Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Don't Blink. Write.

There’s a solid history of Welsh authors doubling as newspaper columnists. Long ago the novelist and poet Herbert Williams moonlighted nightly as The Stroller on the South Wales Echo. Tom Davies was Pendennis on the Sunday Observer and then for years wrote an increasingly off the wall column for the Western Mail. How do you do it? You sit down with the idea in the back of your head and you bang the keyboard. For authors it’s the purist form.

In the days when I ran a bookshop in Charles Street I once commissioned R. Gerallt Jones to write the leader for Oriel, our monthly magazine. Copy was due by 4.00 pm Friday. Gerallt entered the shop at 3.30, asked for a notepad and a chair and then perched himself somewhere between Anglo-Welsh fiction and Celtic History and, surrounded by customers, scribbled furiously. At 4.00 he handed in his completed column and asked for the cheque.

So that, I thought, is how you do it. Don’t blink. Write.

For the Western Mail I’ve been The Insider now for two hundred and one columns. That’s a lot of banging the keyboard. I’ve been The Insider because I’ve been inside - watching Wales’ literature machine and helping to guide it. For the most part it has been a joy. Although discovering just how invisible Wales often is in the world has been painful.

We are a small a nation, perversely we keep celebrating that fact. No air force. No submarines. No international policy that means a light. A population that could be absorbed without trace in the twenty-first century suburbs of Istanbul, Tokyo, or Rio.

Our influence is nil. Most of the world hasn’t heard of us. Apart from perhaps in Patagonia the mark we’ve made on the planet is slight. Who are we? We’re the Welsh. We used to do a lot of things. When we were thick with coal and iron and social heroes. But today we sing. And we write.

It’s that last item that kept me going.

We write. And in increasing quantity we are turning out authors with big reputations whose words will endure. Owen Sheers, Ken Follett, Gillian Clarke, Dannie Abse, R S Thomas, Russell T Davies, Andrew Davies, Gwyneth Lewis. From the inside I’ve done a little to help let this achievement be seen. We had the Academi, the literature promoter, and now there’s Literature Wales, the National Development Agency. Literature with reach, walking tall. How it should.

But I need time to write. I started out that way, as a poet, and there remains a way to go. Administration slows you down. I’ve got two psychogeographies to complete, and a raft of poetry, on the page and off. So I won’t be fading quietly. I might not be weekly at the Mail but I'll be posting blog entries here. Keep in touch.


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