Friday, 10 October 2008

BayLit – Shocking Enough?

Why light up the Bay? In 1999 when the Academi first came up with the idea of a long-weekend literature festival Cardiffians were rarely in the habit of venturing further south than the main rail link. The Bay was another country. And a recently renamed one at that. Cardiff was two cities: the municipal capital standing in quiet Portland stone grandeur around Cathays Park; and then the buzzing Bay, new centre of the urban Welsh universe, full of cafes, bars, restaurants, and light. BayLit would knit the two places together. A weekend of Llên y Lli, literature of the waves, would get citizens of a literary persuasion out of the back bar of Park and into a multiplicity of venues they’d never yet visited – the Sports Café, the Norwegian Church, the Baltimore, and Techniquest.

This was a risky venture but largely its worked. Over the years new Bay venues have come on line, not least the grandest of the all, the Wales Millennium Centre and, as a solemn back up, the great slate hall at the Senedd.

Some may ask why we need literature festivals at all. Aren’t books for reading? Don’t you take them home and deal with them in private? You do. But literature is also a spectator sport, a performance art and a participatory game. Public readings by famous authors are popular. Even better attended are events where the famous spill the beans about what it is or was or will soon be.

In the 2005 BayLit queues snaked around the block to hear Howard Marks, Mr Nice, talk about a life in drugs. He’d written the biographies, made the pitch, and created the books but what he did on stage was simply to talk. And the south Wales crowd loved it.

Academi has a responsibility for the whole of Wales, of course, and Cardiff is never the central focus. BayLit alternates with an Academi-supported Festival centred on Ty Newydd, the Writer’s Centre at Lloyd George’s old house outside Criccieth. Among last year’s participants were Jon Gower, Eigra Lewis Roberts, Angharad Price, and Gwyneth Glyn.

This year, however, Academi is back by the impounded waters making literature work in Cardiff Bay.

The festival runs at the Wales Millennium Centre, at Terra Nova on Mermaid Quay, at the Glyn Jones Centre opposite the Senedd, and upstairs at Brain’s flagship, the Wharf, which faces the old East Dock on Schooner Way. Outrider events are at Borders’ spanking new bookshop in the Hayes where new books have been profiled all week. Meirion Jordan’s Moonrise, Eurig Salisbury’s Llyfr Glas Eurig, Joanna Davies’ Ffreshars. Saturday at 1.00 pm it’s the turn of the multi-talented Fflur Dafydd with her Bardsey Island black comedy, Twenty Thousand Saints.

For those who want to try their own hands at things there are three workshops. The Young people’s writing squads meet with the chaired bard Mererid Hopwood creating short films of their newly written poetry. Eurig Salisbury offers a new take on an ancient form with his cynghanedd workshop at the Glyn Jones Centre (10.00 am). In the Seligman Room at the Wales Millennium Centre Yemisi Blake delves into creative blogging at 11.00.

Upstairs at Terra Nova at 2.00 pm one of Welsh fiction’s revived strands, rural writing, gets some urban exposure. Horatio Clare, Cynan Jones, Tom Bullough and local farmer Hugh Cory join Ifor Thomas to uncover the joys of the greener life.

BayLit 2008 celebrates the Shock of the New. New ideas, new writers, new forms, new styles. If things get too edgy do we still enjoy them? Is one of literature’s main jobs to administer 5000 volts every now and then? At Terra Nova at 4.00 pm novelist and Dr Who fictioneer David Llewellyn ask us what we think. Are You Shocked Yet? Tell us please.

BayLit’s big bang is at the Wharf (8.00 pm) where one-time poetry boy band Aisle 16 present their take on motorway service stations. This bizarre poetic travelogue in the footsteps of John Betjeman features new poetry, a digital lightshow, video, and beauty created from a soulless hell. Thought the M4 couldn’t be entertainment? Think again.

Fuller details are at and tickets for most events can be purchased at the door.

The preceding piece was pitched at the Western Mail as a promotional description of what has been an essential annual literary bash near the water.

Highlights so far:

Tiffany Atkinson at the Poetry and Film event at the Point. Having got in past the drunks outside Tiffany made memorable the idea of having one of your hands that thinks it's a chicken. Even non-poetry lovers caught onto that image.

Joe Dunthorne at the Poetry & Prose made forever real the Second Life idea of avatars coming round the corner with three symbols on their chests: name, thing in life and emotional state. John Pik left with his reading John, The Ancient World, and Deaf

Ifor Thomas for spotting that all you had to do in the poetry world was to go away for a year or so to return and find things unrecognisable.

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