I like chapters. And Chapter. And stories. And poems. And music. And good nights out. As such new monthly event, In Chapters, featuring unique thematically-linked collaborations between writers and musicians, was guaranteed to please the likes of me. Especially because it is organised by some of the people behind one of my favourite literary festivals: The Laugharne Weekend. Those people include top novelist and festival director John Williams (The Cardiff Trilogy) and Laugharne’s musical curator Richard James (Gorkys Zygotic Mynci). The theme for the first instalment of In Chapters was trains but luckily attracted a room full oftrend – rather than train – spotters.
For just over an hour the crowded non-geeky theatre audience was taken on a journey from the valley lines of South Wales to the London Underground through all new work created by the creative collaborators for the event. The roll call of special guests was impressive, taking in established names and newer talent, as well as Richard and John. Heddwyn Davies (The Threatmantics) assisted Richard in rounding up a collective of musicians including drummer Andy Fung (No thee no ess), cellist Lucy Burke (Jimi Alexander & the Satellites), multi-instrumentalist Gareth Bonello (The Gentle Good) and train-related sound loops and collages from producer Iwan Morgan.
Against projections of film footage of railway lines and tube stations, music interchanged with and overlaid quick change acts. Events kicked off with a brilliantly bleak and noiresque short story from crime novelist Robert Lewis (The Last Llanelli Train, Swansea Terminal). ‘Donald at a Dead End’ related to the Moorgate Tube crash of 1975. The live set also featured a strong comic performance of a monologue from young bilingual talent Catrin Dafydd (Random Deaths and Custard), singing acapella at the start of her story ‘Dau Gi’ (Two Dogs) and then gets an instant laugh with the opening line: “Is our train moving, or is it the other one. Yeah, I’m moving my trains moving? Oh no, it’s the other one. I feel a bit sick I do.” ‘Dau Gi’ is about an unemployed mum who gets the train to Cardiff while the kids are in school, to forget about things like her fat husband and his bollocks and his bollockings: “Let me entertrain you, that’s what the engine’s saying.”
Bridgend’s answer to Salinger, Rhys Thomas (The Suicide Club) followed with a new piece of darkly comic fiction ‘Mr J Pinkerton of the Railways or The Wrong Side of The Tracks.’ Written from the perspective of a railway track worker, it tells of Mr J Pinkerton, for whom a gentle stroke had driven the former trainspotter to stand on the platforms of his local station to call out train information and updates to soon-to-be passengers.
A change of pace.
“Click. Clack. Click. Clack,” the lines of infamous avant-garde wordsmith and orator Peter Finch’s poem ‘Train Train’ chugs cross-country and choo-choo hurtles over bluesy folk music from the live band. Was the event a success? The man from Academi, he say “yes.”
I had a chat with Richard and John in the bar after the event. They seemed pleased with how the night had gone. I asked Richard why he got involved with the new venture? “Because John promised me a lot of money and I haven’t seen a f***ing penny of it yet…” he laughs, then continues: “No, really I think it is good to be involved in something different and I’d like to think that it is something that I’d go to were I not involved. It brings the spirit of the festival in Laugharne to the city.”
A jovial John Williams then explained further: “It was one of those pub conversations that mysteriously comes to life. We chose trains as the theme for the first session because who doesn’t love trains and if you live in Cardiff trains are important to you as a means of escape. We are hoping to make it a monthly event, and we’re hoping the next one will be as good as the first one, if not better.” I hope so too – January’s page-turning collaborations were inventive, impressive, fresh and alive. I don’t want to have to wait a month for the next instalment. More please.
Next month’s theme is ‘Cafes’, and the month after may or may not be ‘Birds’. To keep up-to-date on future events become a fan of In Chapters on Facebook.
Croeso. Welcome. As self-appointed literary It girl of Wales, my Mslexia blogging mission is to write about glitterati parties, book launches, live events, competitions and award ceremonies, festivals and where to get the best coffee/ champagne cocktail on the right side of the Severn Bridge.
