Friday, July 21, 2006

Dr Grump - guest-blogger

In my absence I am going to hand over the blog to Dr Grump again (who has a PhD in sexual dynamics and etymology and is working at the Institute of Moral Hygiene at the University of Urum).

She has nagging me for some time to let her vent her spleen on various topics, so since I am in a good mood I have decided to let her have a go - if she can find time in her crowded academic diary. So it's good-bye from me for now and shall be back in just over a week.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Holiday Reading

Time for the Hodmandodholiday. I keep thinking as Hodmandods we really should be caravanners but we're not. This year we are relocating to a shell in the Isle of Wight for a week, in a place called Freshwater Bay (an optimistic name for a bay in the English Channel - I shall, of course, be tasting said water to find out if it's true). This counts as overseas according to some family members since we have to take a ferry to get there.

Going with me are the topmost volumes from my reading pile: WUTHERING HEIGHTS by one Emily Bronte, PATCHWORK PLANET by Anne Tyler and 26a by Diana Evans.

Book titles which are the names of houses seem to be popular (at least in my reading pile) at the moment and if 26a turns out to be anywhere near as good as 64 CLARKE by Andrew Holmes I shall be very impressed.

I don't think I am going to get through my redraft of my redraft of my redraft of my novel before I go although I have tried. I was contemplating taking my laptop with me but the Senior Hodmandod has ordered a complete rest.


I just want to say that bloglines (see button at side) is liberating. It has changed my blogging life. So blogging thank you Maxine.

I would also like to mention a few blogs I have come across recently: Cat Politics - for an interesting look at politics in Australia; Connaissances - just because everything Jonathan writes is fascinating (but stuff about cave pictures especially so); and Crime Fiction Reader's competition on worst first lines of crime novels (as mentioned by Debi Alper on her very intertaining blog) which I had to stop myself thinking about since I was becoming addicted. All these have links at the side too.

P.S. The 'intertaining' was a typing error but was rather pleased with it when I saw it - so it is staying there.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Flying Creatures

Last night moths poured through the windows of this house. There were so many I imagined they were coming in like water, as if the whole house had been plunged into a sea of moths, and there was nothing they could do but get sucked in. Then, while the lights were on, they flopped languidly around the rooms, making big shadows of themselves, maybe believing that is what they really were, big black slow-flying monsters.

I keep looking at flying things - wondering how it must feel to fly: the seagulls making the most of high winds to skim and swoop - oddly silent now they are a little way inland; then the fat grey wood pigeons for whom taking off seems to require so much effort; and then, just before night falls, the bats. Every night during the summer they come out and circuit our small garden and very often Hodmandod Senior and I go and sit outside just to watch them.

There is something sinister about bats. Their flight is too fast and seemingly chaotic, their voices are usually too high to be heard, though sometimes they are low enough to squeal uncomfortably in the ear. Then there is that odd way that they sleep, dangling upside down, their leathery wings around them so they look like twitching pupae. Apparently bats spend their lives upside down like this for two reasons: in order to be out of reach of predators and so they can avoid taking off like a wood pigeon. If a bat wishes to fly it simply drops downwards and then flaps away from there - it is easier and less energy consuming.

However, the most disturbing thing about a bat is its face: the oversized pointed ears, the small eyes like protruding like beads, and the mouth, especially the mouth - the way it is toothed and ever-open, but with something too determined about it to be ever thought of as a gape. A gape would describe the greedy desperation of a baby bird but this little winged mammal is undoubtedly a blood-sucker. Even though most of them seem to eat fruit at our local zoo, it is difficult not to believe that their preference would be a swift suck of the thick red stuff every time.

One more thing about bats I just discovered, is that they grip on so hard with their thumbs that they even remain hanging onto their perch even after death. Which reminds me of a particularly disturbing scene in AUSTERLITZ by Sebald which I have just finished reading...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


...and the wise snails are keeping in the shade. It is really too hot to do anything except crawl inside the nearest drainpipe and try to keep cool. Even my computer seemed to give up yesterday.

Today I tried going onto bloglines as recommended by Maxine, because, like Chiefbiscuit, I am having trouble keeping abreast with all the fascinating posts. However, this was not a great success because I kept getting diverted onto yet more blogs...

I must become more disciplined. I have to finish the redraft of the redraft of the redraft of my novel this week so I can send it to my agent but so far have only reached chapter 2.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A Field Guide to Surreal Botany.

