Monthly Archives: November 2011

Made in Wales

I have been enjoying a new series of films on BBC2 called Made in Wales

There are six films in the series and each film is written by a Welsh writer, supported by a film production company called It’s My Shout.

It’s My Shout has been nursing artistic talent since 2003. The film-making process begins at the the start of each year, when the company puts an advert out, looking for 10 minute long scripts. Anybody can submit their work, the idea is to encourage people of different ages and backgrounds.

Last year 80 scripts were submitted, giving executives from BBC Wales and It’s My Shout plenty to read. The six successful writers were paired with a BBC scriptwriter, to help them to perfect their script for production days in August.

Production days are busy, with 15 professional crew members, 100 trainee crew members and 100 young actors spread across the six films. The writers work with the directors to finalise details, including costumes and the film location. At the end of filming It’s My Shout holds an annual awards ceremony, to celebrate the completion of each project. Sweet 16 was named as the best film at this year’s ceremony in early November.

This year most of the writers were aged 30 to 40, but the company is expecting entries from young writers for the next year. “There has been a particular interest from students who participated this summer as a member of the crew, and we’re talking to more colleges to try and encourage students to reply,” said Kylie Cornelius-Rees, projects manager.

Last week Media Wales interviewed Leyla Pope who directed Love Struck, the third film to be shown this month. Ali Blowden Jones wrote the script for Lovestruck, which is based on an old Welsh tale called Llyn y Fan Fach. In the original tale a beautiful lady living in a lake marries a young man from Blaen Sawdde, Llanddeusant. There is only one thing he must avoid, he must not strike her three times.

Ali and Leyla’s adaptation takes place in a school playground, placing the story of a young boy in love into a modern context. It captures the awkwardness of a first romance. Some parts are charmingly funny and others, which touch upon issues of bullying and loneliness, have a sadder tone.

The films are ten minutes long and will be available on BBC iPlayer until Dec 20.



Christmas @ Waterstone’s Cardiff

Today is the first day of Advent, the run-up to December 25 has begun. I went along to Waterstone’s Cardiff to see what they are selling this Christmas.

Best-Sellers

Every Sunday Waterstone’s staff update the best-sellers chart. They were still working on this when I arrived so there were a few gaps. To be on the safe side I decided to stick to the top five.

Paperbacks

1. The Help, Kathryn Stockett

Skeeta is an aspiring writer, living in Mississippi, 1962. Born into a well-off, white family, she was raised by a black maid called Constantine who disappears mysteriously. Troubled by this; Skeeta decides to collect the stories of domestic maids working in the city. But Mississippi is divided by the Jim Crow laws. Whites and blacks cannot mix, making Skeeta’s project a risky one.

2. Snowdrops, A.D Miller

Miller’s title gives a glimpse of the world his book depicts. In Russia a snowdrop is a corpse which appears at the end of the winter, after the snow melts. In Moscow a lawyer called Nick is living a decadent life. He is convinced he has fallen in love after meeting Masha, a femme fatale, on the subway. But Masha, who brings trouble rather than love, cannot be trusted.

3. One Day, David Nicholls

One Day is the story of Emma and Dexter who meet on the day of their graduation in 1988. They spend the night together, leaving to start life as working adults the next morning. From then on every chapter takes place one year later. Nicholls uses this compelling technique to chart repetition, development and intersection in their lives .

4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, John le Carré

There is a mole in the circus: an informant in the highest branch of the Secret Intelligence Service. George Smiley is called back from retirement to hunt him down. Written in cold-war Britain, this tale is full of flashbacks and plot twists.  Reviewers on Amazon say it is one of the best novels le Carré has written.

5. How to be a Woman, Caitlin Moran

Readers of The Times will have already read Caitlin’s wickedly funny articles. These are a brilliant advertisement for her book. If you’re thinking of buying it go to Caitlin’s website  and watch the video.

Picture taken with the permission of Waterstone's

Picture taken with the permission of Waterstone’s

Hardbacks

  1. Rob Brydon, Small Man in a Book

Rob’s autobiography is filled with memories of his time as a boy and his time as a radio DJ. His childhood photos will certainly raise a chuckle. Rob has a strange talent for impersonating a man in a box; this is where the title comes from. To find out what a man in a box sounds like click here.

2. Terry Pratchett, Snuff

In this latest Discworld hit Commander Vimes is fighting for goblin rights. He is on holiday when he stumbles upon an aristocratic smuggling ring. Its leaders sell drugs and goblins. Dirty and dim; goblins are used as slaves and treated as second-class citizens. Vime; however discovers a different side to them.

