Summer sale, half-price spotlight: Alun Lewis

Half price Alun Lewis summer sale

Our Legend of the Month’s extraordinary war poetry, short stories, and biographies (written by John Pikoulis) are all included in the half-price summer sale – and the offer ends this Sunday.

Who was Alun Lewis?
Alun Lewis was born on the 1st July, 1915 in Cwmaman. A pacifist by nature, Lewis nevertheless eventually joined the Royal Engineers as World War Two broke out, and later qualified as a Second Lieutenant despite how unhappy military life made him. In December 1942, he arrived at a new station in Nira, India, and in the same year his poetry collection Raiders’ Dawn was published. It would be the only collection published during his lifetime. Lewis died on 5th March, 1944, in what many maintain to be a tragic accident. After his death came the publication of his second collection of poetry, Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets (1945), followed by Letters from India (1946) and In the Green Tree (1948). Most recently, Lewis’ lost novel from the 1930s, Morlais, (2015) has been brought into print for the first time, marking the centenary of this great writer’s birth.

See below for our selection of Alun Lewis titles.

Alun, Gweno & Freda by John PikoulisAlun, Gweno & Freda, John Pikoulis
£14.99  £7.49
Alun Lewis maried Gweno Ellis in 1941, but they were almost immediately separated as Lewis prepared for his deployment with the British army’s Royal Engineers. Alun, Gweno & Freda delves into the charged relationships Lewis maintained with Gweno, and with Freda Ackroyd, an expatriate in India, arguing both were key to his writing and his mental health. The circumstances surrounding Lewis’ death by a single shot from his own gun are illuminated, too, contributing to the ongoing debate about whether this was an accident or suicide.

Alun Lewis Collected PoemsAlun Lewis: Collected Poems, ed. Cary Archard
£9.99  £4.99
Lewis’ remarkable body of poetic work is skillfully brought together by editor Cary Archard. The Collected Poems includes the complete texts of his two published books, Raiders’ Dawn (1942) and Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets (1945), reprinted in chronological order and retaining the important
original section headings under which Lewis chose to arrange and group his poetry. Lewis’s two collections are a remarkably detailed and full account of the experience of becoming a soldier and going to war. As Archard states, ‘no-one can read this collection of poems, together in one volume for the first time, without being struck by how the singularity of his voice permeates a surprising diversity of forms’.

Morlais Alun LewisMorlais, Alun Lewis
£12.99  £6.49
South Wales. The Depression. Choices for young people are limited yet miner’s son Morlais Jenkins seems destined to follow the educational route out of Glannant, despite his lowly background. When the local colliery owner and his wife offer to adopt Morlais on the death of their son, his parents recognise the opportunity for an even brighter future for Morlais. But what price must each of them pay? As the story unfolds through turbulent times in their mining village, Morlais comes to a new understanding of life as he grows from a young boy into a young man.
Founded on vivid and authentic passages of everyday life, Morlais is an enthralling story of place and people and shows what an exciting talent was lost when Alun Lewis died aged only twenty-eight.

Alun Lewis: A Life, John PikoulisAlun Lewis: A Life, John Pikoulis
£8.95  £4.47
From his childhood days in the depressed valleys of South Wales, Lewis felt he had a vocation to be a writer. Pikoulis traces Lewis’s development from the remarkable schoolboy stories written as an unhappy boarder, through his university education at Aberystwyth and Manchester to his return to the valleys as a teacher. Lewis’s poems and stories, authentic and moving, were popular with both readers and critics, catching the tone of the ’phoney war’ years, and later the disturbing but exciting experience of his war in India. His vivid letters home, which have been compared to Keats’ letters, capture both the atmosphere of war and the essence of Lewis’s character, and Pikoulis draws on them to portray a fascinating man and writer.


Half price summer sale Seren



Legend of the Month: Robert Graves

Robert Graves Legend of the Month

Each month we are celebrating one fantastic Seren author in honour of Wales’ Year of Legends. This month the spotlight falls on Robert Graves.

