Reading Wales ‘Black Valley’ by Charlotte Williams #Dewithon22

Second book in the Jessica Mayhew series © setting Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2022

Welsh author Charlotte Williams created a gripping, atmospheric crime novel of high emotion and psychological fear. Written in 2014 ‘Black Valley’ is the second book in the Dr Jessica Mayhew series, a literary symphony of tension, dark imaginings and worst possible scenarios.

A phobia I have was triggered and at times I almost stopped reading. However, I was Reading For Wales and I felt I owed it to the author and the character, psychotherapist Jessica Mayhew, to see it through to the bitter end.

Jess consults with a new patient Elinor Powell, an artist who seems fragile but in fact is quite annoyed at her twin sister Isobel, angry at her famous mother’s sudden and suspicious death, and quite demanding of Jess’s time.

Soon after the consultation, Jess’s best friend, straight-talking Mari, gives her an invitation to attend a private art viewing at the Cardiff art museum. Unwittingly Jess meets Elinor and her circle of friends from the Welsh arts scene. Particular focus is on the emergence of reclusive ex-miner Welsh Valley’s artist Hefin Morris who is touted by art dealer Blake Thomas and handsome art critic Professor Jacob Dresler as ‘the most exciting painter working in Britain today.‘ Jess queries their promotional hype.

The Hefin Morris artwork has strong depictions of the aftermath of destruction at the closure of the mines. A recurring theme echoes through the book ‘The crumbling of the infrastructure, the moral and spiritual vacuum created in the wake of that implosion, a landscape that bore silent witness to the ravages of coalmining – the heritage of the Rhondda. The abandoned landscape becomes a character in its own right’.

Dolbadarn Castle, Caernarfon 1798 by J M W Turner https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolbadarn_Castle_(Turner)

Jess is a newly separated single parent struggling with her estranged husband, and two daughters who live with her, but nevertheless she hits it off with Jacob Dresler. They hook up and become a couple, going out together and then away for the weekend to Twr Tal, Tall Tower, in the valley of Cwm Du, Black Valley. Atmosphere plus! But that’s when events go badly wrong and there is a death. Who is responsible for the tragedy? Jess has niggling fears that her new friends are not who they seem.

Against her better judgement, one thing quickly leads to another and Jess becomes a therapist-turned-detective. She calls DS Lauren Bonetti for guidance as she is slowly drawn into Elinor’s twin-dynamic world of manipulation. Circumstances spiral out of control while tension escalates and Jess is put in a very dangerous situation.

I was still not sure who was good and who was bad and what would be revealed as the story advanced to the final chapters. There is a section where the action is a bit contrived and I wondered if Jess would do such a silly thing considering her work ethics, but events quickly moved forward.

The ending appears inconclusive—but wait, there’s more. And it is certainly chilling how closure is drawn contrary to reader expectation. ‘Black Valley’ would suite a crime club or reading group interested in discussing trust and relationship issues.

I was saddened to read that author Charlotte Williams died of cancer prior to this book being published. It is a tribute to her writing talent. In my opinion, it sets the marker high for good quality crime novels and exposes the shallow scripting currently prevalent.

GBW22

Interestingly a second ‘Black Valley’ edition has the same bookcover as my copy and publishers Pan Macmillan have the date 2018 with Jessica Mayhew’s client as Pandora Powell not Elinor.

Throughout my copy of the book, Jacob Dresler is just called Dresler but there is a chapter inconsistency where he is only referred to as Jacob. Perhaps the book has been re-edited and re-released. Whatever: I thoroughly enjoyed this gripping narrative!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

My thanks to Book Jotter, Paula Bardell-Hedley, for instigating #Dewithon22.
This is the fourth year I have participated and each time I have read eye-opening, unforgettable books set in Wales. Actually I have a couple more to read before the end of the month. Will I make it?

FYI: The House on the Cliff is the first book in the proposed Jessica Mayhew series if you are considering reading either for #Dewithon22.

https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2022/03/07/reading-wales-dewithon22-has-arrived/

Happy reading – darllen hapus 🙂
https://bookjotter.com/2022/03/01/reading-wales-2022/

Reading Wales ‘Turning Points in Welsh History’ Bromfield and Madoc-Jones #Dewithon22

University of Wales Press, Cardiff (Published 2004) University of Wales Press celebrating 100 years of publishing 1922 to 2022

What a rip-roaring, no holds barred non-fiction account of living, working and being Welsh from 1485 to 1914. Questions like “Should Henry VII be a Welsh Hero?” and interesting historical facts I did not know like “The Rebecca Riots”. This comes under the heading “Were the Welsh people Troublemakers in the 19th Century?” but I think they had good cause to rebel.

