Thursday, 10 January 2019

Outlander, Poldark and Angel Mountain

A number of people have recommended that we take a look at Outlander on Netflix -- on the basis that it might give a pointer to what Netflix is currently looking for in the way of dramas.  So we took a look the other evening -- and it really is a very strange drama.  It involves a time-warp, in which the heroine (Clare) is miraculously transported back from the twentieth century to the Scottish Highlands at the time of the Jacobite Rebellion.

What on earth is its genre?  Nobody seems to know -- and maybe that is why it has intrigued viewers and garnered a sizeable and faithful audience.  Accidentally, when we thought we were embarking on the series with the very first episode, we ended up looking at the first episode of Series 3 -- and we were very confused.  Right at the outset, there was a prolonged and very bloody recreation of the Battle of Culloden in 1746, with a great deal of very explicit and graphic violence and blood everywhere.  Two stories were going on in parallel, with much cutting from the one to the other.  But there was no contact at all between Claire and Jamie, the heroine and the hero.  She was getting on with an unhappy life with her husband (and having a baby) in America in 1948, and he spent most of the time behaving like a feral zombie, deeply traumatised by events during and after Culloden.

This is about the Outlander franchise:

So what is Outlander?  Science fiction?  Fantasy?  Adventure?  Romance?  Costume drama?  Soap opera? Historical time-travel fiction?  A modern drama with a historical quirk, all about women's rights and female empowerment?  From the very explicit sex scenes, it might even be seen as soft porn -- and the graphic violence verged on the pornographic too.  It's well written and well acted, with a very strong female lead -- but one expects at any moment that Dr Who might suddenly turn up, or maybe just a spaceship containing strange aliens.  In its own peculiar way, it seems just as wacky as "Game of Thrones."  It does not have dragons and magical monsters yet -- but you never know.......  Still to come, Claire and Jamie get involved with piracy and the slave plantations of the West Indies and South Carolina, and then become pioneers in the land of the Cherokees.  Then in the 1970's, daughter Brianna goes through the stones and gets transported off to somewhere or other.  This all appears to be getting very messy, and one wonders what focus the story might still have after being turned into a rambling family saga with multiple locations across space and time.  Time will tell, as they say........

Series 5 and 6 have now been commissioned, with 12 episodes in each series.  Series 4 is just starting on Netflix, and thus far 55 episodes have been made.  It begins to look like a semi-permanent fixture on streaming TV -- bearing comparison with Downton Abbey, the Crown and Game of Thrones.

And how about Poldark?  Four series down, and one more to go.  There have been 35 episodes so far.  Produced by the BBC and written by Debbie Horsfield from the Winston Graham novels, it has become a staple part of the TV diet since 2015, and the BBC promotes it heavily as one of its most popular dramas -- but its move from winter to summer scheduling has led some to conclude that its popularity has been substantially lower than the BBC had hoped.

Right now we have "Les Miserables" on the BBC, adapted by Andrew Davies from Victor Hugo's mammoth novel  -- and turning out to be every bit as miserable as the title implies -- with lashings of graphic violence and hardly any humour. Thankfully, no songs. 

A new "Pride and Prejudice" series produced by Mammoth Screen for ITV, for transmission in 2020?

And Jane Austen's last (unfinished) novel, Sanditon, has been adapted by Andrew Davies for a new series for ITV, with filming starting this spring.

And plenty more.......

So where might "Angel Mountain" fit in this great scheme of things?  Well, there is clearly an insatiable demand for costume drama both on mainstream TV  (especially BBC and ITV) and on the streaming channels including Netflix, Sky and Amazon.  I think the story has a lot going for it, with a powerful and charismatic female lead and a narrative that delves into the deepest recesses of the human psyche.  The period (Regency / Victorian)  is an exciting one too -- overlapping with the period in which the Jane Austen novels are set, and with Dickens and Wilkie Collins too.  Not to mention Victor Hugo.  One problem is that the 8 Angel Mountain novels are set in Wales, and Welsh stories are not exactly fashionable.  But that might be a useful point when it comes to USPs.......

The life story of Martha Morgan is both exciting and coherent, and for extra spice we have the supernatural element provided in particular by the ravens as the spirits of the mountain, by Martha's own premonitions, and by the activities of Joseph Harries.  Then we have a host of wildly eccentric characters, including Wilmot Gwynne, John Wesley Jumbie, Grandpa Isaac, Shemi Jenkins and Beau Brummell.  And eccentric traditions too -- including the game of Cnapan, the Mari Lwyd, Plygain and Ceffyl Pren.  And strange events that really did happen, including the French Invasion of 1797 and the Rebecca Riots around 1840.  Martha gets involved in everything -- and always gets into trouble, and always has to be rescued.  By comparison, the adventures of Jane Austen's heroines do not register on the scale.

