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Fiction Fiesta 2013

23 Apr

Fiction Fiesta 2013 Design Work Final Draft copy(1)

The poster for the second Fiction Fiesta is ready.

Fiction Fiesta is an intimate but international festival, specializing in fiction and poetry in translation. The plan is to team novelists and poets from Latin America with writers from Wales and the rest of Great Britain and Ireland: the writers will read and discuss their work and answer questions from the public.

Fiction Fiesta will provide a forum for all people with an interest in international literature, from professional translators to the merely curious. Fiction Fiesta is a festival with a difference, involving readings and discussion that will bring the public into contact with some of the best writers from around the world, in a friendly and informal setting. The event is free, but each year we will be inviting guests to donate to our chosen charity: this year we will be supporting the work of  Education for the Children in Guatemala.

The 2013 festival takes place over two locations: the Council Chamber in Cardiff University’s Main Building on Saturday 18th and Dempseys’ Bar, opposite Cardiff Castle on Sunday 19th May. Our guest writers and translators are listed in the poster above (squint or zoom) and include our Latin American guest Andrés Neuman (author of Traveller of the Century - shortlisted for The Independent foreign fiction prize this year), Eduardo Halfon (author of The Polish Boxer) and Inés Garland (author of Una Reina Perfecta). Both Andrés and Inés are featured in the forthcoming 100th issue of New Welsh Reviewwhile Eduardo’s Polish Boxer is my favourite new fiction collection of the past twelve months.

You can find out more on the Fiction Fiesta Facebook page. 

More to follow.

 

 

 

How do people live?

22 Mar

Swans on the Taff, Cardiff.

 

How do we construct a life as we go along? The things we do and say, the actions that make us who we are? Sometimes all of this is bewildering. I look for clues everywhere, including under the bed. I find a few empty boxes, some crayons, a broken hunter watch belonging to Taid (my grandfather) which saw out four years in the trenches in World War One but was not able to resist my two-year old daughter swinging a toy hammer. Bits and pieces.

Tom Pow, the Scottish poet, told me the other week that he had been working in a prison and a disturbed long-term inmate had started declaiming, to the world at large, How do people live? – a question perhaps more appropriate, and less taken-for-granted than might at first appear.

Part of the aim of this blog is to reflect on the mutable universe, and the roles that we play within it. One of the delights of having a camera app on your mobile phone is that you can snap things at random, which taken together in the course of a day can cast a peculiar light on that very general plea, made by the prisoner of how do people live, at a very unspectacular level.  It is something I will never grasp entirely, but which can be illuminated by these fragmented moments, taken at intervals with no plan or purpose, amounting to a broken narrative of what passes by. With no plan or purpose, but always stalked by memory.

 

 

Warning sign, near Cwrt-y-gollen army camp.

 

 

Ancient tree at the bottom of Gypsy Lane, Llangenny. When I was a kid it blew my mind to learn that this tree was here when the Normans arrived.

 

 

Bridge where I once played.

 

 

Where do we go from here?

 

 

 

 

 

Odds and ends

13 Mar

Here’s a salutary tale. The past few days Blanco’s Blog has gone viral, thanks to the occurrence in a one-off post last summer – a film review of Hobo with a shotgun – of the word penectomy. Shit, I’ve done it again.

There are thousands of people out there, it seems, who get terribly excited when they get a sniff of a word like ****ctomy, and they then let all their chums know, and on it goes. A few of the more specialist sites, it seems, advocate different forms of self-mutilation, including auto-castration.

I don’t know what other clinical terms I should be avoiding, but no doubt if people send in suggestions, we might between us break my new all-time record.

On second thoughts, please don’t.

