Cheval 11 – The Future of Welsh Creative Writing

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

9781912681082-Cheval11

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.

20180629_202224
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.

Advertisements

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.

DCrqjX4XgAA2OuM

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.

9781912109685.MAIN

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

Old Dog, New Tricks: Laura’s Marketing Internship

Laura May Webb is currently working as an intern assisting with the marketing of the new Parthian Baltic Series, having recently completed her PhD in contemporary Argentine literature at Swansea University. 

In December of 2017 I submitted my PhD thesis…and panicked. What next? As a single parent of three children aged ten and under, my career options are, shall we say, slightly restricted. The thesis had taken up most of my time the past six years. Raising children and studying at the same time didn’t leave much time for work experience (or sleep…).

Parthian Blog

My PhD is in Latin American literary studies and before that I had studied for a Masters degree in literary translation. Having done some freelance translation and proofreading, I was interested in publishing from various angles. In January of 2018, full of New Year’s enthusiasm and fuelled by a brief existential crisis, I contacted Parthian to ask if they had any work experience opportunities and applied for a marketing internship.

I started in February 2018 and although I felt completely out of my depth (it’s not easy to go from being an expert in one area to a novice in another), I was excited to start a new project. I would be working with editor Alison Evans on the new Parthian Baltic series which features new Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian literature translated into English.

thumbnail_Baltic Email Banner

I had a clear brief of what I would be doing and checked in via email with Alison and the rest of the team on the occasions I was unable make it into the office. The team were all very friendly and supportive and especially understanding during the various personal crises and obstacles that occurred that affected my internship journey and included a spectacular vomiting incident from my youngest child on day one of my placement, a funeral on week two, a good dose of flu just over a month in and my Viva exam towards the end.

From practical tasks such as compiling author biographies and creating and updating spreadsheets, contacting potential book stockists and organisations, to more creative endeavours, such as pitching and writing a review of the Baltic poetry for the Wales Arts Review (you can read the article here http://www.walesartsreview.org/bad-girls-women-in-baltic-poetry/), during my internship experience at Parthian I have been able to not only use the skills I already have, but have learnt and developed new skills and gained knowledge that I know will benefit me in the future. I have been stretched, and thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. I have made valuable contacts and gained as much from the whole experience of being welcomed in and treated as part of the team and observing and participating in the running of an independent publishing house as I have from the specific tasks assigned to me.

I sincerely hope to work with Parthian again in the future and look forward to seeing what they do next.

 

Eleanor’s Placement Experience

rhys davies
Rhys Davies, a seminal author of queer Welsh writing

Eleanor Fraser is a current intern at Parthian, working as an editorial assistant on the upcoming anthology of queer Welsh short stories. Here she talks of her experiences working at Parthian so far.

 

The project I am involved with is an new anthology of queer welsh writing, featuring short stories from across the decades in a wide range of genres. The collection’s spectrum of voices present a varied and rich exploration into what it means to be queer and Welsh.

I applied for the internship as an editorial assistant with Parthian as I felt this was the perfect opportunity in regards to both my current studies at Swansea University and my future career prospects. I’m currently reading English Literature at Masters level, with a focus upon Welsh writing in English. I am looking to pursue a career in publishing after graduation, particularly with a Welsh literary publishing house such as Parthian, and so this internship felt like the perfect fit. It not only allowed me to contribute to the anthology with practical contributions, such as scanning and typing, but also will give me the chance to have a say on the marketing and social media surrounding the project. It’s rewarding to know that will have made a real contribution to this publication, and it’s something that I will be very proud of once it is finished.

The prospect of having hands-on experience with the day-to-day of a publishing house was very exciting to me, particularly as it was with a focus upon the upcoming anthology of queer short-stories. The writing of marginalized groups has always fascinated me: my undergraduate dissertation centred around minority women’s writing in twentieth century America, and my planned master’s thesis will cover magical realism within a Welsh context. As magical realism is a genre generally used by groups who have been outcast from society in some way, whether in a colonial or social context, my dissertation will include many queer and marginalised Welsh authors, some of whom have been included in this collection.

margiad evansAs an editorial assistant on this anthology, I have worked on a variety of tasks, such as organizing and compiling data on the texts shortlisted for inclusion, in addition to typing up manuscripts from translations and scanning in stories from existing compilations. Being able to work with texts from some of my favourite Welsh authors, such as Margiad Evans and Glyn Jones, has been a real pleasure, and I have been able to explore the works of so many authors who I may never have come across outside of this internship. These writers will definitely be useful in my research of modern Welsh writers for my dissertation, opening new pathways which I had previously not known. A task which I particularly enjoyed was typing up the manuscripts, as it was an exciting privilege to interact with these texts at such a crucial stage in publication and experience the stories as I typed them up. It was so enjoyable it didn’t feel like work at all! Some of the texts that I had the pleasure of typing up were fantastic; humorous and tragic at turns, but always gripping and unexpected until the end. In the stories I scanned from existing collections as well, there were some notable examples of brilliant short story writing.