Another section explains why William Morgan’s translation of the Bible into Welsh in 1588 was a turning-point for bilingual Wales, keeping their language alive.

Stuart Bromfield, Euryn Madoc-Jones and University of Wales Press have compiled this historical overview for school use. Five hundred years over 175 pages with notes for students and teachers. Illustrations, paintings, drawings and photographs create an excellent visual guide to the standard of living for both rich and poor.

Royal taxes, crime and punishment, and the struggles of ordinary people to make a living and put food on the table are not glossed over. During the winter months, women gathered to knit woollen stockings. According to Thomas Pennant (1777) there was a good market for them.

Amid the turmoil Mrs Rose Crawshay, who lived in Cyfarthfa Castle with 72 rooms and umpteen servants, helped the poor with soup kitchens and free libraries and encouraged women to read.

I bow in respect to the forgotten women “hauliers” who hauled materials from the pit face, removed coal from stone, and used large axes to break up iron stone at the surface of the mine. And I am very grateful that I never had the laborious job of five year-old “trappers” who opened and closed the pit doors all day. I hope food and a hug awaited them at the end of each gruelling day.

The industrious slate quarries, coal mines, copper and iron industries are mentioned in grim detail; such dirty, dangerous work and ultimately the rich got richer while the workers died of cholera, malnutrition and lung disease. Then the mining industries collapsed: people and landscapes bore witness to the ravages created by two centuries of coalmining.

Every country has a sad past, but the Welsh rose above it. Fellowship was strong, art and leisure time increased, choirs created “The Land of Song” and rugby players excelled. Education, religion, literature, music and the inevitable politics flourished.

Of course, citizens have their own view of their country which may differ but this book satisfied my curiosity. It has made me more aware of the Welsh families who travelled across the seas to Australia in search of a new life. Ipswich City, not far up the highway from Brisbane City, has strong Welsh ties—but that’s for another day.

Excerpt from UWP website
by
Natalie Williams
Director, University of Wales Press

“We are publishing two celebratory titles to mark our first 100 years; The History of Wales in 12 Poems by M Wynn Thomas and Dychmygu Iaith by Mererid Hopwood; re-sharing the first articles of the Press’ journals, as well as hosting a very special Centenary event in the Senedd, and events at the Hay Festival and Eisteddfod Genedlaethol during the summer.

“Our Centenary year 2022 will also see a very special announcement – the launch of a brand new imprint to serve a trade (non-fiction) readership. The imprint will offer fascinating and engaging stories, aimed at a global trade audience, with our distinct Welsh perspective and flavour. Our first books publish this year, with news and updates in the coming months until the formal launch in the Autumn.”

_________________

I think their History of the Press is well worth reading. And, of course, University of Wales Press has hundreds of books you can buy and read during #Dewithon22.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

My thanks to Book Jotter, Paula Bardell-Hedley, for instigating #Dewithon22. This is the fourth year I have participated and each time I have read eye-opening, unforgettable books set in Wales. Actually I have a couple more to read this month!

Reading Wales ‘The Owl Service’ by Alan Garner #Dewithon22

The Owl Service by Alan Garner was a totally unexpected read for me. For a start the title does not refer to a Harry Potter-style owl delivery service. First published in 1967, I read the 2017 50th Anniversary Edition and had to adjust my thinking.

Reading Wales 2022 #dewithon22

Winner of the Carnegie Medal and The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, Alan Garner’s story is set during summertime in an old house in a picturesque Welsh valley. There is a wonderful introduction by Philip Pullman and The Observer writes ‘Remarkable… a rare imaginative feast, and the taste it leaves is haunting’. Susan Cooper adds ‘The power and range of Alan Garner’s astounding talent has grown with every book he’s written’.