But perhaps the USP that might register most strongly with commissioning editors and production companies is the good humour that runs through the series.  Terrible things happen to Martha and to others who feature in the stories, but the prevailing mood is ultimately positive.  Martha bounces back from every misfortune -- sustained by the love of her family and friends, whom she comes to see as her angels. She has several passionate love affairs during her life -- but it would be true to say that this is not a straight line (or even wobbly line) love story involving one man and one woman, but a story of unbreakable bonds of love between Martha and those who surround her.

Angels are maybe not all that fashionable, but the angels in this saga are all fallen, and all grubby, with damaged wings and many other imperfections.

Enough to make a TV drama series entirely bankable and ultimately popular enough to keep going for 32 episodes?  I reckon so.........

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

An iconic image for "Conspiracy of Angels"

This is a fabulous image which captures in an immensely moving fashion the obscenity and the tragedy of slavery.  It was posted on the Newport Facebook page by Mary Robinson -- and it was drawn in white chalk on a black background by her father Tom Haswell in 1977.  That was when the first serialisation of "Roots" was first broadcast on the BBC -- and Mary thinks the image was based on a "Radio Times" front cover.........

As readers will know, at the core of the story is Martha's chance meeting with a black servant called Elijah Calderon, at Keswick Hall.  She is so moved by the story of Elijah and his sister that -- bit by bit -- she becomes deeply involved in the movement for the abolition of slavery and the prohibition of the slave trade. This -- of course -- leads her into very deep and murky waters......

Monday, 24 December 2018

Another Pembrokeshire Film on the way......


This os one of three low-budget Welsh films due for completion next year.  This one is set in Pembrokeshire -- filming locations are not yet revealed, but from the name of the film we can assume that the toll gates on the Cleddau Bridge will probably feature........

The producer is Vaughan Sivell, from Western Edge Pictures, who was involved in the making of Third Star, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch -- that one was filmed largely around Barafundle Bay.  There are five executive producers -- let's hope that there are not so many cooks that the broth is spoiled......


Produced through Ffilm Cymru Wales’ Cinematic scheme, The Toll is a dark comedy thriller directed by Ryan Andrew Hooper and written by Matt Redd.

The film was shot entirely on location in Pembrokeshire in November, and is being produced by Vaughan Sivell (Prevenge, Pistorius) and Mark Hopkins for Western Edge Pictures.

The Toll stars Michael Smiley (Rogue One, Jawbone, Free Fire) as Brendan, alongside Annes Elwy (The Passing, Little Women), Iwan Rheon (Hurricane, Game of Thrones), Paul Kaye (The Ghoul), and Steve Oram (Sightseers, In Fabric).

Brendan works solo shifts in the quietest toll booth in Wales, hiding from a criminal past where nobody would ever look. When he finally gets rumbled, word of his whereabouts gets out and his enemies head west for revenge. Meanwhile, local traffic cop Catrin’s investigation into a simple robbery finds her heading for the booth at exactly the wrong time.

Making his feature film debut following his BFI NETWORK Wales-supported short Ambition, director Ryan Andrew Hooper comments “Our cast and our crew were amazing. Most directors think they have the best cast and crew, but I think we really did. I’ve wanted to be a film director since I was nine years old and to do so with such a great script and talented bunch of people was a privilege.”

Producer Vaughan Sivell adds: “Matt Redd’s script has attracted such a wealth of talent to the coast of Pembrokeshire. It’s definitely a tall tale worth telling.”

The Cinematic scheme is financed by Ffilm Cymru Wales and the BFI, with National Lottery funding, S4C, Great Point Media, and Fields Park Media Partners. Executive Producers on The Toll are Adam Partridge for Ffilm Cymru Wales, Mary Burke for the BFI, Gwawr Martha Lloyd for S4C, Jim Reeve for Great Point Media and Paul Higgins for Fields Park Media Partners.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Molesworth QC tells it like it is

Molesworth QC:

M’Lud, it falls to me (posh, eh?) to sumarise at the end of this unfortunate bisness. Any fule kno that Treesa May’s cuntry is not a pritty sight. It is splitt down the midle. Any fule also kno that Brexit will bring darkness and misry to the cuntry. I therfor ask you, M’Lud, to deklare it null and void, so that my grate frend Fotherington-Tomas may skip litely once again and cry out hapily “Helo trees! Helo sky! Helo sunshine!” M’Lud, I rest my kase.


This is fascinating -- from Bethan Harries, just published in Wales Arts Review.
I have to say that I find this article very persuasive -- the narrative portrayed in the series is certainly male, patronising and lacking in a proper critique of inequalities and exploitation from inside and outside Wales.  Bethan is concerned about exclusion and under-representation of "forgotten stories" and "forgotten individuals" including women, young people and immigrants from all over the world.  And yes, there should be a greater recognition of the diversity of Wales and less emphasis on trying to talk about "identity" and "nation".  I'm not sure that Huw Edwards should be blamed for fashioning the series or creating its mood -- he was after all just the presenter.  But food for thought.


