Archives for July 2012

Remembering Welsh poet Hedd Wyn

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 10:47 UK time, Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Ninety-five years ago today, 31 July, Welsh poet Hedd Wyn died in action in World War One at the battle of Passchendaele.

The poet's poignant story is well known in Welsh culture. Hedd Wyn was the bardic name of Ellis Humphrey Evans, a shepherd and gifted poet from Trawsfynydd.

Hedd Wyn statue in Trawsfynydd. Photo © Alan Fryer and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence

Hedd Wyn statue in Trawsfynydd. Photo © Alan Fryer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Having already achieved a second place position in the Chair competition at the 1916 Eisteddfod in Aberystwyth, Evans was determined to win the prestigious competition at the 1917 Eisteddfod, which was held in Birkenhead.

Having enlisted in the war, Evans finished and submitted his composition from the front. He died in the first day of action in the Third Battle of Ypres, better known as Passchendaele. Six weeks later on 6 September his name was called as the posthumous winner of the bardic chair at the National Eisteddfod.

As history blogger Phil Carradice has written:

His death in battle shocked not just those present at the Eisteddfod but the whole of Wales.

A stunned silence fell over the Eisteddfod field as the news finally began to sink in. The Archdruid summed up the feelings of the gathering when he said, simply "Yr wyl yn ei dagrau a'r Bardd yn ei fedd - the festival in tears and the poet in his grave."

There could be no question of any form of investiture and amidst a funereal silence the Bardic Chair, the Chair that now belonged to the dead poet, was solemnly draped in black cloth.

The Black Chair, as it became known, still resides in Hedd Wyn's family home, Yr Ysgwrn. Earlier this year it was announced that the Snowdonia National Park Authority (SNPA) had secured the property for the nation.

At the time of the announcement in March the SNPA were carrying out much needed repairs to the roof of Yr Ysgwrn.

I've recently been in touch with the National Park to see how the work is getting on, and to see if any other improvements at the site.

A spokesperson told me, "The work on the roof has now been completed along with some plastering work inside the house itself.

"Work has also been done to re-build a wall around the rhubarb garden in preparation for the Wildlife Gardening project, where local schoolchildren will get involved.

"Other maintenance work has been done around the site to tidy up the area; this is generally an ongoing process."

Yr Ysgwrn, now complete with new roof. Photo courtesy of Snowdonia National Park Authority

Yr Ysgwrn, now complete with new roof. Photo courtesy of Snowdonia National Park Authority

"An application to the Heritage Lottery Fund is expected to be made in August for the development work for the site including interpretive work," the spokesperson added. "This is ahead of the main application to the HLF which will be made by 2014.

"The process to find a tenant to manage the land and outbuildings has also started. The SNPA have appointed a local company to oversee the tenancy application process which is expected to begin in August. The tenant will be responsible for looking after the land and livestock."

For further information on Yr Ysgwrn visit the SNPA authority's website,

Read Phil Carradice's blog post on Hedd Wynn and the Black Chair on the BBC Wales History website.

First, unwrap your truffle...

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Phil Rickman Phil Rickman | 10:15 UK time, Thursday, 26 July 2012

"Don't bite... savour it, roll it around in your mouth. There are places on the tongue that taste only sweet and places that taste only bitter or salt or sour... Caress it in your mouth, and you'll be amazed at what you taste..."

That is from The Initiation Of Ms Holly by KD Grace, an erotic novel. Mummy porn. It was published by Xcite, an imprint of Accent Books, based at The Old School, Bedlinog, Glamorgan.

I've always liked women's fiction. It tends to be more psychologically-acute, probes deeper into emotions. And women writers, generally, are better at sex. Less self-conscious.

By the time you read this, probably something like one in three women in Wales will have read the so-called 'mummy-porn' sado-masochistic, bondage shlockbuster Fifty Shades Of Grey by EL James.

I spent some time in a branch of Waterstones the other week. There was a table, right at the entrance, piled high with copies of Fifty Shades and its two sequels. And in they all came. The mummy bit is right - many of them had pushchairs. You kept hearing them actually saying 'Oh, everybody's reading it...' which eventually began to sound like baa, baa...

After a while, I felt like torching the pile. But in the end I did what everybody else apparently was doing.

I read it.

And, you know, it wasn't as badly-written as I'd been led to expect.

I mean, it isn't well-written - the the hero, or 'dominant', Christian Grey, billionaire owner of the Red Room of Pain, talks like an alien in an old SF movie, and every few pages the narrator or 'submissive', Anastasia, exclaims: "holy crap!"

