Thursday, 29 September 2016

Folk Tales books on People's Collection Wales

Here they are -- probably easier to access than on Dropbox.

Pembrokeshire Folk Tales
The Last Dragon
Fireside Tales from Pembrokeshire
More Pembrokeshire Folk Tales

More Pembrokeshire Folk Tales

This is the rather moody jacket for "More Pembrokeshire Folk Tales" -- in reality it wasn't as dark as this.  I used one of my own water colour paintings for this one.

The Last Dragon

I found this charming illustration on one of the web sites selling used copies of my books.  If you need a copy, you can probably get it for 1p -- with a hefty P+P charge added so that the seller can make some money.  Needless to say, I get no royalties on second-hand sales........

Saturday, 3 September 2016

All about EVE

We are working on a technique which will allow images like this, on a video, to be stopped for EVE (enhanced viewing experience) -- which gives the viewer the option of checking up on the narrative, the characters, the background and the location of the scene in question.   The possibilities are endless, allowing the blending of entertainment with education for all those who choose to look at drama in future on digital devices such as computers, iPads or even iPhones.  Interesting times.....

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Martha and the shipwrecks

 Shipwrecks occur quite often in the Angel Mountain saga, and for part of her life Martha was actually a joint owner of a trading sailing ship.  Although most of the story takes place on land, the sea is never far away.  David's brother Griffith is lost at sea......... and if it had not been for that fact David would not have inherited the Plas Ingli estate.

This is a wonderful paining by the Russian artist Aivazovsky.  How on earth did he get that translucent effect on the waves?

Saturday, 20 August 2016

How special is Carningli?

"All around Carningli hillfort, particularly on the lower hillslopes to the north and west, survives a rich and well-preserved landscape of old field boundaries, clearance cairns, round huts and farmsteads which represents one of the great surviving prehistoric landscapes of southern Britain....."

The Coflein description flags up just how important this landscape is.  Let's all make sure it continues to be well protected.  The current level of seasonal burning and grazing on the common is just about right to protect the archaeological remains and to ensure that they continue to be visible.

From a link on the Wikipedia entry, you can also access a good Guided Trail to Mynydd Carningli and Mynydd Melyn, beautifully illustrated, produced by Dyfed Archaeological Trust.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Audio and Large Print versions




The unabridged audio version of "On Angel Mountain" is still available,
produced by Clipper Audio, ref H1957, in an attractive package of
11 cassettes. The CD version should also be available.
The readers are Jonathan Keeble and Leanne Masterton.
Listening time: more than 15 hours.

The unabridged audio version of "House of Angels" is also now
released, produced by Clipper Audio, ref H2213, in a package of
16 cassettes. Once again the readers are Jonathan Keeble and Leanne
Masterton. The full audio book listening time is 18 hours and 30 minutes.

Cassette refs:
978 1 40740 261 1 House of Angels by Brian John £57.00
978 1 84632 326 3 On Angel Mountain by Brian John £49.00

CD editions:
978 1 40740 834 7 House of Angels by Brian John £65.00
978 1 40740 825 5 On Angel Mountain by Brian John £61.00


On Angel Mountain
author: Brian John
format: Hardcover
isbn: 0-7505-2618-1 / 978-0-7505-2618-0
publisher: Magna Large Print Books
pages: 485
list price: £18.99
published: 15 Nov 2006

House of Angels
author: Brian John
format: Hardcover
isbn: 0-7505-2682-3 / 978-0-7505-2682-1
publisher: Magna Large Print Books
pages: 612
list price: £19.99
published: 15 Jun 2007

Dark Angel
author: Brian John
format: Hardcover
isbn: 0-7505-2777-3 / 978-0-7505-2777-4
publisher: Magna Large Print Books
pages: 684
list price: £19.99
published: 15 Dec 2007

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Folk Tales Books now available online

The four hardback books containing, in total, over 500 of the best Pembrokeshire Folk Tales have been out of print for many years.  Now, thanks to PCC, we have digital copies and PDFs.  I have uploaded them to Dropbox, and they can be accessed for reading online -- or for downloading -- here:

Pembrokeshire Folk Tales

The Last Dragon

Fireside Tales from Pembrokeshire

More Pembrokeshire Folk Tales

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Welsh literature and the subsidy culture

