NWR Issue 112

Punks and Safety Pins

Even as we are all still in shock following the folly of the EU referendum, now is the time to try and counteract the potentially evil influence of a centralising media focused on a populist, corrosively mainstream and two dimensional political identity.

If you identify with Wales (ambiguously, ironically, by whatever route), read us, read our writers and our books, support our publishers, artists and film-makers. Commit to our culture, broad as it is and based on citizenship. Or find it gone, washed back to the 1950s on a wave of union-jack spattered lukewarm lemonade. Even if you define yourself against Wales (your hangups we forgive), be intelligent and informed. Wales’ mainstream media is weak and populist. Wales’ broadsheet readership (an elusive creature) is fuelled by the centralist Guardian. Don’t let an England-centric paper be all you read. New Welsh Review offers part of the solution (a federalised BBC and a Radio Wales and Radio Cymru that respect the influence of their middle-class audiences offers others).

It has been a very good long while since Radio Four turned its sights towards Wales’ literary scene. Ironically, considering the above, our five minutes of fame was had on 10 July. I was on Mariella Frostrup’s Open Book on Radio Four, talking alongside Addlands novelist, Tom Bullough. I had hoped to cover borders writers, our obsession with borders and healthy ability to belong to more than one place; our liking for the short form in story and prose; post-devolution Welsh-language fiction (with its quaint interest in bureaucracy); Gothic rural fiction; dirty urban fiction; historical personae in poetry; faulty narratives and the moment when poets were advised to loose their ‘victim status’. And let’s not forget the drive, led by Wales Literature Exchange, to set our literature within a European context (insert expletive). It seems that Iwan Llwyd spoke too soon when in 1997 he published a poem entitled ‘Best of a Bad Bunch (take this badge offa me)’ in his collection, Dan Ddylanwad: Cerddi ’Merica, Canada a Chymru. In it he wrote that it was time to dump the politics: ‘daeth dyddiau diosg bathodynnau / a byw’.

But I, among many disenfranchised Remain supporters, have already pinned on my campaigning badges, including a safety pin signaling solidarity with migrants. (I didn’t have time to discuss all the above in the programme but will do so in our own upcoming podcast, including a segment with the Welsh literature lecturer, Robin Chapman.) Still available online to subscribers: in our July e-edition, Review 9, borders’ writers, ever the pride of our country, are out in force, with recent Wales adoptee Oliver Balch (Under the Tump), Tom Bullough (Addlands) and John Barnie (writing about poetry and science).

I’m not at all in the mood for charismatic jack-the-lads who, in my experience, are never worth even the briefest of frissons, but Wales (via mid 70s Ceredigion drugs bust Operation Julie) had its brush with one of these: self-styled ‘flaneur’, gangster go-between and drugs procurer to rock stars. Liz Jones spills the beans in her review of Keiron Pim’s biography of David Litvinoff. Kaite O’Reilly’s plays are the most restorative offering this season, which is what is required in these dark days of ignorance, uncertainty and intolerance of difference. Her Selected Plays, including The Almond and the Seahorse and In Water I’m Weightless, puts those we label ‘disabled’ front stage. Her themes are disconnection, exclusion and ‘lazy preconception’. O’Reilly’s work, her review argues, ‘bristles with energy and a raw, punk-like anger’.

A dose of which is sorely needed in a Wales in which EU-funded projects that supported our underprivileged citizens were voted off the agenda by those who stood to gain most from them. (Within weeks of the decision, Secretary of State Alan Cairns MP was quashing hopes that funding for such schemes may be replaced by Westminster or be devolved, citing an apparently vague but deeply cynical suggestion that ‘it hasn’t really had the impact’.)

This political climate increases the appeal of escape (once we have fulfilled our cultural obligations....) In this issue: the six top entries in our travel writing prize, awarded in July, including much deserved winner Mandy Sutter on her 60s expat Nigerian childhood. Granta novelist Cynan Jones’ extract from his forthcoming novel, Cove, kicks off with lightning and a kayak. And for your ongoing children’s literature needs, Review 10, published in August, looked at the field, including a review of an academic book about Roald Dahl and a novel for 9-11 year- olds set in Valleys’ Italian café culture, our audio bookclub on YA fantasy novel, The Secret of the Wild Wood (by Dutch-Indonesian author Tonke Dragt) and a review of Tir na n-Og winner Griff Rowland’s The Search for Mister Lloyd, about a racing pigeon that has gone missing.

A version of part of this piece appeared in Review 9, 1 July 2016.


previous editorial: Spuds and Lobster
next editorial: People of Shitplace Dug our Own Hole


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