Tuesday, 27 December 2016

No second series for Merrily Watkins?

It's tough out there.

Many readers will be familiar with the novels of Phil Rickman -- many of which are not actually set in Wales but in the Welsh borders.  So, they are almost Welsh stories.  Among the most popular of his books are the Merrily Watkins stories, dark and aften gruesome, featuring an interesting female vicar who is also an exorcist.  In 2015 ITV broadcast a mini-series of 3 episodes, which received great acclaim.   There were some excellent reviews, including this one:
‘Midwinter of the Spirit has been excellent…. it should return – there are 12 more Phil Rickman novels to choose from.’

This is from Phil's web site:

So what went wrong…?
The three-part Midwinter of the Spirit was originally made for the quality-drama channel, ITV Encore. However, it was suddenly and unexpectedly plucked out of the Encore schedule to replace the far more expensive, all-star six-parter, Unforgotten, in a peak-hour slot on ITV One..

How odd. Could it have been because they’d recognised its obvious merits… or because the more expendable Midwinter would thus go up against Episode 3 of what would be the year’s most successful (10 million viewers) BBC drama, Doctor Foster, saving the costly Unforgotten from the embarrassing possibility of, er, being rapidly forgotten.?

It was no great surprise to anybody when, with the huge Foster viewing figures already well established, most viewers chose to record Midwinter instead, apparently setting what looked like a new high for UK recording of a particular drama. Unfortunately, a recording counts for nothing in the ratings – especially on ITV, where it means viewers are able to skip the ads.

So the critically-acclaimed Midwinter was, as expected, proclaimed a flop by ITV executives, who told the media that it ‘hadn’t worked’, while the rescued Unforgotten (‘Hard to love’ – Daily Telegraph, ‘dodgy dialogue… painful looping slowness’ – Guardian, ‘unsatisfactory… played a series of shabby tricks’ – Daily Mail) has gone on to a second series.

Welcome to the pragmatic world of peak-hour television.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Welsh Publishing Report -- gone missing?

I wonder what has happened to this commissioned report from Prof Medwin Hughes and colleagues, which was supposed to be published in September?

Review of Welsh Government’s support for Publishing and Literature – Terms of Reference -- March 2016



During 2014 an independent review of the Welsh Government’s support for books from Wales was commissioned. The review assessed:
 the rationale for Welsh Government support for books from Wales;
 whether the Welsh Books Council continues to be the most appropriate vehicle for delivering that support;
 the evidence for the value for money of the current approach
The aim of this further review is to carry out a wider analysis of the Welsh Government’s support for publishing and literature.


In broad terms the scope of the review is to assess:
    The main aims of the Welsh Government in supporting the publishing industry and literature in Wales, in both languages; i.e., what are we seeking to achieve, culturally, socially and economically? Are these aims still fit for purpose in the 21st Century?
    The scale and remit of the support currently given to deliver these aims, including the relationship between the bodies responsible for delivering this support.
    Digital developments within the publishing industry in Wales
    The administrative arrangements for the Welsh Government support for a Welsh-language daily online news service, as well as papurau bro (Welsh language community newspapers).
    The support for publishing and literature in disadvantaged areas across Wales.

The review will be chaired by Professor Medwin Hughes, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, and is expected to report its findings in September.


    • Professor Medwin Hughes (Chair)
    • Professor Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones (Vice Chair)
    • John Williams
    • Philippa Davies
    • Martin Rolph.

Monday, 19 December 2016

New Year talk at Oriel y Parc

A warm welcome to anybody who would like to come along -- a pleasant way to spend an evening, recovering from the excesses of Christmas and New Year.......  At the Oriel y Parc Gallery in St David's -- 7 pm on Wed Jan 4th, 2017.

I shall be talking about Mistress Martha, Allegory and the Welsh narrative.  That should be enough to be going on with.......

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Angel Mountain Album Archive

If anybody wants to search for an old image used on this blog, or just look at all the pictures used over the years, here is a good way to do it.  Just scan through the images in the appropriate Google Image Archive.  Gere is the link:


Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The Welsh Narrative - refined

 This is the new dragon associated with the Welsh Government's current re-branding exercise.  Not sure that I like it all that much -- the fluffy feet make it look a bit like a cross between a dragon and a hobbit.  Maybe that's the idea -- the old dragon was indeed very fierce, with sharp claws on its feet, and maybe this one looks a bit less threatening......

Following our attempts to define the Welsh narrative in relatively few words, we have had a very enthusiastic (and even aggressive!) debate of the Welsh History Facebook page about what it is that makes Wales special.  The most interesting contributions, I thought, were those stressing the need to use words that conjure up images and emotional responses.  Fair enough -- one does not want a statement that sounds too dry or academic -- and on the other side of the coin it must not be too flowery or filled with meaningless puffery.  Something like this seems to be more in tune with the comments made in the discussion:

"Wales is two hours and a million miles away -- a small country on the Celtic fringe of Europe. The country’s green acres have seen a valiant struggle for self determination against a powerful and predatory neighbour.  From the days of its ancient myths and native princes, to the ring of castles built by its conquerors, to its soaring rocky peaks and wild coasts, to its rich bardic and linguistic heritage, and the coal and iron that forged a global industrial revolution, Wales has always been a nation of survivors.  Melancholia features large in the national psyche -- but so does euphoria, and the old mystics talked of two fighting dragons.  Welsh people still have a powerful sense of place and an instinct for subversion and social justice.  They still have an abiding fondness for family histories, mysteries and legends, poetry and music, ceremonial and eccentric traditions.  And in Wales you will find a living language, an open-hearted generosity of spirit, a real sense of mischief, and the warmest of welcomes."

Sunday, 11 December 2016

St Brynach and the lusty princess

The link between Carningli and St Brynach is well known.  Thanks to Luke for drawing our attention to this hilarious narrative -- from the Life of St Brynach, reputedly first written down in the twelfth century.  In this case, a lusty young princess is chosen to do the devil's work........

When he was sojourning some time in the same place (somewhere on the shores of Milford Haven or the Cleddau River) serving his God, the old adversary of human kind, ever forming new plans for his wickedness, always ready to attack more boldly the purity of chastity, sharply urged the daughter of a nobleman, who ruled that land, into love of the saint. She, in fact, as almost every woman is for the devil old armour, a vessel full of malignity, and prepared invincibly for every crime, tries in every way to bind the servant of God alluringly with the snares of her charm, and attempts to divert him from the consummation of a better design. 

To serve her wantonness she mixes wolf's-bane, and being gaily clothed in alluring attire she ceases not to give him to drink what she improperly mixed. The holy servant of God thirsted not for a cup of this kind, but refused it, and, as the apostle advises, he flies from the assaults of fornication. For in this conflict he fights better, who retires, than he who resists; he conquers more bravely, who more bravely flies.

 The girl, in fact, rejecting girlish modesty, who could not bend his firm mind to impious love, turning her love into hatred of the holy man, would separate his holy body from his soul. A woman, rejected in love, excogitates every evil, and whom a little before she had loved to the dividing of body and soul, she now, inflamed into hatred of , tries to lead to every kind of death. For, as that distinguished instructor of morals, Seneca, says, 'A woman either hates or loves; there is no medium.' 

