Monday, 30 December 2019

The big TV costume dramas for 2020

"Belgravia" -- from the Julian Fellowes stable -- and of course unutterably posh.......

Here is a list of the 44 big TV dramas which we can expect in 2020:

Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey) seems to be involved in far too many of them  -- spinoffs from the plush series which he wrote in order to satisfy the global obsession with British upper-class nostalgia.   Actually, he has the ideas and lends his name to things nowadays, and the bulk of the research and writing is done by his writing teams.......

Anyway, there are many good things to look forward to -- but nothing, as far as I can see, from Wales.

Highlights -- a remake of "All Creatures Great and Small", "Around the World in 80 Days", "Father Brown",  "Leonardo" (featuring Aidan Turner, looking as if he has just walked off a Poldark set), "The Luminaries" (set in New Zealand), "The North Water", and season 4 of "Victoria."  I'm looking forward to a second season of "World on Fire."

What does Gavin and Stacey say about Wales?

In Wales Arts Review, Gary Raymond doesn't have anything kind to say about the Christmas "special" featuring Gavin and Stacey and the rest of the gang.  I think he's being rather unkind -- after all, this was intended to be a family viewing programme at peak Christmas viewing time, and on that basis it hit the spot.  OK -- there was no character development, and there was nothing particularly adventurous in the script, and everybody behaved exactly as predicted, but there is a certain pleasure to be had in rediscovering old friends, and finding that they haven't changed one little bit.  And for some viewers, these characters would have been new and fresh....... so the writers and the actors delivered exactly what the BBC wanted.

Where I do agree with Gary, it's on the matter of the portrayal of Wales.  Quote:  Team Wales is a nebulous secret society that works out of the old underground Torchwood set in Cardiff Bay, and its main purpose is to pretend Wales is a global superpower. It doesn’t matter to Team Wales that the success of Gavin and Stacey, at least in part, has always been in the portrayal of Welsh people as simpletons.   Does "Team Wales" (made up of the top BBC brass and members of the political / cultural establishment in Cardiff) really believe that Wales is hugely influential in the world of TV drama?  Yes, maybe, if its own media hype is to be believed.   Does Team Wales conspire to portray Wales as a land of simpletons and clowns (and Celtic noir misery fests)?  I doubt that -- but it doesn't exactly work very hard at disabusing those who think that the Welsh TV industry is lacking in both imagination and commitment and that it is excruciatingly risk-averse........



Gary Raymond finds a surprisingly low-key come-back in the Gavin and Stacey Christmas Special.

The overnight figures are in, and 11.5 million people cannot possibly be wrong. The Gavin and Stacey Christmas Special has its place in history, doing something most TV execs had thought was a thing of the past, or even a myth handed down from tribal elders, harking to stories of times when families would gather around the television after the turkey was ransacked and the sherry cork was popped. But apparently there is still room in the hearts of the British public for the unifying TV festive special, something the generations who grew up with helpings of …Fools and Horses and Morecambe and Wise took for granted. Gavin and Stacey has managed to do something politicians have pretended to want to do all year, and that’s bring the country together.

Of course, this is only really true if you consider the country to be only 11.5 million people full. But the will/love of the people is something to be claimed rather than proved. Nobody needs everyone in order to profess unity. And so the BBC are very happy with the impressive stat, the best Christmas Day viewing figures for a single show in a decade. Another entity that is equally as happy, but one certainly less tangible, is that of Team Wales. Team Wales is a nebulous secret society that works out of the old underground Torchwood set in Cardiff Bay, and its main purpose is to pretend Wales is a global superpower. It doesn’t matter to Team Wales that the success of Gavin and Stacey, at least in part, has always been in the portrayal of Welsh people as simpletons. The exception, of course, is writer Ruth Jones’s now iconic character of Nessie, to many a sharp-tongued no-nonsense modern woman who knows how to get what she wants, but who is in actual fact just an updated version of the Welsh slag found in the slanderous Blue Books of the nineteenth century. Stacey herself is little more than an airhead, a glassy-eyed Barry Island cardboard cutout. Other Welsh characters don’t quite have that same depth. One saving grace is that the creators of Gavin and Stacey have always seemed to have the same affectionate contempt for cockneys as they do for the Welsh.

Here we have the same old faces back in their spots, almost entirely unmoved as characters, apart from some unavoidable children added to the mix who seem here like the inconvenient result of earlier plot points. But other than that Gavin and Stacey has no interest in trying out anything new. Not a step is made to trace outside the lines. And that may be why it is ultimately such a damp squib. No great cameos, no great set pieces, no outrageous heights, and no heart-wrenching lows. There is absolutely nothing whatsoever that is special about this Special.

It is strange that a show as hotly anticipated by an army of people still cawing “Wasss Occurring?” to each other all these years later, is such a disappointment. There was genuine excitement about its return, and some of the main figures involved in the show have now gone on to much bigger things off the back of it. Ruth Jones herself has become something of a matriarch of Welsh comedy, one of those celebrities who if Wales could give people a key to the country would have had it by now. Rob Brydon is a ubiquitous light entertainment presence, and is undoubtedly one of the few people in that current televisual landscape who never outstays his welcome. James Corden, of course, has conquered America and now does carpool Karaoke with the likes of Michelle Obama. (It is notable that Corden, hitherto one of the most obnoxious faces on television, gives a subtle, understated, and quite sweet performance in this Christmas special).