Yesterday I came across an interesting assessment of the "value" of the subsidy culture that impregnates the Welsh literary / publishing scheme.  It's a bit difficult to extract hard data from the report written by somebody from Swansea University (there is no author's name on it), and there is no proper cost/benefit analysis within it, but it looks as if the Welsh Government's "Library of Wales" project cost the taxpayer about £530,000 in the first five years of its operation, 2008-13.  During that time 38 titles were published, mostly old "classics" which have been out of print for some time. It looks as if 18,000 copies of the books were given away to schools and libraries, and that around 38,000 copies were sold.  But no proper sales figures are published, and rumour has it that the term "sales" actually means numbers of books sent out on publication day from the warehouses (including the Welsh Books Council)  to the bookshops -- and does not take account of returns.  If that is the case, then the actual number sold over the counter is substantially less.  So on average each title has sold less than 1,000 copies.  Let's assume that good money has been paid for around 30,000 books.  Put another way, every copy sold has cost the taxpayer about £17.  (Sales income does not come back to the Welsh Government -- it goes to the publisher of the books.)

That does not look like a very sensible way of spending public funds, even though the objective is to demonstrate the unique English-language literary heritage of Wales and to ensure that "classic novels" are kept in print so that universities and schools can extol their virtues.  All very laudable, but how many of those "classic" novels are actually worth reading? Answers on a postcard please........

So £530,000 of public money has been spent in order to achieve 30,000 paperback book sales.  That makes me feel quite pleased that without any public subsidy whatsoever, I have achieved sales of 80,000 copies of the Angel Mountain novels.  Here is another interesting thought.  If I had been given a public handout of £17 per copy sold, I would by now be better off to the tune of £1,360,000 and might be lounging on my yacht somewhere in the Caribbean............

I wonder if the Library of Wales has brought more enjoyment (and perhaps "enlightenment" too) to its readership base than has the Angel Mountain Saga?  If anybody wants to suggest to me that my novels (or those of Iris Gower or Catrin Collier) are somehow less "worthy" or "significant" than some of those very dreary "classics" on the Library of Wales list I will get very upset indeed.

I'm always available to the Welsh Government if it wants me to give it some advice on publishing economics and the meanings of terms like "supply" and "demand"............

PS.  If any of the figures given above are incorrect, I will be very happy to have the correct ones given to me, so that I can publish them.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Pembrokeshire Folk Tales digitised

Thanks to some very kind help from an unexpected quarter, all 4 of my Pembrokeshire Folk Tales books (long since out of print) have now been digitised, and may soon be available via the web.  In all, the books contain more than 500 stories, collected and reproduced as faithfully as possible, with wording very close to that used when the tales were first published in the 1800's and 1900's. 

Here is just one of the stories, about a famous and very eccentric character known as Twm Waunbwll........

Monday, 1 August 2016

About Daisy

Daisy, the black sheep of the family
I have as soft spot for our Daisy, even though she is absent from most of the Saga.  She is born in April 1801 as the second of Martha’s four natural children. She has a difficult childhood, and Martha never fully realizes the extent to which the little girl is affected by David’s death when she is still only three years old.  She is effectively starved of affection whilst her mother becomes obsessed with baby Brynach, the foundling who arrives one night on the front doorstep of the Plas, and then with the mysterious Nightwalker who makes frequent appearances on the mountain. 

    In the year following David’s death Daisy disappears, and Martha finds her in the cave, having had a premonition that that is where she would be.  During that episode it becomes apparent to the reader that Daisy is a strange child who lives in a fantasy world and who is likely to create problems for her mother in the years to come.  Indeed she does create major problems, and Martha loses her emotionally and has a series of disputes with her in the difficult years of blossoming womanhood.  Everything comes to head when Daisy goes off to London, swearing that she will never see her mother again and that she will have no further contact with her home or her family.

After that, as one story follows another, we are occasionally made aware by Martha that she has news of Daisy; but in truth she has rumours rather than accurate information, and all her letters to her errant daughter go unanswered.  Just as Martha loses her son Dewi and her youngest daughter Sara she loses Daisy, and the pain of that loss is made more severe by the knowledge that she is still alive but quite disinterested in acknowledging either her roots or a mother’s love.