It's interesting that the language doesn't get much stronger than that. Here's a woman who gives you hundreds of pages of hot bondage, and she's a prude about talking dirty.

There are no such inhibitions at Xcite - "best erotic book brand, 2010". Yes, there really was mummy porn before Shades but, on Sunday's Phil The Shelf, Accent and Xcite proprietor Hazel Cushion explains how EL James has opened up a whole new.... Oh hell, it's very difficult to write a sentence about mummy porn without falling into a pit of double-entendres, but you get the idea: authors like Xcite star KD Grace have, um, finally come into their own.

We talk to KD (really name, er, Kathy Dickie) about Ms Holly and her adventures in an up-market sex club, appropriately called The Mount. Also the new genre of paranormal erotics, which features people having orgiastic sex with ghosts... possibly 50 shades, one after the other.

At this point, you should know that what Ms Holly is rolling around in her mouth at the top of this column is in fact a chocolate truffle. In a startling opening scene, KD Grace describes how a woman and a man can enjoy the same chocolate truffle in the dark. It's not for the squeamish, but actually more imaginative than anything in Fifty Shades.

If there is anything slightly disturbing about this phenomenon it's the idea of mature women sharing sticky passages from erotic novels in the way school kids used to do in the cloakroom... that was in the days before kids actually started having sex in the cloakroom.

For the publishing industry, what it signifies is the end of chicklit, the genre first aimed at socially and sexually aware young women in the 1990s.

The Queen of chicklit was Jane Green, whom we also meet in Sunday's programme. Now middle aged and living in the US with her second husband, Jane is not impressed by the new erotica. Her latest novel, The Patchwork Marriage, is fully-rounded in a way Fifty Shades doesn't even try to be, dealing in considerable depth with the problems of a woman marrying a man with two daughters, one of whom hates her.

Now that's real pain.

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

Wales Millennium Centre embarks on first national tour

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 16:36 UK time, Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Wales Millennium Centre is one week away from the start of its début tour of Wales with its first full production, the Welsh-language Ma Bili'n Bwrw'r Bronco.

Produced in collaboration with Theatr na n'Óg, Ma Bili'n Bwrw'r Bronco (Bili does a Bronco) is the Centre's adaptation of Douglas Maxwell's Decky Does a Bronco, which was first performed by Scottish theatre company Grid Iron in 2000. It later proved a huge hit at the Edinburgh Festival.

In this Welsh adaptation the play is set in a playground on a housing estate in the Swansea valley.
Five young boys spend the summer of 1983 acting out their dreams and fears in their local park, play fighting and performing their new obsession, bronco-ing: standing on a swing seat and riding it as high as you can before kicking the seat over the bars.

Yet the boys' playful bickering is cut short by an unimaginable event during the play, and their lives change forever.

A rehearsal shot for Ma Bili'n Bwrw'r Bronco. Photo: Farrow's Creative

A rehearsal shot for Ma Bili'n Bwrw'r Bronco. Photo: Farrow's Creative

Ma Bili'n Bwrw'r Bronco is adapted by Jeremi Cockram and directed by Geinor Styles. It stars Carwyn Jones, Chris Kinahan, Dafydd Rhys Evans, Gareth Bale, Iestyn Arwel, Osian Rhys, Rhys Downing and Sion Ifans.

The play will open at The Marl, Grangetown in Cardiff on 31 July and tour across the country in August.

Surtitled performances will take place in Cardiff on Thursday 2 August at 7.30pm and on Saturday 4 August at 2.30pm and 7.30pm.

For more information visit the Wales Millennium Centre website,

Take a peek at the new Doctor Who Experience

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BBC Wales Arts BBC Wales Arts | 16:25 UK time, Friday, 20 July 2012

BBC Wales braved the crowds, as well as some of The Doctor's most fearsome enemies, at the opening of the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay earlier today.

Watch this clip from the opening of the new exhibition, which has specially built sets and interactive features for fans to explore, based next to the BBC's Roath Lock studios in the bay.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Were you at the opening today? Let us know your thoughts if you were there!

Australian poet scoops Cardiff International Poetry Competition top prize

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 11:25 UK time, Friday, 20 July 2012

The 2012 Cardiff International Poetry Competition has lived up to its international name with Australian poet Mark Tredinnick winning the first prize of £5,000.

Mark Tredinnick. Photo: Literature Wales

Mark Tredinnick. Photo: Literature Wales

Tredinnick, who lives near the Wingecarribee River near Sydney, scooped the prize for his poem Margaret River Sestets.

