Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Happy New Year

Apologies for the lack of posting in recent weeks. I've fallen foul of the flu. There'll be more posts soon. In the meantime, I'd like to wish everyone a very Happy New Year!

Monday, 1 December 2008

New Welsh Review - Issue 82 out this week

The Winter 2008 Issue of New Welsh Review (82) - my first as editor - is out this week.

It includes features by Terry Eagleton on Raymond Williams, Lloyd Robson on his search for Robert Mitchum, Sarah Broughton on life writing and Katie Gramich on Gillian Clarke and Christine Evans. In our new opinion column, Anthony Brockway calls for more attention to be given to science fiction writing from Wales and BAFTA Cymru winner Justin Kerrigan (Human Traffic) talks about his new film, I Know You Know, in our new creative focus, First Hand. Poems come from Sinead Morrissey, Meirion Jordan, Joe Dunthorne, Anna Lewis and Damian Walford Davies, with new fiction from Niall Griffiths and Alix Nathan.

New Welsh Review
is available from good bookshops in Wales and from Foyles (Charing Cross) in London. Alternatively, visit our website to purchase individual copies of the magazine (including back issues) or to subscribe now – either as a Christmas gift to yourself or to a friend.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Scottish awards under threat

Interesting article in The Times a few days ago which highlights the very real and worrying implications of the credit crunch for the encouragement and patronage of the Arts. The superb Saltire Prizes in Scotland are now under serious threat as commercial sponsorship dries up. Previous winners of the prizes include A L Kennedy, John Burnside, Louise Welsh, Kate Atkinson, Liz Lochhead, Alan Warner, Kate Clanchy and Ali Smith. If a commercial or private sponsor is not secured shortly, this year's announcement of the winners (28 November) will be the last. Meanwhile, the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Award will not be inviting applications next year as the Scottish Arts Council have no funds available.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Poetry Makes Nothing Happen?

Launch of Patrick Jones's poetry collection, Darkness is Where the Stars Are, is cancelled because of a campaign by Christian activist movement, Christian Voice.

Read the full story here

Listen to Patrick Jones and Christian Voice leader Stephen Green debate here

I always include links (within reason and the law!) to organisations or individuals mentioned on this blog, therefore I've provided a link to Christian Voice.

The Dylan Thomas Prize

I meant to post about the announcement of the Dylan Thomas Prize earlier in the week, but illness intervened. I attended the prizegiving on Monday night at the Brangwyn Hall in Swansea. I’ll admit that I had both Dinaw Mengestu and Ross Raisin pegged as the leading contenders – with Caroline Bird also a distinct possibility. But, in the end, the £60,000 purse went to Nam Le for his collection of short stories, The Boat. The charismatic Le gave a terrific, witty and moving acceptance speech, much of it a tribute to the achievements of his fellow nominees and the delights of the ugly, lovely city that has hosted them over the last week. He did it without the aid of prompt cards and kept it down to a matter of minutes. A true pro. Le will be moving to the UK shortly to take up the prestigious David T.K. Wong fellowship at the University of East Anglia. Congratulations to him.

The Prize announcement attracted less media attention than one would have hoped. Coverage has been given by some newspapers in the UK but (unless I’ve missed something) through their online format only. A friend remarked that perhaps the plethora of literary prizes have reached something of a (down) tipping point. Interesting. Certainly, I’ve noted over the last few years that many of the major UK literary prizes are being given somewhat less attention in print media than previously. Even the Man Booker is not quite the event than it was in the 90s. Is less more? Something for the cultural theorists to mull over. James F. English, Professor and Chair of English at the University of Pennsylvania, has written a fascinating analysis of the cultural value of the prizes in The Economy of Prestige, and Peter Finch contributed an excellent feature on the book to Issue 72 of New Welsh Review.

