I hate trains. Or rather I hate trains on Sundays that turn out not to be trains but buses or trains that get halfway to their destination, then sit still in the middle of nowhere for two hours before returning you to the start of your journey to wait for a bus instead. This was my Sunday. It took me three and a half hours longer than it should have to get to Balloon in Cardiff where I had been booked in to read a short story, alongside Richard Milward andMatthew David Scott. A literary lunch event.
Richard Milward (photo by Matt Jarrett)
When I eventually made it to the Balloon event at Cardiff Arts Institutelunch was sold out, Matt had read and Richard was into his first set of the day. I was in a foul mood but Rich, wearing a mask of the cover of Applesstill managed to make me laugh with his tall tales of awkward teenage sex. He gave me prop envy too. After I read a new story about butterflies and mental hospitals from my forthcoming collection, Rich bounded onto the stage with a brightly painted cardboard model of a high-rise building propped on his shoulders. He then read a balloon-related section from his second novel, the drug-fuelled Ten Story Love Song. It involved laughing gas…And audience laughter.
The young hipster crowd then filtered out from the upstairs canteen and mooched about the Carboutique Sale downstairs while Ben Bryant, Editor of the South Wales listings monthly Buzz Magazine counted down his top 100 songs of all time. Some punters played with the canteen bar’s Lego wall. Others drank and gossiped. A fun day all in all, but it took me another nightmare five hour train/ replacement bus journey to get home again. Damn trains!
Blond(e)s with Brains
My previous weekend was luckier, travel-wise, as I headed west to the Academi New Narratives Conference atGellifawr in Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. An early start took me on one of my favourite train journeys (Swansea to Carmarthen) where I was picked up by the lovely Bronwen (Academi) and a very sleepy Joe Dunthorne (author of Submarine). We chatted about films, poetry and football as the roads grew narrower and quieter. At our picturesque destination we collected cottage keys, unloaded bags and dosed up on caffeine to prepare for the day ahead.
First up was travel writer and surfer Tom Anderson, who I had read with at Swn Festival in 2009. He talked confidently and insightfully about the blurring of fact and fiction in travel writing and explained the process of researching and writing Chasing Dean. Tom discusses the evolution of myths and journey storytelling and the truth behind Moby Dick. He ponders our ability to forget other people’s reality as long as our own is going alright. He quotes Salman Rushdie: ‘Sometimes legends make reality and become more useful than the facts.’
Next up was Swansea boy Joe Dunthorne who amused us with anecdotes of adapting his Welsh Book of the Year longlisted novel Submarine for the big screen. He tells us about Warp films and turning down the production company run by Lily Allen’s mum – she talked about her daughter too much. He was joined on stage by the actor playing teenage narrator Oliver, Craig Roberts from Cardiff who had been cast because of his funny face and deadpan delivery. Joe talked about filming scenes at his rival school, a cameo appearance as a drama teacher, and working with Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd, The Mighty Boosh) and Ben Stiller. He also spoke of the trauma of seeing his characters with real faces and bodies when he barely describes physical features in the book. The film is due for screening in early 2011.
Both talks were interesting and yet what were all the writers discussing over lasagne and salad? Keats? Shakespeare? Publishing conflicts? No, it was HBO series The Wire. Tom Anderson and his lovely girlfriend Briege are only on series Two. Niall Griffiths is a big fan, and nearly gives away future plots as he praises it again and again. Editor of New Welsh Review, Kathryn Gray declares the show’s creator David Simon as ‘better than Shakespeare’ and American Poet Carrie Etter, insists to the young couple that ‘the best is yet to come.’
The weather is kind to us and so, after lunch, we pile onto two minibuses to The Parrog – a beautiful coastal backdrop for readings from the Mabinogi, and the new Seren series reinterpreting the stories in contemporary settings. Afterwards we took a stroll, and the delightful director of BBC Radio Drama, Kate McAll led me on a chatty walk along the coastline.
Tom Anderson (photo by Peter Finch)
Trip to The Parrog (photo by Peter Finch)
Kate McAll (right) and Susie Wild (photo by Peter Finch)
Three Blondes: l-r Deborah Kay Davies, Holly Howitt and Kathryn Gray (photo by Stanislaw Szypowski)
Back to base we consumed more tea and coffee before Ifor ap Dafydd from the National Library of Wales explained the difficulties in the future of literary archives in a digital world. Plenty of food for thought on how we store our work and how much work is lost through computer crashes, poor file naming and upgraded software. Time to engage with our inner geeks and get tech savvy, me thinks.
Finally the day’s events were rounded up with lively, engaging poetry readings by Peter Finch, Joe Dunthorne,Kathryn Gray and Carrie Etter. Joe’s Valentine poem for Five Dials, ‘Future Dating,’ is fantastic, as are Carrie’s bold poems from The Tethers (Seren) including ‘Divorce’: ‘He remembers which sister/ I like least and asks/ how she is doing.’ Entertained, we break for dinner and a shambolic yet hilarious literary pub quiz (Thanks go to the poet and quiz master Ifor Thomas and his pink cowboy hat). Oh and my team won a prize for being the best dressed, naturally.
Sunday began with my favourite event of the weekend, How Short is Short? run by three blondes with brains.Kathryn Gray debated the current trend of shorter and more immediate fiction with Deborah Kay Davies and Holly Howitt. Deborah won Welsh Book of The Year 2009 for her wonderful collection of short stories Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful, while Holly has released a collection of microfiction (stories told in under 600 words) calledDinnertime and is now editing anthology of microfiction for Cinnamon Press. They talked about where you draw the line between prose poetry, the short story and micro or nano fiction – particularly relevant as we think about new platforms of delivery for our writing, and new modes of author-reader relationship thanks to social networking sites and twit-lit. Holly, who also writes longer fiction says she is not a poet, but that microfiction offers her a way to write poetically. Essentially this shift to the short had been aided by sudden fiction exercises and getting stories down to their essence so that the audience reads so much between the lines that they write lines. The micro mode of writing asks the reader to do some work, the words asking more questions than they answer. Life in the literary fast lane, a placethat seemed so far removed from the slowness of Gellifawr with the bliss of no mobile or internet signal that it offered. A chance to pause and reflect.
Finally the charms and qualms of Aberystwyth as a literary setting were investigated by the authors Niall Griffithsand Malcolm Pryce, sharing anecdotes and musing on why the place is a funny setting and why so many people arrive at end-of-the-line towns and never leave, trying to leave their problems behind they find the problems remain, there is nowhere else to run, so they just learn to talk about them in a different accent. Then tick tick tock — time is up and, inspired and invigorated, I write reams on another peaceful, sunny train journey home. Hurrah for better train luck. Hurrah for words.
Tonight I am off to the launch of Stevie Davies’ new novelInto The Suez, which I have also just started reading. I’ll blog about this and some other literati happenings soon. Watch This Space!