Therefore she sent certain cruel men to persecute the saint, fiercely bidding them that, if they could not bring him back alive, they were not to suffer him to go away alive. ' The wicked men hasten, and rush blindly to their evil deed. Whom they follow, they find, and first with soft words entice to return, but, because he refuses to go back with them, one of them pierced the meek man with a dreadful wound from a spear. The others, too, rush in desiring to slay him, but by the will of God certain present assist, who hasten to snatch the holy man from the hands of the scoundrels. But he who inflicted the wound, being immediately struck by the vengeance of God, beset on his whole body by winged lice, after he had been long afflicted by weakness and poverty at length finished his wretched life with a miserable death. 

The holy servant of God went to a well, which was near, and going into the water, washed away the blood. Wherefore unto this day that well is called Fons Rubeus, red well, where also in honour of the saint the merciful God bestows many benefits of health on the infirm, the healing of wounds through the mediation of the Lord being received without delay.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Caer Ingli or Carningli?

Now here is an interesting thought.  I have always gone with the belief that CARNINGLI is a very ancient name which means "the rocky mountain of the angels" or some such thing.  "Carn" is well known as a component of thousands of place names in Wales, and "ingli" is widely assumed to be a corruption of the old Welsh word for "angels."  And the assumption is that the name comes from the tradition that St Brynach used to climb up to the summit "in order to commune with the angels."  Some believe that the sanctity of the mountain goes back even further, maybe to Iron Age times.

So far so good.  But I noticed the other day that on the Coflein records, Garn Fawr (the hillfort site on the Pen Caer peninsula, close to Pwllderi) also used to be known as Caer Fawr.   Not "the big rocky crag or hill" but "the big fort".

So might Carningli be a corruption of Caer Ingli?  There is a magnificent Iron Age hillfort or defended settlement on the summit, as we all know.  You can see some of the defensive banks on the satellite image above.  Various authorities in the past have speculated that "Ingli" might be a personal name rather than a corruption of the word for angels, and might it be that somebody called Ingli was the chieftain who built the hillfort?  Folk memory just about goes back to the Iron Age, and there is a tradition that in the Age of the Saints Brynach and David had difficult encounters with assorted Irish chieftains and roving bands of warriors who came across the sea from the west.  They were seen as pirates, but they might just as well have been tribal groups who were intent on settling in Pembrokeshire.  History is rather hazy on all of this.  But one Irish chieftain is supposed to have set up base at the defended site known as Garn Ffoi, not far from Newport and not very far from the summit of Carn Ingli.  Might there have been a tribal group in occupation of Carningli hillfort as well, in the period following the departure of the Romans?  There are signs that the defensive walls have been "slighted" or deliberately destroyed -- archaeologists have wondered whether this represents the culmination of a brutal battle for the summit and a defeat for the defending settlers............ who were slaughtered or evicted, never to return to a place reduced to ruins.

So we have another theory -- namely that Carningli might originally have been named "Caer Ingli" -- the fort or fortified settlement built by and ruled over by a chieftain named Ingli.  Who was he, and when was this happening?  Maybe time will tell.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Welsh Narrative

We we inching forward with our attempts to define this, in the full knowledge that it has been done dozens of times before, mainly by Welsh historians.  Apologies to all of those whose opinions have been ignored.  All comments welcome!!

The Welsh narrative?

"Wales is a small country on the Celtic fringe of Europe with magnificent landscapes and rich natural resources. It is too close to England to have remained truly independent, and not far enough away for bloody rebellions ever to have taken hold. Throughout its history it has fought to resist the depredations of powerful neighbours; and against all the odds it has retained its language, its culture and its pride whilst encouraging toleration and liberal values and adapting to dramatic change. It has learned how to be subversive and seductive, and how to be spiritual and mischievous at the same time. In its history it has not suffered the same deep traumas as Scotland and Ireland. Its people are romantics, prone to wild swings of emotion; both melancholia and euphoria feature in the national psyche. Welsh people have a powerful "sense of place" and an abiding fondness for family histories, legends, ceremonial and ancient traditions. Eccentricity is embraced, while great value is placed upon learning. There is a tendency towards radical protest and an ever-present desire for social reform. Ultimately, Wales wants the respect of others -- and to be left in peace to enjoy and endure the ups and downs of the Welsh rugby team."

Points to be considered:

1. The Visit Wales new “brand” does not owe much to the Welsh narrative. It steers well clear of anything that can be construed as negative in marketing terms, and concentrates on “positive” buzzwords including these: authentic, creative, innovative, alive, epic, memorable, inspiring, fresh, legendary, iconic, rich, distinctive, accessible, contemporary, immersive, inclusive. The immediate response to this, from many in the tourist trade, is that it’s all very modern, bright and breezy -- but that every other tourist authority in the world uses the same words and sells the same message. Nobody seems very clear what it is about Wales that makes it unique when compared to everywhere else, and more particularly, what makes it different from Scotland and Ireland. Some of the old tourism straplines might have got closer: so near and yet so far, familiar and yet foreign, two hours and a million miles away, life on the edge.......

2. It’s accepted that the Welsh narrative and the Welsh “brand” are not the same thing -- the former is about identity and the latter is about marketing. But there does need to be a relationship between the two. The brand should emerge from the narrative, and visitors to Wales should ideally be made aware of the history and character of the country. Those who are involved in the tourist trade should be proud of their heritage, and should sell it to visitors as part of the tourism experience.

3. We should embrace the “negative” aspects of the Welsh narrative rather than hiding them away. Is Wales as melancholic and unhappy as it is portrayed in “Hinterland”? No way. Melancholia is a part of the Welsh psyche, but it is balanced by an undying optimism and by expressions of euphoria whenever great things happen in the country. And people may sometimes seem reserved, but there is a real warmth in the welcomes given to others. “Croeso!” means so much more than “Welcome!” Yes, “hiraeth” is about loss and longing, but it is more than that -- it is ultimately about belonging, and the unbreakable bond between people and place. The word “bro” means community or neighbourhood, and it must be understood not just in terms of geographical demarkation but also in terms of sociology, history and psychology. The word “gwerin” can be interpreted in a condescending way, as meaning “the common people” -- but it also means “folk” and “democracy”, and everybody knows that Welsh language and culture would not have survived without the determination and the resilience of the gwerin, at times when the gentry and the “educated classes” were espousing Englishness in all its forms. Certainly Welsh people can seem reticent and cautious at times, and there is no great evidence of consuming ambition or towering aspirations. There is a certain reluctance to make instant decisions and to take risks -- but therein, perhaps, lies an explanation for the survival of Wales as a special place with a unique language and a mystery round every corner........

4. There are probably many narratives, but I suspect that everybody who tries to write down their version would emphasise to some degree the complex relationship between Wales and England down through the centuries. England is seen (over-simplistically) as arrogant, over-bearing and condescending, always intent upon "the rape of the fair country”. Wales sees itself (over-simplistically) as oppressed, downtrodden, and exploited -- whereas it has of course made a specialism of internal feuding and squabbling between petty princedoms and has grown its own crop of bombastic squires and brutal ironmasters without any great help from England.  Nonetheless,  while the English are hated or just tolerated, there is a close bond -- born of shared experience-- with the Irish. And with Scotland too.