Robert Graves began publishing poetry after the outbreak of the First World War, for which he enlisted in 1914 as a junior officer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Robert Graves War Poems Charles MundyeHe was one of the first to write realistic poems about the experience of fighting on the frontline. His first volume, Over the Brazier, was published in 1916, and by 1917 he had produced two further collections of war poetry whilst still on active service. Over the Brazier and Fairies and Fusiliers earned for Graves the reputation of an accomplished war poet.
You can find all Graves’ war poetry in recently published Robert Graves: War Poems (Seren, 2016).

During his lifetime Graves published more than 140 books, including fifty-five collections of poetry (he reworked his Collected Poems repeatedly during his career), fifteen novels, ten translations, and forty works of non-fiction, autobiography, and literary essays. His best known works are his memoir of World War One, Goodbye to All That, The White Goddess, and the novels I, Claudius and Claudius the Great.

Here is Graves’ poem, ‘Hate Not, Fear Not’, from his previously unpublished collection The Patchwork Flag (1918) which, almost a century after composition, has now been brought into print as part of Robert Graves: War Poems.


Robert Graves Hate Not, Fear Not









Robert Graves: War Poems is available from our website: £19.99

Find a great selection of books by our other legendary writers on the Year of Legends page.

And don’t forget to sign up to our free, no-purchase-necessary Book Club for 20% off every book you buy from us.



Friday Poem – ‘Armistice Day ’77, Honiton’, John Tripp

John Tripp Friday Poem Armistice Day

Today, to mark Armistice Day, our Friday Poem is one of remembrance and silence from John Tripp’s Selected Poems.

John Tripp Selected PoemsA well known and popular figure on the poetry scene, John Tripp’s untimely death in 1986 meant the loss of a ’devoted and passionate poet’, as John Ormond calls him in the Introduction to this book. Pithy, regretful, bitter, angry, at times tender, John Tripp’s poetry was always engaged with the issues which most mattered to him.

Selected Poems draws on all John Tripp’s books, together with work published since the last of those collections, Passing Through (1984), and previously unpublished poems.


Armistice Day ’77, Honiton

The two minutes’ silence was cut to one
that November day; it was a busy world.
By chance, on my way to a gig
I walked into a ceremony of six
in the rain: crosses in a ring, and the poppies soaked.

Down two sides of the slab were names
linked to this piece of England – the sound
of country stock grown old in duty
and the acceptance of pointless loss.
Names going back to Minden and before.

(Were these the only ones left
to remember their dead?
Already sixty seconds were lopped
off any dignity. Would their children
forget, as I had forgotten?)

No more came. On some other day
I might have felt an interloper
marring their ritual. At eleven o’clock
the men took off their hats
and we all bowed our heads.

A minute in the rain in a country town
may whisper the whole grief of history.
Picture a knot of seven around that block,
the red wet poppies, and just for a moment
a complete and utter silence in the world.


John Tripp: Selected Poems is available from the Seren website: £4.95



Friday Poem – Soup

Soup by Tony Curtis

This week’s Friday Poem is Tony Curtis’ Arvon Prize-shortlisted ‘Soup’.

This is one of many poems on the subject of conflict in Tony’s War Voices (1995) and will also feature in the soon-to-be published From the Fortunate Isles: New and Selected Poems, out in October this year. Wednesday 27th January was Holocaust Remembrance Day and so this poem is an especially poignant choice.


One night our block leader set a competition:
two bowls of soup to the best teller of a tale.
That whole evening the hut filled with words –
tales from the old countries
of wolves and children
potions and love-sick herders
stupid woodsmen and crafty villagers.
Apple-blossom snowed from blue skies,
orphans discovered themselves royal.
Tales of greed and heroes and cunning survival,
soldiers of the Empires, the Church, the Reich.

And when they turned to me
I could not speak,
sunk in the horror of that place,
my throat a corridor of bones, my eyes
and nostrils clogged with self-pity.
‘Speak,’ they said, ‘everyone has a story to tell.’
And so I closed my eyes and said:
I have no hunger for your bowls of soup, you see
I have just risen from the Shabbat meal –
my father has filled our glasses with wine,
bread has been broken, the maid has served fish.
Grandfather has sung, tears in his eyes, the old songs.
My mother holds her glass by the stem, lifts
it to her mouth, the red glow reflecting on her throat.
I go to her side and she kisses me for bed.
My grandfather’s kiss is rough and soft like an apricot.
The sheets on my bed are crisp and flat
like the leaves of a book …

I carried my prizes back to my bunk: one bowl
I hid, the other I stirred
and smelt a long time, so long
that it filled the cauldron of my head,
drowning a family of memories.