Have just spent a happy morning (and afternoon) inventing a plant (mine is called Alistairthorpia rosa) to submit for possible inclusion in Two Crane Press's A FIELD GUIDE TO SURREAL BOTANY.

If it is accepted you get a copy of the field guide which is to be illustrated by botany artist Janet Chui - so it should be good. The notes had to be submitted on a form and the accompanying instructions invited you to be as weird as you like. I'm afraid I needed no further encouragement. The deadline is 31st July.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

ISLAND and an Interview with Jane Rogers

ISLAND by Jane Rogers.

It is always exciting to discover a writer whose writing you love. Even better when you discover that this book is just one of many and there is a catalogue of other novels by this writer to devour. While I was in Lampeter I read Jane Rogers's book ISLAND and couldn't wait to finish my Welsh homework just so I could get on with the next chapter. I read late into the night, and then even found myself waking in the middle of the night wanting to read more. It was that sort of book.

The heroine of the book, Nikki, is fairly obnoxious. She is rude, selfish and irreverant. She is not at all sympathetic, in fact she is rather abrasive, and yet she fascinates. Part of the reason for this is that it becomes clear from early on that Nikki has a reason to behave like she does. She was abandoned as a baby and then had to endure a series of foster homes. She suffers from attacks of Fear which debilitate her and eventually at the age of 29, concludes, with a direct first person narrative that involves and holds the reader, that the this Fear is caused by the mother who abandoned her.

'Why do I fear?' She asks and then answers herself immediately afterwards: 'Because my mother never did it for me.' Mothers, she reasons 'take on all the cold sweats and shadows. Mine, the bitch, left me to do all my fearing for myself.'

'That's why I thought I'd kill her.' she continues.

And so this 'heroine', a term that becomes more apt as the novel continues, goes on a short quest to find that mother and kill her. The mother is soon found on an island off the west coast of Scotland and it is this setting and the characters of Nikki, her mother and her strange, backward brother Calum, that form the main thrust of the book. In fact the island almost becomes a character in its own right; its mysterious scenery seems to form the people that live there; and its folk tales are beautifully interspersed, adding extra dimensions to the story.

The ending is satisfying and unusual. Here, the narrator seems to draw back. Up until then it was almost as if Nikki was in the same room talking to you, explaining, without compromise, what she did, what happened and why. But at the end she retreats. It is rather like looking at a scene through the wrong end of the telescope from one direction and then another. Nikki begins to talk about herself in the third person which gives the narrative an objective air. It is very effective, surprising and memorable.

(taken from the front of her last novel THE VOYAGE HOME).
Jane Rogers has written seven novels, including MR WROE'S VIRGINS (dramatised as an award-winning televison serial) and PROMISED LANDS, which won the Writers' Guild Best Novel Award 1996. She also writes for TV and radio, and is the editor of OUP's GOOD FICTION GUIDE. She teaches on the Writing MA at Sheffield Hallam University (in fact she is a professor there).

I contacted Jane by email and she kindly agreed to answer my questions by email and also submit to a follow-up telephone conversation which I have included below. I thought her answers, particularly about the process of writing, are very interesting. They also enticed me into finding out a little more about the character Caliban, from THE TEMPEST and I found an interesting short essay on the character here.

There is more about Jane Rogers and her work on her website.

CD: Do you have any connection with snails?
JR: I hate to admit this to you, but I am at war with the army of snails whose aim in life is to devour every leaf in my garden.

CD: What is your proudest moment?
JR: Giving birth. So, since I have two children, 2 proudest moments.

CD: Have you ever had a life-changing event - if so what was it?
JR: I don't think so.

CD: What is the saddest thing you’ve ever heard of or seen?
JR: There isn’t one single thing. It changes. I reread Anne Frank's diary recently, and coming to the end of that and thinking about why it ended made me very sad.

CD: If there was one thing you’d change about yourself what would it be?
JR: A better memory.

CD: What is happiness?
JR: Good question!

CD: What is the first thing you do when you get up?
JR: Open the curtain and look at the day.

Questions about ISLAND and writing in general.

