Archives for December 2011

Fieldnotes - an exhibition by Iwan Bala and Menna Elfyn

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Polly March Polly March | 10:40 UK time, Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Award-winning poet and playwright Menna Elfyn and artist and writer Iwan Bala have teamed up for a thought-provoking new exhibition at the Oriel Myrddin Gallery in Carmarthen.

Image courtesy of Iwan Bala. Photograph by Toril Brancher

Image courtesy of Iwan Bala. Photograph by Toril Brancher

This creative dialogue is the product of conversations and ideas the two have shared during their time as colleagues at Trinity College, Carmarthen, where Menna is director of the master's programme in creative writing and Iwan is a senior lecturer in creative arts and humanities.

Fieldnotes uses a collaboration of Iwan's paintings and Menna's poems to explore notions of memory, interpretation and errors in translation and also links this to Welsh cultural heritage and the shared knowledge of communities.

It draws on the concept of notes made by any researcher as they investigate a topic. It is something Bala feels is intrinsically linked to his own artwork, which has always been about his lived experience and ideas drawn from his reading - in effect a product of his own field notes.

His fascination with combining words and images, such as in maps and diagrams, acts as a springboard for much of the thinking behind the exhibition.

"The meanings they contain are in constant flux," he says. "Despite their implied certainty - there is often a subtext, an error in translation, gaps, omissions, terra incognita, which is open to interpretation."

For Elfyn, this gap, especially between the two languages of Wales, is fascinating because it allows people to interpret and read the same thing so differently.

She says: "If you look at a diamond, it will gleam in so many different ways and it's the same with language - so much can be lost in translation."

Image courtesy of Iwan Bala. Photograph by Toril Brancher

Image courtesy of Iwan Bala. Photograph by Toril Brancher

The artists both relate this to Wales where many of the names of places - towns, villages, farms and houses - have been translated or lost by renaming.

Elfyn says it is more than a place name that is lost, but the common shared knowledge of a people.

"In the exhibition Iwan has a photograph with different names of farms and it's a very plain-looking list but opposite I have printed a list of nicknames given to miners that I heard growing up in Pontardawe.

"They are nicknames that come from a local understanding and the brotherhood that exists in a rural place, but may not be carried on through the generations.

"Much of our work in this exhibition is about mapping and remembering and an aura of place.

"If you take the word snowdrop for example, in Welsh there are five different names for it, all of which are linked to images - one literally means 'brooch in snow' and another 'child's bell'.

"I think it's up to each artist to rediscover these old names and give them prominence so they are not lost forever. It's important to get them down on paper."

This merging of the historic and current is something Menna is very conscious of in her own work, with her modern Welsh poetry often supplemented by older words, which she hopes to "wash anew" in a new light for her readers.

Both artists were determined the exhibition would evolve organically rather than with Menna writing in response to Iwan's art and vice versa, although it does include one picture of his of a map of Wales and Menna's poem about a map of Wales as well as a work Iwan has created in response to her poem Size of Wales, about a piece of ice the size of the country, breaking off.

Image courtesy of Iwan Bala. Photograph by Toril Brancher

Image courtesy of Iwan Bala. Photograph by Toril Brancher

Menna adds: "Writing is all about field-work and the act of digging deep to unearth mysteries. We know too well that we are only passing through as we sub-consciously make our personal field-notes.

"Two artists seeing 'something down there to smile at in the dust' share the fascination of lifting and sifting through the cae hir (long field)."

Fieldnotes will be opened by Professor M Wynn Thomas, Emyr Humphreys Chair of Welsh Writing in English, Swansea University on Friday 6 January at 6pm.

Just before the official opening Iwan Bala and Menna Elfyn will be in conversation with visitors to the exhibition.

The show runs from 7 January to 18 February. For more details visit

Welsh Arts Review of the Year on BBC Two Wales

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 15:28 UK time, Thursday, 22 December 2011

Nicola Heywood Thomas presents a round up of 2011's cultural and entertainment highlights in the Welsh Arts Review of the Year on BBC Two Wales this Boxing Day.

Nicola Heywood Thomas

Nicola Heywood Thomas

Nicola, the presenter of the weekly Radio Wales Arts Show on BBC Radio Wales, will take a look back at a year crammed full of artistic achievement in Wales.

During the show Nicola speaks to Michael Sheen, who relives his experience of performing The Passion in Port Talbot, a massive three-day undertaking for National Theatre Wales. The Passion played out over the Easter bank holiday weekend, at times to thousands of spectators. Browse a gallery of photos from the event on the BBC Wales News website.

Michael Sheen and members of the cast of The Passion. Photo © Richard Hardcastle

Michael Sheen and members of the cast of The Passion. Photo © Richard Hardcastle/National Theatre Wales

Meanwhile, DJ and BBC Wales Music blogger Bethan Elfyn gives her verdict on the Welsh music scene in 2011, and Only Men Aloud's musical director Tim Rhys-Evans takes a look back at BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2011.

The programme also takes a look at this year's film releases that have been shot in Wales, such as the adaptation of Owen Sheers' novel Resistance - starring Welsh actors Michael Sheen, Iwan Rheon and Sharon Morgan. Browse some pictures from the film on BBC Wales Arts.

Plus there's a look back to the recent Dylan Thomas Award ceremony, with judge Rachel Trezise sharing her memories of scooping the inaugural prize in 2006.

2011 Dylan Thomas Prize winner Lucy Caldwell

2011 Dylan Thomas Prize winner Lucy Caldwell

The Welsh Arts Review of the Year will be shown on Monday 26 December at 9pm on BBC Two Wales, and will be repeated on the same channel on New Years Day at 6.30pm.