In fact the two who have really failed to use Gavin and Stacey as a springboard to greater things are the eponymous lovers. Hardly surprising, given the startling lack of charisma in both roles, and here their story is the least interesting. The spark has gone out of their marriage, as it has for much of the rest of the show. There are a few cracking lines (the towels like Ryvita, for instance), and the last thirty seconds have some heart, but as a climax to a show that’s been gone for so long, it’s hardly the fireworks a fan might have hoped for.

The Gavin and Stacey Christmas Special is, overall, decidedly undercooked. There is a moment when we think we might finally find out what happened on that fishing trip between Bryn and Jason, but the confession is scuppered by nagging kids. But the sad thing is, we don’t care anyway. Elsewhere, as the show continues its peculiarly dated relationship with queer issues, Bryn and Nessa duet at Karaoke on “Fairytale of New York”. In a wink at subversiveness, Bryn, of whom it has been constantly insinuated is a closet homosexual since episode one all those years ago, is given the “faggot” line to sing, originally Kirsty MacColl’s lyric. It is a strange moment, when it seems the show’s creators are trying to say something, but what it is remains unclear. Is it about Bryn? Is it about censorship? Is it about language? Is it about working class attitudes to LGBTQ issues? Whatever it is, it is half-hearted, half-baked, and the message, water it might be, is lost. The vultures of Twitter have given the show a good pecking around this subject, and they have a point. But rather than homophobic, the moment feels symptomatic of a show that has come from a place of lukewarm enthusiasm for the project as a whole. It has no new ideas, nothing new to say about the characters. That is partly because the characters were flimsy to begin with, but perhaps it also has something to do with Team Wales’s greatest failing, and that’s a problem with shouting out that our emperors are sometimes in the buff.

BBC -- to what extent is it rooted in the Welsh landscape?

Gavin and Stacey -- the BBC's most-watched Christmas show of 2019.  Very jolly, 
and thoroughly entertaining -- and set in Wales -- but where is the 
BBC Wales commitment to sell Wales to the world?

This is an interesting review of the BBC Writers Room Festival, held this year in Cardiff.  As the review points out, there was much emphasis on Welsh writers and on TV productions (like "His Dark Materials") made in Wales -- and that's something we should all be happy about.  

Quote:  The day was certainly a testimony to Welsh presence in the media. Half of the parallel panels had a Welsh focus, and even those events with a less local flavour testified to the BBC’s current effort to root itself in the Welsh landscape.

Quote:  Less present in the discussion was the question of what representations of Welshness are perpetuated on screen........

Sadly, not much has changed over the past few years -- Wales now has a substantial TV industry, but the BBC in Wales is still open to the charge that it promotes Wales as a great place for the telling of other people's stories -- and does relatively little to "represent Welshness" on the screen, or to sell the Welsh narrative to the world.  Cash constraints may have something to do with this, but as I have said many times before on this blog, this deficiency must be addressed at a POLITICAL level as well as at the level of BBC Wales strategy formulation.



Marine Furet reports from a day of discussion on industry and craft at the BBC Writersroom Festival in Cardiff.

The air is still buzzing from a keynote given by Russel T. Davies. In the entrance hall of the National Museum of Wales, experienced showrunners, budding screenwriters, and busy executive producers are rubbing elbows under Dippy the Dinosaur’s tail, desperately trying to get through their cup of scalding tea in time to attend the day’s next showstopper, a plenary panel given by the creative team behind His Dark Materials. Everyone is a playwright with a business card at the ready. Congratulations, you have made it to the 2019 edition of the BBC Writersroom Festival.

The BBC Writersroom is a redub of the TV Writer’s Festival. First created in 2010; the event has gradually expanded to include comedy and, this year, radio drama. The Festival is an invaluable hub for anyone wishing to meet industry leaders and gatekeepers while garnering advice from some of the BBC’s most successful writers. It is also an opportunity to showcase some of the BBC’s new writing talents. Last but not least, it is a TV and radio geek’s paradise. This year’s events included a flurry of prestigious names and newcomers. This was the festival’s first stop in Wales, and at a time of expansion in the Welsh arts and media scene, the event undeniably had a lot of questions to answer. The first, and foremost, is perhaps to know whether we are now to expect a more diverse cultural landscape.

The day was certainly a testimony to Welsh presence in the media. Half of the parallel panels had a Welsh focus, and even those events with a less local flavour testified to the BBC’s current effort to root itself in the Welsh landscape. In addition to including some guest-talks by revered Welsh figures, such as Russel T. Davies (Doctor Who, Torchwood, Queer as Folk), Rhiwbina-born Andrew Davies (House of Cards, Pride and Prejudice, Les Misérables), Ruth Jones and Rob Brydon (Gavin & Stacey), the programme put the spotlight on a number of Wales-engineered production successes. One of the first was evidently His Dark Materials, the BBC’s current hit adaption in collaboration with HBO, produced by Cardiff-based Bad Wolf.

For an enthusing hour, Bad Wolf’s co-founder Jane Tranter, script editor Xandria Horton and production designer Joel Collins go through their creative process. It was hard not to feel some degree of excitement every time the trio casually referred to Philip (Pullman). We quickly got into the practical details of bringing a show of this amplitude to the screen from inception to end. Tranter emphasized the Britishness of His Dark Materials – a ‘complex, knotty, gnarly’ work – and the importance of a good, visual writing to bring the books’ universe to the screen. Tranter remarked that this often implied going in and out of each volume of the series, rather than reading them linearly, and occasionally embracing their gaps and inconsistencies. Joel Collins also brought fascinating insights, particularly about the role of design to crack open visual issues in the book and script. Mrs Coulter’s apartment, in particular, was fully brought to life in its full icy luxury. The set was a mix of Cardiff locations and London views, and employs Welsh skills and craft, partly thanks to a partnership between Bad Wolf and Wales’s Higher Education sector.

