Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Gwasg Gomer to close publishing arm

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

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

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



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

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

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

In a statement issued by the company, they said:

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

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

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

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Coming soon -- the whole saga as audiobooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 8 July 2019

On Angel Mountain — now available from Calibre audiobooks

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 2 June 2019

North Pembrokeshire -- insufficiently authentic?

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

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

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

 Mike Parker

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

Friday, 31 May 2019

The new edition of "House of Angels"

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

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

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


Thursday, 30 May 2019

Gavin and Stacey returns for a Christmas special

BBC Press Release:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further details will be announced in due course.

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


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

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Uplift through the act of reading

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

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Still life at Ceibwr

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

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Game of Thrones and the Northern Ireland economy

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

'Driving people to NI’

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

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

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


Sunday, 19 May 2019

Stormy times......

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

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

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

The big 2019 dramas

Here is an interesting list of the big TV dramas for 2019 --  some of them have of course already been shown, or are in progress....

Can we pick up on any trends?  It's not easy -- one might be a trend towards more modern or present-day dramas, which might be explained partly on cost grounds alone, since they are much cheaper to make than costume dramas.   But the big shows -- like "Good Omens" will be so complex that they will cost well over £1million per episode anyway.

Is there a drift away from costume drama?  Difficult to say -- there are some big costume dramas in the mix, including Gentleman Jack, Summer of Rockets (is there a trend towards post-WW2 and Cold War dramas?), The Luminaries, War of the Worlds, Peaky Blinders, Poldark (the final series), and Year of the Rabbit.  Lots of cop shows / crime shows  written to a familiar formula -- there seems to be an insatiable demand for thrillers with nasty (and complicated) villains, troubled police and unconventional investigators.

Witch this space....

PS.  Several others missed off the Radio Times List:  Beecham House, Catherine the Great, Dracula and Tom Jones

Friday, 10 May 2019

Moments later.........

This is one of my favourite portraits from Steve Mallett's fabulous photo gallery of "Martha Morgan" images -- featuring Rhiannon James in the role of the heroic heroine.

This is a reminder of one of the most difficult passages in the saga -- because moments later Martha enters the kitchen with the basket of logs, trips over and loses her baby.  No man can ever hope to portray a miscarriage and its aftermath in print -- and it was probably presumptuous and foolhardy to think that I could do it with due respect and sensitivity.  But that is how the story came to me, and I had to try.........

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Enchanted Land

Just for fun.  I have discovered this amongst assorted ancient papers.  It's a little poem I composed in 1994 as a Prelude to a "Celtic Entertainment" based on local mythology and folklore, presented here in Newport during our 1994 Spring Festival.  Enjoy!


Now come to our enchanted land
Where dragons roar and monsters roam
And down upon the golden sand
Amid the breakers and the foam
A water horse looks out to sea;
For there amid the noonday haze
A mermaid combs her hair, and she
Knows all the distant ocean ways.

On sunlit crags sit holy men
Like David, Brynach and their friends
Whose shadows now and voices then
Have blessed us all, and made amends.
And heroes, giants, princes, kings
Ride through the flaming sunset west
With silver spears and golden rings
Upon some grand Arthurian quest.

The sun goes down, and now we hear
The phantoms of the deep dark night.
And goblins growl, and in our fear
We dread the witch with second sight
Who flies across the winter moon
And casts her spells and leaves, they say,
Poor folk bewitched; and as they swoon
The devil talks while others pray.

The hounds of hell, do they exist
As great black beasts, with glowing eyes?
Who hears the battles in the mist
Or overhead, in moonlight skies?
Who sees the flickering candle glow
Beneath the trees or by the stones?
Who knows the knocking? Who can know
The dusty rattle of dry bones?

But now the growing light of dawn
Sends all our morbid fears away.
We wake and stretch, and with a yawn
We open eyes and see the day.
The fairy folk have come to town
With magic food and purest gold,
With dainty shoe and jewelled gown
And gifts for mortals young and old.

We know the eagle and the wren,
The dancing stones, the prancing steed.
We know the giants and the men
Of mighty word and mightier deed.
Hear Shemi Wad and Aby Biddle
Who tell tall tales of days gone by
While fairies come and madly fiddle
For dancers under azure sky.

Where is this land of moon and sun,
And dark and light, and present past?
Where’s golden girl and man of fun
With magic first and truth at last?
Why, this is our enchanted land,
And nothing is quite what it it seems.
We have our ways, and by our hand
We weave our magic in your dreams.

Brian John
Prologue to a Celtic Entertainment, 1994.

Is Amazon trying to kill off small publishers?

This is based on a post I did a couple of years ago, after Philip Pullman complained about heavy discounting on cover prices.

Virtually all authors have stories of the impact of price cutting at the point of sale. One of the worst offenders is of course Amazon, which is a monster so big that we have to deal with it, like it or not.

Let's take a typical novel from the Angel Mountain series.    I'm a small publisher who also happens to be a self-publisher.  If my print run has been 2,000, the invoice I have to pay is around £4,000 and the printing price per book is about £2.  The cover price will generally be set at £7.99,  giving a 4x markup.  That's smaller than a large mainstream publisher would be satisfied with, because I have low overheads and no author royalty to pay to somebody else.  My profits come from sales, to the book trade at 33.3% discount on the cover price, and to wholesalers at 45% discount.  

