Thursday, 22 December 2011

Tne first draft is done.....

Advance News --  the text of "Conspiracy of Angels" has now been completed -- just in time for Christmas.  The total length of the book is about 130,000 words -- a bit shorter than "On Angel Mountain" and a bit longer than "Guardian Angel".  Still a bit of tweaking to do, but I'm fairly content -- even after my wife's first reading through.  She's by far my fiercest critic, so if she is happy all is indeed well with the world.....

Now for readings by my faithful reading / review panel -- and if they are happy, and after other tweaks, the book will (I hope) be ready for publication around 1st March.

Monday, 19 December 2011

The winner gets her books


Above:  Top: Brian on duty at the Scolton Manor Christmas Fayre
Below:  Margaret Baker of Fishguard (left) with her daughter Louise Pope (centre) receives the prize of all seven of the Angel Mountain novels, from author Brian John at a lavish presentation ceremony at Greencroft Books HQ.
Well, that's what we have to say, but it wasn't that lavish, if truth be told.....!


 
ANGEL MOUNTAIN PRIZE DRAW  -- MARGARET GETS HER REWARD

Following the recent round of signing sessions, all book purchasers went into the Prize Draw held yesterday evening.  Today it was my pleasure to present the 7 books of the Saga to Margaret Baker of Fishguard.  So now Margaret and daughter Louise have plenty of Christmas reading ahead of them.  We hope they enjoy the books.

Scolton Manor book signings

Well, that's that for this year -- we were at Scolton Manor for the past two days -- at the inaugural Christmas Fayre.  Times are tough, and cash is tight, but overall I was pleased with the level of book sales.  And of course every signing session is a PR opportunity...

We have a winner for the prize draw -- a lady from Fishguard.  Watch this space....

Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Trefelin Poltergeist

You know about all these traditions of supernatural events on the slopes of Carningli?  Well, yesterday Inger and I came home from the Scolton Manor Christmas Fayre and were settling in for a nice cup of tea when there was a bang somewhere in the house -- we thought nothing of it, since old houses are quite noisy anyway, with creaks and bangs all the time, mostly caused by the central heating system.  Anyway, after a while I went into the living room to draw the curtains, and ------ MAYHEM!  A very nice Art Deco jug, inherited from my parents, was on the floor, smashed into pieces.  Another very pretty ceramic duck, given to Inger as a present from a friend, was also in pieces on the floor.  Assorted CDs which had been on the lid of the hi-fi system, were scattered about on the floor.  One of our cactus plants had various bits knocked off onto the floor.  One or two of the pictures were no longer hanging straight.  A couple of pictures of the grandchildren had been knocked over, and lay face down.  Very strange, I thought -- is there a burglar in the house?  Has somebody broken in and got back out again?  I did a quick check, and all the doors and windows were closed, with no sign of damage........

Then I went into the dining room, and MAYHEM there too -- a wooden Christmas light holder was on the floor, whereas it had been in the window when we went out.  So I checked out the house in a bit more detail, and went back into the living room, and raised my head from examining the floor to be be confronted by something truly terrifying, no more than two feet away from me, staring into my eyes......

AAAARRRGGGHHHH!!  Cue for dramatic music......

......... a grey squirrel, perched up on top of the curtain rail!  Before I could react, it bolted back into the dining room, hopped across the table to the fireplace, and disappeared up the chimney.  There was a short period of scrabbling inside the flue, and then all was quiet again.

How on earth it got down the chimney in the first place is a mystery.  It might have fallen down, and then rushed about the house in a panic, trying to get out.  Then when I appeared, it obviously had the same instinct as sheep do when they get in through a hole in the fence -- if in doubt, go out again by exactly the same route.  Climbing UP the chimney would have been no problem for a grey squirrel.

So there we are --- if you think Siamese cats are monsters who delight in smashing up houses, be afraid.  BE VERY AFRAID!  Grey squirrels can be far worse.......

Friday, 16 December 2011

Christmas signing sessions


Well, two venues down and one to go.  Last Sunday I was at the Ocean Lab in Fishguard, and today I was at Victoria Bookshop in Haverfordwest, selling a few books........  But by common consent, this season is VERY difficult everywhere.  I'm actually quite pleased that I don't have a new title out this Christmas -- it might have been difficult to shift, given the constraints on spending and the difficulties people have in shelling out for non-essentials.  Now I'm planning on a March launch for "Conspiracy of Angels" -- and that might be safer, in that there is less competition going on in the spring.  And maybe there will even be some optimism about, with the days getting lighter, daffodils in bloom, and the birds chirping merrily!!

Just one other event between now and Christmas -- the two-day Christmas Fayre at Scolton Manor, near Haverfordwest -- tomorrow and on Sunday, 11am to 4 pm each day.  Jollification and mince pies?  I hope so.....

And each book sold will go with a raffle ticket for my prize draw.  The winner will get a full signed set of the Angel Mountain books.  The draw will be held on Sunday evening.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Interview with Jamie and Louise



In response to my latest press release (copied below) I was invited to do an interview with Jamie and Louise on BBC Radio Wales on Tuesday 13th Dec.  The usual rigmarole -- all the way into Haverfordwest, into the college, shown through the labyrinth of corridors behind the canteen to the BBC studio, and then closited in there for the duration, with mysterious codes to be transmitted to Cardiff and strange messages in headphones etc.  All rather surreal......

Anyway, I quite enjoyed the interview, which lasted for about 15 mins with some really intelligent questions asked, and a nice sense of rapport between them and me.  I actually felt that they knew about the novels, and that they were interested.....

You can listen to the interview here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b017lkgt#synopsis
Just go to about 11.05, two thirds the way through the programme.  It will be available on iPlayer for another 5 days.
--------------------------

Author Celebrates Ten Years with Young Mistress

This Christmas Welsh author Brian John is celebrating ten years in the company of hie eccentric and feisty heroine Martha Morgan, who has become one of the best-loved characters in Welsh fiction.
Mistress Martha made her first appearance in the novel On Angel Mountain in the year 2001, in what was the author's first work of fiction.  The book was an instant success, and had to be reprinted within two months of first publication.  Ten years later, it is still in the Welsh best-seller list, and sales have racked up to over 25,000 copies.  The novel has been followed by six others, each one featuring the same heroine and following a different phase of her life in the first half of the nineteenth century.  The Angel Mountain Saga now has a worldwide cult following, and many readers refer to the heroine as "Mother Wales" -- in that she personifies all that is good (and bad) in the Welsh psyche.
 

Brian is staggered by the success of the novels, in which the heroine herself is the narrator.  "She is a deeply flawed heroine, " he says, "and maybe that is why so many people empathise with her. Although the stories are set at the same time as those of Jane Austen, there is no sign of that precious and rarified Regency world in Martha's Wales -- in some ways it had more in common with the Wild West, with lust and betrayal, murder and mayhem pulling the heroine -- and her guardian angels -- into appalling situations over and again.  But in spite of everything, she survives, to die in a manner of her own choosing........."
 

This Christmas, Brian will be chatting to fans of the series and signing copies of all seven of the Angel Mountain books at Victoria Bookshop in Haverfordwest, Scolton Manor, and Ocean Lab in Fishguard.  To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the "birth" of Martha Morgan, all books purchased will carry an entry ticket for a prize draw, with a full signed set of the novels going to the winner.