Then, out of the blue, a fat lady in exotic clothes arrives without warning at the Plas.  Daisy has returned, and Martha is overwhelmed.  Her first instinct, as in the Biblical story, is to kill the fatted calf and to celebrate.  The reunion between mother and daughter is told in quite sparse terms in the final pages of Rebecca and the Angels, but there can be no doubting the depth of a mother’s joy.  It turns out that Daisy has led an extremely disreputable and colourful life while she has been away in London, and in the most unexpected way she proves to know some of the most influential people in the capital city, within whose power it is to steer through Parliament an Act which will reform the hated turnpike trusts.  She has cavorted with princes and bishops, among others.  She has four children by different fathers, but she is still unmarried;  and later on, in the pages of Flying with Angels, she finds true love for the first time in her life and marries Dr. George Havard, thereby becoming respectable.

Whatever the excesses of her life in London might have been, in "Flying with Angels"  Daisy is a reformed character and a loving and supportive daughter.  When Martha commits her great indiscretion in Tycanol Wood with Amos Jones everybody else is appalled, but Daisy is thoroughly amused since this is a minor matter indeed when compared with some of the things she has seen and done in London.  So things come full circle.  The daughter with whom Martha fought so continuously and could not control in her teenage years now becomes the daughter who best understands her mother’s eccentricities and her willful behaviour.  That creates a mutual respect and a strong and loving relationship, and Daisy then  plays a very important role in protecting Martha and advising her as she plays out the final act in her dramatic life.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Literature Wales -- the feud continues

This is where the official Literature Wales web site is located:

and this is where the Blogger, Evening Post columnist and sometime writer Julian Ruck pours out his bile on the literary establishment in Wales:

Quite unabashed, he uses the words "Literature Wales" at the head of his site, and the official body has been unable to prevent this.

In 2014 Master Ruck got into trouble because his own publicist (how on earth did he manage to get one?) published a review of his latest novel on the Welsh Books Council web site while pretending to be "a member of the public"..............  In 2015 he was seriously injured by a car in a hit and run incident in Kidwelly, but is now apparently recovering well.  He is best known for his withering attacks on the "grant culture" of Welsh publishing, with the Welsh Books Council and Literature Wales having to suffer most from his full-blooded assaults.  But he does not have much time either for writers and publishers in Wales; according to him, they are all enjoying a cost ride on the gravy train.

It's all very entertaining (apart from that nasty accident), and I am not surprised that the official Literature Wales (supported by the Welsh Government and the Arts Council) is not best pleased by some of the things our friend Julian says, but there is certainly more than a grain of truth in some of his comments -- and every self-respecting body should -- in principle -- respect and even encourage close scrutiny.  So there we are then.......

Monday, 13 June 2016

Winter sun in Scoresbysund

A gorgeous pic of the graveyard at Scoresbysund, lit by a weak winter sun.  From a new video about Liverpool Land.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Talk on Pembrokeshire Folk Tales

I enjoyed giving a talk this evening at Lamphey Court Hotel to a group of 24 American visitors who are on a cultural visit to Wales.  They have a few days in Pembrokeshire -- today, Pembroke and Tenby, and tomorrow St Davids.  I trust that the folk tales were a welcome relief, after all those buildings.......

Friday, 4 March 2016

TV and the Welsh National Narrative

"The awareness of the Welsh as a separate people rests on a belief in the particularity of their own past and traditions."   (Final Report of the History Committee for Wales, June 1990, paras 4.2, 4.5)

For many years I've been more than a little frustrated by the relatively low profile that Wales has had in film and TV, and I know that many others share that frustration.  In the bad old days Wales was portrayed in film cliches -- typified in "How Green was my Valley" -- including coal mines, male voice choirs, women in beaver hats and leeks and daffodils.  Many people abroad probably think that "Under Milk Wood" by Dylan Thomas is the only worthwhile work of fiction to come out of Wales.  A few others have probably heard of Alexander Cordell and his novels, but those books are unremittingly bleak, and portray Wales as a land destroyed by industrialisation and defined by class warfare and social protests such as the Rebecca Riots and the Chartist Movement. 

As we all know, Wales is much more vibrant and multi-faceted than that, and always has been. People know of Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones and  Richard Burton and a few others from the entertainment world.  But the real Wales is still hidden away from a global audience, and in terms of global media exposure it's rather sad that Ireland and Scotland are far better known.  For the past 20 years I have lived in hope that either BBC, ITV or S4C would deliver a landmark costume drama series which would be for Wales, about Wales, and at the same time capable of "selling"  Wales to a global audience.  But nothing has emerged, partly, I suppose, because of the very high costs of costume drama and perhaps because no single drama project has captured the imagination of either programme-makers or commissioning editors.  In the case of BBC Wales we get fine words (1), but BBC Wales under its last three Directors has pursued a strategy of delivering excellent drama for the BBC network and for foreign sales, including Merlin, Dr Who, Torchwood, Casualty and Sherlock.  That has been very good for the reputation of Wales within the TV industry, but it has not done much for the image of the country abroad, and has certainly not satisfied the demand for a big series that will really sell Wales as a small country with a big heart and a distinctive story to tell.  "Destination marketing" and "branding" come into the frame too, and from a long involvement in the tourism industry I can attest that there is a degree of frustration on that score from tourism operators who feel that Wales is consistently under-sold.