He has published 11 works of poetry and prose, many of which have won or been shortlisted for various literary prizes, and last year he won the prestigious Montreal International Poetry Prize.

The second prize of £500 in the Cardiff competition was won by Jonathan Edwards from Crosskeys for his poem Evel Knievel Jumps Over My Family. Edwards' first poetry collection, My Family and Other Superheroes, is forthcoming from Bridgend publisher Seren Books.

Harry Man from London claimed the third place prize of £250 with his poem Lost Ordinance, Sussex, 1943.

You can read the winning poems on

Five runners-up prizes were also awarded in the competition, run by Literature Wales, which was judged by Sinéad Morrissey and the recent Wales Book of Year winner Patrick McGuinness.

For more on the competition and its winners, and to read the winning poems, visit the Literature Wales website,

Meanwhile, Sally Spedding has won the Welsh Poetry Competition with her poem She wears green, on the topic of animal cruelty.

Second prize was won by Glyn Edwards with Lambing Language while third prize went to Morgan Rhys Powell with Austerity. Welsh writer and poet John Evans judged the 2012 competition.

BBC Cymru Wales' first Exhibitionist revealed

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BBC Wales Arts BBC Wales Arts | 11:57 UK time, Thursday, 19 July 2012

On last night's The Exhibitionists, Efa Thomas from Criccieth was revealed as the series winner, making Julia Manser from Swansea the runner up.

Efa Thomas, winner of The Exhibitionists, with artist Shani Rhys James, whose work Efa chose for part of her exhibition.

The BBC Cymru Wales series, a collaboration with Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, followed five individuals with no formal art background as they were set a series of tasks, the first time ever a museum has allowed such extraordinary access to its important art collection for members of the public to handle, discuss, and put on show.

Helping them along the way have been two esteemed figures in the Welsh art world. Osi Rhys Osmond is a highly respected Welsh painter and a Senior Lecturer of Art at Swansea Metropolitan University. Karen MacKinnon is Exhibitions Curator at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea.

As finalists, Efa, a musician and Cardiff journalism student originally from Criccieth, and Julia a charity sector worker and keen Swansea City FC follower, were given their own exhibitions in the National Museum's new wing for modern and contemporary art, Gallery 24. Those visiting the gallery were asked to vote for their favorite exhibition. Efa received the most public votes.

"I took part in The Exhibitionists because I'm always trying new things," says Efa. "I think it's great the museum gave members of the public the chance to do this because as our national museum, it belongs to every single person in Wales.

"The Exhibitionists programme and the mentors brought out my creativity and encouraged me to work independently and do whatever I wanted. I doubt I would ever have done anything like this without it. It shows that we're all capable of creativity, and all capable of curating exhibitions worthy of being shown in the National Museum of Wales because we all have stories to tell."

The exhibitions can be seen at the National Museum Cardiff until August 19 and the pieces of art can be seen on the Your Paintings website. The series is produced by Gwynedd-based Cwmni Da TV company.

Watch the last episode on iPlayer.

The Writers' Spring: a revolution in the ebook world

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Phil Rickman Phil Rickman | 14:40 UK time, Wednesday, 18 July 2012

No avoiding it any more. There's a revolution in the book world.

Let's call it The Writers' Spring.

Here's one of the leaders now, professing "a livid frustration with the self-serving, ivory-towered London publishing and agent elites who have been deluding themselves for so many years that they are indeed the 'Chosen Ones' of pompous literary endeavour!"

Julian Ruck

Julian Ruck

This is Julian Ruck, who we talk to in Sunday's Phil the Shelf. A man with a virtual weapon, and he's not afraid to use it.

"I felt it was time someone blew the lid off the utterly-disconnected-from-reality and smug world of publishing. It is long overdue."

The author of the Ragged Cliffs trilogy, Julian is the organiser of the Kidwell-e festival, celebrating "the most innovative, exciting and empowering medium to hit the publishing world since Caxton and Gutenberg."

It takes place next weekend, 28/29 July, at the Ffos Las racecourse near Kidwelly, with several writers and ebook experts lined up to speak to a hoped-for 20,000-plus audience... many of whom could soon be published authors.

Anybody can publish an ebook, for very little expense. You get it up on Amazon and then you get all your mates to post five-star reviews saying how brilliant it is. You won't even look sad, because lots of established writers are doing it - Stephen King was among the first.

The reason established writers are increasingly tempted is that a self-published ebook can, in theory - and often in practice - earn you about four times as much as one put out by a publisher. And if you're already a recognised name you have more than a head start.