I thought I’d start by blogging about my weekend, namely the opening of a new exhibition – The Silent Village, based on the 1943 film of the same name and the Nazi eradication of the Czechoslovakian village of Lidice, and featuring a new short story by my good mate Rachel Trezise on Friday – and Poetry on Tap with Susan Richardson and yours truly (Susie Wild) on Sunday. It ticks all the right boxes: Women/Writing/Wales. I knew you’d approve.
Gawd knows I was ready for a party: the snow had prevented many a New Year catch up from happening, and there’s nothing like a big art opening for an excuse to don a party dress and have a good time. The ever-cool Rachel agreed, happily meeting me at a nearby pub beforehand, booted and well-suited to her flirty red tartan dress, pint in hand, her blonde hair worn long and loose, her eyes dancing. Unlike us, the subject matter of the exhibition was far from light-hearted.On June 10th 1942, Lidice was obliterated by the Nazis. In total, 340 villagers were murdered, either by firing squads or later in concentration camps. In September 1942, a Crown Film Unit crew arrived in the Upper Swansea Valley at the small village of Cwmgïedd, close to the town of Ystradgynlais. Under the supervision of the artist Humphrey Jennings, they set out to make a short film that recreated the fate of Lidice – The Silent Village.
For the 2010 exhibition at Ffotogallery, the artists Peter Finnemore and Paolo Ventura and Rachel Trezise were asked to offer their responses to a film that is both a reconstruction of the Lidice atrocity and a film about Welsh life in the early 1940s.The short story ‘A Child Called Lidice’ is Rachel’s first attempt at writing historical fiction instead of the contemporary oeuvre she has become renowned for. It tells the sad tale of a ‘German’ woman Belia, eight months pregnant and living in Port Talbot, who is forced to revisit her past after a cinema trip with her husband where a screening of The Silent Village jars long-buried memories.
The party was in stark contrast to the subject matter; champagne and nibbles were flowing freely as a brightly dressed, high spirited crowd of arty movers and shakers chattered about the work and each other downstairs, on the stairs, and all around the top balcony of the gallery while clinking glasses and sharing laughs and cake. At the exhibition, Rachel’s story is available in paperback and also to listen to as an audio file, read by the author herself. Lines from the book appeared on the walls above and beside other artwork in stark pull-out quotes. Sipping champagne amidst the upstairs balcony crowd Rachel remarks to me that one of the wall quotes – ‘This compounded Belia’s belief that very ordinary things like work and life and soap were more important than second rate things like nationality and enemies and wars.’ – is her favourite line from the book. She likes it because it’s true. ‘That was the view I went into the project with, and even after visiting Lidice and seeing firsthand the chaos the Nazi atrocity caused, it was the same view I came out with.’
I asked her how difficult she found working on this particular, historical story and whether she is finding that research is becoming a bigger part of her writing process now that she was moving out of Welsh home territory to locations further afield.
‘It was different rather than difficult,’ she says. ‘I had to double-check everything. In the first draft of ‘A Child Called Lidice’ I’d used ‘fifty pence piece’ instead of ‘thrupenny bit,’ and I almost had David [Belia’s husband] ringing an ambulance from his house instead of from the phone box in the street! The research is fun; the only thing that worries me about historical fiction is dialogue. It’s hard to get a realistic voice without the words and phrases sounding slightly stolid. Research is a big part of the novel I’m now working on. There’s a lot of work to do on the Hasidic Jewish community in New York, which for me; a non-Yiddish speaking, non-Jewish writer, is a difficult world to penetrate.’
Is it something that becomes obsessive or laborious?
‘I haven’t let it become laborious as I’m very aware that you can do too much research as a way of postponing the actual writing, so I just do it as and when I need it, and I’ll iron the creases out later. I suppose you could call it obsessive in that I’m watching a lot of films and reading a lot of books set in ultra orthodox communities as opposed to the usual books and films I read and watch set in secular society. In other words, it’s filtered into my leisure time, if a writer can ever have such a thing as a leisure time.’
