Fflur Dafydd and Rachel Trezise win the inaugural Max Boyce Prize (photo by John Fry)
Hello you pretty things. Did you miss me? I feel years have gone by since the last Literary It Girl blog, but it has been merely weeks. It appears that I have been rather busy, what with organising a 24 hour poetry marathon as a fundraiser for the Hay Poetry Jamboree, preparing new sets of my own for said event, and a scheduled performance at Blast House in Carmarthen next month, and moving palaces sans Prince Charming Dandylicious who is on some incredibly important quest in the black mountains or somesuch place. How does one pack chandeliers? So, this blog may appear more of a whirlwind than usual and will be dotted with a little less partying and more news than you’ve come to expect, but hang on in there, it’ll be worth it, and this Cinderella shall soon return to the glittery literary ball.
First up, before the moving madness, I did manage to make it along to the launch of the wonderful Stevie Davies’ new novel Into Suez. I hardly dared not to, especially as (1) Stevie is my former Creative Writing tutor, and helped me gain that distinction for the MA dissertation and (2) This is Stevie’s first novel released through Parthian, and we share a wonderful editor in Lucy Llewellyn (I have to say that, she’s working on making my collection look really pretty right-this-very-minute). Plus, I just happen to love Stevie’s writing. It seems I am not alone; Swansea’s Dylan Thomas Centre was packed with friends, colleagues (including a proud Nigel Jenkins and a radiant Fflur Dafydd), admirers and students of Stevie’s. Introduced by the Vice-Chancellor of Swansea University, where Stevie is Director of the Creative Writing programme, the writer was the receiver of much well-deserved praise. She then followed in giving involved explanations of the process of writing and editing the new book alongside some studied and enlightening readings.
Into Suez is a beautiful hardback – it is a rarity for Parthian to venture from paperback territory these days – and the contents are equally impressive. An epic novel, the fictional story draws on Stevie’s own experience as a child living in Egypt during the Suez conflict. She has written an informed passionate and violent love story examining class prejudices and casual British racism in 1949. The result is as engrossing and compelling and well researched as one has come to expect from this Booker Prize nominated author and historian. I won’t give too much away, but I shall inform you that the book is currently Hay Festival Book of the Month and you’d be daft not to read it. Listen to Stevie talk about the book on Radio 4’s Excess Baggage and catch her later this year at Hay Festival. A great launch and wonderful book was then followed by a fantastic late dinner with my darling publishers and Stevie’s agent Euan Thorneycroft (A.M. Heath & Co. Ltd).
In Chapters and the Big Read 10
Singing Bear @ In Chapters (photo by Matt Jarrett)
Next up, the latest outing of music and literature collaborative event In Chapters at Chapter Art Centre in Cardiff was once again well attended and wonderful, not least for the beer swigging, karaoke singing bear. Organised by John Williams and Richard James (The Laugharne Weekend) this month’s cafe-themed hour saw new stories performed by Matthew David Scott,Owen Martell and my good pal Rachel Trezise(‘The Blue Murder Cafe’). I’ll let you read Dylan Moore’s (The Raconteur) blog to find out more. Talking of Rachel, she has much to smile about of late, not simply the prospect of cooking me dinner next week. She only went and won another prize! As did another lovely former tutor of mine, rising literary superstar Fflur Dafydd. The pair won the inaugural Big Read 10 Prize for their English and Welsh language creations. The two winning books chosen by the readers of Glynneath were Dial M for Merthyr (Rachel Trezise) and Y Llyfrgell (Fflur Dafydd).
Talking prizes…Mari Strachan’s debut novel The Earth Hums in B Flat (Canongate), has been shortlisted for The Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award 2010. The Chair of Judges, literary editor Suzi Feay, commented: ‘We were looking for six novels that were deeply satisfying in their own right, but which also pointed the way to a significant future career. We wanted readability but weren’t prepared to compromise on depth, writing style and ambition. These are the books that have given us the most pleasure and fuelled our most passionate debates, and any one of them would be a worthy winner.’ The winner will be announced on Wednesday 7 April.
Mari is also a finalist for Book of the Year – Adult Debut in the USA’s 2010 Indies Choice Book Awards: ‘What sets these awards apart is that they are designed to reflect the spirit of ABA member booksellers in the IndieBound movement and their dedication to handselling, unique, thought-provoking, and engaging titles in all genres.’ So says the American Booksellers Association. Having met Mari and her hubby at the Laugharne Weekend and Hay Festival last year – bleary eyed and debating literary things with Peter Florence on Radio 5 Live – I reckon she deserves such praise; bright, lovely lady that she is.
Freshers vs. Ffreshars
Freshers by Joanna Davies (Honno)
Back to book launches, my new favourite venue aka Cardiff Arts Institute hosted the Thursday night party for the latest Honno release – Freshers by Joanna Davies. Welsh-speakers amongst you will already have had chance to read an earlier version of this book, Ffreshars telling of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll amongst four student freshers at Aberystwyth University in the early 90’s. I am assured that the English language version is not the same story, not a simple translation. Joanna explains: ‘It’s not the same book as I’ve added 20,000 words to the original story so it’s a ‘Director’s Cut’ if you like with even more action and sauce than the Welsh version! A lot of my friends who aren’t Welsh speakers were really taken by the extracts that I translated for them. So that inspired me to create an extended English version and with Honno’s support it’s been a brilliant experience… I hope I can publish many more novels in both languages.’ As you would expect, the launch was at a canteen bar venue a stone’s throw from Cardiff University, frequented by artfully dressed students and loud-as-you-like bands. Fun!
Imagine having one million fans. National Literary Treasures aka Academi welcomed its one millionth audience member at the ‘Meeting of Two Laureates’ poetry event on Saturday 20 March. The lucky lady was Euthalia Antippasfrom Cyncoed in Cardiff attended a sell-out event at the St. David’s Hotel in Cardiff featuring Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffyand National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke. The leading ladies, both swathed in black,read selections of their work before chatting about the similarities and differences of their two respective roles.
This is the history bit…In 1998, the then writers’ society, the Welsh Academy, won the franchise from the Arts Council of Wales to establish Academi – the Welsh National Literature Promotion Agency. They have had one million people attend their events etc. since that date. Queue some champagne cork popping. Now for the quotes… Academi Top Dog Peter Finch seemed happy: “to get to a million is a real achievement. Academi’s literary services – our events and workshops and our author visits to schools are certainly in demand.” Sell-out poetry gigs certainly give poets like myself hope for the future. Lucky Euthalia was as cheery as her red-edged neck scarf: “I am a fervent supporter of the Academi and it’s a real honour for me to be the one millionth audience member.” Here’s to the next million… and more bubbly!
Coming soon… I’m getting more than a little bit excited about www.thelaugharneweekend.com, my 24 hour poetry pyjama party and performing at Blast House. I am also trying to work out what will be Wales Book of the Year 2010. The longlist is announced on Tuesday 20 April 2010, while the £10,000 awards are presented to the best books of the year in English and in Welsh in June. Guesses/ suggestions are welcomed in the comments section below.