Publishers, too, are aware that, for minimum outlay, they can relaunch writers who were big 20 or 30 years ago. The late David Williams, Welsh creator of the Mark Treasure series, joins Andrew Garve and 1960s TV favourite Francis Durbridge in a new ebook omnibus, The Best of British Crime.

"The publication of this omnibus revives a trio of the lively mystery novels that have lurked in publishers' archives for years, waiting to be rediscovered," says (living) crime writer Martin Edwards, who's written the book's introduction and is one of the speakers at Kidwell-e.

Which isn't, of course, about established print authors like Martin. It's about all those writers who've been spurned by the self-serving, ivory-towered London publishing and agent elites. It goes without saying that a number of them are actually well worth publishing.

It also goes without saying that a large number will never realise how hopeless they are. Sometimes publishers get it wrong but, more often than not, they don't.

As a first-timer, you might well leave Kidwelly all fired up and convinced you're going to be the next EL James (author of the self-published Fifty Shades of Grey, which I'm afraid we'll be discussing in the next programme).

But the brutal truth is that out of all the thousands who epublish themselves, only a few have really soared so far, and most of these - like EL James - have been repromoted by a print publisher.

Most will earn less than £500 - not much for maybe a year's work. And they tend to be the ones with classy covers and a slick publicity campaign. You can learn the basics of all this at Kidwelly... and, at the very least, it's a lot of fun.

So where does this leave the, um, self-serving, self-deluded publishers?

"Could turn out to be the best thing that's happened to us in years," one leading publisher told me, hopefully.

Publishers can play around with ebook prices, halving them overnight to attract mass-sales and word-of-mouth promotion and then increasing them when sales reach a plateau. They can't, of course, do this with printed books.

But many of them are more than a little scared. "They don't really know where it's going," one long-time bestselling novelist told me a few days ago.

Nor does anyone. OK, virtually all publisher-produced books have decent grammar, correct spelling and a basic literacy, while an appreciable proportion of self-published ebooks... well, it's not hard to see why they didn't get picked up for a five-figure advance.

However, there are now agencies which, for a fee, will tart up your manuscript and give it a classy Photoshop cover. Just as many published authors are boosting their incomes by lecturing on creative-writing courses, others are seeing the possibility of becoming book-doctors and book-midwives.

Pretty soon we'll all be authors - virtually.

Listen to Phil the Shelf on BBC Radio Wales from 5.30pm on Sunday. For more on the Kidwell-e Festival visit the website

Angharad Price: Steig Larsson and the Quercus connection

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Phil Rickman Phil Rickman | 09:15 UK time, Friday, 13 July 2012

The late Steig Larsson has sold an estimated 60 million books worldwide, a good proportion of them in the UK. Which is a lot more than Angharad Price... so far.

Angharad Price. Photo: Angharad Elen

Angharad Price. Photo: Angharad Elen

OK, three massive, complex, violent Swedish thrillers don't have too much in common with a very slim poetic story set in the Maesglasau Valley of north Wales. Except that both Steig and Angharad were discovered by the same London publisher, Christopher MacLehose, who runs his own imprint inside independent publishers Quercus.

It's not really all that surprising, as MacLehose specialise in translation, and The Life Of Rebecca Jones by Angharad Price was published some years ago in Welsh. But it did get me thinking about what would become the theme for this week's edition of Phil The Shelf.

Before Steig Larsson came along there were already a few Scandinavian writers, like Wallander creator Henning Mankell, doing fairly well in translation. But before Angharad, London publishers had virtually nobody whose novels had begun in Welsh - well, nobody still alive.

So how come we can't get enough Nordic novels while Offa's Dyke seems to be the biggest book-barrier in Europe?

It's not, of course, because the English-reading world is entirely uninterested in what happens in Welsh-speaking Wales. It seems to be all about a shortage of good translators - or, at least, good translators with good contacts in the UK publishing world.

The Life of Rebecca Jones. Photo courtesy of MacLehose Press

The Life Of Rebecca Jones. Photo courtesy of MacLehose Press

As very few London publishers speak Welsh, they rely on people they can trust to say, "this is a serious page-turner". Or, in the case of The Life Of Rebecca Jones, "this is a classic".

Rebecca was translated for MacLehose by Lloyd Jones, best known for the award-winning Mr Cassini - a Welsh novel in English. Obviously a labour of love, the translation preserves all the poetry in this story of a very unusual family, which produced sons who overcame the constraints of blindness and also, at a later stage, Angharad Price herself, now a senior lecturer in Welsh at Bangor.