Further information:  Brian John on 01239-820470

NOTES

1.  Venues for the signings:  Ocean Lab, Fishguard, Sunday 11th December, 11.30 am - 1.30 pm;  Victoria Bookshop, Haverfordwest, Friday 16th December, 11.30 am - 1.30 pm;  Scolton Manor, near Haverfordwest, Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th December, 11 am - 4 pm

2.  Web site, including reviews:
http://www.angel-mountain.info/index.html




Conspiracy of Angels

In the new story Martha goes on a long journey to the Lake District, where she meets an ex-slave with a very disconcerting history........
This is one of the contemporary illustrations showing what happened during the torture of Louisa Calderon
And this is General Sir Thomas Picton, celebrated military hero, sadist, bully and all-round deeply unpleasant fellow.....  a reputation secure, or in tatters?

You heard it here first -- the book is written, and now needs to be edited and reviewed before the text is finalised and made ready for publication.  Purely by chance, one of the main storylines revolves around a famous 1806 case in which General Sir Thomas Picton, one of the nation's military heroes, was found guilty of the torture of a free mulatto girl during his time as Governor of Trinidad.  The prosecuting counsel was William Garrow, and a recent episode of the BBC series "Garrow's Law" deals with this case (with a good deal of artistic license) -- reopening the debate about whether Picton was a hero or a sadistic monster.

See “Garrow’s Law”, Series 3, Episode 3: “Dark Forest of the Soul” on iPlayer:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b017znhv

And here are some other links to an interesting debate in the media:

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/welsh-history/articles/2011/03/31/welsh-history-month-sir-thomas-picton-91466-28435622/

http://www.trinidadexpress.com/commentaries/Luisa_Calderon__victim_and_survivor-134440113.html 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-west-wales-15841995

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/south_west/6467417.stm 

CONSPIRACY OF ANGELS
Volume 8 of the Angel Mountain Saga
Publication March 2012

Martha Morgan, a young widow who is Mistress of the small estate of Plas Ingli, is seeking to put her life together again after a traumatic episode, the nature of which she will never divulge.  Following her 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 objects find their way into Martha’s hands -- a  cotton pouch containing a lock of hair, and a ritual dagger which must be handed in person to one of the country’s most famous military leaders. Shortly afterwards, during a visit to the Lake District, she meets a freed black slave, and she agrees to become involved in a secretive anti-slavery campaign. Its leaders are driven by compassion, but then their work is undermined by a shadowy organization called the Sons of Obeah and its fearsome leader John Wesley Jumbie.  Martha is drawn deeply into a web of intrigue which even involves the Prime Minister, and she tries desperately to stop a campaign of hostage taking and extortion.  In revenge, Jumbie swears to kill Martha, and at last the two of them come face to face.........

This is a tightly constructed tale with many twists and turns, where things are not always as they seem.  Many of 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, and General Sir Thomas Picton, who has been cursed, and whose days are numbered.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

New Jane Austen portrait

This rather murky portrait has recently been confirmed by the experts as probably genuine -- as a likeness of Jane Austen.  For some time its authenticity was doubted, and it was believed that there was really only one portrait of the author -- but having mulled over the essential features of this likeness, apparently (for the art experts) the nose swayed it........

She isn't that attractive, and has a studious and rather bookish look about her, but there is something cheeky about the face, and I can well believe that this is a genuine portrait of somebody astute at the business of poking fun at the precious world of the minor gentry in Regency times.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Mistress Martha goes for a walk

I found this nice picture on one of the Regency dress sites, and immediately I thought what a splendidly ambiguous photo it is.  Imagine Mistress Martha out for a walk, striding purposefully along one of her beloved North Pembrokeshire lanes on an early summer day.....

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Jane Austen Centre in Bath

My wife and I have just had a very pleasant couple of days in Bath, doing all of the tourist things.  It was good to visit the Jane Austen Centre at last.  if truth be told, I was a bit disappointed by it -- it's beginning to look a bit seedy and old-fashioned, and could do with some more modern interpretive displays.  But the staff were very friendly, and there was plenty of useful info there -- and a nice little shop.  The high point of our visit was the visit to the tea room upstairs -- which is excellent.  My wife enjoyed Mr Darcy's toasted sandwich, and I enjoyed the obligatory cream tea, with an excellent scone and clotted cream washed down by a pot of Miss Austen's tea blend.  I liked it -- but it was a bit too earthy for Inger's taste........