One such text was ‘The Kiss’ by Glyn Jones. It’s a brief, poetic tale of two brothers returning from the pit, one of glyn jonesthem horrifically injured, which combines a gritty coalfields setting, typical of mid-twentieth century South Wales literature, with strongly religious, allegorical imagery. The story is beautifully written, with the religious overtones presented in a narrative style resembling a magical, dark folk tale. The ending was particularly striking, as the entire story was building up to culminate in this single act, a kiss, only for it to be given in the final lines in the most unexpected way. The ‘queer’ element of Jones’ tale is subtle, making it, in my view, even more powerful.

Another of the stories which I enjoyed greatly was Margiad Evans’ ‘A Modest Adornment’, which was originally published in her 1948 collection of short stories, The Old and the Young. In stark contrast to ‘The Kiss’, ‘A Modest Adornment’ feels quaint and pastoral, the characters an entertaining mixture of realist and melodramatic caricature. The humour and light tone of the text, however, only adds to the touching nature of the tale’s concluding reveal, and Evans’ easy, natural authorial voice makes for a thoroughly entertaining read.

Whilst I was well acquainted with the works of Evans and Jones, I was not however aware of Bertha Thomas, a nineteenth century writer whose tale, ‘A House That Was’, was an interesting piece of historical writing under the ‘queer’ literary label. Her brief narrative of an outsider’s view on Wales and a short-lived connection between two strangers is almost Gothic in tone, and whilst it may not have the timeless feel of the stories of Jones and Evans, it was nonetheless an interesting introduction to a Welsh writer I had not previously come across, and part of a crucial chapter in the history of queer writing in Wales.

Overall, this internship has been a fantastic opportunity, which I have thoroughly enjoyed so far, and has given me valuable experience in the field. I cannot wait to begin my career in publishing full time, and I look forward to the rest of my internship!

 

 

 

 

Julia’s Internship Experience

Former Intern Julia Bradley tells us about her experiences at Parthian over the past two years, and what she will take away from it.

I began my journey with Parthian in September 2015, and have spent a good two years interning in the Swansea office alongside my studies at Swansea University. I should probably mention, Parthian doesn’t normally offer internships that last for two years! I started out doing a couple of weeks of work experience, which is more the norm, and just kind of…stuck around.

Over the course of my internship I was able to experience a wide range of tasks relating to different stages of the life-cycle of a book – from reading and reviewing submitted manuscripts, to proofreading the final texts. I spent quite a lot of time working on marketing jobs, be that researching potential advertising methods, copy-editing press releases, or by working on social media engagement. I got involved with numerous events, from local book launches in Swansea and the Mumbles, to further afield at literary festivals in Hay-on-Wye and in Edinburgh. I was also given the chance to learn the basics of working with Adobe InDesign, and I had an ongoing project of compiling up-to-date eBook metadata. These are all tasks and skills which I’m finding to be extremely useful, now that I’m job searching, but rather than go into the intricacies of spreadsheets (I’m sure Maria misses my pastel colour-coding), here are some of the highlights of my time with Parthian:

Books

I feel like this almost goes without saying, but being given books is always pretty great –2 yet it’s even better when the books themselves are great.

The first Parthian book I read was Alys Conran’s Pigeon, and it did not disappoint. I was fascinated by Alys’ use of the Welsh language, and the plot itself had me refusing to put the book down. Other highlights were the wacky Bad Ideas\Chemicals and A Van of One’s Own, which I was given just before my holiday to Portugal, where the book is set.

Over the course of my internship I was able to get a feel for both the contemporary literary scene in Wales, which is thriving, and for the country’s bookish heritage.

The International Dylan Thomas Prize

Speaking of Pigeon, I joined the rest of the Parthian team to attend the award ceremony for the International Dylan Thomas Prize when Alys was shortlisted earlier this year. It was very interesting to hear readings from each of the shortlisted authors, and whilst unfortunately Pigeon didn’t win the prize, it was a lovely evening which I was happy to be a part of.

