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

Join our free Book Club for 20% off every book you buy from us.

 

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Friday Poem – ‘Return to Cardiff’, Dannie Abse

Dannie Abse Return to Cardiff

The National Eisteddfod is coming to Cardiff, and with just a few hours to go, we couldn’t think of a better Friday Poem to feature than Dannie Abse’s ‘Return to Cardiff’.

Wales, and Cardiff in particular, haunted the imagination of the great Dannie Abse. In Welsh Retrospective he writes movingly about the Cardiff of his childhood, home of his beloved Bluebirds football team, and also about the small village of Ogmore-by-Sea, location of early holidays and for many years his home in Wales. Selected from the whole of Dannie Abse’s writing career, the book includes such well known and well-loved poems as ’In the Theatre’ and our featured poem today, ’Return to Cardiff’, alongside many previously uncollected poems. Welsh Retrospective gives fascinating insights into Dannie Abse’s Wales and his versatility as a poet.

 

Friday Poem Return to Cardiff Dannie Abse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listen to Dannie Abse performing this remarkable poem at Seren’s First Thursday event, December 2009:

 

Welsh Retrospective is available from the Seren website: £8.99

Join our free Book Club for 20% off every book you buy from us.

 

 

An extract from Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City, by Peter Finch

Real Cardiff Peter Finch extract

Though certain parts may be seeing rain this weekend, the warm weather continues – and what better time than summer to explore all the UK has to offer?

Peter Finch Real Cardiff Flourishing CityOur Real Series – a collection of intimate and entertaining guide books written by local writers – offers an insider’s view of the places it celebrates. The most recent addition to the series is Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City by Cardiff author and legend Peter Finch. So whether you’re an armchair traveller, or someone looking forward to a trip to the Welsh Capital sometime soon, we hope you enjoy this glimpse into the history of Cardiff – specifically, the area in which famous children’s author Roald Dahl grew up.

The whole of the Real Series – and all our other Seren books – are 50% off until midnight, Sunday 29 July, on the Seren website.

 

