Friday, 21 January 2022

Martha's territory

Here are a few of the gorgeous photos assembled in recent months, giving glimpses pf "Martha's territory"  - coast, woodlands and mountains.  Some are my own, others are from the PCC and NPA collection, and some are published by Ruth Crofts and Deborah Tilley.  

The 8 books of the saga

Here is the full bibliographic information about the 8 paperbacks:

Brian John, Trefelin, Cilgwyn, Newport, Pembrokeshire SA42 OQN
Tel: 01239 - 820470. Email:  Web:

The Angel Mountain Saga
Eight volumes are now available in this best-selling series -- with over 100,000 copies sold

On Angel Mountain (Part One), Greencroft Books 2001. 
ISBN 9780905559803. A5 paperback, 328 pp, £6.99.

House of Angels (Part Two), Greencroft Books 2002. 
ISBN 9780905559810. A5 paperback, 432 pp, £7.99.

Dark Angel (Part Three), Greencroft Books 2003. 
ISBN 9780905559827. A5 paperback, 432 pp, £8.50.

Rebecca and the Angels (Part Four), Greencroft Books 2004. 
ISBN 9780905559834. A5 paperback, 432 pp, £8.50.

Flying with Angels (Part Five), Greencroft Books, 2005. 
ISBN 9780905559841. A5 paperback, 400 pp, £7.99.

Guardian Angel (Part Six), Greencroft Books, 2008. 
ISBN 9780905559865. A5 paperback, 256 pp, £6.99.

Sacrifice (Part Seven), Greencroft Books, 2009. 
ISBN 9780905559902. A5 paperback, 352 pp, £7.99.

Conspiracy of Angels (Part Eight), Greencroft Books, 2012. 
ISBN 9780905559933. A5 paperback, 352 pp, £7.99.

Thursday, 20 January 2022

The essence of place

I love the manner in which the essence of place can sometimes be captured in a piece of music or an image.  This is Daniel's Jok (Yoik) sung by Jon Henrik,  who came to Sweden as an orphan from Colombia and who has made an amazing career as  a moderniser of the Sami or Lapland yoik tradition.  He won the Sweden's Got Talent competition in 2014 with this song, composed in memory of his friend Daniel.

Wednesday, 19 January 2022

On sex and sin....

Martha promises -- somewhat rashly -- that she will organize a church wedding for her great friend Patty Ellis, who used to be a prostitute..........

This is from Chapter 2 of "Dark Angel".
Sometimes, writing fiction can be quite enjoyable.......


So it was that I arrived at the Rectory on time at eleven of the clock, to be helped down from my horse by Master Devonald's man. I felt apprehensive but not afraid, and a good deal more confident than I might have done even a year ago in a similar circumstance. The Rector and his wife appeared at the front door to greet me, and after exchanging pleasantries she went off to fetch some tea while he and I settled into the study for our conversation about matrimonial matters. “Well well, this is very pleasant,” said he. “I am delighted to hear of the betrothal of you and Master Owain Laugharne. An excellent match, if I may say so. Two good old families coming together in harmony. Very good. Very good. Now then, on the matter of the arrangements?”

“I am sorry to disappoint you, Rector, but those particular arrangements can wait for a little while. The settlement has still to be finalized, and no date is set. I have come to discuss another marriage.”

“Oh indeed? Well well, let us see if we can help. And who might the happy couple be?”

“Patty Ellis and Jake Nicholas, who live on the Parrog.”

I watched Master Devonald’s face with more than a little interest. First it registered puzzlement, then comprehension, and then apprehension, and finally horror. His face reddened, and his eyes started to bulge. His feet twitched, and his knuckles whitened as he clenched his fists. Then he started to breathe deeply, as he sought to control his own emotions. He closed his eyes and brought his hands up to his chin in a gesture of prayer. The ticking of the clock on his study wall grew very loud.

I knew that I had a problem and a challenge on my hands. “Are you surprised, Rector?” I asked. “I presume you know the good people on whose behalf I am here?”

“Yes, I know of them,” he replied in a strangled voice. “The one is a fisherman by trade, and the other is a common.......”

Buffoon that he is, he could not bring himself to mention the word. So I helped him. “A common whore?”

He nodded like a frail old man carrying the weight of the world’s sin upon his shoulders. At last he steeled himself to face the problem which now confronted him. He straightened his back and looked me in the eye. “I cannot possibly allow it,” he said, as masterfully as he could. “It is absolutely out of the question for a prostitute to be married in the House of God. Maybe a license can be arranged, but there is no way that I will marry those two in church.”

“You disappoint me, Rector.”

“Your disappointment, Mistress Morgan, is a small price to pay for an irrevocable decision which is based upon a respect for the Ten Commandments and upon my desire to encourage virtue among my parishioners.”

I felt that matters were now getting interesting, and I decided that I would not leave the study until the wedding was duly arranged. Mistress Devonald came in, served tea and cakes with a sweet smile upon her face, and then retired to the warmth of the kitchen when she sensed a chill in the air.

I worked out my strategy while I nibbled and sipped. Then I played my opening card. “On the matter of Patty Ellis’s profession,” I said, “may I remind you, Rector, that it is a thing of the past? She is a reformed character, as many of your parishioners will attest, since they now have to travel all the way to Moll Liberal Favours in Fishguard when they have a few pennies to spend.”

