Blog posts by year and month June 2012

Posts (48)

  1. When we consider the geography of Wales we invariably think of hills and mountains. Yet Wales is also a country of lakes. They may not be huge or extensive, like those in Cumbria, but they are significant and they make up an important part of our topography. In total, the lakes of Wales occup...

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  2. Sometimes you could get the idea that Martin Amis is not the most popular man to have come out of Swansea. In the past few days, I've mentioned him to a writer, a publisher and a literary agent. In each case, you'd have thought we were discussing a particularly inventive serial killer. Martin Amis in 2006 But wait... you didn't know Martin Amis was Welsh? Here's the history. The distinguished novelist son of the distinguished novelist Kingsley Amis was born while his father was working in south Wales and went to Swansea Grammar School. Later, when Kingsley's career was soaring, Martin wound up at the public school Charterhouse, attended around the same time by the future rock star Peter Gabriel and the future crime writer Peter James who, in a recent newspaper interview, recalled: "I was at Charterhouse School with Martin Amis, many years ago. I didn't see him again until an awards ceremony in 2010. I went up and said, 'You might not remember me, but we were at school together.' He said, 'No, I don't remember you - and you only remember me because I'm famous.'" OK, there was probably some truth in that, but Peter James doesn't take a lofty put-down lightly. His next novel, featuring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, contained the following passage: Amis Smallbone was, in Grace's opinion, the nastiest and most malevolent piece of vermin he had ever dealt with. Five foot one inch tall,* with his hair greasily coiffed, dressed summer and winter in natty suits too tight for him, Smallbone exuded arrogance. See? How many other novelists can claim to attract that level of venom? Not that Martin Amis had the best of starts. Becoming literary editor of the New Statesman at the age of 27, a couple of years after the publication of his first novel, was never going to endear him to fellow novelists who had to endure 53 publishers' rejections while working for the local council. Nor, in later years, did his half million pound publisher's advance, secured by the agent known as The Jackal. Or the fact that he spent a substantial chunk of it having his teeth tarted up. And now - can you believe it? - the oldest upstart in the book business has emigrated to New York and published a novel apparently sneering at Britain's decent, honest yob-culture. Lionel Asbo is a fairly broad satire about a violent Londoner who looks a bit like Wayne Rooney before the hair-transplant and comes into nearly as much money as Wayne thanks to the Lotto. I think it's the best Amis in years, demonstrating his talent for profanely-funny dialogue and unexpected descriptions... without those constant reminders that this is a man who's determined to make the English language gratify his every peculiar desire. Looking back, you can see the problem. Amis Snr wrote literary novels, comic novels, crime novels, science fiction, a ghost story and a James Bond. The only way Amis Jnr could follow that was to try and extend the frontiers of literature. So, after three amusing outings, Martin took to producing books in which the actual writing - and therefore the writer - emerged as vastly more significant than the subject or even the theme. Sometimes it even worked. Often, it didn't. He came off the rails most disastrously, I thought, with Night Train, a hard-boiled American cop novel which pretended to be more important than the books it borrowed from and was actually kind of embarrassing. His last one, The Pregnant Widow just... went on and on about the kind of upper class people you hoped you'd never have to meet. You wouldn't actually want to meet Lionel either, but you'd enjoy listening to him in the pub, preferably from a table near the door. This is a novel with a good story, a lot of laughs and an unexpectedly suspenseful ending. Prior to interviewing Martin Amis for this Sunday's Phil the Shelf, I wondered if he was going to accuse me, with a dismissive sneer, of only saying that because he was famous. In fact, as you can hear in the programme, he was OK. And I came away thinking he'd become just like the rest of us: worrying about getting it right and giving the readers a good time... and not entirely sure that he was going to crack it this time. *Martin Amis - as I now know by being able to look him more or less directly in the eye - is actually about five foot six... but you get the idea. Listen to Phil the Shelf on BBC Radio Wales on Sunday from 5.30pm.

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  3. A film noir thriller by Welsh writer Owen Sheers, which takes its inspiration from Dylan Thomas' final visit to America in 1953 before his death, has been snapped up by a UK production company. Sheers' screenplay, entitled A Visit To America, has been acquired by the London and west Wales base...

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  4. Temperatures at Hawarden in Flintshire reached 25C this afternoon - the warmest day of the month so far but it's going to turn cooler over the next 24 hours with more rain and showers on the way. Earlier today it felt very humid and some parts of the country were hit by torrential rain and th...

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  5. Next week the BBC National Orchestra of Wales heads off to China! Typically, I am overexcited (and have been since it first appeared on our schedule). I love traveling, and Asia is a continent that I have long been keen to explore. That I get to play lovely music while I'm there is a bonus. B...