When I sell my novels to Amazon, I use a scheme called Amazon Advantage.  The retail monster hardly ever orders more than 6 copies of a title, even for a book which is brand new.  I have to pay the full costs of packaging and postage.  Amazon insists on a 60% discount and insists on taking 3 months to pay following acceptance of the delivery. If I want faster payment, I have to give the monster a 65% discount. So on a £7.99 paperback, it pays me just £3.19, allowing it plenty of room for discounting the book and for selling it for under my RRP. 

The next piece of iniquity is that Amazon pretends, for the sake of its customers, that it has just one copy left of this particular book, and that there are more copies on the way. That's being rather economical with the truth. The real situation (at least, until recently) is that it only ever has two or three copies in stock, and that when one is sold, it orders another copy from me as a replacement. 

The huge Amazon warehouse at Ridgmont in Bedfordshire  (which used to do all the ordering for books) may contain a lot of stuff, but it sure as eggs doesn't hold many copies of my books! Then it gets even worse, since when I get my order for one new copy to be sent off, I have to deal with it immediately (if I don't the monster starts hassling me straight away) and as mentioned above I have to pay the package and postage costs, in this case amounting to £2.40. So to send one copy of the book off to Amazon, it costs me  £2 + £2.40 = £4.40, in exchange for which it pays me £3.19. Not a very good commercial deal? Too right.......

Recently I notice that there have been two changes in the Amazon business model.  For a start, they have now opened up several vast warehouses in different parts of the UK, which operate as independent purchasing centres.  A few months ago I received three orders for the same title -- with each copy to be shipped to a different warehouse.  I complained about this, and got the response that this was a temporary situation, with an assurance that ordering would be centralised once again into the Ridgment warehouse once things had settled down.  That has not happened -- I still get very small orders from different Amazon warehouses all over the UK.

The second change is that they have clearly changed their algorithm so that  for "backlist" titles (which sell in small quantities, and intermittently) they are maybe now not holding any stock at all -- and expect suppliers to ship off single copies to them immediately, as and when orders come in from customers.  They have also started sending back "requested returns and returns of overstock inventory" to suppliers, with no discussion and no advance warning.  Today, without any warning and with no explanation,  I received a parcel containing two copies of one of my most recent and best-selling titles -- and I wouldn't mind betting that before long I will get an order for one copy of the same title from the same warehouse.

The only reason for selling books through Amazon is that I get publicity from it -- the Amazon web-site is where most initial Google searches end up. If you are a new writer and you think it's brilliant if Amazon is "prepared to stock" your paperback or hardback books, think again. You probably won't make a single penny from the deal, and had better budget for considerable losses.  

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Literary Atlas Wales

The big Literary Atlas Wales project appears now to have finished, and the essential data is all on the web site.  It has been a peculiar exercise, partly geographical and partly literary, largely focussed on 12 selected novels which are probably the standard texts examined in literature courses in the Welsh universities.  (The locations for these are shown by red dots on the map above.)  We can argue till the cows come home about whether these 12 texts are "representative" of English-language literature written or based in Wales -- but they were not chosen to give visitors a cross-section or a rounded impression of what makes Wales tick.  As we can see, none of the 12 novels was based in west Wales -- a strange omission since Pembs and Carms are not exactly literary deserts......

But "literary tourism" does not seem have been the objective of the organizers of the project -- and it's interesting that Visit Wales does not seem to have been associated with the project at all.  There will be varying opinions on whether £500,000 of taxpayers' money has been well spent.  Was the project really innovative and worthwhile, or was it an academic indulgence?

This is a statement of the objective of the project:

Literary Atlas is an interactive online atlas of English-language novels set in Wales.

Literary Atlas also includes maps which locate the main geographical locations of all English-language novels in the Welsh collections of Cardiff University, Swansea University, and the National Library of Wales. Explore these locations.

Literary Atlas includes 'distant' maps and 'deep' maps which locate all geographical references (or 'plotpoints') in twelve English-language novelsprimarily set in Wales.

Literary Atlas includes artistic 'maps' of these twelve novels which offer unique and provocative interpretations of what we might call the 'literary geographies' of these books.

Literary Atlas includes maps which locate all the blue writer's plaques which commemorate the links between particular geographical sites and famous Welsh writers.

Through using 'distant', 'deep' and 'artistic' variations on mapping, Literary Atlas hopes to stimulate new understandings of literature and place and the geographical nature of the human condition.

Anyway, there is some interesting material on the web site, particularly associated with the "library map."

As we can see, 571 "Welsh" novels were published between 1800 and 2019.  That's quite an impressive output.  On the interactive map you can click on any dot and see the author and title.  But Wales's literary output was very slow to start with, since only 16 novels were published between 1800 and 1900:

After 1990, things started moving, with 315 novels published between 1900 and 2000:

And the rate of publication speeded up even more after the year 2000, with no less than 254 novels published in the first nineteen years of this century. 


There are plenty of talking points here; and I imagine that there are scores -- if not hundreds -- of other English-language fiction titles written and published in Wales that do not appear on any databases or in the publishing catalogues of the main publishers.  Many self-published or small press titles are omitted.   However, to their credit the organizers of the project have said that if readers or authors send in the details, other titles can be added to the database and the map.

One interesting question relating to the 254 novels (at least) published since 2000 -- in the era of subsidies and publishing grants. How many of these modern titles are truly commercial, in that reasonable numbers of people actually buy them and read them?  Another interesting map would be one showing sales figures for the titles plotted -- but perhaps that would be too much to ask........