Hijinx Theatre presents The Snooks Brothers

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 13:14 UK time, Thursday, 15 December 2011

Hijinx Theatre bring a little theatrical entertainment to the stressed Christmas shoppers of Cardiff next week with their short play The Snooks Brothers.

The Cardiff-based theatre company will transform one of the empty retail units in Morgan Arcade into a theatre set in the style of a Dickensian bank. It is here that two curious brothers will be hard at work, and where their customers - the audience - will intrude on their work and meticulous routine.

The Snooks Brothers. Photo: Como Loveo

The Snooks Brothers. Photo: Como Loveo

The Snooks Brothers is inspired by Tellson's Bank in Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, and is a comical offbeat play about the relationship between two brothers and their familiarity, contempt and painstakingly rigid routine.

Hijinx will perform the production, which lasts around 40 minutes, three times each day from Tuesday 20 December to Thursday 22 December. Performance times will be displayed in the shop window.

Tickets are available on the door free of charge on a first come, first served basis but audiences are invited to make a donation to Hijinx Theatre, which specialises in working with people with learning disabilities through the medium of theatre and regularly employs learning disabled actors in its professional touring shows.

Cast members of The Snooks Brothers. Photo: Ceri Legg

Cast members of The Snooks Brothers. Photo: Ceri Legg

Between the scheduled performance passers-by will be able to watch the two brothers hard at work in their bank, which will be decorated in an unusual Christmas style. It'll be more Scrooge than Santa.

The director of The Snooks Brothers, Ben Pettitt-Wade, said: "Audiences love the fact that they are a part of the unfolding comedy.

"It always puts a smile on peoples' faces and so we're delighted that we can bring an extra sparkle to shoppers in the Morgan Arcade this Christmas."

The Snooks Brothers take time out for toast. Photo: Como Loveo

The Snooks Brothers take time out for toast. Photo: Como Loveo

For more information visit the Hijinx Theatre website or follow the company on Twitter, @HijinxTheatre.

Virtually open warfare...

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Phil Rickman Phil Rickman | 12:44 UK time, Wednesday, 14 December 2011

No! Never!

Like, what's the point? I don't need one. And it's just a passing fad, anyway, like the personal-organiser and the mini-disc. And why would I want another charger to add to the 26 I already have and can't remember what most of them are for? Besides, think how many paperbacks you can get for 90 quid.

Listen, don't think it was only me. Most of the authors I know - and I know a lot of them - say the same things, and what they don't say but think is: do I really want to spend a whole year of long hours, head-beating and hand-wringing to create something THAT DOESN'T EXIST?

Anyway, I used to think all that, but now I can't say anything because... I've got one.

An ebook reader on top of a paperback

An ebook reader on top of a paperback

I've had it just over a week. Periodically, I switch it on, just so I can switch it off again and puzzle over why it never shuts down on a screen-picture of the same author twice: Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde... how long before it gets to Dan Brown?

Of course, I still say I might never have acquired one if it hadn't been an essential research-tool for the last in the current series of Phil the Shelf, in which several authors, a publisher and a bookseller discuss how the ebook reader has changed their lives and their income levels, in both positive and negative ways.

According to Wikipedia, the first ebook reader, as we know them today, was launched in 2004, to widespread apathy.

Not any more. This Christmas the Amazon Kindle will probably be under more trees than iPhones, Xboxes and all the other alphabetical techno-toys put together. Suddenly, it's like you're meant to feel uncool if you're seen in a train, a bus or a dentist's waiting room without one.

However, among the places you're well advised not to be seen with a Kindle, Kobo or Nook are Derek Addiman's three bookshops in Hay-on-Wye.

The ebook is, potentially, a massive threat to the second hand book industry because you can't exactly put all your used virtual volumes into a box and take them to Hay. Whichever way you look at it, from now on there are going to be fewer actual books around.

You can hear Derek's unrestrained, uncensored views on the Kindle in Sunday's programme, along with the other side of the story.

North Wales romantic comedy writer Trisha Ashley reveals how the ebook has opened up a whole new audience for her novels. And Scott Mariani, who lives near Carmarthen, found he'd become King Kindle when a cut-price virtual version of one of his Ben Hope thrillers shot to the Amazon Number One spot.

More significantly, he also explains in the programme how authors are able to use ebooks to multiply their earnings at the expense of the mainstream publishing industry.

What it amounts to is something approximating to the Arab Spring, where mid-list authors - for so long the underdogs, kicked around by publishers and spurned by High Street bookchains - can finally regain power. Although the sinister side of this is the terrifying trajectory of Amazon to a position close to bookworld-domination.

Is it all going to spell the end of the physical book?

Well, no. Although paperback sales may continue to slump, the hardback will survive, if only because the ebook reader is never going to look good on a shelf.

What we might see is far more attention being paid by publishers to the design and quality of a hardback - in much the same way as more CDs are appearing in digipacks with gatefold sleeves and booklets, to provide something you can't get from a download.

But ebooks are also getting cleverer, as novels increasingly come with extra electronic sights and sounds.

The war has barely begun.

Watch this space...

Listen to Phil the Shelf on BBC Radio Wales on Sunday from 5pm.

Cyn ac Wedyn - Before and After

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Polly March Polly March | 10:50 UK time, Wednesday, 14 December 2011

A surrealist exhibition which explores artist Wanda Zyborska's experience of breast cancer will open at the Rhyl Library Arts Centre in January.