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Some questions and answers



This was published last year on my main web site.  Hope it may be of interest......
Why did you suddenly decide to write a novel after m any years of writing non-fiction?
This may sound spooky, but the decision was made for me. I had no thoughts of writing a novel when my wife and myself travelled to Gran Canaria on holiday in 1999. I picked up some strange bug on the plane, and even before we arrived at Las Palmas I felt terrible, with a high temperature and other flu-like symptoms. As soon as we arrived at the apartment I went to bed, and I spent the night wide awake, sweating profusely and with a splitting headache. I think I was delirious, but during the hours of darkness the story of a young woman of the regency / Victorial period came into my head. Places, characters, names, story-lines, details of the plot and even details of conversations -- they were all there. In the morning I felt better, and everything was still present inside my head. I told my wife about this strange experoience, and her instinctive response was “Well, you’d better start writing!” So I did. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before or since, and I still feel that the story of Martha Morgan was handed to me as a gift. It would have been churlish if I had not done something with it. If nothing else, I now know what the term “feverish imagination” actually means.
That explains one novel -- but SEVEN? When did the simple story turn into a Saga?
It was probably inevitable from the beginning. In On Angel Mountain I wrote what had to be written, but still I covered only a year of the young heroine’s life. I knew even then that there was almost another half century of Martha’s life to write about -- it was all there, inside my head. If the public had not responded enthusiastically about the book, that material would never have been written down. So in response to the pleading of my readers I decided to keep going, and the idea of a Saga of five volumes was born. Early in 2002 I set myself the target of writing, publishing and selling one volume a year for five years. Somehow or other I managed to hit that target -- but without the massive support and encouragement of my readership I don’t think I could have found the motivation or the stamina to complete all five! Then, with Martha in her grave (or was she?) people kept on asking me for more -- no now there are seven books............. and who knows where it will all end?
Why did you decide on a diary format for the books?
When the story came to me it was all about the diary of a long-lost woman -- its discovery and its contants. The bulk of the story had to be told through diary entries if I was to be true to the “gift” given to me in that strange delirious episode. That made me very apprehensive, since I know that very few successful novels have been written as diaries. But having started to write On Angel Mountain I discovered that there were many advantages to the diary format; for example, some entries can be short and others long, and if the “diarist” has nothing exciting to report, there can be gaps of months or even years. People seem to like relatively short entries with frequent breaks; it makes the phyisical process of reading easier. What is more, there is a great immediacy about diary entries. Things can happen very suddenly without prior warning. And diary entries can easily reflect changes in the heroine’s mood or in her opinions from one day to the next. Human beings are like that, especially if they are as impulsive and wilful as Mistress Martha! One has to resist the temptation to analyse motives and to prepare the ground for forthcoming events, and there is no room for lengthy sermonizing or moralizing. That’s fine by me, since some books (for example Hardy’s Tess) have too muuch of the author and too little of the heroine in them. The biggest problem with a diary is that Martha cannot, anywhere in its pages, describe herself -- readers have to get to know her through her reporting of what other people say about her, or simply through the way in which she describes conversations and events.
Wasn’t it risky for you, as a man approaching retirement, to presume to speak as a pregnant, suicidal young woman from another age?
Very risky indeed. But I had to do it, since that’s the way the story came to me. So I swallowed hard and had to get on with it, for better or worse. Luckily I seem to have got away with it, and many female readers have complimented me on the accuracy with which I have portrayed female moods and instincts. Maybe that’s the female side of me coming out, or maybe it’s down to accurate observation of women over a long period of time! But here I have to thank my wife Inger, who has been my chief critic and consultant on the female psyche. She reads everything as soon as it is written, and does not hesitate to put me right on misjudgements large and small, and indeed on all things feminine. I have to admit to some difficulties in writing the most intimate and erotic scenes in the five books, and also in describing a miscarriage as experienced by Martha herself. No man can really understand the emotional turmoil and physical anguish involved.
Where did Mistress Martha come from?
I really have no idea. I am as mystified by the creative process as anybody else. When the story of this feisty and imperfect heroine came into my head during a bout of high fever in 1999, she seemed to me to be ready-formed and in need of no manufacturing on my part. I saw myself as an artist creating a portrait of a model sitting (not very quietly) in front of me -- my task was to create a picture of her in words, hoping that my portrait might capture the essence of her character. I have known a lot of strong female characters -- my mother, two sisters, my wife, and many female friends -- maybe Mistress Martha owes something to all of them. She takes no orders from anybody, and on many occasions during the writing of the five books I have wanted her to do something and she has refused to cooperate. I know now why writers often say that their characters “take over” and dictate the development of the story. In retrospect, my heroine has always been right, and has refused to do anything which might be out of character.
Did you intend Martha to be a classic tragic heroine?
Again, I did not have to work at this. It was clear to me right from the beginning that as she travels through a long and exciting life she trails disaster in her wake. Her beauty is the source of her strength and also her curse, and as she survives one terrifying episode after another she loves and loses not just one good man but five. Many of her enemies love her too, or at least lust after her. In some ways she is naive about her own power over men; but her friends and family see it perfectly well, and do their best to warn her and protect her. There is an inexorable momentum in Martha’s tragedy. In some way it is surprising that she survives into her seventies, but it must be clear to all the readers of the Saga that Martha will not die in her bed. Nor does she......
Many readers have remarked that Mistress Martha is really “Mother Wales.” Have you set out to encourage that belief?
When I wrote On Angel Mountain I was simply intent upon writing a rattling good story with believable characters and enough twists and turns in the plot to keep readers happy. Young Martha Morgan was my heroine, but I had no plan to develop her as an iconic figure. Then a good friend read the novel and asked me whether I had modelled Martha on Chris Guthrie in Grassic Gibbons’ Sunset Song.
I had not even heard of that novel or its author. But I went off and read all three novels in A Scots Quair, and was bowled over by them. I can quite understand why Chris Guthrie is viewed by many students of Scottish literature as Mother Scotland. But she is a victim, and Martha Morgan is anything but a victim. I have not tried to manufacture her character, but I have tried to bring out different aspects of it in the five novels of the Saga. Maybe she does embody all that is best and worst about Wales. On the one hand she is beautiful, passionate, feisty, strong-willed and fiercely loyal and protective of those whom she loves. On the other hand she is prone to introspection and even deep depression and paranoia. At times she becomes arrogant and manipulative. She cannot keep her nose out of other peoples’ business, and becomes involved in great campaigns which can only lead her into trouble. But she hates injustice and suffering, and is prepared to take huge risks in the rightings of wrongs. She has an almost mystical relationship with the landscape in which she lives and the house which gives her shelter. She belongs to Carningli, and the mountain belongs to her. She is also proudly Welsh and refuses to submit to any authority which she does not respect. If that makes her Mother Wales, so be it!
There are many supernatural episodes in the stories. Are you cashing in on the Harry Potter / magic mania?
Absolutely not. When Mistress Martha “came to me” during my strange feverish episode, I knew immediately that she had to have special powers, and that premonitions and supernatural phenomena would figure strongly in the development of the story. I also knew that Joseph Harries Werndew had to be in the stories as Martha’s mentor and friend; he really did exist, and he really was a wizard, although I know nothing at all about what he was like as a person. It seemed important to me to flag up the naive belief in supernatural events that existed in rural Wales around the year 1800. I also wanted to show how wizards and witches were not just tolerated but often respected as healers, herbalists, sleuths and amateur psychiatrists in the days before Charles Darwin and the development of modern science. The idea of “the knowing one” is very important in the Welsh folk-tale tradition, and I wanted to remind readers of that fact.
What about symbols in the stories? Some readers say they see them everywhere!
Yes, there are many symbols in the books, although I have tried not to cram in so many as to make the stories into allegories or parables. Because Martha feels so strongly that she is a part of the landscape of Carningli, and that the landscape is a part of her, it is natural that the mountain itself should be her “cathedral” -- a sacred place, a great monument to the glory of God, and the place where she can find peace. The cave is an obvious symbol too -- it is dark and secret and enetered via a narrow slit in the rock face. That is Martha’s ultimate hiding place, where she can curl up like an embryo and escape from all that threatens to overwhelm her outside in the wicked world. It is found by others but defiled only once, by Moses Lloyd at the climax of the first novel. Ffynnon Brynach provides water for the Plas and is a place of anointment and cleansing; the kitchen table in the Plas kitchen is a sort of altar; Martha’s servants and family are the angels who protect her at the Plas, and the ravens are the angels who protect her on the mountain; the grove in Tycanol Wood, where Martha makes love with a number of different men during her long life, is sacred and profane, and a place of ecstasy and terror; Bessie is Martha’s conscience; Jones Minor Prophet is a Christ-like figure, too good to be allowed to survive. Some have seen symbolism in dates and numbers -- there may be symbols there, quite unbeknown to me.............
How would you summarize the themes of the seven novels?
The Saga as a whole is about resilience, love and honour, and about the ability of the human spirit to conquer brutality, betrayal and all manner of other evils. Mistress Martha is no paragon of virtue, but I hope that she is close enough to “everyman” and “everywoman” to give comfort and inspiration to at least some of my readers. Part One is about a naive and frightened young woman who learns -- the hard way -- how to survive when she is confronted by monstrous wickedness. Part Two (the most complex of the five novels) is about Martha’s recognition of her own strength and about taking responsibility for the righting of wrongs; it is also about the dangers of arrogance and manipulation. Part Three (a much darker and more introverted novel) is about loss, insecurity, mistrust and paranoia. Part Four is about Martha in middle age, deciding to use her talents to try and make the world a better place. And Part Five is about the dilemmas of old age, with Martha trying to live life to the full, and give her love to others, while confronting the inevitability of death. Part Six is a sort of ecological parable -- it's the closest I come to telling a fairy story! And Part Seven is very dark and brutal -- it is more of a thriller than the other stories, and some of the contents are shocking. Although many deaths and many brutal incidents are described in the pages of the novels, I see them as ultimately optimistic, and about the triumph of good over evil.
Why have you now killed off Mistress Martha, in defiance of the old rule “never kill off a good character”?
I am by no means fed up with her, and indeed I now know her so well that she is almost a part of the family. A couple of years ago I was afraid that with a sixth book, or a seventh, I might have had nothing new to say about her. I had dealt with five phases of her life and with many different aspects of her character. Even if I still had some “unused episodes” of her life story in my head, I was more than a little afraid that in a new book I would be going over old ground and becoming repetitive. On Angel Mountain was popular because the characters, the period and the context were all fresh and new to readers, and therefore exciting. With every successive book that excitement is increasingly difficult to recapture, because the reader who has been with me from the beginning is familiar with almost everything to do with Martha’s life. He or she is also familiar with my writing style and with the “conventions” of the books, such as the episodes in which each successive diary is discovered and translated. So I was worried -- but I need not have worried too much, and I found that there are still new things to say about Mistress Martha. That having been said, there are still a number of long episodes in Martha’s life which have not, as yet, been covered !
One major novel per year for five years was a very ambitious schedule. Do you write very quickly?
Yes, I do. I work straight onto the computer, banging away with two fingers, making lots of mistakes, and correcting as I go along. If I am working on a difficult passage I may keep going for twelve hours or more, with very few breaks; but I do seem to have the knack of getting away from writing for days -- or sometimes weeks -- and then picking up again where I left off. The critical thing is to keep the creative process going inside my head even when I am gardening or travelling or doing building work......... My greatest output in one day was about 11,000 words, but a more average output would be around 4,000 words. On Angel Mountain took me about eighteen months to write, but the other books were written much more quickly -- in about four months each. I wrote "Sacrifice" in two months flat. Now, of course, I know all of my characters well, and there is much greater efficiency in my research and plot development as well.
You mention research -- how much research and preparation goes into the books?
A considerable amount. Because I am writing historical fiction I have to get the social history -- and all sorts of other things -- right. For example, I have had to study folk traditions, the events of the farming calendar, beliefs, political issues of the day, the details of women’s clothing, and the timing of great events on the world stage. If you get anything wrong in historical fiction, you can be sure that somebody will jump on you from a great height! Luckily I have a considerable library of relevant books at home, and that has saved me from long hours spent in public libraries. The internet has been a boon. But a lot of the detail in the books was in my head already, from years of reading and writing about folk tales and local geography and history. The background detail is enjoyed by many readers, and there is of course a “learning” aspect to the reading of historical fiction. By the same token, as an author I enjoy the “teaching” opportunities that come in the quieter parts of the novels, and they serve a useful technical purpose too in permitting me to vary the pace of my storytelling.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Hit and run on the mountain