CD: The character of Nikki is a very unusual one. She is antagonistic and quite unpleasant in some ways, especially at the beginning - not at all like the conventional idea of a sympathetic character - and yet she fascinated me. How did she evolve?
JR: It's a novel where fairy stories are important, and I was interested in the idea of a character who would be transformed, or who would effect her own transformation. In the first instance I was after a strong, maybe mad, maybe dislikeable, voice. I had in mind Dostoevsky's NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND – I am a sick man . . I am an angry man. I am an unattractive man. I think there is something wrong with my liver.
I wanted that sense of a character who is in your face, and who is not seeking sympathy but is simply telling her life as it is.

CD: I found the other main character in the book, Calum, particularly appealing. Although simple, he also turns out to be surprisingly complicated too and at the same time convincing. How did the character of Calum develop as you were writing?
JR: There is a little bit of Caliban in Calum. And a little bit of a holy fool.

CD: Did you have a particularly holy fool in mind?
JR: Just the sort of natural innocent that recurs in literature in various forms. The sort that looks abnormal and weird, and thought to be inferior but really has a hot-line to the truth that Nikki doesn't possess.

CD: The setting of the island is important to the story. Is it based on any island that you know?
JR: Raasay, the tiny island just north of Skye.

CD: Have you been there?
JR: Yes, I was on holiday on the mainland opposite Skye and then took the ferry over to Skye and then the island. I went back again when I was writing the novel and although the name of the island in the book is an anagram of Rasaay it is geographically accurate: the coastline, the forest, the deserted village, and the table rock in the water. I found it all quite hauntingly sad. Beneath the village and the tourism it is all still there - the legacy of the croft clearances. That part of the western coastline of Scotland is all like that.

CD: Which came first - the setting, the plot or the characters?
JR: Nikki's voice, and the setting. I was interested in islands, in the ways in which they are different than the mainland, and in island stories, particularly THE TEMPEST.

CD: Fairy stories are a compelling part of the narrative. Are these based on stories that you have heard?
JR: They are all based on actual stories; the first is simply a retelling of the Grimm's fairy tale, Fir Apple. Others are based on stories either from the Hebrides or from the west coast of Ireland, one is specifically from Raasay and one is an inversion of a Hans Christian Anderson story.

CD: The ending of the book is also very unusual - I love the way the reader is drawn back out of that time and given an almost objective summary. It is evocative and strangely moving. Is the point of view something you experiment with, or think about much at all when you are starting to write a novel?
JR: Voice and point of view are my central preoccupations, as a writer. So playing around with point of view, and trying it different ways, is a stage I always go through early in writing a novel.

CD: Do you ever start with one point of view and change your mind?
JR: Yes. For instance the novel I am writing at the moment started with three different voices - three points of view - the parents and the daughter, but now I have abandoned two of these points of views and am going ahead with just one - the daughter's.

CD: When you start a novel what is the most important thing to have established - the plot, the characters or the setting? Is it the same for each novel that you write?
JR: I couldn’t say there is one thing that is 'the most important to have established'. Each novel is different, but also, I quite often write my way into discovering what it is I want to write about. I think I write in order to understand something better, the writing is a form of exploration, so the notion of 'establishing' something at the start isn’t quite right. I make a lot of stabs at it, to begin with. It is a wasteful process, I throw a lot away.

CD: One of your novels, MR WROE'S VIRGINS, you converted into one of my favourite TV dramas.- and I would love to see more What did you most enjoy about this process? Are there any of your other novels you would like to convert into a drama?
JR: I enjoyed the collaboration on MR WROE, it's good for a novelist to work with other people and bounce ideas off them. The feedback and criticism and engagement of other people is something I miss, working on my own.

PROMISED LANDS, the book that followed MR WROE, was commissioned as a screenplay, which I have written, but sadly C4 backed out. It's set in Australia in 1788. I would love to see it made.

CD: Did you go to Australia to research the book?
JR: I have relatives in Australia - my family emigrated when I was twenty so I have visited them there a lot. The book grew out of a desire to write about the geography and history of Australia.

CD: MR WROE'S VIRGINS is based in the eighteenth century on a true tale whereas ISLAND is a modern and (I guess) completely fictional tale. Do you prefer to write historical or modern fiction?
JR: MR WROE is set in 1830, and is a local story, for me. It took a huge amount of research for me to feel confident with the material, but because I was dealing with the framework of an existing story, in some ways it was easier to write. I've written 3 novels with historical settings and 4 with contemporary, and currently I'm working on one set in the future. They are all different, I couldn’t say which I prefer!