But whether there is a tipping point or not, the challenges of the Dylan Thomas Prize are quite particular to it. After all, it’s a biennial prize and, to boot, it highlights authors under 30. Biennial prizes suffer very often from a lack of momentum and, given eligibility, the chances of a major league, headline-grabbing writer appearing on the long or shortlist for the Dylan Thomas Prize are relatively slim. But I think in due course the prize will establish itself well into the literary prize calendar, particularly as its winners go on to great things. Rachel Trezise, the inaugural recipient, has recently signed a deal with Harper Collins. Her profile, boosted by the validation of the prize, will in turn go some way towards boosting validation for the prize in the longer term. Le seems likely to follow suit. Trustees of the prize are, we were told on Monday night, looking to enrich and enhance the prize with other initiatives in the future, including fellowships. If you would like to find out more about how you can support the Dylan Thomas Prize, which includes educational outreach work in Wales and beyond, visit the Dylan Thomas Prize website

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Professor Derek Brewer 1923-2008

I was sad to learn of the death of Cardiff-born Professor Derek Brewer, one of the greatest Medieval scholars of the twentieth century, in late October. A student of C.S. Lewis, he made a truly outstanding contribution to Chaucer criticism. An obituary outlining his remarkable work can be found here

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Please find enclosed for your consideration

Many years ago, when I was a poet ingénue and New Labour was still in its first term, I cornered a distinguished editor of a distinguished literary journal and ruined their night. What, I wished to know, are you looking for? I can still recall the waves of nausée playing across that kindly face. They made their excuses and promptly exited the building.

Now, as well as being asked that question fairly regularly by others, it’s a question I am regularly asking of myself. Any editor worth their salt will tell you that they prize strong, tight writing. Correct spelling and grammar is crucial (there’s no quicker way to rejection than a questionable grasp of the English language). Originality is high up there, as long as the writer can evidence a knowledge of tradition and the current. And as for that slippery article ‘panache’? Yes, please. Clean white A4 paper? No fancy fonts? Both are a must. I am guessing that most editors would concur with these criteria.

If these alone were sufficient, however, they would approximate a formula. You could spread the word and much heartache would be spared. And those writers who could do the sums would be well on their way to world domination. But no: they are not sufficient. In fact, a surprising amount of work that editors receive may fulfil many – sometimes all – of these requirements. And yet… There is something, somehow, missing. What is it? Well, it’s that thing you’re looking for, of course. That thing… It’s a matter of taste, isn’t it? No, not in the way you’d think. So what is it? And, more to the point, where is it? The truth is, you simply can’t tell because you don’t know until you’ve found it. Because the best writers, whether new or established, are not simply capable of satisfying a taste, they can actually create a taste for their work in a reader. And the best editor is, first and foremost, an open reader.

So the bad and the good news for writers and editors is that there is no definitive answer to the question.

Poet and critic Zoe Skoulding has recently been appointed editor of Poetry Wales. We’ll both be appearing at the Dylan Thomas Festival on 9 November and will be discussing aspects of editing literary magazines and of our envisaged creative directions for Poetry Wales and New Welsh Review. The discussion will be chaired by Professor M Wynn Thomas, and no doubt there will be the opportunity to ask questions (except for the dreaded one above) about publishing in literary magazines and practical ways to maximise the chances of a successful submission.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Young Guns and Older Ones

Despite some attractive delusions to the contrary on the part of the unpublished, the fact that it is difficult to get published is nothing new. The climate has always been tough. The modern market has always been driven by profit. Books are, after all, not simply art, they are a product, too. And, then, there is something to be said for the difficulty in achievement. Chiefly because it is in the difficulty that the achievement actually exists. If something is briskly and efficiently attained then I think we can agree that there must be little of substance to it. No, the journey from a single idea to a shelf in a bookshop is, as history amply demonstrates, one largely characterised by disappointment, degradation and borderline lunacy. All this is precisely as it should be. To be a published writer, talent is not enough. You’ll need incredible reserves of drive and commitment, and self-belief in spades. You’ll also need to be able to ignore the pleas of almost everyone around you to stop.