The papers have been full of it -- even the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Telegraph.  The ancient standing stone called Bedd Morris (which may or not be all that ancient) has been broken off by somebody who hit it with a truck or a tractor and who then (so we are reliably informed) "sped off into the darkness."  Very sad.  So there it was, broken off and lying at the roadside, causing no end of fun and games, and causing the National Park, the Town Council, Cadw, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all to make statements to the press and to vow that it would be repaired and restored to its rightful place.

Now the NPA has apparently taken it away to a secret location for safekeeping, and before it is bedded in concrete the archaeologists are going to have a little look to see if there is anything interesting in the hole where the stone should be standing.

Watch this space for further exciting reports......

Carningli -- the light and the dark

 I'm intrigued by the manner in which one location -- in this case Carningli -- can make different impacts upon different people.  I have always thought of it as a place of light and serenity, but in Bob Reeves's poem it is a place of terrible blackness -- captured in my son Stephen's musical setting.

Enjoy -- if you can!!  (Perhaps "enjoy" is the wrong word -- but I find the music, the words and the images very intense and unsettling.......)

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Mistress Martha and the tourists



 
I recently received this kind letter from a fan of the series, and it reminded me of the dilemma which arises when a "quiet place" becomes rather famous.  There is no doubt in anybody's mind, in these parts, that since the publication of the first Angel Mountain novel ten years ago there has been a great increase in tourism on the mountain and in the neighbourhood -- so I have to accept some responsibility for that.  You can see that in the wear and tear on the mountain footpaths, and simply in the frequency with which I encounter others when I go up onto the mountain for my own walks.  Many of those who climb the mountain are referring to it not as "Carningli" but as "Angel Mountain" -- and many are actually looking for Martha's cave!  Good thing or bad thing?  On balance, the effect of this "literary tourism" has to be good -- and I think all of the holiday cottage owners and B+B operators would agree with this.  They are after all locals who are seeking to make a decent living.  Property prices in the Newport area are certainly astronomical -- but they were high (as compared with other places within the National Park) well before Mistress Martha appeared on the scene........  and the phenomenon of young local people being unable to afford local properties goes back a long way.  That, sadly, is a matter of supply and demand -- and it is the way the market operates.

By and large, I am personally very happy that a new generation of people -- book readers -- have discovered Carningli and have started to think of it as "their special place".  There are few enough serene places left in this world, and Carningli continues to be one of them, except, maybe, for a few weeks at the height of summer.


================= 


 "I have just finished reading the previous five volumes for the third time, and once again have been brought to tears of both laughter and sadness in reading them. I find it hard to believe that it is all a work of fiction, brilliant!
I have holidayed in the area three times now, the first time when we visited Cilgwyn Candles where I picked up a copy of "On Angel Mountain" which after reading it and its sister volumes has resulted in me holidaying in the area twice since, all three times in holiday cottages -- the last time in a holiday cottage in the shadow of Carningli.  I have mixed feelings about this, as whilst holidaying in the area we are bringing in much needed revenue -- but I feel that by encouraging the holiday cottage industry we are out pricing the locals in the property market.  Perhaps I am following Mistress Martha's philosophy in a modern sort of way!
Anyway I now have a touring caravan so any future visits to your beautiful part of the world will be by such means."

Thursday, 6 October 2011

"Sacrifice" -- a new review

I have just discovered this review of "Sacrifice" on the Welsh Books Council site.  Well, somebody seems to have enjoyed it, and maybe I'd better keep going......

Brian John could not let Martha die; his readership was in denial. Hence Sacrifice, his only book not to incorporate ‘Angel Mountain’ in its title, though it is very much part of the saga which started with On Angel Mountain.

In this latest tale we join our heroine Martha Morgan, mistress of Plas Ingli, a small estate high on the slopes of Mount Carningli in north Pembrokeshire, in early 1808 and end with the birth of her son, Morfran, in the spring of 1810. At the start, the widowed Martha is of an exceptionally happy disposition as she and her five young children arrive at the fair in Portfield. Her mood is lightened still further with the meeting of a young Irishman by the name of Dominic Cunningham. What follows sets tongues wagging.

Not all remains well for Martha for long. Her 'dear friend' Joseph Harries is trampled by a herd of bullocks. This incident is quickly followed by a more worrying occurrence, though no one is hurt. George Lewis, a local lawyer and friend of Martha's, has his house burnt down, and arson is suspected.

Then there is a most disquieting and sinister happening. Will Owen, Martha's shepherd, is found in an exceptionally bad way with three stripes carved on his chest and a note written in his own blood: 'The RHIWALLWN FROM GRUNDDNEI.' The mystery is — who and why? Martha herself is targeted. As the novel unravels, we learn of four suspects who call themselves surveyors, macabre figures with whom Martha comes face to face, and her worst fears are realised.

Brian John is the master of suspense, though it is not all blood and gall. His descriptive prowess is eloquent. We are drawn to Carningli, the mountain where the Angels and the Ravens reside — a mystical place where Martha communes with nature, and the sheer majesty of the Pembrokeshire countryside. John's characters as usual are full of colour and verve; they leap off the page. One can understand why the Angel Mountain sagas have become something of a cult. Pick up any of the series and I guarantee you will want to read them all.

Well, Brian John, how about another?

Norma Penfold
A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Mistress Martha is ten years old.....



The first edition of "On Angel Mountain" was published exactly ten years ago, so a small celebration is probably in order.  Over the course of the decade I have written another six novels about the feisty heroine, and total sales for the series (all editions) are now creeping up towards 65,000.  Soon I'll hit the 25,000 mark for "On Angel Mountain", which has gone through seven printings, and which is still available in Greencroft, Corgi and audio editions.

