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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Celebrating Welsh Dark Skies Week

The 19th to the 27th February 2022 is the inaugural Welsh Dark Skies Week, a week-long series of events designed to raise awareness of light pollution and how it impacts wildlife, our health and our view of the stars. Wales has one of the largest percentages of protected dark skies in the world. The events this week also recognise the effort undertaken to preserve these protected landscapes for future generations.

In his book Dark Land, Dark Skies, astronomer Martin Griffiths marries the constellations as we know them with ancient Welsh stories from the Mabinogion to create a new perspective on the the night skies. Find out more in this extract.

This cover shows a photo of a black sky filled with stars. The text reads: Dark Land, Dark Skies, Martin Griffiths

In Dark Land, Dark Skies astronomer Martin Griffiths subverts conventional astronomical thought by eschewing the classical naming of constellations. He researches the past use of Welsh heroes from the Mabinogion in the naming of constellations, combining astronomy with a new perspective on Welsh mythology. The result is an informative and provocative guide to star-gazing which will delight amateur and professional astronomers alike. 

Dark Land, Dark Skies

One cannot escape the majesty of the heavens, the overwhelming perception of being a very small part of such a monumental edifice as the starry sky above us. Yet at the same time, one cannot help but feel at one with it. Such is the magnitude and wonder of our universal home that it comes as no surprise that the heavens have been studied from the time that man first walked the Earth. Every ancient civilization looked to the stars, grouped them into constellations and imbued them with a narrative hoping that the wisdom seen in the night sky would have a marked effect upon the course of life they could lead.

The ancient peoples of Britain, and especially the Cymru or the tribes that eventually would live in the land of Wales, also had their own cultural affinity for the sky. Many of the tales they told were shared in oral traditions that have been lost over the centuries. Others were recorded in post-Roman Britain by bards who kept the traditions alive.

In the immortal words of Monty Python: “what have the Romans ever done for us”? Well, they left us an invaluable system of writing and Roman script, so ancient tales began to be recorded by those who could read and write after the Roman system of education. This script was used to create the first poems and stories about Wales that drew upon some earlier oral traditions and tales. The oldest collected tales are from sources in thirteenth century Wales and probably date back to the fifth and sixth centuries, the time of the poets Taliesin and Aneirin. Both feature the lives of the princes of an extended kingdom of Wales: Aneirin was born in Edinburgh and wrote his classic tale of battle and loss Y Gododdin after the Anglo-Saxon invasion of eastern England. He is the first to mention some of the deeds of King Arthur. Conversely, Taliesin probably moved from court to court as his works in the Book of Taliesin praise king Urien of Hen Ogledd (now northern England and southern Scotland) and Brochfael Ysgithrog of Powys amongst others. This shows that Welsh as a language was highly influential in Britain at the time, and was probably the lingua franca of most of the country. So, tales of the great deeds and how they fitted into the sky would be commonplace in Celtic, early English and Pictish culture due to this literary influence.

The majority of old Welsh tales and poetry are known from a few volumes, Hanes Taliesin, the Black Book of Carmarthen, the Red Book of Hergestand the White Book of Rhydderch. Collectively some of these tales, poems and insights became the Mabinogion, the folk tales of Wales which were translated into English and published by Lady Charlotte Guest, albeit in a rather bowdlerized Victorian fashion, as a way to bring these tales to the masses that flooded into Wales during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to work the iron and coal that put the country at the forefront of the industrial revolution. It also raised the language and culture of Wales to a status probably not enjoyed previously and gave Welsh literature, folklore and storytelling a similar status to classical Greek and Roman myths and poetry.

Today the Mabinogion and its related texts are a great resource of academic scholarship and argument. But that is not what I intend to explore here. Instead I will take some of these ancient tales and marry them to the constellations that they pre-figure in the sky or at least are associated with in legends and tales across the Celtic systems of Wales, Ireland and Scotland, including that of some English folk tales that have an origin in Celtic myths. I will do this to show that there is a rich culture of sky lore that ties events, stories and meanings together in a way that is fairly unique to Wales, and which is as important as the classical Greek myths that are usually used to illustrate the night sky.

Also of importance to this book is the fact that the night sky is threatened by increasing light pollution and that the education system that disseminates such myths, in English, Welsh or science classes, is also threatened. Many people in urban areas have never encountered the Milky Way or seen a truly dark sky. Additionally, they have probably not been introduced to the night sky or its store of treasures in a way that ties the wonders of our modern understanding to the cultural roots of the past. This book is intended to redress that balance, not only to show some of the beauty of the night sky, but to marry that beauty to the ancient Celtic landscape and tales of Wales.