3

The Edinburgh International Book Festival

I won’t go in to too much detail about this trip, as I’ve written about it before (you can find the story here) but the short version is this:

In August I was lucky enough to get to go up to Edinburgh during the city’s International Book Festival to attend some events with Parthian author Ece Temelkuran (who ended up winning the festival’s First Book award!). You can read more about the book here. A particular high of the trip was getting a tour of the fascinating city from another Parthian author, Tendai Huchu, whose novel The Maestro, The Magistrate and the Mathematician, which is set in the city, I’d read the year before.

Haggis was eaten, wine was drunk, authors were met, and it was ultimately an amazing visit to Auld Reekie.

4

Whilst I’m trying not to get overly sentimental, it’s important to say that the experience I’ve gained over the past two years has given me a sense of direction, and it’s thanks to this internship that I feel confident I can pursue a career in what is an incredibly competitive industry. What is perhaps equally important though, is that during my time with Parthian I genuinely felt like part of the team. It seems that being warm, and kind, and passionate are all job requirements for staff at this small Welsh press – I’d like to thank everyone that made my two years here so special!

It is with something of a heavy heart that I say goodbye to Parthian, but I’m looking forward to both keeping up with what comes next for the team, and for my own ‘next chapter’.

 

PC_Logo_Futures_COLOURJulia has been part of the Parthian team as a Marketing Assistant for the past two years and has completed a Santander SME placement. She recently became a winner of the Print Futures Award 2017. 

An Interview with Bernard Mitchell

Every photo tells a story. A collection of the right photos, can tell a history. Bernard Mitchell’s new collection, Pieces of a Jigsaw: Portraits of Artists and Writers of Wales, captures the faces behind the artistic and literary tradition of Wales. He sat down to an espresso with Parthian and described the origin and process for how these distinct photos were created. Bernard will be presenting Pieces of a Jigsaw at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery on 25th November at 11:00 a.m. as part of the Being Human Festival.

How did this project of taking portraits of writers and artists begin?

I realised there was a group of people from Swansea who were all connected with Dylan Thomas. They were friends, but they were influenced by his writing and they were a symbiotic group if you like. I call them the ‘Swansea Gang.’

Can you talk about your process of staging these portraits?

Daniel Jones was the first of [the Swansea Gang] and I was quite young and very nervous. He very kindly saw me, and they all did. Daniel met with me and we went upstairs to the room where he had a grand piano and he composed his music. Pubs in those days were open at 12 and dead on 12, the clock went boing! and he said ‘Time for a beer.’ So we went to the pub and as we drank more, the more relaxed he got.

Pubs close at three, by that time, we got some very relaxed photographs and it was great. But his wife came in at 3:00 and said ‘Danny, I’m taking you home, I’m locking you in your room, until you compose some music.’ So that’s how it all started, the very first group of people were the Swansea Gang.

And when you’re shooting, do you know when you have ‘the one’ or do you see it in the negatives afterwards?

 

You’ve got to feel it. You know when to stop. But with some artists, they become friends, and some artists I follow. When I restarted in the 1990’s … I wanted to photograph artists and writers and the correlation between them, this catalytic, symbiotic thing that writers and artists are together. Writers are influenced by artists and artists are influenced by writers.

How much time would you spend with these writers and artists before you felt like you could accurately capture them?

I’d always start work about 10 a.m., go to their house, have a coffee, sit down relax have a chat, and while they’re doing that, I’m looking around.

For portraiture and photography, what are the benefits of that medium that other forms of storytelling don’t offer?

Well in the early days, everything was black and white and my opinion of black and white was that it gets to the brain quicker, it’s a very simple . One of the most important things about photography is that it’s international. You don’t have to speak the language. It communicates instantly. You see the image, you should get the message. Fortunately or unfortunately with my photographs, the message is buried deep within the photographs.

Do you envision this project to continue in the future?

I’ve only really just started again, about two years ago. But five years ago, I had a stroke and I did nothing for quite awhile … But now, I want to do it again.

What do you hope people take away from Pieces of a Jigsaw when they read it?

I hope they will look carefully at the photographs and try to analyse what it’s all about, because they’re not accidents. They’re not snaps. They are very carefully constructed, they are constructed within millimeters of what’s in and what’s out.

You said you like the black and white contrast, but there are some stunning colour ones.

PORTRAIT 2

Now, then the reason for this one in colour. Do you see the portraits of herself? She has a red tam. The red tam is by her left foot. By her right foot is a toolbox, it’s red. The tam isn’t on her head, but the tam is on all the portraits in the background and it’s red. That’s the reason for the colour. You see, the colour has a use; it’s not colour because it’s colourful.