The Rector flushed to a beautiful shade of crimson. “Whatever do you mean?” he spluttered.

“You know perfectly well what I mean. I do not need to elaborate. And are you aware, Rector, of the circumstances which drove Patty into prostitution?” He shook his head wearily, and I continued. “Then I will explain. It will be no bad thing, in my view, for you and other gentlemen in authority to know what has happened to this poor girl; we might then move from condemnation towards compassion, and from punishment towards rehabilitation. We might even seek to move towards an understanding of the word “forgiveness”, since that is a word we do not hear very often from your pulpit.”

That, in retrospect, was very unkind of me, and also risky, since I have to admit to a somewhat haphazard attendance at church myself. But I calculated that since the Rector’s attendance in church is also haphazard, I might get away with my insolence. And so it transpired. Before he could open his mouth to respond, I told him the full story of Patty’s entrapment by Joseph Rice, and of her miserable life in the boudoir while he lived in some comfort as a pimp. The Rector is not very familiar with the details of a whore’s life, and I daresay that he found my narrative more than a little enlightening.

By the time I had finished, Master Devonald was sunk deeply into his chair, with an expression of resignation on his face. Poor fellow, I thought, he is kind enough, and does his best, but he should really have been an attorney’s clerk or a shopkeeper rather than a man of the cloth. I almost started to feel sorry for him, but then I remembered that I had a job to do, and that one should always kick a man when he is down.

“I am not very practiced in matters theological, Rector, but did not our Good Lord have more than a passing acquaintance with a lady called Mary Magdalene?” He nodded weakly, for he could see where this was leading. “And did he not demonstrate, in his dealings with her, that those who are fallen can be saved, and that those who are penitent and who change their ways may enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Am I free of sin? Are you, Master Devonald, ordained as a priest, free of sin? But we poor sinners take comfort from the promise of redemption. Did Christ not also say that all of us, no matter what our station in life, obtain grace through forgiveness, and that we must seek to follow his will? My dear Rector, do you have the good grace to forgive this poor girl, and to extend the hand of friendship towards her?”

I dare say that this piece of sermonizing on my part was all very garbled, but it had the effect of keeping him quiet. Before he had had a chance of working out a theological riposte, and while he was still down, I thought I might as well kick him again.

“On more practical matters, Rector, how many allocated pews do you have in St Mary’s Church?”

He looked at first surprised and then suspicious. He knew that this was going to lead somewhere, but he could not work out the direction of travel or the steepness of the slope. “About fifteen, I believe,” he said.

“I thought as much. You include, no doubt, the Morgans of Plas Ingli. That means that fifteen of the best families in this area contribute to your wellbeing, and to the upkeep of the church, as well as paying their tithes on time and making contributions to the poor rate?”

He nodded. Then I said: “Would you like me to tell you how many of the squires who sit in those pews of a Sunday morning, all happily married and seen as the very pillars of society, have been regular clients of Patty Ellis in her cottage on the Parrog?”

“You would not dare!” exclaimed the Rector, with the look of a hunted man on his face.

“Indeed I would. I happen to be very friendly with Patty Ellis, but in the days before she became a reformed lady her tongue was as loose as her morals. I assure you that I know a great deal about her clients. And before I forget, may I ask you a theological question?”

“Oh dear, I suppose so.”

“On the scale of things, when we stand at the Pearly Gates and are called to account, which is the greater sin, fornication or adultery? Is it not the case that adultery is mentioned in the Ten Commandments, but that there is no mention of fornication? And might that be because the former involves betrayal, whereas the latter simply involves frailty, and the sharing of a little pleasure by two like minded people?”

Once again I perceived that I was in danger of getting a somewhat complicated and protracted theological response, so I continued after a sip of tea. “To carry on where I left off. Rector, would you like the names of those august gentlemen who sit before you in their paid pews and who have, to my certain knowledge, betrayed their wives and families and made adulterous visits to Patty’s feather bed?”

“No, I beg of you, Mistress Martha, please do not tell me. It is probably best that I do not know these things.” He squirmed in his seat, and wrung his hands just as despicable whingeing characters do in cheap novels.

“Very well, Rector. I will keep this secret. But your part of the bargain will be to announce to the world that Patty is forgiven, that she will be welcomed into the bosom of the Church, and that you will give her and Jake a church wedding.”

“This sounds to me like blackmail, and blackmail ill becomes a lady.”

“No no, Rector. What we are talking about is a course of action which brings mutual benefit. I make an oath of secrecy, you demonstrate Christian charity to your parishioners, and Patty and Jake get a Church wedding. By the way, I will pay for it. Happiness all round.”

“ And if I do not cooperate in this murky business?”

“Then I will give you the list of names, and await your response. A public denunciation of the adulterous squires from your pulpit should suffice.”

“Absolutely impossible! The Lord Marcher would probably take away my living, and my relations with the good families of this area would be at an end!”

“But you would be a hero with the poor people, as well as showing yourself to be a true man of God. You must decide, Rector, which may be the lesser of two evils.”