Tone was also of great concern – allegedly 46 drafts had to be binned before the show came to life – particularly for a show employing a huge team of creatives, and aimed at a public potentially unfamiliar with science fiction and genre drama. In Tranter’s words, His Dark Materials functioned not as a democracy, but definitely as a collaboration. The desire for authenticity of tone and for a univocal feel to a show strongly came through in another panel on writing multilingual drama, which featured Welsh writers Roger Williams (Bang) and Caryl Lewis (Craith/Hidden). Writing in Welsh and English with a team of writers comes with its own host of challenges: not only to ensure that all writers ‘get it’ and do not divert the show from its natural voice, but also to find the right balance between the shows’ idioms Both Bang and Craith allow for experiments with language and identity, and as Caryl Lewis observed, some ideas can feel different in English and Welsh. Less present in the discussion was the question of what representations of Welshness are perpetuated on screen: at a time when the National Theatre Wales, for example, has introduced Located residencies that question, among others, the role of migrant communities in constituting contemporary Wales, such discussion might have also proven a relevant addition to the day. This debate, however, is also determined by material considerations. For example, all present agreed on the difficulty to produce a show entirely in Welsh, particularly in view of the financial constraints involved in such an endeavor. Even despite the success of bilingual enterprises like Bang and Craith/Hidden, sourcing the necessary funds for a show in English and Welsh remains a challenge, and an all-Welsh screenplay risks being met with raised eyebrows.

Indeed, the financial implications of writing and producing were a recurrent topic throughout the day. In short, savviness to the funding market is a must, and multiple bids are needed to finance a single show. While His Dark Materials owes a great deal to Welsh locations, the involvement of international funding, a prestigious cast, and high production quality mean that the show balances both local and global scales. It is, as Jane Tranter put it, ‘a mighty amount of money’, which meant for example that the show’s pilot had to be ready for money to be secured. The same preoccupation weighed on BBC Drama commissioning editor Ben Irving, whose presentation was a reminder that good television is also a number-crunching game. The current scarcity of $$$ is of course the reality of all areas in the creative world. The academic in me could not help but shiver at the mention of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, one of the biggest funding organisms for higher education, during the panel on radio drama. However, the finance question is a particularly significant one for Wales, as the new concentration of production societies and artistic talents of all provenances in the nation can only be perennial if followed by an expanding funding pool.

From masterclasses delivered by industry giants to an exhibition fayre including BAFTA Cymru and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, the day was an opportunity to hear from some major figures of the television and film industry. In a context of increasing competition, the concerns of young authors in the audience were telling: the question of how to best pitch your writing is on everyone’s lips. Andrew Davies had the last word on this, encouraging writers to “stick up for [their] own ideas, producers and editors don’t necessarily know what they’re talking about” – much to the delight of said producers and editors, no doubt. Davies’s charisma and his knack for storytelling shone through even during a Q&A-style conversation, but insights on the craft of writing also came from less established players. On a panel dedicated to audio drama, writer Janina Mathewson (Within the Wires), writer and composer Timothy X Atack (Forest 404) and Welsh actor and filmmaker Darragh Mortell (I Am Kanye West) reflected on the intimacy of radio storytelling, and its connection to musical composition. With I Am Kanye West, a podcast fiction dedicated to the famous rapper, Darragh Mortell experimented with a mix of narration and sampling. Mortell’s suggestion that the audio drama sits halfway between the film and the novel was a good way to think about ways in which we consume radio both as an immersive and mobile medium. As an expanding form allowing for forays into narrative experimentations, the podcast genre has drawn much attention to itself in the last few years. With the development of new technologies, coupled with the BBC’s desire to address itself to younger and more diverse demographics, it will be interesting to see how radio drama develops into new and experimental shapes in the next few years.

Overall, the festival reflected the tensions and transformations currently changing the writing industry. In the last few years, Cardiff and Wales have increasingly claimed their own seat at the table, and the crowd in attendance on the day was a testament to the bustling creativity waiting to be tapped into by the industry. The BBC’s gradual turn towards new mediums and technologies, and its asserted desire to speak to new audiences may also be an opportunity for creative talents of all kinds in Wales and beyond. While a success of the scale of His Dark Materials should give us hope for the future of arts and media in Cardiff, the city’s growing creative scene must now rise to the challenge.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Witches and the ducking stool

Take a look in detail at this extraordinary plasterwork, from a house called Llys Owain in Dolgellau.  I don't know much about it, but the cartoonish characters probably date from the sixteenth century.  When you look carefully you can see one person (a witch?) strung up by the neck from the branches of a tree.  Down below, somebody else (probably another witch) is being given the full treatment in a ducking stool.  Are the other characters on the right cheering things on, or are they involved in operating the ducking stool?  Difficult to tell.  But one appears to be holding a cross, and the one in the middle appears to be playing a wind instrument. 

Thankfully, people were not often hanged by the neck in Regency Wales -- but it did happen when people were condemned to death by a court of law, and very rarely as a result of mob rule. It is uncertain when the ducking stool was last used in Wales as a form of punishment.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Dark Materials -- and not much light

A couple of nights ago we watched the first episode of "His Dark Materials" --  flagged up as the BBC's biggest drama yet, with considerable funding from the Welsh Government because the studios used are in Wales.  There was massive hype from the BBC.  It's reputed that the cost for the 8-episode first series is £40 million.  That's £5 million per episode -- an eye-watering sum, since £1 million per episode is deemed to be the normal cost of a high-end costume drama.  Is it worth the investment?  Will it make a profit?  BBC and HBO clearly think so, since a second series has apparently already been commissioned...........