Bethan Harries asks why the BBC chose to show The Story of Wales with Huw Edwards now; and shouldn’t it be consigned to the history bin of male-centric, exclusionist, whitewashing documentaries?

There was never going to be a good moment for the BBC to show a rerun of the series A Story of Wales, but in a period of growing volatility and visceral racism this overly narrow, a revisionist take of history appears more grotesquely out of place than ever.

The series, which is dubbed as the BBC’s take on Wales’ history and fits with the network’s almost compulsive fascination with identity and patrimony, adds to the growing catalogue of mainstream cultural outputs from across the UK that glorify a sense of purity, heritage and wholesome­ness which implicitly, and at times explicitly, attempt to signify who belongs and who does not (jus soli!). In this particular series we are subjected to a series of images of white men conquering lands and then singing, working, going to church and playing sport. Anyone who watches an episode will be able to count the number of women on one finger and there is no mention of Black Wales at all. An entire history denied. This is not a documentary but a series of PR clips.

In the latest episode (4 December, BBC Four), Huw Edwards presents the story of coal and slate from the middle of the 19thCentury, a period, he tells us, when a sense of Welshness becomes more clearly defined. The problems come at the outset and do not stop as Edwards talks us through the birth of the coal and slate industries, keenly expressed as evidence of Wales’ entrepreneurial majesty. A trip to Bethesda and the Penrhyn slate quarry at the beginning of the episode is, for example, given by way of introduction to the wealthy elites who ‘built Wales’. Here we might expect a critical reflection of what that means for the average person, and yet male workers are presented as gleefully taking up this hard labour under poor working conditions and low wages. It is not until much later in the episode that these issues are considered and only then through the lens of the labour movements that formed in south Wales. The Pennant family who own the quarry are ultimately portrayed as benevolent local heroes. And here is one of the most troubling aspects of the programme. Edwards’ visit to Penrhyn castle, the Pennant family home, sees him glorifying its gaudy opulence. The fact that the fortune came not solely from slate but from the slave plantations in Jamaica owned by the Pennant family is silenced. Also notably absent from the narrative is the fact that the 1stBaron Penrhyn, Richard Pennant MP, was an avid anti-abolitionist and a member of pro-slavery networks. Yet incredibly, amid this silence, Edwards asks us to instead “be fair” to Baron Penrhyn because his wealth changes the landscape of north Wales and gives local Victorian seaside resort towns a ‘makeover’.

Edwards then travels back down to Cardiff to the docks where coal from the south Wales valleys was being shipped out across the world. This booming industry resulted in substantial increases in migration to Wales, yet the programme cannot bring itself to discuss this in any meaningful way. We are told that the majority of migrants to Wales came from England, yet the docks and related industries were sites of immigration from all over the world. In the period under discussion Cardiff became home to many seamen from Yemen, Somalia, the Caribbean and elsewhere, many of whom were joining families that had already long been settled in Wales. By failing to acknowledge the presence of Black Welsh people the programme denies their very being and proffers an exclusively white Welsh identity. This is amplified later when Edwards bizarrely tells us we ‘mustn’t be blinded by nostalgia’ which ironically only draws attention to the programme’s blindness to its own production of nostalgia through a whitewashed romanticised depiction of Wales.

The series also suffers from the same issue that many contemporary documentaries on Wales does in that it adopts an approach that seems desperate to cover the scale of Wales rather than go into depth on any one thing. Consequently, Huw Edwards jumps around from Cardiff, Llandinam, the Rhondda, Bethesda, Bangor, Llandudno and Aberystwyth all in a matter of minutes. The tendency to cover ‘all’ of Wales is redolent of a wider problem. Post-devolution the notion of inclusion has been misinterpreted by many to mean that we need to have pan-Wales strategies and pan-Wales thinking. Whilst this is perhaps often meant with good intention, this means that public institutions (including the BBC) try hard to be seen to be speaking to and for everyone, but only when ‘everyone’ is narrowly translated as people from different parts of Wales. This approach thus risks missing the point that a complex web of inequalities impact upon north, south, mid and west Wales differently and affects certain parts of the population more acutely than others. These are far more important modes of exclusion than imagined regional boundaries that warrant our attention. This is relevant here because unfortunately a related consequence of this unifying project has been the turn away from a critical gaze of what is happening in, sometimes framed as to, Wales towards a romantic now inward facing project.