The number of dark sky parks and dark sky reserves is now increasing due to the coordinated efforts of the International Dark Sky Association, the Commission for Dark Skies in the UK and other interested bodies globally. The scourge of light pollution and the carbon footprint necessary to generate the power to light up the night sky needlessly is now being recognized by smaller groups and public interest bodies such as local councils and national parks.

Wales is fortunate to have two International Dark Sky Reserves: Brecon Beacons National Park and Snowdonia National Park, areas where the dark night sky is preserved for future generations. These beautiful landscapes and their pristine skies are joined by the Elan Valley Dark Sky Park in mid-Wales and by ongoing work toward ensuring dark sky communities in Anglesey and the Pembroke Coast National Park. Wales may truly be called the first Dark Sky Nation, a fact of which we can all be proud as the heritage of both land and sky are safeguarded for future generations.

Capitalizing on this status it is possible to build and utilize a small observatory for public education and to enhance the experience of the night sky for everyone. The Brecon Beacons International Dark Sky Reserve has such an observatory and a teaching classroom at the National Park Visitor Centre, which has been used extensively for training and for public events since it opened in 2014.

Using such an observatory can be a wonderful experience, especially for urban-based astronomers who don’t have access to very dark skies. Even those who may have portable equipment and have taken advantage of the dark sky status of the National Park enabling them to enhance their viewing will find the facilities at the observatory will allow access to the wonders of the night sky that they cannot reach from light-polluted areas.

In the case of the Brecon Beacons Observatory (BBO), its 30cm f5 reflector on a driven EQ6 mount thrilled over a thousand visitors in its first year of operation. Fitted with a piggybacked 120mm refractor for DSLR imaging or just visual observing and an Atik 314L CCD camera for imaging of objects, this small observatory has added to the experience of tourists and local astronomical societies within the national park and in south Wales generally. The BBO also has the advantage of a classroom at the visitor centre to enable education throughout the year. It is a place where the public can receive astronomy presentations and enjoy the warmth and conviviality of hot drinks on tap!

George Borrow, the nineteenth century Victorian gentleman traveler wrote in his book Wild Wales of the brooding, dark landscapes he encountered as he traversed the country. Those landscapes still exist in the heights of the Snowdonia mountains, the Cambrian range, the wine red hills of the Brecon Beacons, the shaded uplands of Mynydd Preselli and in the moorland landscapes of mid Wales. The mysterious waters of Wales’ lakes, mountain tarns, rivers and seas are at the heart of many tales that tie semi-mythical figures who trod the land with the starry patterns of the sky. That is the landscape and skyscape that I wish to bring to life and share with generations to come: the spectacle, wonder, curiosity and pride aroused in me from these old tales that I first learned as a boy. I hope that I have done them justice.

As so many of these old tales have been passed down orally, many aspects of them have changed over the years. Some of the associations between land, tale and sky are just discernable, whilst others are obvious in their placement with a particular constellation. Others share common themes across many cultures, and tales were probably shared among peoples, evolving and dispersing as their cultures fractured after the Roman withdrawal from Britain and greater Europe. It is not my intention to gerrymander tales into particular groups, but to make those possible connections plain and tell not just the Welsh side of the story but to include the classical interpretations too.

I hope that the reader enjoys this journey through the Welsh mythological landscape. I also hope that knowing some of these tales and their heavenly associations will bring a new interest to the night sky and any stargazing experience they will have.

Martin Griffiths BA BSc MSc FRAS FHEA

Brecon Beacons Observatory

Visit discoveryinthedark.wales for more information about Welsh Dark Skies Week 2022.

Dark Land, Dark Skies is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Seren Christmas Gift Guide 2021

Our gift guide returns for 2021 with loads of great new recommendations. From old favourites to brand new books that are hot off the press, find something for everyone this Christmas.

Bar 44 Tapas y Copas by Owen and Tom Morgan

Bar 44 Tapas y Copas is the perfect gift for hardcore foodies and home cooks alike. Packed with over 100 out of this world recipes which elevate Spanish cuisine to exciting new heights, it includes dishes for any occasion. Chicken sobrassada and spiced yoghurt, beetroot gazpacho, tuna tartare with apple ajo blanco, lamb empanada, strawberry and cava sorbet and pear and olive oil cake are just some of the dishes you can try at home. There’s even a chapter dedicated to sherry and Spanish wines with some fantastic cocktails mixed in for good measure. What more could you want?