The poor fellow moaned and slumped deep into his chair once again. Time for one final kick with my booted foot. “And by the way, I forgot to mention that my father, whose estate is at Brawdy, is on the most amiable of terms with the Bishop of St David’s. They wine and dine frequently, and share many confidences. Having given you the list of adulterous squires, I will of course ensure that the Bishop is informed of the scandalous situation that has developed in Newport. He will no doubt keep a careful eye on your actions in upholding virtue and condemning vice.”

The rector was now entirely at my mercy, and he knew it. I have to admit to enjoying the situation, and to feeling more than a little sorry for him, for he is by no means a bad fellow. He follows his calling moderately well, and ministers to his flock appropriately enough when occasion demands it. But he does like a peaceful life, just like the rest of us. He had no option but to agree to my proposal, and admitted as much.

“Will you now go to visit Patty and Jake in their cottage as a gesture of forgiveness? The locals will take note, and will be very impressed. There is a lot of sympathy for the couple on the Parrog. There will be some wagging tongues, especially from the Baptists, but you can deal with them, and if I get the chance I will defend your actions and express my admiration for your magnanimity. Others will do the same. Your standing in the community, Rector, will be greatly enhanced. You may take it from me.”

He brightened up noticeably. “Do you really think so?” he asked.

“Absolutely. And you will also make the Nonconformists, in their complaining, look mean-spirited and vengeful in the eyes of fair-minded people. Will you now fix a date with Jake and Patty, and arrange for the reading of the banns?”

“Yes, very well. But what if I receive objections from my congregation on the basis that Patty is -- or was -- a loose woman?”

“I doubt that you will. The squires who are Patty’s past clients will certainly not say a word, and if anybody else does, I am sure you can deal with anything that might be raised. You have the final word, Rector, on whether any objection is serious enough to be considered as a true impediment to marriage, and I have every confidence, in the interests of all those involved, that the marriage will go ahead.”

I smiled at the Rector, and he smiled a weak smile in return, and it was clear that we understood each other. Then I stood up. “I really must be going,” I said. “Thank you so much, Rector, for the delightful refreshments and for our most interesting conversation. We must talk again of theological matters one day, since I am keen to know more about the scriptures.”

“Heaven forbid, Mistress Morgan! Of course you are always welcome at the Rectory, but may I suggest that you leave the scriptures, and the interpretation of them, in my hands?” And to his credit he chuckled at his little joke, and then gave a great roar of laughter, and I had to follow suit. And so we parted on the best of terms.

Twenty minutes later I knocked on the door of Patty’s cottage on the Parrog. After my triumph I was grinning like a Cheshire cat, and she welcomed me with open arms. She invited me inside. She was alone, for Jake was out on the shore of the tidal basin, doing things to his boat.

“It is all fixed!” I declared. “You and Jake can have your church wedding!”

Patty could hardly believe it, and before long the pair of us were dancing around her front room and giggling and screaming like a pair of hysterical little girls. I fear that the neighbours must have been very shocked, for sound travels easily on the Parrog. At last we calmed down enough to talk, and Patty insisted that I gave her all the details of my conversation with the Rector. As I spoke she looked more and more surprised, and at last she intervened, and said: “But Mistress Martha, who are all these worthy squires who are supposed to have paid me visits in the past? I declare that I cannot remember a single one of them coming here.”

“Oh dear, is that so?” said I. “What a pity. Perhaps I have misheard something, or misunderstood the matter. I really must concentrate more in the future, and ensure that I get my facts right.....”

And we embraced, and had another fit of childish hysterics, and wept tears of unadulterated joy.

Thursday, 6 January 2022

Mari Lwyd

There is enormous interest in the Mari Lwyd tradition right now.  That's great!  Let's keep these old traditions alive.  There is some argument about whether the tradition comes from a horse cult, or has associations with death and the supernatural.  The central figure is certainly rather scary!!  But in more recent times the Mari Lwyd was associated with wassailing, and a visit from the Mari Lwyd was an opportunity for friendly banter or singing competition between the visitor and the visited.  A visit from Mari was also a mark or respect -- and it was in this context that I built Mari into the Angel Mountain story of Mistress Martha Morgan.


Here is a 2018 description of the roots and the meaning of the tradition, borrowed from Teifidancer.

The tradition of Y Fari Lwyd which translates to Grey Mary or Grey Mare in English is one of the strangest and most ancient of a number of customs in which people in Wales have used to mark the passing of the darkest days of midwinter. It certainly has pre-Christian origins and is said to bring luck.Though the tradition's exact origins are murky, the image of a white horse has been a powerful symbol in the United Kingdom for at least 3,000 years. In Celtic Britain, the horse was seen as a symbol of power and fertility and prowess on the battlefield. In Celtic mythology, animals who had the ability to cross between this world and the underworld (the Celtic Annwn) are traditionally white or grey coloured. Arawn, the King of Annwn’s dogs, is white with red ears and he rides on a large grey horse.

The first written record of Mari Lwyd dates back to 1800, in J. Evans’ book ‘A Tour through Part of North Wales’.  Traditionally a New Year’s Eve luck bringing ritual Y Fari Lwyd consists of making a horse figure from a horse's skull,( though a genuine horse’s skull is gold dust these days ) with two black cloth ears sometimes sewn onto the cloth, making it look extra horrible, and the eye sockets are often filled with green bottle-ends, or other colored materialdecorative false ears and eyes attached.They adorn it with colorful reins, bells and ribbons and the equine image of death has an especially ghostly appearance thanks to the white sheet draped over the person carrying it.The lower jaw is sometimes spring-loaded, so that Mari's operator can snap it at passers by or householders. 