ROALD DAHL’S CARDIFF NORTH LEY

I catch the train at Cardiff Central. This is the City Line which began in the city’s north east and now, after looping in a great U through the city’s heart is about to head north again. I’m in the two-car Sprinter and I’m standing. Every single seat is occupied by pupils from Bishop of Llandaff High School. Kids, bags, blazers, headphones, chewing.
The windows stream as the train steams. Around us is railway land, an industrial cityscape full of rail sheds, engine bays, carriage washeries, repair shops and assembled new track in stacks like a giant train set. This south west of the city on view from the tracks is the capital with its guard down. Backs of mosques, tottering streets, unkempt gardens, the yards of Brains brewery, warehouses stacked with building materials, and even more open and right now empty rail beds. It reminds me of London, how the land looks as you reach Paddington or Waterloo.
But it doesn’t last. After the carriages have disgorged a hundred uniformed school kids at Fairwater, the cuttings emerge, wooded banks and scrub masking the housing above. It’s leafy suburbia giving an impression of empty countryside. A green west Cardiff, a place that doesn’t change.
It’s freezing. This is January. The train has reached Radyr where it will rest a while before returning the way it came. I’m off, up the footbridge steps, plastered thickly with Network Rail road salt. No one but no one will slip and sue here. In a previous, smaller, steam-filled incarnation, the Radyr train would have served Roald Dahl’s father, Harald, who did a daily commute in to what was then called Bute Road Station. His ghost is there on the platform now, eye glasses, three-piece suit, white starched collar. He looks like a disapproving headmaster. His railway season ticket was found inside his expensive leather wallet when he died in 1920. That was on April the 11th. The ticket was valid until the 23rd.
Like most in Cardiff at this time Harald’s business was coal. With his partner Ludvig Aadnesen he had established a business as a colliery agent and provider of all that ships docking in the world’s leading coal port would need. Provisions, ropes, oil for their lamps, food. The profits flowed.
In 1917 Harald had bought Tŷ Mynydd (Mountain House), set on rising ground a mile north of the Radyr rail station. As befits the successful businessman Harald was, here was life on a grand scale. 150 acres of land, outbuildings, cottages, a piggery, lawns, formal flower borders, terraces, its own electricity generator and an enormous Victorian house.
In photographs it looks like part of Hogwarts. It had multiple chimney stacks, mock Tudor gables, a tiled roof larger than most churches’ and greenhouses to the side to rival those of Dyffryn House, to the west of Cardiff. This is the place Roald, the great author, remembers with nostalgia, recalling the fields full of shire horses and dairy cows. There are photographs of him as a four-year-old out on the lawns and terraces, in the fields among the sheaves of corn, sitting on the wall of the piggery and of the house itself, which is resplendently decorated with both the Union Jack and the Norwegian Flag. No Welsh dragon in sight.
Like Cefn Onn, Tŷ Mynydd also had railway connections. The house had been built in 1883 by George Fisher, Director of the Taff Vale Railway. When he died in 1891 the property passed to his son, H. Oakden Fisher, Chair of both the TVR and the Cardiff Gaslight and Coke Company Ltd, although his real interest lay with the military. He was Lieutenant Colonel of the Glamorgan Volunteer Artillery. Harald bought the estate in 1918. When he died in 1920, his second wife, Sofie Magdalene, moved to smaller premises back in Llandaff. Tŷ Mynydd then became the property of the architect Sir Beddoe Rees, MP and for a brief time in the 1930s was turned into St Maur’s College, a small private boarding school for girls.
In 1967 the house and most if its outbuildings were demolished. This was the first full-blooded rush at clearance following the war. Cardiff was expanding. Property developers had no interest in the preservation of inefficient, draughty piles such as Tŷ Mynydd. On its lands a whole housing estate could be build. It had to come down.
I take the road up out of the station’s gully. Already the old shunting yards and waste ground lining the river have been populated with high density brick town housing. There’s little public space. Most structures are distinct from each other, laid at angles as if thrown there like dice. Room for breath is restricted and corners are rounded. Access is on turning roads named after De Clare, Norman Lord of the City, Aradur Hen, an ancient local croft that gave us the name Radyr, and Goetre Fawr, the farm that once worked these lands. Behind the aptly named Junction Terrace is a field replete with three grazing llamas, tall-necked beasts which, despite the ll of their name, are about as common in Wales as kangaroos. Food To Go which has signs offering coffee and warmth is closed. I head up along rising Heol Isaf in the direction of the Village of Fire.
In 1841 the ten cottages of Pentre Poeth (Warm Village) were all that existed of what is now Morganstown, upper Radyr – that part of Cardiff north of the M4’s périphérique grip. This is where the workforce of the developing fire-filled ironworks at Pentyrch lived, an element of Cardiff’s lost industrial heritage. Heol Isaf was and still is the main road to Tŷ Mynydd. It’s no distance to cover. In my ears I’ve got Emmylou playing through the buds. 1970s country, when what she sang was the edge. Alabama down home. Dahl wouldn’t have stood for this. He preferred Beethoven.
The Tŷ Mynydd estate has been built on; the fields are gone. The line of the original entrance path running up from Tŷ Mynydd Lodge has been preserved in the rising bends of MaesYr Awel. The detached late-sixties houses along it turn eventually to a U-shaped cluster of apartment blocks. Cwrt Tŷ Mynydd is the appropriately named first; after that the developer gave up and resorted to names with a strong English resonance – Norfolk Court, York Court, Windsor. It’s a marketing thing. Here, near the eastern edge of Wales, where the language thins, the Anglo norm dominates.
Beyond the apartment courts, circled like a residential wagon train, there’s a copse, ancient pine trees, all that remains of what once was here. For the Dahls of the nineteen teens this would all now be virtually unrecognisable. A local walking his young daughter to the primary school at the former estate’s southern end tells me, yes, he knows about Dahl and the great house. He points me back towards the still extant Tŷ Mynydd Lodge which faces Heol Isaf. And there it is, the gatehouse preserved, doing time now as an up-market B&B. The Llandaff Society have installed a celebratory plaque above the front door. Over the years since Roald would have known it the building has been much extended. But there’s enough original left for the Dahlian spirit to soar. I can see him outside, short pants, laced leather shoes, hat, overcoat with enormous buttons. Mama holding his hand.