The initial response to the first episode is generally very positive in the UK, but in the USA, where critics have seen 4 episodes issued by HBO, the response is much more muted.  I have a strong suspicion that almost all of the UK TV critics are familiar with the books and have seen all the BBC hype, whereas in the USA many critics may have watched the programme "cold".   Anyway, it should not really be very surprising to discover just how subjective film and TV reviews are, even among the professionals. 

Worth five stars?  Most of the comments from viewers, on assorted web sites, suggest not.  Many thought it was a complete mishmash of genres, with nothing like the coherence of the Harry Potter films or Lord of the Rings, for instance.  I think I would agree with that.  Philip Pulman's fantastical world worked well in written fiction, but by common consent it was always going to be massively difficult to translate it onto the small screen. Is it fantasy, adventure, a supernatural ghostly chiller, a witches and wizards story, an old-fashioned if somewhat wacky costume drama, a thriller, a dystopian epic, a morality tale, a science fiction adventure, or what? A bit of everything, it turns out, with the dreaming spires of Oxford and fusty academia thrown in for extra effect. (Did I recognize my old college hall in there somewhere?)  In the reviews, there are many comparisons with the 2007 film called "The Golden Compass", and it is generally concluded that it was not as bad as that, but that it was not all that much better.  The fate of all remakes is to be compared with what has gone before........ 
Philip Pulman was one of the producers and must have acted as script and storyline consultant -- and maybe that was not a good thing?  Episode 1 actually felt rather dated, although it is set in the future in a sort of parallel universe. All that stuff about "the dust" sounded like something from "Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future", back in the 1950's......... I expected the Mekon to zoom in at any moment on his trusty flying bicycle.  That having been said, the CGI work and the animation of the daemons was very impressive -- although not to everybody's liking.   The most sophisticated high tech  can never be a substitute for good storytelling.
Many of the reviewers just could not work out where the film's heart was. The acting was felt to be either wooden or over the top, and some commented that the script was really not very good. Many of the characters were miscast, and I for one did not really empathise with any of them, least of all with the young heroine, who seemed cold and somewhat detached. The storyline was incredibly confusing, if one had not read the books. The editing was less slick than I expected, and the sound was fuzzy.  According to the majority of comments published thus far, this was not a very auspicious start, and reviewers seem to doubt that this will be looked at in the future as a BBC classic.

Apparently 7.2 million viewers watched the first episode.  That was the biggest drama launch on British TV for 5 years.  How many viewers will watch future episodes?  Not as many as watched the first one, it seems.....

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Location, location, location........

Of course, a book is all about words, and so is a radio drama, but a TV drama or a film is all about images.  the story is told through fleeting images -- and sometimes loving and lingering images, but always images.  As time has gone on, the number of words used in a one-hour TV drama seems to be reducing and reducing inexorably.  So locations used to enhance viewing pleasure, and to increase the impact of the storyline, become hugely important.

If there is one thing that Pembrokeshire has, it is filming locations.  And bits and pieces of the Angel Mountain saga are placed in some fabulous settings, most of which happen not to have changed very much between 1800 and the present day......

Bedd yr Afanc, near Brynberian

Ceibwr Bay

Carnllidi, seen from Ramsey Island

Skomer Island


Carn Alw

North coast cliffs, near Abercastle

Carnedd Meibion Owen

Carn Meini from the south

Carnedd Meibion Owen

Mynydd Preseli

The southern end of Ramsey Sound

Foel Drygarn

Looking towards Carn Alw

Church Rock, Broad Haven South

Parrog, Newport

Ty Canol Wood

Carnedd Meibion Owen

Anything filmed in this part of wales is guaranteed to be a smash hit, if the director of photography knows what he or she is doing.  Then comes the story.......

Locations added 18 Oct 2019

A medley of Marthas

......... or a "multitude" or a "murmuration" ?? Anyway, whatever is the corrective collective noun, the ranks of those who have played the part of Martha Morgan thus far are about to be increased dramatically, in more senses than one.

Two beautiful young women, Rhiannon James and Anna Munro, have played Martha in our photo shoot and in our promotional video, bringing quite different features of Martha's character to the fore.  It has been delightful to work with both of them.

Then we owe a great deal to Lis Evans, who has attended all of our book launches and has read -- very beautifully -- extracts from Martha's diaries.  Then we have Leanne Masterton, who narrated the diaries in the original Corgi audiobooks based on "On Angel Mountain" and "House of Angels."

Next up, we are going to get at least two more Marthas, as female narrators are pulled in for the charity and commercial recordings of the books.  No names as yet.

And then..... the TV series.  I wonder which Welsh actress will be favourite for the role?  Or roles, since Martha is a suicidal teenager at the beginning of the saga and a sexy and eccentric matriarch at the end -- and that must involve at least two actresses.

Audiobook developments

We have already reported on the plans for the Calibre library to make recordings of all 8 of the Angel Mountain novels available for blind and partially-sighted people.  They have the books  and they are into the recording schedule.

Those recordings are of course strictly non-commercial and "charitable" -- and are covered by special rules from the Charity Commission.  I'm very pleased indeed to be able to do something to help people who have a tough time of it.