Buy War Voices from our website, and look out for From the Fortunate Isles: New and Selected Poems, available October 2016.


Friday Poem – The Last Soldier

This week’s poem comes from Tony Curtis’ War Voices, first published in 1995.

War and its effects have been an enduring subject throughout the twenty-five year writing career of Tony Curtis. The resulting poetry might have been bleak but for the sensitivity with which Curtis handles the theme, and the bravery and dignity in the face of barbarism which he finds underlying conflict. Poems such as ‘Soup’, shortlisted for the Observer / Arvon Prize and ‘The Death of Richard Beattie-Seaman’, winner of the National Poetry Competition, are a measure of Curtis’s skill in addressing this difficult subject. From Flanders to Bosnia, via Russia and Suez, India and Ireland, Vietnam and the Cold War, these War Voices speak of protest, remembrance and commemoration.

The Last Soldier

The last soldier marches out of the jungle
to the gentlemen of the press and an official welcome.
He salutes, presents the sword
which his parents, thirty years before,
had him swear to use with honour
in war, or on himself. Swathed
in a white cloth, it does not glint in the lights.
The President orders a reception, magnanimously
pardons the crimes of his private war.
A chartered Jumbo flies him home:
his mother’s cheek is leather,
his father’s mind has split.
The crowds scream for a walking-history,
the last spirit of Empire. Too late.
In his absence the Dream has come
and gone.

The bright shells of cars litter his path,
blind-eyed towers monster above him;
selling lights dazzle, pattern unfamiliar streets.
The air cloys with a sweet choking sin.

Back in the jungle, the fronds of evening
finger a clear sky, rainbow birds dash
colours across the deep green.
Minutely, against the background of birds
and the timed whispering of the ocean
his abandoned radio crackles into life:
orders come through.

Order War Voices from our website.

Read for Remembrance

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

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

Lest we forget.

after the first death

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

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

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


Men Who Played the Game
by Mike Rees

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

Men Who Played the Game explores the development and importance of sport in Britain and the Empire leading up to the outbreak of the First World War, and the part played by sportsmen in the conflict. The book opens with revealing chapters of how various sports – the fans, the governing bodies and the sportsmen themselves – reacted to the outbreak of war.

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

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

Alun Lewis Collected Poems_Layout 1

Collected Poems
by Alun Lewis

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

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


Love & War
by Siân James

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry’s Children
by Ellen Davis

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

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

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

Friday Poem – In Hospital: Poona

This week’s poem is from Alun Lewis: Collected Poems, edited by Cary Archard, to celebrate Lewis’s centenary earlier this week. Lewis was one of the most compelling writers of the Second World War, whose premature death in 1944 – when he was only 28 – was a grave loss to Britain’s literature community.

For more information about Lewis, check out his website and find out everything you need to know about the continuing centenary celebrations on Twitter.

In Hospital: Poona

Last night I did not fight for sleep
But lay awake from midnight while the world
Turned its slow features to the moving deep
Of darkness, till I knew that you were furled,

Beloved, in the same dark watch as I.
And sixty degrees of longitude beside
Vanished as though a swan in ecstasy
Had spanned the distance from your sleeping side.

And like to swan or moon the whole of Wales
Glided within the parish of my care:
I saw the green tide leap on Cardigan,
Your red yacht riding like a legend there,
And the great mountains, Dafydd and Llewelyn,
Plynlimmon, Cader Idris and Eryri
Threshing the darkness back from head and fin,
And also the small nameless mining valley

Whose slopes are scratched with streets and
sprawling graves
Dark in the lap of firwoods and great boulders
Where you lay waiting, listening to the waves-
My hot hands touched your white despondent shoulders

– And then ten thousand miles of daylight grew
Between us, and I heard the wild daws crake
In India’s starving throat; whereat I knew
That Time upon the heart can break
But love survives the venom of the snake.

Order Alun Lewis: Collected Poems from our website.