The Fari Lwyd and her group go from house to house and pub to pub and try to gain access by performing a series of verses, or ‘pwnco’ in Welsh. The inhabitants would reply with their own verses in a battle to outwit Mari and her gang and prevent her from entering. Eventually she will be let in, as this confers luck on the household for the coming year and scares out anything unwanted from the previous year. Once inside, more songs are sung and the group is given drinks and food.

The Mari party consists of commedia del’arte characters. The Merryman plays the fiddle; The Leader, plus top hat, holds the Mari’s reins; The Sergeant keeps the peace. Pwnsh a Siwan (Punch and Judy) are played by two male characters. The practice of disguising the characters was to preserve anonymity and to distance them from everyday life. This tradition of blackening or colouring the face to take on another ‘character’ can be found in most indigenous cultures and in Britain in the older Morris sides.

The tradition has similarities to other hooded animal customs in Britain, such as the ‘Hoodening’ in Kent, the ‘Broad’ in the Cotswolds and ‘The Old Tup’ in Derbyshire, which involved a group of poor people trying to find food and money in the harsh depths of the winter. 

Although the custom was given various names, it was best known as the Mari Lwyd; however, the etymology of this term remains the subject of academic debate.
The folklorist Iorwerth C. Peate believed that the term meant “Holy Mary” and thus was a reference to Mary, mother of Jesus, while fellow folklorist E. C. Cawte thought it more likely that the term had originally meant “Grey Mare”, thus referring to the heads’ equine appearance.

In other instances, the Mari Lwyd custom is given different names, with it being recorded as y Wasail “The Wassail” in parts of Carmarthenshire. In the first half of the 19th century it was recorded in Pembrokeshire under the name of y March “The Horse” and y Gynfas-farch “The Canvas Horse”
The industrial revolution and the rise of fire-and-brimstone chapel preaching had a serious effect on the Mari Lwyd. The parties had gained a bad reputation for drunkenness and vandalism as they roamed the villages. Many a sermon was preached against the continuance of such a pagan and barbaric practice, and the participants were urged to do something useful instead, such as taking part in eisteddfodau. Enter Nefydd, the Rev. William Roberts (1813-1872), a Denbighshire man who became a Blaenau Gwent Baptist minister. He hated the Mari Lwyd. He wrote a book entitled The Religion Of The Dark Ages, gave a detailed account of the Mari and transcribed 20 verses, so his congregation could recognise it. He campaigned with great fervour: “We must try and get the young people of our time more to interest themselves more in intellectual and substantial things such as reading and composing poetry, essays, singing etc, as is encouraged and practised in our Eisteddfodau… I wish of this folly, and of all similar follies, that they find no place anywhere apart from the museum of the historian and the antiquary.”
Christmas carols began to be sung at the doors instead and the battle of insults and verse dissapeared, and in some areas the Welsh language gave way to English. By the 1960's the custom of the Mari had almost died out. Only a few Mari processions were left by this time including in Pencoed near Bridgend and Pentyrch near Cardiff. 

But the Welsh population hungrily seized on the fragments of the Mari’s tradition, and – thanks to Nefydd – we can now study the Mari verses in all their true splendour, and thankfully there has been a growing interest in Y Fari Lwyd in recent years, which has seen a resurgence in groups performing this tradition across Wales, Maris can now be spotted from Holywell in Flintshire to Pembrokeshire involving bardic battles, revelry and much drinking. I do like a good revival, especially of something as unique and unusual as this.The strength of the Mari tradition can be measured at the National Eisteddfod, which takes place in August. At one Eisteddfod, 30 Maris turned up. Wonderful stuff!!   Long may this tradition continue to grow.

Monday, 3 January 2022

Finnish Lapland Yoik music -- strange and wonderful

Nils-Aslak was a very famous Sami poet. He is the yoik singer. The music and setting is by Esa Kotinainen

Nils-Aslak Valkeapää + Esa Kotinainen — Eanan, Eallima Eadni
Eanan, Eallima Eadni
Eanan, Eallima Eadni (The Earth, Mother of Life) ℗ 1989 Dat O/S Released on: 1999-08-27 Producer: Nils-Aslak Valkepää 

Putting this on here for no other reason than that I am very fond of this recording, which is difficult to find!  I bought it as a tape many years ago, and had despaired of ever finding a digital version.  YouTube to the rescue.........

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Some Goodreads Reviews

Overall, 79 reviews of "On Angel Mountain"-- average 4.2 stars out of 5. I'm quite pleased with that -- and you will never get unanimity or universal praise for a work of historical fiction, especially where readers are coming at something cold and have never heard of the author before....... Where big authors and well-known titles are concerned, there is a predisposition to "like" something and to trust the judgment of those who have gone before you.........


Andrea Atkinson rated it -- it was amazing
This book was recommended to me by a friend who knew I was interested in the Welsh language, history and culture. I fell in love with Mistress Martha Morgan very early on in the story. Not only is it an exciting read but also rich in historical detail, folklore and culture. The descriptive passages are beautifully written by someone who obviously knows and loves the area. I can't wait to read the rest of the series.

