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).