The Launch of Rhys Owain Williams’ ‘That Lone Ship’ – a recap

Our intern Ann went to the launch of Rhys Owain Williams’ new poetry collection ‘That Lone Ship.’

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Friday 14th September, Rhys Owain Williams launched his first poetry collection, That Lone Ship, published this autumn by Parthian Books. The event was held in TechHub in Swansea and the room was crammed full of people.

The Swansea-based poet was surrounded most of the evening by a crowd of friends, family, and other enthusiastic supporters. There was no doubt that this was home turf.

As he began his reading by stating that, “I really love reading poems in Swansea, especially the ones that are set here,” it became clear that here is a man who knows his roots. Many of the poems in That Lone Ship are inspired by situations and places in Swansea, and it was with a particular relish that the poet read these aloud. Poems acquire a certain intensity when read out loud in the place they are set, and through the poet’s powerful voice, Swansea became a charmed place.

Rhys Owain Williams reading from That Lone Ship
Rhys Owain Williams reading from That Lone Ship   © Parthian Books

Rhys finished off his reading to an overwhelming applause that was as much praise for his moving poetry as it was acknowledgement of his success. To finish off the evening, the local musician and singer-songwriter Joe Bayliss gave a couple numbers as people settled down to celebrate the launch with music and drinks.

The venue itself seemed very well-suited for a poetry reading with its atmospheric lighting, simple and elegant colour scheme, and rough-hewn wooden table tops. The TechHub is hidden away down an alley off High Street, a well-kept local secret. In a way like Rhys Owain Williams himself, who toured the Swansea open mic scene for years. But hopefully, he won’t stay that way for long now that That Lone Ship has set sail.

Read an interview with the poet himself as he talks to Rhian Elisabeth as part of her Polar Bear blog-takeover.

Rhys Owain Williams - signing
Personalised signatures for all who bought a copy on the night   © Parthian Books

Listening to Literature at the PENfro Book Festival 2018

Our intern Ann visited the PENfro Book Festival in Pembrokeshire this September. In this blogpost, she writes about her experiences of the festival, the speakers and the country house Rhosygilwen.

When I arrived Saturday afternoon at the beautiful grounds of Rhosygilwen, I was immediately struck by the sense of history and atmosphere as I glimpsed the old manor between the trees. The whole place seems steeped in mystery and wonder.

Now in its twelfth year, the PENfro Book Festival once again demonstrated that with smallness comes intimacy. At PENfro there were no Authors’ Tents or VIP areas; the ‘VIPs’ mingled with the rest of the participants. The festival had the feel of an ongoing conversation in which some people were allowed momentary prominence, but once their formal talks were over, the audience continued the discussion.

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Richard Lewis Davies, creative director of Parthian, introduces the speakers

David Lloyd Owen’s talk of A Wilder Wales (Parthian Books), in which he used 18th and 19th century travel accounts to paint a vivid picture of a Wales, described a place that was dark, mysterious and of another world. Seated in a gazebo overlooking the Pembrokeshire countryside, it was easy to get lost in tales of incredulous travelers describing the exotic Welshmen and their odd customs, trying to deduce some insight into human nature.

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David Lloyd Owen

Another highlight was the Saturday night ‘Evening with Roy Noble,’ a well-known BBC radio and television presenter and author of Down the Road and Round the Bend (published by Graffeg). He regaled us with stories from his book; a hotchpotch collection of tales of Welsh places – a delightful mixture of ghost stories, tall tales, personal anecdotes and historic connections to famous events. Fact and fiction were expertly blended as Noble, an animated and charismatic storyteller, plied his trade. The setting itself strengthened the enthralling narratives with its beautiful, high-ceilinged hall and oak rafters. Darkness gradually fell outside as we were huddled together in the dim light around the travelling storyteller.

Sunday afternoon saw a completely different kind of performance when the winners of the various creative writing competitions were announced. I especially enjoyed the radio play competition, where the four best plays were performed live by two talented voice actors. Not being accustomed to listening to radio plays this was a completely new experience to me. There was something deeply fascinating about witnessing a play written for the ears. It was an intense experience in which the visual was put aside in favour of the smallest of sound details.