Cyn ac Wedyn - Before and After chronicles her battle with the disease from diagnosis, through surgery, reconstruction and recovery.

Detail of one of Wanda Zyborska's sculptures. Image courtesy of the artist

Detail of one of Wanda Zyborska's sculptures. Image courtesy of the artist

But rather than just representing a life-affirming survival story, Zyborska has taken this opportunity to use her sculptures and the photography of Glyn Davies to also explore notions of female sexuality as a woman's body ages.

She said: "Women of my age (57) seem to become invisible and I wanted to show people that I am still here and can use my body in my art."

Having been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, Zyborska, from Anglesey, wrote a blog from her hospital bed. It led to an art project she has carried out since ,which has enabled her to create distance between herself and the gruelling experience and "have some fun".

"I was due to have breast reconstruction surgery and I wanted to do some work about why I wanted to control the way I was seen and I wanted to show the scar as being something beautiful," she said.

Realising that she would never be the same way again after the surgery, she decided to document what she refers to as a "strange no man's land" of getting on with life after cancer and amputation but also to make a record of the empty place on her chest and the scar that she has become used to.

"I want to show the grace, strength, sexuality and humour of the body of a woman of a certain age and experience. I want to show the ambiguity of a body that has been altered, looking through different aesthetics; surrealism, erotica and landscape photography.

"This latest exhibition is about the whole process but also about the sexuality of women of a certain age, how people see us and how we want to be seen differently.

"In Glyn's photos, I worked with my sculptures in an installation in my garage to show myself in an erotic way, but not being objectified."

The images that will be on show in Rhyl depict Zyborska echoing a number of surrealist poses, from the bourgeois notion of women as hysterics to Man Ray's techniques of photographing women artists in such a way that they had a say in how they were represented.

Detail of a photograph of Wanda Zyborska's. Image courtesy of Wanda Zyborska and Glyn Davies

Detail of a photograph of Wanda Zyborska's. Image courtesy of Wanda Zyborska and Glyn Davies

Glyn Davies' photos echo that notion of women being captured by the eye of a male photographer.

"Glyn is an artist who is always able to find the beautiful and the strange in nature. I wondered if he could find it in my ageing and mutilated body," said Zyborska.

"I wanted him to photograph me as if I was a rather lovely rock, chosen for its own special qualities. I made a series of drawings of poses and proposed compositions.

"Man Ray collaborated with his models who were also artists in their own right. They worked together on the poses and ideas for his photographs. I believe it was their input that gave his work its surrealist edge. I wanted to work with Glyn in this way, choosing the images and compositions together, but with me taking the lead."

Much of Zyborska's sculpture work involves using industrial materials like tractor inner tubes, car and bicycle tyres and then using traditional sewing methods to stitch them. The idea is for the domestic feminine techniques to reconfigure how the masculine materials are perceived and challenge the viewer's notion of gender in art.

Zyborska has now had the five year all-clear from cancer and is looking forward to exhibiting her work in Bucharest, Romania in 2012.

Her show in Rhyl will take place from 7 January to 4 February 2012, with a public opening on Tuesday 10 January, 6-8pm. At 7pm she will perform, using the sculptural form, with musician and singer Ann Matthews. Admission is free.

The exhibition at Rhyl Library Arts Centre, in Church Street, Rhyl, will include a series of large digital photographs, large rubber sculptures and a blog by Wanda containing drawings and text.

The centre is open from 10am-5pm Monday to Friday, and 10am-12.30pm on Saturday. For more information visit

Exhibition explores concept of light

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Polly March Polly March | 16:20 UK time, Tuesday, 13 December 2011

A group of professional artists based in and around Barry is staging an exhibition on the theme of light.

The Vale of Glamorgan Artists' Association (Voga) consists of around 20 artists who regularly collaborate to put on events and workshops in all kinds of venues, ranging from formal gallery settings to disused shops.

Their latest offering is on display at Barry's Art Central Gallery and aims to look at the interpretations of light through various media and historical painting styles.

Photograph taken at the Vale of Glamorgan Artists' Light exhibition

Photograph taken at the Vale of Glamorgan Artists' Light exhibition

Around 90 pieces on the theme have been created in anything from paint to print drawing, sculpture and ceramics but also embracing a variety of different genres from figuration to abstraction and from modernism to post modernism.

The display includes pieces by Alan Salisbury, Karen Hughes and Eileen Allen.

Alan Salisbury, a former University of Glamorgan lecturer, has been working on a series that includes a bronze sculpture, in the style of old masters from the 15th to the 17th century.

However, he has decided to rework those classics with his own special twist so his Still Life with Reference to Fruit and Flowers echoes the work of 17th Century German painter Isaak Soreau, but Salisbury has added real flies to the finished piece.

Former art teacher Eve Hart is exhibiting paintings which she created to help overcome the death of her husband Bob, also an art teacher.

She said: "I call these pictures mindscapes. I feel they are helping me to cope with loss and move forward 'into light'."

The exhibition runs at the gallery in King Square until 14 January 2012.

Photograph from the Vale of Glamorgan Artists' Light exhibition.

Photograph from the Vale of Glamorgan Artists' Light exhibition. Images courtesy of Vale of Glamorgan Council

Vale of Glamorgan Council arts development officer, Tracey Harding said: "The whole concept of light is paramount to any form of artistic endeavour and will inevitably encompass many different forms of interpretation.

"As a group of artists who do not adhere to a particular manifesto, the range of possibility is without boundary."