Over the last decade, there appear to have been endless think tanks, seminars, committee hearings and ministerial statements on the matter of the Welsh national narrative, the needs of Welsh TV viewers, and the responsibilities of broadcasters like BBC Wales and S4C.  "Screening the Nation: Wales and Landmark Television" was a 2009-2010 study (2) coordinated by the University of Glamorgan in collaboration with the BBC Trust and Audience  Council Wales.  A much-repeated point in the report was that the term "landmark television" appears to have morphed itself from the idea of flagship TV programmes ABOUT Wales into the idea of flagship programmes MADE IN Wales.  In assessing the impact of high-profile dramas like Dr Who and Torchwood (and more recently Merlin and Sherlock) the participants in the study have concentrated on the manner in which the reputation of Cardiff has been greatly enhanced by the investment made in its drama production facilities.  That suggests a degree of complacency -- and even the leaders of the study seem to think that the people of Wales might be happy to bask in Cardiff's glory and enjoy the fact that the capital city has created many jobs in the creative industries and has also pulled in much tourist-related income on the back of a number of popular TV shows flagged up as "Made in Wales." 

And so the expressions of concern continue.  First Minister Carwyn Jones  said last year that BBC Wales should be given an extra £30m to make TV programmes that properly reflect the people of Wales. (3)  BBC Wales Director Rhodri Talfan Davies said in evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee in Westminster in February: “In a sense what’s happened over the last seven or eight years spectacularly in Wales is production has been decentralised and we’ve built a real centre of excellence, particularly in drama and factual. I think the challenge in this charter is to make sure that economic and creative story also delivers a cultural dividend and that we see Welsh stories, our stories, reflected on screen not just in Wales but right across the UK.” 

Christine Chapman AM, Chair of the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee , said: “The significant decline in the BBC’s investment in English-language programming over the last ten years has resulted in fewer hours of Wales-specific programming and a schedule that has failed to capture and explore adequately the lives and experiences of Welsh communities, as well as the changing political landscape post-devolution........ It is about a greater diversity of programmes. We feel at the moment it could be rather narrow." (4)

Angela Graham, chair of the IWA Media Policy Group, in the context of a submission on the future of the BBC in general and in Wales in particular, has also commented on the extent of London-based control and the problems faced by BBC Wales in delivering programming appropriate to the cultural needs and aspirations of Wales. (5)

So where is the landmark drama which will portray Wales -- with all its strengths and weaknesses -- for the people of Wales and for a world audience?  Currently, nowhere to be seen...... although Hinterland has already gone some way to convincing the world that there is more to Wales than Cardiff and a successful national rugby team.

In the context of the foregoing, I am currently discussing with two production companies the possibility of making a big landmark costume drama series of maybe 24 episodes, set in West Wales and based on the eight best-selling novels of the Angel Mountain saga (6).  I already have guarantees of support from Pembs CC and from the West Wales tourism bodies, and am in wide-ranging discussions about how to move things forward.  I'm not so naive as to believe that getting big costume dramas made is a simple matter; and of course the only things that matter to a production company are a great story, well told, with top actors and a reasonable prospect of finding a global market and making lots of money!  But I also think that if there is a supportive environment in Wales, the decision-making and fund-raising process becomes that much easier............

The Martha Morgan "brand" is also being heavily promoted in the spring of 2016 via a new "Martha Morgan Country Project" designed to encourage "literary tourism" visits to many of the key locations in West Wales which feature in the stories.  The launch of this new project, with photographs by Steve Mallet featuring Rhiannon James as Mistress Martha, will take place in Newport (Pembs) on April 3rd. (7)


(1)  “We will need to think hard about how we can strengthen our support for national and regional self-expression.”  Rhodri Talfan Davies, Director, BBC Wales
“A national broadcaster should have something to say, not just something to make.  And if that nation is bilingual, then the stories it tells must be too. "  Ruth McElroy
“Creative Industries is one of our fastest-growing priority sectors. We want to establish Wales as an international centre of excellence for high-end TV drama production worldwide and this investment is part of our plan to create a long-term, sustainable TV industry in Wales."  Edwina Hart, Minister for Economy

(2)  Blandford, S., Lacey, S., McElroy, R. and Williams, R. (2010) Screening the Nation: Wales and Landmark Television, Report for the BBC Trust/Audience Council Wales. ISBN: 978-1-84054-248-6.