Friday, 26 April 2019

Better than Poldark, different from Game of Thrones....

We have been pondering on the “unique hook” which might bring in a production company or broadcaster to take on the Angel Mountain Saga.  

In any pitch there is a need to demonstrate that your project has quite enough uniqueness in it to make it appealing.  In the case of On Angel Mountain, a young widow sees off all her enemies one by one — and kills some of them with her own hands — with the aid of her own “special powers” and the assistance of a wizard, an eccentric assortment of guardian angels, and a strange raven which is the spirit of a sacred mountain. By comparison, Poldark is distinctly mundane…..

This is an interesting list:
Worth looking at carefully to see what the USP might be in each case…..

It's a salutary exercise to look through this list and ask what the USP might be in each case.  Anything by Julian Fellowes is wonderful.  Popular and even perennial themes involve posh people doing silly posh things, quirky troubled detectives solving crimes, poor people having a hell of a tough time, young people coping with rites of passage, etc.

Our project migh be suffering a bit -- in a negative way -- from the Poldark effect. Commissioners may think On Angel Mountain is too similar — same period, same rough coastal landscape etc. Poldark is doing its last season this year — and although the BBC has hyped it up, it's success has not been spectacular, and while there has not been a big fall-off in viewing figures, many critics and outside observers have started to feel bored.   By all accounts, the actors have been bored too, and have wanted to go off and do other things.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Good Friday at Ceibwr

I thought I should share this one.... the thrift is just starting.  Give it a week or so more and it will be at its best along the coast path.....

Monday, 15 April 2019

Martha the shipowner

Martha was a shipowner...........

We attended a jolly event the other evening, commemorating the voyage of the "Albion" from Cardigan to New Brunswick in 1819, carrying 160 souls from Ceredigion who were intent on making a new life in a new land.  Mike Francis's lovely painting of the brig was inspired by the work of the Russian artist Aivakovsky.

No painter has ever mastered the art of painting waves in the same way as Aivakovsky -- how on earth did he manage to capture their translucent quality?  Sheer genius.  The painting below is one of his best.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Game of Thrones and the Northern Ireland economy

Here we are in the midst of the latest hype -- the last series of Game of Thrones is just starting, and the marketing process is well under way.......

Three years ago the economic impact in Northern Ireland was estimated at c £150m, and the figure by now will be substantially higher.  Tourism NI has worked hard at flagging up the key locations and in promoting a vast range of "ancillary" tourism-related activities, but of course there are very large economic impacts too in all sectors of the supply chain.  Filming a big series is an immensely complex business, providing incomes for many thousands of people in the filming neighbourhoods and much further afield.

For years I have been trying to flag up the potential significance for Wales of a big drama series set in Wales and telling the story of Wales --   but neither BBC Wales nor Visit Wales seems particularly interested, and I am not sure that the Welsh Government is either.

People keep on complaining about the very poor media portrayal of Wales and its story (see below) but nothing ever seems to be done about it.  There is more to Wales than natural history and rugby.

Fine words on all sides, but no initiatives.  The word "irritating" doesn't even begin to cover it........…/11/bbcs-portrayal-wales-welsh/…/the-pitching-in-disaster-shows-that…/…/……/we-must-fight-back-against-a-popula…/……/raymond-williams-question-w……

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Children of Nature - Soundtrack

Why this soundtrack here?  No reason, other than that I love it -- my favourite film of all time, set in Iceland.  Wonderful simple story and a fabulous soundtrack.  Enjoy.......

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Another sleeping giant.....

We have spent some time on this blog pondering on the sleeping "Mother Earth" or the sleeping goddess -- with reference to Carningli.

But there are those who are equally fascinated by Carn Ffoi,  adjacent to the Bedd Morris road at the eastern end of town.   The above picture has been much discussed on Facebook, and some folk are very convinced that what we are looking at is a sleeping giant, with head at the highest point, folded arms (maybe) and then rather large feet quite a way down the slope.

Some people see slumbering figures everywhere.......

Cinema and Welsh national identity

I came across this -- from 2007, but nonetheless still relevant. 

I had not realised that these film categories existes:  Welsh Coming-of-age genre films, Welsh Magical Realism, Welsh Grotesque cinema, the Welsh Chapel 'Gothic'.  So now we know.......  


The National cinema of Wales is a contested site of representation and identity, which has struggled to 'overcome systemic and historic obstacles to scholarship, as well as to funding, production, exhibition and distribution of its products, related organizations, agents and services. This study considers Welsh filmic product (produced from 1963- 2007), produced by independent producers for prominent broadcasting entities, including Channel Four Films, BBC Wales, S4C, or HTV/ITV Wales; a review of relevant literature regarding Welsh national cinema by Berry, Blandford, Ffrancon and others; the historical context of the Welsh film industry, was followed by an assignment of new aesthetic and industrial categories, including Welsh Coming-of-age genre films, Welsh Magical Realism, Welsh Grotesque cinema, the Welsh Chapel 'Gothic' in cinema, 'Outsider' filmmakers in Wales, and Welsh filmmakers in exile; the use of Welsh myths and legends in films, and how this contributes to a national identity." Consequently this study locates Welsh national cinema in a critical milieu inflected by feminist, Queer, post-colonial and national cinema analysis approaches.