The role of mainstream media can be criticised for losing the critical edge documentaries and analysis of old. The earlier focus on injustice and inequality has been replaced by celebratory shows of ‘Welsh’ heritage: rural wales, coasts of Wales, castles of Wales and, of course, sport. In Wales (as elsewhere) we need to examine who is included in the narration of nation and who can make claims to be Welsh that are recognised in a meaningful way. There are plenty of artists, activists and academics who are attempting to do just that. However, we are long overdue a good quality reflection on Welsh history within the mainstream.

Dr Bethan Harries is a Sociologist at the University of Manchester. She is the author of the book, ‘Talking race in young adulthood’ (Routledge, 2017). Her current research examines the relationship between race and nation in Wales and Scotland.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

New Welsh government -- new opportunities for TV and film?

Simon Curtis from Equity has complained about lack of opportunities for Welsh actors to be involved in big dramas telling the Welsh story

We have discussed (many times, on this blog) the frequent use of Welsh locations, Welsh actors and Welsh production facilities for the making of films and TV series  for network or cinema distribution --and we have featured many grumbles from  the media and from the unions about the lack of any real commitment to the telling of genuine Welsh stories.   Money is dished out quite liberally to production companies, and undoubtedly brings economic returns, and it's true that some rather dark dramas do tell Welsh stories and do obtain UK-wide broadcasts.  "Hinterland", "Keeping Faith" and "Requiem" have done very well.  But when the powers that be are asked "Why is there no requirement on the big production companies to tell real Welsh stories?" the usual response is something like this:

A Welsh Government spokesman said productions it had backed such as Hinterland and Keeping Faith have "shown the breadth and quality of acting talent we have on our doorstep".

"Any financial support given to productions to come and film here is based on a commitment to spend large proportions of their budgets on the production supply chain and the wider Welsh economy," the spokesman added.

"This spend has to be evidenced before funding is released. Our funding helps to ensure that a number of roles within a production are filled from within Wales."

Bland and defensive.  It need not be like this.  I have written a number of times to Culture Ministers and civil servants asking that more pressure should be put on film and TV programme makers to prioritise Welsh stories and to encourage Welsh screenwriters to get involved in the creation of stories and the fashioning of scripts  -- but every time I have been met with zero enthusiasm.  As I have said before, one might be led to believe that enthusiasm has been banned in Wales........ so while Northern Ireland and Scotland develop quite strong brands via film and TV, Wales hides timidly in the undergrowth, seemingly convinced that nobody much wants to hear our own stories. 

Burt tomorrow Mark Drakeford takes over as First Minister, and he will be appointing a new set of Ministers for his first cabinet.  Opportunity time?  Let us hope so........ 

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Teaser video -- almost there......

Yesterday we did our final bits of recording (video, stills and audio) for our teaser video, with the kind help of Jake Hollyfield, who kindly allowed us to use his sound studio for a couple of hours.  As before, Ken Bird doing the recordings,  Anna Monro being Martha, and me enjoying the occasion and doing remarkably little work!  Anyway, huge thanks to all for their enthusiasm and generosity -- and to Inger for keeping us fed and watered back at HQ.

So now the music is done (thanks to our son Steve), the drone footage and all other photography is in the can, and the voice over is done too.  Now all that needs to be done is the stitching together of all the various components in Ken's studio in Aberystwyth.  A lot of hard work for something that will jut last for 90 seconds -- but that is the way with film and TV......  I'm sure we will have something in the end that we can all be proud of.

Watch this space!

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Back to the Welsh Narrative

Premise: As compared with Scotland and Ireland, Wales does not have a very strong “brand image”. Something needs to be done about it if we are to enhance the tourism economy, attract inward investment, reduce social inequality and spread the benefits of tourism into the “negected areas” where poverty levels are unacceptably high. Those of us who live in Wales are constantly frustrated by our own conservatism, timidity and reluctance to take risks or to promote our assets. For the benefit of our own internal dynamics and our place in the world, the profile of Wales needs to be much more heavily promoted.

We need to think and act strategically — first of all by defining who we are and what makes us WELSH. I have explored this issue before on my blog:

Let’s use the “pitch” technique:

Log Line:

A small nation with extravagant natural and historic resources resists the depradations of a powerful neighbour and learns to maintain self respect and to keep alive its unique language and culture through a combination of subversion, adaptability and good humour.


