Thursday, 7 June 2018

Assembly consultations on film and TV in Wales



There are some interesting contributions listed here, including some "set piece" submissions saying what you would expect them to say.  But some of the contributors do at least express some opinions......

http://senedd.assembly.wales/mgConsultationDisplay.aspx?id=296&RPID=1510320504&cp=yes

More rumblings from the Welsh TV and film industry



Here are a number of stories from the BBC web site which suggest deep frustration within the industry about "the Welsh way of doing things" in the film and TV drama field.  Series like "Hinterland", "Keeping Faith" and "Bang" have done well, but they are all made on incredibly low budgets and although they may get network air time, the production companies, directors, actors and scriptwriters all seem to be pointing at big shortcomings in the system.........

Loss-making projects, the scandals associated with Bad Wolf and Pinewood, the convoluted financial support system, and the "exploitation" of Welsh production facilities by production companies that have no interest in telling Welsh stories or doing anything to promote Wales are all big issues.

Pinewood's Welsh TV and film fund frustrating, claim Bang producershttps://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-44081643

Actors missing out on TV and film roles in Wales, Equity union claimshttps://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-44385773?SThisFB

Julian Lewis Jones calls for more local talent in Wales-made films
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-44076476

Action film flop Take Down received £3m in Welsh loanhttps://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-42079457

Ffilm Cymru: Short films receive funding boosthttps://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-43737994

Some of the info from an FOI request:

Take Down, which was produced by Pinewood, was given a loan of £3.14m.   The production, which was shot in Pinewood Wales as well as Anglesey and the Isle of Man, has so far recouped £941,413.
According to the Internet Movie Database, the film was released on DVD in the UK in August 2016, although it appeared to have a cinema release in the US.

Glossy BBC Worldwide/Amazon Prime drama The Collection received a loan of £1.15m and a grant of £600,000 - ministers have recouped £119,075 so far

BBC Films' British war comedy Their Finest - which lists Pinewood as a producer - was loaned £2m and has recouped nearly £2.1m for Welsh Government, making a profit so far of £49,985

Horror movie Don't Knock Twice was given a loan of £629,516 and received a grant of £75,000 from the Wales Screen Fund. It has recouped £469,415 for ministers

It also listed a number of projects that have received loans from the scheme that are yet to reach a release:

£1.2m for Show Dogs, a comedy that is being released in the UK next year and was mostly shot at Pinewood Studio Wales
£2m for Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires, which also received a £673,784 Wales Screen Fund grant
£850,000 for World War 1 drama Journey's End, being previewed in Cardiff on Thursday - £80,000 has been recouped so far
£25,000 each for the development of a film called Lionel The First, TV show Jack Staff, and TV project Minotaur

A total of £317,000 has also been loaned to Tiny Rebel Games, based in Newport, for the game Dr Who Infinity, in partnership with BBC Worldwide.

=================

As one might expect, the BBC and the Welsh Government bat away the criticisms and concerns by stressing the positives (mostly about the economic spinoffs coming from the making of films and TV series in Wales) and ignoring the negatives.    But the Assembly's Culture Committee is currently investigating the film and TV industry in Wales, and it will be interesting to see what they come up with when they make their report.

Friday, 1 June 2018

The ideal Martha?



I found these two photos on Kezia's web site.  She and Rhiannon could easily be sisters! Kezia has a pretty large portfolio, including -- for some unfathomable reason -- various roles in bloodthirsty films about the Vikings.  Does she look like a Scandinavian princess in jeopardy?  Maybe, but she would make a pretty good Welsh Martha too......

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Dream Team 2018

Kezia Burrows as Martha -- a perfect fit for the heroine


Ben McGregor as David -- a man of integrity but also a certain naivety


I have been taking some advice on the "characteristics" of some well-known Welsh actors, and have been having fun imagining myself as a casting director!  So here is my latest attempt at assembling a "dream team" for a long-running TV costume drama series.  Of course, if and when the drama project is taken forward by a production company, the producer and director will have their own strong views on the most suitable actors for each role -- cost and availability comes into the frame too.  Actors are very busy people -- or at least they aspire to be busy, and in constant employment.  In an ideal world, they rush from one big role to another, sometimes working on several projects at the same time, and rushing back and forth between Hollywood and Wales!  In reality life can be pretty tough, even in the clearly defined world of Welsh-language drama.  Acting is a risky old trade, just like writing.......


Sharon Morgan as Grandma Jane, dignified, calm and fiercely intelligent


William Thomas as Grandpa Isaac, wise in the ways of the world and the rock on which both Martha and David stand.  He will have to lose the whiskers.....


Alexandra Roach as Bessie, Lady's maid and best friend.  Much more cheeky and outspoken than she should be....


Gwydion Rhys as Moses, dark and deranged, the disinherited son of the Lloyds of Cwmgloyn, obsessed with Martha and destined to come to a sticky end

Gwenno Dafydd as Blodwen Owen, the fierce housekeeper who takes no nonsense from anybody


Michael Sheen as Joseph Harries the Wizard -- Martha's saviour and mentor.  One of the great heroes of the saga.  He knows too much......