An evaluation of the national cinema of Wales and whether the cinema constructs or represents a national identity
Author: Woods, Mark Leslie
ISNI: 0000 0004 2743 4669
Awarding Body: University of Glamorgan
Current Institution: University of South Wales
Date of Award: 2007
Doctoral Thesis.
2 vols, 365 pp

Friday, 5 April 2019

BBC and the portrayal of natural Wales

Last night we watched the first of 4 episodes of the new BBC Wales blockbuster programme called "Wales: Land of the Wild."  It was big and brash, following the now standard format of 50 mins of documentary and 10 mins of "how they did it" stuff at the end.  Great photography, with some stunning landscapes, and plenty of variety (horses, dippers, black grouse, natterjack toads, daffodils, badgers, puffins etc.)  This was BBC Wales taking seriously its brief to portray Wales to the nation and to the world -- so they went for it with gusto, maybe determined to do justice to our spectacular natural history...............  maybe the bit about the human beings can come later.   

In the programme itself, there is a thunderous score by Sir Karl Jenkins and the BBC Welsh National Orchestra, and the commentary was enunciated with huge declamatory effect by Michael Sheen.    Don't get me wrong -- these two are great heroes of mine -- but in my view the whole thing was way over the top, and not helped at all by either the over-dramatic music or the pompous and rather banal commentary, which was all spectacularly mismatched with what was going on on the screen.  In truth, not very much happened.  We saw horses pottering about, puffins pottering about, and badgers pottering about, which would have been fine if we had had an intelligent commentary from somebody like the great Sir David, Iolo Williams or Chris Packham, but here it did not work at all.  In fact it was all so pretentious that it became ludicrous, and at times Inger and I were laughing out loud at the absurdity of it all.  Was it all a great spoof?  Or was it aimed squarely at an American audience, which maybe just loves this sort of stuff?

This would not have been a cheap series to make -- you don't hire in Michael Sheen and Sir Karl Jenkins for peanuts.  But I wish that more money could have been spent on the filming.  We are so used, these days, to seeing incredible wildlife sequences on TV that prolonged episodes lasting several minutes, with nothing exceptional happening, do tend to fall flat.  We, the viewers, demand action and excitement, and things never seen before.  Unfair, I know...... but sadly that is the way of the world.  I suspect it's all to do with budget.  In all the great series fronted by the indomitable Sir David, they probably use no more than 1% of the footage shot.  They can afford to pay cameramen to sit in one place for weeks on end, waiting for a few seconds of spectacular action.  Here, I got the impression that they were working to a very small budget and using maybe 10% of the footage shot.  I wouldn't mind betting that both the producers and the cameramen were desperate for more time, but that they did not get it.

Anyway, the series of 4 programmes will probably throw up some memorable sequences, and credit is due to the BBC for at least making an effort to show the wildlife of Wales to a global audience.  That having been said, I think Iolo has already done it better! 

Thursday, 4 April 2019

The Supporting Cast

This is one of the big issues that all writers have to confront. How many members of the supporting cast should there be? This is a problem even in a shortish novel of 100,000 words. Too few characters, and a novel can feel introverted and introspective -- even self-indulgent or sterile. Too many, and there is a danger of a narrative becoming superficial and confusing. Somewhere in the middle is the place to be-- unless you are trying do do something rather risky or think of yourself as a writer of "literary fiction", inhabiting a place which is unoccupied by those who write unliterary and hence "inferior" fiction.

We all know that this problem -- is it a problem? -- is exacerbated in a literary saga of multiple volumes or in a long-running TV series. Thinking of the latter, "Game of Thrones" is famous for having vast numbers of important characters, who get killed off with alarming frequency and apparently no regrets. That's the business model. "Outlander" goes rambling on, with too many characters and too many locations. "Downton Abbey" was in my view beautifully written and cleverly structured, as a good soap opera should be. There were scores of important characters over several series, many of whom the viewer grew to love, and who had fully developed back stories which cleverly intersected. They were killed off too, but not at an alarming rate. That's life -- people die every now and then. Some were bad, and some were good, but I liked the way that even the baddies had interesting back stories which -- eventually -- the viewer was allowed to share. So initial negative responses to the behaviour of certain disruptive characters were slowly manipulated by the screenwriters, the director and the cast into something more akin to empathy and sympathy. There were few real baddies in the series -- and that is why, I suspect, it struck such a chord across the globe. OK -- it glorified an upper-crust paternalistic way of life that is long gone -- but it was somehow life-enhancing in that it stressed the triumph of virtue over evil and the importance of loyalty and compassion (and mutual support mechanisms) within one small community in one small place. People can relate to that, whatever their own personal circumstances may be.

In the eight volumes of the Angel Mountain saga, there are probably around 50 important characters who make multiple appearances and whose personal stories intersect and who are either friends or enemies of Mistress Martha Morgan. Then there are more than 200 other characters, who drift in and out of the stories and for whom I had to create personal histories. That involved keeping a very accurate character list, with dates of birth and death, family relationships, places of residence, and key life events. During the full narrative I mostly got things right (people in the right places at the right times, and doing things that were "in character"). What I had not reckoned with when I embarked on the series was that there would be people who seem to do not much else, other than read the full series (all million words of it) from beginning to end.over and again. Inevitably, they know the books far better than I do -- and THEY HAVE DISCOVERED MISTAKES! Shock, horror! Not really -- it's rather entertaining. Somebody pointed out to me that some character or other lived in farm X in one volume and in farm Y in another, and that one character was beautiful and black-haired in one book and plain and blonde in another. Well, nobody's perfect........