On a more commercial front, I have had it confirmed that the company (no name yet) responsible for the exclusive library supply of audiobooks in Wales also wants all 8 of the novels, and is prepared to commission brand new recordings.   The stories will also be available on Audible and other platforms.  I'm hoping that each recording will involve a male reader for the prologue section of each book, and a female for the diary sections.   The signs are looking good.

There will of course be a brand-new "branding" exercise, and this will inevitably bring the books to a new audience.  Increased awareness and a larger fan base -- that has to enhance the likelihood of the saga being turned into a multi-part costume drama for TV.

There are developments on that front too, but for the moment I have to keep quiet.........

Thursday, 3 October 2019



In the context of our ongoing campaign to get the "Angel Mountain" narrative used as the basis for a multi-part TV costume drama, we are pleased to record that we have had splendid letters of support from our local AM Paul Davies, broadcaster Roy Noble, Assembly Culture Committee chair Bethan Sayed AM, PCC Chief Executive Ian Westley, Jill Evans MEP and Sian Gwenllian AM. We are very grateful to all of them, and we hope for more endorsements from all who wish us well.......

Some extracts from the letters:

"I am very aware of the potential cultural and economic benefits of such productions being set in and made in Wales. It is also important to tell the stories of Wales and to ensure that our unique history, landscape and culture is shared positively and globally. I am therefore supportive of your efforts to secure the appropriate financial and other support so that this drama can be set and made in Wales and our rich cultural heritage can reach a larger audience."

"I'm delighted to add my voice to those who would like to see these novels converted to a TV series. I have no doubt that if the Angel Mountain Saga was converted into a television show, then it would certainly build on Wales's growing reputation and also give viewers a wider understanding of Wales's cultural and historical past."

"I have read most of the Martha Morgan novels and I believe it is a unique and fascinating story. It reflects the history, of not only one part of Pembrokeshire but of Wales itself, as well as its people. The heroine – the central character - is a powerful role model for young women in Wales, in particular. At a time of great uncertainty, a project such as this would make a major contribution to maintaining Wales's European and international profile."

"Any project that projects Wales to the world for all the right reasons is to be recommended and supported, If it is done through a strong saga, against the backdrop of a deeply embedded Celtic heritage and culture, then the applause should be resounding."

"The whole series is so well embedded in the north Pembrokeshire landscape -- it is bound to have a massive positive impact on the perception of Pembrokeshire as a visitor destination if it is screened."

"In terms of what makes good television and film, I believe personally that the Angel Mountain Saga is an enthralling one, with a huge amount of potential and the prospect of a significant audience."

A discovery -- Mistress Martha and bipolar condition

One of the most satisfying things about being a writer of fiction is the emotional bond that is developed between writer and reader. Or maybe I should say "SOME writers and SOME readers." Anyway, if you are a writer who takes such things seriously, of course you want to elicit a strong emotional response in the hearts of those who are rooting for your hero or heroine and following his/her adventures in minute detail. They have paid good money for the book (or some of them have!) and they want to be INVOLVED.

So as a writer, you finish the text, get the finished book out there into the marketplace, and await developments. With a bit of luck, you get reviews in the newspapers and magazines, other reviews on the Amazon and Goodreads web sites, letters and phone calls. Most of the reviews are of course good, because the reviewing process is a cockeyed one, in which people who hate the book they are reading tend not to finish it and probably will not be bothered to write a review. That having been said, of course a writer gets a boost every time an enthusiastic review appears in print or in social media.  Some writers are so desperate for approval that they bribe their friends to post reviews on Amazon.  And the most satisfying reviews are those in which there is a strong emotional response.

The most moving responses to the Angel Mountain books have been from women who have themselves experienced some of the situations in which Martha finds herself -- dealing with a traumatised husband, the death of a child, recovering from rape, the loss of a husband, or a miscarriage. The most moving tribute I have ever had as an author was from a lady who had herself experienced a miscarriage and who turned up to one of my talks in order to thank me for my description of what happened to Martha and how she recovered from it. She was amazed that a male author had written the text, and said it had given her a sort of catharsis which enabled her to move on with her life. To develop that sort of bond with somebody you have never met before is both humbling and richly rewarding.

But then there is the matter of Martha's character.  She is who she is, and I did not have to "invent" her because of the strange manner in which I was "given" her story.  During the writing of the eight novels about her life, while keeping true to the narrative that was already inside my head, I wrote about her behaviour and her responses to situations as accurately and as honestly as I could.  Whenever I tried to make her do something out of character, she gave me a kick and said "I would not have done this at all" or "There is no way I would have reacted like that."   Somehow, out of all this turmoil, came a fully formed and rather eccentric heroine:

Martha is undoubtedly a very strong character, with a multitude of virtues and vices.    But since completing the books I have been asking myself "Why these violent mood swings?"  "Why the episodes of black depression?"  "Why does Martha rush about like a whirling dervish at times, getting involved in things she should really stay well clear of?"  "Why does she become so obsessed with her projects and her plans that she fails to see what the effects are on those whom she loves?"  "Why does she take such pleasure in conflict that she appears to others to be vindictive and vengeful?"  Over and again she has to be ticked off by Bessie and Grandma Jane for her insensitive behaviour.  Over and again she has to be healed by Joseph Harries or rescued by her angels..........