Mrs Barbara Guard rated it -- it was amazing
A great read full of romance, disaster and intrigue
I loved this book and have just read it for the second time. Living in Pembrokeshire meant that many of the places are familiar, even the fictitious ones! Brian John has clearly carefully researched the social history of the time and made much of the work believable.
I look forward to reading the other 7 novels in the saga.

Elaine McCulloch rated it -- really liked it
Not my normal read, wouldn't have picked it up but read it with my local book club, and really enjoyed it, set locally to where I live. Had my heart in my mouth towards the end.

Michael Carter rated it -- it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book and proceeded to read the entire series. The chracter of Martha Morgan is a little improbable but her incredible strength is what endures and makes the series possible and so is entirely forgivable. It is written in a diary format but Martha is the type of person that thinks deeply and empathises, giving other characters (even her enemies) plenty of meat.
Her turning up in historical events (rather like the hundred year old man) is written a little tongue in cheek and is very entertaining.
As well as being enjoyable the story (and indeed, the series) is very informative as to Welsh history, and along with detailed geographical description gives a real sense of place.
There are many other well developed characters that add to the texture of the story and local traditions provide many situations in which they develop.
I did sometimed feel the story was tinged with a bit too much tragedy particularly if it seemed gratuitous. Overall though, a thoroughly reccomended series

Beni Morse rated it -- really liked it
I come from this part of the world and I think this is an excellent portrait of the West Walian landscape and community. Not too keen on historical novels generally but this is a great yarn and the narrative is well handled and (by and large) believable. The guy who wrote it comes from the area and clearly has a deep connection with this part of the world. This comes across in the novel.
Also, when he first wrote it, he published it himself and took copies round local bookshops in the back of his car. Later it got taken up by a publisher (Transworld I think?) and there are several follow up novels which have also sold well.

Pauline Evans rated it -- really liked it
A historical novel and part of a saga beginning in 1796. I noticed it in a bookshop in Newport, Pembrokeshire, the county where I grew up from the age of 10. I was drawn to it because it is set around Carningli Mountain near Newport where all my husbands ancestors are from. I loved reading about the mountain I have climbed many times and all the surrounding places I have visited over the years and know so well. A good read for historical novel fans!

Erika rated it -- really liked it
Very good book that was recommended to me and it was good. Set in a diary format following a young lady, Martha Morgan, at a farm in West Wales. Very good characterisations of Welsh characters set in 1797. Loved some of the names like Lewis Legal! Overall a good story, and interesting to read how the main character grows up over the course of the book. Also interesting to read about local customs and traditions at that period in time.

Pat rated it -- it was amazing
I loved this book from the off and have read all the series. Can't recommend them highly enough, for sheer beauty of the place, the magical qualities of the tale, the vividly portrayed characters and the historical setting, which made me feel they were all real people involved in the unfolding drama.

Melissa rated it -- it was amazing
My mother-in-law sent this book (first of 8) to me from Wales. It's a wonderful bit of historical fiction, complete with mystery, romance, and rich characters. I can't wait to read the rest of the series!

Saturday, 18 December 2021

Pwnc 1898

This is a record from the County Echo, dated 2 June 1898, kindly transcribed by Ann and John Hughes of Tegfan, for the Dinas Historical Society in 2012.  Here is the link to the full publication, covering the period 1894-1920 and published as "The News of Dinas".

There are many fascinating things about this extract. First, the Pwnc was clearly thriving in 1898! Second, that Whit Monday was the time it was celebrated. Hundreds of men, women and children took part, and there were three separate celebrations, organised by the Methodists, the Baptists and the Church in Wales. The Methodists met at Brynhenllan, where the congregations and Sunday schools from Newport (Tabernacle?), Dinas, Glanrhyd and Gethsemane sang. The Church in Wales congregations and Sunday schools sang in Nevern Chirch, representing newport, Nevern, Cilgwyn and Dinas. And finally the Baptists sang at Bethlehem, Newport, representing Caersalem, Jabes, Glandwr and Tabernacle. twelve churches represented, singing flat out and competing too -- for the Pwnc was a sort of cross between a Cymanfa Ganu, eisteddfod, gregorian chant and catechism....... the author of the news report refers to "pwncing" as a verb, which is interesting in itself.

I had not realised, until reading this account, that before 1900 the established church was just as heavily involved in the tradition as the non-conformists.

All other info about the Pwnc gratefully received. Please add a comment if you like!