(3)  22 Feb 2016

(4)  Assembly Members call on the BBC to spend an extra £30m in Wales
3 Mar 2016
Quote:  "We welcome the BBC’s commitment to increase its spend on network productions in the nations and, to this end, its target of 17 per cent of network spend outside England. In Wales, this commitment to greater devolution of drama production has been met with considerable commercial success to date. It is disappointing, however, that despite being produced in Wales, these programmes have done little to strengthen the representation or portrayal of the nation."
Among those who gave evidence to the Committee (chaired by Christine Chapman AM) were John Geraint, Angela Graham, Ruth McElroy, Prof Tom O'Malley, Ken Skates AM, and Natasha Hale.

(5)  Welsh think-tank says BBC is yet to adjust fully to the new shape of the United Kingdom
15 Jan 2016
Welsh Affairs Committee – Inquiry into Broadcasting in Wales, December 15, 2015
Written evidence submitted by the Institute of Welsh Affairs (BIW 17)
Portrayal.  Point 6.5.  "The decentralisation of production has, however, created disappointment in one important regard. Even the BBC would have to admit that it has not led, as hoped, to a step change in the visibility of Wales on network television, particularly not in the field of drama. Series such as Dr Who and Sherlock have been great international successes, and have brought economic benefit to Wales, but they have not contributed to ‘representing Wales to the rest of the UK’. Their success has also obscured the decline in domestic provision specifically for the audience in Wales."

(6)  Project Pack:  On Angel Mountain (Proposal for a multi-part TV costume drama based on the 8 novels of Brian John's cult saga set on the slopes of Angel Mountain)  PDF



Landmark Drama for Wales

 This is a re-posting of a post from September 2014.  It is suddenly all very relevant again, following the recent press coverage and the publication of the Assembly's Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee on the future of BBC Wales.

Wales and Landmark Costume Drama -- fine words and no action

Icons galore -- but no powerful central narrative.  So what's the message?

‘A nation needs its own fiction. It is for this reason that many countries have used fictional narratives to create a self-image.’
Enric Castell√≥  in ‘The Production of Television and Nation Building, The Catalan Case’, European Journal of Communication, 22, 1, 49-68.

In the summer of 2014 Ruth McElroy of the University of Glamorgan re-ignited the debate about the manner in which the national identity of Wales is projected through the media -- and in particular through television programming.  While acknowledging the great success of BBC Wales dramas like Dr Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Merlin and Casualty (and recently Hinterland) she said: ".........the challenge now is to transform this network success into making a new BBC Wales that has something imaginative and entertaining to say to and about Wales and not just from Wales. Because whilst network successes like Doctor Who and Casualty can provide jobs in Wales (for my students included) what they have not really done is tell us very much about ourselves. A national broadcaster should have something to say, not just something to make.  And if that nation is bilingual, then the stories it tells must be too. "
Plan of Action? Responding to Tony Hall
Ruth McElroy calls for a plan of action for English language TV in Wales
July 2nd, 2014

Ruth was building on the findings of a big study published a few years ago, after a programme of research by the University of Glamorgan in collaboration with the BBC Trust and Audience Council Wales:
S. Blandford, S. Lacey,  R. McElroy & R. Williams (2010) Screening the Nation: Wales and Landmark Television. Report for the BBC Trust and BBC Cymru Wales Audience Council.

That research examined the representation of Wales in landmark BBC television drama made in Wales. Published in March 2010, the report used interviews with audiences and textual analysis of popular shows like Dr Who and Torchwood, to shed light on the complex relationship between television production, its locations, and the impact of local, regional and national identity. One of the questions at the end of the study was this one:  what is the visibility of Welsh stories outside Wales?  Although the language in the report was very diplomatic, and there was great praise for BBC's huge success in the making of big networked drama productions sold throughout the world, there were many comments which suggested a sense of dissatisfaction about the BBC's failure to represent, through landmark home-grown drama series, the spirit and the soul of Wales in a manner that is neither stereotyped nor over-simplified.   Think Belonging, Pobol y Cwm, and Gavin and Stacey.......