It's rather intriguing that when I was asked, after the publication of "On Angel Mountain", what Martha looked like, I always replied "Catherine Zeta Jones" -- ravishingly beautiful, with black hair, brown eyes and a voice rather like that which I heard in my strange delirium back in 1999.  Twenty years ago, if a film of the book had been made by Hollywood, Catherine would have been exactly right for the role of Martha Morgan.  Too late now, maybe......... but then I discovered that Catherine suffers from bipolar disorder, and is, to her great credit, perfectly open about it.

Suddenly, this explained a great deal about my precious heroine -- her erratic behaviour, her episodes of frenzied activity involving all sorts of collateral damage, and the confrontations with her black dog from which, on a couple of occasions, she barely escapes with her life.

So Martha, from the very beginning, and without me knowing about it, suffered from bipolar condition (let's call it "condition" because the word "disorder" triggers off all sorts of negative responses).   And that explains comments like these:

"I found myself getting very cross with Martha and some of her decisions. I also became very attached to the characters. This book will get under your skin….”

"Tears rolled down my face as the life of Martha Morgan came to an end and I felt a real sense of loss. All of the books have been amazing, enthralling, educational and inspirational. I congratulate you on such an achievement.”

"I had a calling of the mountain and by chance fell upon your books. They have along with Martha Morgan saved me in many ways and made me realise I am completely normal. Amazing work -- thank you from the bottom of my heart …."

I find that last comment incredibly moving.    I'm still trying to work out where this takes us...... but it may also lead us to examine the supernatural components of the story which makes it very different, for example, from Poldark, or Pride and Prejudice, or Downton Abbey, or Wuthering Heights.  Do we move from rational drama into the realm of the irrational?   There are the ravens -- are they real, or supernatural, of just hallucinations associated with bipolar "events"?  The battles in the sky -- real, or imagined?  The premonitions experienced by Martha, which lead to her being accused of witchcraft -- what do we make of them?  The symbolism of the angels?  The beliefs associated with Joseph Harries and his contacts with demons and the spirit world?

It is a feature of bipolar condition -- in some individuals -- that hallucinations are experienced and that voices are heard.

My dear Martha, perhaps I understand you a little better today than I did yesterday.

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Audiobook news coming soon........

News coming soon on the audiobook versions of my novels.  Before that, we look forward to welcoming Matt Addis to the PENfro Book Festival this year, on 13th October at Rhosygilwen.  He will talk about the mysteries of audiobooks -- how they are recorded and published.  He is one of the best in the business -- listen to a snippet from Alexander Cordell's "Hosts of Rebecca" here........

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Gwasg Gomer to close publishing arm

I was sad to read this, since Gomer has printed several of my titles in the past, and I have worked with their publishing arm as well.  They were always very courteous and efficient.......

However, I am not entirely surprised. The Welsh publishing model is based almost entirely on subsidies paid out by the Welsh Books Council, and I have questioned on many occasions the strategy of publishing large numbers of Welsh titles that hardly anybody wants and hardly anybody reads. I don't have the sales figures for Gomer titles over the past few years -- they are never released -- but I imagine that many of their titles will not have sold more than 200 copies, with the occasional title doing well (rugby players and referees are always popular.....). And I have repeatedly made the point that publishers like Gomer have not actually needed to work very hard on their marketing either, since publishing costs are generally covered by grant aid. In that scenario, you might as well just publish a book, collect the subsidies, then then move on to the next one. Throughout Wales, hundreds of titles have been published over the past few years which would never have seen the light of day if publishing had been strictly commercial -- governed (as in England) by the laws of supply and demand.

Anyway, I wish Gomer well -- I hope they flourish as a printers, but even there they are operating in a very competitive world.



Welsh publisher Gwasg Gomer is to close its publishing arm after 127 years in business, it was announced today.

Gomer Press is a printing and publishing company based in Llandysul, west Wales. The company was first established in 1892 and is owned by the same family to this day. Jonathan Lewis, the great grandson of the company’s founder, is the current managing director. Until today Gomer Press described itself as being both a thriving printing company and publishing house and was the oldest in Wales.

Every year, they published over 36 titles, specializing in books which have a distinctive Welsh identity.

In a statement issued by the company, they said:

"Gomer, the printer and publisher, having considered the strategic direction of the company has decided to wind down its publishing department to concentrate on its printing division thus ensuring the future of its 55 employees. In the meantime, Gomer will continue working with authors and the Books Council of Walesto publish titles already scheduled, as well as continuing as a publisher for the 3,500 titles currently in print, ensuring royalties continue to be paid to authors, and the popular books can be printed as and when required."

Gomer Press is a printing and publishing company based in Llandysul, west Wales. The company was first established in 1892 and is owned by the same family to this day. Jonathan Lewis, the great grandson of the company’s founder, is the current managing director. Until today Gomer Press described itself as being both a thriving printing company and publishing house and was the oldest in Wales.

Every year, they published over 36 titles, specializing in books which have a distinctive Welsh identity.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Coming soon -- the whole saga as audiobooks

Good news from Calibre Audio Books -- the registered charity which produces and loans out audiobook versions of books to people with impaired vision or other reading difficulties.  As reported earlier, "On Angel Mountain" is now available in audiobook format:

Following discussions about practicalities it turns out that the readers of the audiobooks actually prefer to work off paperback versions of the books which they can mark with highlights, comments etc to assist in the reading process -- and it appears that the sound of pages being turned is so small that it makes no difference to the quality of recordings.

So copies of the other seven books in the series are winging their way to Calibre HQ, and the recording process will start quite soon.  Calibre depends upon volunteer readers, so although the quality will be less "professional" than readings done by full-time actors and actresses, the books do at least become available to a vulnerable readership made up of people who really do appreciate them.   It's good to be able to do something for people who have a tough time of it.......