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The two voice actors performed the radio play entries for an enthralled audience

The competition event – the Grand Finale – had the best turnout of all the events. The festival revealed itself as the centre of a community dedicated to supporting emerging writers and facilitating a local love for the arts. It was inspiring to listen to readings of the many entries and see how hard Brenda Squires and Glen Peters – owners of Rhosygilwen and two of the founding members of PENfro – worked to bring vibrant new literature to their community.

 

Interview with Karmele Jaio

Our intern Ann had the pleasure of interviewing Karmele Jaio, a Basque writer whose novel Her Mother’s Hands (translated by Kristin Addis) was published recently by Parthian Books. They talked of the central themes of the novel, as well as the experience of being a Basque writer and of being translated.

Ann: What inspired you to write Her Mother’s hands?
Karmele: When I begin to write a book I never know exactly what I’m going to write about, but always feel that I have something inside that I have to write about, that I have something to discover there. Sometimes I think that I write to know what’s in my mind, to know what I want to say. When I began this novel I only had one picture, one image, in my mind: the hands of a woman on the sheet of a hospital bed, and a young woman sitting in a chair near her, looking at her hands. In that moment I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to say, but then I discovered that there were a lot of feelings inside me that needed to get out. I discovered years later that one of the inspirations of this book was the real worry that I felt at that time (without being conscious of it myself) because of seeing my mother converted into an old woman from one day to the next. I wasn’t conscious of this worry when I began to write the book. The writing of the novel helped me discover it.

A: What do you think was the most difficult part about writing Her Mother’s Hands and having it translated?
K: One of the worries that was present all the time while writing the book was not to be too dramatic. The situation I was describing was quite dramatic, so I was conscious that it was very easy to slide in a waterfall of drama. So I can say that I wrote the book with containment in that sense. And about the translations (I translated it myself into Spanish) the most difficult thing was not to lose the sound, the voice. Translating myself was a very difficult task, but also very enriching. I need to translate my own works, whenever I can, because Basque is a very different language. Basque is an isolated language; it has no connection to any other language. So, It’s very different from Indo-European languages. So when I translate into Spanish I need to rewrite my work. It doesn’t work if I translate very literally. More than ‘translate’ I say to myself: how would you write this in Spanish? And I write it that way, because I write in a very different way when I write in Basque than in Spanish. Each language takes you on a different path. And translating your texts is a very good exercise as it makes you know your style of writing better. While I’m translating my own work, I feel like I’m seeing what I wrote in Basque in front of a mirror. I see details of my way of writing that I didn’t know. It’s a hard but a very enriching exercise.

A: How does it feel to have your book translated?
K: Basque is a minority language. When we write in Basque we know that we are writing for a small community of readers. So translation is, obviously, important for us. For Basque literature and for Basque writers it is very important to be translated. So I feel very fortunate because more readers can understand the novel now. This moment right now is a very important moment to Basque Literature. Basque is an old language, but it is at the same time a very young language. In the 1970s, the Basque language was unified, was standardised. So, at that time a new standard language was created called euskara batua. And we write in this language. So Basque writers now feel like treading on new ground, treading on freshly fallen snow. We do not have that huge literary tradition of other languages and this gives us also some kind of freedom when we write.

A: This isn’t your first published work. How does it feel to have everyone treat you as if this is your first book?
K: Her Mother’s Hands was my second book and my first novel, written some years ago. After writing it, I have written another four books, but this is still the most well-known. I understand that is the first time that it appears in English so for English readers it is like my first book. It’s like beginning again. I know the route of this book in Basque (it was very good, better that I expected) but I do not know it in English. It would be very great news if the welcome of the English version was as good as it was for the Basque one.

A: Her Mother’s Hands is the first of your works to be available in English. Could you tell us a little about your other works? Anything you are particularly proud of?
K: Her Mother’s Hands is my most well-known book, but like I said, I wrote another five books: another novel, three short story collections and a poetry book. I always say that I’m a better writer of short stories than novels. I love the power of suggesting that the short stories have. I think I give the best of me in the short stories. And also I am satisfied with my poems.