5. One must not get too serious about all of this. Isn’t there room for some humour in our view of Wales, or indeed in its branding and marketing? I quite like the idea of Wales endlessly subverting and screwing up the political and military ambitions of one English king after another! This suggests a national instinct for resilience, resistance, dogged determination and sheer bloody-mindedness. OK -- the Normans conquered Wales, and then the English kings defeated Llewelyn the Great, and Owain Glyndwr and put down many short-lived rebellions -- but the aspiration for independence never went away, and the mountainous heartland of Wales, facing Cardigan Bay, never really submitted to foreign rule. Ferocious Anglo-Norman feudal lords married Welsh girls and themselves became softer, gentler and kinder! Anyway, that’s what we like to think. Local loyalties persisted, and the language survived. Magic and enchantment always were a part of the Welsh storytelling tradition, but there has always been a great respect for mischief as well. Mischievous pranks abound in the stories of the Mabinogion, and in the poems of Dafydd ap Gwilym, and in the adventures of Twm Shon Cati. The ultimate prankster was Iolo Morgannwg. One might argue that there is really a sort of mischievous national plot to stop the English from ever achieving complete dominion over Wales and the Welsh, whilst lulling them into a false sense of security........

6. So if these elements can be incorporated into a Welsh national narrative, what are the positive buzzwords that might be used in future branding? Here are a few: generous, warm-hearted, eccentric, mischievous, sensitive, intuitive, whimsical, enigmatic, musical, poetic, dramatic, spirited, steadfast, ironic, ebullient, demonstrative, enduring, colourful, lyrical, resolute, mysterious, proud, faithful, accessible, loyal, adaptable, enchanting, quirky, understated, unpretentious. These words will not fit very well into a strategy of hard branding and marketing -- they are too soft and mellow. But they may just be more effective in flagging up the unique qualities of Wales, especially with the Year of Legends almost upon us.

7. It’s interesting that when we went round the table at the meeting, seeking adjectives that might describe the Welsh narrative from assorted points of view, words such as these kept on cropping up: light, mood, water, feeling, atmosphere, cosiness, “cwtchyness”, familiarity, security, comfort. All very atmospheric and even ethereal -- but significant as to how some people at least feel about Wales.


Finally, just a few quotes from Jan Morris’s book called “The Matter of Wales”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Many thanks to Bishop Wyn Evans and to the attendees at the St David’s networking meeting on 6th December. It will be apparent that many of the points raised in our discussions are incorporated above!

Finally, a reminder that there is more than one Welsh history.  The photo above was taken on the set during the making of the famous TV series in which Wynford Vaughan Thomas and Prof Gwyn Alf Williams argued about what has actually happened in Wales, and how it should all be interpreted.

Friday, 2 December 2016


I was recently in touch with one of the big London literary / media agents, to see if he might be prepared to act on my behalf in any forthcoming negotiations on the sale of media rights in the Angel Mountain saga. He shall be nameless, but his response was interesting. Not to put too fine a point on it, he was really rather condescending, and beneath the flannel there was a clear implication that he can't be bothered to deal with anything from Wales because the money is probably not good enough and because nothing from Wales is going to attract the attention of the big broadcasters anyway. He also stated quite directly that the TV production companies within Wales are probably too small to do big deals and to achieve global network sales. He appeared quite disinterested in whether the story narrative was a compelling one with wide appeal, and whether the lead character (namely Martha Morgan) was likely to be strong enough and charismatic enough to attract a faithful following  across the globe.  It does not seem to have occurred to him that we might just have here something to compete with Poldark, Pride and Prejudice or Downton Abbey........ so is there an anti-Welsh bias operating here?

The agent's attitude reminded me that nothing much has changed since I wrote "On Angel Mountain" and tried to find a publisher or a literary agent to take it on, back in the year 2000.  I wrote to more than 50 agents and more than 50 publishers.  Most of them never bothered to reply, let alone ask for sight of some written material.  Those that did all took the following line:  "Forget it.  There is no market for historical fiction from Wales."  I derive a certain grim satisfaction from the fact that 16 years later the novels have racked up sales of 80,000 and have achieved some sort of iconic status in a small country where a book is counted as a best-seller if it sells 700 copies.  I'm also quite pleased that I have not needed to shell out a 15% or 20% commission to any agents on my total sales income over all those years!

So what is it about Wales that turns off the London literary / media establishment?  Well,  it has to be said that Wales does not exactly help itself. 

On the literature front, the Welsh publishing industry survives almost entirely on large subsidies paid by the taxpayer via the Welsh Books Council, on the pretext that this is required for the maintenance of a vibrant literary culture in Welsh and English.  Most books sell very few copies, but that does not matter, since the subsidies ensure that few of them actually make a loss.  Accurate sales figures are hard to come by.  Writers too are subsidised, this time with grants disbursed through Literature Wales.  The only books that are exposed to the harsh commercial realities of the world, and which have to compete in an open market-place, are those (like mine) that are self-published -- since by the bizarre rules of the game in Wales, they are debarred from receiving grant aid of any sort.   So if I was a London-based literary agent asked to assess the commercial potential of a Welsh novel, my default position would be one of extreme scepticism.  I would have no way of assessing its real quality based on market performance.  I might even assume that if the novel was written in Wales and published in Wales, it would probably never even have seen the light of day if it had been submitted to an English publisher.  It might even be complete rubbish.

As far as film and TV media are concerned, it has to be said that Wales probably does punch above its weight, given that the Welsh Government provides great support for new projects and given that there are a number of top-class studio and production facilities in Cardiff, Swansea and elsewhere.  Wales can handle big budget productions, and the country has a great track record of attracting inward investment from companies that would expend far larger budgets if they were to use facilities in England. Films and TV series roll off the production line.  But hardly any of them are about Wales or are even set in Wales -- in spite of the amazing scenic resources available for location shooting. So Wales "stands in" for China, or Avalon, or New York or Berlin.  BBC Wales has been heavily criticised for its lack of commitment to the production of Welsh dramas, most recently by one of the Welsh Assembly's influential committees.  But the truth is that it has very little room for manoevre, since its budget is controlled from London.  ITV does not have a strong Welsh presence, and S4C has good intentions but a miniscule budget.  So the broadcasters do not have the resources to buy into large Welsh drama productions,  and production companies in Wales tend to be small because they have no reliable drama market-place to sell into.

Wales suffers too from not having a very strong or coherent image of itself. This has been pointed out by scores of writers over the years.  So Visit Wales markets the country as being magnificent, exciting and authentic;  the trouble is that every other country in the world does exactly the same thing.  Scotland and Ireland seem to have far stronger images of themselves, and far stronger global brands.  There is some excellent destination marketing going on here, year after year,  but what is the Welsh narrative, and how can it be sold to the world?  Nobody seems quite sure........

So we have an ill-formed self-image, a distorted and unreliable literary market-place and and a TV production scene dominated by small and enthusiastic production companies with limited broadcasting opportunities.  A doom and gloom scenario?  One can see where our condescending London agent is coming from, and one is justified in feeling a bit resentful about it, since in an ideal world every project is assessed strictly on its merits. 

But I prefer to see this as an opportunity rather than as a problem.  In the year 2000 I treated the negativity of the London publishing scene as a self-publishing opportunity, and when I look back on it now, I can afford to feel just a little bit smug!  In the same way, I think there is a real opportunity for the Angel Mountain Saga to become a really big TV costume drama success, whatever the London literary establishment might think.  It is not at all beyond the bounds of possibility that a smallish Welsh TV production company with big ambitions can pull together a team of many players to make a drama which tells a genuine Welsh narrative and which finds the global broadcasters to take it on.  I know that within Wales there is a predisposition to be supportive.  Ultimately it will be down to the quality of the product on offer.  The story and the characters are already in the mix -- what is needed now is a fantastic screenwriter to do the adaptations, an inspired director, an experienced executive director who knows her / his way around the world of media finance, and a few well-known actors prepared to commit.  I reckon that the whole of Wales will get behind an Angel Mountain project, since in scores of discussions with most of the key players I have encountered nothing but goodwill.   People want it to succeed, since they want to see the first-ever top-quality TV costume drama that tells -- in the manner of all good allegories -- the story of Wales.

