Thursday, 29 November 2018

The Story of Wales

The popular series presented by Huw Owen is getting another airing at the moment, and is also available on iPlayer:

When I first watched it, I had rather mixed feelings about it -- it's full of rather elaborate re-enactments.  But it can't do any harm to get our national story (or one version of it) re-told as many times as possible!  Let's hope it gets good viewing figures.............

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Investing in new films

This is interesting -- we all know about crowdfunding, via Kickstarter etc, with perks for those who put up most of the money, but this is straightforward investing in projects.  Red Rock says that there should be a return of 20-25% on investments, but of course some film projects go belly-up and all those who have invested lose all of their money.  However, as with all investments, those who are smartest know which projects to back and which to stay well clear of!  And the projects with the biggest names on the cast list are not necessarily the best ones to sink your money into.........

Stones -- the video

This is the fabulous musical video which Steve made a few years ago -- a setting of a very powerful poem by Bob Reeves, about Carningli.  Enjoy -- or should I say "Be afraid -- be very afraid........."

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Once again, Martha comes to life

Late afternoon at Ceibwr with some big swells rolling in. Anna playing a pensive Mistress Martha, gazing out to sea.  Ken was off to the right, getting a great sequence into the can, as they say......

We also did some movie recordings down on Parrog, at Nevern Church and up around Nevern Castle.  Then finally some sound recordings at Trefelin, in a padded-up bedroom and using a ridiculously small and high-tech  microphone.

All looking and sounding good, and ready to be put together with the drone footage that we got a couple of weeks ago.

Huge thanks to Ken and Anna for an inspirational day of hard work.  With Ken and Anna I've been greatly blessed to be able to work with Steve and Rhiannon on our photo gallery of stills for "Martha Morgan Country", and now with Ken and Anna on the latest sessions of location filming and sound recording.  Without their wonderful involvement, I suspect that this project would long since have been dead.......

As Martha discovered long ago, there are always angels lurking in unlikely places.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

The Wizard of Werndew

I always wondered what happened to that hat -- I have not seen it for years, and think it might have been spirited away.  A few years ago I did some photos of me pretending to be Joseph Harries! Here are two of the images!

And here is an image of a typical conjuration -- actually from John Harries's Book of Incantations.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Look out -- the Scots are coming!

There's an interesting piece in this Sunday's Observer about the boost given to the Scottish economy by location shooting of films and TV series.  The latest Netflix blockbuster is "Outlaw King", about Robert Bruce, which has apparently just started transmission.

The new series follows hard on the heels of Outlander, and of course we still remember Braveheart and even Monarch of the Glen -- all of which have extended and enhanced Scotland's profile in the world and have built specific stories into Scotland's national narrative.  As Visit Scotland's representative has explained, this all brings in new tourists and new cash into the economy too, on a scale far greater than we see in Wales.

For a long time now, I have bewailed the fact that Wales has done nothing similar.  We have great studios and very clever directors, producers and technicians working in the film and TV industries, but they use Wales very largely as a place for manufacturing other people's stories -- which do nothing to raise the profile of Wales itself.

Thus far, Scotland has lagged behind Wales in the provision of studio facilities -- but that is about to change, and an announcement about the building of a large new studio complex now seems to be close.  So whatever competitive advantage Wales has had is about to be lost.......

Time to get our act together, methinks.

The Welsh Literature and Publishing Review is wrapped up - and it was a complete waste of time

At long last, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, the Welsh Government's Culture Minister, has written a letter to the key players, which effectively wraps the process up.  The letter is pasted below.  This signals that the Minister is not minded to do anything much at all, and effectively we have status quo.

This represents a volte face, since after the publication of the report of th Medwin Hughes Panel, Minister Ken Skates said he was minded to accept its main recommendations, which would have involved much rationalisation within the industry and a considerable saving of cash.  It's strange, in these straightened times, that that little matter apparently has no relevance.

However, what has swung things is the assessment of the Culture Committee, which heard evidence from all the main players --  and decided in the end that changes of any sort would involve an unacceptable level of risk, and that it was better to trust the devil you know than the devil you don't.   That was a bit weird,  since both devils (Literature Wales and Welsh Books Council) were perfectly well known, and since the whole point of the exercise was to increase efficiency and to get rid of wasteful duplication of effort.  And the risk involved in bringing in efficiencies was quite minimal.  So the Welsh instinct for conservatism kicks in again, and a vast amount of expenditure and time gurgles down the drain.........  I feel sorry for the Welsh taxpayer (that means me).........