Seren Gift Subscription

The new one year Seren Gift Subscription is the perfect present for any book lover. The recipient will receive three brand-new Seren books across the year plus a range of other subscriber perks. Buy today and we’ll post them a gift card explaining who the gift is from to open on Christmas Day in advance of the first book arriving in January 2022. Every new subscriber will receive a Seren tote-bag, notebook and pen with their first delivery.

Two book deal – Please and Still by Christopher Meredith

Published simultaneously earlier this year, renowned author Christopher Meredith’s two new books will satisfy any literature lover. His poetry collection Still uses the title word as a fulcrum to balance paradoxical concerns: stillness and motion, memory and forgetting, sanity and madness, survival and extinction. Meanwhile his short novel Please is a verbally dazzling tragicomedy about hidden passion and regret in which octogenarian language geek Vernon tries to find a way to write the story of his long marriage.

All The Men I Never Married by Kim Moore

One of this year’s most highly anticipated poetry books, All The Men I Never Married is the astounding new collection by Kim Moore. Pointedly feminist, challenging and keenly aware of the contradictions and complexities of desire, this collection speaks to the experiences of many women. The 48 numbered poems take us through a gallery of exes and significant others where we encounter rage, pain, guilt, and love.

Real Oxford by Patrick McGuinness

In Real Oxford, Professor Patrick McGuinness guides us through the past, but also the present Oxford, as he walks the city from the station to the ringroad. He tracks its canals and towpaths, its footbridges and tunnels to introduce us to the unnoticed and reflect on the familiar, revealing that the ‘Real Oxford’ is more than dreaming spires, bicycles, and Inspector Morse. This is a guide to Oxford unlike any other.

Japan Stories by Jayne Joso

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! This work also includes Joso’s stories, ‘I’m not David Bowie’ and ‘Maru-chan’ an homage to Yayoi Kusama. 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.  

100 Poems to Save the Earth edited by Zoë Brigley and Kristian Evans

A book for both the climate conscious and poetry fanatics, this landmark anthology brings together 100 poems by the best new and established contemporary poets from Britain, Ireland, America and beyond. They invite us to fine-tune our senses, to listen to the world around us, and pay attention to what we have been missing. The defining crisis of our time is revealed to be fundamentally a crisis of perception. We must act now if we are to save the only planet we have.

Four Dervishes by Hammad Rind

“Easily the most remarkable work of fiction to come out of Wales in a thousand moons” says Jon Gower. This outstanding debut novel from Hammad Rind is a satirical comedy which takes inspiration from the dastan, an ornate form of oral history. Forced onto the street by a power cut, the unnamed narrator finds himself sheltering in a cemetery where he comes across four others – a grave digger, an aristocrat, an honourable criminal and a messiah – each with a past, and with a story to tell. Crimes have been committed, dark family secrets revealed, fortunes rise and fall, the varieties of love are explored, and new selves are discovered in a rich round of storytelling. And as the Disappointed Man discovers, a new story is about to begin…

Welsh Quilts by Jen Jones

Welsh Quilts Jen Jones

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.

Troeon : Turnings by Philip Gross, Cyril Jones and Valerie Coffin Price

This beautifully illustrated, bilingual collection (a great gift for Welsh learners) sees two poets, each confident in their own traditions, meet in the hinterland between translation and collaboration ­– Cyril Jones from the disciplines of Welsh cynghanedd, Philip Gross from the restless variety of English verse. Rather than lamenting the impossibility of reproducing any language’s unique knots of form and content in translation, they trust each other to explore the energies released. Valerie Coffin Price’s striking letter press designs make this a fantastic gift.

Fatal Solution by Leslie Scase

Fans of historical crime fiction are sure to be captivated by Leslie Scase’s latest Inspector Chard mystery. In Fatal Solution Inspector Thomas Chard once again finds himself faced with a murder in bustling Victorian Pontypridd. On the face of it the case appears unremarkable, even if it isn’t obviously solvable, but following new leads takes Chard into unexpected places. A second murder, a sexual predator, industrial espionage and a mining disaster crowd into the investigation, baffling the Inspector and his colleagues and Chard finds his own life at risk as the murderer attempts to avoid capture. In this page-turning story of detection, both Chard and the reader are left guessing until the final page…

Tide-Race by Brenda Chamberlain

Tide-race is Brenda Chamberlain’s remarkable account of life on Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli in Welsh), a remote and mysterious island off the coast of North Wales, where she lived 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.

Much With Body by Polly Atkin

Much With Body by Polly Atkin is a Poetry Book Society Winter Choice. The beauty of the Lake District is both balm and mirror, refracting pain and also soothing it with distraction. 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.