Image of Bernard Mitchell with camera.Bernard Mitchell grew up in Swansea where he currently lives after a retiring from a career in photojournalism with Thomson Regional Newspapers. Bernard’s passion for this decades-long project has led to exhibitions at the National Library of Wales and generous donations of portraits to the Richard Burton Archives at Swansea University.

Pieces of a Jigsaw can be pre-ordered at the following link: Pieces of a Jigsaw – Parthian Books

An Interview with Nathan Munday

 

‘The mountains themselves are like a kaleidoscope of colour. Something lives in those hues and I wanted to show that we’re not just pieces of slime on this earth, we’re actually wonderfully made and our world is wonderfully made as well,’ Nathan Munday said. He sat upstairs in Heath Christian Bookshop in Cardiff an hour before the book launch of Seven Days, his debut memoir about a trek with his father through the Pyrenees. Published by Parthian in October, Seven Days enfolds readers in the journey–past the vengeful sheepdogs and uncertain storms, and into the warmth of unlikely friendship.

Eddie: When you made this trek in the Pyrenees with your father, did you know you’d be writing a book from the experience?

Nathan: I’ve been to the Pyrenees 7 or 8 times. I didn’t intend to write a book about it all, I do keep a notepad just in case, but that particular week, the main narrative of the book, that was a particularly eventful year. I saw an advertisement for a competition for travel writing in the New Welsh Review, so that was the genesis moment.

E: The memoir is full of characters that are equal parts jovial, solemn, and reflective. Do you think mountaineering attracts a certain type of person, or brings out the same attributes of a vast range of people?

N: I think mountains do attract interesting people, but most people are interesting when you get them on their own. I think that’s the beauty of mountains and refuges is that you’re forced to encounter individuals, rather than groups of people.

 

E: The people you meet in the refuges are transformed into mythological and literary heroes from folklore. Did these attributions occur to you upon meeting them or upon putting together the book?

N: To be honest, a bit of both. When I saw my friend, who we call ‘Hemingway’ come through the door, I did think ‘Dad look, it’s Ernest Hemingway from the dead!’. Others have come later. But I think that’s true of any writer. I think it’s an amalgamation of present experience and looking back.

E: I think it imbued such life into the story.

N: I love myth, and folklore. The whole book really looks at those boundaries of what is real and what is not. And how real people become these heroes or antiheroes or mythic figures. I hope to show in the book that most humans have something wondrous sort of stamped onto them.

E: Let me read a passage from the book: There was something mystical about a grieving traveller crossing a mountain range after so much suffering. The mountains provide an escape for those who suffer. 

Do the Pyrenees provide an escape for you and your father?

N: My dad lost his mother at a young age and I think the hills gave him time to think and sort of stew in what [he was] feeling. For me, I’ve always been quite a sensitive person. I do need those times once or twice a year where I can escape. The modern world doesn’t give us those quiet times. We’re always in a hurry. We eat our food in a hurry. We’re always in a hurry for the next thing in life, aren’t we?

E: The book emphasizes how we associate summits with holiness and accomplishment. Does this notion hold up for you when you reached the summits in the Pyrenees, or it did reside more when you were among strangers in the refuges?

N: I start the book with that idea of ‘to peak.’ And I think a mountaineer has to be careful because you can become a ‘peak-backer’ and all you do, and my dad’s guilty of this, is ticking boxes … The mountains in a way were like a microcosm, where our life is not always going to be on the peaks. The valleys are probably more important, because it’s in the valley you decide which path you take up and if you take the wrong path it can be fatal.

E: Biblical accounts of mountaineering stories are interspersed with yours. Can you talk about how mountaineering provided a helpful lens for you to see these biblical stories in a new light?

N: Religion is always painted in a sort of negative, boring way. But actually if you read the bible, it’s far from it … The historical Jesus was a man, I believe he was also God. He wasn’t just a man, he was a normal man who enjoyed going up the hill, who needed to go up the hill to have times away from the hustle and bustle. It always drew my imagination. I think that’s the crux of it, these are spaces where the mundane fuses with the supernatural.

Nathan Munday is attending Cardiff University for a doctorate exploring Welsh writing in English and Welsh. Seven Seven Days final cover (1)Days was shortlisted for New Welsh Reader University of South Wales Travel Writing Award. He lives in Cardiff and still goes trekking through the mountains with his father for a week every year. He can be contacted on Twitter at @nathanmunday2Seven Days can be purchased from Parthian’s website here: Seven Days – Nathan Munday