Aneirin Hughes as Squire Alban Watkins.  Thoroughly evil, manipulative and cunning


Mark Lewis Jones as Squire George Howell, Martha's greatest enemy


Ben Cullen as Lord Cawdor, the most powerful man in Pembrokeshire, but somewhat lacking as a military commander


Iwan Rheon as Billy the head man on the estate.  Fiercely loyal but not averse to a bit of mischief on the side


Ifan Huw Dafydd as Squire Benjamin Rice, the third of the trio of evil squires whose great purpose in life is to destroy the Plas Ingli estate


There are many other characters too -- more than 200 in the whole saga.  Work for almost the whole of the Welsh acting community, just as the whole of the British acting community seems to have got caught up in "The Crown" !!







Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Cilgwyn and Brynberian 1903



Some of the old "half inch" Bartholomew maps have just been released in digital format.  On the Pembroke sheet there is much of interest...........  note the following:

1.  In 1903 Brynberian did not exist -- there was just a small cluster of houses called "Bancau-bryn."

2.  In Cilgwyn, Penybont is shown as an Inn, and Tyriet farm is called "Cilgwyn".

3.  Note how small the patches of woodland are in the area where we now have the extensive Pentre Ifan and Tycanol Woods.

4.  Note the spelling of "Carn-ingle".......

5.  Cilgwyn Church is shown, but not Caersalem Chapel.

6.  Note the spelling of Waun Mewn instead of Waun Mawn.

I suppose that in 1903 there was a certain informality about place name spellings -- things had not been formalised.

Monday, 14 May 2018

How to get people to pay up..........



In the novels, there are many occasions where Joseph Harries the Wizard gets things sorted out with the help of the most subtle of threats.  More than once, he simply tells those with dark secrets to hide "I know what you have done."  That's enough -- the implied placing of a curse by a powerful wizard is enough to induce a state of terror in the message recipient.

I got this idea from Dr John Harries, the wizard of Cwrt-y-Cadno in Carmarthenshire.  When his clients were a bit tardy in paying their bills, he would send them a gentle reminder,  telling them that if they did not pay up by a certain date, "adverse means will be resorted to" in order to recover the debt.

And then he would sign off with "Your humble servant, John Harries."

Very polite, but utterly terrifying.......

Friday, 11 May 2018

John Harries of Cwrt-y-Cadno



As faithful readers of the saga will know, Joseph Harries the wizard is one of the key characters in the story.  His character as I portray him is based upon what we know (and that's very little) about the real Joseph Harries who lived at Werndew.  But when I was doing research on what the Welsh wizards of the time believed and acted upon, I had to dig into the story of John Harries of Cwrt-y-Cadno, about whom we know much more.,  The two were contemporaries.

This is a web site entry about the latter:

=================
John Harries (Shon Harri Shon) (c.1785–1839) was probably born at Pantycoy, Cwrtycadno, Carmarthenshire, and was baptised at Caio on April 10th 1785. He was the eldest child of Henry Jones (Harry John, Harry Shon), Pantycoy (1739-1805), a mason, and his wife Mary Wilkins. He was educated at The Cowings, Commercial Private Academy, Caio, and at Haverfordwest grammar school, but it's not clear where he studied medicine before returning to Caio to establish his practice
===========================

I had not realised until now that he was an old boy of Haverfordwest Grammar School when he took up wizardry!  So there is a strong Pembrokeshire connection.

Neither had I realised that the National Library holds the manuscript of part of his "Great Book" -- called his Book of Incantations.  It is full of the most extraordinary material.  At the head of the post is one of the pages, and below is another.......










Thursday, 10 May 2018

The Stonehenge Bluestones



Almost there -- this has nothing to do with Angel Mountain or Martha Morgan,  except that the mountain is made from a sort of bluestone called dolerite........

Anyway, the book is printed and is in the process of going out to the shops.  It looks good!  The printers -- Cambrian Printers of Aberystwyth -- have doe a top job for me on this one.  Hope that the readers like it too.....

Publication day is 1st June, and I am working on signing sessions, talks and other launch events.

The book will be on sale soon, and it can be obtained via my Stonehenge blog site or via the bookshop page on  my web site:

http://www.brianjohn.co.uk/bookshop.html

https://brian-mountainman.blogspot.co.uk

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Has PEN Cymru had a quiet word?




In a couple of earlier posts we discussed the absurdity (and indeed the appalling implications) of Literature Wales refusing to mention or promote the Welsh Poetry Competition because its web site had links to other web sites which were not "approved" by LW.

http://brian-angelmountain.blogspot.co.uk/2018/03/a-case-for-pen-cymru.html

http://brian-angelmountain.blogspot.co.uk/2018/03/the-sad-little-world-of-literature-wales.html

That was petty and seriously damaging to LW's reputation, and complaints were made to PEN Cymru, which normally deals with horrid things done to writers in fascist regimes far away from our sheltered shores...........

PEN Cymru declined to intervene formally, but it may well be that there have been quiet words in somebody's ear, since as if by magic, the latest LW announcement does indeed have a mention of the Welsh Poetry Competition, complete with a link to its web site.

http://www.literaturewales.org/lw-news/may-opportunities/

So common sense is restored.  Thank goodness for that.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Film and TV in Wales



There was a big article in Wales Online (the Western Mail) in March, summarising the progress made in Wales in atrracting work to the new big TV / film studies mostly in the Cardiff area. Big Wolf features large.....

https://www.walesonline.co.uk/business/business-news/how-wales-built-itself-film-14387598

No problem with any of that, and indeed a vibrant film and TV industry does bring jobs and cash into the Welsh economy (although we seldom see the balance sheet comparing investment / grant aid from the Welsh government -- ie the taxpayer --set alongside measurable economic benefits.)    The costs are very high indeed -- and we must all hope that the benefits are even higher!