On a lighter note, I have been spending a lot of time toing and froing to the fair city of Birmingham these past two weeks. What friendly and plausible folk those Brummies are! Why on earth do they get such bad press? It can’t be due to their irrepressible chirpy good humour. It must be that, in sociolinguistic terms, they speak the most maligned and ‘disfavoured form of British English’, according to all opinion polls and surveys carried out since time began. According to one source:

A study was conducted in 2008 where people were asked to grade the intelligence of a person based on their accent and the Brummie accent was ranked as the least intelligent accent. It even scored lower than being silent …

Oops. People are such bigots. An entertaining and fair account intended to dispel negative stereotyping of all things Brummie can be found here.

Meanwhile, as we in Cardiff gear up for the Grand Slam showdown with France on Saturday, the London press goes on an adoration fest for the ‘England’ rugby team. Sure, the defeat of France on Sunday was admirable, but do The Times, Telegraph, Guardian and Independent really need to spend pages and pages describing the Sweet Chariot revival, and only a few column inches on the champions-in-waiting, when, after all, the best the Saeson can reasonably hope for is second place?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good things about being Welsh: No. 4

4 Mar

 

We in Wales are recklessly uninhibited in our fondness for signs. We will put anything on a sign, however nonsensical, and leave it out for all to see. Consider the photograph above, taken on a country road in the Vale of Glamorgan. ‘Toads’, it says. Well? Is no further explanation required? I wait for a while in a nearby car-park, lest coachloads of amphibians should pass by, perhaps clutching little pennants, or else dressed in goggles and flying jacket, like the famous Toad of Toad Hall. But no cigar.

Let’s take another one:

 

 

I particularly like this bi-lingual sign near my house, on the river footpath, warning of the possibility of a tumble into the swirling waters of the Taff. I like its succinctness of composition and I especially like the upstretched arms of the falling man. It seems to be telling me something other than that which it purports to be telling me, but I am not quite sure what this is, and it leaves me with a stab of uncertainty each time I pass it.

This mania for signs, I realise, is not uniquely Welsh, but I sometimes think that we are the best at it, since we can do them bi-lingual in ways that the language planners never conceived. There are many beautiful examples of this, and I will sign off with one of my favourites. The Welsh in this sign warns cyclists not – as the English might lead them to expect – to get off their bikes, but that ‘bladder disease has returned’.  Truly, we are a  musical nation.

 

Bladder disease has returned?

 

 

 

 

 

The Promised Land

16 Oct

I have made a couple of references recently to The Promised Land, my favourite bar and hostelry, which can be found in Windsor Place, near the city centre, and which serves, amongst other things, the best coffee in Cardiff.

The Promised Land’s owner, Nick Davidson (pictured) set the place up in the style of a certain kind of city bar to be found in Manhattan or Madrid, places that serve quality drinks, fine wines and good food – often of a Spanish flavour – in a friendly, informal atmosphere, and which isn’t burdened by a particular social identity: lawyers, plumbers, painters and decorators, dropouts and even journalists, politicians, poets and the odd celebrity drop by and mingle, and there is a space upstairs for hire to private parties.

Which is the point I am coming to. In my other role, as Richard Gwyn, I teach on the MA in Creative Writing at Cardiff University, and our Visiting Writers’ programme, supported by Literature Wales, is hosted by The Promised Land. Every few weeks between October and April we invite writers to give a reading, answer questions and share the evening with our students and other guests. The reading is followed by an Open Mic session for Cardiff University creative writing students, often work of a very high standard. The Promised Land provides evening meals, which you are welcome to enjoy before or after the guest reading. On October 3rd we hosted the first of the series, novelist Lindsay Clarke. The rest of the programme is as follows:

 

24th October, poet Clare Potter

14th November, Student event coordinated by scriptwriter-dramatists Othniel Smith and Tim Rhys

5th December, poet Peter Finch

6th February, ex-national poet of Wales Gwyneth Lewis

27th February, poet and novelist Owen Sheers

12th March, novelist Belinda Bauer

26th March, poet Douglas Houston

 

All events take place on a Monday evening at 7 pm and are free to the public.

 

 

Good things about being Welsh: No. 3

11 Sep

We are so kind and noble we allow other teams to beat us at our national sport. I am not absolutely certain this is an asset, but it indicates true strength of character and I am sure the Japanese have a word for this kind of motiveless self-sacrifice.