It's been widely praised in the London media. The Independent said:

"Price's book achieves a rare feat indeed. A lovingly crafted account of Welsh-speaking rural life on the brink of dissolution or at least transformation, it serves both as a touching, tender document and as a thoroughly artful exercise in storytelling."

It's already a cult, but will it become a serious bestseller in English? A paperback is scheduled, with major promotion. If it does take off, will the Steig Larsson effect create a demand for more Welsh novels?

In other words, will Welsh-language novelists be able to earn something approximating to a good living?

It's hard enough these days for English language writers to achieve a worthwhile income but, as you can hear on Sunday's programme, full-time Welsh writers like Gareth Williams - thrillers, non-fiction, screenplays, kidlit; you commission it, he can do it - need to multitask on a mind-boggling scale.

But Angharad Price thinks Gareth's good and, if all goes well, that could count for a lot.

Listen to Phil the Shelf from 5.30pm on Sunday on BBC Radio Wales.

Comic verse wins out at Caerleon Arts Festival

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 15:25 UK time, Monday, 9 July 2012

A comic poem inspired by The Sound Of Music has won the inaugural All Wales Comic Verse competition at the Caerleon Arts Festival.

The subject matters of entries ranged enormously, including the after effects of curry, the problems of ageing and women with facial hair. But Mike Greenhough, a retired physicist at Cardiff University, won the competition and the £500 winner's cheque with his poem Mounting Anxiety, inspired by the song My Favourite Things sung by Julie Andrews in the musical.

Competition winner Mike Greenhough with judge Siriol Jenkins and panel chairman Roy Noble

Competition winner Mike Greenhough with judge Siriol Jenkins and panel chairman Roy Noble

The first All Wales Comic Verse competition drew entrants from all across the country; 126 entries were received in all, with the shortlist of 10 drawn up for the inaugural competition that took place yesterday at the Priory Hotel in Caerleon.

Greenhough took his inspiration from the song in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, and particularly the word 'few' that Julie Andrews' character Maria uses to describe her favourite things - which led him to wonder what other favourite things the nun might have had.

The opening stanza reads:

Fräulein Maria reveals when she sings,
Only a few of her favourite things.
Is the tip of the iceberg all she admits?
Has she carefully censored the spicier bits?

Watch a video clip of Greenhough reciting his winning poem at the competition.

Greenhough said, "As far as poetry is concerned I only write comic verse because I don't really understand more conventional poetry. I prefer to write humorously, rather than writing about the human predicament."

I asked poet and regular contributor to Roy Noble's show on Radio Wales, Goff Morgan, for his thoughts on the comic verse competition. He compèred at yesterday's event:

"I'd been interested in the idea of running a comic verse competition for some years. As someone who makes a small income from being a muse for hire on the Roy Noble program, it seems to me that it's often hard to get comic verse taken seriously. It seems to be the elephant in the room of poetry - everyone knows it exists, but they'd rather not talk about it.

"Comic poetry has a long pedigree. Since poetry was first declaimed, someone decided to subvert the form and raise a laugh. At the drama competitions in ancient Greece, performed in honour of the Gods, comic and tragic pieces were both consider fit tributes to the deities. Aristophanes was every bit as respectable as Aeschylus.

"The 17th and 18th centuries teemed with ripe satirical verse. The 19th century, however, saw a retreat of the poetry establishment from humour - it was a po-faced establishment in which lack of reverence was highly frowned upon - not to say that the form didn't flourish from comic opera to ribald music hall songs; it was just not worthy or respectable to promote laughter.

"I relish laughter - both raising it and doing it! A day without laughter is a sorry day indeed.

"One day, at the start of this year, I was discussing over a few beverages my long percolating idea with my friend Richard Frame, who suggested that we approach the Caerleon Arts Festival Committee, with whom he was associated, as they were looking to incorporate a literary element in to this year's festival.

"I wrote a short brief, and an outline of the rules, terms and conditions etc. and they took the idea and ran with it! It was fantastic - I don't know how they managed to pull it off so smoothly. Suddenly there was a team of people behind a real project - it was no-longer the idea of a lone fat man in a pub!

"I offered to MC the event, and was asked to write a verse to launch the competition. As we were the Caerleon Arts Festival, and Caerleon has a strong Roman connection, I wrote a short verse after the style of the Roman satirist Juvenal. We decided to read the poem to the assembled press from the steps of the Roman Legionary Museum - wearing a toga seemed to come naturally to mind in the circumstances.

Goff announcing the competition

Goff announcing the competition

"It was a rather short toga - my dimpled knees were a little more evident than I would have hoped or realised at the time - but I thought that my very British choice of socks with sandals set off the whole thing nicely. However, the number of times I've had to point out that they were for comic effect is starting to become rather wearing!