Just You and the Page by Sue Gee

Part biography, part memoir, Just You and the Page by acclaimed novelist Sue Gee is a must-read for the aspiring writer. Opening in 1971, with the dramatist Michael Wall hammering out his plays on a portable typewriter, and concluding in 2020, when the novelist and academic Josie Barnard is teaching students to compose novels on Instagram, Gee interviews twelve distinctly different writers about their craft. As she examines what has shaped them and their careers, several themes emerge: struggle, inspiration, dedication, and above all, resilience.

A Last Respect edited by Glyn Mathias and Daniel G. Williams

A must-have anthology for fans of contemporary Welsh poetry, A Last Respect celebrates the Roland Mathias Prize, awarded to outstanding books of poetry 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.

Morlais by Alun Lewis

Morlais Alun Lewis

Miner’s son Morlais Jenkins is already being educated away from his background at grammar school when he is adopted, on the death of her own son, by the wife of the local colliery owner. Despite the heavy price, Morlais’s parents recognise the opportunity for their son to make a better future. Morlais is a gifted poet and, stiffled by middle class life, his adoptive mother encourages him to be neither working class or middle class, but true to his talent. As Morlais struggles to find his place between his two families, his two backgrounds and his desire to become a poet, this enthralling novel by Alun Lewis is the journey of a boy who becomes a man.

The Amazingly Astonishing Story by Lucy Gannon

By turns laugh out loud funny and deeply sad, The Amazingly Astonishing Story (which was shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year) 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).

Regional Pamphlets edited by Amy Wack

Our series of regional poetry pamphlets celebrates the beauty, history, and lively everyday goings-on of 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.

Darkness in the City of Light by Tony Curtis

The ‘city of light’ under German occupation: Paris, a place, a people, lives in flux. And among these uncertainties, these compromised loyalties, these existences under constant threat, lives Marcel Petiot, a mass murderer. A doctor, a resistance fighter, a collaborator: who can tell? Stretching backwards and forwards through the twentieth century, this remarkable multi-form novel combines fiction, journals, poetry and images in its investigation of what war can let loose, and how evil can dominate a man. The compelling debut novel by Tony Curtis.

Real Cambridge by Grahame Davies

Grahame Davies revisits his own university town in Real Cambridge to examine it anew and discovers another Cambridge away from A List alumni, Nobel prizes and scientific discoveries. Behind the picture-postcard image of punts, Pimms and polymaths, is the working East Anglian fenland community that gave us Pink Floyd, Association Football, the Society for Psychical Research, the Cambridge Folk Festival, the Reality Checkpoint – and the graffiti protestor who sprayed his messages in Latin… Tourists and armchair travellers alike will be surprised by the discoveries Davies makes in this offbeat exploration.

The Owl House by Daniel Butler

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

We Have to Leave the Earth by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

Carolyn Jess-Cooke’s new poetry collection is both keenly political and deeply personal. As well as tender poems about family and mental health, there are two sequences: Songs for the Arctic, inspired by field work done for the Arctic at the Thought Foundation, poems that are vividly descriptive of an extreme landscape sensitive to the effects of global-warming. And The House of Rest, a history in nine poems of Josephine Butler (1828-1906), who pioneered feminist activism, and helped to repeal the Contagious Diseases Act 1869. Jess-Cooke is unafraid of dark material but is also ultimately hopeful and full of creative strategies to meet challenging times. 

All the Souls by Mary-Ann Constantine

While away the long winter nights with this enthralling collection of short fiction by Mary-Ann Constantine. Two doctors and a folklorist meet in northern Brittany in 1898, determined to prove that leprosy still exists. But their ardour for collecting evidence draws them into a dark, watchful landscape where superstition is rife. From poignant and dangerous obsessions with the iconic (a Romano-British figurine; a carved wooden Christ-child; a bronze angel) to direct, often puzzled conversations with ghosts, the characters in this book all strive to make contact with the impossible.

The Golden Valley by Phil Cope

Illustrated with stunning photographs, The Golden Valley is Phil Cope’s personal account of the Garw valley where he has lived for thirty-five years. In it he explores the valley’s history: sparsely worked agriculture; boom-town coal exploitation; sudden, followed by gentle, post-industrial decline; attempts at re-invigoration through heritage and leisure; and now, existing in a post-covid world. He photographs everything from the ancient Garw hilltops, to the terraced houses of the coal villages, to the valley’s outstanding areas of natural beauty.