There is no money for me as a result of this arrangement with Calibre, but if blind listeners enjoy the books when they are added to the Calibre catalogue, they will say so -- and the word will spread.

And as reported earlier, we are also talking to a fully commercial audiobook company with a view to commercial versions which will be available in the retail marketplace and also through libraries.

House of Angels -- coming next in the recording studio.....

Monday, 8 July 2019

On Angel Mountain — now available from Calibre audiobooks

Good news — Calibre, the organisation that produces audiobooks for those who have impaired vision, has recorded and issued a new audiobook version of ”On Angel Mountain”.  They read it, liked it, and recorded it — 13 hrs and 30 mins of listening.  It’s available (for members only) in various formats — downloadable from the web, on a USB memory stick, or on an MP3 CD.  Full details here:

Apparently the feedback from listeners thus far has been good, and I have now given Calibre permission to record the other 7 books in the series.

There are no payments or royalties involved here — Calibre is a charity, and all of the books on their list are recorded free, to bring pleasure to those who have sight impairment or other medical conditions that make reading difficult or impossible.

There are not many Welsh books on the Calibre list, and I hope ”On Angel Mountain” will go some way towards meeting a need.  Anyway, the deal helps to spread the word about Mistress Morgan and the saga, and will bring a little more pleasure into the lives of many people who have a tough time......

Sunday, 2 June 2019

North Pembrokeshire -- insufficiently authentic?

It's interesting to see this piece about John Seymour and the "self-sufficiency idealists" who flocked to Wales -- and to north Pembs in particular -- in the 1960s and 1970s.  So was there an authentic "peasant society" in north Pembs at the time?  No way -- a part of it might have been "authentic" to an extent that satisfied John and Sally when they first came here.  But as they soon discovered, the community in this area is and was just as complex and multi-layered as any community anywhere.  And the idea that John went off to Ireland after a while because Wales had become "insufficiently authentic" is pretty cockeyed too.  As in all cases where somebody moves out of one place and into another, rather complex push and pull factors were at play........

Land of song or savages? Why the English get Wales so wrong

For those who cross the border dreaming of a mythic retreat of crags and castles, reality can bite hard

 Mike Parker

Extract: Over the past half century, the trickle of English idealists escaping to Wales has become a torrent. Godfather of them all was John Seymour, author of bestsellers The Fat of the Land and The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency, who bought a farm in Pembrokeshire in 1964: “I was back in a peasant society where people still brewed beer and killed pigs and we were no longer freaks,” he wrote. In the late 1980s, he too flounced out of Wales, declaring that it was by then “insufficiently authentic”, whatever that meant, and resettling in Ireland. Other green gurus have since come and gone, often hurling disappointed brickbats as they depart.

Friday, 31 May 2019

The new edition of "House of Angels"

Just received from the printer!  The new edition (this is the fifth printing) has a gorgeous new cover designed by Martin -- based on one of the images of Rhiannon taken during the photo shoot with Steve Mallett.  We think the new image captures the mood of the novel really well......

There are some technical changes too -- the pagination is slightly different.  We have the location map, as usual, and also the image of "Martha's water colour" and an image of Martha with the raven.  The paper is slightly lighter than before, making the book open more easily; and the spine margins have been increased a little for ease of reading.

All in all, Biddles the printers have done a great job.  Somehow or other, we have managed to keep the cover price at £7.99.  If we can cover our costs through sales, we will be happy......


Thursday, 30 May 2019

Gavin and Stacey returns for a Christmas special

BBC Press Release:

Bafta and multi-award-winning Gavin & Stacey, starring Mathew Horne and Joanna Page, supported by a cast including James Corden, Ruth Jones, Rob Brydon, Larry Lamb, Melanie Walters and Alison Steadman, is set to return for a one-off special this Christmas on BBC One.

The hit British sitcom, created and written by Ruth Jones and James Corden, will be produced by Fulwell 73, Tidy Productions and Baby Cow Productions.

Ruth Jones and James Corden, says: “Over the last ten years we’ve talked a lot about Gavin and Stacey - where they might be today and what their lives might look like. And so in secret we took the plunge and wrote this one hour special. We’ve loved revisiting Barry and Essex again and bringing the characters back together has been a joy. We’re so excited to get the chance to work with our fabulous cast and crew once more and to give fans of the show a festive treat this Christmas. Thank you BBC for helping to make this happen.”

Gavin & Stacey broadcast over three series (plus a Christmas special) from 2007 to 2010 on the BBC. Gavin (Mathew Horne), an ordinary boy from Essex in England and Stacey (Joanna Page), an ordinary girl from Barry in Wales, spoke on the phone to each other every day at work, they finally met, fell in love and got married. The series went onto explore the simple love story of these two young people from different parts of the UK, and the impact their relationship had on their friends and family.

The sitcom was a breakthrough hit for BBC Three and the 2008 Christmas special and third series moved to premiere on BBC One. The shows 2010 New Year’s Day finale had record ratings for the series with 10.25m viewers.

Charlotte Moore, Director of BBC Content, says: “Everyone at the BBC is hugely excited to be welcoming back Gavin and Stacey to BBC One this Christmas. We can’t wait to see what’s happened to everyone over the last nine years, and what’s next for one of the nation’s favourite comedy families.”