Recently, someone complained to me at length about what they called the ‘fascism of youth’ that they felt now dominated in publishing industry circles. Where, they demanded, was the support for - and interest in - older writers, many of whom had wrestled with the compromises of the 9 to 5, the production and raising of children and who had actually done some of that all important living? Wasn’t it true that personality now predominated over the actual product? Didn’t youth give publishers a great marketing tool, but also let them off the hook, mitigating work that was unpolished, unready or simply flawed?

It’s not that simple, of course. Although, granted, with certain signings over recent years, some sniffy cynicism has set in – even in the media. No, there is a genuine movement of hugely exciting and talented young writers in Wales, in the wider UK, and beyond. And despite the temptation to view it as the inevitable result of a synthetic drive on the part of publishers, that’s clearly not the case. Today’s twenty- and thirtysomethings have been sprinkled with the magic dust: they came to maturity through interesting times. They grew up in the post postmodern age. In their lifetime, community fragmented, industrialisation faltered, advertising - not the Church - shaped all aspects of the lifestyle choice, the testcard became daytime TV, multiculturalism a keyword, George Lucas’s Star Wars was appropriated by Reagan. Communism fell. And, years later, so did the Twin Towers. They watched it all on the portable in their bedroom. Never underestimate the prodigal’s ability to galvanise experience. And one thing particularly occurs to me. Youth, whether in protest or in art, has an uncanny knack of tapping into the essential in experience – even if, sometimes, it loses in the process something of the complexity in experience. For both this strength and this weakness, it has enormous appeal.

But, while the movement of youth is in many respects a logical outcome (cultural and social revolutions belong to the young), the movement of youth does bring with it problems, which my friend above amply highlights. The young do not have the last word on great writing – far from it. They are certainly not the only ones capable of transmuting the strange times in which we live into great art. And there is certainly something shocking in the fact that a writer in their 40s – once considered positively foetal – is now a writer in their middle period (even if they’ve yet to publish a first book). They are no longer young. For the new writer the wrong side of 40 it’s a chill wind that blows alright.

While the Academi bursaries and Arts Council awards continue their excellent work in funding writers – whatever their age – to enable them to dedicate themselves to their art, there is a notable absence in profile-building prizes which validate the promise and achievement of older writers relatively new to professional writing, whether published or unpublished. The Eric Gregory Awards for poets are laudable – but if you’re over 30, you can’t apply. If you’re a newly published writer with a solid first book, you may be fortunate enough to win a Somerset Maugham Award – but, then again, only if you’re 35 or under. The Betty Trask Prize rewards first-time novelists…under 35. The Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award is earmarked for writers under the age of 40. There are numerous smaller awards for writers across the UK. These are generally ring-fenced for younger writers, too. For older writers, there is just one award that I can think of which is specifically designed to encourage and support their writing – the McKitterick Prize for a first novel by a writer over 40 (remember: 40 was once considered young, now it’s the new old). If you’re a brilliant new writer working in whatever genre, The Dylan Thomas Prize might make a great deal of difference to your life, both artistically and financially. But only if you’re under 30.

One can, of course, see the difficulty. Despite the organic development of a young movement in creative writing (admittedly, increasingly shaped by the rise of the creative writing departments), publishers (already struggling to sell their titles in such a competitive market) may be actively disincentivised from pushing older writers – not only are they less immediately ‘sexy’ and newsworthy to the media, but the potential profile-building media opportunities for new, older writers through prizes simply aren’t there. None of this is to undermine the brilliant work that the Society of Authors, the EDS Dylan Thomas Prize trustees or other smaller prizes in the UK seek to do. They play a crucial role in a somewhat beleaguered market by highlighting the vitality of the contemporary literary output and indicating future directions. But many of the most distinguished prizes for younger writers were established during a time when younger writers held a far less assured position in the marketplace and required much greater visibility.

