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.
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.
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.
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.