The White Trail by Fflur Dafydd

In this contemporary retelling from Seren’s New stories from the Mabinogion series, award-winning writer Fflur Dafydd transforms the medieval Welsh Arthurian myth of the Mabinogion’s ‘Culhwch and Olwen’ into a 21st century quest for love and revenge. Life is tough for Cilydd, after his wife Goleuddydd, who is nine months pregnant, seems to vanish into thin air at a supermarket one wintry afternoon. Cilydd gets his cousin, Arthur – a private eye who has never solved a single case – to help him with the investigation. So begins a tale of intrigue and confusion that ends with a wild boar chase and a dangerous journey to the House of the Missing.

Newspaper Taxis edited by Phil Bowen, Damian Furniss and David Woolley

January 1963. ‘Please, Please Me’ by The Beatles shoots to number one. So begins a new era, in which one band transforms the face of music, youth and popular culture. Taking in everything from the music, their influence, the way we lived then and the way we live now, this book is a response to the Beatles’ creativity and capacity to influence successive generations. With contributions by a myriad of poets including, Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy, Elaine Feinstein, Peter Finch, Adrian Henri, Philip Larkin, Lachlan Mackinnon, Roger McGough, Sheenagh Pugh, Jeremy Reed and Carol Rumens. Beatles fans young and old will want this anthology to add to their collection.

The Green Bridge edited by John Davies

This new edition of The Green Bridge, collects work by twenty-five of the Wales’s foremost writers of the twentieth century in an entertaining and varied anthology. Horror, satire, humour, war, tales of the aristocracy, of navvies, love, and madness, industry, the countryside, politics and sport: these stories provide insight into the changing values of Wales and the world. Includes work by Dannie Abse, Glenda Beagan, Ron Berry, Duncan Bush, Brenda Chamberlain, Rhys Davies, Dorothy Edwards, Caradoc Evans, George Ewart Evans, Margiad Evans, Sian Evans, Geraint Goodwin, Nigel Helseltine, Richard Hughes, Emyr Humphreys, Glyn Jones, Gwyn Jones, Alun Lewis, Clare Morgan, Leslie Norris, Ifan Pughe, Alun Richards, Jaci Stephen, Dylan Thomas and Gwyn Thomas.

Auscultation by Ilse Pedler

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 debut from a striking new voice.

Wild Places by Iolo Williams

Television naturalist Iolo Williams picks his top 40 nature sites in Wales. From Cemlyn on Anglesey to the Newport Wetlands, from Stackpole in Pembrokeshire to the Dee Estuary, Williams criss-crosses Wales. His list takes in coastal sites from marshes to towering cliffs – plus Skomer and other islands – mountains, valleys, bogs, meadows, woods and land reclaimed from industry. Drawing on his considerable knowledge, Williams guides readers and visitors to the natural delights of each site. Naturalists of all kinds will find much to enjoy in this beautifully illustrated book.

Poetry Wales Subscription

Founded in 1965, Poetry Wales is Wales’ foremost poetry magazine. Edited by Zoë Brigley, the magazine publishes internationally respected contemporary poetry, features and reviews in its triannual print and digital magazine. Its mission is to sustain and preserve the artistic works both inspiring our literary present and shaping our literary future. The perfect gift for any poetry lover.

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Slicing Slate – An extract from ‘Miriam, Daniel and Me’

Yesterday, the Slate Landscapes of Northwest Wales were awarded World Heritage Status meaning they are now on the Unesco list of World Heritage Sites alongside landmarks the Pyramids in Egypt, the Taj Mahal in India, the Grand Canyon and the Great Wall of China.

The Gwynedd slate mines in Snowdonia were once said to have “roofed the 19th Century world” as slate from its quarries was exported around the globe. In this extract from Miriam, Daniel and Me by Euron Griffith, John Meredith is teaching apprentices how to cut slate in the same historic location.

Euron Griffith. Miriam, Daniel and Me. "..a confidently crafted novel about time, change and enduring love..." – Ed Thomas

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

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

John Meredith could slice slate as thin as paper. At the quarry he told the fresh crop of young apprentices who crowded around him every September that all they needed to do was find the sweet spot. Because a piece of slate was almost like a living thing. He would ask the boys if they’d ever stroked a cat. Some of them looked at each other with uncertainty. The braver ones would mumble that they had. So John Meredith explained that a cat always responded to a human hand and would guide it towards the spot where it wanted to be touched. The same was true of slate.

“Look at this mountain”, he’d say, directing their confused but eager faces to the massive whale of rock that they were precariously balanced upon. “What we’re doing is ripping this beautiful material out of Mount Orwig’s belly. Newly-mined slate rumbles past us on these trains and trucks – huge slabs. Raw. Listen to the groaning and squealing of the metal wheels. That tells you how heavy it is. You’d think it was cold and unfeeling wouldn’t you? But slate is alive boys. Trust me. As alive as you or me.”