From the comments of people interviewed, there is still a strong undercurrent of concern about the emphasis on making film and TV for a global / network market while programming ABOUT Wales and FOR Wales is dramatically under-represented and seemingly largely ignored.  People will continue to grumble about that.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

London Book Fair and other matters



Here's an extract from Gary Raymond's article of a few days ago in the Wales Arts Review -- expressing pleasure at the Welsh presence in the London Book Fair.  That's something we can all agree with!

He also touches on the troubles afflicting the Welsh Academy, for which he might just share some of the blame, since he had been on its management board for a year.  (He refers to himself, quaintly, as a "Director", but let that pass.)  He grumbles about members of the Academy airing their grievances about the state of literature in Wales and its publishing industry.  Well, we saw all too clearly from the  events linked to the Medwin Hughes Report that there are powerful factions in the literary scene in Wales,  and I agree with Gary that some of the comments made on the record (not just by writers but by certain employed officers as well) were very aggressive -- indeed Literature Wales had to be ticked off by Minister Ken Skates for its somewhat intemperate language.  So it is clearly not all sweetness and light out there.  So what would Gary have Academy members do?  Shut up and pretend that all is wonderful in the rose garden?  I'm sure that the last thing he would want is a crowd of passive and impotent writers who express no views at all on the state of their industry, and allow themselves to be directed at all times by a number of "professionals" who do not even have to make a living from writing things.

Anyway, happy to pass this on:

http://www.walesartsreview.org/wales-the-london-book-fair/

For the first time in a few decades Wales has a unified national presence at the London Book Fair, and it is immediately obvious it makes all the difference. This is not a single publisher, one little red face vying for attention in a poppy field of enthusiastic do-or-die red faces, but a representation of a national literature – not just books, but an idea, a culture. A slew of the Welsh publishers, along with facilitators such as the British Council, Literature Wales, Arts Council Wales, and the Welsh Books Council, have all come together to put their shoulders to the wheel to make this happen. And in the three days the stall is a hive of activity. Publishers, writers, dignitaries come and go, some are scheduled visits, but most are not. The London Book Fair is a branding exercise, it is about marketing, it is three days of taking meetings and exchanging pamphlets and catalogues, and dealing out honed pitches like playing cards, but the value of having a national hub was clear – the focus was on Welsh literature as a brand.

The importance of the Fair, of being here, has been weighed up by the beancounters of most organisations present. It is not an inexpensive venture, and whereas Harper Collins may not have to worry too much about cost, the value of being here may be up for discussion. For the organisers of the Wales stall, it was certainly a risk. But it is impossible not to have experienced Wales at the London Book Fair and decide this is where our country must be, this is the mix, this is a seat at the table, this is the party that stops people asking, “sorry, where?”

If Wales was ever guilty of an insular, suspicious attitude in its marketing of “the arts” then it’s an attitude that over the last few years has been resolutely cast aside. Outreach projects, international showcases, branding exercises – these terms might send shivers down the spine of some people with certain ideas of what an artist should be, but they are, at the very least, pro-active modern attempts to remedy immediate and potentially devastating modern problems. Although individuals made this work, each with their own reasons for doing so as well as a collective one, there were no poster boys or Court favourites, no elites, no conspiracies or hidden agendas, this was Welsh literature of the past, present and future, being presented as a phenomenon on one of the most influential platforms in the world. And rather than being condescended to, or dismissed, or rubbished, as some in Wales fear is the destiny of any Welsh person who sets foot over the Severn Bridge, Wales was embraced and discussed on a level with every other nation present.

A few days later, in a hotel in Aberystwyth, the Welsh Academy (the national society for writers in Wales) hosted an emergency general meeting to decide its future. In the year I have been a Director of this esteemed organisation, I have been surprised to find it now sits notably as a collective of individuals rather than as a unifying body, the most vocal of whom, it could be argued, use it to air their grievances (much of it personal and some of it simply egomaniacal) about the state of literature in Wales and its publishing industry. The future of the Academy after Saturday’s meeting seems somewhat brighter than it did on Friday, but the future health of Welsh literature will largely rest not with writers unions and forums (important as they are), but with collegiate efforts to brand our writing as something attractive in a modern fast-paced professional industry. Wales’ Minister for Culture Dafydd Elis-Thomas gave a speech to a packed stall on the Thursday, and enthusiastically endorsed the venture after a morning of meetings and tours, and pledged that not only must Wales maintain such a presence at the London Book Fair in future, but that it must look to heighten and push its ambitions in these arenas. (Frankfurt, maybe?). For now, in uncertain times, one thing is certain: anything less than the London Book Fair is a step backwards.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Now we just have the editing.......


This is a perfect illustration of what I feel like when I have completed ten chapters of a new book.........

Thursday, 22 March 2018

A case for PEN Cymru?