So let's go for it!

Friday, 18 November 2016

Mistress Martha's gift........


The eight novels of the historical fiction "Angel Mountain" saga have now racked up sales of over 80,000, excluding Ebook sales.  The novels, set in the Newport - Carningli area of North Pembrokeshire, have been self-published under the Greencroft Books imprint, completely outside Welsh publishing's "subsidy culture."  In publishing the books, I had to carry the full commercial risk, without any grant aid.  That's something of which I am quite proud.

For those readers who have not heard this strange tale of where Mistress Martha and the saga came from, here is a short resume:

A Very Strange Episode

Over the course of the last fifty years I have written more than 80 books, but prior to 1999 I had never had any great urge to write fiction. My wife Inger had often encouraged me to “write a novel”, but I had always refused on the grounds that the world of fiction is alien territory in which I would probably feel out of place and even hopelessly lost. Then something happened which was very strange indeed -- and almost spooky.............

In 1999 Inger and I travelled to Gran Canaria for a short holiday, and en route I picked up a strange virus on the aircraft. Maybe it was aerotoxic syndrome.  I felt ill even before we landed, but on arrival I experienced classic flu-like symptoms, including a high temperature, headache, heavy limbs, and episodes of shivering. I went straight to bed when we arrived at the apartment, and I spent the whole of the night wide awake, feeling horrible and sweating gallons. During this strange delirious episode, a story came into my head -- of a feisty and passionate woman called Martha Morgan. (At first I thought her name was Mary, but then I realized that only Martha would do.) As I lay there in the warm darkness, gazing at the bedroom ceiling, I tuned in to dates, places, characters, and a storyline covering the whole of Martha’s exciting life between 1796 (when she was still a teenager) and the time of her death in1855. Somehow or other, individual episodes came into my head, and I even picked up on key conversations in considerable detail. I knew that the story had to be told in the words of Mistress Martha, not retrospectively but with immediacy, through diary entries.

In the morning, not having slept a wink, I felt better, but the story was fixed firmly inside my head. (If the story had come to me in a dream, it would certainly have disappeared from my memory by breakfast time.) I told Inger about this strange experience, and she said “Well then, you’d better start writing!” So I did..........

Now, sixteen years later, I still do not know what to make of that strange episode. At least, I now know what the term “fevered imagination” means! But I still think that in some strange way the story was “given” to me, and that I had to keep faith with this exotic and imperfect creature called Mistress Martha. For better or for worse, in spite of the fact that I was at the time a 59-year-old grandfather, I had to try and put into words the emotions and the experiences of a pregnant, suicidal 18-year-old female who lived more than 200 years ago, and I had to do it in the most difficult of formats -- the daily diary. My family and friends probably thought I was nuts, but to their credit they did not try to discourage me!

Since the publication of “On Angel Mountain” in 2001 I have been asked on innumerable occasions whether there really was a woman called Martha Morgan who lived and died in North Pembrokeshire at the time of the saga. After all, they say, if the story came to me as a gift, who was the donor if not Martha herself, or her spirit? I am intrigued by ghosts and spirits, and certainly do not dismiss them out of hand -- and I have done my duty, in the interests of science, by searching through the old records for somebody called Martha Morgan who might have been the Mistress of a failing estate in the early years of the nineteenth century. I have found several women named Martha Morgan in the right period, but they all seem to have lived far away from Newport.  All very peculiar.......

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Library of Wales confusion

Now I am seriously confused about the funding and the success -- or otherwise -- of the Library of Wales series.  In a BBC Report dated 2 Dec 2012, and based mostly on info provided by Jon Gower,  it is stated that the scheme costs £50,000 per year and that 50,000 copies of books from the series have been sold.


Library of Wales: Authors disagree over books' funding
    • 2 December 2012
    • From the section Wales politics
A call has been made for a scheme which republishes classic Welsh books that have gone out of print to continue to receive public funding.
Wales Book of the Year winner Jon Gower backs the Library of Wales series, which has sold 50,000 copies since it was launched in 2006.
It costs the Welsh government £50,000 a year for the Welsh Books Council scheme.

So far so good.  But we have already referred on this blog to a recent research report written by a Swansea University academic which indicates that accumulated sales by the end of 2013 were about 30,000 (no accurate figures are published) and that the cost to the taxpayer is over £100,000 per year.  (The sales figure of 30,000 is estimated and excludes books given away and trade returns.)

If we do some simple sums we see that it has cost £530,000 to sell 30,000 books -- and put another way, it has cost the taxpayer over £17 for every book sold.  As far as I can tell, the sales income from the books sold goes straight to the publisher, and does not have to be repaid to the Welsh Government.

No matter what the "cultural desirability" of this arrangement might be, in supporting the writers, publishers and culture of Wales, one does need to ask, ever so gently, how cost-effective this is.  More than half a million thrown at a scheme which effectively isolates the publisher from commercial risk and which seeks to keep in print a long list of literary titles which nobody wants anyway.  (OK -- lots of Welsh schools and universities will be using these books in their course work, and in that way they will be keeping Wales's "great literary masterpieces" alive -- but don't let's forget that many of them are really rather turgid, and that the reason why they all went out of print in the first place was that nobody wanted to buy them.........)



 Here is the link to the study done by somebody from Swansea University -- I suspect it was done as an "impact assessment" by the key beneficiaries of grant aid.  The title is: "The Library of Wales: influencing Government Policy to benefit the Creative Industries, Cultural Tourism, Education and General Readers".  In no sense is this an assessment of the cost effectiveness of the project.



The project is funded by the Welsh Government, the Welsh Books Council and Swansea University.  All of the titles in the "Library of  Wales" series are published  very professionally by Parthian Books.  I have no gripe with them -- they bid competitively for the project and won it, and the best of luck to them.....  My concerns strictly relate to the strategic or political decision to spend more than half a million pounds of taxpayers money on this, at a time when the funding of public services in Wales is under greater pressure than ever before.  

More about the subsidy culture

 This article was recently published in The Bookseller.  It gives the standard justification for the way in which the Welsh publishing and writing industry (yes, it is an industry) works.  It's an interesting take on the situation, justifying vast public expenditure on the basis that a small country should place creativity and innovation at the top of its list of priorities in order to support the Welsh language and maintain self-esteem -- while more or less accepting that most of what goes on is entirely non-commercial.  Yes, there are a few titles every year which sell well and make lots of money. I'll hazard a guess that most of those are about rugby or are about well-known sports or entertainment personalities.   But Welsh publishers are notoriously secretive when it comes to sales figures, and it is rumoured that in order to be classed as a "best seller" in Wales a book simply has to sell 700 copies over its lifetime.  That means, I suppose, that the great majority of books published sell fewer than 500 copies.  Does anybody care?  Not really -- what's in print is already over and done with.  Let's get our grant applications sorted out for the next 20 titles which the reading public may or may not want........