It was a well-rehearsed lecture, delivered every year and honed, by now, as perfectly as one of his slices of slate. These were the less sturdy boys. The ones who had been deemed unsuitable for face-work. They’d been sent over by Mr MacNamara to learn how to cleave slate into thin slices using only a mallet and chisel and John Meredith was the best they had. A true artist. Now he was telling them about cats and saying that slate was alive. He knew they probably thought he was a bit mad.

“Okay boys,” he’d say, sticking the rolled-up cigarette behind his ear, “see how I’m tapping away at the rock with the blade of the chisel? What I’m searching for is that sweet spot. The place where, with one sharp tap of the mallet, the slate can be split cleanly and perfectly. That sweet spot is very important boys. It’s the key that opens up the treasure. But like with a new cat, it takes a while to find it. Unlike with a cat however, with slate you only get one chance. Get it wrong and you blow it. Which is why it’s important that you get it right. Otherwise all the men in Orwig – the men down in its bowels risking life and limb every day – won’t be happy with you. The last thing they want to see is their hard work wasted.”

He tapped the wooden hilt of the chisel. The blue-grey rock surrendered into two swooning squares.

“See how they’re both the same thickness boys? Pass them round. They’ve both got to be exactly the same thickness otherwise they’re no good.”

The apprentices would all look at each other anxiously but, in time, most of them got the hang of it. Mr MacNamara always congratulated him on training up a new generation of skilled craftsmen and if he only knew how valuable he really was, Mr MacNamara thought, he could probably demand double his wages.

Miriam, Daniel and Me is available now on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘Unseen Island’ by Christine Evans

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Unseen Island’ by Christine Evans from our new anthology A Last Respect.

The cover of A Last Respect shows a painting of rolling green fields beneath a blue sky. In the distance, a lake is visible at the bottom of the valley.

A Last Respect is a selection of contemporary Welsh poetry by winners of the Roland Mathias Prize. The poems included are wide ranging in style and subject. They contemplate relationships, nature, the environment, mortality, time, art and politics, and take place in a range of locations, from Aberystwyth to Baghdad, from war-torn landscapes to parents’ evenings. Two accompanying essays provide the context in which the poets work. In her Introduction, Jane Aaron writes about Roland Mathias: a poet himself, but also an influential editor and cultural commentator who did much to foster and develop poetry in Wales. A Last Respect is a continuation of his legacy. Daniel G. Williams’ Afterword is an incisive discussion about poetry in Wales over the past sixty years: where it started from and how it changed. A must-have anthology of poetry from Wales.

Featuring Dannie Abse, Tiffany Atkinson, Ruth Bidgood, Ailbhe Darcy, Rhian Edwards, Christine Evans, John Freeman, Philip Gross, Gwyneth Lewis, Robert Minhinnick, and Owen Sheers.

Unseen Island. From accross the sleeping Sound the unseen island nudges at my consciousness – wind-blown Enlli; nowhere more steeped in calm, more resonant of growing. There, air trembles with associations and I am played to a tune I scarcely recognise easy as water, but earthed. Is it energy or faith that breeds content in me? Washed smooth, drawn out, moulded to acceptance like clay on a wheel, so like a compass I am pointing always where you lie – elusive, shimmering – but no mirage: my unblurring.

A Last Respect is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘Arcades’, Paul Henry

Our new quartet of regional poetry pamphlets have just arrived, with each celebrating a special place in Wales: its people, landscape, wildlife, and vibrant goings-on. This week our Friday Poem comes from Poems from Cardiff, our tribute to the Capital.

Paul Henry’s ‘Arcades’ inhabits the busy and eclectic Victorian arcades that wind around the city centre, telling a private tale of sadness, love, and hope. The poem was first published in The Brittle Sea, Henry’s bestselling New and Selected Poems.

 

Friday Poem Arcades Paul Henry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All four regional pamphlets, including Poems from Cardiff, are available on the Seren website: £5.00 (each)

 

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Friday Poem – ‘Perspective’, Damian Walford Davies

It’s 1st March – Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant Hapus (or Happy St David’s Day) to you! This Welsh holiday has been celebrated since the 12th Century, and honours Wales’ patron saint.

On such a historic holiday it seems fitting to consider Wales’ history, and our Friday Poem does just that – ‘Perspective’, the opening poem from Docklands by Damian Walford Davies, introduces Victorian Cardiff: the chilling and visceral setting of this intriguing ghost-story-in-verse.