Ruth was also responding to some of the things that BBC Director General Tony Hall said in April 2014 in a speech to the Welsh Assembly, including the following:
"........ I do believe the BBC will need to think hard about how it strengthens its support for national and regional self-expression as it prepares its case for a new charter. And I would like to invite you all tonight to be a part of the debate."

‘............there are some aspects of national life in Wales that are not sufficiently captured by the BBC’s own television services in Wales, and I would include comedy, entertainment and culture in those categories’.

".........English language programming from and for Wales has been in decline for almost a decade’.

BBC Director-General Speech at the Pierhead
On the 50th Anniversary of BBC Wales, Director-General Tony Hall delivers a speech about the BBC’s role in Wales.
April 1st, 2014

In response to this Rhodri Talfan Davies, the Director of BBC Wales, said:
"........looking ahead, Tony Hall was surely right to say that we will need to think hard about how we can strengthen our support for national and regional self-expression as we prepare our case for a new Royal Charter." (BBC Wales Management Review 2013/14)

Fine words but not much action, and in her short piece Ruth was asking for some strategic thinking and for a Plan of Action designed to give the people of Wales the programmes they deserve -- portraying and reinforcing a sense of national identity (including bilingualism and diversity) and at the same time, through effective marketing, selling Wales to the world.  That, one might have thought, would be something of interest to the Welsh Government and Visit Wales.

This brings me to costume drama.  Think about it.  There has not been -- ever -- a landmark costume drama made in Wales which portrays Wales and its "national identity."  A number of observers have commented that the Welsh TV industry (which includes BBC, S4C, ITV and a number of very successful independent production companies) is deeply conservative, to the point of timidity.  Is "complacency" the right word?  Maybe not. The BBC has -- since the days of Menna Richards -- placed its priority on demonstrating its skill in the making of big TV dramas for sale into a global market, and is hugely successful in that regard.  So praise where it is due. But is there at the same time an obsession with steering clear of simplistic and stereotypical portrayals of Wales -- male voice choirs, harp music, coal mines, Dylan Thomas and rugby?  A number of observers have noted that the portrayal of Wales, for the people of Wales, by the main broadcasters lies for the most part in worthy and very conservative documentaries -- Iolo Williams talking about the beauties of nature, Derek Brockway talking about the great outdoors, Huw Edwards talking about Welsh history, and assorted Welsh people (including me!) talking about their hopes and aspirations and about their love for their homeland.  And of course, saturation rugby coverage......  (I'm not complaining about that, but you get my point.)  All very safe and comfortable, and uncontroversial.

There are TV and film dramas, of course, including Gavin and Stacey, Belonging, Pobol y Cwm, Crash, Submarine, but there does seem to be a very strong emphasis on gritty dramas about dysfunctional young people caught in miserable urban environments.  Welsh Noir, if you like, which brings us to The Killing, which brings us to Hinterland (which has the saving grace of being more rural than urban...........)

Back to big televised costume or period drama -- the sort of drama which reminds a nation of its roots, its strengths and its foibles, and makes it feel good (or bad) about itself.  In Wales, nothing.  In England, and endless sequence of series based upon the plays of Shakespeare, the novels of Dickens, Hardy, Austen, Bronte and Trollope, and other "classics" like Poldark, Downton Abbey, Upstairs/Downstairs, When the Boat Comes In, Brideshead Revisited, Onedin Line, The Forsyte Saga, and now The Village written by Stephen Moffatt...........
In Ireland:  Ballykissangel, Father Ted, Game of Thrones, and many series of powerful dramas based upon the Northern Ireland troubles.
In Scotland:  Monarch of the Glen, Tales of Para Handy, Dr Finlay's Casebook, Machair, Hamish Macbeth, Taggart, Rab C Nesbitt.

Accepted that some of those series pander to national stereotypes to the point where one cringes rather than applauds, but at least they do represent and sell the "national identites" of the nations of the UK while reinforcing national self-esteem.  The blockbusters like Torchwood and Dr Who give occasional glimpses of Wales because that's where some of the filming went on.  But I suspect I am not the only person who complains about a total lack of coherence and vision with respect to the effective marketing of Wales through the medium of TV drama.