"Wales is a small country on the Celtic fringe of Europe with magnificent landscapes, a cultural heritage stretching across 6,000 years, and rich natural resources. It is the home of Celtic Christianity, but throughout its history it has mounted bloody and short-lived rebellions designed to resist the depredations of a powerful neighbour. Against all the odds it has retained its language, its culture and its pride whilst encouraging toleration and liberal values and adapting to dramatic change. In its history it has not suffered the same deep social traumas as Scotland and Ireland, but it has seen the best and the worst effects of mining and quarrying, heavy industry and the Industrial Revolution. It has learned how to be tolerant, subversive and seductive, and how to be spiritual and mischievous at the same time. Its people are romantics, prone to wild swings of emotion; both melancholia and euphoria feature in the national psyche. Welsh people have a powerful "sense of place" and an abiding fondness for family histories, legends, ceremonial and ancient traditions. Eccentricity is embraced, while great value is placed upon learning. There is a tendency towards radical protest and an ever-present desire for social reform. Today, Wales is a place where pride and humility coexist -- and the warmth of its welcome to visitors is legendary.” (See Note 1)

Tourism strategy (and the Welsh USP) should be based on the above, or on some version of it. It is not appropriate to say “Wales has a multitude of narratives, and they all need to be told" — because the central message is then drowned out by the noise. Nor is it satisfactory to say “Welsh speakers know what Wales is all about and know what “hiraeth”, “bro”, “croeso" and “gwerin” mean, and the rest of us should simply accept that and get on with life.” English-speaking Welsh people have an equal claim on “Welshness”, and their achievements, perceptions and aspirations have eqivalent value. It is more important than ever to stress that those of us who see Wales as our home have a shared story. So let’s see if we can define what that is, see if we can obtain a broad level of acceptance for it, and use it as the central strategy for selling Wales to the world.

Beneath this level promotional or marketing tactics should be devised which home in on specific aspects of the narrative — eg. landscapes, language, activities, food traditions, music, spirituality and pilgrimage, symbols of a violent past (castles and fortifications), sport, industry, writers and artists, eccentrics and celebrities. Visit Wales already does fantastic job on most of those, and on many more topics — and here the keywords can come in: authentic, creative, innovative, alive, epic, memorable, inspiring, fresh, legendary, iconic, rich, distinctive, accessible, contemporary, immersive, inclusive. 

Here are a few more adjectives that came up in a seminar when we all tried to define “the essence of Wales”: generous, warm-hearted, eccentric, mischievous, sensitive, intuitive, whimsical, enigmatic, musical, poetic, dramatic, spirited, steadfast, ironic, ebullient, demonstrative, enduring, colourful, lyrical, resolute, mysterious, proud, faithful, accessible, loyal, adaptable, enchanting, quirky, understated, unpretentious. Some of these slightly softer and more subtle words might also have a “marketing value” worth exploring……...


Note 1:
This version of the narrative is based very much on the writings of Jan Morris. The version given by Michael Sheen in his famously passionate November 2017 lecture — with Wales portrayed as a victim, viciously and cynically exploited and suppressed by a powerful and predatory neighbour — is in my view not sufficiently nuanced, and would be impossible to use as a key component of a tourism marketing strategy aimed principally at English holidaymakers!

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Outlaw King and the invention of nationalism

This is a really interesting article, homing in on the new Netflix drama called Outlaw King but exploring notions of "nationhood" far back in historical time.  Well worth reading.  All about cliches, assumptions, and convenient historical distortions and misrepresentations........

Epic Fails: ‘Outlaw King’ and Netflix’s Nationalism Problem
What the film industry gets wrong—and Monty Python gets right—about the nation.

By Kanishk Tharoor

Thursday, 29 November 2018

The Story of Wales

The popular series presented by Huw Owen is getting another airing at the moment, and is also available on iPlayer:

When I first watched it, I had rather mixed feelings about it -- it's full of rather elaborate re-enactments.  But it can't do any harm to get our national story (or one version of it) re-told as many times as possible!  Let's hope it gets good viewing figures.............

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Investing in new films

This is interesting -- we all know about crowdfunding, via Kickstarter etc, with perks for those who put up most of the money, but this is straightforward investing in projects.  Red Rock says that there should be a return of 20-25% on investments, but of course some film projects go belly-up and all those who have invested lose all of their money.  However, as with all investments, those who are smartest know which projects to back and which to stay well clear of!  And the projects with the biggest names on the cast list are not necessarily the best ones to sink your money into.........

Stones -- the video

This is the fabulous musical video which Steve made a few years ago -- a setting of a very powerful poem by Bob Reeves, about Carningli.  Enjoy -- or should I say "Be afraid -- be very afraid........."

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Once again, Martha comes to life

Late afternoon at Ceibwr with some big swells rolling in. Anna playing a pensive Mistress Martha, gazing out to sea.  Ken was off to the right, getting a great sequence into the can, as they say......

We also did some movie recordings down on Parrog, at Nevern Church and up around Nevern Castle.  Then finally some sound recordings at Trefelin, in a padded-up bedroom and using a ridiculously small and high-tech  microphone.

All looking and sounding good, and ready to be put together with the drone footage that we got a couple of weeks ago.