Vale of Glamorgan Artists (Voga) was formed in 1997 by a group of artists working in Barry but soon extended its remit to around 20 other members who live or work in various places across the Vale.

New membership is decided via selection by existing members and the group aims to at all times improve contact between artists and the public, while showcasing its work through exhibitions.

Since formation, Voga members' work has exhibited at home and internationally - and also at the National Eisteddfod.

With funding from the Vale of Glamorgan Council and the Arts Council for Wales, it also created an art trail open studio festival in the Vale which saw members arranging workshops and classes for the public.

Light is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm. Admission is free. For information visit the Vale of Glamorgan council website.

Local art appreciation group, Art Central friends are to hold a talk by some of the artists on December 15 from 7pm to 9pm.

Owen Sheers announced as WRU artist in residence

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Polly March Polly March | 11:30 UK time, Monday, 12 December 2011

It has been a busy couple of months for Abergavenny writer Owen Sheers. November saw the film adaptation of his novel Resistance hit the silver screen and today he has been appointed as the first-ever artist in residence for the Welsh Rugby Union.

The post will see him immersed in the national sport of Wales for the whole of 2012 at both elite and community rugby team levels, shadowing the national squad in the build-up to games and getting a sneak peek at life as one of Warren Gatland's red army.

Owen Sheers in the Millennium Stadium. Photo: Huw Evans Picture Agency

Owen Sheers in the Millennium Stadium. Photo: Huw Evans Picture Agency

He will start in early in the New Year so he can observe the senior squad prepare for and play in the RBS Six Nations tournament, for which their hopes are high. It is the first time anyone who is not a historian or sports writer has been granted such access.

Sheers referred to his appointment as a "privilege" and said he was excited about watching the team progress through the year from such close range.

"Traditionally the physical and intellectual cultures of Wales have always been close cousins, so I'm thrilled to be involved in a project that promises to foster an ongoing relationship between rugby and the arts," he said.

"For a writer this is a particularly exciting time to be observing rugby in Wales, especially at the elite level when such a young, exciting squad has already captured the world's imagination at the World Cup.

"Given my recent work on The Passion in Port Talbot, and my current project with the Theatre Royal Haymarket and Bravo 22 Company, working with wounded soldiers to create a play about their lives, this position with the WRU feels like a very natural step in my writing life - writing informed not by my own experience, but by the experiences of others."

Owen Sheers with WRU chief executive Roger Lewis and chair of the Arts Council of Wales, Dai Smith at the announcement. Photo: Huw Evans Picture Agency

Owen Sheers with WRU chief executive Roger Lewis and chair of the Arts Council of Wales, Prof Dai Smith, at the announcement. Photo: Huw Evans Picture Agency

He added that he hopes any output from the residency will add to the experience of players and supporters while giving an insight into the world of Welsh rugby to those not so familiar with it.

The project is a partnership between the WRU and the Arts Council of Wales and will last for three years, with Sheers in post for the first year only. Other artists will be chosen for the subsequent years and will work in different disciplines.

The aim is to capture in literature the dramatic twists and turns of the sport and how it impacts on Welsh culture for posterity, so future generations will enjoy it and those living it right now can savour their memories.

The partnership was unveiled by the chief executive of the WRU Roger Lewis and the chairman of the Arts Council of Wales, Professor Dai Smith. Mr Lewis referred to Sheers as "one of Wales' literary stars".

"The work he has already published across a range of artistic disciplines displays a talent and power of observation which will undoubtedly help him create work of great interest and significance, in and beyond Wales," he said.

"Great art, like sport, has the power to change people's perceptions of the surrounding world for the greater good - it is a civilising influence.

"Welsh rugby is far more than just a game in Wales and we believe the wider impact it has on our culture and daily lives should be captured and interpreted in many ways.

"This project will help the people of Wales achieve a greater understanding and insight of what rugby means to us all and will also explain how the modern game relates to our wider society."

Roger Lewis, Wales international Luke Charteris, Owen Sheers, Wales forwards coach Robin McBryde and Dai Smith. Photo: Huw Evans Picture Agency

Roger Lewis, Wales international Luke Charteris, Owen Sheers, Wales forwards coach Robin McBryde and Dai Smith. Photo: Huw Evans Picture Agency

Recalling 15 October, when 61,000 people turned up at the Millennium Stadium to watch Wales play France in the Rugby World Cup semi-final 12,000 miles away, he added: "An artist and writer of Owen's calibre will be able to interpret events like that in a way which will make them last in our memories forever."

Prof Dai Smith said the Arts Council of Wales was "delighted" to announce the artist in residence programme.

"This is the first time any national team in the world has been involved with an artist in residence and Owen's discoveries for us, I know will be tremendous. He will capture so much of what goes on here at the stadium both on and off the field.

"Owen is a real live-wire, and a mover-and-shaker on the arts scene, to boot. I'm positive that his creative spirit will thrive and will open our minds to possibilities beyond the rugby field."

Owen Sheers in the Welsh dressing room at the Millennium Stadium. Photo: Huw Evans Picture Agency

Owen Sheers in the Welsh dressing room at the Millennium Stadium. Photo: Huw Evans Picture Agency

Sheers co-wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of his début novel Resistance, which stars Michael Sheen and Andrea Riseborough and is on current release.

Cardiff Print Workshop opens new work space

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 15:25 UK time, Friday, 9 December 2011

The Cardiff Print Workshop will open an additional work space this weekend, and will mark the occasion with a new exhibition and demonstration of the art form.

Cardiff Print Workshop's new work space

Cardiff Print Workshop's new work space

The Cardiff Print Workshop is a not-for-profit organisation which has been running for over 20 years.