"I think we've achieved something rather entertaining with this competition, but also useful in reminding the world of poetry that comic verse is an important and still vibrant part of our literary tradition - it's time to take it seriously once more."

The Caerleon Festival continues until Sunday 15 July, with performances from the National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke, poet and comedian John Hegley, a performance of Richard III and a literary walk with Catherine Fisher, organised by Literature Wales.

For more information and the full line-up of performers and events visit

Arts meets science at the Cardiff Science Festival

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 16:17 UK time, Friday, 6 July 2012

Art and science. It's perhaps not the most comfortable or obvious of pairings but the two worlds will overlap next week at the Cardiff Science Festival.

Perhaps surprisingly, there are a number of arts-inspired events taking place at the week long festival, which begins on Monday 9 July.

Intrigued by the new festival I spoke to committee member Sarah Vining, who told me that although there are a number of high profile science festivals that take place across the UK - each of which draws thousands of visitors - Cardiff was sadly lacking in the science festival department.

Largely organised by a team of volunteers and armed with a small amount of funding, the result is a mix of 50 events that blend the quirky with the more conventional lectures and talks.

Dean Burnett

Dean Burnett

Here's the pick of the bunch if you're more arts- rather than science-minded:

  • Cardiff BookTalk event: Cardiff BookTalk is a new book group set up Cardiff University that discus themes from the best in both classic and contemporary literature. In this special festival event on Thursday the group will discuss Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Entry is free but places must be booked in advance, see the Cardiff Science Festival website for more details on how to book a space.
  • Science, art and music event on Friday at The Crofts Pub: featuring an art performance by Barrie Davies from 6pm followed by free live music and entertainment hosted by Scott Travers of Radio Cardiff from 8.30pm.
  • Working with the enemy: the difference between artists and scientists is a talk on Sunday 15 July that will explore the relationship between scientists and artists. It will hopefully encourage a new perception of art and science, and encourage a greater collaboration between the two disciplines in the future.
  • When Science and Comedy Collide: a comedy event, also on the Sunday, presented by Doctor of Neuroscience/stand-up comedian Dean Burnett.

I spoke to Penelope Rose Cowley earlier today, who is the artist in residence at The Crofts Pub in Roath. In addition to the event above there will be an art/science exhibition at the Skittle Alley Gallery there. (It really is an exhibition space in the old skittle alley area of the pub; an inspired idea, if you ask me.)

The exhibition, that will feature work by Penelope plus other artists Barrie J Davies and Bella Woodfield, will run from 1-11pm each day of the festival. Entry is free and no booking is required.

Penelope explained the fascinating theory behind her work, which is based on images of brain scans.

Her work expresses the translation of personal ideas, experiences, thoughts and memories. She also explores the idea of how thoughts are held in the mind and transmitted from the brain to the nervous system - and what that process would like if it was visualised.

An example of Penelope Cowley's work. Image courtesy of the artist

An example of Penelope Cowley's work. Image courtesy of the artist

Penelope's own brain was recently scanned by a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine by Dr Silvia de Santis of Cardiff University's Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC). She then used these images to create an artistic translation of her brain imagery - and some of her montages and prints will be on show at the exhibition.

If music is more your thing there are a few intriguing events on the line-up. Science rapper Jon Chase, who some may recognise from CBBC and BBC Bitesize Revision, will perform on Saturday 14 July while scientist Wendy Sadler explores musical science and how musicians mix technology with the richness of human voices to create new sounds in an event called Science of the Voice.

Dr Mark Lewney explains the physics of the rock guitar in Rock Guitar in 11 Dimensions, also next Saturday. According to the festival website he'll use riffs from Vivaldi to AC/DC, explain the secret of the Stradivarius, and show how string vibrations might lie at the heart of the Big Questions about the universe.

Get the latest news for the festival on the Facebook page and check the Cardiff Science Festival website if you want to book places on any of the events.

What does a poet in residence actually do?

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 09:05 UK time, Friday, 6 July 2012

A few months ago I visited the National Wool Museum in Dre Fach Felindre. As a keen knitter, with a wider interest in all things arts and crafts, it was a perfect day out - save the wintry weather. And no, I didn't visit in June.

Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch. Photo: Keith Morris

Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch. Photo: Keith Morris

A highlight was getting to meet, and I dare say interrupt the work of, the newly appointed poet in residence at the museum Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch. I wrote about her residency at the time and even though it only seems like a couple of weeks ago, her residency is now coming to an end.