There are some complicated political issues in the background, and one has to wonder (not for the first time) whether there is a built-in resistance in the capital city concerning the removal of any activities (such as the organization of Wales Book of the Year) from Cardiff to Aberystwyth.

There are actually one or two interesting things in the letter.  I'll come back to those in another post.

Phil George - Chair of the Arts Council of Wales
Kate North - Chair of Literature Wales
M Wynn Thomas - Chair of the Welsh Books Council

Dear Phil, Kate and Wynn

10 October 2018

I am writing in relation to the independent review of support for publishing and literature in Wales.

The Welsh Government has considered the Panel’s report as well as views from stakeholders following its publication and the findings of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee.

Excellent work is already being undertaken by your organisations and across the sector and this is something I have witnessed first-hand since becoming Minister. This includes the London Book Fair, which demonstrated the excellent partnership working between a number of bodies that ensured Wales’ significant and effective presence at the Fair.

I have some brief observations to make in response to the specific recommendations in the report suggesting changes in the way support is currently administered.

Wales Book of the Year

Since becoming Minister I have had the pleasure of attending, and presenting awards at, two Wales Book of the Year ceremonies. I appreciate the importance of the Awards in raising awareness of the industry and the writing talent in Wales.

Literature Wales should remain the lead organisation for Wales Book of the Year at present. However, I expect a closer and more strategic partnership with the Welsh Books Council and other stakeholders in future, both in the Awards themselves and work throughout the year to capitalise on them. Literature Wales should set out annually a plan for the Awards that acknowledges and acts upon concerns and suggestions from the Welsh Books Council and other stakeholders, on issues such as timing, branding, marketing and commercial impact. These developments will further strengthen the Wales Book of the Year brand in the marketplace.


I acknowledge the separate, good work already being done by Literature Wales and the Welsh Books Council via the awarding of bursaries, but there is a need now to bring this activity together. To ensure that all bursaries for writers in Wales are targeted effectively and delivered in a consistent manner, a unified strategy for writers’ bursaries should be agreed, by both organisations and their sponsor bodies.

This should set out a coordinated approach to the delivery of a broad programme of bursary support, strategically designed to maximise benefits at the various stages of writer development and across the sector as a whole. Bursaries linked to commercial activity and those allocated purely for developmental purposes are both valuable when targeted effectively; therefore the best and most appropriate use of different types of bursaries should be agreed and set out as part of the unified strategy. To be clear, I am not mandating that the delivery of all bursaries should move to a single organisation - although that is an option the stakeholder organisations could explore.

We will convene a working group with the Arts Council of Wales, Literature Wales and the Welsh Books Council to take this strategy forward. This will consider the structure, aims, funding and implementation of a more strategic and impactful programme of bursaries for writers in Wales; it will also set out a timescale for the unified strategy to be agreed and implemented. Other parties may be asked to contribute to the group’s work as needed.

As a first step, the working group will identify improvements that can be delivered now, by maximising the collaboration possible within existing arrangements. This might, for example, include the creation of a single grants panel, comprising Literature Wales, the Welsh Books Council and an independent member, responsible for decisions on all bursary applications via their existing schemes.

Writers on Tour

Literature Wales should remain the lead organisation for Writers on Tour, but two changes to current delivery are required. Literature Wales should cover reasonable travel and subsistence costs for authors, in line with usual public sector rates. The Welsh Government and the Arts Council of Wales should consider whether a small budget increase for Writers on Tour is required to facilitate this.

Writers on Tour must become financially viable for writers, to increase participation. This would then deliver greater impacts across relevant Welsh Government policy areas. With this in mind, Literature Wales should provide a reasonable opportunity for writers to sell books at the end of these events, inviting the Welsh Books Council to support writers in doing so, as required.

Children and Young People / Literary Events

There should be no transfer of functions or funding in relation to children and young people and literary events, given the complex mix of grant in aid and Lottery funding which currently underpins much of the delivery activity in these areas. However, this is conditional upon Literature Wales and the Welsh Books Council discussing current arrangements and agreeing how support can be delivered more collaboratively in future.

The Welsh Government will take on board the recommendations addressed specifically to Welsh Ministers. We will discuss these recommendations further, as appropriate - with you as the relevant stakeholder organisations and with the wider sector.

I also expect you to respond to the specific recommendations provided for your individual consideration. The Welsh Government stands ready to engage with you as you develop practical responses to these recommendations, and to consider how it might assist where required, in its capacity as a sponsoring body. Regular reports on progress will be expected from you as part of existing arrangements.

I now expect you to work together more collaboratively, in genuine partnership and with mutual respect, to ensure the sector goes from strength to strength and delivers even more for people across Wales. I look forward to our continued close working as we all move forward.