Work by Cardiff Print Workshop members Lauren Burgess, Sally Williams, Teresa Bridger and Sue Paton

Work by Cardiff Print Workshop members Lauren Burgess, Sally Williams, Teresa Bridger and Sue Paton

It provides printmaking facilities for artists and new graduates, with many of the workshop's members having graduated from the fine art printmaking degree at UWIC, now the Cardiff Metropolitan University.

CPW will take over a new space at Unit 32 Market House, just across from Chapter Arts Centre in Market Road, Canton.

It will open tomorrow, Saturday 10 December, from 10am-6pm. There will be a print demonstration, running from 1-3pm, and an exhibition of prints by the current workshop members.

The exhibition will include examples of etching, lithography, monoprint, linocut, woodcut, collograph, drypoint and more.

This new space in Canton will be in addition to the CPW's existing workshop in the Howardian centre in the Penylan area of Cardiff, where the organisation offers intaglio facilities and also stone and offset lithographic print facilities.

Cardiff Print Workshop was originally set up in Tyndall Street where it remained until 1990,  when the redevelopment of the Cardiff Bay area meant that the site had to close.

In 1991 the voluntarily-run workshop moved to the Howardian Adult Education Centre in the city, where members began running classes for the general public to get involved with and to learn more about the art form.

See the Cardiff Print Workshop website for more information,

Examples of work by Cardiff Print Workshop member Jane Taylor. Images courtesy of the artists

Examples of work by Cardiff Print Workshop member Jane Taylor.
Images courtesy of the artists

Booktown Blues

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Phil Rickman Phil Rickman | 11:24 UK time, Friday, 9 December 2011

The Hay Festival has become such a massive phenomenon, inspiring imitators across the UK and beyond, that it's sometimes difficult to remember how it all started.

Unless, that is, you drop into the Hay Winter Weekend, as we did for Sunday's Phil the Shelf on BBC Radio Wales.

For several years now, the big festival has occupied a fairly vast rural site well out of town, with famous folk ferried to and from Hereford station or their hotels, their meals served in a private restaurant tent.



But this three-day pre-Christmas event brings the festival right back to where it began, over 20 years ago, building on the success of the local second-hand book trade.

Most of the weekend's events are held in Hay Community Centre, down the bottom of town near the edge of England, and you'll see famous writers poking around the bookshops and queuing for coffee behind their readers - just like the old days.

There are no actual global superstars at the Winter Weekend, but the guests are more relaxed and generally available for a chat. And it's certainly a lot easier for us, not having to chase people and find they've been grabbed by Sky Television again.

On Sunday's programme, from Hay, Adam Hart-Davies discusses The Book Of Time which, as he points out, has more about the nuts and bolts of time and is easier to understand than Stephen Hawking's Brief History of it.

We also break into the secret world with BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera's history of MI6, The Art of Betrayal. And we discover why your dog really doesn't want to eat you, with biologist and canine shrink John Bradshaw.

It was a touch dispiriting, however, hanging around the community centre, to observe, first-hand, the effects on the bookselling business of the recession and the online shopping revolution.

In past years, after every gig, you'd find long queues of fans waiting to get newly-bought books signed - sometimes buying multiple copies for Christmas presents.

This year you could watch people turning up for one particular event and then disappearing. And while a gig would be virtually sold out, when it was over most of the audience would head straight for the exit, without buying a book.

'It's the same everywhere,' one well-known author told me ruefully. 'We had an audience of 500 at the Cheltenham Festival and sold 12 copies of the book.'

The implication is that, in these penurious times, an increasing number of people are prepared to forego a signature in favour of a half-price deal on the Internet.

Meanwhile, with two prominent second-hand bookshops recently shutting down, the town is well split over plans for a big supermarket where the primary school now stands... a site alongside the nation's most scenic car park, once occupied, until it moved up the road, by the Hay Festival itself.

A central supermarket would be good news for local people on low pay, who currently have to travel to Brecon, Abergavenny or Hereford for cheap food. But the idea of a huge store selling food, clothing, electrical goods and - the final irony - cut-price best-selling books - horrifies small shopkeepers and supporters of the concept of an independent Hay.

That means a Hay with no chain stores - a status nurtured for decades by King Richard Booth, now compelled, for health reasons to spend more time in London. Last Saturday, Father Christmas was doing an afternoon shift at Richard's former headquarters, The Limited, and looking, to me, a bit less jovial than of old.

But Hay's always been eccentric enough to come through crises that would have turned a less-confrontational town into a commercial cemetery of sad charity shops. Someone always thinks of something... and knows how to publicise it.

This week, for example, I heard anarchic whispers of a Hay-based campaign against the hated ebooks which, because they have no second-hand life at all, are a further threat to the local economy.

Of which more next week...

Gillian Clarke pens new poem for opening of Gwent Archives

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 10:45 UK time, Friday, 9 December 2011

National poet of Wales Gillian Clarke has written a new poem to mark the opening of the new Gwent Archives office in Ebbw Vale.

Clarke's sonnet is entitled Archive and is written in both Welsh and English. Excerpts of the poem have been incorporated into the design of the façade of the building, which is on the site of the old steelworks building at the heart of the old industrial town.

The Gwent Archives building in Ebbw Vale. Photo: Gwent Archives

The Gwent Archives building in Ebbw Vale. Photo: Gwent Archives

I was at Gwent Archives earlier this week and was shown around the recently opened building by county archivist Gary Tuson. The building holds a wealth of information relating to the people and places of Gwent, and can be a rich resource for people researching their family histories.