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  6. Love literature? Love summer festivals? Well you're in for a treat this weekend as three different literary events are taking place in Wales. First up is the inaugural Dinefwr Literary Festival that takes place across the weekend in the picturesque setting of the National Trust's Dinefwr Park and Castle in Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire. The festival runs from Friday 29 June to Sunday 1 July. Highlights will include performances by writers Gillian Clarke, Sir Andrew Motion, Howard Marks, Julian Cope and previous Wales Book of the Year winners Deborah Kay Davies, Philip Gross and John Harrison. Newton House at Dinefwr. Image courtesy of the National Trust Photo Library/David Norton Other authors appearing include Joe Dunthorne, Pascale Petit, Alastair Reynolds, Paul Henry, Robert Minhinnick, Wendy Cope, Catherine Fisher and Horatio Clare among many others. There's a host of musical events happening too, with Gruff Rhys, Emmy The Great, Georgia Ruth, Ghostpoet, Steve Eaves and Jodie Marie all on the line-up. Weekend and day passes are available - for more information see dinefwrliteraturefestival.co.uk. Meanwhile, the Beyond the Border storytelling festival returns to St Donat's Castle this weekend. The festival, which has an international feel with participants from across the globe, carries on the oral tradition that has been well versed in Wales over the centuries. Beyond The Border is Wales' leading international festival of storytelling. The biennial storytelling festival, which began in 1993, celebrates the worlds of myth, legend and folktales with performances by storytellers, musicians, writers and artists from Wales and the world. There are a number of themes running at this year's festival in addition to the individual artist performances. These include celebrating 200 years of Grimm's Fairy Tales and honouring the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Plus there's a look at journeys along the Silk Road and an exploration of the myths and legends of Celtic Britain. Beyond the Border in 2010. Photo: James Mendelssohn The art of storytelling is not a new one in Wales as the country has enjoyed a long history with the tradition: it was known as the cyfarwyddyd in medieval Wales. Wales can also boast an impressive literary history, with examples of texts dating back to the sixth century: browse articles on early Welsh literature on the BBC Wales Arts website. Beyond the Border runs from Friday 29 June until Sunday 1 July. For the full line-up and ticket information visit beyondtheborder.com. Finally, Busk on the Usk is a one day festival on Saturday taking place at the Riverfront Theatre and the City Campus of the University of Wales, Newport. It is the Welsh Contemporary Music contribution to the London 2012 Festival, but the festival also has a number of discussions and literary readings. The team behind the Laugharne Weekend have helped to organise the literary side of the festival with authors including Pauline Black, Malcolm Pryce and musician, artist and writer Jon Langford on the line-up. All the events at Busk on the Usk are free but ticketed, so for more information and the full line-up visit buskwales.co.uk.

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  7. A small, late-medieval house from Haverfordwest is the latest building to be re-erected at St Fagans: National History Museum. The house will be officially opened to the public on Monday 2 July at 2pm. Visitors will be welcomed into the house, as re-enactors use traditional skills to co...

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  8. A Welsh-language musician, part of some of the scene's most well-known bands of the last decade, has released an album bringing Bible stories to life through rap. Ed Holden. Photo: Helen McAteer Ed Holden, who has performed as part of Pep Le Pew and Genod Droog, recorded six tracks wit...

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  9. Saturday evening saw our final concert in Swansea with principal conductor, Thierry Fischer. The Brangwyn Hall was well filled to hear a virtual variety performance of a programme that included Argentinian pianist, Ingrid Fliter. Now, I don't normally like a big heavy meal before a concert (it makes it difficult to zip the concert dress up), but to be honest it felt like there was enough music in this programme to make several concerts. I therefore felt the need to have a massive pre-concert feast in order to avoid running out of steam before the end (cheeseburger with ketchup, disgracefully large portion of chips with mayonnaise). After Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito Overture (short and sweet), Ingrid Fliter took to the stage for Beethoven Piano Concerto No 1. Not only did Ms Fliter have fabulous hair, but her playing was exceptionally stylish and elegant. She is a beautiful communicator, to both listener and orchestra, and it was a real pleasure to accompany her. I like soloists who communicate with the orchestra - I feel it makes a real difference to the quality of the music making. One of my favourite works in the programme was Massenet's Scènes de féerie. It's a really fun play, with plenty of 'meat' in the viola part. I also think its a good work to listen out for if you thought the only work Massenet composed was that infernal Meditation from Thäis! Our programme ended with Ravel's La Valse, a work that is, as my friend Julia would put it, a bit 'noodly'. As the music progresses, not only does the tempo pick up, but harmonically, you fly through so many different keys that it makes you feel cross eyed. I really like this work as a piece, but you do need to keep your wits about you. I had an utter meltdown during one rehearsal that involved me playing non-existent A flats. Ravel would not have approved. Come the concert, everything was went well (due to a little extra PPR session - Personal Practice and Reflection). This was only my second performance of this work, and I enjoyed it immeasurably more than the first time I played it (that involved not blinking for the duration of the last six pages). Egged on by Alex's suggestion that the viola section should 'go large' at the end, and by my desk partner Jim's seemingly unlimited ability to draw more and more sound out of his viola, 'go large' desk four did. By the end, one was very sweaty and had shredded a fair amount of bow hair And so, now we have enjoyed a few days off. I have restrung my viola, sent my bow off to be rehaired, got my currency for our China tour, lost my passport 300 times, and am currently pondering the contents of my suitcase. Today we record more Doctor Who with the lovely Ben Foster and Murray Gold, then we are straight into rehearsals for China - very exciting times!

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  10. A new series where the National Museum Wales challenges the public to create their own exhibition from its treasures begins tonight at 10pm on BBC Two Wales. David Anderson, director general at the museum, talks about the challenges the museum faced in taking part in the series, and what they ...

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