In a lonely house deep in the Black Mountains of south Wales, a man spends insomniac nights absorbed in the ancient texts left him by his mysterious aunt. When a blue tent appears in the field at the end of his garden, his solitary life is turned inside out.
But who owns the tent?
And when the tent’s occupants emerge, whose story are they telling? As his life unravels, the man begins to question whether he is the orchestrator or the victim of his own experiences. Are the stories that guide or steer his life – any life – real, or merely the echo of other, possible lives?
‘A mysterious, dream-like story, delicately-written and with a disturbing undertow, The Blue Tent is in the best tradition of modern oneiric fiction’ Patrick McGuinness
“One of the most satisfying, engrossing and perfectly realised novels of the year.” Western Mail
“The Blue Tent is a portal to a magical Wales.” Nation Cymru
Read full review here: https://nation.cymru/culture/review-the-blue-tent-is-a-portal-to-a-magical-wales/
“The Blue Tent continues to frustrate and ensnare long after it is set down, its haze of possibilities proving for compulsive re-reading.” Wales Arts Review
Read full review here: https://www.walesartsreview.org/books-the-blue-tent-by-richard-gwyn/
An interview with Wales Arts Review Book Club can be found here: https://www.walesartsreview.org/book-club-interview-richard-gwyn/
An interview for The Western Mail can be found on Ricardo Blanco’s Blog here . This text formed the basis for an article about the book which appeared in the Saturday edition of that newspaper on 13 July, 2019.
I stand by the kitchen window, staring at a blue tent. It is pitched just beyond my garden fence, in Morgan’s field. The tent is bothering me. It is too near the house, too close for comfort.
There is no sign of a car or any other vehicle in the field, nor in the drive that leads to my house. Whoever owns the tent must have arrived by foot. They are well off the beaten track.
I step out into pale sunshine and the air quivers with birdsong. To one side of the house lie steep woods, burgeoning green, and a buzzard hovers high above the trees, a speck in the pristine sky. I wander down the drive, to make sure no vehicle is parked on the verge, hidden by the hedgerow. Behind me, the house presents an imposing facade, the three upstairs windows forming a dark triptych, giving the impression of symmetry and substance.
Walking back into the garden, I come to a stop beside a tangle of rose bushes. From here I have an unobstructed view of the tent, huddled close to my house as if taking advantage of the shelter and security that such a solid building provides. What a foolish presumption. How can the occupant or occupants of the tent know that the house is not inhabited by a dangerous lunatic, some deranged rustic assassin? Why on earth do they imagine that they are safe? Lord knows, I have an axe.
If I were to pitch a tent in a field, while on a camping holiday, I would pick a spot further away from the only building in this part of the valley. Under the big oak in the middle of the field, perhaps, or beside the stream that runs alongside it, but not at the edge of someone’s garden, practically under the eaves of their house. There is, after all, a lot of land out there, a great deal of green land. Why so close?
I am accustomed to solitude and since living here have become suspicious of any incursions from the outside world. I have few visitors, and have spent the winter – which, due to the recalcitrance of spring, stretched well into April – reading, writing and occasionally walking in the surrounding hills, or Black Mountains, as they are called. They are not black, of course: they acquired the name centuries ago on account of the perennial gloom into which the sky shrouds them when approached from the east, offering a promise of darkness and exclusion, a state or condition personified no doubt by the warlike Celts who once defended their muddy pile against the no less hostile Saxons and Normans. I suspect the owner, or owners of the tent have come the same way as the Normans, from the east, over Gospel Pass and down through Capel-y-Ffin.
Perhaps they lost their way in the dark, did not care to venture further into the field at night. Perhaps they pitched their tent here out of convenience, since it was not far from the road and therefore nearer to civilisation. Perhaps they were afraid that a bull or some other dangerous beast was loose in the field, or that they might otherwise incur the wrath of a splenetic farmer with their trespass. Or maybe they were simply tired, and set up their tent in the first convenient spot, before crawling into their sleeping bags. In which case, perhaps, I should let them sleep on. I am inclined, now that the sun is on my face, to treat them kindly.
It is of a strong construction, with no manufacturer’s label, nor any other marking to indicate its provenance. It is a two-person tent, and quite generous in width, set up with steel and wooden poles, rather than threaded onto a light aluminium frame in the modern style: to all appearances, therefore, a traditional, old-fashioned tent. But its colour shocks me. It is a deep blue: in fact, it seems to me, close up, that it is the bluest thing I have ever seen. It expresses blueness, as though rather than being a colour, blue were an idea or a thought: no, as if blue were an extreme, intense emotion.
I stare at the tent, trying to decipher what kind of fabric or dye could manifest such a distinct hue that it actually pains one to look at it. I turn away. My eyes have begun to water.
No sound comes from the tent but I can sense the presence of human life stirring within.