(The nerd in me was extremely satisfied as, when we plucked a box at random from the storage shelves we came across some deeds dating back from the reign of Henry VII.)

Read the sonnet below, which is published here courtesy of Gwent Archives and Gillian Clarke.


We left our mark on pages, stones,
between Usk and Wye, Ebbw, Monnow, bones
in the turned earth of a field, in pit and street,
lists and litanies, letters, wills, receipts,
the etcetera of terraces, a statued square,
traces of who we were.

Ysgrifen yr afonydd, sibrwd Sirhywi,
Rhymni, Wysg, Gwy ac Ebwy,
geiriau o gariad, stôr o straeon,
gwaith glo, gwaith haearn,
gwaith tir mewn gwynt a glaw,
deilen a dalen yn yr adeilad hwn.

Archive of echoes, strata of history
stored in these walls, our story.

Gillian Clarke

The new Gwent Archives building. Photo: Gwent Archives

The new Gwent Archives building. Photo: Gwent Archives

Tuson said of Clarke's poem, "We are delighted with Gillian's poem. It really helps convey just how important archives are to our sense of who we are and where we come from."

For more information on the Gwent Archives visit the website and for more on Gillian Clarke visit her official site

Merlin to make guest appearance at Caerphilly's medieval fayre

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Polly March Polly March | 10:30 UK time, Thursday, 8 December 2011

Fans of the BBC's Merlin can get a sneak preview of the penultimate episode in this series by taking a trip back in time to the medieval era this weekend.

As part of its Medieval Christmas Fayre event, Caerphilly Castle has opened its stunning ramparts to offer exclusive screenings of the show, as a mark of respect for the cameo role the historic building has had in several episodes.

The programme, which won't be aired on BBC One until later in December, will be shown this Sunday 11 December in the castle's Great Hall.

And in the magical spirit of things, 20 golden tickets will be hidden around the castle on Saturday 10 December. Each person fortunate enough to find a ticket will be able to take along a family of up to four to one of the showings on Sunday and is guaranteed free entry to the castle on that day.

For those turning up on Sunday who have paid admission to the castle, there will be another 130 tickets per showing allocated on a first come first served basis.

Members of the cast of Merlin: Gwen (Angel Coulby), Arthur (Bradley James), Merlin (Colin Morgan), Morgana (Katie McGrath) and Uther (Anthony Head)

Members of the cast of Merlin: Gwen (Angel Coulby), Arthur (Bradley James), Merlin (Colin Morgan), Morgana (Katie McGrath) and Uther (Anthony Head)

Fans will also be able to catch a close glimpse of original costumes from the hit series as well as a photographic display and a green screen that will enable them to transport themselves right into Merlin's mystical world.

The event is a joint venture between Cadw and BBC Wales and is part of the weekend-long fayre, which sees a whole host of activities on offer at the 13th century castle.

Visitors are encouraged to transport themselves to a bygone era when sword-fighting, wizardry and jesters were the norm.

Sir Andrew, the Cadw Knight, will be running in his 'knight school' for young swashbucklers keen to hone their sword skills.

There will also be performances from the castle jester, music, dancing and combat sessions from Lion Rampart, medieval scenes by the Freemen of Gwent and an archery display from the Sons of the Dragon.

Throughout proceedings the Mirage Mummers will be acting out plays and the Hautbois will wheel around their medieval cart.

The Fayre takes place at the castle over Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 December (10am-4pm). There will also be a range of stands including children's medieval costumes, mystical sculpture and jewellery, shields and swords, medieval leatherworks, basket weaving, a blacksmith, glass stalls and woodturning.

On top of the daytime events, the castle will be tripping the light fantastic with a digital sound and light show over the nights of Friday 9, Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 December.

The Illuminata display at Caerphilly Castle


The Illuminata display at Caerphilly Castle

Photos of the Illuminata display at Caerphilly Castle. Photos: Illuminata

The Illuminata display will see the castle's walls of the inner ward ablaze with images capturing the building's long and varied history. There are two free showings each night at 5.30pm and 6.30pm.

The show will be followed by a medieval banquet, tickets for which can be bought at the castle or by calling 029 2088 3143.

Saunders Lewis under the spotlight

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Polly March Polly March | 09:53 UK time, Thursday, 8 December 2011

The work of Plaid Cymru pioneer and leading Welsh political and literary icon Saunders Lewis will be the subject of the next Richard Burton seminar at the Richard Burton Centre in Swansea.

In 1922, after returning from fighting in World War One and graduating in English from Liverpool University, Lewis joined the University of Wales, Swansea as a lecturer in Welsh.

His core Welsh nationalistic values had been heightened by his experiences fighting away at war, where he rubbed shoulders with many Irish soldiers.

Saunders Lewis

Saunders Lewis

It is this period which was seen to succinctly shape the ideas of the importance of Welsh identity he would hold dear until his death.

In 1936 he joined two other nationalists, DJ Williams and Lewis Valentine, to protest at a bombing school being established at Penyberth on the Llŷn Peninsula.

Their protest took the form of arson and when they claimed responsibility for the crime, Lewis was dismissed from his post at Swansea University. The Penyberth Three were then jailed for nine months at Wormwood Scrubs for the act.

Now, 75 years on, the Burton Centre is hosting a seminar and discussion with some of the foremost experts on the work and ideas of Saunders Lewis.

Professor Tudur Hallam from Swansea University's Academi Hywel Teifi will discuss the plays of Saunders Lewis in the light of Penyberth, with particular focus on Buchedd Garmon.