In today’s Rugby match against South Africa (which I watched at 5.30 a.m. local time despite only returning to my hotel at 2.oo following a reception at the Dutch Embassy in honour of the novelist Cees Nooteboom), the Welsh team played with a conviction and courage that was barely recognizable, and they probably deserved to win, whatever that means. (It means nothing in sport actually, which is the whole point). Ych a fi.

On another note, I was chatting with the Dutch ambassador’s wife last night (I really wanted to use that line, please forgive me) and it seems the British Ambassador is a Welsh woman.That must surely count for something, honouring the bardic tradition etc.  However nothing at all has been set up at the fabulously impressive British Embassy to celebrate Blanco’s arrival in Buenos Aires,  which Blanco feels is rather remiss.

British Embassy, Buenos Aires

But then Cees Nooteboom is famous (as well as seeming a very nice man) and Blanco is not. Apparently when Hanif Kureishi came over they gave him a proper bean feast. Blanco is clearly not important enough. I am not sure how I feel about this, but probably it doesn’t compare with what our national Rugby team will be feeling today

Good Things about Being Welsh: No. 2

17 Aug

 

We inhabit a fictional country. The photograph lies. EMBAJADA DE GALES means ‘Embassy of Wales’ in Spanish. It was on a banner displaying the sponsors of a poetry festival in Central America. Reference to such an entity proves beyond all reasonable doubt that we come from an imaginary country, something like Ruritania.

But what, I ask you, gentle reader, distinguishes a real country from an imaginary one? When I was last at Buenos Aires airport in 2005 there was a huge display in the arrivals lounge announcing ‘Argentina – un país de verdad’ (Argentina – a real country). This was not long after the collapse of the Argentine economy and the massive devaluation of their national currency. Who, other than those in a state of serious self-doubt, needs to proclaim to the world the status of their own reality?

Argentina needn’t have worried. But we in Wales are used to such a predicament. We are never sure whether or not people in the rest of the world believe in us or not, so we are permanently checking our self-made reality gauges. It is well-documented by academics that the Welsh are sociolinguistically more Welsh the further they travel from Yr Hen Wlad. There is even a Welsh proverb to that effect. But does that mean we become less fictional when we travel, or more?

In most of the world, if they have heard of us at all, we are ‘a part of England.’  I have also heard that Wales is ‘in Scotland’, and on ‘the other side of Ireland’ and once ‘in Finland’. These assertions, while showing a frail grasp of geography, do in fact have a whiff of the truth, placing Wales somewhere on the periphery of something else.

Frequently of course, there is a situation where an individual Welsh celebrity has raised international awareness of our existence. A footballer – Mark Hughes in the 80s, followed by Rush, Giggs and now Gareth Bale – will assist bar-room conversation. In rugby-playing nations a Welsh identity usually provokes commiseration, and pitying remarks of how a once-proud team can now only compete in the second tier. Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Catherine Zeta Jones and Charlotte Church have done their bit. Among literary types (other than specialists) only Dylan Thomas ever seems to pop up.

While no one has yet suggested to me (as apparently George W Bush did) that Wales was one of the states of the USA, our provenance and exact status remains a mystery to the great mass of the world’s population, but our invisibility has one overriding benefit: no one has had the time to form a negative impression of a place they have never heard of.

To come from a land with nominal but invisible embassies, with a government but without a constitution or a state, with a fictional creature on its flag and a population whose sense of national identity grows in direct proportion to distance from the homeland, now that is what I call a wondrous paradox. We are the ghouls of historical destiny, forever seeking ourselves in the space left between a phantom nationhood and other people’s perceptions of us. All compounded by the concept of everlastingness – Cymru am byth – so that when all the planets have been sucked back into the sun, when the dust of what was once our solar system is distributed at random across the vast wastes of the universe, the idea of Wales will live on.

 

 

 

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