Okay, let’s get the owl service bit out of the way. It refers to a dinner service (plates) long hidden in the attic above young Alison’s bedroom where she is convalescing from a tummy bug. From the moment she sees them, she is besotted with the curious floral owl pattern and begins to copy them onto paper, cutting and folding them into tiny owls, little realising her actions will unleash events that affect several lives. Thus the atmosphere gets a little bit odd as ancient mythological forces seem to stir in the Welsh countryside.

Teenagers, Alison and her stepbrother Roger, and local lad Gwyn feel the vibes but only the caretaker Huw Halfbacon seems to understand it. The youngsters devise ways to get hold of all the owl plates because Gwyn’s mother Nancy, the cook, is horrified at their discovery and warns the children off. Too late, of course, and gradually they become not only secretive but snippy-snappy with each other and resentful of arrangements they have no control over, mainly their parents. Adult dad Clive seems to be the only calm one.

Added to the owl mystery is the local legend of a man who takes another man’s wife Blodeuwedd, a woman made from flowers. Retribution involves a rock and a spear which supposedly speared straight through the rock killing the man.

After a swim in the river, Roger discovers this rock with the hole: the Stone of Gronw. He’s an amateur photographer (think rolls of B&W film and F-stops) and muses over the paradox as he lines up trees on the horizon. This significance (and others!) was lost on me. What were the odd sounds like scratching, the motor bike, villagers mumbling or even Huw’s strange pronouncements?

Amazing artwork is found hidden in the billiard room of a dairy shed conversion. Behind the pebble-dash wall is a vision of womanly loveliness or perhaps evil? The trio are uneasy. Is it payback for that bygone grievance? Is floral Nature emerging to take revenge? The most puzzling question is what roles do the paper owls play and why are they vanishing? These vignettes do not bode well and I was floundering for a rationale, trying to conjure an explanation. Is it that the clues are merely to mislead the reader? (Here I pause thoughtfully to study the subtext, slowly untangling it)

I enjoyed the snippets of daily life, e.g. Gwyn pulls up lettuces for dinner, the teenagers visit a nearby shop—a front room in a cottage—and the casual way they talk about pocket money and cigarettes. Gwyn tells Alison he’s getting ‘out of this place’ and she says ‘I thought it meant a lot to you’ and Gwyn replies ‘It does. But you can’t eat a feeling.’

PAGE 122 THE OWL SERVICE BY ALAN GARNER

As tension mounts within the families, Gwyn likes Alison and he fights with his mother who wants to leave. I kept wondering where things were heading. The way is not clear-cut. At times I found the writing style difficult to get into and emotionally overwrought. Alison is the mercurial girl and Roger the snobbish boy; cruel things are said, especially to Gwyn and eventually he cracks under pressure. Huw watches on… this is where things get fast and furious and brilliantly captures the angst, the rain, the mountains, the desperate urge to escape.

The awe-inspiring Welsh setting, and the subtle way author Alan Garner has subverted the norm, is intriguing. Garner actually stayed in the valley where he based his story, using ‘an expression of the myth’ the legend of mythical woman Blodeuwedd and he carried out extensive research—even the owl plates are real, designed by Christopher Dresser sometime between 1862 and 1904.

The characters are fleshed out by their dialogue alone (not Welsh) and everyone plays their part—perhaps leaning towards a stage play ensemble. Indeed The Owl Service was made into a Granada Television series of the same name in 1969, and was dramatised for BBC Radio 4 in 2000. (Wikipedia facts behind the book)

Another Welsh fantasy novel of the 1960s written by Susan Cooper Over Sea, Under Stone indicates that Young Adult fiction in general began to thrive in this decade as books were being published and marketed expressly at teenagers.

I would suggest The Owl Service rating as mild fantasy with a psychological twist. It is certainly a literary milestone, although I did wonder if millennial teenagers were reading it. In my opinion, this story is more suited to those who have lived through the no-internet era. Enjoyable, yes, but far removed from the type of graphic and immersive YA fantasy novels published today.

My thanks to Book Jotter, Paula Bardell-Hedley, for instigating #Dewithon22. This is the fourth year I have participated and each time I have read eye-opening, unforgettable books set in Wales.

Actually I have a couple more to read this month!

https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2022/03/07/reading-wales-dewithon22-has-arrived/

Happy reading – darllen hapus 😀

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Reading Wales #Dewithon22 has Arrived!

This will be my fourth Reading Wales #dewithon and I am excited at the list of Welsh authors and poets which Book Jotter has assembled to tempt our reading taste buds.