Jane Rogers will be talking about her work, in particular ISLAND, to readers in the Languedoc on Thursday 10th August (For more information see THE READING WEEK)

Friday, July 14, 2006

London Walk

It was much better than a party. Maxine and I met by the bronze sculpture of a book at the entrance of the British Library - very apt. Then we went around the very interesting exhibition of first page of newspapers which were arranged by category: murder, politics, gossip, marriage, birth and death, sporting achievement, disasters...

We compared memories - each image (well those during our life-time anyway) - inducing us to remember earlier times. When Elvis died I was youth hostelling with friends and I remember the kitchen being full of weeping women. When man landed on the moon I was a child on holiday with my family, my brother sleeping on the top bunk. When Princess Diana died I remember Hodmandod Senior calling me to come and look at the television and standing there incredulously. When the bombs went off last year in London I was sitting where I am now and emailed my agent - who rang me back immediately and as she spoke I could hear the sirens sounding in the background. But the most striking image and front page for me was of the twin towers and the memory of rushing into the flight control room of the heliport in Greenland and not wanting to believe what I could see in front of me was real.

I think back now and once again come to the conclusion time is not linear. It lives like we do, growing and shrinking, standing still and then moving quickly - so erratically it is impossible to contain - a wisp of something that was there and is there no longer.

I then said good-bye to Maxine and started off for St Paul's. This is the first time I met a fellow blogger and I have to say I very much enjoyed the experience. We seemed to have a lot common - universities and interests, people we'd met and where we had been.

I started to walk to St Paul's but soon gave up and took the tube. The tube is much less crowded these days, it seems to me. Maybe because it is so much more expensive than it used to be, or because of the shadow of the bombing last year, or perhaps just because it was such a warm sultry evening. However each time I am on one of those trains I imagine how it must have been last year and the hideous it must have been waiting for help underground. These days I also plan my escape. I do this wherever I go, however I go - on each plane ride and each train. Where are the exits, and what must be done to get through them.

After emerging at St Paul's, and being impressed by its white grandeur, and noting to myself that it deserves its own special visit, I walked down towards the Thames.

You may be wondering, if you have read this far, why there are no pictures, and so I have to confess that although I brought my camera 400 miles I found when I got there that the batteries were flat, which was frustrating. So I decided to try and remember as much as I could instead.

So... it was warm, the air was still. It was as though I could feel every molecule touching me, and my body was sweeping through it as if it was wading through water. Along each street there seemed to be a wine bar with people sitting outside talking and drinking. One street was called Sermon Walk and I imagined preachers standing there long ago trying to convert the merchants and other townspeople. There was no one there now. This was the city part of London in the evening and apart from the wine bars everything was quiet. There were archways leading to more bars. On the railings of the cathedral notices advertised tonight's concert which was about to begin. Men dressed in suits and women in high shoes and summer dresses climbed the steps two at a time. Then along I crossed a main road called St Paul's Church yard and then another. A solitary middle-aged man strode purposefully along a road that seemed to be going nowhere.

An alleyway opened out to the bridge and the Tate Modern beyond. Then I saw the bridge. It is shiny, and composed of a mesh of grey metal.

Underneath the bridge the cables twanged a little when people walked. I hoped it would sway but it did not. I found it a little disappointing. The millennium bridge in Newcastle which I saw last year was a much superior in design. However it did strike me that there are similarities: both lead to modern art galleries, both are sweeping structures, and from both it is possible to see other bridges and famous sights. It is here that the London millennium bridge has the edge. In one direction there was the tower bridge looking sparklingly clean and almost surreal, the building shaped like an onion, the wheel...

Then, having got half way across the bridge I came back again,and climbed over the wall to the bank of the river. It smelt of the sea. It sounded like the sea. Small waves lapped up on a beach of pebbles. There were oyster shells and rounded pieces of brick and white pot, bones with the honeycombed structure exposed inside, sharp pieces of china and pieces of glass made opaque and porous-looking by the water. I could see no pipes, but I didn't mind. I was the only one there, and as I walked I felt a sort of peace sink into me. Even in the middle of a city of millions it is possible to be alone. I felt as though I could have gone on walking forever and it wouldn't have mattered.