3. The House of Silk, Anthony Horowitz

Arthur Conan Doyle is a hard act to follow. When Horowitz was commissioned to write another Sherlock Holmes tale by the Arthur Conan Doyle estate, he must have felt some pressure. Happily it’s been a hit with book critics.

4. Victoria Hislop, The Thread

In May 1923 a ship arrives in in Thessaloniki, Greece, full of Turkish refugees. On board is Katerina, who moves in next to Dimitri, the son of a rich cloth merchant. The story of these lovers takes place against a rich historical background. War is raging and political problems interupt and shape their lives.

5. James Corden, May I Have Your Attention Please?

This book is popular in Waterstone’s, but has received mixed reviews on Amazon. If you’re a James Cordon fan and you’re in a bookshop read his second paragraph, he’s eager for you to buy a copy:

‘I’ve realised that you may not have actually purchased this book and are doing what I do when buying a book and reading the first page to see if you like it. If this is the case let me start by saying that you look and indeed smell incredible today’.


An interview with Alexandra Claire

Alexandra is the writer of Random Walk, a gripping story set in a Welsh dystopia, controlled by a company called e-Tel.

Remi is a rebel who works to sabotage e-Tel transmittors. Osian is a young boy blind to the danger of disobediance. And Lisa is an outsider, she is drawn to the city by a man called Oswald who has a special task for her. Most people in the city submit to the will of e-Tel. They are plugged into a virtual reality, which distracts them from real life. But these three characters are different, their stories question the fabric of the society e-Tel has created.

The world of Random Walk is a world in which the reader can become lost in. At times it is chilling and cold. Every resident is fitted with an electronic tag, their movements are tracked continuously. Amongst this moments of humanity are poignant and touching. There is a mother driven insane by the loss of her son, and a grandfather who fears for the safety of his grandson.

Like the best novels Random Walk carrys a hint of truth. It is almost Orwellian, fast forwarding to a future where technology has control. It is well worth reading.

Alexandra’s Interview

This is your first novel, can you tell me bit about yourself? What inspired you to write Random Walk?

I’m an alumnus of London Contemporary Dance School and had a ten year career in contemporary dance. I began writing seven years ago. Random Walk was conceived after I’d had a child. I think that most new parents feel a heightened sensitivity to dangers in the society in which their children are developing, and I was no different. I was already ruminating on the issues dealt with in Random Walk but being a parent strengthened my feelings.

Is your book a reflection on today’s society? Does the rise of CCTV and video games concern you?

It’s a possible extrapolation of today’s society rather than a reflection. I see no necessity for the British to be the most heavily surveyed populace on the planet; it’s part of today’s culture of fear. I wish more people would question the fear we’re so encouraged to feel. After all, a plane ride away there are small children who happily collect water, on a daily basis, from crocodile infested rivers. It seems that danger is a matter of relative perspective.

 I have some concerns about video games divorcing people from reality and lives seeping away down the backs of overly-sat upon sofas. However, as long as there is a choice about leaving screens on or switching them off, their pervasiveness remains within the control of each individual. It’s worth bearing in mind that society once decried the excessive reading of novels, and it’s also worth making sure that your choice to switch off is not taken away from you. Banksy once sprayed on a blank advertising hoarding; ‘The joy of not being sold anything’ – he had a good point.

There are some disturbing moments in Random Walk. Did you find these hard to write? Why did you choose to depict death in detail?

I found those passages exciting to write; it’s fiction after all! It was very important to depict rather than only infer violence. I prefer to write violence that seemingly comes out of nowhere – I think that’s mostly what happens in life. It’s interesting that you think I depicted death in detail, I very much thought I’d only written what was absolutely necessary.

In the novel unrestrained movement indicates rebellion. Can you tell me more about the importance of movement as  a central theme?

I found ultimate freedom in movement, it  is the root of my perspective on the world, so there was little conscious thought about the movement in the book. Another writer said of Random Walk; ‘It’s all about movement; like you.’ That seems pretty much true.

Why did you choose to set the book in Wales and to include Welsh dialogue?

The physical landscape and use of language in the book reflect those in my own life. There was no conscious choice, I wrote about home.

 Did you have a particular place in mind when you wrote the book? How did you begin to build up a picture of the world of e-Tel?

The location is a conglomeration of actual and imagined places . The world constructed itself as I wrote.

I love the illustrations in the book. Can you tell me a bit more about the artist Duca? Why did you pick these illustrations? 

The illustrations were commissioned to illustrate the novel. I came across Duca’s work through a mutual friend. We have never met as Duca lives in Vicenza, Italy. We collaborated for over a year before these illustrations were finally drawn. It took us a while to find a mutual vision and a style that we were both happy with. I really enjoyed the whole process; he’s a very talented and multi-skilled artist. Google his work; Duca HZG.

Which part of the book did you begin to write first?