Creative, contemporary – and commercial? How books are supported in Wales

Wales has a historic tradition of literature patronage dating back over a thousand years. Poets would be nurtured and supported, and this was considered a sign of a civilised princedom. The return on this investment was a golden age of Welsh poetry, which included Dafydd ap Gwilym, Siôn Cent and Guto’r Glyn – some of the foremost European writers of their age. Many of these enjoyed fame and fortune, and even to this day, award-winning poets in Welsh enjoy a celebrity status in their communities. The difference today is that being a poet might give you fame, but it certainly doesn’t give you fortune (unless you have a side-line as a soap opera writer).

The Welsh Government supports both the publishing industry via the Welsh Books Council, as well as individual writers, via the Arts Council of Wales (who in turn support Literature Wales). They are in effect the continuation of the princes’ patronage. As a devolved nation with its own national (as opposed to regional) institutions, there are clear pathways for writer development from first drafts to publication. In Wales, the pathways are mostly subsidised and lead towards small-scale, independent publications. This may well be true for other devolved nations – as well as English regions such as the North West – and in this sense support for the independent sector is important for ensuring a sense of regional/ national identity.

However, as is the case everywhere outside London, there is a tension between the need to support a home-grown independent publishing sector, and an individual writer’s desire to reach a much wider global market. How do we square this circle, and what would be the priorities as we develop the sector in the coming years, facing the likelihood of ever-increasing government cuts? These are surely some of the key questions considered by the Independent Panel, chaired by Professor Medwin Hughes, tasked with reviewing the Welsh Government’s support for publishing and literature. The outcome of the review, which was expected to be finalised by the end of September, has been delayed due to an unprecedented response to the on-line public consultation. This is a mark of how important the sector is for Wales, and it’s clear that many individuals feel very strongly that their own contribution to the debate should be heard. It’s also very likely that these points of view will vary considerably.

In the midst of these arguments, surely it would be evident that sustaining support for writers is key for ensuring a healthy future for literature. And this support should allow for ambition and artistic risks. Many writers, at any stage of their writing career, will want to take stock and explore new possibilities. Being allowed time out to experiment with new genres and ideas, without the pressure of deadlines and personal responsibilities, can be a life-changing opportunity for a writer. A Literature Wales Writers’ Bursary (the current round closes on 28th October) is highly competitive and is peer-reviewed. Being awarded a bursary is a mark of confidence in a writer’s talent, and the successful applicants each year stand out because of their willingness to work hard and take risks. The outcomes can be surprising, and writers often note that the time out has led them to new directions. This is a key aspect in the development of writers as creative artists.

Many of the Bursaries’ recipients go on to publish books to great acclaim and success, some with Wales-based independent publishers; others go on to publish with major London-based publishing houses. Recent successes of the Writes Bursaries scheme include supporting the (then) unpublished writer Kate Hamer who went on to write The Girl in the Red Coat (Faber), which has sold over 100,000 copies and was short listed for 2015 Costa First Novel Award. Another success-story is poet Jonathan Edwards, who was also awarded a New Writers’ Bursary for his first volume My Family and Other Superheroes, which he published with the excellent Welsh publisher Seren Books, and which went on to win the Poetry Category of the 2014 Costa Poetry Award.

These two books represent the rich ecology of contemporary books from Wales – independent, commercial, creative, unique, popular, high-quality – and our work following the Welsh Government’s review is to ensure they are not one-offs, but represent a growing trend and express an increasing confidence in the Welsh literary voice. My prediction is that quite soon, a Welsh author, published by a Welsh publisher, will go on to win the Booker. Watch this space.

Lleucu Siencyn is chief executive of Literature Wales.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Serious discussions.....

Serious discussions are now under way with regard to a multi-episode costume drama based on the Angel Mountain series.  Three different companies are involved, including two west Wales companies who would bring particular skills to the project.  But the most important company is obviously the production company what would take the lead, raise the finance, make the programmes and do the deals necessary for the showing of the series across the world.  They would allocate a producer to the project,  find a screenwriter, hire the actors and the director, and put all the other pieces of the jigsaw in place. 

This is far too big a project to be handled just by S4C and BBC Wales (or ITV) since there is just not the funding available within Wales.  The advent of digital media means that drama series now must be in a form to be viewed on both TV sets and on computers and iPads -- and, dare I say it, on smartphones too.  Sounds crazy, but there you go.......

There are some advanced discussions going on, and all being well, I might be in a position to announce the sale of an option on the film / TV rights within the next few weeks.  So watch this space!

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Folk Tales books on People's Collection Wales

Here they are -- probably easier to access than on Dropbox.

Pembrokeshire Folk Tales
The Last Dragon
Fireside Tales from Pembrokeshire
More Pembrokeshire Folk Tales

More Pembrokeshire Folk Tales

This is the rather moody jacket for "More Pembrokeshire Folk Tales" -- in reality it wasn't as dark as this.  I used one of my own water colour paintings for this one.

The Last Dragon

I found this charming illustration on one of the web sites selling used copies of my books.  If you need a copy, you can probably get it for 1p -- with a hefty P+P charge added so that the seller can make some money.  Needless to say, I get no royalties on second-hand sales........

Saturday, 3 September 2016

All about EVE

We are working on a technique which will allow images like this, on a video, to be stopped for EVE (enhanced viewing experience) -- which gives the viewer the option of checking up on the narrative, the characters, the background and the location of the scene in question.   The possibilities are endless, allowing the blending of entertainment with education for all those who choose to look at drama in future on digital devices such as computers, iPads or even iPhones.  Interesting times.....

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Martha and the shipwrecks

 Shipwrecks occur quite often in the Angel Mountain saga, and for part of her life Martha was actually a joint owner of a trading sailing ship.  Although most of the story takes place on land, the sea is never far away.  David's brother Griffith is lost at sea......... and if it had not been for that fact David would not have inherited the Plas Ingli estate.

This is a wonderful paining by the Russian artist Aivazovsky.  How on earth did he get that translucent effect on the waves?


Saturday, 20 August 2016

How special is Carningli?

"All around Carningli hillfort, particularly on the lower hillslopes to the north and west, survives a rich and well-preserved landscape of old field boundaries, clearance cairns, round huts and farmsteads which represents one of the great surviving prehistoric landscapes of southern Britain....."



The Coflein description flags up just how important this landscape is.  Let's all make sure it continues to be well protected.  The current level of seasonal burning and grazing on the common is just about right to protect the archaeological remains and to ensure that they continue to be visible.

From a link on the Wikipedia entry, you can also access a good Guided Trail to Mynydd Carningli and Mynydd Melyn, beautifully illustrated, produced by Dyfed Archaeological Trust.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Audio and Large Print versions




The unabridged audio version of "On Angel Mountain" is still available,
produced by Clipper Audio, ref H1957, in an attractive package of
11 cassettes. The CD version should also be available.
The readers are Jonathan Keeble and Leanne Masterton.
Listening time: more than 15 hours.

The unabridged audio version of "House of Angels" is also now
released, produced by Clipper Audio, ref H2213, in a package of
16 cassettes. Once again the readers are Jonathan Keeble and Leanne
Masterton. The full audio book listening time is 18 hours and 30 minutes.