But I have derived great pleasure from giving life to the 50 or so characters whose characters, opinions and actions give depth to the stories, influencing Martha Morgan in a multitude of different ways. I had to work hard, in their portrayals, to make them all slightly eccentric, to the point of making them interesting, but not pushing their portrayals over the boundary into the realm of caricature. Here are two short portraits of two of them -- the prostitute Patty Ellis and the self-made man and rough diamond called Wilmot Gwynne:

Patty Ellis

Patty Ellis appears for the first time in House of Angels, and becomes a key character in the stories from that point to on. Although she is a prostitute when Martha first meets her, the two women are immediately drawn into a close and affectionate relationship. It would have been socially quite unacceptable for the mistress of an estate in the early 19th century to have been seen in the presence of a prostitute, but it is one of Martha’s great strengths that she cares nothing for wagging tongues and disapproving looks and soon after they meet she even flaunts her friendship with Patty. Initially the relationship might seem to be a very one-sided one, but there are in fact great mutual benefits in it. Early on, Patty offers to help Martha because she has information which is of use to her, and she has no thought at all that she might be repaid in some way. But as the friendship blossoms, Martha realizes that Patty has suffered appallingly at the hands of the evil Joseph Rice, and she also comes to appreciate that Patty is a very strong young woman, with an instinct for survival.

So together the two women plot to achieve the downfall of Rice and his companions, and after that is achieved Martha and Patty develop a much more comfortable friendship. That friendship also has a business side to it, for as Martha gets older she comes to value greatly her contacts among the most disreputable elements of local society. She often needs information, and Patty often knows where it can be obtained. And as a sign of her affection - and indeed respect - for Patty, she helps her in a number of ways, including the setting up of the church wedding, when Patty and Jake Nicholas decide that they wish to be married.

Patty is of course very beautiful, and it is not surprising perhaps that Jake, who was originally a client, should fall madly in love with her and should then decide to make her a respectable woman. Their wedding is quite a bizarre, and Martha loves every minute of it and the celebrations which follow. Later on, as Jake expands his little fishing business and eventually moves into trading activities, Patty does indeed become a notable member of the Parrog community and raises a family of two boys and two girls.

I had a lot of fun developing the story of Patty and Jake through the Saga, telling the reader about her initial fall from grace, about her steely determination to defeat her tormentor, and about her subsequent rehabilitation. She is a strong character and a steadfast friend to Martha, and all good stories need characters like her.

Actually this is a cartoon of George IV, or some such fellow. Wilmot might have had a similar girth, but a much jollier face......

Wilmot Gwynne

Wilmot Gwynne breezes into the story in 1845, and plays quite a prominent part in Flying with Angels during the last ten years of Martha’s life. In some ways he is a comic or a buffoon, and indeed he is part of the comedy duo of Wilmot and Delilah; but he is also much more than that, for as the story develops he shows that he is a multi-faceted character. He is a rough sort of fellow, with very few airs and graces, who has made his fortune in the Swansea Valley through hard work and good judgement. He is a nouveau riche entrepreneur who moves into rural Wales for health reasons, and maybe also because he fancies the idea of being a squire rather more than being an industrialist. But he is generous to fault, and when he takes over the Plas he shows great sensitivity in allowing Martha to remain in the house she loves and to maintain her status in the community. He could have sent her packing, and in the process destroyed her life and her family; but he chooses not to do that, maybe because like most of the other men in the Saga he is more than a little in love with Martha. As the final chapter in Martha’s life unfolds, and moves inexorably towards its tragic conclusion, Wilmot again proves to be a steadfast friend to Martha, Amos and the Morgan family.

What does Master Gwynne expect as payback, after the provision of so much moral and financial support? Possibly some enhanced status in the community, which is what he needs in order to establish himself as a respectable squire. Maybe he is also seeking to demonstrate to his family and acquaintances that he has that almost indefinable quality called sensibility. That too, above all else, is what marks a member of the gentry out to from the mass of the population - and it is assumed very often in the literature of the day that sensibility comes only with good breeding, and cannot simply be acquired by those of low breeding who suddenly become rich.

Part of my purpose in developing Wilmot as an important character in the last story of the Saga was to demonstrate that, of all the members of the gentry who hobble or stamp across the pages of Martha’s diary, Wilmot is one of very few who can truly be referred to as noble man. The others are Lord Cawdor, Richard Fenton, and John Bowen of Llwyngwair. Wilmot Gwynne, with his portly frame, calloused hands, and rough way of speaking, has every right to to sit at the same table as those famous characters from Pembrokeshire history.

(This short article first appeared on Linkedin)

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Visit Wales consultation: lots of tactics but no strategy

Visit wales is running a big consultation on its future marketing strategy.  It's one of these "directed consultations" which I hate, asking 10 questions and guiding respondents to work to the template.  OK -- I can understand the logic, in that vague rambling letters from all sorts of different respondents can be a nightmare to analyse and collate -- but all of the questions are about tactics and none of them are about strategy.  So either the strategy is set in stone, or there just isn't one.........

This is the response sent a few days ago:

In response to your new consultation…….. I was not very inspired to answer those ten questions, since not one of them addressed what is in my mind the key issue.