I was having a look at the PEN Cymru web site, as I do occasionally, and I was struck when I came across the following words:
"PEN promotes literature and defends freedom of expression. It campaigns on behalf of writers around the world who are persecuted, imprisoned, harassed and attacked for what they have written.”

http://walespencymru.org

Contact: walespencymru@gmail.com

PEN exists to stop the suppression of free speech and harrassment etc mostly in other countries with harsh regimes — and it would be very silly to pretend that we in Wales  are seriously persecuted, when writers in many other countries are sometimes imprisoned or even killed for seeking to maintain their basic right to freedom of expression.


That having been said, where does intolerance stray over into intimidation and persecution?  Where is the top of the slippery slope?  The case which I highlighted in a previous post may seem very mild by comparison with what is happening in Turkey and other countries, but the organizers of the Welsh Poetry Competition are clearly being pressurised by Literature Wales to have nothing to do with web sites that may contain material which LW happens to dislike.  There is clearly an attempt to interfere in matters which are none of its business, and to discourage or even prevent freedom of expression within the literary community.


I wonder what would happen if the organizers of the competition entered a formal complaint about Lit Wales trying to suppress public scrutiny and free speech within Wales? 


  

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

The mountain is looking good......

I had a delightful stroll up on the mountain this morning, accompanied by a group of rather friendly and inquisitive mountain ponies.  And the sun shone for part of the time!  Has spring sprung at last?



The sad little world of Literature Wales



I was disappointed (but maybe not entirely surprised) when I heard not so long ago that a well-known international literary competition organized within Wales had been refused any support from Literature Wales when the organizers asked for some help with publicity.  The competition is not funded by Literature Wales, and is entirely self-financing.  The organizers were perfectly within their rights to ask for information to go out in LW newsletters and through social media;  after all, it is one of LW's responsibilities to facilitate and encourage literary activity across the board in Wales.

LW flags itself up (on its own website) as the national company for the development of literature in Wales. It claims to be responsible for leading the sector and for actively collaborating with organisations and individuals who contribute to the promotion, creation and enjoyment of the written word.   It also refers to itself as "the literature promotion agency for Wales" -- and agencies are supposed to take actions in support of others rather than simply concentrating on self-promotion.  Its role, in other words, is to facilitate and stimulate literature programmes and events throughout Wales, whether or not LW is the originator, organizer or funder of those events.

So why should LW refuse to support and promote a long-established and successful literary competition? I have now done some research, and have discovered that support has been refused on the grounds that the competition's website " links to blog posts which are extremely negative towards Literature Wales."   I am also assured that a letter from LW includes the following:  "As I'm sure you can appreciate, while we support the competition itself, we cannot justify promoting it through our channels while it leads its audience to articles showcasing one-sided perceptions about our organisation.  We would, of course, reconsider if the competition website removed these links."

This is a truly chilling scenario. Blackmail.   I have looked at the website in question, and it probably contains links to more than a hundred other web sites and blog sites relating to literary activity in Wales.   I certainly do not have the time to look at all of them in order to decide which of them are "positive" towards Literature Wales and which of them may not be.  However, somebody within Literature Wales has obviously found the time to do it, and has decided that some of the articles featured "showcase one-sided perceptions" about LW. 

This is all a bit rich.  For the last nine months or so LW has been involved in a massive "charm offensive",  flooding social media,  the press, radio and TV with "good news" stories about the wonderful things which the organization and its staff are doing across Wales and further afield.  You do not have to be a genius to work out that this intensive media activity is a direct response to the criticisms of the Medwin Hughes Panel, which reported to Minister Ken Skates in the summer of last year and which called out LW for its perceived poor governance, its tendency to spend most of its income in-house, its lack of a clear focus, its involvement in many areas that have only the loosest of links to its core functions, its duplication of functions already undertaken by the Welsh Books Council and other organizations, and its shift away from an "enabling and facilitating" role into a new role as a provider of services and an organizer of events. These were very serious criticisms, as a result of which the Panel suggested that many of the LW functions should be taken away from it and handed over to WBC and maybe Visit Wales as well.  There was also criticism of LW's arrogance and sense of entitlement.  It also has to be said that the comments made by the Medwin Hughes Panel were not new or especially derogatory;  they were also made by many correspondents who participated in the Panel's broad-based consultation process.  Those comments are all on the record.  Literature Wales's response to the criticisms directed towards it was more than a little petulant and aggressive, and it spilled over into very personal attacks on the integrity and expertise of the Panel members.  This resulted in a very direct rebuke from Minister Ken Skates.

So the propaganda put out by LW about itself and its achievements is not exactly broad-based and balanced.  It does what propaganda always does --it extols the virtues of the organization, sees everything through rose-tinted spectacles, and fails to mention any of its shortcomings.  LW has become very expert at the spreading of "one-sided perceptions"............

LW now apparently refuses to support a bona fide and well-established literary competition on the basis that some of the comments on some of the linked web sites do not meet with its approval.  Let's be clear about this.  LW has absolutely no right to get involved in censorship and blackmail or to decide unilaterally that certain web site and blog entries are "one-sided perceptions."  I dare say the writers of those entries, wherever they may be, would claim that they are fact-based and involve fair comment, regardless of whether LW may be upset about what they say.  There is after all this thing called freedom of speech -- and organizations and individuals have every right to scrutinise and if necessary criticise bodies (such as LW) which are in receipt of millions of pounds of taxpayer's money. 