Cassette refs:
978 1 40740 261 1 House of Angels by Brian John £57.00
978 1 84632 326 3 On Angel Mountain by Brian John £49.00

CD editions:
978 1 40740 834 7 House of Angels by Brian John £65.00
978 1 40740 825 5 On Angel Mountain by Brian John £61.00


On Angel Mountain
author: Brian John
format: Hardcover
isbn: 0-7505-2618-1 / 978-0-7505-2618-0
publisher: Magna Large Print Books
pages: 485
list price: £18.99
published: 15 Nov 2006

House of Angels
author: Brian John
format: Hardcover
isbn: 0-7505-2682-3 / 978-0-7505-2682-1
publisher: Magna Large Print Books
pages: 612
list price: £19.99
published: 15 Jun 2007

Dark Angel
author: Brian John
format: Hardcover
isbn: 0-7505-2777-3 / 978-0-7505-2777-4
publisher: Magna Large Print Books
pages: 684
list price: £19.99
published: 15 Dec 2007

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Folk Tales Books now available online

The four hardback books containing, in total, over 500 of the best Pembrokeshire Folk Tales have been out of print for many years.  Now, thanks to PCC, we have digital copies and PDFs.  I have uploaded them to Dropbox, and they can be accessed for reading online -- or for downloading -- here:

Pembrokeshire Folk Tales

The Last Dragon

Fireside Tales from Pembrokeshire

More Pembrokeshire Folk Tales

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Welsh literature and the subsidy culture

Yesterday I came across an interesting assessment of the "value" of the subsidy culture that impregnates the Welsh literary / publishing scheme.  It's a bit difficult to extract hard data from the report written by somebody from Swansea University (there is no author's name on it), and there is no proper cost/benefit analysis within it, but it looks as if the Welsh Government's "Library of Wales" project cost the taxpayer about £530,000 in the first five years of its operation, 2008-13.  During that time 38 titles were published, mostly old "classics" which have been out of print for some time. It looks as if 18,000 copies of the books were given away to schools and libraries, and that around 38,000 copies were sold.  But no proper sales figures are published, and rumour has it that the term "sales" actually means numbers of books sent out on publication day from the warehouses (including the Welsh Books Council)  to the bookshops -- and does not take account of returns.  If that is the case, then the actual number sold over the counter is substantially less.  So on average each title has sold less than 1,000 copies.  Let's assume that good money has been paid for around 30,000 books.  Put another way, every copy sold has cost the taxpayer about £17.  (Sales income does not come back to the Welsh Government -- it goes to the publisher of the books.)

That does not look like a very sensible way of spending public funds, even though the objective is to demonstrate the unique English-language literary heritage of Wales and to ensure that "classic novels" are kept in print so that universities and schools can extol their virtues.  All very laudable, but how many of those "classic" novels are actually worth reading? Answers on a postcard please........

So £530,000 of public money has been spent in order to achieve 30,000 paperback book sales.  That makes me feel quite pleased that without any public subsidy whatsoever, I have achieved sales of 80,000 copies of the Angel Mountain novels.  Here is another interesting thought.  If I had been given a public handout of £17 per copy sold, I would by now be better off to the tune of £1,360,000 and might be lounging on my yacht somewhere in the Caribbean............

I wonder if the Library of Wales has brought more enjoyment (and perhaps "enlightenment" too) to its readership base than has the Angel Mountain Saga?  If anybody wants to suggest to me that my novels (or those of Iris Gower or Catrin Collier) are somehow less "worthy" or "significant" than some of those very dreary "classics" on the Library of Wales list I will get very upset indeed.

I'm always available to the Welsh Government if it wants me to give it some advice on publishing economics and the meanings of terms like "supply" and "demand"............

PS.  If any of the figures given above are incorrect, I will be very happy to have the correct ones given to me, so that I can publish them.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Pembrokeshire Folk Tales digitised

Thanks to some very kind help from an unexpected quarter, all 4 of my Pembrokeshire Folk Tales books (long since out of print) have now been digitised, and may soon be available via the web.  In all, the books contain more than 500 stories, collected and reproduced as faithfully as possible, with wording very close to that used when the tales were first published in the 1800's and 1900's. 

Here is just one of the stories, about a famous and very eccentric character known as Twm Waunbwll........

Monday, 1 August 2016

About Daisy

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Literature Wales -- the feud continues

This is where the official Literature Wales web site is located:

and this is where the Blogger, Evening Post columnist and sometime writer Julian Ruck pours out his bile on the literary establishment in Wales:


Quite unabashed, he uses the words "Literature Wales" at the head of his site, and the official body has been unable to prevent this.

In 2014 Master Ruck got into trouble because his own publicist (how on earth did he manage to get one?) published a review of his latest novel on the Welsh Books Council web site while pretending to be "a member of the public"..............  In 2015 he was seriously injured by a car in a hit and run incident in Kidwelly, but is now apparently recovering well.  He is best known for his withering attacks on the "grant culture" of Welsh publishing, with the Welsh Books Council and Literature Wales having to suffer most from his full-blooded assaults.  But he does not have much time either for writers and publishers in Wales; according to him, they are all enjoying a cosy ride on the gravy train.

It's all very entertaining (apart from that nasty accident), and I am not surprised that the official Literature Wales (supported by the Welsh Government and the Arts Council) is not best pleased by some of the things our friend Julian says, but there is certainly more than a grain of truth in some of his comments -- and every self-respecting body should -- in principle -- respect and even encourage close scrutiny.  So there we are then.......

Monday, 13 June 2016

Winter sun in Scoresbysund

A gorgeous pic of the graveyard at Scoresbysund, lit by a weak winter sun.  From a new video about Liverpool Land.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Talk on Pembrokeshire Folk Tales

I enjoyed giving a talk this evening at Lamphey Court Hotel to a group of 24 American visitors who are on a cultural visit to Wales.  They have a few days in Pembrokeshire -- today, Pembroke and Tenby, and tomorrow St Davids.  I trust that the folk tales were a welcome relief, after all those buildings.......

Friday, 4 March 2016

TV and the Welsh National Narrative

"The awareness of the Welsh as a separate people rests on a belief in the particularity of their own past and traditions."   (Final Report of the History Committee for Wales, June 1990, paras 4.2, 4.5)

For many years I've been more than a little frustrated by the relatively low profile that Wales has had in film and TV, and I know that many others share that frustration.  In the bad old days Wales was portrayed in film cliches -- typified in "How Green was my Valley" -- including coal mines, male voice choirs, women in beaver hats and leeks and daffodils.  Many people abroad probably think that "Under Milk Wood" by Dylan Thomas is the only worthwhile work of fiction to come out of Wales.  A few others have probably heard of Alexander Cordell and his novels, but those books are unremittingly bleak, and portray Wales as a land destroyed by industrialisation and defined by class warfare and social protests such as the Rebecca Riots and the Chartist Movement. 

As we all know, Wales is much more vibrant and multi-faceted than that, and always has been. People know of Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones and  Richard Burton and a few others from the entertainment world.  But the real Wales is still hidden away from a global audience, and in terms of global media exposure it's rather sad that Ireland and Scotland are far better known.  For the past 20 years I have lived in hope that either BBC, ITV or S4C would deliver a landmark costume drama series which would be for Wales, about Wales, and at the same time capable of "selling"  Wales to a global audience.  But nothing has emerged, partly, I suppose, because of the very high costs of costume drama and perhaps because no single drama project has captured the imagination of either programme-makers or commissioning editors.  In the case of BBC Wales we get fine words (1), but BBC Wales under its last three Directors has pursued a strategy of delivering excellent drama for the BBC network and for foreign sales, including Merlin, Dr Who, Torchwood, Casualty and Sherlock.  That has been very good for the reputation of Wales within the TV industry, but it has not done much for the image of the country abroad, and has certainly not satisfied the demand for a big series that will really sell Wales as a small country with a big heart and a distinctive story to tell.  "Destination marketing" and "branding" come into the frame too, and from a long involvement in the tourism industry I can attest that there is a degree of frustration on that score from tourism operators who feel that Wales is consistently under-sold.