A: Nerea is a journalist like yourself. How much of her work life is based on your own experiences?
K: I chose this job for Nerea because I thought that it was going to be easier for me to talk about a job I know. That’s the main reason. At the same time, I liked to talk about the representation of reality. Newspapers are doing a representation of reality every day, and we read news like they were reality itself. They are a representation, not the truth.

A: Did you have any particular influences (other books, media or authors for example) in your writing of Her Mother’s Hands or in your authorship in general?
K: Most of my influences are short story writers. I learned to write by reading short stories (Carson McCullers, Katherine Mansfield, Julio Cortázar, Raymond Carver, John Cheever, Dorothy Parker…), and in the last couple years my favourite writers are also short story writers like Alice Munro. I love her writing.

A: The book has a lot of very spirited and central female characters. Did you make any conscious choices in regards to the women in your book?
K: It wasn’t a conscious choice. The women appeared there. I think one of the reasons for this is because I’m writing about caring people, and, as we all know, caring is still in this world mostly in women’s hands.

A: At your talk at the Edinburgh International Book Festival you said that you wanted to write about relationships and their development. Would you like to elaborate a little on this? SONY DSC
K: In all of my books, there always appears one central theme: the difficulties of communication between people. If I had to describe the world I write in, I would say that it is the world of unspoken words. For me, in all these books it is of more interest what the characters don’t say than what they say. I think that is like real life: we talk about trivial things, and we hide our more important worries inside. For me writing is discovering, and I discovered that the communication between people is one of my worries. I think that we can live with one person for years and still be two strangers.

A: The book has a particular focus on the power and lure of the sea. Is that something that you have felt yourself?
K: Yes. My family is from the coast, from a little village called Lekeitio. My parents had to leave the village and go to a city, Vitoria, in the central part of the country because of my father’s job, and I always listen to my mother saying that in the city she felt that she couldn’t breathe – she needed the sea. And for me the sea has always had this connotation of freedom. In the novel, the sea is a metaphor of life, sometimes it is calm and sometimes it’s furious, but it’s important to look at it with a raised head, with one’s chin up as Nerea’s mother says.

A: How much do you think the uniqueness of Basque experiences (of nationhood and language or lack thereof?) has influenced your writing?
K: I think that we always write from our nearest experiences, and these experiences, of course, are modelling our writing. The only way to talk about a universal theme is to talk about a very concrete thing that you know and that you live. So, I write from my nearest reality and at the same time I think I am writing a universal story that anyone, in other places, can understand and feel.
The language is also very important to me at this point, because writing in a minority language is always a choice. All Basque writers are bilingual, all of us, so first, we have to decide in which language we are going to write. A French or an English writer maybe doesn’t have to think about that. And this choice also has an influence on the way we write.

 

Karmele Jaio Eiguren (1970-)

Cover photo Her Mother's Hands
Her Mother’s Hands (transl. Kristin Addis)

Karmele Jaio is a Basque journalist and writer. She has published several novels as well as short story and poetry collections. Her Mother’s Hands is one of the best selling Basque novels in recent years. It was first published as Amaren Eskuak in 2006 and subsequently translated into Spanish. It has received the PEN Translates Award, and has won the Igartza Prize. In 2013 it was made into a film, which was presented at the San Sebastian Film Festival. One of her short stories appeared in the anthology Best European Fiction 2017.

If you would like to know more about Her Mother’s Hands, you might want to read Ann’s review of it here on the blog.

A Danish Trip to the Eisteddfod

Our Danish intern Ann D. Bjerregaard writes about her experiences at the national Eisteddfod in Cardiff august 2018.

Our intern Ann writes about her experience of the National Eisteddfod and muses on the idea of Welshness.

Ann D. Bjerregaard & Richard Davies at the Eisteddfod, Cardiff 2018

This week, I spent two days at the National Eisteddfod in Cardiff.