This Gavin & Stacey special (1x60’) is a Fulwell 73, Tidy Productions and Baby Cow Production for BBC One. It has been commissioned by Charlotte Moore, Director of BBC Content, and Shane Allen, Controller of BBC Comedy. Gavin & Stacey is created, written and executive produced by Ruth Jones and James Corden. It is also Executive Produced by David Peet, Leo Pearlman and Ben Winston. Shane Allen is the Commissioning Editor for the BBC.

Further details will be announced in due course.

Series one broadcast from 13 May to 10 June 2007 on BBC Three
Series two broadcast from 16 March to 20 April 2008 on BBC Three
A Christmas Special broadcast on 24 December 2008 on BBC One
Series three broadcast from 26 November 2009 to 1 January 2010 on BBC One


It looks as if BBC Wales has no involvement in this, in spite of a considerable Welsh component in the story.......

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Uplift through the act of reading

Love it!  Steps at a university in Lebanon.........  helping students to reach the heights.......

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Still life at Ceibwr

At  Ceibwr today, just in time to catch the thrift before it gets too old and dry.....

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Game of Thrones and the Northern Ireland economy

Some interesting information is coming out relating to the economic impact of "Game of Thrones" -- filmed mostly, but not exclusively, in Northern Ireland.  Now that the series is finished (with a somewhat critical reception from most fans) the originators of the project are working on a pilot for a prequel -- presumably on the basis that you can never have too much of a good thing.  However, with 72 episodes shown, one wonders when the "weariness factor" will kick in, and whether there really is a big audience out there wanting more.  We shall see,,,,,

Anyway, the impact of the project, which started in Northern Ireland in 2010,  has been vast. An estimated 350,000 people visit Northern Ireland each year just because of the series, bringing in c £50 million per year in tourism revenue. Beyond that, there is huge value in the "branding" of the province among the audiences (measured in millions) for the series right across the globe.  The calculation is that the project has brought in £251million  thus far -- not bad for an initial investment of c £16 million (through support mechanisms, grant aid and other incentives) from Northern Ireland Screen.

And most of those in the tourism business assume that the "GOT" effect will continue far into the future, just as the Lord of the Rings effect is still being felt quite forcefully in New Zealand.


Game of Thrones is 'game changer' for NI tourism
By Sara Girvin
BBC News NI North-East Reporter

Its long-awaited finale has been and gone but Game of Thrones is still big business for Northern Ireland.
It is estimated to have brought £251m into the economy since production began in 2010, according to the region's film agency NI Screen.
Over the same period, the organisation gave £15.95m in production funding to the hit fantasy drama series.
But that was a worthwhile investment, says NI Screen's chief executive Richard Williams.

"It's been a game changer for the screen industry," he said."This is the biggest show of the decade and certainly within industry terms everyone knows that it's being made in Northern Ireland.
"That has revolutionised our standing in the screen industry all around the world."

On what the future holds for filmmaking in Northern Ireland, Mr Williams says "If we can't collectively sell the supply chain that was behind Game of Thrones, the crew, the studio, well then what can we sell?"
Figures from Tourism NI, the region's tourism development body, paint a similarly upbeat picture.
They suggest that 350,000 people come to Northern Ireland every year just for Game of Thrones - that is one in six leisure visitors.
It is estimated they spend £50m each year.

'Driving people to NI’

The HBO production has turned Northern Ireland filming locations into tourist hotspots.
Tour operator Caroline McComb hosts Game of Thrones tours every day of the year with one exception - Christmas Day.
"For us, Game of Thrones has been that big game changer we always hoped we'd get," she says.
"It's the thing driving people to come to Northern Ireland."
She does not believe business will be affected by the end of the show.

"I don't see any reason why the numbers will dwindle."We've only to look at what Lord of the Rings has done for New Zealand to see that there's absolutely no reason why we can't continue with this in Northern Ireland," she said.
Sean McLaughlin took over at the Fullerton Arms in Ballintoy, County Antrim, four years ago.
His restaurant is a refreshment stop for many of the Game of Thrones tours along Northern Ireland's north coast.
"It's gone from one tour bringing in about 18 covers per day to serving approximately 110 to 130 covers per day - just for Game of Thrones fans," he says.
"I think we'll see numbers continue to grow - the lasting legacy of what has been created is phenomenal.”

'Buses never stop’
But the influx of large numbers of tourists to some small villages has caused problems.
Marian Boyle is a resident in Cushendun, County Antrim, and says tourist coaches are disrupting the residents' lives with a "lot of intrusion".
"I'm all for tourism in Northern Ireland but this sort of tourism - herding people in and out - they come to see one thing and that's it," she said.
"For local residents it is frustrating - the constant buses never stop.
"At the weekend when it's busy you can be driving through hundreds of people who just don't see this as a road."
There are also issues at the Dark Hedges outside Armoy, County Antrim.
Just 10 seconds on Game of Thrones was enough to make it a tourist attraction.
Congestion and damage to the trees led to traffic being banned but that is not always obeyed.
More Game of Thrones attractions are in the pipeline and a prequel to the show is being filmed in Northern Ireland.
But tourism bosses admit there is a balance to be struck.
Judith Webb, who is responsible for screen tourism at Tourism NI, says: "Success has meant that we really do need to consider visitor management issues and work is happening to manage those situations."
The show has "transformed Northern Ireland into a leading international screen tourism destination", she adds.
"What's planned will extend the whole life of Game of Thrones - there is a lot of investment moving forward and we're hugely positive about the future.”


Sunday, 19 May 2019

Stormy times......

Another fabulous image from Tez Marsden -- this time from Pwllgwaelod.  Click to enlarge.

Check out his gallery for more wonderfully evocative images from Martha's world.......