Dr Robert Rhys, also from Academi Hywel Teifi will look at the relationship between Saunders Lewis and DJ Williams, and Dr Pyrs Gruffudd, of the Department of Geography at Swansea University, will discuss the influence of landscape and territory on ideas of place and identity in the 1930s.

Dr Simon Brooks of the School of Welsh at Cardiff University will draw on the work of the Slovenian Slavoj Žižek in discussing the political philosophy of Saunders Lewis.

Each speaker will present a paper of approximately 15 minutes, followed by a discussion chaired by the director of the Richard Burton Centre, Dr. Daniel G Williams.

Dr Williams said: "75 Years since his expulsion from the University of Wales, Swansea, this is an opportunity to return to Saunders Lewis, one of the most controversial and fascinating figures of 20th century Wales.

"The act of 'The Three' still raises questions relating to ethics, justice, nation and territory, and the discussion on these themes will bring a busy season of activities at the Richard Burton Centre to a rousing finale."

In 1962 Lewis gave a lecture on BBC radio entitled Tynged Yr Iaith (The Fate of the Language). He predicted the extinction of the Welsh language and declared that it would die unless revolutionary methods were used to defend it.

The lecture led to the foundation of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society).

The event will be held on Monday 12 December from 4-6pm in Conference Room (B03), Ground Floor, Callaghan Building, Swansea University.

Admission is free and everyone is welcome. It is a Welsh language event, with simultaneous translation into English.

Transhumance exhibition at National Wool Museum

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 10:00 UK time, Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A new exhibition, Transhumance by Romanian photographer Dragos Lumpan, opens this week at the National Wool Museum in Llandysul, Carmarthenshire.

Transhumance is a traditional farming method of moving livestock animals to different gazing areas depending on the different seasons - such as moving flocks onto mountain pastures during the summertime.

The exhibition aims to explore the farming practice, which is rapidly disappearing and almost extinct in some areas of Europe, and to document it from an artistic and ethnological perspective.

Photograph by Dragos Lumpan showing Transhumance in Italy. Image courtesy of the artist

Photograph by Dragos Lumpan showing Transhumance in Italy. Image courtesy of the artist

The photographs in this exhibition focus on the last families following this ancient tradition in Wales, in the Elan Valley and Cambrian Mountains, plus areas in other European countries. These include Italy's southern regions of Abbrazzo, Campania, Molise and Sardinia; the Çajuo mountains, near Girokaster in Albania; Turkey's Giresun area and Konya province, and Perivoli in Greece.

The ancient tradition of transhumance, with Hafod being the upland summer pasture and Hendre the lowland winter pasture, had more or less died out in its traditional form in Wales by the late 19th century.

Lumpan has visited the Elan Valley and Cambrian Mountains on two occasions over the summer and the winter and two of the pictures taken on these tours are part of this exhibition. It is one of the most important areas in the UK where a variant of the tradition is still practiced.

The exhibition launches this Friday, 9 December, at 2pm and will remain on display at the museum until 31 January 2012.

There will also be the chance to hear a short talk by Dr Eurwyn Wiliam at the launch. Dr Wiliam is currently the Chair of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales. An expert on historical buildings and folk life, he was previously the curator and then director of St Fagans: Natural History Museum in Cardiff.

The National Wool Museum is open every day except Sundays and Mondays during the winter from 10am until 5pm.

For more on the National Wool Museum or any of the other six National Museum Wales museums, visit

Cardiff actor scoops gong at British Independent Film Awards

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Polly March Polly March | 14:31 UK time, Monday, 5 December 2011

The small independent film Weekend has triumphed at the British Independent Film Awards, with a special accolade for Cardiff actor Tom Cullen.

At the awards on Sunday night, Cullen, 26, scooped the Most Promising Newcomer award for his portrayal of Russell, a gay man embarking on a fleeting love affair with a man he picks up in a bar. Weekend chronicles their experiences getting to know one another amid the first flush of love.

Tom Cullen (right) with Chris New in Weekend. Photo: Quinnford & Scout

Tom Cullen (right) with Chris New in Weekend. Photo: Quinnford & Scout

The film, which was shot on a shoestring budget over 17 days in Nottingham, also picked up Best Achievement in Production, while Richard Ayoade's adaptation of Joe Dunthorne's novel Submarine, set in Swansea, won Best Screenplay. Cullen beat nominated Welsh actor Craig Roberts (Submarine) to the newcomer award.

Set over three days, Weekend echoes the themes of the cult hit Before Sunrise, which starred Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, as the two men experience all the excitement, fear, and intrigue of opening up to one another for the first time.

Both share different world views and seem unsure of themselves and where they fit in.

As director Andrew Haigh puts it: "I wanted to express that feeling of both fear and excitement that comes with the possibility of something new.

"I wanted to watch these two guys slowly fall for one another, fall for each other's differences almost as if they were uncovering missing pieces of themselves. I wanted to capture those moments that two people share when they truly start to engage with one another, gently focusing in on the struggles at the core of their characters.

"Russell and Glen are trying to work out who they are, what they want and how they should define themselves, in private as well as in public."

Cullen won the Most Promising Newcomer award for his portrayal of Russell. Photo: Quinnford & Scout

Cullen won the Most Promising Newcomer award for his portrayal of Russell. Photo: Quinnford & Scout

The film has built a groundswell of support ever since it premièred at the prestigious SXSW film and music festival in Austin, Texas, winning the Emerging Visions Audience Award, and also scooping the Grand Jury prize at Nashville Film Festival, where Cullen picked up the Best Actor award.