Source one book, source ten!
Create your own list!
See my list!
Join in Reading Wales!

Currently I have six books on a waiting list at my local library because it will be easier to collect them rather than hanging around waiting for an interstate or overseas parcel delivery.

I hold Covid-19 responsible and also a catastrophic flood which swept down the Queensland coast, through my city of Brisbane (everything is still soaked) and pounded coastal New South Wales before heading towards Sydney. Notice how I worked in the word ‘Wales’?

A MESSAGE FROM THE CREATOR
BOOK JOTTER, PAULA BARDELL-HEDLEY

Welcome to the fourth Reading Wales celebration (aka Dewithon 22), a month-long event beginning on Saint David’s Day, during which book lovers from all parts of the world are encouraged to read, discuss and review literature by and about writers from Wales.

For more in-depth information on this reading jolly, head over to DHQ (Dewithon Headquarters), and to see what’s happening this year, please follow this link. You can also share your thoughts and posts on Twitter by using the hashtags #dewithon22 and/or #walesreadathon22.

____________________

  • visit DHQ Reading Wales Dewithon22 websites below.
  • click ‘On Our Shelves’ to browse Dewithoner’s suggested reading list.
  • source books relating to Wales from library, bookshop, online.
  • post a book review and tell everyone!

N.B. Dewithon22 reading includes fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, in fact anything with a significant link to Wales.

Mwynhewch ddarllen! Enjoy reading!

____________________

What have I ambitiously chosen and which are available to me?

  1. Turning Points in Welsh History 1485-1914 by Stuart Broomfield and Euryn Madoc-Jones UWP. AVAILABLE at my local library. READ
  2. Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman (because my family are dragon fans and it’s part of Welsh Princes trilogy I have always wanted to read). DOWNLOADED e-book. READ
  3. Black Valley (Jessica Mayhew book 2, couldn’t source book 1) by Charlotte Williams, a domestic drama arts thriller of some intensity. AVAILABLE in my local library. READ
  4. On the Red Hill: Where Four Lives Fell into Place by Mike Parker, a relative new book which according to The Guardian is “A moving, multi-layered memoir…extraordinary, ambitious…” ON ORDER.
  5. The Owl Service by Alan Garner was too tempting, so I’ve added it to my list. The Guardian says “…the plot is very gripping and slightly creepy.” AVAILABLE in my local library. READ
  6. Sugar and Slate by Charlotte Williams – past winner of the Arts Council of Wales Book of the Year, an autobiographical story of a Welsh-African mixed-race woman who brings her unique qualities to the story, transforming it into a lively and living account of her life. ON ORDER.

I’m keen to get started 😀 and already made some headway!

My thoughts are that I will eventually read them all—perhaps not all in March—and I am looking forward to having my mind held captive by the literati of Wales. When I put down the books and walk Terra Australis again, my reviews will be either here or Goodreads.

Looking forward to reading about what you are reading!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

#dewithon22 Can you see the hidden face in this famous Welsh painting? The answer is here https://bookjotter.com/2022/02/02/are-you-looking-forward-to-reading-wales-2022/

My Taste Tester for Wales Readathon 2021

To view stunning photographs of breathtaking scenery and villages around Wales which inspired Welsh authors, poets and artists to create their world-famous works, I can highly recommend Visit Wales “The word trail: 8 journeys through Welsh literary landscapes” website—

https://www.visitwales.com/things-do/culture/welsh-poets-authors-welsh-artists

Dylan Thomas

Creatives, some well-known, some not so, feature on the list including my favourite Dylan Thomas, who spent his final years in Laugharne, where he lived in a boathouse down on the estuary.

Read about contemporary poet Gillian Clarke (I have already downloaded her “Collected Poems”) and Medieval European poet Dafydd ap Gwilym (14th century) who was born into a noble family in the parish of Llanbadarn.

There’s even a giant peach commemorating Roald Dahl’s eponymous children’s story.

Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff, Cardiff.

Caernarfon Castle

Kate Roberts, hailed as “Brenhines ein Llên” (Queen of Our Literature) chronicled the lives of slate workers. The South Wales coalfields attracted thousands of migrant workers, but the North Wales slate mines were almost exclusively worked by Welsh-speaking local men, which had a major influence on cultural life. Yet it was a woman – Kate Roberts (Caernarfonshire 1891-1985) – who was the greatest chronicler of the lives of men, women and children in the slate-producing north.