One of the things that was most immediately impressed upon me was how foreign I felt. I speak English fluently, and up until now, I had not had to deal with many language or cultural barriers, but at the Eisteddfod I was a total stranger. Everywhere, I was surrounded by people and signs speaking a language I had no idea how to decipher. These people didn’t necessarily peg me as a foreigner right away, and so I had more than the usual number of awkward encounters of “Sorry, I don’t speak Welsh” and “Pardon?”

So I went and bought a Welsh-English pocket dictionary, which quickly became a treasured possession. Suddenly, I could understand (somewhat) all the cariad, hiraeth and croeso that I saw everywhere on merchandise and souvenirs. My fourth Welsh word was bin sbwriel, courtesy of the kind people from Mermaid Quay who laboriously labelled everything.

Cymraeg T-shirt Eisteddfod
Cymraeg – probably the oldest living language in Europe”

In the mostly non-Welsh speaking south Wales, Cardiff Bay became a haven for Welsh, a tiny enclave of adamant Welshness. It was quite interesting to witness, especially given my academic interest in identity politics. I particularly enjoyed the Welsh-speaking kids’ events and seeing how much energy was spent on keeping the children interested in learning Welsh or giving the native Welsh speakers the equivalents of all the English language paraphernalia of childhood such as talking toys, posters and wall hangers. Had I doubted it before, this would certainly have convinced me that Welsh is very much a living language – not some antiquated relic that is being artificially sustained. It was a joy to be a part of.

Parthian had a lovely little stand in the Craft in the Bay area, where many of their titles were beautifully on display. Richard Davies, Parthian’s managing director, said I could just take a book if I liked it, but of course that was too much responsibility to handle for a book hoarder like myself, so I decided not to tempt myself. It was interesting to see the books in the ‘flesh,’ so to speak, as I am so used to only looking at the cover photos on a screen. It made the whole Parthian-business much more tactile and real, somehow.

Parthian's stand Cardiff 2018
Parthian’s stand at the Eisteddfod with neighbouring Firefly Press

During my visits, I saw how the Parthian stand became a meeting point for Parthian-lovers and Welsh literati alike, and I began to realise just how vast a literary network Parthian is a part of and how much the Parthian people do to sustain it. I also had the pleasure of meeting some authors and most of the Parthian team during the Parthian Get Together Friday evening. It was a nice introduction to the co-workers I don’t see every day.

I had an enlightening two days in Cardiff. It was a memorable experience, and one that truly showed me the depth of some Welsh experiences. After a month and a half in Swansea, I’ve felt that on the surface the city is rather like the rest of the United Kingdom. It wasn’t till I came to the Eisteddfod and saw the numerous stands and events that I could really begin to understand what people mean when they talk of Wales. Here, I saw the things that were highlighted about Welshness and national pride such as flags, dedicated literary talks, Welsh catchphrases printed on T-shirts, local and souvenir crafts and Welsh food and cakes.

Of course, the culture of a country is more than what can be found in a souvenir shop, and I can’t wait to delve deeper into the idea of Wales.

 

 

Her Mother’s Hands & A Glass Eye: Basque Women in Translation

Our intern Ann D. Bjerregaard reviews two newly translated Basque titles and comments on the importance of reading women in translation.

Looking at the shelves in bookstores in the UK, it’s tempting to ask where all the female writers in translation are. Indeed, the blogger Meytal Radzinski as biblibio asked exactly that question in response to a report by University of Rochester which stated that in 2016 only 33.8 % of works that are translated into English were written by female authors. With translated works being comparatively rare in the English-speaking world, this gross gender imbalance should have people worrying.

Translated works from other parts of the world, other cultures, other places and perspectives have the potential to expand our knowledge of the world, to open our eyes to different lives and ways of living, and to give us a glimpse into the world of our fellow humans across the border. Of course, it is a matter of opinion whether you think insight into other cultures, literatures, and experiences is worth having, but if you do, you should be concerned about the representativeness of the works that are translated.