 

Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City is currently half price on the Seren website: £9.99 £4.99

Thinking of visiting cities elsewhere in the UK? Find the perfect insider’s guidebook to enrich your trip:

Poet Ian Spring overlays the current map of Glasgow with the map of his memory and experience.
‘Bard of Barnsley’ Ian McMillan delves into the past of the area of South Yorkshire in which he was born and still lives.
Poet Chris McCabe looks at the art, attractions and ‘oozy’ docklands history of this slice of London.
Novelist Clare Dudman explores her richly historic city as you won’t find it in other guidebooks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


See the full list of Real books on the Seren website: all half price until midnight, Sunday 29 July!

The Occasional Vegan – Blog Hop

The Occasional Vegan blog hop

Today marks the official release of Sarah Philpott’s The Occasional Vegan and to celebrate we are hosting a blog hop – two weeks of content from some of the UK’s best foodie blogs.

The Occasional Vegan blog hop

 

What is a blog hop?  A blog hop is when group of bloggers all join up to write about or engage with a certain theme. Our theme is delicious vegan food – specifically the food you’ll find inside Sarah’s stunning new book, The Occasional Vegan.

From March 21 – 05 April, a selection of brilliant bloggers will be sharing recipes, giveaways, reviews and articles about The Occasional Vegan. Get a sneak peek inside the book and find out what experienced bloggers think of it by following along – each blogger will be publishing something new and different.

We will kick things off on the Seren blog with an author interview, recipe and video on March 21, and from there on a different blogger will take the reins each day.

Here’s what you can look forward to:

21 March   Seren – vegan KFC recipe & author interview
22 March   For the Love of Hygge – Finding balance through veganism & free recipe
23 March   Eat Happy Wales – review & giveaway
24 March   Definitely Vegan – recipe & review
26 March   Hungry City Hippy – book giveaway
27 March   Freelancer’s Cookbook – ‘God’s Butter’ recipe
28 March   The Flexitarian – review
29 March   Sareta’s Kitchen – review
30 March   Little Nibble – ‘the parental test’ recipe review
01 April      Wrapped in Newspaper – Meatless Moussaka & book giveaway
02 April     Win Friends with Salad – book & recipe review
03 April     The Rare Welsh Bit
04 April     ScandiNathan
05 April     Vegan Burd

 

We hope you enjoy this whistle-stop tour of vegan ideas and inspiration – whether you’re new to plant-based meals or otherwise.

 

Attend The Occasional Vegan book launch party!

Sarah Philpott The Occasional VeganReserve your free tickets for the book launch, which will be taking place at the Cardiff Story Museum on Wednesday 04 April:
https://occasional-vegan.eventbrite.co.uk

You will have the chance to enjoy tasters of food from the book, and also to hear about Sarah’s vegan journey and the inspiration behind her delicious recipes. Sarah will also be available to sign copies of the book.

Families & children welcome.

Please book your free ticket to guarantee your place.

 

 

Seren/Cornerstone Festival recap – the best bits of our poetry weekend

Seren poetry festival recap

This weekend we co-hosted Cardiff’s first weekend-long poetry festival in the beautiful Cornerstone building, and were thrilled to see so many people enjoying the programme of events.

We’d like to say a huge thank you to our sponsors: Tidal Lagoon Power, the Rhys Davies Trust, and the Catholic Archdiocese of Cardiff. Thanks are also due for all at Cornerstone, who hosted us in their beautiful venue, to our official festival photographer David Hurn, and to the talented line-up of artists and authors who took part: Jonathan Edwards, Paul Henry, Brian Briggs, Philip Gross, Cyril Jones, Damian Walford Davies, Rhian Edwards, Gillian Clarke, Gwyneth Lewis, Richard Gwyn, Clare E. Potter, Susie Wild, Emily Blewitt, Katherine Stansfield, Stephen Payne, David Foster-Morgan, The Spoke, Little Rêd, Robert Minhinnick.

The mix of events combined spectacular poetry readings, beautiful music and thought-provoking film. Take a look at the slideshow below, where we have brought together photographs taken by the wonderful David Hurn, by Cornerstone photographer Chas Breton and by Seren’s Marketing Officer Rosie Johns.

 

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What about next year, we hear you ask? Will the festival return? Well, we’re pleased to say that we are already thinking about it…

 

 

 

Why the Welsh Assembly being named Britain’s best employer for LGBT is no surprise

This is a guest blog by author and activist Norena Shopland, whose new book Forbidden Lives we published in late 2017.