And so to Sunday: the live literature scene in Wales is thriving, with a whole host of new and established nights, and with top name features attracting sizeable smart-casual audiences of all ages and quick-to-fill open mic slots in Cardiff and beyond. The all-new Poetry On Tap is one such event, run by two female poets based in the Welsh capital – Mab Jones and Ivy Alvarez taking place monthly, on a Sunday afternoon, in the light and airy upstairs bar of The Promised Land(2-5pm). Whether pint-sipping or coffee-gulping, the friendly, informal pub event has already seen established stalwarts and the up-and-coming perform with the established, including Peter Finch, Leslie McMurty, Lloyd Robson and Amy Wack.
According to the hosts, POT aims to ‘showcase the top talent currently on offer, through unusual poetic pairings, whilst also tapping into unsung springs of literary brilliance via its very popular open mic section. It is a fun and easygoing Sunday afternoon out which anyone can enjoy – the sort of event we’d always wanted to attend in the city.’ They don’t lie. On the third spirited outing word had spread, an eclectic following was present, the open mic had a reserve list, and the space was standing room only.
The ‘unusual pairing’ this time contrasted the eco-poetry between she of colourful jumpers, the lively wide-eyed headliner Susan Richardson (resident poet on Saturday Live), and yours truly in the red corner, representing the urban and the gritty. Richardson performed two engaging sets, laced with humour and environmental impact, including ‘Thought For The Day’ with the lines ‘God’s gone outside and may be sometime/ God’s died in a blizzard and has risen/ again in Ranulph Fiennes.’ The event works well for exposure and networking and allows new and established poets a chance to read a poem or two in the open mic and to win prizes donated by the likes of New Welsh Review, Poetry Wales andMslexia.
The next Poetry On Tap event will be on Valentine’s Day and will feature former John Tripp winner Clare Potter (Cinnamon Press) and Duncan McGibbon (Mulfran Press).
Many of you may still be recovering from one recent ‘celebrity’ birthday but for those of you not suffering with the tiresome Tourette’s of spitting out words like detox, diet and gym membership it is time to prepare for another weekend of hedonism; this time partying in the name of Art, dahlings.
Yes Art is having a birthday, an annual event first proposed in 1963 by French artist Robert Filliou. And, as it is cultural, and perhaps, cerebral, we shall celebrate. With FREE events organised in Swansea by Bucket & Sponge, Framework and Elysium Gallery.And elsewhere in the world. And with wine. How very un-January. How absolutely fabulous!
Much like the Queen, and myself, Art does not limit the party to one night. Here be the pick of the bunch…
Fri 15 January
(1) The Audible Picture Show: 1pm, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea (FREE)
Come and learn more of the origins of Art’s Birthday, declared to be January 17th by Fluxus artist Robert Filliou (pictured) and hear artist Matt Hulse talk about and play examples of his project The Audible Picture Show, an international touring show of short audio works created for cinema by a diverse range of people including visual artists, film makers, sound designers & writers. Local sound artists Barrie Hole have been commissioned to create a sound piece that will form part of Hulse’s Audible Picture Show and which will be played at the talk.
(2) Caroline Sabin – Small Tides: Live portrait painting, moustache making, Hat making, Giant Birthday Card, plus much more! Elysium Gallery, 41 High Street, Swansea, 7pm – late (FREE).
Sat 16 January
Stylophone Orchestra of Great Britain + Barrie Hole’s Hitlist presents… Andy Candles & The Party Poppers. 7pm, Elysium Gallery, 41 High Street, Swansea (FREE)
Sun 17 January
Art’s Birthday Party: Punch & Judy show, DEXTart & FRIENDS, improvised Jazz Band, Quiz night, Art Raffle plus more! 6pm til late, Elysium Gallery, High Street, Swansea (FREE)