Yours sincerely,

Yr Arglwydd Elis-Thomas AC/AM

Y Gweinidog Diwylliant, Twristiaeth a Chwaraeon Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Daisy, the black sheep of the family

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 the last book of the Saga 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.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

On ravens

The ravens are symbols -- not (as in Teutonic mythology) symbols of death and darkness, but as in Celtic mythology symbols of nobility, royalty and assorted other virtues such as steadfastness and protectiveness. The ravens are the spirits of the mountain, and although they are black they are really the mountain’s “host of angels”. Martha is very fond of them. Sometimes she pays attention to what they are telling her, and sometimes -- because she is preoccupied with her petty obsessions and fails to read the signs -- she disregards them and pays the price. At the very end of the Saga, following Martha’s death, six ravens appear on the mountain and watch as her body is carried back to the Plas. They are of course the spirits of Martha and the five men who loved her -- David, Ceredig, Owain, Joseph and Amos. Maybe Iestyn should have been there too, to make the number up to seven.........

In any screen adaptation of the novels, the ravens will have to play a prominent role -- subtle, but crucial to the understanding of the storyline.

The best Regency dramas

This is interesting:

A long list of the most famous and most enjoyable Georgian and Regency dramas -- many available on DVD or online.  Organized alphabetically.

Accompanied by intelligent and informative notes.  170 films and TV serials to choose from.......!!

The Matter of Wales

I'm still banging on about the Welsh narrative, and have been digging into what some of the wiser inhabitants of our little country have to say about it.  

A few quotes from Jan Morris’s wonderful book called “The Matter of Wales”:

“ 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.”


I'm still saddened by the apparent lack of any coherent vision of what it is that makes Wales different from Scotland, Ireland and England -- and indeed, what makes it unique on the world stage.  As far as I can see, the Visit Wales marketing strategy is to carry on telling the rest of the world that "Wales is more wonderful than everywhere else.....",  accompanied by lots of nice images,  which seems to me to be somewhat lacking in imagination!

And in spite of all my efforts, I have not managed to get anybody in the Welsh Govt to take seriously my request for TV drama  and film makers or broadcasters to devote some of their time and energy to the telling of the Welsh story for a global audience.  The attitude seems to be "Oh, we can't do that!  That might scare them away....!"  Sad, isn't it?

Thursday, 1 November 2018

High-end TV dramas filmed in Wales

In a previous post I bewailed the fact that there were several high profile "high-end dramas" set in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland but nothing in Wales.  (High end drama is drama costing over £1 million per hour -- and subsidised via tax relief mechanisms.)   We are talking here about big long-running drama series like Outlander, Dr Who, The Crown, Game of Thrones, Victoria or Poldark.

Several observers have also bewailed the fact that Wales is the place where big films are made, but where hardly any of them are big narratives telling the Welsh story.

So I tried to check up on how many productions in Wales have been in receipt of the tax subsidy over the last few years.  I got no sense out of the Welsh Government, so I submitted a FOI request to HMRC, and got no sense from them either, on the basis that no regional or national lists are kept, and that in any case the requests for tax concessions are private or confidential matters between the companies concerned and HMRC.  They said that the Welsh Government is probably not involved in that process -- and I accept that -- but of course the Welsh Government has to know about every big project since finances are very carefully scrutinized so as to assure financial viability.

I suppose one could find out more by scrutinizing the accounts submitted by each company to Companies House -- but some of them reveal hardly anything about companies with multi-million pound turnovers.

At long last I have got some sort of a response from one of the senior civil servants in Cardiff, who says: "I can assure you that there have been several productions which are partly or wholly set in Wales that have received the tax credit.  Some have received separate finance from the Welsh Government and some have not."   The key words there are "partly or wholly" -- so the several productions will undoubtedly include Dr Who, Atlantis, The Bastard Executioner, and A Discovery of Witches.  One scene set in Wales will probably entitle the production company to request high-end tax relief,so long as some of the production work is done in Welsh studios.  (That's not unusual -- production companies do it all the time.  I know of one production company that tailors every single project to the places where the best financial / tax relief / subsidy regimes are currently in place -- and if that means doing a spot of filming in Lithuania, or Greece, or Spain, so be it...........!)

So where are the big dramas set in Wales and telling the Welsh story for the people of Wales and for a global audience?  There aren't any.........   Hinterland and Keeping Faith have no doubt brought Wales to the attention of a global audience, but they are not specifically Welsh dramas.  They are crime dramas belonging to specific genres that just happen to be set in wales.