See also:


2 June 1898

In Dinas Whit-Monday has for a generation or two been set apart by prescriptive right for the Sunday school and those who prophesy a gradual but certain death to the 'Pwnc' must have been most disagreeably surprised ere the day was far spent. Evidences were not lacking to prove that this event has a foremost place in the hearts of those who attend the Sunday school. The children had long looked forward to this great day, and rising with the lark, paraded Feidr Fawr with light hearts and in clothes of every hue, waiting for the brakes, traps, wagonettes, etc. to convey them to their respective destinations. The enthusiasm displayed was unbounded, and we are bound to admit that the “Pwnc” bears no trace of consumption – either rapid or slow – but on the contrary is growing in popularity. “Old Sol” was conspicuous by his absence, and several of the old seadogs were heard speaking of dark clouds and falling barometer. One of them exclaimed excitedly “O Marget fach, ble mae dy mackintosh di? Mae yn well I tI fynd I ymofyn hi, anyhow.” The scholars were afraid lest the rain would seriously interfere with their day's enjoyment. However, Mr John Jenkins – who is a shoemaker, inventor, painter, cementer, mariner, and weathercock rolled into one – soon brought relief to the anxious crowd by exclaiming - “Oes dim glaw ynddi heddyw, fallai bydd yfori”. The Yankee is not in it with our John. Fortunately John's prediction was right this time again, for although “Old Sol” denied his lovely presence during the day there was no rain to mar the children's enjoyment. All the schools were marshalled on Feidr Fawr and left in their respective conveyances for Nevern and Newport.

Mr Stephen Davies conducted the singing of hymns on the way. Some disappointment was felt that no provision was made to convey the little Taborians. The large brake at Tyrhos was disengaged and if we desire the Pwnc long life we must give every encouragement to the rising generation.

The Methodists assembled at Brynhenllan and comprised the following churches:- Dinas, Glanrhyd, Gethsemane, and Newport. The chair in the morning and afternoon was ably filled by Capt D Harris JP, Soar Hill. The various school went through their work in the following order: morning, (1) Dinas; Conductor Rev Ll Griffiths; (2) Glanrhyd; conductor Rev Ll Griffiths; (3) Gethsemane; conductor Rev T Lamb. Afternoon: Newport; conductor Rev G E O Morgan. It would be invidious to make a distinction when one and all gave such admirable renderings. The singing of the respective anthems showed that the various choirs had been in constant practice for weeks, Mr Davies, Trewilyn, remarking upon the excellent voices possessed by the Dinas ladies. The children, under the baton of Mr Davies then sang several tunes, the conductor remarking that their renderings bore traces of elementary school teaching. At this stage the Rev G E O. Morgan explained that the absence of the Rev John Mendus, Tymeini was due to illness and proposed a vote of sympathy with him. The Rev T Lamb seconded and expressed a hope that the Almighty would be pleased to extend his life to be with them for many years to come. He went on to praise not only their number but also the excellent manner in which they went through their work. The time at the disposal of the conductor (Mr T Jones) was so limited that he deemed it inadvisable to sing the anthem. However, the choir gave beautiful renderings of Rhondda and Armageddon. The deacons are to be congratulated for the favourable impression their school made during the day. “Yn mlaen yr eloch”. Mr Lewis, Moylgrove, conducted the Gedeon Sunday School.

The church had their festival at Nevern church and were joined there by the churches Cilgwyn, Newport and Nevern. The Rev John Williams had every reason to be proud of his flock. They, like Gedeon, made a record attendance and went through their work in highly creditable manner. The churches recited in the following order:- (1) Cilgwyn; (2) Nevern; (3) Dinas; (4) Newport. Extreme regret was expressed at the absence through illness of Mrs W E Bennett, Ashgrove. She was a tower of strength to the Dinas ranks in voice and manipulation of the organ, and we trust she will soon recover to take her place at church. In her absence, Mr J Harris had to conduct and play and he did not seem at all nervous at the work. The “gannan gleed” was given an excellent style. Cilgwyn church gave a splendid account of themselves, and shared with Dinas the honours of the day. The quartet was excellently sung by Mrs Prouse, Misses F Alderson, M Drew. E M Jenkins, Madge Davies, and Messrs T C and E Bennett.

Taborians held their festival at Bethlehem, Newport. They were conducted by their worthy pastor, Rev J W Maurice. They were joined by the churches of Caersalem, Jabez, Glandwr and Newport. The Taborians mustered in strong force and the concourse shows that the Sunday school at Tabor is in a very flourishing condition. We are told that the Tabor took the palm in singing and “pwncing” “Oedd Jim wrth y lliw a phwy rhyfedd.”


This is from 1900:

On Whit Monday, a large number of Dinasites assembled at the Church (Dinas) to listen to the rendering of the “pwnc”, which was recited by the following choirs in the order named: - Llanllawer, Dinas, Cilgwyn, Nevern, and Newport (Pem). The various schools went through their parts very satisfactorily and the manner in which the anthems were sung was most creditable to the singers.

Later in the day a sumptuous tea was provided in the schoolroom to which full justice was done. The following ladies, assisted by many willing helpers, presided at the trays; Miss Williams and Miss Alderson (The Rectory), Mrs Capt Thomas (Cambrian Terrace), Mrs and Miss Drew, Mrs Bennett (Ashgrove), Mrs Carter Bennett (Hescwm), and Misses [sic] Hopkins. The room was very tastefully and profusely decorated for the occasion with flags, buntings and evergreens. We might mention that the flags were kindly lent by Mr Buffins (Coastguard) who also rendered valuable assistance in the work of decoration.

In the evening a most successful entertainment took place in the schoolroom, this being the first gathering of the kind ever held in this village by the church friends. Mr Wm Bennett (Hescwm) who was in his old form, made an ideal chairman, and he presided over a large and well-behaved audience.


There are various other mentions of the Pwnc as well -- it was something which was taken very seriously, involving many rehearsals. The "winners" at the celebrations clearly had every reason to feel chuffed with themselves!