It is important to celebrate the emergence of youthful brilliance - and reward it. But perhaps it is also time to remember that older writers already face significant disadvantages in the market as it is and perhaps they, more than most, could do with a little more support.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Kathryn Simmonds takes Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection

Congratulations to Kathryn Simmonds, who took the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection for her debut poetry collection, Sunday at the Skin Launderette, on Wednesday night. It's a first for Welsh publishing house Seren, and Kathryn beat off stiff competition from some compelling nominees, among them the excellent Frances Leviston and Paul Batchelor. Kathryn's splendid poem/photography collaboration with David Hurn appears in Issue 80 of New Welsh Review. She's also currently in the running for the Glen Dimplex and Guardian First Book Awards.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Sex Wax, Secrets and Submarines

Great event at Baylit on Wednesday night. Large and very mixed crowd - and enthusiastic, too. All the readers were great. Louise Walsh, a young writer of immense promise, read an hilarious and touching excerpt from her debut Fighting Pretty. She was incredibly unassuming, refreshingly unaware of the bright future ahead of her. Joe Dunthorne, whose first novel Submarine (think The Rachel Papers meets The Catcher in the Rye) is attracting attention far and wide, introduced us to his novel's anti-hero Oliver and read some of his great poetry (yes, he's an accomplished poet, too) which I'll be featuring in upcoming issues of New Welsh Review.

Poets Meirion Jordan and Zoe Brigley - two very different talents - are further evidence that Welsh poetry is in rude health. Zoe has been a regular contributor to New Welsh Review over the last few years and her debut The Secret has won a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, excellent notices and a place on the Dylan Thomas Prize longlist earlier this year. I'd lay a confident bet that 2009 will be a great year for Meirion Jordan. His work has a virtuosity and maturity that belie his youth (he's just 23) and his first collection Moonrise is hot off the press from Seren. Highly recommended.

In Swansea, in the 1980s, there were only three possibilities for an adolescent identity: Townie, Surfie or ‘Other’. I was most definitely categorised as ‘Other’. This in no small part accounts for a lifelong prejudice against white trainers, corkscrew perms...Oh, and surfing, together with all its paraphernalia (Sex Wax, Alder jackets and the immortal phrase ‘Going down ‘Gennith’). It also accounts for why Tom Anderson, in particular, so surprised and impressed me. He read from current and forthcoming work - travel narratives inspired by his journeys as a surfer. His work is exceptional: lyrical, haunting, political, offbeat. Like maestro Robert Minhinnick, Anderson lives in Porthcawl. There must be something in the water. Anderson’s writing deserves a wide audience. His book is Riding the Magic Carpet. Buy it.

continues until Tuesday 14 October.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

David Foster Wallace 1962-2008

Belatedly, I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of David Foster Wallace by his own hand on September 12 at the age of just 46. On such occasions, hyberbole – ‘greatest writer of his generation’, ‘truly unique’ and ‘the loss to literature is immeasurable’ – is pretty much par for the course. The difference in DFW’s case is that it’s all true. It’s difficult to think of another fiction writer who so successfully embraced the dizzying plurality and discourses of our times – and did it so well.

DFW was not so well known in the UK as he was in the States. But he was very much the writer’s writer, and some of the most successful younger novelists – Zadie Smith and Jonathan Franzen among them – cite him as both example and influence. It seems to me that his legacy will only continue to grow as fiction writers continue to negotiate an age of relentless acquisition, corporate doublespeak, advertising, focus groups and trash TV.

In addition to his outstanding and frequently downright hilarious body of fiction, DFW was also a celebrated essayist, gifted teacher, mathematician and philosopher, and one-time tennis prodigy.

He will be much missed.

If you want an introduction to the delights of DFW’s fiction, read ‘Mister Squishy’ from his 2004 short story collection, Oblivion. Then read everything else in it. Then read his modern masterpiece Infinite Jest. Enjoy and be awed.

A sensitive and intelligent tribute to DFW can be found here

To read a recent speech given by David Foster Wallace click here

Tuesday, 16 September 2008


We're now on Facebook - please do come and join us there.

Dylan Thomas Prize - shortlist announced

From left to right: Peter Stead (Welsh academic, historian and broadcaster), Peter Florence (Director of the Hay Festival and Chair of Judges), Caroline Bird, Edward Hogan and Miranda Sawyer (leading columnist for Vogue).

