BLOG Gwen Davies

NWR Issue 97

Rugby Gods and a Cocktail of Bird, Blood, Snow

Tuesday early evening was given over to hearing Seren’s Penny Thomas talk in Aberystwyth Waterstones to the latest authors in her Stories from the Mabinogion series: Lloyd Jones and Cynan Jones. The hours from 9pm were given over to a cocktail, Bird, Blood, Snow, named after Cynan’s novella. The shot was made at Baravin with vodka, a viscous red liquid, and vanilla-sugar crusting the glass’ lip. But fear not, Taxpayers’ Alliance, NWR was not paying, nor did this cocktail contain bird ingredients.

Bird, Blood, Snow the Cocktail, Baravin, Aberystwyth

Despite being a huge fan of all Lloyd Jones’ English fiction and the editor of his story ‘The City’ for the Halloween-themed collection Sing Sorrow Sorrow, we hadn't so far made face-to-face contact. So it was a delight at last to meet the author of See How They Run at its launch. Also to introduce him to the reviewer of his novella for NWR winter edition (out this weekend), Cathryn Charnell-White. Her praise is high indeed: Lloyd Jones’ novella has the epic scope of the novels of Umberto Eco... the quirkiness and attention to detail of John Irving. I am poised to hear what Cathryn makes of Bird, Blood, Snow for her review in NWR’s spring edition.

Penny in the chair was relaxed and perceptive as ever. She fielded questions on commissioning the series, which will be completed next autumn by Tishani Doshi and Trezza Azzopardi. Had she considered potential authors’ bilingual credentials? No. Would she have intervened had too many contributors opted for a sci-fi/fantasy treatment of the old myths’ supernatural elements? It hadn’t been an issue, although she had been initially troubled by one title’s use of psychoanalysis to explore that other-dimension. Penny also brought together the common elements of the novellas launched that night, both transforming the original gods into ruby heroes (or ‘mock-heroes’ as one audience member pessimistically put it) and setting scenes in mental health institutions.

Lloyd engagingly presented See How They Run, based on the story of Manawydan from the Mabinogi’s third branch, as the story of self-styled sex-god and fixer Big M and his biographer, insecure Irish academic Lou. While unnecessarily dissing his gorgeous (and prize-winning) first two novels, Mr Vogel – scandalously out of print – and Mr Cassini as ‘barmy’, Lloyd certainly sold the accessible and comic aspects of his new novella to the audience, including myself since I bought two as Christmas presents.

Cynan, according to Seren’s blurb, transforms the old story of Peredur into a ‘modern Quixotian romp’. Clearly his quest, involving maidens, witches and giants, came straight out of his own boyhood games (his father testified to this, also making a tongue-in-cheek reference to a certain princess costume!) Bullying, rival estate gangs and violence are autobiographical elements of this story, and one man claimed he found the bloodier aspects of Bird, Blood, Snow close to being gratuitous, until Cynan pointed out that one aim of his succinct authorial voice is to minimise description so that readers furnish details from their own adequately stocked dark imaginations (literature's purpose in a nutshell). It is no secret that Cynan Jones came into this series with a very tight deadline indeed (supplying the manuscript within five months). This most principled of authors rose to the challenge by experimenting with different writing styles outside his own established voice, including pastiche police logs and journalese.

Seren’s Mabinogion series goes from strength to strength. Despite Lloyd predicting the likely loss of Welsh and traditional cultural elements from future generations of Welsh writers in English (a national phenomenon explored in See How They Run), these latest authors make a story of net gain, not loss. How to celebrate this rare Welsh good-news story? With a sip of snow-sprinkled Bird, Blood, Snow (trademark Gareth at Baravin)? By treating a friend to a Christmas gift duo of signed first editions, available now? Or by topping up your culture levels with New Welsh Review new winter edition, cheaper than a cocktail at £5.99.


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