Does Wales have a USP? It would appear not — in the document inviting comments, it seems that the Visit Wales satrategy is simply to sell Wales to the world as “more brilliant at everything than everywhere else”.  Sadly, that’s not a very smart strategy, since the great majority of other countries try to sell themselves in exactly the same way.  The clever ones identify something UNIQUE and use that as the main focus of branding and marketing strategy.

Will you please consider the following points? They arise from a number of round-table discussions in St David’s in 2016 (involving around 20 tourism operators) at which concerns were expressed about the Visit Wales strategy at that time. Not much seems to have changed between then and now.

There is no sign that Visit Wales seeks to capitalise on a unique Welsh narrative. Here is one attempt to define it:

"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."

1. The Visit Wales new “brand” does not seem to 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.

I hope that these points might be helpful to Visit Wales in identifying the way forward.

With all good wishes

Brian John

The representation of Wales on TV

It's intriguing that the Welsh Assembly Culture Committee has, after many meetings in 2018,  still not reported on its investigation of film and high-end TV in Wales. They have a committee meeting this very morning at the Senedd, and item 3.1 on "Correspondence from the BBC regarding the representation of Wales" is being discussed in private, with no streaming media coverage.

Very strange -- this is item 7. Film and major television production in Wales: Discussion of draft report
Reason for the exclusion of the public?
Answer:  By Virtue of Paragraph iv (Discussion in public of a particular item of business would be likely to cause harm to the health or safety of an individual, the public, or the environment.)

Good gracious!  That all sounds a bit dramatic -- who, or what, is being threatened?!!!

But it does look as if the Draft Report is ready, and simply requires some minor tweaking.  But it must be very critical of the BBC, if the top brass have been invited to make a further last-minute, submission.........

PS.  The Committee has clearly been chasing BBCWales on the matter of "Pitching In" and about concerns about the representation of Wales in its recent output.  A letter in response has clearly been received from Rhodri Talfan Davies, but that is not yet on the record.

This is ba quote from the letter to Rhodri written by the Committee Chair, Bethan Sayed, in February 2019:

I am writing after a number of people raised concerns with me about the portrayal of Wales in the comedy programme ‘Pitching In’. I would like to take this opportunity ask for an update on the work BBC Cymru Wales is doing to improve representation and portrayal of Wales both on BBC Cymru Wales and BBC network.
With this in mind, I would be very grateful if you could provide the following information.

1. In February 2017 the BBC announced “an additional £8.5m p.a. of new funding” for English language programming for Wales. What is the current level of investment against this target?

When this funding was announced, the BBC said that it would:

• Deliver more than 130 hours of additional programming each year across BBC One Wales, BBC Two Wales and BBC iPlayer.

• Generate at least a further £5m of on-screen investment through co- production agreements with other broadcasters and producers.

• Provide a full mix of programming to inform, educate and entertain – including additional comedy, drama and entertainment.

• Support a new BBC Wales iPlayer channel – providing a new home for Welsh programming available across all devices and in all parts of the UK.

• Boost portrayal and coverage of Wales on the BBC’s network channel – with the aim that at least half the additional programming should also be broadcast on the BBC’s UK network channels.

• Provide a major financial boost to the Welsh production sector with all new television funding open to full competition.

Please could you provide an update of current progress towards these aims?

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Brian's Bibliography 1976-2019

I had to do some checking for a database, and realised that I have not updated my bibliography for quite a while.  Here it is, in the updated version, approximately in chronological order:

(About 90 books so far, and counting........)