Huge thanks to Ken and Anna for an inspirational day of hard work.  With Ken and Anna I've been greatly blessed to be able to work with Steve and Rhiannon on our photo gallery of stills for "Martha Morgan Country", and now with Ken and Anna on the latest sessions of location filming and sound recording.  Without their wonderful involvement, I suspect that this project would long since have been dead.......

As Martha discovered long ago, there are always angels lurking in unlikely places.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

The Wizard of Werndew

I always wondered what happened to that hat -- I have not seen it for years, and think it might have been spirited away.  A few years ago I did some photos of me pretending to be Joseph Harries! Here are two of the images!

And here is an image of a typical conjuration -- actually from John Harries's Book of Incantations.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Look out -- the Scots are coming!

There's an interesting piece in this Sunday's Observer about the boost given to the Scottish economy by location shooting of films and TV series.  The latest Netflix blockbuster is "Outlaw King", about Robert Bruce, which has apparently just started transmission.

The new series follows hard on the heels of Outlander, and of course we still remember Braveheart and even Monarch of the Glen -- all of which have extended and enhanced Scotland's profile in the world and have built specific stories into Scotland's national narrative.  As Visit Scotland's representative has explained, this all brings in new tourists and new cash into the economy too, on a scale far greater than we see in Wales.

For a long time now, I have bewailed the fact that Wales has done nothing similar.  We have great studios and very clever directors, producers and technicians working in the film and TV industries, but they use Wales very largely as a place for manufacturing other people's stories -- which do nothing to raise the profile of Wales itself.

Thus far, Scotland has lagged behind Wales in the provision of studio facilities -- but that is about to change, and an announcement about the building of a large new studio complex now seems to be close.  So whatever competitive advantage Wales has had is about to be lost.......

Time to get our act together, methinks.

The Welsh Literature and Publishing Review is wrapped up - and it was a complete waste of time

At long last, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, the Welsh Government's Culture Minister, has written a letter to the key players, which effectively wraps the process up.  The letter is pasted below.  This signals that the Minister is not minded to do anything much at all, and effectively we have status quo.

This represents a volte face, since after the publication of the report of th Medwin Hughes Panel, Minister Ken Skates said he was minded to accept its main recommendations, which would have involved much rationalisation within the industry and a considerable saving of cash.  It's strange, in these straightened times, that that little matter apparently has no relevance.

However, what has swung things is the assessment of the Culture Committee, which heard evidence from all the main players --  and decided in the end that changes of any sort would involve an unacceptable level of risk, and that it was better to trust the devil you know than the devil you don't.   That was a bit weird,  since both devils (Literature Wales and Welsh Books Council) were perfectly well known, and since the whole point of the exercise was to increase efficiency and to get rid of wasteful duplication of effort.  And the risk involved in bringing in efficiencies was quite minimal.  So the Welsh instinct for conservatism kicks in again, and a vast amount of expenditure and time gurgles down the drain.........  I feel sorry for the Welsh taxpayer (that means me).........

There are some complicated political issues in the background, and one has to wonder (not for the first time) whether there is a built-in resistance in the capital city concerning the removal of any activities (such as the organization of Wales Book of the Year) from Cardiff to Aberystwyth.

There are actually one or two interesting things in the letter.  I'll come back to those in another post.

Phil George - Chair of the Arts Council of Wales
Kate North - Chair of Literature Wales
M Wynn Thomas - Chair of the Welsh Books Council

Dear Phil, Kate and Wynn

10 October 2018

I am writing in relation to the independent review of support for publishing and literature in Wales.

The Welsh Government has considered the Panel’s report as well as views from stakeholders following its publication and the findings of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee.

Excellent work is already being undertaken by your organisations and across the sector and this is something I have witnessed first-hand since becoming Minister. This includes the London Book Fair, which demonstrated the excellent partnership working between a number of bodies that ensured Wales’ significant and effective presence at the Fair.

I have some brief observations to make in response to the specific recommendations in the report suggesting changes in the way support is currently administered.

Wales Book of the Year

Since becoming Minister I have had the pleasure of attending, and presenting awards at, two Wales Book of the Year ceremonies. I appreciate the importance of the Awards in raising awareness of the industry and the writing talent in Wales.

Literature Wales should remain the lead organisation for Wales Book of the Year at present. However, I expect a closer and more strategic partnership with the Welsh Books Council and other stakeholders in future, both in the Awards themselves and work throughout the year to capitalise on them. Literature Wales should set out annually a plan for the Awards that acknowledges and acts upon concerns and suggestions from the Welsh Books Council and other stakeholders, on issues such as timing, branding, marketing and commercial impact. These developments will further strengthen the Wales Book of the Year brand in the marketplace.