This all says a lot about the sad little world inhabited by the staff and the directors of Literature Wales.  If they cannot handle scrutiny and constructive criticism, they don't deserve public trust -- and the organization which they represent should be wound up.  Something better should be put in its place, involving a clearer focus, less duplication of effort, and a greater responsiveness to the needs of the writing community.  So we should probably cry for Literature Wales.  Or maybe laugh.

One last thought.  I almost put this heading on this blog post:  "The Orwellian World of Literature Wales."  Here, by way of explanation, is an extract from that fount of all wisdom and compendium of literary gems, Wikipedia:

"Orwellian" is an adjective describing a situation, idea, or societal condition that George Orwell identified as being destructive to the welfare of a free and open society. It denotes an attitude and a brutal policy of draconian control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth (doublethink), and manipulation of the past, including the "unperson"—a person whose past existence is expunged from the public record and memory.........

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orwellian

Once again, just think about it. A brutal policy of draconian control?  That's not so wide of the mark.  LW sees itself as THE organization controlling the Welsh literary scene, and as it has developed its very ambitious expansion programme it has created a situation dominated by patronage and dependency in the writing community.  I have already commented on this:

http://brian-angelmountain.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/literature-wales-and-cultivation-of.html

Literature Wales is already well known for its extensive use of self-promotion and propaganda, for spreading misinformation and making rather selective use of the facts of the matter, and for assisting in the denial of the truth about all sorts of things including the value for money associated (for example) with its bursaries programme or its own annual accounts.  Now it has added to its portfolio of dodgy dealings the little matter of surveillance.  Somebody in the organization must have been briefed to scrutinise the links on other "literary"web sites for anything subversive or which strays from the party line.  We might assume that its strategy henceforth is one of supporting only those organizations which have no links whatsoever with any persons or organizations  deemed guilty of saying less than complimentary things about LW.

Just think about it, and feel the chill.

By the way, the Medwin Hughes Panel Report is here:

http://gov.wales/topics/culture-tourism-sport/media-publishing/publishing/support-for-literature-review/?lang=en

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

More stick for Gary Raymond and LW



A few days ago I took issue with Gary Raymond on his rather weird piece on the Assembly Culture Committee deliberations on publishing and literature in Wales. He had it in for the Medwin Hughes Panel and its pronouncements and recommendations, and seemed to think that Literature Wales is the place where all the bright young things reside and where all the imaginative thinking is going on. Now Richard Davies of Parthian Press has weighed in, using some very forthright language.......

BLOG Richard Lewis Davies
NWR Issue 116
In the Goldfish Bowl

https://newwelshreview.com/article.php?id=2218

Although I don't agree with everything that Richard says, I do agree with most of it.

I agree that by and large there has been " a diversification and deepening of talent, resources and approach " in Wales during the past 15 years or so. I also agree that "there has been development and there have been opportunities for writers and a professionalism of the publishing culture with a deepening of the skills base." Many of the books published in Wales nowadays certainly look good -- every bit as good as the books published in London ..... what is less certain is whether anybody actually wants to read the majority of them!

Richard takes issue with Gary Raymond on whether the past was very grubby and the present is less so. In my view it is still pretty grubby -- and although Richard does not say this explicitly, he clearly feels that all is not well with the Welsh literary scene. Like me, he expresses his sadness at the apparent demise of the Welsh Academy and its failure to express itself -- on behalf of Welsh writers -- when the Medwin Hughes Panel was seeking responses from all sectors of the literature and publishing industry.

Quote: "There is a duplication of resources within Welsh literature. More money could be given directly to writers. We could work out how to make the best of the national treasure that is Tŷ Newydd Writing Centre without losing a small fortune. The writers and publishers could organise ourselves more effectively."

Quote: "And this comes to another point that both reports (the original and the summary) do seem to have missed. Where are the writers? Why aren’t they representing themselves and having a say? I know all the organisations will say they are representing writers but at the actual business end of influencing and making decisions about the culture of writing, the writers of Wales are largely apolitical or absent. The Welsh Academy/ Yr Academi Gymreig used to be a writers’ institution that had conferences and had a policy. Even when it merged into the Academi it was still a writer-led organisation, publishing magazines in Welsh and English and holding an annual conference. But once it became subsumed into the aspirations of a national company in the form of Literature Wales, the energy seems to have dissipated and it’s been reduced to putting up the occasional plaque and adding the occasional fellow to boost its diminished esteem. There was no comment from anyone at the Academi about the failure of the Chair of Literature Wales, Damian Walford Davies, to meet with a committee looking into literature in Wales for the Welsh government. Everyone else who was asked made time. Literature Wales is an organisation representing writers funded by the Welsh Government for the people of Wales through some of the taxes they pay. If the Chair couldn’t support the organisation at such a time he should have resigned.........."

That's a pretty direct criticism of Literature Wales and its Chairman for failing to defend the interests of Welsh writers before the Review Panel.   Before the Assembly's Culture Committee they spent nearly all of their time defending Literature Wales and seeking to question the qualifications of the Panel members.  That was all pretty grubby, and the Minister, and the Assembly Culture Committee, said so directly.  Will anything change now that Prof Walford Davies is coming to the end of his tenure as Chairman?  We shall see.