Pembrokeshire, David and Charles, 1976
The Fishguard and Pembroke Area, Geographical Association, 1972
The Pembrokeshire Landscape, Five Arches Press, 1973 (with Robert Evans)
Scenery of Dyfed, Greencroft Books, 1976
The Milford Haven Oil Industry, Greencroft Books, 1975
Milford Haven Waterway, Pembs Coast National Park, 1981
The Rocks: Geology of Pembrokeshire, Abercastle Publications, 1973 and many reprints
Great Grandfather’s Little World, Greencroft Books, 1977
Pembrokeshire Crafts and Cottage Craft Industries, Greencroft Books, 1981
Old Industries of Pembrokeshire, Greencroft Books, 1975
Wildlife in Dyfed (editor), West Wales Naturalists Trust, 1979
Welsh Pictures from Victorian Times, Greencroft Books, 1977 (hb and pb)
West Wales Climate and Weather, Greencroft Books, 1977
Scottish Pictures from Victorian Times, Greencroft Books, 1979 (hb and pb)
Glaciers and Landscape, Edward Arnold, 1976-2000 (with David Sugden) hb and pb, reprinted many times over 25 years
Scandinavia: a new Geography, Longman, 1984
The Ice Age, Collins, 1977
Coastal Geomorphology of High Latitudes (with David Sugden), 1975, Edward Arnold
The Winters of the World (editor), David and Charles/Wiley/Jacaranda 1979
The Ice Age (pirated Russian edition), 1982
The World of Ice, Orbis, 1979
Le Monde des Glaces, Editions Atlas, 1980
Il Mondo dei Ghiacci, Agostini-Novara, 1979
L’Evoluzione del Paesaggio, Agostini-Novara, 1981
Rural Crafts of Wales, Greencroft Books, 1976, 1977
The Face of the Earth, Orbis, 1980
Pembrokeshire, Pan, 1978
Alternative Wales, Greencroft Books (editor), 1982
The Ancient Game of Cnapan, Greencroft Books, 1984
Geology of Pembrokeshire, Pembs Coast National Park, 1977
Pembrokeshire, Greencroft Books, 1984
The Pembrokeshire Guide, Greencroft Books, many editions 1984-1990
Pembrokeshire Humour, Greencroft Books, 1994 and 1995
Presely Hills, Pembs Coast National Park, 1981
Broad Haven Walks, Pembs Coast National Park, 1992
Bosherston Walks, Pembs Coast National Park, 1995
St David’s Walks, Pembs Coast National Park, 1992
Manorbier Walks, Pembs Coast National Park, 1993
Strumble Head Walks, Pembs Coast National Park, 1993
Saundersfoot Walks, Pembs Coast National Park, 1991
Dale and St Ishmael’s Walks, Pembs Coast National Park, 1994
Ports and Harbours of Pembrokeshire, Abercastle Publications, 1974
Bluestone Country: the Carningli walks, Greencroft Books / CRI, 1995
The Carningli Walks (editor), Greencroft Books, 1999 (new edition)
Nuclear Power and Jobs, SEI, 1986
Honey Harfat, a Haverfordwest Miscellany, Greencroft Books, 1979, hb and pb
The Best Cardi Jokes, Greencroft Books, 1995 and 1997
Beneath the Mountain, Greencroft Books, 1998
Funny Business Down Below, Greencroft Books, 1997
Up Among the Mountain Men, Greencroft Books, 1997
Pembrokeshire Folk Tales, Greencroft Books, 1991
The Last Dragon, Greencroft Books, 1992
Fireside Tales from Pembrokeshire, Greencroft Books, 1993
More Pembrokeshire Folk Tales, Greencroft Books, 1996
How Glaciers Move, Norsk Bremuseum, 1996
Fjaerland, a Norwegian Fjordside Settlement, Greencroft Books, 1996
The Birth and Death of Glaciers, Norsk Bremuseum, 1996
Walking in the Presely Hills, Pembs Coast National Park, 1989
Pembrokeshire: Past and Present, Greencroft Books, 1995
Pembrokeshire Coast Path, HMSO /Aurum (National Trail Guide), 1990 (in print)
Pembrokeshire Ghost Stories, Greencroft Books, 1996
The Best Pembrokeshire Jokes, Greencroft Books, 2000
Pembrokeshire 2000, Greencroft Books, 1999
Walks in the World of Ice, Norsk Bremuseum, 1999
Pembrokeshire Wizards and Witches, Greencroft Books, 2001
On Angel Mountain (fiction), Greencroft Books, 2001 (in print)
House of Angels (fiction), Greencroft Books, 2002 (in print)
Dark Angel (fiction), Greencroft Books, 2003 (in print)
On Angel Mountain (fiction), Corgi, 2005
House of Angels (fiction), Corgi, 2006
Dark Angel (fiction), Corgi, 2007
On Angel Mountain (fiction), Magna Large Print, 2006
House of Angels (fiction), Magna Large Print, 2007
Dark Angel (fiction), Magna Large Print, 2007
Rebecca and the Angels (fiction), Greencroft Books, 2004 (in print)
Flying with Angels (fiction), Greencroft Books, 2005 (in print)
Guardian Angel (fiction), Greencroft Books, 2007 (in print)
The Bluestone Enigma, Greencroft Books, 2008 (in print)
GM Crops: what you should know (editor), GM-Free Cymru, 2006, several editions
We Reap What We Sow (editor), GM-Free Cymru, 2001, several editions
Martha Morgan’s Little World, Greencroft Books, 2007 (in print)
Carningli: Land and People, Greencroft Books, 2008
Echoes and Shadows: Tales and Traditions of Newport and Nevern, Greencroft Books, 2008
Sacrifice (fiction), Greencroft Books, 2009 (in print)
The Strange Affair of the Ethiopian Treasure Chest (children’s fiction), Greencroft Books, 2010 (in print)
Conspiracy of Angels (fiction), Greencroft Books, 2012 (in print)
Acts of God (fiction), Greencroft Books, 2014 (in print)
The Stonehenge Bluestones, Greencroft Books, 2018 (in print)


1. Most of the titles shown as “in print” have been through multiple printings.
2. The above list includes printed paperback and hardback editions only. Audiobook and Ebook editions are excluded. For details of these editions, see here:

3. Scientific journal articles and monographs are excluded from this list.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Monday, 25 March 2019

Martha and her Mountain

Love this pic -- one of a series taken by Ken Bird with his drone, with Anna Monro playing the part of  Martha.

The relationship between Martha and her mountain is crucial for an understanding of her  and indeed the while narrative.  A sense of place is important in all novels -- but as readers will know, Carningli is, for Martha, not just a place to be protected but a place embedded in her soul -- sanctuary and even cathedral......

Thursday, 14 March 2019

The deadly game of Cnapan

As readers will know, the game of Cnapan features large in the Angel Mountain stories -- and indeed they are associated with the greatest tragedy in Martha's life, since her husband David is killed during the annual Cnapan contest on  Berry Sands (Traeth Mawr) in February 1805.  

These wonderful illustrations by HM Brock were first published in an article by AG Bradley, called "A Welsh game of the Tudor period" in The Badminton Magazine, Jan- June 1898, pp 512-524.

Here is an extract from Ch 10 of "Martha Morgan's Little World."