Why the Welsh Assembly being named Britain’s best employer for LGBT is no surprise

The National Assembly for Wales has just been named Britain’s best employer for LGBT staff in Stonewall’s annual list of top 100 LGBT-inclusive employers. Fifth last year, they made the top spot due to their range of policies for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) staff, as well as introducing new measures to improve the workplace for transgender employees.

I have seen first-hand the positive work done by Assembly employees, particularly the LGBT staff network group Prism and Seren Books and I would like to congratulate the Welsh Assembly on their award. It didn’t surprise me though – given how influential people from Wales have been in British LGBT history, and by extension in societal history here and abroad.

Norena Shopland Forbidden LivesThis was something I was made acutely aware of when writing Forbidden Lives: LGBT stories from Wales, and several chapters are dedicated to these influential people.

In 2017 we celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Wolfenden Report (1957) and the fiftieth of the Sexual Offences Act (1967). I was delighted to be invited to speak at a House of Commons event on the roles played by people from Wales. I took as my theme that great period of flux in the mid-twentieth century when so much happened with regard to LGBT people: prosecutions against gay men reached its highest point; in 1931 there were 622 prosecutions, a figure which rose to 6,644 in 1955 – because of a law that prohibited gay men from simply being. We know that Alan Turing was convicted for nothing more than confessing he was a homosexual, and whilst gay women and transgender people were not prohibited under law, simply being so was socially unacceptable and discrimination was high. When society began to question the purpose of this law, particularly following the sensational Montagu trial (1954), an increasing number of people began speaking up.

Opponents included Roy Jenkins MP, and Rev. Llywelyn Williams MP from Abertillery among others, but it was Pembrokeshire’s Desmond Donnolly MP who first brought the subject of decriminalising homosexuality up in the House of Commons, a risky move at the time.  Robert Boothby MP pressurised the Home Secretary, David Maxwell-Fyfe into considering the situation and reluctantly Maxwell-Fyfe agreed, tagging homosexuality onto a commissioned report on prostitution, which became known as the Wolfenden Report.

Initially the Wolfenden committee refused to speak to homosexual men, as they could not consider talking to criminals. Welshman Goronwy Rees, described as the most ‘lateral thinking and perceptive member of the committee’, thought differently and complained that few members had ever encountered a homosexual ‘in a social way’. He persuaded John Wolfenden, the chair, to meet some homosexual men and to accept the testimony of Peter Wildeblood, who had been imprisoned following the Montague trial. Wildeblood had subsequently written a book and Wolfenden therefore considered him an ‘attention seeker’. Rees also facilitated the inclusion of Patrick Trevor-Roper, a Harley Street consultant; Carl Winter, the director of the Fitzwillian Museum; and author Angus Wilson. Only these four self-identified homosexual men appeared before the committee but they played an important role in influencing the outcome of the Wolfenden Report.

The recommendation of the report for more leniency towards homosexual men was on the whole positively received, but whilst the recommendations on prostitution were enacted, those on homosexuality were not. Maxwell-Fyfe, having reluctantly commissioned Wolfenden, was now stalling it and Harold Wilson, then Prime Minister and personally supportive of change, felt that it would cost the labour party too many votes.

When it became apparent that nothing was going to happen, Tony Dyson, an English lecturer at Bangor University, wrote to every notable person he could think of, asking them to sign an open letter to The Times requesting Wolfenden be enacted. Writing on Bangor University headed note paper, Dyson was placing himself at great risk of being either arrested, sacked or both. As it happened, the university took no action against him – a progressive reaction at the time. The Times obituary for Dyson in 2002 drew attention to his contribution: ‘it is difficult to comprehend,’ they said, ‘the danger of living as a homosexual before the law was reformed in 1967, with the ever-present threat of criminal proceeding or blackmail.’

On the back of The Times letter, Dyson and others set up the Homosexual Law Reform Society, the first openly gay campaigning group in Britain – others followed. What was needed was someone to spearhead a campaign to get Wolfenden enacted and that person was Leo Abse, Cardiff solicitor and MP for Pontypool. As a backbencher he was able to concentrate on unpopular causes and did much for women’s rights, among other achievements. But even he struggled to get this bill through and it was Roy Jenkins, then Home Secretary, who gave the final push needed for the legislation to pass and so changed British society for good.