So much, much better than a party. Thank you for everyone's suggestions and thank you Maxine for meeting me there.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Anjte, Ellis and and Anais too

A few months ago I bought music by a singer called Antje Duvekot (who I think is based in Boston) - this has been my constant companion ever since. She has the sort of lyrics that mean something to me - powerful and truthful - something in them reminding me of Tracy Chapman's songs.

I sent an email to her website and now receive updates of her concerts. This has led me to buy further CDs - one by Ellis Paul (AMERICAN JUKEBOX), which was also good - I particularly liked the image of mountains kissing the sky.

Tonight the Antje Duvekot website sent me an email telling me that she was performing in Brattlebro VT with one Anais Mitchell, so after sampling one or two tracks on-line have downloaded Anais Mitchell's music HYMNS FOR THE EXILED from itunes. These songs, like Antje Duvelot's, are quite intensely lyrical with an interesting variety of backing. Music like this takes time to sink into me. It settles - tracks jostle for position - that one I disliked at first ending up my favourite; while that one I loved initially, slips, eventually, into another position.

Sometimes I find I need music to write. I listen and words come into my head. They are often nothing to do with the words I am hearing, just the mood they have brought on. Anyway, I am now looking forward to my trip to London very much. I have some good music loaded onto my ipod and I am half-way through an excellent book (AUSTERLITZ by WG Sebold), and I plan to meet a fellow-blogger in the British Library followed by a trip to the Millennium Bridge and, I hope, a good look around the mud of the Thames to see if there is any interesting rubbish there (as suggested by blogger Mark Gamon).

Who needs parties?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Loitering in London

A couple of weeks ago an invitation came through the door for the Pen summer party which sounded good. 'Guests are welcome, but you must have bought a ticket in advance.'

So I bought my train ticket from Chester to London then the next day rang for my ticket to the party.

The woman on the other end of the phone was apologetic. You'll have to join the waiting list, I'm afraid. There's only 100 tickets and they've all gone, it's been very popular.

And tonight I try to cancel my train ticket but it is non-refundable.

So on Thursday I may as well go down to London but have absolutely nothing to do - and just wondering if anyone out there has any suggestions...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Strange Fly

As I have mentioned before Hodmandod Senior is a lark (rather than an owl).

It is said that the early bird catches the worm. I have to report that this morning the early bird also caught the strange fly with the transparent abdomen. He thoughtfully took this picture of it for when the owls emerged from their slumber mid-morning.

It would be interesting to have a transparent abdomen. You could watch your food being slowly digested. The peristaltic movement would be as mesmerising as watching clothes tumble around in the washing machine (or is that just me?). People of all ages would go round baring their midriffs and the most affluent would show off their wealth by making sure they went out after lunch when their expensive food was still quite recognisable in their stomachs...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

HOPE AND HEARTBREAK and an interview with Russell Davies.

One of the things I enjoy about writing literary historical fiction is the research. Some of this involves travel and some involves reading some very interesting books. For the novel that I am just finishing now Russell Davies's HOPE AND HEARTBREAK has proved invaluable. Its subtitle is A SOCIAL HISTORY OF WALES AND THE WELSH 1776-1871.

The book starts with 'a portrait of an era' by considering two famous events: the 1776 American declaration of Independence in which 16, perhaps 18 of the signatories were Welsh or of Welsh descent; and the famous meeting in 1871 of the missionary David Livingstone with the Welshman Henry Morton Stanley. These two incidents characterise the era very well and indicate that the Welsh were interested and active in the world at large during this time.

The book then considers the following themes: everyday life, the psychology of the people as they dealt with events like death, war, plagues, religious and social uprisings, the views on religion, love and lust, and the attitude to authority and the English. The chapters on these topics were interesting but there were three at the end of the book that I found especially fascinating: 'Love, lust and loneliness'; 'Worship and Wizards' and 'Happiness and Humour'. These gave an unusual but convincing view of the Welsh that complements the traditional picture of a dour, sombre, chaste and chapel-going people.

Some of the Welsh were indeed God-fearing but others were more reckless. In some parts of Wales there were lively and notorious brothels, some had a taste for the macabre (public hangings attracted huge audiences), drank themselves into oblivion and had fun at the fair - but on Sunday about half of them always went to chapel. Some signed the pledge but they also laughed and made fun of the hypocrisy of the religious leaders around them. Some believed that 'Y Tylwyth Teg' (fairies) could sour milk and break crockery but when cholera broke out most of them headed for the nearest chapel as quickly as they could to repent of their sins to a vengeful God.

