Monday, 27 August 2018

Martha Morgan Country

This is a draft for a forthcoming book -- I'd better not reveal the name of the author or the title just yet.  All will be revealed in due course.......

Martha Morgan Country
Martha Morgan, whose name has come to personify the territory around Carningli overlooking Newport, arrived fully-formed in the course of one night. She appeared as an apparition, suggestive of a reincarnation, and insisted that what happened to her between the years 1778 and 1855 should finally be told.

Oddly, the moment she chose to appear was when Brian John, who himself lives on the slopes of Carn Ingli, was after he had stepped off an aircraft in Gran Canaria in the winter of 1998. ‘I suddenly felt terrible;’ he told me. ‘It was as though I had flu. My temperature shot up, I had a headache and began to shake and shiver. I reckon it was what they call Aerotox syndrome, from breathing in the air they pump round the aircraft.’

When Brian and his Swedish wife Inger reached their holiday apartment he immediately went to bed, but he didn’t sleep. Instead he became delirious, and that was when Martha appeared. “It wasn’t a dream,’ he said. ‘I was wide awake. My mind was buzzing. It was almost as if I was in a state of drug-induced consciousness. I had a heightened sense of awareness.’

Martha was a compellingly beautiful and passionate young woman with long dark hair and brown eyes. ‘As I lay there in the warm darkness gazing at the bedroom ceiling she was talking to me,’ Brian said. ‘At breakneck speed she told me the story of her life, with details of places, people she knew, twists and turns in her life, even snatches of conversation.’

In the morning he felt better, but Martha’s message was firmly fixed. ‘Somehow I knew her story had to be told in her own words, not retrospectively, but with immediacy, through the entries of a diary she had kept,’ Brian said. ‘You see it wasn’t a dream. If it had been I wouldn’t have remembered.’

So he took out his laptop and started writing, and didn’t stop for eight years. By that time eight hefty volumes had appeared, creating the Angel Mountain Saga.

Brian John was already a well-established writer before he embarked on Martha’s story, though in a very different field. He had published getting on for eighty books on the Pembrokeshire landscape, folklore, fauna and flora. Brought up in Haverfordwest he had studied at Oxford in the 1960s, become a field scientist with the British Antarctic Survey, and then a Geography Lecturer at Durham University.

But in the mid-1970s he made an unusual career move, leaving the security of academic life to return to Wales with Inger. They joined a growing band who were moving into the Preseli hills to adopt a more self-sufficient, ecological lifestyle. On their smallholding Brian established a publishing enterprise, supplemented by Inger’s candle-making business.

At first Brian found writing fiction difficult. He had to discover ways of developing character, plot and pace, and a sense of place. He also had to think himself into the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, researching patterns of speech, social customs, beliefs, farming routines, food, clothing and the political events of the time.

Most difficult was portraying the character of a pregnant, suicidal mistress of a small country estate, and to speak through a diary format. Yet, as Brian put it, ‘I felt to do otherwise would have been to betray what I can only think of as the gift of that story I was given one night in Gran Canaria.’

The undertaking is reminiscent of Winston Graham’s Cornish melodrama Poldark, covering the same period with its tempestuous female character Demelza, and also A Scots Quair, the 1930s trilogy by the Scottish writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon, describing the life of another feisty woman from north-east Scotland in the early 20th Century.

They all rely heavily on their settings. In the case of the Angel Mountain Saga it is the mountain itself with its myth that if you spend a night at its summit you either become a poet or go mad. It’s one of the largest Iron Age hill forts in west Wales, with a volcanic profile that can be seen from miles around. The name comes from the legend of Saint Brynach who used to climb the mountain to find serenity and commune with the angels. In Brian John’s stories his heroine Martha also has a special relationship with the mountain, close to whose summit she struggles with and kills a bitter enemy and finally finds sanctuary.

Brian wondered if she might have been a real person in the area in the early nineteenth century and searched the records. He found several Martha Morgans but they were all more lowly people who lived as far afield as St Davids and St Dogmaels. There was one who lived in the Newport area but much later than his heroine.

It took him eighteen months to complete On Angel Mountain, the first volume in the series. Then came the challenge of publication. He contacted more than fifty agents and about the same number of publishers between 2000 and 2001, but to no avail. ‘Nobody was interested in reading even a chapter’. So he decided to self-publish. The first print-run of 2,000 disappeared in two weeks, and the book had to be reprinted three times. Encouraged Brian carried on, producing four more novels at the rate of one a year.

