NWR Issue 110

What's the Time, Mr Wolf?

Wales’ enduring flair for the short story is gradually being recognized on an international stage, with our best writers in the form, including Cynan Jones, Robert Minhinnick, Rebecca F John, Francesca Rhydderch, Tessa Hadley, Tyler Keevil and Carys Davies having being recently recognized by prizes such as the EFG Sunday Times Private Bank Short Story Award, the BBC National Short Story Award, the Edge Hill Short Story Prize, the (American) Independent Publisher Book Awards and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. The latter was awarded this autumn to Carys Davies’ marvellous collection, The Redemption of Galen Pike, reviewed highly favourably in our spring edition (107).

Collections by promising authors of the form, Thomas Morris and Rebecca F John, were published between August and October by Faber and Parthian respectively. John was shortlisted for the Sunday Times award for a forthcoming story from her collection, Clown's Shoes , out in October. This book also featured in our audio review, broadcast on 1 November. Morris, meanwhile, appeared in late September alongside Davies at the Cork International Short Story Festival as well as joining the author with Keevil and Minhinnick in the widely praised and authoritative recent showcase, New Welsh Short Fiction , reviewed in our first Review supplement on 1 July. Morris’ debut, We Don’t Know What We’re Doing (Faber), meanwhile, was reviewed in our November Review supplement by Costa-winning poet, Jonathan Edwards.

In her review of New Welsh Short Stories (edited by Francesca Rhydderch and Penny Thomas, and published by Seren), Vicky MacKenzie admires its celebration of the ‘diversity... internationalism’ and the ‘sometimes downright bizarre’ in contemporary fiction from Wales. MacKenzie emphasised that in this collection, ‘form’ is privileged above ‘the hackneyed “slice of life” model’ for short fiction or indeed any attempt to ‘specially’ represent contemporary Wales.

The writers here, as MacKenzie notes, innovate through an epistolary tale, a film script with directions, and a dialogue with unnamed personae. This approach represents a return to form, turning its back on the subject- and issues-based bias of Dai Smith’s Library of Wales anthologies, Story, Vol I and Vol II, published last summer. It reconnects with the modernism of short story veteran Rhys Davies, who was included by Katie Gramich in the Encyclopedia of Literary Modernism.

The latest anthology of winning entries of this year’s Rhys Davies Short Story Competition, Catch of the Day and Other Stories (Accent), was reviewed at newwelshreview.com/list-review.php on 1 October. Dan Bradley quotes Davies’ belief that a short story ‘should contain’ a ‘tiny, concentrated explosion’ and concludes that such ‘miniature pyrotechnics’, as Bradley coins them, characterise this collection, leading to structural predictability, ‘snappy reveals and plot twists’ rather than ‘innovative writing’. In the prize’s defence it might be questioned whether competition candidates pay any attention to the style of writers in whose name a prize is given. It is noteworthy, however, that commissioned and single-author short fiction collections, benefitting as they do from considered curation by editor or author, are currently getting better reviews than anthologies of open competitions.

Internationalism and diversity are also the trademark of the second collection reviewed at newwelshreview.com/list-review.php on the same date, this time dedicated to Japan’s capital (and, hearteningly, presenting two translators from Wales, Dan Bradley and Jonathan Lloyd-Davies). Like Seren’s collection, The Book of Tokyo, A City in Short Fiction eschews national stereotypes. As reviewer Eluned Gramich puts it, ‘any wistful narratives about cherry blossom are quickly dispensed with’ and ‘the ubiquitous tropes of bowing and chopsticks’ avoided. Instead the ‘black’ mood of Rhys Davies’ contemporary acolytes is favoured, alongside ‘quasi-horror’ and surreal touches such as a serial-killer satyr. The Japanese collection also shares with its Welsh counterparts an editorial policy, incidentally the USP of this magazine, of setting established writers (and translators in this case) alongside those that are emerging and previously unpublished. I wonder to what extent the Welsh collections share Tokyo’s conflicted preoccupation with what seems foreign, different or, even, more powerful (in the latter’s case, ‘The West’)? But perhaps that would be an old-fashioned question that prioritises politics over style.

Our seventeen pieces of review and comment published on 1 October are exclusive to subscribers. If you missed them, look out for Duncan Bush on language, controversy and subsidy (not Ruck revisited but hopefully stimulating response); John Barnie on the flaws of Alun Lewis, man and poet, as Lewis’ unpublished novel and a second biography of him are published; Chris Moss on Robert Minhinnick’s ‘profoundly meditative’ novel of life on the fringes, Limestone Man, and two reviews of books touching on (among a great number of other things) psychoanalytical approaches to Dylan Thomas. One of these is a rave review by Amy McCauley of John Goodby’s The Poetry of Dylan Thomas, Under the Spelling Wall which she finds to be a thorough, original, vibrant and approachable work of scholarship which makes a tenacious and flawlessly executed case for reassessing Thomas as a worthy subject for serious literary criticism. The second aforementioned review is by Helen Pendry.