The ancient game of Cnapan, which features over and again in the pages of the Saga, has fascinated local historians, and students of the history of sport, for many generations. It has a strong claim to being the real precursor of rugby union football, although in some respects it seems to have been more akin to modern American football. George Owen, whose delightful description of Cnapan is justly famous, believed the game to have been invented by the Trojans or ancient Britons. This speculation is not as unreliable as we might think. Indeed, it is known that the Romans played a ball game called "Harpastum" which involved both carrying and scrummaging, and they also invented a game called "Soule" which survived in Brittany until 1870. It is therefore not beyond the bounds of possibility that the origins of Cnapan go back 2,000 years or more.

Where did the name come from? In north Pembrokeshire Welsh dialect the word "cnap" meant a lump. In the 1800's the word "cnappan" was used in south Cardiganshire as a verb meaning "to knock" or "to hammer away at" a person; and in Cilgerran a small section of the cliff on the edge of the Teifi gorge is known locally to this day as Gardd-y-Cnappan. Cnapan was the word given to the ball used in the game; it was made of solid wood, and was somwhat larger than a cricket ball. And just to make things interesting, it was boiled in tallow in order to make it slippery and difficult to hold! The object of the game was to smuggle or throw the cnapan, by one means or another, to the opposition “goal”. In the cross-country games this goal might be the porch of the parish church, and in games on the beach it might be a wooden pose stuck in to the sand. The labourers played on foot, and the gentry used horses; and that must have created many extremely dangerous situations. The foot players were allowed no implements or weapons, but the gentry were allowed to use cudgels or sticks, no doubt intended for striking the ball but actually used for striking opponents instead! On the great “Cnapan Days” there might be a thousand players on each side.

Clearly the game was both popular and widely played in Elizabethan North Pembrokeshire, and it was a famous spectator sport as well. The main matches were occasions for huge gatherings of local people and for merchants pedlars, and traders from far and wide who would assemble to sell food, drink and other wares. They were also social occasions for the local gentry, who would turn up both to see and be seen. There was a lot of gambling. And just as modern football managers share in the glory of their successful teams, the local gentry who acted as matchmakers saw Cnapan games as important occasions for enhancing both their sporting reputations and their social status.

By the late eighteenth century the game of Cnapan was being played in a somewhat debased form. There were worries about the increasing violence of the game and the lack of respect among players for its written or unwritten rules. The use of staves and cudgels and the involvement of horsemen among the foot-players must have led to frequent injuries. And the sight of broken limbs and bloodied bodies on "Cnapan days" must have caused considerable concern. Henry Vlll had attempted to ban the game in Tudor times, and now the clamour for it to be declared unlawful increased. But it was none too easy to prohibit traditional games in the remote rural districts, especially those which were played on the great holiday or feast days. After all, those who worked on the land had only six or seven days during the year on which they could really enjoy themselves. So the decline and fall of Cnapan was probably related not so much to new legislation or safetyu concerns as to changing farming practices. Over a long period of time the ancient north Pembrokeshire landscape of open farmed fields and extensive common lands was transformed by the process of enclosure. Landowners built hedges, walls and fences in order to demarcate their territory, to provide shelter and to contain their stock. As pointed out in Chapter 7, many of the common lands were illegally gobbled up in the process, and the losers were the smallholders and peasant farmers who had depended on these lands for grazing their animals. Another loser was the game of Cnapan. Whereas it had previously been played across miles of open countryside, the game could now only take place on sandy beaches such as Traeth Mawr, Newport, or on smaller open spaces owned by members of the gentry who had sporting inclinations. Under this inexorable pressure, the game was eventually killed off in north Pembrokeshire. With the aid of a few colleagues I tried to restart the game (without the horsemen and the cudgels!) in 1985 with an annual contest between Newport and Nevern. We had a lot of fun for ten years, but then we had to abandon the game because we could not obtain insurance cover.

In each team there were three sorts of players: “Of the first part there shall be sturdy gamesmen who shall remain in the throng or main body of the game. Of the second part there shall be scouts or fore-runners who shall be exceeding fleet of foot and who shall always strive to keep before the cnapan. Of the third part there shall be borderers who shall remain at the edges of the play. These borderers shall seek by surreptition to snatch the cnapan from the contary party, and shall hinder those who break from the body of the game and who would transport the cnapan towards the cnapan post. It is said that the gamesmen of the main throng shall be men of strength in disputing, boldness in assaulting, and stoutness in resisting; the scouts or forerunners shall be lusty hurlers of the cnapan and also men of agility and good footmanship, able to fly swift as an arrow and be able to show skilful deliverance of the cnapan to those that be with them; and the borderers shall with wondrous invention prevent those who run against them, leaping upon them without fear to take them out of the game.”

There were great scrummages involving the “sturdy gamesmen” or forwards, and if the game was stopped for any reason it was restarted by throwing the ball high into the air so that it could be caught by a man leaping high. No kicking of the ball was possible, so this game was not like the primitive “street football” contests that occurred in many parts of the British Isles. But there were so many similarities with modern rugby football that Newport in Pembrokeshire lays a good claim (better than Rugby School, at any rate) to be the place where rugby really began.

In the Saga I have based my descriptions of the game, and of what went on around the edges of it, quite closely on George Owen’s old account. I knew right from the beginning that David’s violent death would have to take place on Traeth Mawr, at the water’s edge, at a time when Martha, and the reader, might least expect such a tragedy.