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NWR Issue 97

Jon Gower at Gwyl Lyfrau Morlan, Aberystwyth

Saturday afternoon was spent dodging showers and in the company of Jon Gower at Gŵyl Lyfrau Morlan. This Welsh-medium annual festival for Welsh books in Aberystwyth town is a spin-off of a local reading group and always manages to get interesting voices heard.

This year had Bethan Mair, formerly a Gomer editor (alongside commentator Arwel Rocet Jones), talking about putting anthologies together; Wiliam Owen Roberts, possibly Wales’ deepest-thinking Welsh-medium novelist (and a Creative Wales Award winner), in conversation with former NWR editor Francesca Rhydderch, and a launch (competing with Wales v Argentina – surprised the brothers from Y Lolfa turned up!) with the truly lovely and funny Llwyd Owen of his new detective novel from Y Lolfa, Heulfan. And my own conversation with Jon Gower about writing books in two languages, and the similarities between his English short-fiction collection, Too Cold for Snow and his Wales Book of the Year winning novel, Y Storïwr.

The latter is an unusual combination of magic realism; autobiography and the nature journal. Jon is always so confident and eloquent, we didn’t manage to get on to the themes both books share of celebrity, the media (Jon, a journalist and broadcaster as well as author, has worked both for an independent television company and for the BBC as arts correspondent), food, the physical arts (rugby, ice skating, dance and sex) and revenge. We did, however, touch on the nastier, bloodthirsty elements in his fiction, as I can see him blossom (like a bruise, naturally) into a genre horror novelist. Jon movingly mentioned possible sources of these fictional horrific scenes in his own childhood as a foundling baby who was bestowed a difficult adoptive family. Also: influences of Marquez and the Mabinogi; idealized portraits of nature, childhood and a sense of paradise lost; the different endings of the Welsh and English versions of his novel, Dala’r Llanw and Uncharted; how Jon secured a blurb for Too Cold for Snow from US author Richard Ford; how an imminent (aborted) move to America spurred him to get published in Welsh for the first time, and the likely impact on his work of visits to Colombia and Bangladesh as part of his role this year as Hay International Writing Fellow, an account of which is in the current edition of NWR alongside Jon’s parallel writing fellow Tiffany Murray’s account of feasting, In Istanbul and Kerala.


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