Have a look at Book Jotter’s Wales Readathon 2021 for information, or find out more about the literary greats of Wales and post your review for the Readathon.

You might learn a few wise Welsh words to whip into your next literary conversation!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Wales Readathon in March #Dewithon21

It’s March – Get Set for Wales Readathon 2021

It’s March and that means Wales Readathon time!  Book Jotter has launched this exciting yearly event with an eye-opening post featuring a Royal Welsh Fusiliers regimental mascot, a Great Orme goat named Fusilier Shenkin IV.  You can read his life story and details on #dewithon21 in the following post… oh, and perhaps join us as we Read Wales…

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Book Jotter

DEWITHON PLANNER 2021

Dewithon is an opportunity for book bloggers around the world to discover Welsh writers and their works (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, in fact anything written in English or Welsh with links to the nation of Wales).

We will begin our 31 days of celebration on Monday 1st March 2021 (St. David’s Day), with an official page appearing thereafter to display all your Dewithon-related posts. There are plenty of useful links and reading suggestions at DHQ (Dewithon Headquarters) and in our Wales Readathon Library, but please do not hesitate to ask for help if you are struggling to get started. You are free to read and write on any literary subject relating to Wales, so please dechrau darllen (start reading)! 

Dewithon With a Difference

It became apparent quite recently that some members of our global book blogging community were having difficulties obtaining certain UK…

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Review ‘One Moonlit Night’ by Caradog Prichard for Wales Readathon #dewithon20

Wales rhys-kentish-1EzRAiWmf2A-unsplash
Rhys Kentish image is similar to Black Lake mentioned throughout the book. In the final chapter “It’s strange that they call it the Black Lake cos I can see the sky in it. Blue Lake would be a better name…”

A young narrator recounts the village life of Bethesda in Wales where he is growing up with his ailing Mam, best friends Huw and Moi, and an assortment of idiosyncratic people.  Set during the first World War and translated from the original Welsh, I found this classic novel hypnotic, one happenstance rolling into the next with lyrical prose and stunning imagery.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
A calm Llyn Idwal, Snowdonia, North Wales, UK

Photo (above) by Rhys Kentish on Unsplash

The boy’s awareness of adult behaviour is both naïve and heart-wrenching, as well as unsettling for a reader like me.  He has several graphic encounters, from death to mental illness, told without prejudice or judgement, and his stream-of-consciousness narrative remains strong.  One thing the boy is absolutely certain of—he will not work in the slate quarry.

Looking back as an adult, I recall feeling distanced from what was really going on.  This boy is in the thick of things and Prichard captures his thoughts so beautifully for adult readers.  Some chapters brought tears to my eyes.  In chapter 4, my favourite paragraphs are when the boy awakens after a picnic.  He feels the desolation of being left behind and desperately tries to find his way home.  I remember that type of heart-thumping experience!

A great description ‘It was raining stair rods in the morning and I was sitting in school with wet feet cos my shoes leaked’ and in search of dry socks, he discovers a dead body.  The quest to find out what happened is revealed in chatter between the boy and Huw.  Further into the book, disaster strikes with three significantly life-changing farewells.

Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 08Often a bad experience is offset by a good one; a kind gesture (usually a slice of bread) parish humour, the choir, a football match, and rollicking outdoor adventures with school friends which paint a beautiful picture of his part of Wales.

It’s never defined but I think author Caradog Prichard is reliving his early life, factual elements blending with history and mystery.  These days it would probably be described drily as ‘social commentary’.

Modern writers would do well to study this slim volume.  Roaming in the grown-up world of teachers, priests, policemen and illness, the boy is observant but has no power of his own and that simplicity transcends time and place.  He is the epitome of first-person POV, surrounded by subtext which packs a thoughtfully aimed punch.

From a man who knew what he was writing about, ‘One Moonlit Night’ (‘Un Nos Ola Leuad’) is a fine example of storytelling.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Bethesda Wales UK 03
The village of Bethesda, North Wales, UK

Welsh FlagI participated in Wales Readathon and #dewithon20 group reading of this novel.
My thanks to Paula Bardell-Hedley for her super efforts in creating this event 1st to 31st March 2020.
https://bookjotter.com/2020/03/01/wales-readathon-2020/

IMG_20200319_091849

AUTHOR PROFILE

PRICHARD, CARADOG (1904-1980) journalist, novelist and poet from Wales UK.
I can recommend the author biography by Menna Baines on National Library of Wales website.  Apart from a detailed look at Prichard, it contains photos of the author at home with his dog.