Radzinski is, and in 2014 she decided to dub August ‘Women in Translation Month’ (#WITMonth) to bring awareness to the discrepancy. During this month, readers from all over the world pledge on social media to read at least one work by a woman in translation, and to share book recommendations with each other, as these titles are so few and far between. They often receive very little publicity and so they usually fly well under the literary radar.

To honour Women in Translation Month, here’s my contribution. I have read the two new novels Her Mother’s Hands by Karmele Jaio (translated by Kristin Addis) and A Glass Eye by Miren Agur Meabe (translated by Amaia Gabantxo). Both novels have been translated from Basque and published this year by Parthian Books.

A Glass Eye & Her Mother's Hands
A Glass Eye & Her Mother’s Hands

In Her Mother’s Hands, we follow the journalist Nerea as she struggles to balance her time between a demanding newspaper job – and an even more demanding chauvinist boss – and her work-from-home husband and young daughter whom she barely ever sees. When her mother, Luisa, is hospitalised with total amnesia, Nerea’s life gets even more complicated. Through the novel, we see Nerea battle stress and neurosis, but also work with her elderly aunt to rekindle her mother’s memory; to make Luisa recognise her daughter again.

This is very much a character driven story, and thankfully all three women are very interesting and intriguing characters each with their own distinct personalities, strengths, and secrets. This is a story in which the women are really allowed to come to the fore, out of the kitchens and backrooms. I especially loved how the novel refrained from a classical chick-lit ending. Without spoiling too much, I can say that, uncharacteristically, this is a novel about women that is not centred on getting or saving a love relationship. Her Mother’s Hands could have been so trivial, but thankfully, it had some delightful twists and turns.

I found myself identifying deeply with Nerea in her tautness, her tightrope run to do everything; be a good journalist, a good wife, mother, daughter. She is so plagued with guilt – towards her mother for not having recognised the symptoms of her illness, towards her husband for never being at home and towards her daughter for never being there for her. Jaio’s depiction of Nerea is very believable. Nerea isn’t some superwoman, but neither is she a complete neurotic wreck. She struggles through, combating her self-critical inner demons without letting them paralyse her.

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‘Her mother’s hands rest on top of the sheet […] Her hands cover the name of the hospital, as if she wanted to hide where she is. As if even in her sleep, she were trying not to worry anyone.’ (2)
Though it is similar in some ways, A Glass Eye is a very different novel. First of all, it’s autobiographical and very aware of this. The novel is full of meta-comments, self-ironies and reflections on the writing process. It centres on a woman who is a fictionalised version of Miren Agur Meabe as she struggles to fill with writing the hole left by her former lover.

“inevitably, I have become a character on these pages: even though this is me, it also isn’t exactly me (accidentally and on purpose). Such are the advantages and limitations of self-imitation. Another has emerged here, a slightly indomitable one that saw fit to escape my orders and shape into something of her own choosing […] which I allowed” (Meabe 124)

What struck me the most about this book was how it made me realise that I have read very few novels in which the main character is a middle-aged woman, and in which her middle age is allowed to fill so much. I wonder if this is a short coming of my own or of the book market in general. They represent a sort of invisible minority, middle-aged women – in fiction women of their age are often consigned to the roles of mother or wife. Here’s a story about a menopausal woman who swears, has sex, is divorced, refuses to care for her ailing father, and doesn’t worry about her son. It is such a refreshingly honest portrait, and though Meabe sometimes comes off as whiny, she does so with a distanced, self-deprecating irony that makes it a surprisingly entertaining read.

With a first-person narrator who is also a writer and poet, it is only natural that the language of A Glass Eye floats poetically off the page and playfully entangles action and introspection. The descriptions of the landscape and surroundings are deeply sensual, as are those of her glass eye and the slightly gross surgical procedures involved in fitting it.

As you may have guessed, loss is one of the most important themes in the novel. Loss of a lover, loss of youth. Meabe constantly circles around the loss of her eye – the window to her soul, her bridge to other people’s minds. This prothesis becomes an important metaphor in her writing, which gives the story an unusual and intriguing edge.