Saturday, 10 March 2018

The "Writers of Wales" database



Every self-respecting writer wants to promote her / his career and enhance book sales -- and one of the most useful weapons in the armoury is the entry in the writer's database.   The Society of Authors operates a very good one, available as a benefit of membership.  My entry is probably typical, and can be seen here:


The beauty of a database of this type is that writers can ensure that the world has access to up-to-date information about them and their books; that publishers can search for appropriate writers for any publication projects which they may have in mind; that writers have an easy way of communicating with each other; that journalists and other media people can pick up relevant information about individuals; and that the organizers of literary festivals, book clubs and cultural / arts societies of all sorts can browse through the database and find the "right" writers for speaking slots which they may be looking to fill.   There are probably other benefits too......

Until quite recently, the Welsh Academy managed and maintained a database called "The Writers of Wales."  The trouble is that over the years it got bigger and bigger, and started to incorporate many people who were not really writers at all.  Members of the Academy were not very good at updating their entries, and rumour has it that many writers failed to inform the Academy that they had died.  Very inconsiderate.  When Literature Wales took over the management of the database (arising from the "understanding" between the Academy and LW) they told me that there were around 3,000 entries on the database, although the Welsh Academy had only around 600 members.  I fully understand that something needed to be done.

Apparently a revision and redesign of the web-based database was in hand, but then suddenly in August 2016 it disappeared from sight.  There was no consultation with Welsh writers, and no advance notice.  One day, the website was up and running, and the next day it was not.  Enquiries elicited the response that staff were working on it, and that it would be replaced on the web with something better designed and more relevant.  Eighteen months have passed, and there is still no sign of the revised web site.   Writers have not even been asked for their key personal information and publications lists.  The suspicion has to be that Literature Wales has no intention to refresh and republish the database -- and indeed they have said to a number of Academy members:  "It doesn't matter very much really, since when we get requests for speakers  or writers for school visits (for example) we always give the most appropriate names!"

Just think about that for a moment.  This means that transparency has disappeared, and so has impartiality.  As of now, the staff of Literature Wales (who are no doubt very pleasant and well-meaning) have complete control over the public appearances and indeed the future prospects of Welsh writers.  Without anybody knowing anything about what goes on behind the scenes, they can ignore some writers and promote others.  Upset them, and they will extract their revenge.  Say nice things about them, and they will put you on their "favourites" list.  Patronage is encouraged, and dependency takes the place of independence and self-esteem.  Writers are demeaned and power is transferred to staff members who may or may not have written anything publishable in their lives.  The potential for favouritism and corruption is so large in this situation that writers have every right to feel insulted and enraged.    I am amazed that LW staff and directors appear not to have noticed just how dangerous this scenario is -- and amazed that the Arts Council, the Medwin Hughes Panel, and the Assembly's Culture Committee have not homed in on it.  Does it worry the Minister?   Who knows.......

The ball is in your court, Literature Wales -- get that database updated and published NOW, before even more damage is done to the reputation of literature in Wales.

=================================
Entry for "Writers of Wales" database, August 2016 -- which has disappeared, along with the entries for all other writers in Wales.......

JOHN, BRIAN
Publisher Email: greencroft4@mac.comAuthor Website: http://www.brianjohn.co.uk











Brian John is a prolific author with 90 books to his name.  He was born in Carmarthen in 1940 and brought up in Pembrokeshire. He is married and has two grown up sons and two grandsons. He studied at Haverfordwest Grammar School and at Jesus College Oxford, where he read Geography and obtained his D Phil degree for a pioneering study of the Ice Age in Pembrokeshire. He then worked as a field scientist in Antarctica and spent eleven years as a geography Lecturer in Durham University. He has travelled widely in the Arctic, Antarctic and Scandinavia. In 1977 he and his family moved to a smallholding near Newport in Pembrokeshire, and for the last 30 years he has made his living as a writer and publisher.

He is also actively involved in a number of environmental and community organisations, and is one of the founders of the PENfro Book Festival, held at Rhosygilwen in September every year.
In addition to his books (authored and edited) he has published hundreds of articles on a wide range of topics, and among his publishers are Corgi, Collins, Pan, Orbis, Aurum Press, HMSO, Longman, David and Charles, Wiley and Edward Arnold. His published output includes university texts, walking guides, coffee table glossies and books of popular science. Many of his titles have been published by Greencroft Books, and have covered topics of particular interest to readers in Wales - for example tourist guides, books of local jokes, and a series of books on local folklore and traditions. His latest non-fiction titles are The Bluestone Enigma and Ghostly Tales from Pembrokeshire.
In 2012 he won the Wishing Shelf Children's Book Award for his children's tale entitled The Strange Affair of the Ethiopian Treasure Chest.


In recent years he has been working on a series of novels (The Angel Mountain Saga) set in his own home area and focussing on the life and times of the Mistress of Plas Ingli, 1778 -1855. The series has received wide acclaim for its narrative skill, its strong sense of place and its historical authenticity. On Angel Mountain is a Welsh best-seller, having now sold over 36,000 copies. The latest novel in the series is Conspiracy of Angels, published in April 2012.  In 2016 he launched a new literary tourism initiative with the label "Martha Morgan Country"  - designed to promote NE Pembrokeshire and to encourage fans of the saga to visit many of the key locations from the stories.  The project has a leaflet and a dedicated web site:  http://www.marthamorgan.co.uk


Brian is also in great demand for talks and discussions on creative writing and small-scale publishing. You can contact him through his publishers, Greencroft Books on: 01239 820 470.