I acknowledge the separate, good work already being done by Literature Wales and the Welsh Books Council via the awarding of bursaries, but there is a need now to bring this activity together. To ensure that all bursaries for writers in Wales are targeted effectively and delivered in a consistent manner, a unified strategy for writers’ bursaries should be agreed, by both organisations and their sponsor bodies.

This should set out a coordinated approach to the delivery of a broad programme of bursary support, strategically designed to maximise benefits at the various stages of writer development and across the sector as a whole. Bursaries linked to commercial activity and those allocated purely for developmental purposes are both valuable when targeted effectively; therefore the best and most appropriate use of different types of bursaries should be agreed and set out as part of the unified strategy. To be clear, I am not mandating that the delivery of all bursaries should move to a single organisation - although that is an option the stakeholder organisations could explore.

We will convene a working group with the Arts Council of Wales, Literature Wales and the Welsh Books Council to take this strategy forward. This will consider the structure, aims, funding and implementation of a more strategic and impactful programme of bursaries for writers in Wales; it will also set out a timescale for the unified strategy to be agreed and implemented. Other parties may be asked to contribute to the group’s work as needed.

As a first step, the working group will identify improvements that can be delivered now, by maximising the collaboration possible within existing arrangements. This might, for example, include the creation of a single grants panel, comprising Literature Wales, the Welsh Books Council and an independent member, responsible for decisions on all bursary applications via their existing schemes.

Writers on Tour

Literature Wales should remain the lead organisation for Writers on Tour, but two changes to current delivery are required. Literature Wales should cover reasonable travel and subsistence costs for authors, in line with usual public sector rates. The Welsh Government and the Arts Council of Wales should consider whether a small budget increase for Writers on Tour is required to facilitate this.

Writers on Tour must become financially viable for writers, to increase participation. This would then deliver greater impacts across relevant Welsh Government policy areas. With this in mind, Literature Wales should provide a reasonable opportunity for writers to sell books at the end of these events, inviting the Welsh Books Council to support writers in doing so, as required.

Children and Young People / Literary Events

There should be no transfer of functions or funding in relation to children and young people and literary events, given the complex mix of grant in aid and Lottery funding which currently underpins much of the delivery activity in these areas. However, this is conditional upon Literature Wales and the Welsh Books Council discussing current arrangements and agreeing how support can be delivered more collaboratively in future.

The Welsh Government will take on board the recommendations addressed specifically to Welsh Ministers. We will discuss these recommendations further, as appropriate - with you as the relevant stakeholder organisations and with the wider sector.

I also expect you to respond to the specific recommendations provided for your individual consideration. The Welsh Government stands ready to engage with you as you develop practical responses to these recommendations, and to consider how it might assist where required, in its capacity as a sponsoring body. Regular reports on progress will be expected from you as part of existing arrangements.

I now expect you to work together more collaboratively, in genuine partnership and with mutual respect, to ensure the sector goes from strength to strength and delivers even more for people across Wales. I look forward to our continued close working as we all move forward.

Yours sincerely,

Yr Arglwydd Elis-Thomas AC/AM

Y Gweinidog Diwylliant, Twristiaeth a Chwaraeon Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Daisy, the black sheep of the family

Daisy, the black sheep of the family

I have as soft spot for our Daisy, even though she is absent from most of the Saga. She is born in April 1801 as the second of Martha’s four natural children. She has a difficult childhood, and Martha never fully realizes the extent to which the little girl is affected by David’s death when she is still only three years old. She is effectively starved of affection whilst her mother becomes obsessed with baby Brynach, the foundling who arrives one night on the front doorstep of the Plas, and then with the mysterious Nightwalker who makes frequent appearances on the mountain.

In the year following David’s death Daisy disappears, and Martha finds her in the cave, having had a premonition that that is where she would be. During that episode it becomes apparent to the reader that Daisy is a strange child who lives in a fantasy world and who is likely to create problems for her mother in the years to come. Indeed she does create major problems, and Martha loses her emotionally and has a series of disputes with her in the difficult years of blossoming womanhood. Everything comes to head when Daisy goes off to London, swearing that she will never see her mother again and that she will have no further contact with her home or her family.

After that, as one story follows another, we are occasionally made aware by Martha that she has news of Daisy; but in truth she has rumours rather than accurate information, and all her letters to her errant daughter go unanswered. Just as Martha loses her son Dewi and her youngest daughter Sara she loses Daisy, and the pain of that loss is made more severe by the knowledge that she is still alive but quite disinterested in acknowledging either her roots or a mother’s love.