The Dylan Thomas Prize shortlist was announced today in London.
Six writers remain in competition for the prize. They are: London waiter Ross Raisin; 21-year old poet Caroline Bird, from Leeds, who is the youngest writer on the longlist; South African Harvard graduate Ceridwen Dovey; critically acclaimed Vietnamese writer Nam Le; Dinaw Mengestu, a journalist and novelist from Ethiopia; and Derby-born rising literary star Edward Hogan.

I caught up with Edward, who told me that he was delighted to be included in the shortlist for his debut novel, Blackmoor.

'It's wonderful to be on a shortlist with so much young talent. I'm also really looking forward to the opportunity to put something back into the writing community with educational outreach work in Wales'.

He added that he hoped that the shortlist would encourage people to read the books of all the nominees and draw attention to youthful talent.

Edward, 28, began writing seriously seven years ago, winning a literary prize from prestigious London agents David Higham Associates, which enabled him to pursue an MA in Creative Writing at UEA. He is the latest in a long line of success stories from the Creative Writing program in Norwich, which include Trezza Azzopardi and Owen Sheers.

The talents highlighted in this year's Dylan Thomas Prize long- and shortlist seem set to develop increasingly high profiles in the years to come. Look out for them.

The announcement of the winner will take place in Swansea, Dylan's hometown, on November 10. Good luck to all the contenders.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Editors of New Welsh Review and Poetry Wales at the Dylan Thomas Festival 2008

Introducing the Editors - Kathryn Gray and Zoe Skoulding
Sunday 9 November at 7pm

From the brochure:

Two of Wales' longest-running and most important literary journals, Poetry Wales and New Welsh Review, have both recently appointed new, young editors. Both also happen to be very fine poets. Kathryn and Zoe will read from their work and discuss the process of editing magazines, and their plans for the future of these vital publications.

The evening will be chaired by renowned literary critic Professor M.Wynn Thomas of CREW - the Centre for Research into the English Literature and Language of Wales.

Tickets £6-50/4-55/2-60

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Dylan Thomas Prize Shortlist to be announced on September 16

The shortlist for the Dylan Thomas Prize will be announced on September 16 in London. The prize, which is sponsored by the University of Wales, promotes and celebrates youthful talent, offering the winner an unprecedented chance to dedicate themselves to their creative endeavours. The £60,000 purse is, with the exception of the Nobel, the richest of any literary prize in the world. Judges include Andrew Davies, Owen Sheers, Miranda Sawyer and Peter Florence.

This year’s longlist is remarkable for its wide-ranging subject matter, and it’s especially pleasing to see poetry so well represented, with three of the UK’s most talented younger poets scoring a well-deserved place on the longlist: Kei Miller, Caroline Bird and Zoe Brigley.

Susan Fletcher, who won the Whitbread First Novel Award for her impressive debut Eve Green, is included for a highly acclaimed second novel, again set in Wales, Oystercatchers.

A full run-down of longlisted authors and their works can be found by clicking here

New Welsh Review would like to wish all the longlisted nominees the very best of luck for the announcement and, in particular, we will be keeping our fingers crossed for Wales’s strong contenders, Zoe Brigley and Joe Dunthorne. Zoe has been a regular contributor to New Welsh Review in recent years and her debut collection, The Secret, has met with strong critical acclaim. Joe Dunthorne has won plaudits for his witty and engaging analysis of teenage dysfunction in his native Swansea, Submarine, prompting comparisons with Salinger. Both will be reading at the Poetry, Prose and Pinot Grigio event I am hosting in Cardiff as part of Baylit 2008 (see below).

I’ll post on the shortlist announcement next week.

Thursday, 4 September 2008


And talking of youth...Next year, New Welsh Review reaches the grand old age of 21. We'll be celebrating 21 years of Wales's leading literary quarterly both within the pages of the magazine and elsewhere. I'll keep you posted on news and events.

In the meantime, please do contact New Welsh Review with your views on the magazine - past, present and future. I am keen to hear from you.