At SXSW the film proved so popular that extra screenings had to be arranged, and since then there has been a noticeable buzz about it, with people queuing round the block to see it when it opened in New York.

For former Llanishen High School pupil Cullen it is just one aspect of a busy and promising year, in which he was named as one of Screen International's Stars of Tomorrow.

He has spent the past six months filming HBO drama World Without End in Budapest, a big-budget, Canadian-British-German television co-production starring Miranda Richardson, Sex And The City's Cynthia Nixon and Peter Firth.

TV viewers can see him in December in Black Mirror, a three-part dark comedy devised by Charlie Brooker and co-written by Peep Show's Jesse Armstrong.

And he is due to start work on another film this month, moving to the bright lights of LA in January.

Cullen graduated from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in the summer of 2009 and before Weekend his film credits included Daddy's Girl (Best Film - Bafta Wales) and Panic Button.

Tom Cullen and Chris New. Photo: Quinnford & Scout

Tom Cullen and Chris New. Photo: Quinnford & Scout

In a recent interview with BBC Wales he said he knew Weekend was something special when he was offered the script.

"I had four offers at the time, some better paid, some I guess more high-profile than this but there was no other film I was going to do.

"From an egotistical point of view it was a massive challenge, because Russell is so far removed from who I am, and that's always exciting because it stretches you as an actor.

"He's so open, he's gay - I saw the outline of Russell and I wanted to get inside and fill it out."

Weekend is currently showing at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff and selected cinemas elsewhere.

Aberystwyth Storytelling Festival

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Polly March Polly March | 10:37 UK time, Friday, 2 December 2011

Storytellers from across the globe are descending on Aberystwyth this weekend for the town's first ever such festival, which is being run by the arts centre, The Magic Illuminarium and the Crick Crack Club.

The long-established art form and its power to unite communities and span generations will be celebrated by a raft of performers from near and far.

Among the highlights are Voodoo stories from the Caribbean and Africa and Breton tales as well as stories from north Wales, live music and performance from local storytellers.

Jan Blake and TUUP, The Unorthodox, Unprecedented Preacher

Jan Blake and TUUP, The Unorthodox, Unprecedented Preacher

Also appearing is Wales' very own official young storyteller of 2010, Bronwen Hughes, who will engage youngsters in the art.

Saturday night sees the folklore of the Caribbean and its fascination with zombies, vampires, "duppies", "jumbies", and "loogaroo" take centre stage. Storyteller Jan Blake hopes to bring the tradition alive with the help of Tuup (The Unorthodox, Unprecedented Preacher), also known as the professional storyteller Godfrey Duncan, at the Spook Tales event.

The duo will be back to share atmospheric tales from Africa with children in a Sunday afternoon session.

Aberystwyth Storytelling Festival poster

Aberystwyth Storytelling Festival poster

Festival organiser Peter Stevenson says the idea for the festival was born out of a storytelling group he helped start at the arts centre.

"I had the dream of turning it into a festival to bring great storytellers to Aber and to show them what brilliant storytellers we have here.

"Stories and illustration and music have been my life, and I love the way stories bring people together. We all need the frivolity and fantasy of stories in these dark times."

He says the art of storytelling has resonance through history.

"Storytelling, whether tales told simply around an open fire beneath a crescent moon, or performed in theatres under the glare of arc lights, or stories made up as children drift into dreamworld, is as important in our lives as it has ever been.

"They connect us to our roots, our communities and in an age of uncertainty allow us to give thought to our futures"

Martin Maudsley from Bristol will also be telling tales of his storyteller grandfather, American Ali Matthews will be retelling Eve in the Garden of Eden and Guto Dafis will share Breton stories in Welsh. There will also be a raft of workshops, along with music and song from local musicians, and the puppetry of Alexandra Shiva Melis.

The whole weekend will end on Sunday evening with a Grand Fest Noz, a Breton dance with Kantref in the Foyer Bar.

Festival passes cost £15, or the evening events can be booked separately at £6 (£4) or £8 (£6), and most of the daytime events are free. Further details are on the festival website,

Portrait of Lord Wigley to be unveiled at National Library

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 11:52 UK time, Thursday, 1 December 2011

A new portrait of Dafydd Wigley by Welsh artist David Griffiths will be unveiled tomorrow at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, as Lord Wigley steps down from his role as the president of the organisation.

Lord Wigley portrait by David Griffiths. Image courtesy of the artist

Lord Wigley portrait by David Griffiths. Image courtesy of the artist

The portrait will be unveiled at a farewell event for Wigley at the library. The painting shows the former MP, and later AM, of Caernarfon in a relaxed pose holding the third volume of his autobiography.

Griffiths, who was raised in Pwllheli and attended the Slade School of Fine Art, is one of Wales' most well-known portrait painters.

He has painted many famous politicians, clerics and sports people including the Prince of Wales, Bryn Terfel, Gwynfor Evans, Sir Geraint Evans and Joe Calzaghe.

Earlier this year he painted two portraits of the former First Minister of Wales Rhodri Morgan, one of which resides in the Pierhead Building in Cardiff Bay while the other is housed in the National Library in Aberystwyth.

Griffiths has also depicted the previous three presidents of the National Library, and this portrait will hang in the Library's Council Chamber alongside the other presidential portraits.

Lord Wigley will officially retire from the post of president on Friday 2 December after four years in the job. His replacement will be Sir Deian Hopkin, a historian and former vice-chancellor of London South Bank University.

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