Then, out of the blue, a fat lady in exotic clothes arrives without warning at the Plas. Daisy has returned, and Martha is overwhelmed. Her first instinct, as in the Biblical story, is to kill the fatted calf and to celebrate. The reunion between mother and daughter is told in quite sparse terms in the final pages of Rebecca and the Angels, but there can be no doubting the depth of a mother’s joy. It turns out that Daisy has led an extremely disreputable and colourful life while she has been away in London, and in the most unexpected way she proves to know some of the most influential people in the capital city, within whose power it is to steer through Parliament an Act which will reform the hated turnpike trusts. She has cavorted with princes and bishops, among others. She has four children by different fathers, but she is still unmarried; and later on, in the pages of Flying with Angels, she finds true love for the first time in her life and marries Dr. George Havard, thereby becoming respectable.

Whatever the excesses of her life in London might have been, in the last book of the Saga Daisy is a reformed character and a loving and supportive daughter. When Martha commits her great indiscretion in Tycanol Wood with Amos Jones everybody else is appalled, but Daisy is thoroughly amused since this is a minor matter indeed when compared with some of the things she has seen and done in London. So things come full circle. The daughter with whom Martha fought so continuously and could not control in her teenage years now becomes the daughter who best understands her mother’s eccentricities and her willful behaviour. That creates a mutual respect and a strong and loving relationship, and Daisy then plays a very important role in protecting Martha and advising her as she plays out the final act in her dramatic life.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

On ravens

The ravens are symbols -- not (as in Teutonic mythology) symbols of death and darkness, but as in Celtic mythology symbols of nobility, royalty and assorted other virtues such as steadfastness and protectiveness. The ravens are the spirits of the mountain, and although they are black they are really the mountain’s “host of angels”. Martha is very fond of them. Sometimes she pays attention to what they are telling her, and sometimes -- because she is preoccupied with her petty obsessions and fails to read the signs -- she disregards them and pays the price. At the very end of the Saga, following Martha’s death, six ravens appear on the mountain and watch as her body is carried back to the Plas. They are of course the spirits of Martha and the five men who loved her -- David, Ceredig, Owain, Joseph and Amos. Maybe Iestyn should have been there too, to make the number up to seven.........

In any screen adaptation of the novels, the ravens will have to play a prominent role -- subtle, but crucial to the understanding of the storyline.

The best Regency dramas

This is interesting:

A long list of the most famous and most enjoyable Georgian and Regency dramas -- many available on DVD or online.  Organized alphabetically.

Accompanied by intelligent and informative notes.  170 films and TV serials to choose from.......!!

The Matter of Wales

I'm still banging on about the Welsh narrative, and have been digging into what some of the wiser inhabitants of our little country have to say about it.  

A few quotes from Jan Morris’s wonderful book called “The Matter of Wales”:

“ is a small country..... but its smallness is not pretty; on the contrary, it is profound. Intense and unaccommodating continuity is the essence of the place.......”

“Its image is habitually blurred: partly by this geographical unfamiliarity, partly by the opaque and moody climate, partly by its own somewhat obfuscatory character,which is entrammelled in a dizzy repertoire of folklore, but most of all by historical circumstance.”

“.... despite the overwhelming proximity of the English presence, a force which has affected the manners, thoughts and systems of half the world, for better or for worse Wales has not lost its Welshness.”

“Among all the Roman possessions of the western empire, only Wales was never overrun by its heathen successors, and Welsh literature was the first in all Europe to emerge from the debacle.”

“...... the Welsh came to see themselves as inheritors of Roman urbanity and Christian devotion, and as trustees of a lost Celtic civilization which was to become ever more marvellous in the imagination, peopled by ever more heroic heroes, inspired by saintlier saints, until the very dream of it became part of the whole world’s consciousness in the legendary paragon of King Arthur. Wales was the folk-memory of Europe!”

“The Welsh never lost their sense of separateness and specialness, never allowed their language to die, and never altogether abandoned their perennial vision of a golden age, an age at once lost and still to come.....”

“... if there is one constant to the Welsh feel of things it is a sense of what might-have-been, tinged sometimes with despair.”

“Owain Glyndwr’s was a vision of the place as a human-entity, not just a country but a nation: not just a state but a fellowship, and a culture, and a heritage, and a sense of home, and a reconciliation of time, in which the affairs of the remotest past might overlap the present and embrace the future.”


I'm still saddened by the apparent lack of any coherent vision of what it is that makes Wales different from Scotland, Ireland and England -- and indeed, what makes it unique on the world stage.  As far as I can see, the Visit Wales marketing strategy is to carry on telling the rest of the world that "Wales is more wonderful than everywhere else.....",  accompanied by lots of nice images,  which seems to me to be somewhat lacking in imagination!

And in spite of all my efforts, I have not managed to get anybody in the Welsh Govt to take seriously my request for TV drama  and film makers or broadcasters to devote some of their time and energy to the telling of the Welsh story for a global audience.  The attitude seems to be "Oh, we can't do that!  That might scare them away....!"  Sad, isn't it?