Of course others have been at the forefront: Katherine Philips; Mary Lloyd; Cliff Tucker; Cranogwen; John Randell; Cliff Gordon; Jan Morris; Gwen John; Ernest Jones; Cedric Morris; Griff Vaughan Williams; Lady Rhondda – I could go on and on about the number of Welsh people who have influenced LGBT and British life.

Wales is a small country but in LGBT history it has always had a huge presence – and that is why the Welsh Assembly award shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

 

Short Story of the Month | ‘The Pheasant’, Glenda Palmer Vibert

The Pheasant Short Story of the Month

December’s Short Story of the Month, ‘The Pheasant’, is published in memory of the author, Glenda Palmer Vibert, and is based on a true account of one of her grandfather’s experiences as a poacher in Llanelli.

A man faces harsh justice for stealing a bird – but will the law prevail?

 

The Pheasant

This is an extract. Read the full short story for free on our website.

 

Elizabeth Francis made no concessions to the twentieth century. As far as she was concerned, Victoria was still very firmly planted on the throne of England. The calendar may say nineteen twenty, but that was ignored by Elizabeth. She was a tiny woman, small and finely boned, but having a strength that belied her apparent delicacy. Her dark, Indian-straight hair was hardly streaked with white, while her black eyes looked boldly on life.
The burly police constable hesitated, foot on step, nervously fingering his note book and pencil. Elizabeth Francis’ sharp tongue was well known in the small, fiercely Welsh industrial town. Many a would-be complaining customer had been shrivelled by Elizabeth as she stood, hands on hips, barely visible behind the mound of home grown vegetables on the market stall. This was the stance that met Constable Parry’s wilting gaze now.
“Who says that my Richard was poaching?”
“Well, er- that is…”
David Parry grew more nervous.
“Witnesses you must have, not some old gossip.”
‘Wil Toplis saw him, he did, with that old pheasant in his–”
Elizabeth Francis cut him short.
“Wil Toplis?” she spat sneeringly.  “He couldn’t see a cow in a field!”
David Parry backed away.  He had delivered his message, he had done his duty.
Elizabeth Francis went in and slammed the front door shut. She stood for a few seconds in the long dark passage of the house. The grandfather clock with its silly swan face ticked with a comfortable velvet tick. Poaching again, she thought. Why can’t that wife of his control him?
She made her way into the cramped kitchen with its glowering range and its high-backed settle, upon which a small, red-haired child was curled reading a comic.
“Come here child. Take a message to your idle father.”
The child stood before her grandmother. Their eyes met, the same dark, deep eyes, the grandmother’s hard, the child’s wide and questioning.
“Yes Mamgu?”
“Tell your father that I want to see him – and not when he feels like it, but now.”
“But he’ll be in work now.”
“Nonsense!  He’ll be in the West End; your father never wastes good drinking time by working.”
The child slammed the little gate of the house shut and set off down Sandy Road. “Always me,” she grumbled to herself, “always me running messages.” Her small hands were red from helping Mamgu with the washing and her arms ached from working the washing dolly.
A car swooshed past her going all of twenty miles an hour, mud splattering the hem of her too big dress.
The pub was crowded with noise and smoke as the child pushed her way past sweating, furnace-begrimed men, slaking the thirst of red hot ingots with the strong, thick ale brewed locally.
“Have you seen my father?” she asked no one in particular. A furnace blasted face looked down at her above a white sweat-cloth.
“Draw fana,” he said to her in Welsh, “over there bach.”
He pointed to a corner of the bar where a tall, red-haired man was holding court, talking in rapid Welsh to a spell-bound audience of three or four tin-plate workers in their metal-soled clogs. Dick Francis saw his youngest daughter and, mellowed by beer, lifted her in his arms and swung her above his head.
“Fy merch I,” he announced proudly, “my daughter.”
“No need to say that man. With that red hair she couldn’t be anyone else’s child.”
The men laughed and made a fuss of the girl, who was oblivious to their laughter and teasing.
“Mamgu wants you,” said the child breathlessly and a little afraid.
“Tell her I’ll come at stop-tap,” said Dick, placing the child on the bar counter.
“But she said now,” said the child urgently.
Something in her tone convinced him this was not a request from Elizabeth, but a command.
Dick swore softly to himself. What right had his mother to treat him like a child? After all, he was married now with four daughters of his own, and a wife that had much the same spitfire quality as his mother – far too much he sometimes thought.
Nevertheless, he bade farewell to his mates and walked unsteadily towards his maternal home, the child trotting at his side.
Mother and son faced each other in the little parlour.
“Well?” said Elizabeth, questioningly.
“Well what?” answered her son sullenly.
“You know very well what. I’ve just had a visit from David Parry – it’s poaching you’ve been again!”
“Who says I’ve been poaching?”
“Wil Toplis, you fool, he’s been after you for years, swore he’d see you behind bars and this is his chance.”
“Damn Mam, he’s always saying that but he’s not done it yet.”