At the end of the fifth novel Flying with Angels, Martha Morgan dies. But popular demand forced Brian to resurrect her and write three more novels, in part by going back to fill gaps in her story. Whether there are more novels to come is moot, but I suspect there may be.

By now the Angel Mountain Saga has attracted a cult following and sales exceeding 82,000. More than that Martha has given her name to a large tract of northern Preseli as a cultural tourism initiative, supported by the National Park and the county council. It has become Martha Morgan Country – ‘all about this strange thing called a sense of place … now we follow Poldark Country, Shakespeare Country, Hardy Country, Wordsworth Country, Jane Austen’s Bath, Charles Dickens’ London and Cookson Country with something from Wales. And it has nothing at all to do with Dylan Thomas…’

An elaborate website features Rhiannon James of St Dogmaels, a former Miss Pembrokeshire – who happens to have long dark hair and brown eyes – acting as Miss Martha. She has been photographed, suitably garbed, in multiple locations associated with the Angel Mountain Saga.

Will the idea of Martha Morgan Country catch on? I suspect the answer will come down to authenticity. Will the hallucinations of one man in the course of a night in Gran Canaria, subsequently published to local acclaim, make an indelible imprint on Preseli? Naturally, Brian John has no doubt. His conviction is reinforced by a sense that Martha Morgan’s story is an allegory for the story of Wales itself. A plot running through the novels is of her desperately clinging on to the estate she has inherited against the depredations of rival claimants to the land.

‘It seems to me that much of the history of Wales has been about its being a desirable bit of real estate which other people, especially the English, have being trying to get their hands on,’ he explained. ‘In the face of such a persistent assault, over decades for Martha and centuries for Wales, how do you sustain your integrity, your self-esteem, your identity? That is a central issue for Martha as it is for Wales itself. As time has gone on, more and more I feel that that in telling the story of Martha on her rough piece of land in far-flung Preseli, I’ve been telling the story of Wales as well.’

And he adds, ‘I did not realise at first, but as the writing of the novels proceeded, I came to appreciate that Martha is actually Mother Wales, personifying all that is good and bad about my native land. A key thing about her personality is her sense of hiraeth, of longing and belonging. She really feels that her home Plas Ingli, and Carningli are a part of her, as she is a part of them.’

Some Amazon reviews

It's ages since I checked on the book reviews appearing on the Amazon web site.  These are not by professional reviewers but by ordinary readers, who have not even been invited to write anything.  Some of the books have just got five-star reviews, and the average across all of the books is also five-star, although it is almost inevitable that even the very best books will occasionally have readers who cannot relate to them.  Feeling pleased!


Totally brilliant! (Bob White)
This book is a moving and gripping evocation of historical West Wales. The portrayal of Martha is psychologically coherent and magnetic. It is rare to find such a well drawn and complex character in modern fiction. It has all the elements a modern reader could wish for: pacey narrative, intrigue, villains, and historical and local detail. (Stephen S)
The unexpected first book of an amazing saga. I became totally absorbed in the characters. (Richard Carley)
I just loved this book - made me very anti-social as I just couldn't put it down. (LJM)
All the characters came alive off the page and that was down to the excellent writing. (Anon)
Martha is a woman who I would love to have known. Brian's style of writing is fresh and original. (Denise Strong)
This book tells you about a missing segment of Martha Morgan's life, and spellbinds you to the finish. (JR Morrison)
Brian John's Angel mountain series is wonderful. This was his last book in the series and I enjoyed it as much as the first. (Marlene Tapscott)
Once again loved this book -- read the whole series now. (“Insure”)
This is a great series. (Genegenee)
Brilliant - covering all emotions and ups and downs of peoples' lives during this era of life in Wales. (Geoff Gosling)
I haven't read better books for a long time. (Richard Hollick)
Fabulous series of books. Very well written set in a wonderful part of the world. (Anna Crowther)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book - every bit as good as all the other Angel Mountain Saga books. (Paula Heard)
Another totally gripping tale from Brian John. He writes with such credibilty that it's hard to believe that Plas Ingli and its occupants are all fictional. The historical element is equally fascinating, and I have been completely convinced each time I read the novels in this amazing saga. (Amelia Davieson)
It's a story that stayed with me for weeks after I finished reading it, I just couldn't stop thinking about it. (Alison)
Incredible story set in Pembrokeshire West Wales, of the sruggle, loves and lives of Martha and her family living on Angel Mountain near Newport. I can't wait to read the rest of the saga. I was desolate when I finished the book. (Tracey)
This is an incredibly well written debut novel that had me yearning for more. (Peter G)
It is a surprise that this book has been written by a man. I could not wait to read the next book in the Saga. It should come as no surprise that I read all five books in the saga in under 3 weeks!!! (Diana Vickers)
A fantastic story that I dare not try to explain and a strong reccomendation from me to all readers. (James Sutton)
This book is a joy to read. It has a great plot and is full of 3-D characters. (Anon)
A delightful, sympathetic tale with all sorts of unexpected twists and turns. (Anon)
A well constructed piece of writing keeping the reader wanting to know more. (Marlene Tapscott)
Brilliant story, a great great story from Martha Morgan’s diary based on her true story, an emotional rollercoaster you must read. (Tina Gliddon)
The pace did not let up until the end. I read the book in less than a day and would only say it left me wanting more. (Diana Vickers)
Another great, unputdownable read by Brain John. Old and new characters come to life in his thought provoking and clever sequel to the brilliant Angel Mountain stories. (Denise Strong)
This is an excellent book which recounts the further adventures of Mistress Martha Morgan of Plas Ingli -- who is now firmly established as one of the most interesting heroines in recent historical fiction. (Anon)
Fascinating series. Every time I pick up to read a chapter I fail to put it down and must just read the next chapter and then the next. (Avril Reynolds)
Brilliant story, based on true life in the 1800s, gripping and emotional. (Tina Gliddon)
This series is one of the most enjoyable I have ever read and I really cannot get it out of my mind, in fact I can’t believe it is fiction!! (PA Kevis)