Samantha has been back in touch to let me know how she's got on during her time at the museum. The residency has been a platform for her to work towards her fourth collection of poetry, on the theme of textiles.

You often hear the term artist or poet in residence but if you've ever wondered what it actually entails, read on for Samantha's insight into her post.

"My Leverhulme residency, and so my time at the National Wool Museum, draws to a close on 14 July with my final free workshop in which we'll be looking at imagery and metaphor.

"Each of the monthly workshops has introduced students to a different aspect of the writing process, often drawing on artefacts from current exhibitions at the museum.

"I have also been running fortnightly writing surgeries all of which booked out weeks in advance and were free of charge. Over the course of the last six months I've seen the work of the participants go from strength to strength; one noted: 'You have knocked me sideways and I guess a few folk here could say the same. You changed my focus and the way I write.'

"My research has taken me around Wales, visiting mills and interviewing weavers, as well as to Styal Mill Museum and Helmshore Textile Museum in the north of England. I've come across some fascinating voices and drawing all the strands together will be a long process.

"Not only am I intrigued by the voices of the living, but also by the voices of the dead which I've come across in letters, diaries and legal documents. One aspect that I'm particularly interested in is social responsibility in industry and to this end I've been looking at the life of Robert Owen, a Welsh social reformer who moved to Scotland where he bought the New Lanark Cotton Mills in 1799.

A loom in action at New Lanark Mill. Photo: Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch

A loom in action at New Lanark Mill. Photo: Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch

"I went to New Lanark in May to see how his factory worked. He was a man of vision who introduced free education and medical care for his workforce and decreed that two evenings a week should be devoted to dancing!

"He also wanted his mill at New Lanark to be surrounded by gardens because he thought it was essential for his workforce to have somewhere to walk and reflect outside factory hours.

The roof garden at New Lanark Mill. Photo: Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch

The roof garden at New Lanark Mill. Photo: Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch

"I found that once I started on the research, other avenues opened up, leading to new poems, and that's the most exciting part for a writer because you never know where the road will take you.

"It has been a privilege to interview staff at the National Wool Museum as part of my research and I am grateful to all those who have generously shared their time and expertise as well as to staff at the National Museum in St. Fagan's and at Cathays and at the National Waterfront Museum who have given me the opportunity to view archives not normally on display to the public.

"Working with the staff and meeting such enthusiastic visitors has made the residency at the National Wool Museum a real pleasure.

"I've been privileged to encounter some inspirational people including previous artist in residence, Julia Griffith Jones, and the musician Helen Adam, with whom I ran a joint Rhythm and Rhyme Day at the National Wool Museum to celebrate the anniversary of the Rebecca Riots in Drefach. Helen taught me some mill tunes and following the session I wrote a poem which took its inspiration from a weaving song Y Gwydd.

Rhythm and Rhyme Day at the National Wool Museum. Photo: Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch

Rhythm and Rhyme Day at the National Wool Museum. Photo: Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch

"Last night we held a celebratory end of residency reading at the National Wool Museum where participants in the workshops had the opportunity to read alongside myself.

"I performed some of my textile poems as well as poems from my new collection, Banjo, which was published last month by Picador. It has already been positively reviewed in both New Welsh Review as well as on the London Grip website and was recently named as one of the top new poetry collections in the Telegraph.

"This weekend I will be reading at the Ledbury Poetry Festival, alongside the two other prizewinners from this year's National Poetry Competition (in which I won second prize for my poem Ponting) and on the Sunday morning I'll be taking part in an event on Antarctica in the company of poets Bill Manhire and Melanie Challenger."

To read more about Samantha's work visit her website

Want to be a bestselling children's author? First, buy your parrot...

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Phil Rickman Phil Rickman | 12:30 UK time, Thursday, 5 July 2012

If you were thinking of doing a children's book on the basis that you could be the new JK Rowling, there's something you need to know.

In the 15 years since Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone came out, several authors have been hailed as the new JKR.

Go on, name one...

Hmm, thought not. Basically there is no new JK Rowling.

Something else you need to know: for the first Harry Potter novel, Rowling apparently got a £3,000 advance from Bloomsbury who, even then, were fairly significant independent publishers.

This is the figure you need to remember because, in those 15 years, publishers' advances have not exactly increased. For an unknown first-timer in the kidlit department, 3K is still close to the going rate.

Which is why most children's writers have another job. Even after several books, kidlit is rarely a career. I remember the much-loved Dick King Smith, author of The Sheep Pig, which was filmed as Babe, telling me that he used to have to write over 10 books a year to make a living.