A Glass Eye has a lot to say, and though it does so in a sometimes poetically roundabout manner, it has an aching resonance that is difficult to escape.

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‘My left eye is made of glass. […] When they told me they had to remove my eye I was terrified: it’s not an easy exercise to put aside something you always had and to imagine your face with a fake eye on it, like a scream.’ (3)
Having never read any Basque literature before, I found it very interesting how the setting was both unobtrusive and slightly jolting. Contemporary Basque social issues lurk just beneath the surface of the narratives. Most of the time, the novels could be set almost anywhere that has both city and rural areas, but here and there the reader is offered glimpses of a completely different world, such as when the translators include Basque words, or when characters casually mention war and liberation-struggles.

“They speak as if about something inevitable, as if what happened [a car bombing] were a natural phenomenon, like an earthquake, for example. They speak the same way when something like that happens. As if it were something that had always existed. And it is like that, because for both Nerea and Maite it has always existed. Those of her generation know no other reality.” (Jaio 72)

Karmele Jaio - Event banner - 3rd draft

Cheval 11 – The Future of Welsh Creative Writing

Our newest intern, Ann Bjerregaard, reviews the new writers’ anthology, Cheval 11.

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Last month, I had the good fortune to witness the Terry Hetherington Young Writers’ Award ceremony. The Terry Hetherington Award is an award set up in honour of the late Terry Hetherington, a renowned Welsh poet. He had always been passionate about celebrating and supporting the work of young upcoming writers, and so this award was instituted as the best way to serve his memory.

Over the course of the last year young writers who come from Wales, or who are living here, have been pouring their creative energies into works of literary art and submitting it to the award judges. Thirty-four of these submissions were chosen for publication in Cheval 11, an anthology of this year’s best submissions, published by Parthian Books. At the ceremony the first and joint second prize winners were announced, and they and the thirty-one entrants read excerpts of their texts – be it poems or short stories – out loud for the audience. Something mystical happens to a text when it is read out loud. During these readings, it struck me how much of a difference a voice or intonation can make for a text. The poems especially, though perhaps unsurprisingly, gained from being read out loud, but also the short stories were endowed with a strange sense of vitality, brought to life by the voices who composed them. You could really tell, listening to these readings, that these young writers were serious about their passions, serious about following them. This was deep-felt creativity we were hearing, no less.

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Terry Hetherington Award Ceremony and readings at the Dylan Thomas Centre

Afterwards, I read the Cheval 11 anthology, and while I remembered some of the excerpts from the readings this was an entirely different experience. Due to competition requirements, most of the texts are quite short. This gave many of the submissions a sense of urgency, or denseness of meaning, a sense that every single sentence was loaded with significance – an experience that is quite different from reading most novels. I don’t normally read a lot of short stories, so this was an eye-opening experience. You could tell that these writers are very talented – albeit to varying degrees – and that these texts were very carefully crafted.

Reading the whole collection cover to cover, I was struck by the recurrence of themes such as death, loss, and a sense of falling apart. Many of the stories and poems featured people who were dying, or who did die during the tale. Rather than being repetitive, this created a sense of coherence within the collection, as if these individual submissions were in constant conversation with each other, transferring between the pages some of their sadness and abject, abrupt otherworldliness. There were also several pieces which featured urban or industrial decay; loss of something intrinsic, perceived to be forever gone with the past. It’s an interesting notion – an anthology of the work of young writers full of loss and breaking apart. I wonder if this is a sign of something deeper, something endemic in contemporary Welsh society? What will that promise for the future?

Some of the stories were also quite humorous, such as “Bring me the Head of Dylan Thomas” by Rhodri Diaz, or the poem “Three Wimbledon Sonnets, or Serve, Return and Rally” by Thomas Tyrell. These and other submissions contrasted nicely with the rest of the collections, contributing to show the creative span of young Welsh writing today.