The book explained a lot to me about my Welsh heritage. I know that several of my mother's relatives in Swansea had signed the pledge (not to touch alcohol) and would tut at people queuing to see films on a Sunday. They would go to chapel twice day on Sunday, and go to bible study groups and prayers meetings during the week. They knew the bible backwards and would quote chunks without any provocation. They were quietly and conservatively dressed eschewing jewelry or any hint of high living.

Then there were my mother's other relatives, also in Swansea, who participated in boxing, mixed with the crowd from the theatre and had regular parties in their own gymnasium.

And then there were my father's relatives in Cardigan - who liked a drink. In fact, looking back I would say that alcoholism was a disease that was passed down through the generations as surely as ginger hair and freckles. Since Cardiganshire was inconveniently dry on Sundays they migrated en masse to the more liberal Pembrokeshire on that holy day - perhaps after attending an invigorating Sunday service on the dangers of going to Hell unless you repented of your sins.

These were my Welsh relatives and this book explains their ancestry in an entertaining way. Chapter One begins 'Someone, somewhere, some time towards the end of the eighteenth century stated that "Wales is a country in the world's arsehole". Despite being so unfortunately located Wales attracted many travellers in the late eighteenth century.'

Russell Davies tempers such humorous writing with many fascinating facts. He tells us of the diet of 'cheese soup (cawl caws y flawd)' which was really bread, hot water and salt (I remember my grandmother (Mamgu) frequently indulging in a little bread and milk); that the privy in the new industrial towns sometimes consisted of ten holes which were shared by the street; that sailors were afraid of talking too loud on board ship and that they believed the Storm Petrel was the manifestation of souls drowned at sea. He tells of the popular country fairs where couples would meet, and then their subsequent courtship - in bed. Then there were the 'wise men' who were consulted on the best place to build a chapel - a location decided by where a black sow prefers to graze - and the qualified doctors who were also astrologers. When the doctor was too expensive there were quacks or folk remedies including the use of cow dung as a poultice and the sufferer's own urine as a cure for ear-ache.

Using these details Russell Davies gradually reveals a complete picture of a people: one in which superstition, humour and an appreciation of the good things in life lies comfortably alongside puritanical beliefs and a God-fearing lifestyle.

The book has an extensive notes and index - invaluable for research, but also useful for anyone with an interest in Welsh history or even someone just looking for an entertaining interesting read.

I discovered on the back of the book that the author is Marketing Manager at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, so I contacted him there and he kindly agreed to answer some questions. He can also be 'met' here - explaining a little more about his book.

General Questions

CD: Do you have any connection with snails?
RD: Only when they overtake me in the garden.

CD: What is your proudest moment?
RD: Completing ‘Hope and Heartbreak’.

CD: Have you ever had a life-changing event - if so what was it?
RD: Not so far.

CD: What is the saddest thing you’ve ever heard of or seen?
RD: Blair and Bush justifying the war on Iraq.

CD: If there was one thing you’d change about yourself what would it be?
RD: I’d be more organised.

CD: What is happiness?
RD: A state we yearn for but never realise when we actually achieve it.

CD: What is the first thing you do when you get up?
RD: Yoga exercises.

Book- Related Questions.

CD: The book contains a lot of fascinating information - how long did it take you to research the book and where?
RD: It took about 4 years to research in libraries all over Wales, mainly the National in Aberystwyth.

CD: Did you find any particularly unusual sources of information?
RD: Gravestones are probably the most unusual.

CD: Are there any parts that stand out for you as being particularly difficult to find or you were particularly pleased at finding?
RD: Chapter 5 on Love, Lust and Loneliness. As everyone knows, the Welsh in Victorian times were so pure, they never had sex lives.

CD: In the book you present an alternative view to the steroetypical Victorian Welsh person (in my view a God -fearing, tee-total, dour humourless individual) to give a much more rounded view of society. Was it important to you to do this? Why?
RD: Yes. The whole point of the book is to provide a wealth of evidence to challenge commonly held assumptions and generalisations about Welsh society. The picture which emerges from Hope and Heartbreak is, I believe, a better portrait of the Welsh people in Victorian times.