I hadn't met Dick when, after a contract fell through, my agent said, "Why don't you write a children's book? You won't get paid much, but it'll only take you about six weeks."

He was half right. I didn't get paid much, but it took six months.

That's another thing: children's books, especially those aimed at Young Adults, are rarely quicker to write than adult books. And you get involved in lots of arguments about layers of political correctness you'd never have imagined existed. And problems like having to use kilometres all the time, regardless of what it says on the road signs, because that's what kids are taught in school.

And don't think it's over when you've finished the book. Adult writers are used to doing talks and signings. Children's writers are urged to go into showbiz.

My Young Adult publisher invited me to lunch to meet a well-known publisher's publicist who also wrote a successful series about a vampire pirate. He explained how he toured schools armed with a cutlass... and a big box of his books to flog to the kids. This wasn't about threatening them as much as putting on a performance. Day after day.

Invited to consider developing a similar routine involving my character - a teenage boy who was learning to dowse with a pendulum - I pointed out to the publishers that a few deeply-religious parents might well consider that dowsing could be exposing their kids to Dark Forces.

The truth is, I wimped out - thinking about facing, day after day, new gangs of cynical teenagers committed to taking me down.

Anyway, after two books, I got out of kidlit, under the impression that it was only lesser-known writers or those operating under a pseudonym who got pushed into the minefield of children's entertainment.

Then, for this week's Phil the Shelf, I went to talk to the best-selling Val McDermid.

This is Val, of The Wire In The Blood fame, author of adult novels involving savage killings, torture, etc.

In a major, if temporary, departure, Val's now written the words for a picture book entitled My Granny Is A Pirate which, according to the back cover, is aimed at an audience aged two-plus.

Yes, mine boggled, too. Especially when I saw the author preparing to give the hard sell to a marquee-full of potential new readers.

Out of her bag came a large, fluffy parrot...

Listen to Phil the Shelf on BBC Radio Wales from 5.30pm this Sunday.

Osi Rhys Osmond on mentoring The Exhibitionists

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BBC Wales Arts BBC Wales Arts | 16:05 UK time, Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Osi Rhys Osmond is a highly respected Welsh painter and a lecturer at Swansea Metropolitan University. He is one of the mentors on The Exhibitionists and talks here about his involvement in the series.

The Exhibitionists is a brilliant idea for a TV programme - taking five individuals with no experience of art in a professional sense and asking them to curate an exhibition creates an extraordinary set of opportunities.

Osi Rhys Osmond

Osi Rhys Osmond

Our Exhibitionists were all very different, in age, experience and in their knowledge of art. They all had very clear ideas about what art was and how effective the appreciation of art could be as a means of personal development.

It was interesting to observe, as the tasks were introduced to the would-be curators, how the gender differences became quite marked as they played out their roles. There were two mentors, Karen MacInnon of the Glynn Vivian Gallery and me, Osi Rhys Osmond, an artist and writer, to assist them and decide on who should proceed to the final stages.

The men, including Colin, the oldest of the five, tended to play to their memory and to a knowledge-based interpretation. Colin wanted to tell the story of his own experiences and chose pieces that reflected his early days as a miner and his life thereafter. His response was to create a narrative, irrespective of the aesthetic considerations that a curator might be required to invoke. He was the first to leave, although the story he told was interesting, personal and absorbing. There are now four left.

Darren is different to the other men in that he relies on his sense of beauty and a personal and emotional response to objects and paintings; this he communicated very strongly. His strength is in his discrimination as a collector and his sheer pleasure in the delicacy of his chosen artworks.

Richard has great enthusiasm and relies greatly on his phenomenal memory and mastery of facts. He was able to introduce a group of strangers to the works of his choice with confidence and a complete command of the information.

Julia has a powerful personality and in the first task relied rather too much on that. She had obviously done her homework and as she spent time in the museum, with staff helping her she quickly built up a basis of knowledge and understanding.

Efa, the youngest of the competitors is determined to upset the status quo. Seeing works by Iwan Bala and Ifor Davies for the first time has been a revelation to her - Welsh art that is political and challenging.

The Exhibitionists is an extraordinary idea, and will involve more general audiences in the consideration of art. It is serious but not miserable, and entertaining and educating it will bring a new appreciation of the treasures of our national collection. I couldn't wait to enter Gallery 24 to see the exhibitions in place - a show curated by enthusiastic amateurs, but a show to remember and a show the gallery-visiting public will be able to express their opinions about.

The Exhibitionists is on BBC Two Wales, 4 July, 10pm.

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