Selected Publications:
(all still in print)


On Angel Mountain (Greencroft Books, 2001; Corgi 2006)
House of Angels (Greencroft Books, 2002; Corgi 2006)
Dark Angel (Greencroft Books, 2003; Corgi 2007)
Rebecca and the Angels (Greencroft Books, 2004)
Flying with Angels (Greencroft Books, 2005)
Martha Morgan's Little World (Greencroft Books, 2006)
Guardian Angel (Greencroft Books, 2007)
Pembrokeshire Coast Path (National Trail Guides) (Aurum Press, 2012)
The Rocks: Geology of Pembrokeshire (Abercastle Publications, 1980)
Echoes and Shadows (Greencroft Books, 2008)
The Bluestone Enigma (Greencroft Books, 2008)
Sacrifice (Greencroft Books, 2009)
The Strange Affair of the Ethiopian Treasure Chest  (Greencroft Books, 2010)
Conspiracy of Angels (Greencroft Books, 2012)
Acts of God (Greencroft Books, 2014)


Contributed to:
The Winters of the World (editor) (David and Charles, 1979)


RECENT TITLES

Conspiracy of Angels (Greencroft Books, 2012)
In the year 1810, following Martha’s return from voluntary exile on the Isle of Skomar, a black man is shipwrecked on the shore of the island. He dies from his injuries, but two strange and powerful objects find their way into Martha’s hands. Shortly afterwards, she meets a freed black slave, and she agrees to become involved in a secretive anti-slavery movement. At first all goes well, but then things run out of control as she desperately tries to stop a brutal campaign aimed, ironically, at her own enemies. Inexorably she is drawn into a shadowy world inhabited by politicians, aristocracy and assassins -- and it emerges that the security of the state itself is at risk. This is a tightly constructed tale with many unexpected twists and turns. The key characters will be familiar to followers of the Angel Mountain Saga, but marching through the pages of the story are others who are considerably larger than life -- including the famous dandy Beau Brummell, the portly Princess of Ebersdorf, a black villain called John Wesley Jumbie, and General Sir Thomas Picton, who has been cursed, and whose days are numbered.


Acts of God (Greencroft Books, 2014)
The story is set in East Greenland during the Cold War. The story follows the fortunes of several groups of people whose destinies are intertwined.  There is mounting tension between the Americans and the Soviet Union. In 1962 the members of a scientific expedition become the unwitting guinea pigs in a series of grotesque experiments in an arctic wilderness.  At the same time the members of a small Inuit community are evicted from their traditional hunting grounds and are forced to leave their village.  One "Act of God" follows another.  As the death toll mounts, the explorers are too intelligent and too inquisitive for their own good.  They uncover a multi-national conspiracy and realize -- too late -- that an implacable enemy with limitless resources will not allow any of them to survive.  The author hesitates to call this a Cold War Thriller himself,  but accepts that others may well want to call it that……



Friday, 9 March 2018

Gary Raymond tries to say something or other about Welsh literature



Today there is a very strange article in Wales Arts Review by Gary Raymond, the presenter of a BBC Radio Wales arts programme.  I think we can take it as a sort of establishment response to the Assembly's Culture Committee Report just published -- and part of the ongoing concerted campaign to diminish and denigrate the work of the Medwin Hughes Panel.  It's a very strange article, and I really don't know what he is trying to say.  The journal editor's attitude is obvious enough, since she wrote in the preamble to the article:  ".........the publication of the Senedd’s Culture Committee report seems to put The Hughes Review out of its misery at least for the time being....."  A bit mean-spirited, to say the least.   Here is the key info:

WHAT NEXT FOR THE INDUSTRY OF WELSH LITERATURE?
http://www.walesartsreview.org/what-next-for-the-industry-of-welsh-literature/

The second half of 2017 was a difficult time for the organisations charged with the nurturing of the Welsh literary landscape The Independent Review into the industry proved controversial, prompting a Welsh Assembly enquiry into the fallout. As the publication of the Senedd’s Culture Committee report seems to put The Hughes Review out of its misery at least for the time being, Gary Raymond asks if its worth debating some home truths about how the Welsh literary industry operates.

As for the article itself, we'll ignore the long preamble and then get to the meat of the matter.

Here  is an extract:

Over the last year or so a cloud has hung over the literary industry in the form of the Independent Review of Support for Publishing and Literature in Wales, commonly known as The Hughes Review (as it was chaired by Professor Medwin Hughes). This week the Senedd’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee has finally published it’s response to that report, and the furore it kicked up back in July 2017. The whole debacle has been a tiny speck on the national fabric, but stands for something much more culturally significant. The Hughes Review should stand as the final push of the old way of things in Wales. It stands now only as a monument to the corruption of a noble process by vindictive influences, but also as a porthole into the battlefield that is the Welsh literary landscape. It is a battlefield that will be most likely unfamiliar to any Welsh writer under the age of 30. And probably more fabled if you’re under 35. But over that, then you know what I’m taking about, even if you’ve never fought on it.
You can read the Committee report here, in its mercifully concise 34 pages. It’s a good read, and it cuts the Hughes Review down to size, in all but the starkest terms rendering it and the £14,000 it cost to produce it a waste of everybody’s time. It also goes some way to be balanced and tries very hard to emphasise the independent panel have simply failed in their honourable intentions to do right. It has no intention of “impugning the integrity” of the panel members. The Committee may be shocked to learn (maybe not, I don’t know) that a cursory knowledge of how literature in Wales works would make these “honourable intentions” extremely unlikely.