Menna Baines documented his life’s work, and at one point says ‘He published a collection of short stories, Y Genod yn ein Bywyd (‘The Girls in Our Life’ 1964); being heavily autobiographical, they cast some interesting light on his life…”

‘One Moonlit Night’ has Arrived!

Excitement!  My copy of ‘One Moonlit Night’ by Welsh author Caradog Prichard has arrived safe and sound.

I could read any Welsh literature but now I have the opportunity to air my views in the weekly discussions on Book Jotter’s Dewithon20 in conjunction with Wales Readathon 2020.

READ MY REVIEW
https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2020/04/09/review-one-moonlit-night-by-caradog-prichard-for-wales-dewithon20/

For further details on this event (and the book) have a look at these websites:

Book Jotter information
https://bookjotter.com/2020/03/01/wales-readathon-2020/

DHQ 2020
https://bookjotter.com/2018/03/26/dhq-dewithon19/

Week 1 Discussion
https://bookjotter.com/2020/03/06/dewithon-20-week-1-one-moonlit-night-by-caradog-prichard/

Gretchen’s stuff
https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2020/02/21/are-you-ready-for-wales-readathon-2020/

Try something new!  Join us!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Are You Ready for Wales Readathon 2020?

Wales Dragon Readathon Dewithon2020 (2)
This Welsh girl is reading an exciting tale to the dragon. Or perhaps she is so intent on the story she doesn’t notice the dragon until the last page. The perfect team, a cool dragon and a super keen reader participating in the forthcoming Wales Readathon and #dewithon20. Any age or species can participate. Details https://bookjotter.com/2020/02/03/are-you-ready-for-wales-readathon-2020/ or my blog post https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2020/02/21/are-you-ready-for-wales-readathon-2020/

Interested in Welsh literature?  Maybe even dragons?  This is for you!  Wales Readathon and Dewithon20 offer the opportunity for book bloggers around the world to discover Welsh writers and their works.

The list includes fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, in fact anything written in English or Welsh with links to the nation of Wales.

Wales Dragon Flag Dewithon2020

This 31-day literary celebration commences on Sunday 1st March 2020 (St. David’s Day) and ends Tuesday 31st March 2020.  All ages welcome, dragon optional!

The perfect time to join with the readers of Wales and follow #dewithon20 trailblazer Book Jotter

Dewithon Logo Daffs

You are free to read and write on any literary subject relating to Wales

OR

read the set book classic ‘Un Nos Ola Leuad’ (One Moonlit Night) by Caradog Prichard.

One Moonlit Night by Caradog Prichard

The first of four Read-Along posts are scheduled for Saturday 7th March 2020.

Dragons ahoy, I am participating again this year!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


More details—

DHQ Dewithon Headquarters

Official hashtag #dewithon20 when tweeting

Dewithon Reading List Wales Readathon Library

Book Jotter https://bookjotter.com/2020/02/03/are-you-ready-for-wales-readathon-2020/

Reading Wales http://readingwales.org.uk/en/

Welsh flag texture crumpled up

Dylan Thomas ‘Under Milk Wood’ Wales Readathon 2019

#dewithon19 logo

I found myself drawn to ‘Under Milk Wood’ by Dylan Thomas after accepting an open invitation from Book Jotter to participate in Wales Readathon by reading a book or two from any Welsh writer during March.

Because I wanted to read a physical book, my search had its ups and down until I visited my local library.  Ah, libraries, magical places!

Wales Readathon Dewithon (1)

I now have in my possession (for a limited time) an updated paperback edition of ‘Under Milk Wood’ published 2000 and based on the definitive 1995 edition.  The original was first published in Great Britain in 1954.  The cover art above is taken from ‘Abstract With Woman’s Head’ an oil painting by Evan Walters.  The paperback has been well-read, with yellowing pages, and the print is small.  Initially glancing through it, I thought it had longer introductions and more explanatory notes than the play length!