Here is a technical description of what goes on in the Pwnc:

Declamation in the Welsh folk tradition is still to be heard in canu'r pwnc
'singing the text'. As now practiced in southwest Wales, the tradition is connected
with reciting biblical scriptures at catechismal festivals, which became prevalent in
the early 1800s. The style of sung recitation may, however, be much older. In a typi-
cal example, a passage from the Bible is announced, and the precentor sounds the
note. One group enters immediately on the same note, a second part comes in at a
fifth above, and the two parts chant together at that interval. The rhythm of the
chant is even, the tone firm and rather staccato, the diction clear. Phrasing is accord-
ing to punctuation: the reciting tone dips slightly on each strong accent; but at
cadences on commas or periods in the text, the dip may reach as much as a fourth.
These cadences are snapped sharply, in a sixteenth-and-dotted-eighth rhythm. The
alternation of voices adds variety, as children chant in unison, then women in unison,
then men, and then the entire congregation once more in two parts.


Another article:

Canu Pwnc

Andrew Phillip Smith

Even though I grew up in Wales (albeit in Anglicised Penarth) and as an adult became very interested in traditional Welsh culture, I had never come across canu’r pwnc until my wife bought me a copy of The Rough Guide to Wales CD. The CD is a compilation of a wide variety of Welsh folk music, though not of Welsh music in a broader sense since it lacks any cerdd dant or male voice choirs. Canu’r pwnc is “a very ancient form of choral singing that… occurs in Pembrokeshire and western Carmarthenshire. ‘Canu’r pwnc’ is the chanting of scriptural text and usually takes place around Whitsuntide. The rhythmic structure and harmonisation sounds startling to modern ears, and yet this form of declamatory singing is very common and well-known throughout the region. The singing can last continually for an entire weekend, with people from different villages taking up the baton after a period to keep up the momentum.”

The selection on the Rough guide CD was recorded in Maenclochog in Preseli in 1967. They seem to be singing the genealogy from the beginning of Matthew or Luke. The singing sounds like the most pagan thing you ever heard. Canu’r Pwnc literally means ‘singing (bible) study.’ The people from Capel Rhywilym are prbably Welsh Baptists. But surely they were picking up on a style of singing that goes back at least to medieval times.

There’s an piece of Canu Pwnc on the BBC website, as part of a 1967 BBC Wales broadcast on Carmarthenshire. You might want to close your eyes when you listen to it for the first time, since the mysterious chant contrasts badly with the angelic schoolchildren in shirts and ties who are singing it on this clip ({if I remember rightly.) The link is

There’s an interesting article on voice by Mike Pearson here:

He mentions Canu Pwnc: “Lampeter-based archaeologist Michael Shanks has written, ‘Archaeology is about some very basic and mundane things: grubbing around in decayed garbage, recovering traces of things and processes which go largely unnoticed today – what happens to broken bits of pot, to things that get lost, abandoned buildings, rotted fences, microbial action. A creeping, mouldering under-side of things’.(2) Archaeology leads equally to thoughts of ruin, decay, putrefaction and of aging, erosion, wearing…Which is perhaps why I found as much in the struggles of the canu pwnc group from Rhydwilym chanting John 1:1 – ‘Why do you move from a minor third to major third in your chant?’, asked the Vietnamese musicologist. ‘Because we can’t sing in tune’, replied the aged choir–as in the practised harmonies of the equally aged Bulgarian ‘Grannies’ of Bistritsa’.”

Many of the traditional forms of singing give an impressions of great age simply because the singers are of great age! This is often true of Irish sean-nos singing too. Still, this is a comic moment, a Vietnamese musicologist over in Wales being fascinated by an unusual musical transition that turns out to simply be singing out of tune.


And this is the only recording I have been able to find:

Capel Rhydwilym — Canu’r Pwnc

on the CD “Rough Guide to the Music of Wales”, Track 5


PS  Thanks to Erica Davies for bringing this film to our attention.  It's from 1974, and the last 5 mins were recorded at Cymanfa Bwnc at Capel Rhydwilym.  A wonderful document...!!

About Plygain


This is a very good summary of the Plygain tradition, with a description of how it varied in different parts of Wales:

Here is an old BBC recording made in Newport (?):

Friday, 10 December 2021

All eight audiobooks......

Just in time for Christmas, Bolinda Audio has now brought out the last in the series of eight "Angel Mountain" audiobooks. They are all available in CD, MP3 and digital download formats. If listening to audiobooks is your thing -- or the preference of somebody you love -- look no further! Get immersed in the extraordinary world of Martha Morgan, as already discovered by hundreds of thousands of readers. What they say in reviews:

"A modern Welsh literary triumph... a page-turning plot, packed with adventure, treason, murder and passion."

"Another great, unputdownable read by Brian John. Old and new characters come to life in his thought provoking and clever addition to the brilliant Angel Mountain stories.”

"This book is filled with goodness; it is filled with caring, compassionate people. It has a message that basically the human species recognizes truth, justice, fairness and kindness. Martha dominates, with her mysticism, her meditations on the mountain, her joys and sadnesses. A timeless and compelling tale."

"Mistress Martha Morgan of Plas Ingli is now firmly established as one of the most interesting heroines in recent historical fiction."