It's impossible to read that tirade without getting a real sense that this particular writer has no time at all for the Hughes Panel or its Report. ("............a monument to the corruption of a noble process by vindictive influences..." What on earth is that supposed to mean?)

Then, having slagged off the Hughes Report, he goes on to say: "The literature industry in Wales is a spitting swirl of conflicting interests, clashing egos and jagged vendettas."   He then gives chapter and verse, in a whole paragraph.  That all sounds familiar enough to those of us who watch the literary scene in Wales. And sure, something needs to be done about it.

But Gary is wildly adrift in his suggestion that "the old way of doing things" is the problem, and that the Hughes Panel was a part -- or a symptom -- of the old order.   He fails to recognize that there are major problems with the new order too, and that these are the problems that the Panel was trying to address.  Why does he think there was such a violent response to the Panel's recommendations?  Let me explain for him that the very aggressive response came from people who have allowed Literature Wales to drift into the "red risk" zone, who have been criticised for poor governance, who have connived in the disappearance of the Welsh Academy,  and who have allowed LW to drift into all sorts of areas where there have been clear overlaps with the functions of other bodies.  A body which spends 75% of its income from public sources on its own in-house expenditures when it should be supporting literature across Wales clearly needs some proper scrutiny.  These and many other matters are not the responsibility of "the old guard"  -- they are down to the inadequacies of the present generation of directors and employees, and probably the failure of due diligence by the Arts Council as well.  And the Hughes Panel was perfectly justified in drawing attention to the situation, and in asking the Minister to do something about it. 

Will the Minister do anything?  I doubt it.  The Culture Committee has just kicked the whole issue into the long grass, and there is no prospect of the ills that affect the industry being dealt with any time soon.

POSTSCRIPT

A reminder about what author Jasmine Donahaye said about LW not so long ago: "Literature Wales has had this coming for a long time. It’s been poorly managed and poorly governed, and its accountability to its funding body, the Arts Council, has been woefully inadequate. Perhaps the review panel ran out of vituperation after its condemnation of Literature Wales though, for precious little is saved in the report for the Arts Council, even though it is the Arts Council that has allowed Literature Wales to operate with apparent risk to public money...........Many writers have clearly felt increasingly alienated from Literature Wales and the direction it has taken."

She's not the only one to say things like this. If Gary had bothered to read the comments submitted to the Hughes Panel, he would have discovered a very wide disquiet with the organization which he seems so determined to protect.









Thursday, 8 March 2018

Literature Wales seeks new Chair and Directors



Lit Wales, that rather strange body with fingers in a good many pies, is undergoing a considerable revamp.  Whether this has anything to do with the close scrutiny associated with the Medwin Hughes Panel Report is unclear -- but Chair Damien Walford Davies is going, and maybe some of the current board as well.  The current directors are Kate North, Justin Albert, William Ayot, Eric Ngalle Charles, Elizabeth George and Angharad Wynne.  As we all know, one of the criticisms of the Panel centred on poor governance, and of course this was not exactly a ringing endorsement of the activities of the Chairman and the Board of Directors.

Anyway, new blood is being sought -- although it is unclear whether the Board of Directors will be kept the same size or expanded.  Get your application forms filled in now, folks!

http://www.literaturewales.org/lw-news/recruitment-chair-directors-literature-wales-management-board/

Recruitment of Chair and Directors for Literature Wales Management Board  


Literature Wales, the National Company for the development and promotion of literature in Wales, is looking for a dynamic and inspiring individual to lead the organisation as Chair.  It is also seeking to appoint new Directors to join its Management Board.

Joining our Board in 2018 will mean that you will actively shape the future of the organisation as it frames its new Strategic Plan for 2019-2022.

Literature Wales is a forward-looking organisation which thrives on change and responds positively and directly to challenges. We are looking for people who want to contribute to building a better society and ensure that literature is a voice for all. We are looking for strong advocates who share the vision and values of the organisation, and who can help shape the next phase of the organisation’s development.

Chair

Literature Wales is seeking its second Chair, as the distinguished poet and academic Damian Walford Davies is due to step down in Spring 2018 in accordance with the mandated length of office set out in the organisation’s Articles of Association.
The ability to communicate in both Welsh and English is essential for the role of Chair.

Directors

Literature Wales’ Board of Directors represents a broad sector and includes a range of expertise, experience and voices. We particularly welcome applications from young people and individuals who represent protected characteristics. In this current recruitment process, priority will be given to applicants who demonstrate knowledge of and/ or experience in at least one of the following areas:
Governance
Legal & HR
Finance
Development and Business
Children & Young People
International Networks
Communications & PR

Literature Wales is a bilingual organisation and a positive attitude towards the Welsh language is essential for the role of Director.

Closing Date: Monday 12 March 2018, 12.00 noon