For the partially sighted......

Not everybody realises that there were large-print versions of the first thee novels, published by Magna. Here are the details.


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


Monday, 20 August 2018

We now have stocks again

I've just taken receipt of the tenth printing of "On Angel Mountain" -- from Cambrian Printers in Aberystwyth, who continue to give good service at good prices.  Thanks to them for another fine job.

The book looks good!  I have changed the format in a variety of quite subtle ways.  The front cover is the same as before, but the text layout has been redesigned to give wider spine margins and smaller edge margins -- for ease of reading.  The back cover blurb has also been changed for greater impact and a more modern look.  The paper has been changed too -- by using white 80 gsm paper the text looks crisper (with cream bookwove the ink always spreads a bit, giving each letter slightly fuzzy edges).  So the volume is slimmer and lighter than before -- but I am sure that will not worry any customers.........

Sunday, 19 August 2018

The edge of the world......

Had to share this -- a fabulous image from Dan Soper showing the SW tip of the St David's Peninsula and the southern end of Ramsey Island.

This area, according to the story, would have been known to Martha since this is not far from her childhood home.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Studio apartment now available through Airbnb

This is slightly off-topic, but if you know anybody who might be looking for accommodation (one or two guests) at short notice in the Newport area, please ask him/her to check out our new entry on the Airbnb web site.

Really cosy for one or two people, with wood stove, new TV, wi-fi and most mod cons.  (No dishwasher or washing machine -- just not enough space.)  Many months of hard work have gone into the refurbishment of the old guest flat, but now we are happy with it, and it is up and running, with the first guests already booked in.

Now we just need to start recouping our investment!

Sunday, 12 August 2018

New edition of "On Angel Mountain" on the way

Novel number one of the series has been out of print for some weeks, and I have taken the opportunity to so some redesign for a new printing.  This is the TENTH printing, so something to celebrate......

The front cover remains the same, but the text pages have been redesigned to give wider margins at the spine, to make for easier reading. I have also gone for a less bulky paper, so the volume is slimmer than we have seen in past print-runs.

All being well, the new edition will be available next Friday, 17th August.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Welsh tourism spend down 17% while Scotland and Ireland roar ahead

This is a main BBC Wales story today -- bemoaning the fact that there was a 17% drop in tourism spend in Wales between 2016 and 2017.  I would not mind betting that the figure will be down again for 2018.

One doesn't like to say "I told you so" -- but for several years now many people have bemoaned the fact that there seems to be no clear narrative or marketing strategy being sold for Wales, apart from the message:  "Come to Wales.  It's great!  In fact, it's greater than anywhere else!"  Well yes, but....... there is little if any uniqueness in the message.  What is the USP?  Is there one?