So where is this landmark costume drama TV series going to come from?  From the novels of Alexander Cordell?  Tough, gritty novels written with flair, but there is no continuity to them and no single dominating character whose story needs to be told across an extended series, or two, or three.........  Based on Dylan Thomas?  Nothing substantial in dramatic potential apart from the work of genius called Under Milk Wood -- and a lot of whimsy.  The Angel Mountain Saga is really the only game in town -- eight novels set in the most crucial decades of Welsh history (the early part of the nineteenth century) and with a large and expanding fan base.  The market research is already done.   And with a flawed and instantly appealing lead character called Martha Morgan.  She is, of course, Mother Wales -- but in another sense she is universal and timeless, with characteristics that are comprehensible in any culture on the planet.  She is a complex tragic heroine, whose beauty is her blessing and her curse.  She is sexy, compassionate, loyal, idealistic, hard-working, feisty, courageous, protective of those in her care, and completely irrepressible.  But she is also at times deceitful, vain, manipulative, with a tendency towards introspection and depression and an irresistible urge to interfere in things she would be best advised to steer clear of.  Somehow, in the stories, her "angels" manage to keep her alive while mayhem occurs around her (mostly because of her) and others fall by the wayside.   Big TV series need sales potential worldwide, and they must have characters with which viewers in New York, Tokyo, Berlin and Rio de Janiero can empathise.  Martha Morgan fits the bill -- we know that, from the feedback from readers of the series from all over the world.

A landmark costume drama series set in Wales will surely come.  It has to. And soon.  But as somebody stated in one of the commentaries on TV in Wales, wouldn't it be ironic if that series was to be made in Hollywood, for a network other than the BBC?  Ironic?  Let's correct that -- it would be an outrage.

That's enough of a rant from me.  It's a beautiful day, and there are things to do in the garden.  Oh - I almost forgot to mention it -- the rights are still available.  Just get in touch, and we can talk.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

St David's Day and Mother Wales

This is a head shot taken from one of Steve Mallett's photos taken for the Martha Morgan Country project.  The model is Rhiannon James.

St David's Day is past for another year, and next up we have Mother's Day next Sunday.  This got me thinking about patron saints and the manner in which most of our reverence is reserved for men rather than women.  St David is a male patron saint, like most of the others, and that's maybe not surprising given the emphasis put on male rights and achievements during historical time.  There are female patron saints, but they are relatively few in number.  I'm not sure of this, but surely the word "patron" must have its roots in "pater" or father -- so the patron saint is historically a paternal or father figure.  So St David is essentially seen as "Father Wales"..........

So why is there no equivalent Mother Wales?  Well, if you delve back into history there is one shadowy figure referred to as "Mother Wales" -- namely Katheryn of Berain.  This is what Wikipedia says about her:  

"Katheryn of Berain (Welsh: Catrin o Ferain) (born 1540 or 1541; died 27 August 1591), sometimes called Mam Cymru ("mother of Wales"), was a Welsh noblewoman noted for her four marriages and her extensive network of descendants and relations."

She's a bit of a shadowy figure, and none of her husbands or children were particularly important in the history of Wales, so her main claim to fame seems to have been that she was a natural grandchild of Henry VII (via an illegitimate birth), married four times and did rather a lot of breeding.  Some people refer to her as Katheryn Tudor of Berain.   That's certainly not a sufficient basis for anybody to be referred to as Mother Wales.

In contrast, Mistress Martha Morgan of Plas Ingli has a MUCH better claim to be an iconic Mam Cymru.  For many readers, Martha represents "Mother Wales" since she encompasses in her character most of the virtues -- and the vices -- of the people of Wales.  For others she is a very modern heroine,  refusing to submit or conform, and determined to fashion her own destiny at a time when women (even among the gentry) had very few rights.  For most of her life she is a widow who runs her own estate -- something that is virtually unheard of in Regency and early Victorian Britain.  And it is not easy for her, here in the "Wild West", given that corruption is rife and that resentment and social discontent lead to protest and violence in every one of the eight stories of the Saga.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Martha and the Raven

The photos taken for the "Martha Morgan Country" project are under wraps until the project launch, but this is a nice one that might well get some exposure in the advance publicity!  This is Martha and one of the ravens which are really her angels; they live on the mountain, and see everything and know everything.  They warn Martha of impending danger, and sometimes she takes heed of what they are telling her......