Cheval 11 authors
The Cheval 11 contributors, courtesy of Aida Birch

The stories that I remember the best were also the ones that most strongly touched my heart. Here, I especially wish to draw attention to the two texts “Borderline” by Eve Elizabeth Moriarty and Gareth Smith’s “Lost.” Both texts – a poem and a short story – have narrators who struggle with mental illness, and with coming to terms with their diagnosis. One narrator feels that everything about her has been reduced to the word ‘borderline’, a diagnosis stamped upon everything she does and feels, while the other story features a mother who has an anxiety attack in a shopping centre and this anxiety is made all the worse by her own fears of being called ‘crazy’.

These texts, along with many others from the anthology, show how in touch these young writers are with the world and the struggles we are currently facing. In many ways, Cheval 11 is life, condensed.

Bad Ideas\Chemicals Review

‘Moments are crashing disconnected, one into the next, into the next, into the next, into the’

Bad Ideas/ Chemicals is shortlisted for the Betty Trask prize and the Authors Award Slate for 2018, when you read it you understand why.Bad Ideas Betty Trask email

 

 

The author Lloyd Markham (picture inserted below), originally from Johannesburg South Africa, has lived in Wales since he was thirteen. He is a lover of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and when you read Bad Ideas/Chemicals, be prepared for some nasty roaches.

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Bad teens. Bad ideas. Bad chemicals. The title is self-explanatory and what you see is what you get, if you’re a lover of small-town teens surrounded by drugs, bad decisions, dark humor and a Stand by Me and A Clockwork Orange vibe then this is definitely for you. Lloyd Markham’s astounding novella shows the lives of Cassie, Billy, Fox, Louie, and Alice who are all crammed into a small town called Gorgree. A town on the border of England and Wales, infested with poisonous roaches and the infamous drug GOTE.

The town is mocked continuously throughout with the phrase ‘I’m not from around here’ and the cluster of gossip of why the town is a neglected, unfinished project.

 

The novella takes place over one single night, one last time to drink, take GOTE and have awful, terrible ideas.

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Bad Ideas\Chemicals was a fantastic read because it was unique and, extremely weird. It defies any kind of categorization yet lies somewhere within literary fiction, and I feel that placing it in a genre wouldn’t do it justice. The book begins with Cassandra Fish who wears an orange spacesuit in the hopes that her parents from another planet will take her home and away from this ‘dirty world’. Her character is simple yet complex, her language and thoughts presented in an abundance of confusion at the ‘other humans’ around her. She is detached and the observer to the chaos of her friends, yet constantly throughout, she believes she is an alien and soon enough you begin to believe her.

The short chapters and different perspectives were one of the things I enjoyed most. It was easy to understand and each chapter has a distinctive tone which kept me hooked. Each character had a different problem and a different story; Billy, a struggling musician with a foreign father reveals his past of being bullied and abused because of his father’s ethnicity. Fox, an orphan thrown in and out of the care system who is desperate for human connection. Louie, struggling to run his alcoholic father’s shop and to keep himself from ending it all. Alice, addicted to GOTE and living with her bigoted grandmother, showing that they are all human and all struggling to survive. These characters allow the author to address topics such as drink and drug addiction, sex, the care system, mental illness, and death, in the eyes of a teenager. By blurring fantasy and reality, Bad Ideas\Chemicals had a strange sense of escapism for not only the characters but the reader also. Markham shows an understanding for the youth of today that radiates throughout the novel, which is why I would recommend it and why I believe it fits into Parthian’s collection so well.

After bad nightclubs, bad conversation and bad memories, The Orphan Three venture to an abandoned castle where Billy and Fox take the renowned GOTE and Cassandra fades into her memories. This is when the eccentricity of Bad Ideas\Chemicals truly hit home for me when finding out the source of the drug. With my face contorted in disgust, I realized how much I loved this book because of how evocative it was and also, the hope that this will become a cult classic. The novella consisted of moments that are fleeting and fragmented, crashing into the next which means that my questions were not always answered but still felt justified. Bad Ideas\ Chemicals is an astounding outlook of small-town life, in the eyes of troubled teens in a way that was wonderfully weird, unsettling and genius.

Reviewed by: Molly Holborn