I have a rather soft spot for the very first jacket, shown above.  It has "A Pembrokeshire Tale" as the subtitle, so if you see it anywhere, snaffle it up -- it may be worth something in the future!!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

For Women Only.......

Here are the three jackets used for the Corgi editions of the first three books of the saga.  For better or for worse, Corgi decided that the books were going to be read by women only.  Can you imagine a man buying one of these at an airport bookstall and reading it on a plane journey?  I think not........... actually, I agreed with these covers at the time, on the assumption that Corgi were the experts and probably knew what they were doing.  In retrospect, it was a disaster to cut off 50% of the potential market for the books.  I'm much happier now that we are back with the old covers again, and the Corgi episode is consigned to the dustbin of history..............

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Lit Walks News


Just done the last Literary Walk of the season.  Numbers were down on last year, partly because of the very unsettled weather this summer, and partly because cash is tight and people are reluctant to spend money on anything right now!  So next year I plan to change the formula -- I will put walks on, but only on request, if there are at least six people wanting to come, and if we can find a convenient date.  Watch the web site for further info in due course.....

Friday, 9 September 2011

Last Lit walk of the Season

On Sunday 11th September I am doing my last "Literary Walk" of the season -- on Carningli as ever.  Start time - 2 pm.  Finish by 5 pm.  For further details, see the web site:

http://www.brianjohn.f2s.com/angelmountain43.html

Forecast doesn't look too good, but we live in faith......

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Greener Grass -- still green?



In 2007 I published the following article in The Author, the house journal of the Society of Authors.  It caused a lot of interest, and gave many self-published authors and small presses great encouragement on the basis that if I could do it, so could they. Four years have passed, and i thought it might be fun to look at the article again, and add some notes explaining what has happened since 2007.  These are added to the article in red.  Enjoy!


Copyright © Brian S John -- not to be reproduced without written permission

THE GREENER GRASS

Brian John considers the relative merits of self-publishing and selling out

(This article was published in the Summer 2007 edition of The Author, pp 59-60)


I suspect that there is not a self-published novelist anywhere who would not have been flattered by a surprise fax message from one of the biggest publishers in the world which said “Please may we buy your books?”

I also suspect that if said publisher had refused, just five years earlier and in a time of different priorities, to read the first chapter of your first novel, you would have been even more likely to sign on the dotted line. With a grin on your face. Of course, you would have played hard to get, with the excellent assistance of this Society. But your signature would never have been in doubt.

That's all as true today was it was in 2007.  I would probably still sign on the dotted line, if asked....

Well, it happened to me. The coveted books were my Angel Mountain novels, first published under my own Greencroft Books imprint and already best-sellers in Wales. A total of 30,000 copies shifted thus far, without a single review in a quality Sunday or daily paper and without a sniff from either Richard or Judy. No taste, some people. But thousands clearly do feel passionately committed to the books, and this was picked up on during my publisher’s routine trawling of the literary waters on the far-flung shores of the British Isles. The company, to its credit, has an imaginative policy of using its reps to find new authors and new titles that have already been edited, published and market tested; and that is something that many “discovered” authors have reason to be thankful for. In my case, rep Ian Tripp conspired with bookseller Marley Davies to send my books secretly up to headquarters, where the editorial team was discerning enough to fall in love with my heroine Martha Morgan.

The total of books shifted has now risen to about 60,000 -- including about 25,000 of On Angel Mountain.  I was quite surprised myself to realize that I have doubled the sales of the titles over 4 years.  And there have still been no reviews in the quality papers, and the Richard and Judy Show is no more. 

The first three of the five novels were bought for a modest advance, and all three are now published by Corgi Books. Fifteen months have elapsed since the appearance of On Angel Mountain as the first of my titles, and I have had time to assess the relative merits of small cottage and big house. I still ask myself whether I did the right thing by signing on that dotted line, although I am only too aware that without a contract with a big publishing house I would not have had the remotest chance of breaking into the big-time in a world dominated by key account managers, celebrities, EPOS and BookScan, and brutal price competition. For better or for worse, my old editions have become collectors’ items as the Corgi volumes take their places on local as well as distant bookshop shelves. The fans of the series are confused, but they will adapt over time.

I might as well be honest and say that the Corgi adventure was a disaster.  They did publish the three books on schedule, having made very minor textual changes to them, but -- too late -- I discovered that not one of the books had a proper marketing or publicity budget, and that my editor (who was the only real advocate for the books within the publishing house) left before any serious promotion could be done internally -- or to the serious big buyers of books in the UK.  So the books effectively sank without trace -- and the bulk of the selling that was done, was done by me.  I suspect that Corgi knew that that would be the case -- they are not stupid.  They knew that without any effort on their part, I would continue to work with the books, and that they could not lose money on them.  In the event,  On Angel Mountain sold something like 7,000 copies -- which is not too bad, all things considered.

The pros and cons? Self-publishing is a grind, but there are great joys too. Once you have been rejected by 53 publishers and just as many agents (as I was) you are driven by the desire to show them all how wrong they were. You can create without constraint, to your own timetable. Writing, editing, format and cover design remain under your own control. You need to organize refereeing, if you are not to slip into the shadowland of vanity publishing. You have to do all of the publicity yourself, and force yourself into the terribly unBritish business of self-promotion. You must choose a printer and work with him. Then you must use the house as a warehouse, and try, under pressure from your loved ones, to move the stock fast into whatever outlets you can find so as to recover your living space. Paperback novels are the bane of self-publishers, since they are light and bulky and may be packed only fourteen to a box. Gain some comfort from the fact that boxes stored in every spare space will make your house cosy at a time when we are all exhorted to improve our domestic insulation. Eighteen months ago I had five Angel Mountain novels in print, and around 1000 full book boxes in the house. Thankfully, most of those have now gone, and my wife is recovering her sanity.

That is all as true as it ever was. There are now seven novels in the series, and each one has to be kept in print.  That means that every now and then another 120 boxes of bulky books arrive on a pallet, and have to be manhandled into the house, to be stored under beds, in the attic, and wherever there happens to be a bit of space.

As a self-publisher for 33 years, I have made a reasonable living. I know my local readers, book trade and media well, which guarantees press coverage and also rapid sales through visitor centres, gift shops and other “non-trade” outlets whose owners have never even heard of Nielsen BookScan. My five best-sellers have not registered on any system other than my own sales record -- if they had, each one of them would have made an appearance on the Fiction Heatseekers lists. I’m not complaining -- it’s fun to be a big fish in a small pond.

Still true, although I am just as hard hit by the recession as everybody else, and sales are not as fast as I would like them to be.

But self-publishing is undoubtedly a lonely and vulnerable business. You spend long hours in the car on delivery runs, and make many sales journeys which are fruitless. You have hardly any money for advertising. You have to budget for the payment of hefty printing bills, and that involves careful planning. I have done that without ever taking a loan, always using part of the income from one book to finance the printing of the next. You can become isolated, and unless you make an effort to involve family and friends in refereeing, editing, proof reading and delivery runs you can become discouraged by your failures or deluded by your little successes.

All that is still true.

Life with a big publisher is very different. For a start, you get paid your advance up front. You deal with an experienced editor, proof-reader and publicist, and work with reps who know the trade better than you ever will. The feedback between you and your team is stimulating and creative. Your book is professionally produced to an exacting standard, with (as in my case) a wonderful jacket. You do not have to worry about holding stock, and are relieved that somebody else looks after sales and record-keeping. Weeks pass. With the book in print, and in the shops, and with initial signing sessions and author tours out of the way, you can get stuck into the next book. That’s the theory, anyway.
 