CD: Do you think any aspects of the Welsh Society of Victorian times or the character of these times persist in Wales today?
RD: I think that all ages are an amalgam of opposites and that in reality many of the features which I portray can still be seen in modern society.

CD: What do you think were the most important influences on the Welsh culture of this time?
RD: Religion was undoubtedly a major force, as was the family, but the extent of their influence on Welsh people have been exaggerated.

CD: Why did you write the book?
RD: Because I wanted to write it since being an undergraduate in the 1970s.

CD: What are you working on next?
RD: I’m working on a second volume on Welsh society and people that will cover similar themes and look at the period 1872 – 1948. The provisional title is Pain and Pleasure. With a bit of luck it could be out in 2008.

CD: Have you had any interesting feedback to the book?
RD: The response has been very flattering to date. Most readers appear to have enjoyed the book, which is encouraging, and some have praised it lavishly, which was enjoyable.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Hodmandod Major officially graduated in Physics from Manchester University today.

And although he still finds life a bit of a puzzle...

the Senior Hodmandods are proud that he got there in the end.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Spirit Spam

When I was young I used to love to read Rosemary Sutcliffe novels. I remember one was about a Norseman and his friend. The two of them were about to be executed and one said to the other that if he went first could he please move his arm as a signal after he had been decapacitated because he had always wondered if there was life after death. His companion's hand didn't move after the deed was done and the main protagonist, if I remember correctly, susequently escaped.

This was my favourite reading matter when I was a child, and I don't remember feeling upset or disturbed, merely interested - because it wasn't something that had occurred to me before.

The reason I mention this now is that something weird is happening with my spam. Almost eight months ago now my brother Huw died. Then a few weeks later one of my husband's ex-colleagues, Ralph, also died very suddenly. Now I find that I keep getting spam from someone called Ralph and someone called Hugh - it has been going on for several months now. It is as if their spirits are trapped in the blogospere and they are trying to speak to me. Unfortunately they seem to have very little to say.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Cerd Trist

Disgleirest ti fel yr hael
ond wedyn
fel tân.

Nawr, rwyt ti
oer - fel yr ulw
dw i taflu rhywbeth.

My first attempt at a poem in Welsh. Probably makes no sense at all, but at least I've had a go.

Druids and Shamanism

I am back in Chester now and I have so much to say I don't know where to begin. First here are the people from my Welsh course - I grew fond of them over the almost two weeks we were together and enjoyed their company very much: here is Bryce who is a post-graduate student doing some research on the Mabinogi (medieval Welsh tales) in South Carolina, Simon who is an undergraduate student reading archeology at Lampeter, Kirk the druid from Arizona who is also doing an MA in Celtic studies, Morina our teacher, Evy another druid who is also studying the Celts (in a university near Boston), and Christine who is going to start her MA in archeology at Lampeter this year.

Druids, apparently, come together in groves and worship the spirit of trees rather than the trees themselves. The number three is significant. I am going to find out more because it does sound fascinating and also ties in with my research into shamanism last year. I had wanted to find out more about altered states of consciousness and I thought the best way of doing this was to go on a shamanic training course in London. After paying homage to four spirits (rather then three) fire, wind, earth, and water, we had to relax on the floor (with the help of incense and small bells) and with the aid of a continuous drum-beat were guided into an underground place we imagined for ourselves, then, after finding a passage into an underworld, we had to reach out through a fog to encounter our 'spirit helpers'. Mine turned out to be a tortoise. Over the next couple of days that tortoise and I had a series of adventures in both this underworld and a world above (which we reached through climbing upwards, bursting through various diaphanous layers until we reached a temple of white stone full of angels). It was a very interesting experience - made even more surreal by the small flocks of wild budgerigars which came squawking to the tree outside the flat and were far too exotic for this area of west London.

After I had finished this course I read a long book on the subject (SHAMANISM by Mircea Eliade) in which I found that many of the things I had imagined - like a central pole or tree connecting one level to the next - were found in most shamanic religions around the world. I have also found that the same images are repeated in cave paintings of our ancestors across the world - which shows, perhaps, that our minds have changed little over the thousands of years that have passed since then and that once the human mind enters this 'altered state of consiousness' it tends to conjure up the same images and ideas.

As usual I used only a little of this research in the final draft of my novel. This always happens, I find - each morsel of information in a novel is the result of much research, most of which is discounted. However I was able a little more in a short story that I wrote a few months ago which pleased me a lot.