This combines an assessment of the heavyweight Liberating Dylan Thomas, Rescuing a Poet from Psycho-sexual Servitude, with one of Philip Bounds’ Notes from the End of History, A Memoir of the Left in Wales. In the former, she summaries Barfoot’s rejection of Harold Bloom’s analysis of Thomas’ personality and her use instead of Kristeva and Lacan to reinterpret the poet’s various infatuations, for example with material language as experienced through the senses, and with the body. Barfoot applies the same psychoanalytical filter to Thomas’ apparent regression into a form of adolescence. This sensual obsession together with an apparent immaturity, Pendry quotes Barfoot as asserting, are ‘not evidence of the infantilism of Thomas and his readers’ but rather ‘a form of “body- centredness” and “festival radicalism” that reclaims’ the poet’s notion of a ‘maternal’ source of creativity. Pendry’s neat segue into her timely review of Bounds’ leftist memoir claims, ‘Both [books] suggest we damage our own souls... if we abandon the passions of adolescence in favour of becoming rigidly sensible adults.’

The pieces referred to above, along with a review of Nicky Arscott’s pamphlet for Rack Press, Soft Mutation, and other articles, were published in the second of our subscriber-exclusive online supplements, Review 3, on 1 October. If you have not read or heard about any of these then you urgently need to contact Bronwen Williams on admin@ newwelshreview.com to get your subscriber ID which you can use together with your own postcode, to vault our paywall. Soft Mutation shows an American influence on Arscott. This comes partly from her recent, Arts Council of Wales-supported research into emigration from her home patch of Llanbrynmair, Powys, to US states, particularly Tennessee.

We are delighted to publish here in our winter edition of the Reader, what I think is an innovation for the magazine: a poetry comic, ‘Stallion Ford’, that is in a series with US poet Greg Koehler, and nails with tenderness and humour themes of longing, disinheritance and displacement. Migration, from, into and via Sicily, is also the subject of Robert Minhinnick’s impressionistic and impassioned story, ‘Sicilian Driftwood’, while we are delighted to present newcomer Alys Conran’s piece on writing her debut novel for Parthian, Pigeon, in a series of work commissioned from the author including a place in our winter poetry showcase video published on 1 November.

The rest of this issue is dedicated to our season’s theme, ‘Family’, although this might easily have been ‘The Domineering Father’. See our essay by Harry Heuser on George Powell of Nanteos’ uneasy belonging to his family and his home town, which is expressed in his curious art collection and its long-delayed route to finding a home. And also one by Katrina Naomi on how the violence of Pascale Petit’s conflicted relationship with her extremely abusive father becomes transformative in her poetry. Stories by Anna Lewis and Jem Poster contain the same patriarchal personality, although Poster’s protagonist has a slow poison whereas Lewis’ ‘Mr Wolf’ is more of a mythic, but no less dangerous, beast.

The latter puts me in mind of Tony Bianchi’s powerful exploration of what I take to be the effect of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) on generations and within sexual relationships, Dwy Farwolaeth Endaf Rowlands (The Two Deaths of Endaf Rowlands). Bianchi excels across his fiction in the ASD-typical detached, hairtrigger-sensual, pattern-obsessed and micro-managing male protagonist, often living in the shadow of a domineering father with a similarly controlling nature. Our video interview with Bianchi, published on 1 November, explores how this came about, especially in his novel, Harry Selwyn’s Last Race (Parthian).

The video will also look at Bianchi’s recurring motif of a witness’ strangely inadequate response to the death of an intimate. Dwy Farwolaeth thoroughly deserved this summer’s National Eisteddfod Prose Medal: never again will I hear the phrase ‘Tyn dy specs’ (Take off your specs) or see Eric Morecambe wiggling his own glasses without turning to cold thoughts of domestic violence. So this edition’s theme of the family’s shady secrets returns. And yet in Bianchi’s novel, while Endaf and Tomos share a dark father–son relationship, Tomos’ mother and grandparents are positive characters, the family launderette is called Sunshine Cleaners and, despite Tomos’ tussle at the border between solitary and lonely states, Dwy Farwolaeth ultimately brings its own brand of sunshine.

Part of this editorial first appeared on 1 October in Review 3.


previous editorial: Dai Greatcoat and The Scribes of War
next editorial: Spuds and Lobster


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