Over the last decade, there appear to have been endless think tanks, seminars, committee hearings and ministerial statements on the matter of the Welsh national narrative, the needs of Welsh TV viewers, and the responsibilities of broadcasters like BBC Wales and S4C.  "Screening the Nation: Wales and Landmark Television" was a 2009-2010 study (2) coordinated by the University of Glamorgan in collaboration with the BBC Trust and Audience  Council Wales.  A much-repeated point in the report was that the term "landmark television" appears to have morphed itself from the idea of flagship TV programmes ABOUT Wales into the idea of flagship programmes MADE IN Wales.  In assessing the impact of high-profile dramas like Dr Who and Torchwood (and more recently Merlin and Sherlock) the participants in the study have concentrated on the manner in which the reputation of Cardiff has been greatly enhanced by the investment made in its drama production facilities.  That suggests a degree of complacency -- and even the leaders of the study seem to think that the people of Wales might be happy to bask in Cardiff's glory and enjoy the fact that the capital city has created many jobs in the creative industries and has also pulled in much tourist-related income on the back of a number of popular TV shows flagged up as "Made in Wales." 

And so the expressions of concern continue.  First Minister Carwyn Jones  said last year that BBC Wales should be given an extra £30m to make TV programmes that properly reflect the people of Wales. (3)  BBC Wales Director Rhodri Talfan Davies said in evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee in Westminster in February: “In a sense what’s happened over the last seven or eight years spectacularly in Wales is production has been decentralised and we’ve built a real centre of excellence, particularly in drama and factual. I think the challenge in this charter is to make sure that economic and creative story also delivers a cultural dividend and that we see Welsh stories, our stories, reflected on screen not just in Wales but right across the UK.” 

Christine Chapman AM, Chair of the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee , said: “The significant decline in the BBC’s investment in English-language programming over the last ten years has resulted in fewer hours of Wales-specific programming and a schedule that has failed to capture and explore adequately the lives and experiences of Welsh communities, as well as the changing political landscape post-devolution........ It is about a greater diversity of programmes. We feel at the moment it could be rather narrow." (4)

Angela Graham, chair of the IWA Media Policy Group, in the context of a submission on the future of the BBC in general and in Wales in particular, has also commented on the extent of London-based control and the problems faced by BBC Wales in delivering programming appropriate to the cultural needs and aspirations of Wales. (5)

So where is the landmark drama which will portray Wales -- with all its strengths and weaknesses -- for the people of Wales and for a world audience?  Currently, nowhere to be seen...... although Hinterland has already gone some way to convincing the world that there is more to Wales than Cardiff and a successful national rugby team.

In the context of the foregoing, I am currently discussing with two production companies the possibility of making a big landmark costume drama series of maybe 24 episodes, set in West Wales and based on the eight best-selling novels of the Angel Mountain saga (6).  I already have guarantees of support from Pembs CC and from the West Wales tourism bodies, and am in wide-ranging discussions about how to move things forward.  I'm not so naive as to believe that getting big costume dramas made is a simple matter; and of course the only things that matter to a production company are a great story, well told, with top actors and a reasonable prospect of finding a global market and making lots of money!  But I also think that if there is a supportive environment in Wales, the decision-making and fund-raising process becomes that much easier............

The Martha Morgan "brand" is also being heavily promoted in the spring of 2016 via a new "Martha Morgan Country Project" designed to encourage "literary tourism" visits to many of the key locations in West Wales which feature in the stories.  The launch of this new project, with photographs by Steve Mallet featuring Rhiannon James as Mistress Martha, will take place in Newport (Pembs) on April 3rd. (7)


(1)  “We will need to think hard about how we can strengthen our support for national and regional self-expression.”  Rhodri Talfan Davies, Director, BBC Wales
“A national broadcaster should have something to say, not just something to make.  And if that nation is bilingual, then the stories it tells must be too. "  Ruth McElroy
“Creative Industries is one of our fastest-growing priority sectors. We want to establish Wales as an international centre of excellence for high-end TV drama production worldwide and this investment is part of our plan to create a long-term, sustainable TV industry in Wales."  Edwina Hart, Minister for Economy

(2)  Blandford, S., Lacey, S., McElroy, R. and Williams, R. (2010) Screening the Nation: Wales and Landmark Television, Report for the BBC Trust/Audience Council Wales. ISBN: 978-1-84054-248-6.

(3)  22 Feb 2016

(4)  Assembly Members call on the BBC to spend an extra £30m in Wales
3 Mar 2016
Quote:  "We welcome the BBC’s commitment to increase its spend on network productions in the nations and, to this end, its target of 17 per cent of network spend outside England. In Wales, this commitment to greater devolution of drama production has been met with considerable commercial success to date. It is disappointing, however, that despite being produced in Wales, these programmes have done little to strengthen the representation or portrayal of the nation."
Among those who gave evidence to the Committee (chaired by Christine Chapman AM) were John Geraint, Angela Graham, Ruth McElroy, Prof Tom O'Malley, Ken Skates AM, and Natasha Hale.

(5)  Welsh think-tank says BBC is yet to adjust fully to the new shape of the United Kingdom
15 Jan 2016
Welsh Affairs Committee – Inquiry into Broadcasting in Wales, December 15, 2015
Written evidence submitted by the Institute of Welsh Affairs (BIW 17)
Portrayal.  Point 6.5.  "The decentralisation of production has, however, created disappointment in one important regard. Even the BBC would have to admit that it has not led, as hoped, to a step change in the visibility of Wales on network television, particularly not in the field of drama. Series such as Dr Who and Sherlock have been great international successes, and have brought economic benefit to Wales, but they have not contributed to ‘representing Wales to the rest of the UK’. Their success has also obscured the decline in domestic provision specifically for the audience in Wales."

(6)  Project Pack:  On Angel Mountain (Proposal for a multi-part TV costume drama based on the 8 novels of Brian John's cult saga set on the slopes of Angel Mountain)  PDF

(7)  https://www.facebook.com/mistressmarthamorgan


Landmark Drama for Wales

 This is a re-posting of a post from September 2014.  It is suddenly all very relevant again, following the recent press coverage and the publication of the Assembly's Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee on the future of BBC Wales.

Wales and Landmark Costume Drama -- fine words and no action

Icons galore -- but no powerful central narrative.  So what's the message?

‘A nation needs its own fiction. It is for this reason that many countries have used fictional narratives to create a self-image.’
Enric Castelló  in ‘The Production of Television and Nation Building, The Catalan Case’, European Journal of Communication, 22, 1, 49-68.