I have been bending over, my head turned side-on to the tent’s entrance, as if awaiting some sign or message. I pull myself up, and look around, feeling my behaviour to be somehow unseemly.
A dog is in the drive, in the exact spot I was standing a minute ago, when I stopped to look back at the house. I have never seen this dog before. It watches me momentarily, then turns and leaves; I don’t quite catch its colour as it runs away, a flecked grey or dull russet. The appearance of this dog adds to my unease.
The sun is well up; it must be warm inside the blue tent. Whoever is there will be getting sweaty and uncomfortable by now, unless they are too tired to notice. I reach down for the zipper, but just as I am about to yank it up, have second thoughts, or rather – how should I express this – I have a strong sense that this is the wrong course of action. I will leave the occupant or occupants of the tent in peace for now, give them the opportunity to show themselves, if they wish, but will not act out the role of meddlesome neighbour, even if the notion of being neighbours seems far-fetched, I being an actual resident of the valley and they merely passing through. I turn and walk back to the house.
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It is 1981 and while Britain enjoys the full impact of Thatcherism, Cosmo Flute, a brilliant and dissolute young painter, and his friend Ruben Fortuna, a street-wise Argentinian photographer, flee to the Greek island of Crete to indulge in alternating spells of painting, drinking, and some really Deep Hanging Out. Much of their leisure time is spent in local bistro The Unspeakable, where waiter Igbar Zoff serves squid, pig’s testicles and dodgy wine to the local loafers, and sows confusion in the minds of unsuspecting customers with his improbable tales. Events turn serious when Cosmo and Ruben accidentally witness secret US military activity on the island and are drawn into a shadowy world of espionage and counter-espionage. When Cosmo becomes involved with a young woman who carries an explosive secret, the fallout will propel Cosmo and Ruben through the death throes of the Cold War, and Crete’s bloody history of sacrifice and betrayal, to a stunning climax amid the running of the bulls in Pamplona.
‘Gwyn captures the languid confidence of youth, privilege and artistic ambition playing out in the sunshine, and this inevitably brings to mind Alan Hollinghurst’s Line of Beauty. Meanwhile, the adventures have something of John Fowles’ classic The Magus about them.’ Alex Hemingsley, The London Paper.
‘A rich, dark and beautiful novel . . .’ The Western Mail
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Set in the bohemian under-belly of Barcelona, this novel weaves between an urban thriller and a Gothic historical drama focusing on Catharism, a 13th-Century historical sect. Musician and translator Lucas has reformed his nomadic ways to settle in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. Intrigued by some cryptic instructions on the back of an anonymous postcards, Lucas finds himself thrown into a love affair with the sophisticated Nuria. But his attraction is obsessive and vulnerable in turns: can we trust this man’s version of the story?
The Colour of a Dog Running Away was published by Parthian in the UK, Penguin Random House in the USA, and has been translated into Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, Turkish and Macedonian.
‘The best novel of the year.’ – Scott Pack, The Bookseller
‘Clever, stylish and supremely entertaining . . . this novel offers a feast of sophisticated pleasures and a taste of deeper passions too.’ Boyd Tonkin, The Independent.
‘An excellent read . . . cleverly written, dark and funny.’ The Scotsman.
‘At once an absurdist riddle, a romantic quest, and a love letter to our anti-hero’s chosen home, Gwyn’s witty and assured first novel is as much about the different ways you can tell a story as it is about the story itself.’ The New Yorker.
‘Full of good stuff . . . short measured sentences and dreamlike dialogue . . .Gwyn’s Barcelona is one of uncertainty and magic, filled with darkly comic characters both prophetic and pathetic. Every encounter and detail of city life, precisely and unhurriedly recorded, seems significant . . . ‘ Time Out
‘Evokes the exhilarating unpredictability of urban life. . . . Gwyn’s plot is humming.’ Washington Post
‘Gwyn leaves many of his mysteries veiled, while providing enough detail to avert readers from a head start. . . . Beautifully precise.’ Newsday
‘A delightful cornucopia of thriller trappings, history lessons, existential ruminations and cheeky asides. . . . Destined to be a cult classic.’ Philadelphia City Paper
‘Gwyn’s fiction debut showcases sure-footed versatility and care with language, the poet’s fingerprints on every word.’ The Oregonian
‘This novel can only be deemed “gloriously unclassifiable.” With a sumptuous Barcelona setting, ruminations on the nature of identity, a secret history, kidnapping, cults and unreliable storytelling, wrapped up in a prose style that packs at least 4 paragraphs into a single one, Gwyn’s debut is impossible to get out of your head and absolutely worth the time to read and unspool each new revelation. ‘ Sarah Weinman Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind
‘A wild but entertaining ride through historic Barcelona . . . The writing is delicious.’ Deseret Morning News
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To order The Color of a Dog Running Away in the USA, click here.