We think the Welsh narrative needs to be expressed much more specifically and clearly, but nobody in the Welsh Government seems to be very interested in defining what it is.  Some of the Welsh tourism marketing initiatives are great, but they can be defined as battleground tactics.  What is the strategy?

And while we are about it, why is there no support from the Minister or from AMs for a much more clearly expressed requirement to be placed on the makers of TV programmes and films in Wales to TELL THE WELSH STORY?  If the Welsh story is not told, Wales will not be sold effectively to a global audience.

And while we are about it, why is it that I am frustrated at every turn when I seek to garner support for a big landmark costume drama set in Wales, which will tell the Welsh story for a global audience?  At the official level, there seems to be a policy that no one project should be favoured or supported above any other -- so the impression is inevitable that there is a complacency and a timidity in Wales about anything ambitious.  People back off, lie low, and pass the buck when, in another cultural context, there would be a project team working hard and trying to make something happen. Angel Mountain has the narrative, and the heroic characters, to guarantee the success of a 32-part costume drama series --with the right screenwriters, director, and actors.  But the project needs advocacy and endorsements, in a Welsh environment where the word "success" seems like a dirty word.  Poor little Wales, located somewhere beyond England.........

Gripe over.

Here is the text of the article:

Despite a multimillion pound campaign to boost tourism, Wales is "standing still" in attracting foreign tourists, an expert has said.

Simon Calder added it was "really concerning" visitor spending dropped by 17% at a time when the pound is weak.

A record 39.2m visitors came to the UK in 2017 - but headed mainly to London and Scotland, new figures show.

The Welsh Government said its tourism barometer survey was "overwhelmingly positive" overall.

Numbers of foreign tourists rose by 0.5% but their spend dropped by 17% in the 12 months £5m was spent on the Year of Legends campaign, which aimed to give visitors legendary experiences.

Mr Calder said the lack of flights from major countries meant Wales was regarded as "an add on" to a trip to England rather than a destination in its own right.

"These figures are really concerning for the Wales tourism industry," he said.

"Scotland in particular has done very well while Wales is effectively standing still."

The tourism analysis published by the Welsh Government describes UK-wide increases being driven by visitors from north America and non-European countries.

Overall, 20m headed for London (up 4% on 2016) and 3.2m for Scotland (up 17%).  In comparison, there were 1.1m visitors to Wales (up 0.5%).

However, while these visitors' spending increased by 14% in London to £13,546m and by 23% in Scotland to £2,276m, the figure dropped in Wales by 17% to £369m.

Mr Calder added: "The spend is really troubling because the pound is pretty pathetic and you would expect it to go up.

"This could be down to the length of time people can be persuaded to stay if they are using Wales as an add on to a trip to England."

He said tourists' imaginations had been captured through the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland and North Coast 500 in Scotland.

However, even with "fantastic movie set locations", people needed to get to Wales.

"There has a been a huge increase in flights between Edinburgh and north America, that will explain a lot of the increase," Mr Calder said.

"Wales will be hoping the new Qatar link does the same."

While he said it was too early to know if it would be a success, it made Wales one stop from large cities such as Shanghai.

The Wales Tourism Alliance described the figures as "disappointing".  Domestic UK overnight visitors to Wales fell in 2017.  There was a 3% decrease to 9m who spent £1,628m (a 3.6% drop) while UK-wide there was a 1% increase to 120.68m, who spent £23,683m (a 2.6% increase).  A Welsh Government spokeswoman said its tourism survey showed 80% of businesses reported a greater or similar level of business compared to 2016.

"There is no doubt that tourism is a hugely competitive global sector and we will continue to work with the industry to further improve what we have to offer in Wales and maximise opportunities to introduce new audiences and grow both overseas and domestic visitors so we can look to build on the 10 million overnight visitors we welcomed in 2017," she added.

The spokeswoman said themed years have been "very well received" and the £5m invested in the Year of Legends marketing campaign helped generate an additional £365m for the Welsh economy.

In 2018 so far, more than 100 cruise ships have visited Wales, bringing 51,000 passengers from countries such as the USA, Canada and France.

This represents a 15% increase on 2017, with the 54 stopping at Anglesey, 30% more than last year.

More from the Assembly on Welsh film and TV

It appears that the Assembly's Culture Committee has still not reported on its deliberations on Welsh film and TV -- but in the meantime there is this short report from one of the civil servants.  It's rather bland, but it does summarise some of the issues........