Baylit 2008 - Poetry, Prose and Pinot Grigio

As part of Baylit 2008: Shock of the New, I'll be hosting an event which celebrates the considerable talents of our best young writers.

Poetry, Prose and Pinot Grigio will feature readings from Zoe Brigley, Meirion Jordan, Louise Walsh, Tom Anderson and Joe Dunthorne - all of whom are making waves on the Welsh literary scene, and beyond.

Join us at 7.30pm on Wednesday 8 October, at Bar One in the Millennium Centre, to discover some of the freshest and most vital voices Wales has to offer. The event is likely to be very popular. Visit the Academi website or email for further details, and to book tickets for this and other events taking place during Baylit 2008.

I look forward to seeing you there.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Getting in

New Welsh Review welcomes high quality contributions of new fiction and poetry from Wales and beyond. NWR particularly welcomes contributions from new writers of flair and originality.

We've recently updated the Contributor's Guidance page. Take a look.

Please remember that email submissions are only accepted with the prior permission of the editor.

New Welsh Review Poetry Prize

New Welsh Review, in association with the Aberystwyth University Department of English and Creative Writing, is delighted to announce a new prize for poetry.

The prize, to be judged by award-winning poet Philip Gross, is open to New Welsh Review subscribers, and to students in the Aberystwyth University Department of English and Creative Writing. The winner will receive £200, with £50 each for two runners-up, at a ceremony in March 2009.

For more details and an entry form visit the New Welsh Review website or contact New Welsh Review by email at or by phone on 01970 628410

For more details of how to subscribe to New Welsh Review click here

Current Issue of New Welsh Review: Digital Cultures

The current issue of New Welsh Review, Digital Cultures, and the last issue edited by Francesca Rhydderch, is out now. It includes Gary Owen on the genesis of his play from YouTube to a London stage, Anthony Brockway on blogging culture, Peter Lord on the life and work of Clifford McLucas and Dannie Abse introducing a newly revised version of his poem 'The Abandoned'. Plus poems from Stephen Knight, Philip Gross, Maura Dooley and Anna Wigley, new fiction from Candy Neubert and Alix Nathan, and reviews of Lynette Roberts, Kathryn Simmonds, Peter Finch, Penny Simpson and Lewis Davies, among others.

First Post

The current issue of New Welsh Review, the last under the editorship of Francesca Rhydderch, includes an excellent feature by well-known Cardiff-based blogger Anthony Brockway on blogging culture. It’s timely, too, since this is the first editor’s blogger post for New Welsh Review.

I’m a big fan of blogging culture. I’ve maintained a blog in the past as a writer. And I read a great many blogs on a daily basis – literary and cultural, and political, too. The very best of blog culture is alert, informed and sophisticated. It’s provocative, immediate, sceptical, influential, infuriating and thoroughly entertaining. Bloggers engage with the big, incorrigibly plural world that’s out there. During my own time as a rather modest blogger, my site tracker revealed, to my initial astonishment, visitors from Bangor (Wales) to Bangkok.

This blog is intended - over time and as content develops - to allow NWR to strengthen interaction and links with its current and future readership. It will be a forum to share news about the magazine and the literary culture of Wales. Equally, it will also provide an opportunity to air and share views, and I will be inviting guest writers to post entries here as the blog progresses, too (watch this space). And it’s a conversation. Readers will have the chance to comment, too, and, hopefully, enjoy some lively – and friendly – debate about Welsh literature and, of course, about New Welsh Review, and its directions. New Welsh Review wants to connect with readers, writers, thinkers, organisations and other literary magazines. We’ll be building on the ‘links’ section - if you are a literary organisation or magazine or excellent literary blogger let us know about your blog or site.

In addition to the editor’s blog, we’ll be on Facebook imminently, and I will post a public profile link when this becomes available. If you’re on Facebook do please join us there for news on launches and upcoming issues of the magazine.

The digital future is now a present. Literary magazines, in particular quarterly magazines such as New Welsh Review, face a pressing need to reach out to the wider world and stay in the current. So here we are.