First, the book blurb to get you started—

Synopsis is taken directly from the back of the book, written when people read longer paragraphs:

“In 1951, two years before his death at the age of thirty-nine, Dylan Thomas wrote of his plan to complete a radio play, ‘an impression for voices, an entertainment out of the darkness, of the town I live in, and to write it simply and warmly and comically with lots of movement and varieties of moods, so that, at many levels . . . you come to know the town as an inhabitant of it’.

The work was Under Milk Wood – an orchestration of voices, sights and sounds that conjure up the dreams and waking hours of an imagined Welsh seaside village within the cycle of one day.  Thomas’s flawed villagers reveal a world of delight, gossip and regret, of varied and vivid humanity; a world that his classic ‘play for voices’ celebrates as ‘this place of love’.”

And, I might add, a snapshot of history, a way of life changed forever.  The VOICE OF A GUIDE-BOOK on page 19 hints at Llareggub being a backwater.  In Dylan Thomas’ time the part where Mog Edwards boasts that he will take Myfanwy Price away to his Emporium on the hill ‘where the change hums on wires’ was already a dying era.  But Thomas shows us that basic personalities never really change.

Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 05

Now some background information—

Dylan Thomas (1914 – 1953) is a poetry icon, he even has his own day on 14th May.  No doubt ‘Under Milk Wood’ has been analysed within an inch of its life, so it will be difficult to choose a path not already well-trodden.  For starters, I am not going to tell you Dylan Thomas’ life story – his granddaughter Hannah handles that beautifully.

I will say that Dylan Thomas finished polishing his play for voices ‘Under Milk Wood’ in 1953 and performed it in New York.  It went on to become a BBC radio drama, stage plays, films and produced in several other formats in Wales and around the world.  Australian pianist and composer Tony Gould‘s 1997 ‘Under Milk Wood’ adaptation (written for narrator and chamber orchestra) was performed by actor John Stanton and the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra.

Several Australian versions followed, including a one-woman production of the text performed at the Sidetrack Theatre in Sydney, New South Wales.  Actress Zoe Norton Lodge performed all 64 characters in the play – and I like to think at least one was based on her father, a proud Welshman.

And finally my book review—

Got a coffee handy?  I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this classic.

Spoken by an omniscient narrator, the opening paragraph of ‘Under Milk Wood’ gave me chills.  If you’ve got the time, I’d like you to read it.

[Silence]
FIRST VOICE [Very softly]

‘To begin at the beginning:
It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters-and-rabbits wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black crowblack, fishingboat bobbing sea.  The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine tonight in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows’ weeds.  And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now.’

He goes on to describe the people and the animals, the town and household items until we arrive at ‘ . . . the big seas of their dreams.  From where you are, you can hear their dreams.’  Then we learn about Captain Cat, the retired blind sea captain.

FIRST DROWNED
Remember me, Captain?
CAPTAIN CAT
You’re Dancing Williams!
FIRST DROWNED
I lost my step in Nantucket.

And just like that, you know you’re in for a rollicking time!

Make no mistake, it contains dark adult concepts.  Fear, foibles and funny thoughts are exposed, things which the villagers would prefer hidden from view.  At the same time, it doesn’t matter because whatever country or town you live in, I think Dylan Thomas’ characters are universal and show us that love, lust, greed, spite and skullduggery can lurk inside every home.  The odd behaviour of Lord Cut-Glass and his clocks, Mr Pugh’s poisonous ideas, Mrs Dai Bread One and Two; the good, bad and temperamental folk are laid bare in the most lyrical of terms but at the same time asking us to accept and forgive.

As for individual characteristics, I consider Nogood Boyo has the right idea.  He goes out in a dinghy, ships the oars and drifts in the bay, lying in the hull among the tangled fishing lines.  NOGOOD BOYO [Softly, lazily] ‘I don’t know who’s up there (on Llareggub Hill) and I don’t care.’  Page 29.  But inquisitive readers do.  On page 55 Reverend Eli Jenkins muses about his deceased father Esau who fell sleep in a corn field and had his leg scythed off.  Reverend Eli thinks ‘Poor Dad, to die of drink and agriculture.’

Listicle 06Rhymes are chanted and there are various words unknown to me so I appreciated the Textual Notes at the back of the book.  The editors, Messrs Walford Davies and Ralph Maud, took exception to BBC copywriters dropping commas, changing spelling or capitalising/italicising words which were not in Thomas’ original manuscript.  So ‘take that BBC!’ from pages 81 to 104 they have been painstakingly corrected.