Of course we don't actually know any ravens which are as tame as this, although some very obliging ones do inhabit the Tower of London and habitually pose for photographers.  So this photo is "manufactured" by the combination of two photos.  One should never believe anything that appears in photos these days......

As in the other photos of the portfolio, the photographer was Steve Mallett and the model was Rhiannon James.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The Man in the Cave

 The extended Hughes family at Fachongle Ganol around 1895.  Above the door, the name is spelt "Vachongle".  Simon is the little boy on the extreme right.

 Simon and his new wife Beatrice, pictured on the occasion of their wedding in 1916.

One hundred years ago exactly.......... there was a man who hid in a cave.

Simon Hughes was a member of a large family living at Fachongle Ganol in the early years of the twentieth century.  The family members all belonged to the congregation of nearby Caersalem Chapel.  In the old photo of the Hughes family in front of "Vachongle" (taken about 1895?) Simon is the boy on the extreme right.   He was conscripted into the Army during the First World War.  We are not sure of the date, but there are clues.  On 28 December 1915, the Cabinet agreed to introduce conscription for unmarried men aged 18–40.  So we can assume that early in 1916 Simon was called up and undertook military training, probably in Bedfordshire. There he fell in love and later that year he married Beatrice Williams.  It doesn't appear that he ever saw active service,  but at some stage he became a conscientious objector and “escaped” from his barracks.

(Prior to 1916 conscientious objectors were simply treated as criminals or army deserters.  However,  in 1916, with the Military Service Act, Britain became the first country to give legal recognition to individual conscience, which is now enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The Quakers were heavily involved in the struggle for pacifism to be recognized, but we do not know whether Simon had joined the Quakers.  At the end of WW1, there were 16,000 men registered as conscientious objectors. Over 4,000 "absolutists" were either in prison or in penal colonies because of their refusal to participate in acts involving the killing of others; most of the others had to go through a tough tribunal process and were allocated to non-combat duties.  There were between 700 – 900 Conscientious Objectors in Wales and in 1917 it was no soft option. For many it meant hard labour and poor rations. Often 'Conchies', as they were known, were abused by their peers, and were humiliated and sneered at and sometimes called cowards and shirkers by their own neighbours whose menfolk were dying on the front line. Whilst in prison they were often subjected to brutal assaults, and they had little sympathy either from the guards or from the authorities. In Wales for example five objectors died in Caernarfon and other prisons as a result of the treatment they received.)

 The inside of the "Druid's Cave" in Ty Canol Wood.  It must have been very damp and draughty.  There is just about enough room to sleep on the floor, in a somewhat contorted position........
At any rate, when Simon "went missing" he left his new wife behind in Bedfordshire and made his way back to Cilgwyn, where he went into hiding.  Army officers and the police hunted for him, but he moved from house to house and the community closed ranks in order to protect him.  On one occasion he was having dinner in his old home when an Army sergeant with a troop of soldiers tracked him down and hammered on the front door. Mr and Mrs Hughes kept the soldiers talking while Simon escaped through the back door.  For much of the time he was reputed to have lived in the “Druid’s Cave” in Tycanol Wood.  The local police made a great show of hunting for him, but always contrived to fail in their endeavours.    While he was in hiding  (in December 1917?) his father-in-law Daniel Williams died, and he penned a moving and poetic tribute to him in Welsh which included the words:  "Under strict law and oppression Made by greedy men......... I am unable to bear you to your grave."

At the end of the war he came out of hiding, was reunited with his wife Beatrice, and left the district.  He became a shop-keeper, ending his days as manager of the Co-operative Store in Tonypandy.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Launch of "Martha Morgan Country"

The launch of "Martha Morgan Country" is now set for Sunday afternoon, 3rd April, in the Boat Club, Parrog, Newport.  Mistress Martha Morgan of Plas Ingli will request the pleasure of your company (between 3 pm and 5 pm) for afternoon tea and griddle cakes.  Rhiannon James of St Dogmaels (who has been playing the role of Martha Morgan in our photo shoots) will be present for the occasion, and this will be an opportunity to see some of the fabulous photos taken by photographer Steve Mallett for the project portfolio.

And since this is all about creating win/win scenarios for the tourist trade locally, we hope that as many accommodation providers and others involved in the tourist trade will come along, with a view to setting up web site links and other mutually beneficial opportunities for attracting more visitors to the area.  This isn't just about promoting the Angel Mountain / Martha Morgan brand -- but of course, if we sell more books as a result of this initiative, I won't complain........