Damian Walford Davies Docklands Ghost Story

‘When much new poetry looks no further than the poet’s navel, this kind of imaginative leap is a tonic.’ – The Telegraph

Damian Walford Davies’s compellingly eerie new poetry collection, Docklands: A Ghost Story, introduces us to a Cardiff architect – a man supremely sure of himself – as he is commissioned to transform an area in the busy docks. Docklands explores grey worlds at the edges of the eye, conjuring late-Victorian Cardiff’s hustling, booming, sullied docks – and the horrors they conceal.

 

 

Friday Poem Perspective Damian Walford Davies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Docklands: A Ghost Story is available from the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘Telling the bees’, Katherine Stansfield

Friday Poem Telling the Bees Katherine Stansfield

This week our Friday Poem is a new work by Katherine Stansfield, ‘Telling the bees’.

‘Telling the bees’ is a touching memorial to Christian Brown OBE, co-founder of the Seren Cornerstone Poetry Festival. The poem weaves together memories with the imagery of a garden in which ‘everything has bloomed’: a legacy of colour and life, conjured by Christian even after his passing.

Christian was the driving force behind the first Seren Cornerstone Poetry Festival in 2018 and as we approach 2019’s festival we are reminded of his extraordinary energy and vision. Cornerstone’s Poet in Residence, Katherine Stansfield will be opening the festival alongside Kim Moore and Emily Blewitt in the Opening Buffet event: tickets available now. All That Was Wood, a pamphlet of poems written during Katherine’s residency, will be published to coincide with the festival.

 

Katherine Stansfield Telling the bees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All That Was Wood will be available in February 2019 from our website, and at the Seren Cornerstone Poetry Festival (8-10 February 2019).

 

 

Friday Poem – ‘Extremities’, Claire Williamson

Tonight Claire Williamson will be reading alongside fellow Seren poets Elizabeth Parker and Ross Cogan, and three Parthian poets, for Cardiff Book Festival’s Friday Night Poetry Party. In anticipation, our Friday Poem is ‘Extremities’ from Claire’s recently published collection, Visiting the Minotaur.

Visiting the Minotaur Claire Williamson‘Claire Williamson’s poems are beguiling hybrids – self-assured yet emotionally raw, mysterious yet not precious, meditations of wonder and exorcisms of grief.’
– Michel Faber

In Visiting the Minotaur, Williamson’s inventive and intensely felt collection, the poet must enter a labyrinth of her own complicated family history, a history beset with secrets and lies, in order to come to terms with her own identity.  She borrows from myths, histories, careful observations of nature, of city life, in order to fashion her artful meditations on experience and mortality.

 

Claire Williamson Friday Poem Extremities

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting the Minotaur is available from the Seren website: £9.99

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An interview with Cardiff author & legend, Peter Finch

Interview Cardiff Peter Finch

The Eisteddfod will soon be in full swing in Cardiff’s beautiful Bay area. We can’t wait to welcome you to Wales’ capital city – and to introduce you to our resident Cardiff expert, Peter Finch, who will be signing copies of his new book on the Welsh Books Council stand (84) on Wednesday 8 August, 1:00pm.

As you prepare for the marvellous week ahead, we thought you might enjoy learning a little more about the Welsh capital – so here is our interview with Peter Finch, who – as ever – is full of fascinating insight into his home city.

Peter Finch

Peter, you have been writing about Cardiff for quite some time now, with the first ‘Real Cardiff’ book having appeared in 2004. What do you perceive as the most radical change Cardiff has undergone in the last decade?
Changes to Cardiff seem to work in twenty year cycles rather than decades.  We didn’t have the Bay nor the Barrage, the Millennium Centre not the Senedd in 1980 but by 2000 we did.  In 2000 and other than right on campus there was barely a purpose-built student let available anywhere in the city.  Today they are everywhere, gargantuan, gleaming, glowing, growing, rocketing up in every district from right next door to the old Gaiety Cinema on City Road to the city’s highest of new high rises, the Bridge Street Exchange, at the bottom of Charles Street.  In the pipeline are plans for more.  Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) erected against a background of weak planning control and easy to manage building regulation they are the cash cows of property developers everywhere.   Put them up and then apply for change of use.  The cityscape will never be the same again.  In 2000 we had a green belt running right round the city.  Today that belt has shifted to become instead a green wedge, a green splash, a green smear.  In its place are the city’s new districts.  Plas Dwr, Churchlands and all the others. Cardiff expands. And expands. And expands.