I began with Osian and Remi and that passage no longer exists!

How many versions of the story did you write?

The novel took five years to write. There were about four drafts. It took me that long to work out how to write the book that I had in my head, which is essentially the one you read.

How hard was it to get your book published? How has it been doing since publication?

It was extremely difficult to get anyone to read it let alone publish it. I was about to give up and get on with my life when I received two offers in the same week. I have no idea how it’s doing! Probably too early to tell.

Are you planning to write another novel now?

 I’ve had another very different novel cooking in my head for about the same time and I’m just about ready to write.


John McGrath @ The Crunch Festival

John McGrath is the artistic director for National Theatre Wales. At the Crunch Festival he spoke about the history of the company and the work it has done so far.

National Theatre Wales was set up in 2009 and celebrated its first production in March 2010. From the beginning the company was inspired by two other theatre groups, National Theatre Scotland and Genedlaethol Cymru, the Welsh language national theatre.

It was National Theatre Scotland which developed the concept of a theatre without walls. Instead of building an actual theatre they performed everywhere and anywhere. This gave them flexibility, they were able to take their work to places that might have been neglected otherwise. It was the model which National Theatre Wales also opted for.

At the beginning McGrath and his team found it difficult to pinpoint what it meant to be a national theatre. In the end they decided the notion of place rather than nation was more appropriate. “We asked the question what does it mean to be here in this place together?” McGrath said. “That automatically opened up a different conversation. It didn’t assume who is or isn’t Welsh, it assumed that the people who gather in a place are of that place and maybe have something to share and learn from each other.”

The team was also inspired by the Welsh tradition of participatory performance and were keen to use this in some way. “There is a huge tradition in Wales of amateur performance, in the choirs, eisteddfords, in the Welsh language but also in places like the South Wales mining valleys where the miners learnt eveything from socialist theory to opera,” said John. “That tradition of art as something which you take place in is very deeply embedded in Wales”.

The end result of this discussion was a project called The Theatre Map of Wales. In one year through theatre McGrath and his team would map Wales. They put on 12 shows, a different show in a different place each month. And as a finale they produced a thirteenth performance, The Passion. This was staged in Port Talbot and starred Michael Sheen.

This 72 hour performance featured in the national press and helped to change the image of Port Talbot, seen by outsiders as heavily industrial and unattractive. The play began with a baptism scene in the sea and ended with more than 12,000 people standing round a roundabout watching the crucifixion. “They were watching partly because Michael Sheen is a famous Hollywood actor, partly because it was a fantastic performance and partly because over 1000 local people were characters in this show. People turned out to see people they knew perform, but as it continued they got caught up in the story,” said John.

During John’s talk he went through each project which National Theatre Wales undertook. Each show was fascinating in its own way. In Barmouth the company staged the story of a woman called June, who lost her husband in the second world war. In Bute Town, Cardiff, the audience was taken on a taxi ride and watched scenes from the play unravel on the street. And in Bridgend, a town with high rates of teenage suicides, the team worked with young people to perform a play staged in a local rock club.

On top of this National Theatre Wales has worked to create a community online, something which increases their outreach even further. “Getting to know communities is a challenge,” said John. “You need to spend time there, it was almost a year before some productions were produced. The online aspect was  really important to us because it means that anyone can join in discussions.” Details of next year’s performances are also online.


The Crunch Festival @ Hay on Wye

Yesterday I went to the Cruch Festival at Hay on Wye. Now that I’ve visited Hay on Wye I can’t wait to come back next summer for the town’s main literary festival.  I loved the atmosphere of the festival camp, there were lots of little tents dotted around and each one had a different smell or sound coming from it. I’ve made a short video to give you a snapshot of the day.

The first track is by gbauley.
The second track was recorded at the festival.


Storify…

Storify is an online tool that lets you gather websites, tweets and pictures from across the internet and arrange them in one place. By doing this you can put your own version of events together.

I’ve had a look at what’s happening on the Welsh literary scene and created a storify to show this. You can usually embed your storify into your blog. Unfortunately in my case this changes the design of my blog.

Click here to see my work on the Storify website instead


On my bookshelf

These four books are currently on my reading list

1. Random Walk, Alexandra Claire

This is Alexandra’s debut novel. Set in a Welsh dystopia this is a must-read for fans of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and J.G Ballard.

2. Owen Sheers, Resistance

Another Welsh novel with a gripping story-line. Resistance has just been turned into a film and will be showing in select cinemas from November 25th.

3. Andrew Marr, My Trade

4. Who runs Britain? Robert Peston

These last two are essential reading for me as a trainee journalist. I’m looking forward to hearing what Andrew Marr and Robert Peston have to say about the world of journalism today.