Continue reading ‘The Pheasant’ for free here.

 

 

Enjoy free tea & chocolate with your Seren books this weekend

free tea and chocolate Seren books

‘It is truth universally acknowledged…’ that Black Friday is awful. The crowds, the stress, the queuing – all in all, it’s a wonder we made it through.

Now, after braving that most dreadful of days, we feel you could do with come relaxation – and to help you on your way to post-discount bliss, we’re giving away free Morgan’s Brew tea and free chocolate with every order, as well as scrapping our postage fees for the entire weekend.

tea GIF

Trust us, there’s no need to go outside at all – simply have a browse on our website, choose some new reading material, and wait for your care package of silky chocolate and soothing tea to arrive through the letterbox.

Civilised Saturday free tea and chocolate

 

Free postage on all orders (excludes the Mystery Bundle: Fiction & Mystery Bundle: Poetry)

 

 

Legend of the Month: Gwyneth Lewis

Legend of the Month Gwyneth Lewis

Each month we are celebrating one fantastic Seren author in honour of Wales’ Year of Legends. This month the spotlight has fallen on Wales’ first ever National Poet, Gwyneth Lewis, shown here in brilliant pastel by artist Lorraine Bewsey, from her series Poet Portraits.

Gwyneth Lewis has published nine books of poetry in Welsh and English, and wrote the six-foot-high words on the front of Cardiff’s iconic Wales Millennium Centre, rumoured to be the largest poem in the world.

Gwyneth is also an award-winning writer of non-fiction and screenplays. Gwyneth’s first non-fiction book, Sunbathing in the Rain: A Cheerful Book about Depression (2002) was shortlisted for the Mind Book of the Year, and her first television screenplay, Y Streic a Fi (‘The Strike and Me’), commissioned by S4C, won the 2015 BAFTA Wales for Best Drama. Gwyneth is also a writer of fiction: The Meat Tree, a space-age re-imagining of the tale of Blodeuwedd, is part of Seren’s New Stories from the Mabinogion series. Her light-hearted novella, Advantages of the Older Man, explores the strange case of a Swansea woman who is apparently possessed by the ghost of Dylan Thomas.

Gwyneth is a librettist and dramatist and has written two chamber operas for children and an oratorio, all commissioned and performed by Welsh National Opera. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a member of the Welsh Academi and a NESTA Fellow. In 2010 she was given a Society of Authors Cholmondeley Award recognizing a body of work and achievement of distinction.

 

Please enjoy this extract from The Meat Tree – a dangerous tale of desire, DNA, incest and flowers:

1

Technical Preparation

Synapse Log 28 Jan 2210, 09:00

Inspector of Wrecks
Is that working now, I wonder? I hate these thought recorders. They’re good in very confined spaces, where you don’t want to overhear the idiotic things your colleagues say to their families back on Mars, but I think they’re overrated. The trick is to keep the unconscious out of it as much as possible and pretend that you’re talking to yourself.
Now, I think it’s settling down. Right. Well, we’re just about approaching the Mars Outer Satellite Orbit. Not seeing too much debris around at the moment, they must have had a clean up fairly recently. Last time I was here, you could hardly move for junk. We’ve glimpsed the ship in the distance, and should arrive later this afternoon.
The new girl’s feeling sick but won’t admit it. She thinks I don’t know that she threw up in the heads, but you can’t hide any smells in a spacecraft. If Nona doesn’t stop vomiting, I’ll have to make her take the drugs. Her eyes are red alraedy, she’s dehydrated. I can’t have her out of action, we’re too close to the target vessel. Typical, getting lumbered with a student on my last mission.
Befrore anything starts happening, I’m going to get my expenses software set up…

