Hay Festival Event 2012 (08-05-2012)

NWR at Hay with Horatio Clare and Fflur Dafydd
New Welsh Review's editor Gwen Davies was in conversation at Hay this month with two authors from Seren’s New Stories from the Mabinogion series. Horatio Clare is the author of The Prince’s Pen, and Fflur Dafydd, Hay Oxfam Emerging Writer of the Year 2009, is the author of The White Trail.

Despite traffic delays caused by mud and floods, there were around seventy people in the Digital Stage tent whose canvas sides flapped in competitions with the author's readings.

Fflur Dafydd was (and is) heavily pregnant, cleverly reflecting the state of Goleuddydd, her catalyst in The White Trail as well as several other characters. Horatio Clare was in bouncy mood and resplendent in wonky bow tie which several members of the audience reported capturing on camera-phone as it escaped his right collar.

Literary ground covered included both authors' approach to the myths they were given by Seren, in Fflur's case, the quest Culhwch and Olwen, and in Horatio's, a tale of warfare and magic, Lludd and Llefelys (Ludo and Levello), Lud of course being the Celtic god said to have given his name to London.

Horatio was questioned first on various topics. First up, how he found the intimate, playful, direct voice of Clip, and how he chose to look at a triangle of friendship rather than focus just on brothers Ludo and Levello. Second, The Prince's Pen looks at warfare in all its forms, from fist-fight to ambush, guerilla cells to global alliance and the corruption of power following military success (resistance rather than conquest). How did the author develop his band of bandits initially united by the wish to avoid being 'chipped and coded', and how did he further explore his theme of surveillance and technology in society and war, and to what extent is Clip's world Afghanistan rather than Wales? To what degree, though is it Wales after all, with its Semtex-strapped sheep, its wedding of [James] Hook and Charlotte [Church], and military manoeuvres under cover of Bank Holiday caravans? How did the Mabinogi stories' sense of geography and place enable this satire to be so specifically grounded? And last of all, since Ludo's new power base involves mass conversion to Islam (providing jokes about lemon soda and apple hubble-bubble pipes down Penderyn's Red Lion), how did Horatio transform the myth's warring dragons into an ideological battle ground between the moderates and the fundamentalists?

Fflur had initially explained how she focused on the 'cusp' of her allotted myth, the story of Culhwch's mother who was said to have gone mad during her pregnancy, given birth in a pig-sty and died almost immediately, thus making it a tale about the father, Cilydd's grief as well as one about missing people and the danger of seeking people who don't want to be found.

Questioning her in more detail, Gwen asked Fflur to further explore the links between communication technology, visibility, scandal and disappearance that The White Trail raises. She then asked her how much mileage there was in reviews that had described the novella as a feminist reading of Culhwch and Olwen, in which female independence was the main theme and the female characters, all named for their evocation of whiteness and light, present alternative (though idealised) versions of our gender. She explained that her work is often yoked to feminism by critics, even those, in the case of Y Llyfrgell when National Eisteddfod judges, reading the work without knowing its author, suggested it was anti-feminist! But rather, in The White Trail, she was presenting a positive, sophisticated picture of the options open to new mothers. Gwen and Fflur explored different, sometimes opposing, aspects of meaning for the novella's title, 'the white trail', including the bone-setting work of doctor Gwelw, supposed-foundling Culhwch's search for the 'track' back to his family, grieving father Cilydd's attempt to make sense of events in a breeze cutting through an ash cloud, the original flowery path in Olwen's wake and the abduction of pregnant Goleuddydd in a supermarket flour aisle.

Last of all, both authors discussed how the strictures of a novella's short wordcount, and how humour, playfulness, pastiche, satire and wit had helped them come to terms with the weight of the publisher's commission as well as present and make accessible to a new audience these Medieval stories going centuries further back in the oral tradition.

Fflur rounded off the event by reading from the novella's first pages, preceded by Horatio's dialogue between Clip and Ludo following Clip's exile to Skomer.

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