That's still the theory.  On the matter of jackets. I did think the three jackets Corgi designed for my titles were wonderful, but I have now changed my mind.  All three were aimed straight at the female market, and not one of them had a hope in hell of being read openly by a bloke on a tube train.  That was their marketing strategy, such as it was -- aim straight at the female market.  Not quite the chick lit one, but maybe a bit above......   The feedback I have had from readers is that almost without exception they prefer my A5 format and my somewhat quirky jackets -- especially the jackets designed by my son Martin, with the constant themes running through all the reprint covers.

However, there are several interesting things that emerge over time. First, that if your book has been bought cheaply less money is spent on promotion, with little trace of a publicity “campaign”. Second, that in some areas of publicity, particularly at a local level and outside London, your own knowledge and contacts may be greater than those of your publicist. (That may be unfair -- the truth may be that publicists are rather good at their job, but that they are also publicising 30 other books at the same time as yours.) Third, that the post-publication promotional effort (which you want to last for ever) actually lasts for maybe a week or two, after which time your publicist has become preoccupied with the next blockbuster. Fourth, that ongoing publicity work is really down to you as the author, and if you are of a retiring disposition that may cause considerable stress. Fifth, that you are not always as well informed about strategies and developments as you might wish to be. Sixth, that the publishing house has bought your books because they were local successes, and because it assumes that local sales will continue at an acceptable level. Your publisher can settle into the comfort zone in the knowledge that the company is unlikely to lose money if you, the author, continue to work the sales network which you have already established. To emphasise this point, my first novel in the new edition has now sold around 5,000 copies, and I have personally sold 1,000 of those to non-trade outlets. 

That's all true still -- although in the event the sales of the first title got up to c 7,000 in the end.  The sales of the other two titles were very poor -- maybe 2,000 copies of each.  That is the fate of second and third volumes of a series in which number one does not make it into the big time.

Finally, the matter of finance. When I self-published my novels and distributed them myself I cleared £3 per copy sold, on a £6.99 cover price. With the “big house” editions, I now earn an average royalty of 50p per copy sold. That is down to the pressure of massive discounting. You do not need to be a genius to work out that I need my publisher to sell 36,000 copies of On Angel Mountain to give me the same earnings as I obtained originally on 6,000 copies of my self-published edition. The new edition has already earned out its advance, which is I suppose something of an achievement, but the quantum leap in sales which I hoped for has not happened, because the publisher is concentrating on selling into precisely the same market as that which I originally carved out as a self-publisher. That is a disappointment to me, since I had hoped for something more imaginative. 

That confirms what I said above.  After three years of increasing frustration with the Corgi operation, I was driven eventually to ask for the rights to be returned to me.  To their credit, they agreed without question, and the transition was made seamlessly.  I immediately issued new editions of the three novels under my own imprint, and sales immediately shot up.

But I went into this with my eyes open, and one has to take risks in writing and publishing as in any other field of human endeavour. I was probably right to sign on the dotted line. One day Judy (she of the TV show) will have On Angel Mountain pushed under her nose, and she will become entranced by Mistress Martha Morgan, super-heroine, just like everybody else. Look out, Lizzie Bennett and Dan Brown.
BRIAN JOHN’s three titles published by Corgi are On Angel Mountain, House of Angels, and Dark Angel.

Well, the TV show is no more, but I suppose Judy could still fall in love with the books if she ever gets round to reading them.  In the meantime, I still wait for a TV or film producer to decide that he or she wants to take possession of the story, and that they will come to me with a contract to sign on the dotted line......... 

Brian 's Words and Music -- this Friday...

 Here's the press release put out by Theatr Gwaun concerning the event this coming Friday...


Brian John's Words & Music at 4U, Fishguard this Friday!

Local author Brian john is the latest under the spotlight in 4U's Word & Music season. Born in Carmarthen, Brian graduated from Oxford and has worked as a field scientist in Antarctica and eleven years as a Geography Lecturer in Durham University. He also began writing text books, many on the Ice Age and glaciers – on which he is an expert.

Since moving to Pembrokeshire he has concentrated on writing and is now the prolific author of more than 70 books of all shapes and sizes, covering a wide range of topics. Perhaps his best known is the historical fiction series, the Angel Mountain saga, which now runs to seven volumes.

At 4U however he will be sharing with the audience the work of other writers, choosing six pieces of work that he most admires, together with the six pieces of music that mean most to him. The audience will be able to listen to the music, together with poems and extracts from his book choices read by two actors. And, in conversation, learning more about his life and passions.

Brian John in Words & Music is at 4U, Fishguard on Friday September 9 at 8pm. Tickets are £6.50 (FOTG members £5.50) from the box office on 01348 873421 or on line at:

its4u.org.uk

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Technicolour mountain


April has to be my favourite month on the mountain -- when everything is fresh, and spring flowers are bursting out on all sides.  There is also something about the incredibly bright fresh green of the bilberry on the higher slopes of the mountain that adds a magical quality to the light.....

BUT August is actually not too bad either.  The gorse on the higher slopes is in full bloom (it's a different variety from the gorse that blooms in April and May on the lower slopes) and is complemented by those lovely pastel shades of purple and mauve from the heather that has spread everywhere above the bracken zone -- especially on those areas burnt within the last few years.  On the highest heath areas the grasses are turning white and buff.  Lower down the deep green swathe of the bracken covered slopes is breaking up as the bracken starts to die back -- and patches of foxy red are beginning to appear and spread.  By the end of September the browns and reds will have replaced the green, and suddenly it becomes easy to walk anywhere on the common.  Among the crags and scree slopes on the mountain, the extraordinary bilberry green is also beginning to wane, and some leaves are turning to red and even yellow.

The subtlety and range of colours at this time is extraordinary -- and that's not even counting the colours of the old grey and blue rocks, which change subtly as the slabs and boulders get wet and dry out, and as they are illuminated by the sun as cloud shadows drift across the landscape.

Not a bad old place.....

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Ten years of the Angel Mountain Saga

Doesn't time fly when one is having fun?  A tenth anniversary has crept up on me...... with the realization that it is ten years since the first publication of "On Angel Mountain".  Since then, lots of reprints, six new volumes (and another on the way) and a short-lived and rather disastrous episode involving Transworld and Corgi -- which taught me that big publishers are not necessarily any more efficient than little ones, and that in certain circumstances (such as mine) you are better off just doing it all yourself.

Anyway, with total sales of the series now nudging 60,000, and with something like 25,000 copies of "On Angel Mountain" sold in all editions, I suppose I should be reasonably pleased.

Planning a few things to celebrate the tenth anniversary -- watch this space!


Monday, 29 August 2011

PENfro Book Festival

Plans are now well advanced for the inaugural book festival at Rhosygilwen on 18th September.  There will be 30 trade stands in Neuadd y Dderwen (the main hall) and 26 speakers in all, giving shorter and longer talks and participating in "conversations" with other authors.  Three venues will be in use -- the Conservatory in the mansion for keynote addresses and other talks; the bar, mainly for poetry events; and the summer house in the mansion grounds for childrens' and family events.  the summer house events are free, but there is a charge of £5 each for the conservatory and bar events.  A Festival Pass, costing £10, will give free access to as many of the events as you can physically get to;  that has to be good value, and Festival Passes can be purchased in advance and on-line by going to this web page:

http://www.rhosygilwen.co.uk/eventDisplay.aspx?e=107

There is already massive interest in the festival, and we are convinced that we will have an excellent turnout from book-loving people from across West Wales.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Greencroft Books at the PENfro Bookfest

We will be taking a stall in Neuadd y Dderwen for the day of the festival, Sunday 18th September 2011.  The hall will be buzzing -- 30 stalls taken by publishers, journals, booksellers, agencies interested in literature, and groups of authors.  Entry to the "book fair" part of the festival is free.