"I couldn't put it down. I started reading the Angel Mountain series on recommendation and have been living with Martha ever since."

"Martha Morgan becomes a very real person and the books are a compulsive read, with shades of Cordell and Cookson."

"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, and inspirational."

Wednesday, 8 December 2021

Which one is the Wizard?

Gandalf, complete with long beard, flowing robes, pointy hat and magic wand.  In reality they 
were not a bit like that.......

Rowling and Tolkien have a lot to answer for.  In the creation of their mythical wizards, and by creating characters and narratives vivid enough to have turned their stories into massive international hits, they have made it very difficult for normal wizards to exist.

In the 1700s and 1800s wizards dod not look a  bit like Gandalf.  In fact, they looked more like these gentlemen:

Edward Jenner, the man who invented vaccinations.

Dr Syntax, a medical man who featured in a number of popular books in Georgian England, 
illustrated by Thomas Rowlandson.

If Rowlandson is to be believed, doctors or physicians wore perfectly normal sombre garb, not unlike the clothes worn day-to-day by clerics.  Jenner clearly did not favour a wig, but Doctor Syntax is always shown with a white wig and a dark three-cornered hat.  He often wore gaiters and black boots, and beneath his waistcoat a white shirt and cravat or ruff.

Of course, wizards like John Harries and Joseph Harries used the name "doctor" quite deliberately, even though they might not strictly have been allowed to do so, because it suited them.  As long as they maintained a good reputation with the public, and actually healed people or solved mysteries, their patients and clients were happy to go along with that.

So rest assured that Dr Joseph Harries, one of the stars of the Angel Mountain saga, looked much more like Dr Syntax than Gandalf...........

Monday, 29 November 2021



Eight years ago, during a spell of foggy grey weather with not a breath of wind, I wrote this little poem:


Strange times.
November's complacent benediction
in blackness before dawn,
with just a hint of menace?

Day after day
A grey shroud over our heads
draped from far horizons,
flat, heavy, damp
as a grimy sponge
drawing colour from the land.

A leaden sea.
Even the stream is low, slow, murmuring.
Night after night
no stars, no wind, no moon, no rain.
Unsettled, I listen.

Then, in the far woods
A tawny owl,
right on the edge of hearing.

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Adapting a diary for a screenplay: challenges and opportunities

We have been working hard on our project designed to bring the 8-novel Angel Mountain Saga to the screen. Lots of challenges and opportunities!

One of the things on which we have needed to concentrate is the perception that diaries (fictional or real) are difficult to adapt for the large or small screen, because so much of the narrative is told rather than shown, and the only things that happen are directly experienced by the narrator. There is something in that. We may never get a clear mental picture of the narrator, because there is no way that he or she would ever describe his or her physical characteristics in a diary intended for personal satisfaction, let alone his or her personality traits. As an author speaking in the “voice” of the heroine Martha Morgan, I had to drop in snippets in reported or remembered conversations about her beauty and her other physical attributes, and had to make it clear from her choice of words that she was passionate and compassionate, erratic and even eccentric, stubborn and incorrigible — and much else besides. But I have never yet had a reader who complained about “not knowing” Martha — and in fact many have said that through the diary format they had been given access to her spirit and her soul. That level of intimacy and emotional involvement between heroine and reader is something that every writer seeks to achieve.

By the same token the diary writer never describes those who are nearest and dearest, and the reader has to create mental pictures of family members and friends. As for the enemies, and those who are bit players in the drama, the reader knows that the heroine’s descriptions of them will be biased and very subjective, leaving the possibility that there is more to them than we might know…...

Also, in many diaries there is not much emphasis on the narration of unfolding events, or the development of a drama, but much more emphasis on the feelings and reactions of the writer — hopes, fears, anticipation, elation or disappointment. Even black despair, for a narrator who has to cope with her own personal black dog………. That having been said, there is an immediacy in diary writing that does allow a story to be driven forward at high speed, with surprises delivered suddenly and withy maximum impact, without any early warning signals.

Those are the challenges. But think of the opportunities! A fictional diary lays down the essential events from the beginning to the end of the narrative, and because a novelist follows the same set of rules as a screenwriter, there will be a basic three-act structure. In an adaptation, there will be far too many characters and too many events, and many people and happenings will have to be dumped. Key locations will have to remain unvisited. But in all of that there are huge creative opportunities — in the tweaking of the story and in the fashioning of character. A great screenwriter like Andrew Davies seems to have the innate ability to cull out from a complex narrative the essential components of a story that will appeal to a wide variety of viewers. He will have a clear picture in his mind of the hero or heroine and all the members of the supporting cast and he will use many devices in the process of making them believable and interesting. And as for the villains, the screenwriter will effectively have carte blanche, because their back stories (about which a diary writer or reader knows little) can now be invented and built into a screenplay as a B-narrative or a C-narrative. And writers like Andrew Davies have never been afraid of introducing new storylines or even new characters, if they think that these tweaks will enhance the power of the central story.

The best of all possible worlds — a story loved by hundreds of thousands of readers, an imperfect heroine who is loved by everybody, and a vast range of opportunities for a creative retelling in which many characters who were previously in the shadows can be brought out into the light and thus brought to life.