But, I say (holding up my pointer finger like a school teacher), while Mr Thomas was said to be an excellent speller, I think I spy with my little eye, a possible hiccup on page 37 and I quote ‘ . . . the drugged, bedraggled hens at the back door whimper and snivel for the lickerish bog-black tea.’  Could that word be ‘licorice’?  No, this man rocks poetic license and knows exactly what he’s doing.

Just for the record, I’m not entering the ‘Under Milk Wood’ book title debate.  The name of the fictional fishing village of Llareggub, where the entire dawn-to-dusk scene takes place, appears to be Welsh but if you read it backwards, it says something quite different.

There are several evocative paragraphs I could elaborate on with great relish, however, since I did not study Dylan Thomas at school, this blog post could be in danger of turning into a starstruck student essay.  I will close with one of the milder pieces:

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‘From Beynon Butchers in Coronation Street, the smell of fried liver sidles out with onions on its breath.  And listen!  In the dark breakfast-room behind the shop, Mr and Mrs Beynon, waited upon by their treasure, enjoy, between bites, their every-morning hullabaloo, and Mrs Beynon slips the gristly bits under the tasselled tablecloth to her fat cat.’ Page 27.

An excerpt from the final paragraph reads:  ‘The thin night darkens.  A breeze from the creased water sighs the streets close under Milk waking Wood.  The Wood, whose every tree-foot’s cloven in the black glad sight of the hunters of lovers . . . the suddenly wind-shaken wood springs awake for the second dark time this one Spring Day.’  That makes my mind reel – in a good way.

Grab a copy and read it out aloud—Rated Five Daffodils!

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Diolch yn fawr, mwynhewch ddarllen!  Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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Twitter #dewithon19

Wales Readathon https://bookjotter.com/category/wales-readathon/

DHQ: Dewithon 2019 https://bookjotter.com/2018/03/26/dhq-dewithon19/

Suggested http://readingwales.org.uk/en/

Wales Readathon 2019

If you’ve never read a Welsh writer’s work, now is your chance!  I’ve been to the library and collected my copy of Under Milk Wood, the radio/stage/film drama by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas to get me started.  Read all about Dewithon19 on Book Jotter’s blog….Mwynhewch ddarllen! (Enjoy reading!)
Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Book Jotter

1st-31st March

Wales DragonWelcome to the first ever Wales Readathon (aka Dewithon 19), a month-long event beginning on Saint David’s Day, during which book bloggers from all parts of the world are encouraged to read, discuss and review literature by and about writers from Wales.

For more in-depth information on this reading jolly, head over to DHQ (Dewithon Headquarters) – and should you wish to take part in the official readalong, please follow this link. You can also share your thoughts and posts on Twitter by using the hashtags #dewithon19 and/or walesreadathon19.

Here we display your Dewithon-related posts. Please leave your links in the comments below or drop me a line with the URL.

Mwynhewch ddarllen! (Enjoy reading!)

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DHQ: Wales Dewithon19

My foray into reading Welsh authors began with Jasper Fforde (Thursday Next) Paula Brackston (Shadow Chronicles) and Bill James (Harpur & Iles) and now, thanks to Book Jotter Paula Bardell-Hedley and Dewithon19, I have a wonderful list to continue reading in more depth.  “dw i’n hapus iawn!”

Find more about reading, writing, reviewing Welsh literature on Dewithon19–––

Book Jotter

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1st to 31st March 2019

Welcome to DHQ (Dewithon Headquarters), the nerve centre for Reading Wales 2019!

The people of Wales celebrate St David’s Day annually on 1st March – the date of our patron saint’s death in 589 CE. In honour of this traditional anniversary, and also in recognition of the time of year when daffodils (the national flower of Wales) explode into bloom, we will hold the very first Dewithon – Dewi being the diminutive form of the Welsh name Dafydd (David).

Throughout March 2019 the international book blogging community will be invited to write about the literature of Wales. This will include reviews and articles about novels, non-fiction publications, short story anthologies, biographical works (by or about Welsh writers), travelogues, volumes of poetry (or single poems), essay collections, or indeed any texts with a meaningful connection to Wales.

You may write in either Welsh or…

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