In the summer of 2014 Ruth McElroy of the University of Glamorgan re-ignited the debate about the manner in which the national identity of Wales is projected through the media -- and in particular through television programming.  While acknowledging the great success of BBC Wales dramas like Dr Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Merlin and Casualty (and recently Hinterland) she said: ".........the challenge now is to transform this network success into making a new BBC Wales that has something imaginative and entertaining to say to and about Wales and not just from Wales. Because whilst network successes like Doctor Who and Casualty can provide jobs in Wales (for my students included) what they have not really done is tell us very much about ourselves. A national broadcaster should have something to say, not just something to make.  And if that nation is bilingual, then the stories it tells must be too. "
Plan of Action? Responding to Tony Hall
Ruth McElroy calls for a plan of action for English language TV in Wales
July 2nd, 2014

Ruth was building on the findings of a big study published a few years ago, after a programme of research by the University of Glamorgan in collaboration with the BBC Trust and Audience Council Wales:
S. Blandford, S. Lacey,  R. McElroy & R. Williams (2010) Screening the Nation: Wales and Landmark Television. Report for the BBC Trust and BBC Cymru Wales Audience Council.

That research examined the representation of Wales in landmark BBC television drama made in Wales. Published in March 2010, the report used interviews with audiences and textual analysis of popular shows like Dr Who and Torchwood, to shed light on the complex relationship between television production, its locations, and the impact of local, regional and national identity. One of the questions at the end of the study was this one:  what is the visibility of Welsh stories outside Wales?  Although the language in the report was very diplomatic, and there was great praise for BBC's huge success in the making of big networked drama productions sold throughout the world, there were many comments which suggested a sense of dissatisfaction about the BBC's failure to represent, through landmark home-grown drama series, the spirit and the soul of Wales in a manner that is neither stereotyped nor over-simplified.   Think Belonging, Pobol y Cwm, and Gavin and Stacey.......

Ruth was also responding to some of the things that BBC Director General Tony Hall said in April 2014 in a speech to the Welsh Assembly, including the following:
"........ I do believe the BBC will need to think hard about how it strengthens its support for national and regional self-expression as it prepares its case for a new charter. And I would like to invite you all tonight to be a part of the debate."

‘............there are some aspects of national life in Wales that are not sufficiently captured by the BBC’s own television services in Wales, and I would include comedy, entertainment and culture in those categories’.

".........English language programming from and for Wales has been in decline for almost a decade’.

BBC Director-General Speech at the Pierhead
On the 50th Anniversary of BBC Wales, Director-General Tony Hall delivers a speech about the BBC’s role in Wales.
April 1st, 2014

In response to this Rhodri Talfan Davies, the Director of BBC Wales, said:
"........looking ahead, Tony Hall was surely right to say that we will need to think hard about how we can strengthen our support for national and regional self-expression as we prepare our case for a new Royal Charter." (BBC Wales Management Review 2013/14)

Fine words but not much action, and in her short piece Ruth was asking for some strategic thinking and for a Plan of Action designed to give the people of Wales the programmes they deserve -- portraying and reinforcing a sense of national identity (including bilingualism and diversity) and at the same time, through effective marketing, selling Wales to the world.  That, one might have thought, would be something of interest to the Welsh Government and Visit Wales.

This brings me to costume drama.  Think about it.  There has not been -- ever -- a landmark costume drama made in Wales which portrays Wales and its "national identity."  A number of observers have commented that the Welsh TV industry (which includes BBC, S4C, ITV and a number of very successful independent production companies) is deeply conservative, to the point of timidity.  Is "complacency" the right word?  Maybe not. The BBC has -- since the days of Menna Richards -- placed its priority on demonstrating its skill in the making of big TV dramas for sale into a global market, and is hugely successful in that regard.  So praise where it is due. But is there at the same time an obsession with steering clear of simplistic and stereotypical portrayals of Wales -- male voice choirs, harp music, coal mines, Dylan Thomas and rugby?  A number of observers have noted that the portrayal of Wales, for the people of Wales, by the main broadcasters lies for the most part in worthy and very conservative documentaries -- Iolo Williams talking about the beauties of nature, Derek Brockway talking about the great outdoors, Huw Edwards talking about Welsh history, and assorted Welsh people (including me!) talking about their hopes and aspirations and about their love for their homeland.  And of course, saturation rugby coverage......  (I'm not complaining about that, but you get my point.)  All very safe and comfortable, and uncontroversial.

There are TV and film dramas, of course, including Gavin and Stacey, Belonging, Pobol y Cwm, Crash, Submarine, but there does seem to be a very strong emphasis on gritty dramas about dysfunctional young people caught in miserable urban environments.  Welsh Noir, if you like, which brings us to The Killing, which brings us to Hinterland (which has the saving grace of being more rural than urban...........)

Back to big televised costume or period drama -- the sort of drama which reminds a nation of its roots, its strengths and its foibles, and makes it feel good (or bad) about itself.  In Wales, nothing.  In England, and endless sequence of series based upon the plays of Shakespeare, the novels of Dickens, Hardy, Austen, Bronte and Trollope, and other "classics" like Poldark, Downton Abbey, Upstairs/Downstairs, When the Boat Comes In, Brideshead Revisited, Onedin Line, The Forsyte Saga, and now The Village written by Stephen Moffatt...........
In Ireland:  Ballykissangel, Father Ted, Game of Thrones, and many series of powerful dramas based upon the Northern Ireland troubles.
In Scotland:  Monarch of the Glen, Tales of Para Handy, Dr Finlay's Casebook, Machair, Hamish Macbeth, Taggart, Rab C Nesbitt.

Accepted that some of those series pander to national stereotypes to the point where one cringes rather than applauds, but at least they do represent and sell the "national identites" of the nations of the UK while reinforcing national self-esteem.  The blockbusters like Torchwood and Dr Who give occasional glimpses of Wales because that's where some of the filming went on.  But I suspect I am not the only person who complains about a total lack of coherence and vision with respect to the effective marketing of Wales through the medium of TV drama.

So where is this landmark costume drama TV series going to come from?  From the novels of Alexander Cordell?  Tough, gritty novels written with flair, but there is no continuity to them and no single dominating character whose story needs to be told across an extended series, or two, or three.........  Based on Dylan Thomas?  Nothing substantial in dramatic potential apart from the work of genius called Under Milk Wood -- and a lot of whimsy.  The Angel Mountain Saga is really the only game in town -- eight novels set in the most crucial decades of Welsh history (the early part of the nineteenth century) and with a large and expanding fan base.  The market research is already done.   And with a flawed and instantly appealing lead character called Martha Morgan.  She is, of course, Mother Wales -- but in another sense she is universal and timeless, with characteristics that are comprehensible in any culture on the planet.  She is a complex tragic heroine, whose beauty is her blessing and her curse.  She is sexy, compassionate, loyal, idealistic, hard-working, feisty, courageous, protective of those in her care, and completely irrepressible.  But she is also at times deceitful, vain, manipulative, with a tendency towards introspection and depression and an irresistible urge to interfere in things she would be best advised to steer clear of.  Somehow, in the stories, her "angels" manage to keep her alive while mayhem occurs around her (mostly because of her) and others fall by the wayside.   Big TV series need sales potential worldwide, and they must have characters with which viewers in New York, Tokyo, Berlin and Rio de Janiero can empathise.  Martha Morgan fits the bill -- we know that, from the feedback from readers of the series from all over the world.

A landmark costume drama series set in Wales will surely come.  It has to. And soon.  But as somebody stated in one of the commentaries on TV in Wales, wouldn't it be ironic if that series was to be made in Hollywood, for a network other than the BBC?  Ironic?  Let's correct that -- it would be an outrage.

That's enough of a rant from me.  It's a beautiful day, and there are things to do in the garden.  Oh - I almost forgot to mention it -- the rights are still available.  Just get in touch, and we can talk.