Apprentice
So Campion’s telling me how he does his mileage first ‘and all else follows’ and I’m about to throw up all over him, but I manage to swallow it. Ironic. My whole life to get to Mars orbit, and now I’m here I feel too awful to take it in.
I did get to look out of a porthole as we passed close to home. Saw a dust storm in Thaumasia, thousands of miles wide. It looked like miso soup when you stir it up. Made me nauseous all over again. So I stopped looking. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to catch floating vomit in a paper bag.
We’re not one day in and I’m already tired of hearing about the Department of Wrecks in the Good Old Days. When flotsam came in from as far as the Sculptor galaxy or the Microscopium Void. When he had a full team and they got to work on really interesting cultures. Not like this speck from God knows where, just me and him – the one man in the service who has absolutely no imagination.
Oh, I think he wants to do a quick equipment check.

Joint Thought Channel 28 Jan 2210, 09:02

Inspector of Wrecks
This is so that we can talk to each other on the vessel without disturbing any of the artifacts. Sometimes alien communication can be diffused by the human voice, so we’ll keep to Joint Thought mode until we know more about what’s going on.

Apprentice
You mean like a mind-meld? God! I didn’t mean to say that.

Inspector of Wrecks
The whole trick of this channel is to avoid personal static. Keep it professional.

Apprentice
Sorry. Of course.

Inspector of Wrecks
It’s a knack. Not a silent version of speaking out loud, but it’s a way of sharing two sets of sense impressions from slightly different angles. It doubles the amount of data we can record. But you’ll have to learn to make a very precise form of running commentary. It’s not your uncensored thoughts, but it’s not formal reporting either. Try doing it on me for a second.

Apprentice
He looks much taller than he did on Mars. And skinnier.

Inspector of Wrecks
That’s close, but you can do better. It’s a question of what’s appropriate. Give me some sensory data, because that’s often much more valuable than your opinions. We Won’t know what we’re seeing, but we need to record the effect its having on us. Try again.

Apprentice
The smell of his soap makes me sick to my stomach, I can’t get away from it.

Inspector of Wrecks
That’s much, much better. Relevant stuff. A little personal, perhaps, but that’s good. We’ll be getting all the objective data from the robots we send in before us.
Again.

Apprentice
His comb-over looks like the tendrils of a plant in zero gravity.

Inspector of Wrecks
That’s it, you’re getting it. And don’t worry, you can’t offend me. What I’m looking for is information. Record it, even if it doesn’t seem important at the time. I’m particularly interested in alien emotio-translation technology, we have a lot to learn in that area. This technique is going to be especially important if we have to go into Virtual Reality.

Apprentice
The sleep of leaves!

Inspector of Wrecks
All right! That’s it! That will do for now. Oh, and I’ll change the soap. Didn’t realise it was a problem. You should have said.

 

The Meat Tree is available from the Seren website: £7.99

 

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Legend of the Month: Owen Sheers

Legend of the Month Owen Sheers

Each month we are celebrating one fantastic Seren author in honour of Wales’ Year of Legends. This month the spotlight has fallen on Owen Sheers, whose stunning poetry and fiction are regular Seren bestsellers.

Owen SheersOwen Sheers is an author, poet and playwright from Wales. His first poetry collection, The Blue Book (Seren, 2000), was shortlisted for the Forward Poetry Prize Best First Collection and ACW Book of the Year 2001. Skirrid Hill (Seren, 2006), his second collection, won a Somerset Maugham Prize and was longlisted for Welsh Book of the Year. Sheers’ debut prose work The Dust Diaries (Faber & Faber), won the Welsh Book of the Year 2005. His first novel, Resistance (Faber & Faber), has been translated into eleven languages.

In 2009 Owen contributed to Seren’s ‘New Stories from the Mabinogion’ series with White Ravens, a contemporary response to the myth of Branwen, Daughter of Llyr. He published The Gospel of Us in 2012 – a novel based on his dramatisation of The Passion for the National Theatre of Wales, set in the streets and clubs of Port Talbot and starring Michael Sheen. Sheers’ latest novel, I Saw A Man (Faber & Faber), was published in June 2015.

We hope you enjoy Owen’s poem ‘Intermission’, from Skirrid Hill, which featured as our Poem of the Month in the Seren Newsletter.

Owen Sheers Intermission Skirrid Hill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Find Owen Sheers’ books on the Seren website.

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

 

 

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