The ‘culinary odyssey of City Road’ is marvellously well documented in Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City. For hungry Eisteddfod-goers, where would you recommend trying first?
.CN, the internet suffix for China, is the name of the city’s best Chinese eatery by far.  Here you can get top end Sichuan king prawn in chilli and pepper sauce, healthy option Kung Po chicken, and north east China salad in a style you’ll find hard to beat anywhere else in the city.  Failing that and for kebab fans Al Wali’s Omani Restaurant half way down and hiding behind a bus stop is pretty decent.  For Omani read Persian or Iranian or Egyptian, or Middle Eastern.  City Road is a feast from one end to the other offering meals at price points everyone can reach.

If you could be transported to any period of Cardiff’s history, which would you choose?
I think I’d want to see the heroic period of Cardiff’s industrial expansion in action first hand.  That would mean arriving in 1861 at the Royal Arcade and finding the very first Cardiff Free Library on the first floor.  Out the back they’d have a time machine, naturally, so having got here I could then get back.  I’d use it to slide back a further few years to 1849 to see Brunel move the Taff in order to build Cardiff General Rail Station for his South Wales broad gauge railway.  I’d spot a few numbers and then rush forward to 1886 to visit the brand new Coal Exchange, have a drink in the just opened Grand Hotel on the new Westgate Street, buy some cockles at the brand new indoor market and finally climb up the shiny new statue of John Bachelor to top his head with a road mender’s lamp, traffic cones not yet having been invented.   This was the period that made Cardiff, when the population boomed and when modern invention and business innovation flooded the place.  That flourishing must have been simply thrilling to watch.

Psychogeography is a particularly inventive way of mapping a place – how did you first become interested in it?
The Situationists who flourished between the fifties and the seventies were international social revolutionaries and avant garde artists.  I was running the journal second aeon at the time, a Welsh-based home for a world of avant garde poetry, so naturally I took note.  These people interested me.  They were an onward growth of the Dadaists and the Surrealists and seemed to me to be right at the cutting edge.  One of their members was Guy Debord ­– the man who invented psychogeography, the exploration of mainly urban environments for what they were rather than where they led.  The sense of place became more important than the place itself.  Why not view a city as an entity rather than a destination?  This was something I needed to try for myself.

Peter Finch Real Cardiff Flourishing CityWhat did you find most challenging in your process of writing Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City?
In writing these books you don’t sit about waiting for inspiration to strike, no hoping for those rays of Blakean stuff to come pouring down through the air and infest your work.  None of that.  This is work..  I need to immerse myself in my subject. Research it, walk through it, think about, talk about, listen to it, feel it.  I make notes.  Constantly.  I record things on the camera, take snaps, use the phone.  I check out the maps.  I check out the old ones and then the new ones.  I check  just how the used to spell the name of the place I am interested in.  Why was Rumney called Rompney? Why was Cardiff called Kairdiv?

I accumulate what I need to say and then find a way of starting out and saying it.  The starting is so important.  Get that right and the rest will flow. I work hard walking and thinking, note book always with me, and into it I make notes of how my start might go.  The walking helps the flow.  I ignore passers-by, I ignore interrupters, I am working so this poor and rude behaviour is entirely reasonable.

It’s also true that you then need to check and then check again.  I reread and redraft.  I get help from others to check too and I listen to what they say.  I recheck my spellings.  I look at what others have said and I try not to repeat them.  I acknowledge them if I do.

What’s the most challenging?  Transcribing interviews.  Getting that right.  And remembering to ask the right questions in the first place.  I always double check with my interviewees.  I let the subject see what I intend including and ask them if they are happy.  If they aren’t or I’ve got it wrong somehow then I put it right.

And finally, in the closing pages of The Flourishing City, you wonder about Cardiff ‘how it could be’, and tell us, ‘Cities are never finished’. Is it also true, then, that you’ll never be finished exploring this city of yours?
I think that once a city gets above a certain size there will always be new things to discover about it.  Not only is Cardiff big enough to keep me permanently involved but it is also changing constantly, often at a bewildering rate.  No matter which part of it I find myself in there are always new things to look at, new roads to walk down, new paths to follow and new routes to create.  Tracking the lost can be just as thrilling as delighting in the newly discovered.  The moment I finish a volume of Real Cardiff something new or different or previously unseen appears.  Buildings get built.  Buildings get torn down.  Populations flourish.  Roads and walkways bend and turn offering new and different vistas.  This capital of ours is a great Welsh place, far more involving than most people think. Try it. Just arrive and open your eyes. Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City will give you a few hints.

 

Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City is available from the Seren website: £9.99

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