I'll be on hand to talk about the Angel Mountain Saga and my other books, and to sign copies, apart from the times when I shall be away on "official duty" -- for my pains, I'm Chairman of this one, although it would be nice if somebody else will take over for next year....

Miss Carn Ingli



This is nice -- a lovely piece of work from Sonya Dawn Flewitt  -- it's yours for £2,200!  Always happy to give artists a plug.....

The profile is an unusual one -- there is a long tradition of the mountain having the profile of a reclining woman, but from the south and SE the profile is very different indeed, with head to the left, breast, rib cage and raised knees.  And of course, it is this profile -- or the other one -- that is responsible for the tradition that the mountain has something to do with Mother Earth, or the Earth Goddess.

http://www.greenstagegallery.co.uk/artist/76/sonya-dawn-flewitt

Friday, 19 August 2011

PENfro Book Festival

For my pains, I'm chairing the organizing committee for this inaugural Book Festival at Rhosygilwen on Sunday 18th September.  Much more info here:

http://penfrobookfestival.info/

Keep an eye on the web site for developments.  It's updated almost every day.  leaflets are going out this weekend, and media coverage will slip into gear at the beginning of September.

Click on the images to enlarge them -- and if you go to the web site you can download PDFs of both the poster and the programme.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

PENfro Book Festival programme coming soon.....

The progamme for the Book Festival (18 Sept) is just about organized -- just a few details to be sorted out.  It looks like being a fun-filled day, with a very strong local dimension and also some well-known keynote speakers like Stan Barstow, Trevor Fishlock, and Catrin Collier.

All 30 of the tables in Neuadd y Dderwen are now booked, so the hall will have a nice buzz about it!  The talks and worshops will be in the Conservatory in the big house, in the bar next to the big hall, and in the summer house in the garden.  There will be nominal charges for the "events" and a day pass costing £10 will entitle the bearer to attend everything -- bearing in mind that quite a few events will be going on in parallel.

I'll be giving a talk on the writing of the Angel Mountain Saga, and I'll also have a table in the hall.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Book and Craft Fair today

I'm doing a Book and Craft Fair at Rhosygilwen today -- and looking forward to a pleasant occasion in the company of other booky people.  We have grotty weather just at the moment -- but let's hope it brightens up as the day goes on.  I HATE unloading books from the car when it's raining.  Books and rain don't go together at all well.

Anyway, let's hope I sell a few books.  Even if I don't come home with two hundred quid in my pocket, it's always good to talk to readers about the Angel Mountain books and about Mistress Martha.  It's called public relations..... and if you don't do it, you are in trouble.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Cnapan Game

Three pictures from the Cnapan game on Traeth Mawr this evening -- in rather poor light, and with a bitterly cold wind coming in from the sea.  But a couple of dozen brave souls joined in, and took the game very seriously.  It was TOUGH -- no quarter asked nor given.  To his eternal credit, Griff Rhys Jones joined in, and took some pretty hard tackles, emerging more or less unscathed........

The match was arranged by Pete and Ursula Smith, for a TV documentary in which Griff RJ follows the old pilgrim route from Aberystwyth to St David's -- stopping off to examine assorted quirky things (such as Cnapan) along the way......

The players enjoyed it, and agreed that if we could just get 30 players per side, we could mount a fantastic spectacle.  The game is unrelenting and very fast, and with a bit of thought from players and coaches, it could be very sophisticated from a tactical point of view, and also great to watch.

Click on the photos to enlarge.  Giff is on the left, in the middle photo.

Two walks coming up...



I'm leading two walks this coming Bank Holiday weekend -- one on Saturday, starting and finishing at Bedd Morris standing stone, for the PLANED Preseli Walking Festival, and then another on Bank Holiday Monday, 30th May.  That will be one of my normal "Literary Walks" on Carningli, taking in some of the key locations in the Angel Mountain stories.  I enjoy these walks, especially if I have a group of maybe 6 or 8 people.  More than that, and I have to deal with a crowd, and less that that, things feel a bit thin.  That having been said, it has happened, more than once, that the weather is so bad that nobody turns up at all, apart from me.  In that case, I go for the all all on my own, enjoying the solitude on the mountain when it is in one of its darker moods.....

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Cnapan returns to Big Beach

Tomorrow at around 6 pm there will be a "game" of cnapan on Traeth mawr (Big Beach) in Newport -- staged with the help of around 60 rugby players for a TV documentary featurung Griff Rhys Jones.  Griff is following the old pilgrim trail from Aberystwyth to St David's, and is hopping off to look at assorted quirky things along the way.  he and the TV producer were quite kaken with the idea that cnapan used to be played on the beach -- so Pete and Ursula Smith have done their best to rustle up a goodly number of beefy individuals to have a go at the game on the sand.  We'll try to make the game as authentic as possible -- but I dare say the players will not be too well up on the tactical niceties of the game.

The last time that the game was played on the sands was in the 1990's -- for an S4C programme.  before that, we played the game for a decade of so around 1985 - 1995, for an annual "Cnapan Trophy" -- with teams from the parishes of Newport and Nevern competing.

Why is this relevant to angel Mountain?  Well, the game features quite prominently in the stories, and of course one of the great tragedies of the saga -- the death of Martha's husband David -- occurs in the middle of a cnapan game on Traeth Mawr.

Friday, 20 May 2011

The Mynydd Melyn settlement

I had a pleasant walk yesterday from Bedd Morris to Pengwndwn, up towards Carn Enoch, and then back via Mynydd Melyn.  It's just a gentle summit but there's a lot of rough ground around it, and lost among the gorse bushes there are several ring cairns / roundhouses / circular enclosures.  They are rather like those near Carn Edward, but one is very strange, seemingly divided into segments.  Must go and examine it again in more detail..... but in the meantime I'll speculate that these features belong to a small Mynydd Melyn Community, probably dating from the Bronze Age, and confirming yet again that there was quite a sizeable population (several hundred people?) living in a number of distinct clusters on the upland ridge of Carningli and Dinas Mountain.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Another burial site on Carningli?

This is a boulder I have often walked past before, on the south side of the mountain and not far from Carningli Lodge.  It's easy to find because it's on the slope beneath a prominent holly tree.   I was walking past it again yesterday when I noticed that it has a slight ridge made of smaller stones running round it.  The ridge is about 3m across.  It's most obvious on the downslope side, and of course it's invisible at the height of summer when the bracken is high.  There is a substantial cavity beneath the boulder, and although it appears to be in its "natural" position it might have been levered up and then partly supported on smaller stones.  Could it have held the cremated remains of one or more local inhabitants?  It reminds me of some of the other "sub-megalithic" burial chambers in Pembrokeshire -- and of the simple burial sites in the Garn Wen "cemetery" above Goodwick.  These are sometimes called "earthfast" chambered tombs -- very different from the hugely impressive  Pentre Ifan or Carreg Samson near Mathry which are dated to the Neolithic.  These are classic megalithic sites.

