jasmine Donahaye: £12.99 

In 2007, in a chance conversation with her mother, a kibbutznik, Jasmine Donahaye stumbled upon the collusion of her family in the displacement of Palestinians in 1948. She set out to learn the story of what happened, and discovered an earlier and rarely discussed piece of history during the British Mandate in Palestine. Losing Israel is a moving and honest account which spans travel writing, nature writing and memoir. Through the author’s personal situation it explores the powerful and competing attachments that people feel about their country and its history, by attempting to understand and reconcile her conflicted attachments, rooted in her family story – and in a love of Israel’s birds.

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.

 

Books for Fans of Biography and Memoir

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.

 

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.

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 JonesWelsh 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.

Jonah Jones: An Artist’s Life by Peter Jones: £14.99 

Sculptor, painter, letter cutter, stained glass artist, novelist, academic and administrator; Jonah Jones (1919-2004) was a twentieth century renaissance man. His son Peter looks back on his life, from growing up in a mining family in Newcastle, through his experiences in a non-combatant role in the Medical Corps during the Second World War, to the people and places that fired his passion to become an artist. Jonah Jones: An Artist’s Life is a considered look at the life of one of Wales’ most successful artists.

Try the Wilderness First : Eric Gill and David Jones at Capel-y-Ffin by Jonathan Miles: £12.99 

Try the Wilderness First is the only study devoted to controversial artist Eric Gill’s artistic and religious community in the Black Mountains of Wales during the 1920s, told through the character and work of Gill himself and David Jones, two of Britain’s most significant twentieth century artists. In it, Jonathan Miles explores the influences of place, culture and religion on artistic practice and investigates the effect of the Black Mountains and of Gill’s community on the work of these two important British artists, both at the time and in the future.

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.

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.

 

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