As I understand it, these "lazy" tombs (made with a minimum of effort and ceremonial) date from some time after the "high point" of Neolithic tomb building, when traditions were changing.  So could this feature date from the Neolithic / Bronze age transition, and could it be associated with the relics of round houses and other features found both on this side of Carningli and on the Newport side?

Captured on film.....

There I was, sitting in the sun on top of the mountain, chomping on my breakfast sandwich and looking down on a world that was just waking up, and all of a sudden along comes this hulking great military transport plane (a Hercules?) flying very low, and following the Gwaun Valley.  Is there nowhere peaceful left in this world?

Monday, 18 April 2011

On hearing the first cuckoo

Yes, the cuckoo was there when I went up the mountain this morning, and enjoyed breakfast on the summit.  It was a perfect spring morning -- just a gentle breeze, and hazy sunshine.  High tide in the estuary too.  A seagull chased the male hen harrier across the southern flank of the mountain -- very aggressive it was.  A pair of rather agitated ravens -- they must have a nest not far away.  Skylarks up above, as ever.

Strange that one sets such store by the first hearing of the cuckoo in spring.  Are we taught to think that this is really the first sign of spring?  Or is it something instinctive?  Status is involved too -- one always feels a glow of pride, when talking to others, if one has heard the first cuckoo before they have.  On the other hand  one feels a tinge of disappointment when somebody says:  "Oh,  I heard the cuckoo three days ago!"

Strange to have such romantic feelings about a bird that is a parasite and a seriously nasty piece of work.....

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Mistress Martha's Tenth Anniversary

Probably I'm the only one to have noticed it, but this year is the tenth anniversary of the publication of the first Angel Mountain book, with the cover as above.  That cover should now be worth a fortune, with the subtitle "A Pembrokeshire Tale".  At that time (in 2001) I had no idea that the single book would turn into a Saga -- and later editions had different subtitles on them.

So ten years ago, in March, I was still hard at work writing the first episode in the exciting life story of Mistress Martha.  The time has just flown by!  And now, seven volumes and about a million words later,  I still haven't finished with Martha.  Seven is such an awkward number, don't you think?  Eight has a much nicer ring to it.

Another magical day.......

 Tangled oak tree on the south flank of the mountain, not far from Carningli Lodge.  Note the big nest -- buzzard? raven?

Another magical day on the mountain, doing a guided walk for a walking group of about 24.  Good time had by all, and we managed to enjoy our picnic near the summit in bright sunshine, with swirls of sea mist rolling over the crags and down the south flank.  Very atmospheric, it was.........

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A walk on Dinas Mountain

Had a wonderful walk yesterday on Dinas Mountain, scrambling among the tors of Carn Enoch, Garn Fawr etc.  Bright sunshine, just a balmy breeze, and blue sky overhead;  sea mist drifting in off the coast and covering the lowland strip.  There were masses of skylarks singing their hearts out, and as I sat near Carn Enock a male hen harrier went winging past, heading purposefully towards Cwm Gwaun.  It was all quite beautiful.....

People don't go up onto Dinas Mountain enough.  It's very easily accessible by road -- and in some way it's wilder and more serene than Carningli.......

Monday, 14 March 2011

Literary Walks -- summer season

Here again are the dates and details for 2011.  Note that some of the walks are picnic walks (food not provided!) which start earlier and run over the lunchtime period:



LITERARY WALKS PROGRAMME 2011

Easter Sunday, 24th April 2011, 2-5 pm. Literary Walk on Angel Mountain (Carningli) led by local author Brian John. Start and finish: car-parking area on Dolrannog Road, near Newport, grid ref:  SN 070 373.  A 2 mile easy ramble -- ring 01239-820470 for further details.  Adults £4, children £2. Proceeds to charity.

Monday 2nd May 2011, 10am - 2 pm   Literary Picnic on Angel Mountain (Carningli) led by local author Brian John. Start and finish: car-parking area on Dolrannog Road, near Newport, grid ref:  SN 070 373.  A 2 mile easy ramble -- ring 01239-820470 for further details.  Adults £4, children £2.  (Bring packed lunch)  Proceeds to charity.

Bank Holiday Monday, 30th May 2011, 2 - 5 pm;  Literary Walk on Angel Mountain (Carningli) led by local author Brian John.  Start and finish: car-parking area on Dolrannog Road, near Newport, grid ref:  SN 070 373.  A 2 mile easy ramble -- ring 01239-820470 for further details.  Adults £4, children £2. Proceeds to charity.

Sunday 7th August 2011, 10am - 1 pm.   Literary Picnic on Angel Mountain (Carningli) led by local author Brian John. Start and finish: car-parking area on Dolrannog Road, near Newport, grid ref:  SN 070 373.  A 2 mile easy ramble -- ring 01239-820470 for further details.  Adults £4, children £2.  (Bring packed lunch.)   Proceeds to charity.

Sunday 21st August 2011, 10am - 1 pm.   Literary Picnic on Angel Mountain (Carningli) led by local author Brian John.  Start and finish: car-parking area on Dolrannog Road, near Newport, grid ref:  SN 070 373.  A 2 mile easy ramble -- ring 01239-820470 for further details.  Adults £4, children £2.  (Bring packed lunch.)  Proceeds to charity.

Bank Holiday Monday, 29th August 2011, 2-5 pm;  Literary Walk on Angel Mountain (Carningli) led by local author Brian John.  Start and finish: car-parking area on Dolrannog Road, near Newport, grid ref:  SN 070 373.  A 2 mile easy ramble -- ring 01239-820470 for further details.  Adults £4, children £2. Proceeds to charity.

Sunday 11th September 2011, 2-5 pm.  Literary Walk on Angel Mountain (Carningli) led by local author Brian John. Start and finish: car-parking area on Dolrannog Road, near Newport, grid ref:  SN 070 373.  A 2 mile easy ramble -- ring 01239-820470 for further details.  Adults £4, children £2.  Proceeds to charity.

Further info:

Each year since 2003 author Brian John has led a series of easy 'literary walks' on Angel Mountain, involving  easy rambles through "Martha Morgan Country".  These have proved very popular, and in 2011 Brian will once again lead walks for those who would like to (a)  talk to the author about the novels of the Angel Mountain Saga, and (b) discover some of the key sites referred to in the stories.

Most walks start at 2 pm and finish by 5 pm, unless indicated otherwise in the list.  Participants visit the site of Plas Ingli, Ffynnon Brynach, the approximate location of Martha's cave, and the summit of Carningli.  There is normally plenty of time for questions and discussions, and Brian also points out other features of interest on the mountain, including  traces of the old Carningli volcano, traces of Bronze Age settlements, remnants of the Carningli Iron Age hillfort, and other items relating to natural history and the landscape.

Participants are advised to wear stout footwear and warm clothing, and to be prepared for a gentle climb to the rocky summit.  This should not be a problem for people of average fitness.

Starting point:  the car parking area at the foot of the "green track" which leads to the Carningli summit.  Grid reference:  SN 070 373

Directions:  take the Cilgwyn Road out of Newport.  After one mile, fork right onto the Dolrannog Road (no through road).  Cross the cattle grid and continue for c 400 yards.  The grassy car parking area is on your left, overlooking Brithdir and the "cwm" of Cilgwyn.

Charge:  £4 per person.  Children of school age £2.  All proceeds to charity.

Inclement weather:  The walks may be cancelled if the weather is miserable.  In case of doubt ring on the morning of the walk to 01239-820470.