Looking back…

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… the Literary Highlights of 2023.

It was a good start to the year to win second-prize in the Bedford Short Story Competition, for my story ‘Chattels’. I had been placed third in this competition twice before, so to improve on that result was definitely rewarding. Thanks to judge Tim Jarvis and all the organisers in this not-for-profit competition which donates to literacy charities.

But the publication in May of my novel, ‘things found on the mountain’, was, without doubt, the highlight of my writing year.

It had always been an ambition of mine to be published by one of Wales’s top presses, so having this book accepted by Seren was a dream come true.

Many of the writing events of the year were connected with its publication, beginning with the launch, which took place in Fishguard, in June, hosted by Pepper’s (West Wales Arts Centre), ably helped by Seaways Bookshop, who oversaw the sale of the books.

Special thanks must go to Philippa Davies, who acted as facilitator for the occasion, making it both interesting and entertaining, while supporting me in the process. But also a very big thank you to all my family, friends and others who came along, together with Pepper’s and Seaways, all of whom contributed to making it such a happy, memorable and, I think, successful occasion.

I did, of course, write a more detailed post about the launch soon afterwards and I have also posted about the other events associated with promoting the book. But it is a pleasure to remind myself of them again here, as they were all so enjoyable. It was a particular joy to re-visit the area where we used to live, near the Black Mountains, which is where the book is set. There was our trip to Capel-y-Ffin, for some promotional photos, which was amazing – a walk in the footsteps of my characters.

And there were two Forums, one in Brecon and one in Hay, where I read from and talked about my novel. The Brecon one took place in Y Gaer, the town’s museum, gallery and library. Once upon a time, it was ‘just’ a museum, where I worked as a Sunday ‘girl’, so it was quite a thrill to return there as an author.

During both of these occasions, I was able to catch up with some old friends, including Chris and Val Meredith, Ros and John Houmoller, and Gaynor Weavers. But I also met some lovely new people, who had worked hard to organize the events, including Mary-Anne Lindenburg in Hay and David Shields, in Brecon. 

Many thanks to them and all who attended.

May also saw the publication of my chapbook, ‘Song of the Water,’ consisting of two short stories, illustrated by Flora McLachlan.

This was part of the project commissioned by Ancient Connections, based around the Holy Wells of Pembrokeshire and Wexford, and the series, along with the album written and recorded by VOW (Voice of the Wells, fronted by Jo MacGregor Messore and Dan Messore), was launched in Theatr Gwaun in Fishguard, also in June. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to meet the other contributors, some coming across from Ireland, to appear at the launch and read from their work. I have to give a special mention to Michelle Dooley Mahon, who wrote the Wexford equivalent of my piece. (If you’ve met Michelle, you are never likely to forget her and you will understand why I single her out). Also, as I’ve said before, it’s quite an uplifting feeling to have your story illustrated, and to have a song based on it. Thank you so much, Flora and Jo. And thank you Ruth Jones, for all your hard work in pulling the whole project together.

Later in the year, I took part in Fishguard’s On Land’s Edge Festival. It is great to see this Arts Festival carrying on and, indeed, going from strength to strength. I was very pleased to be interviewed about ‘things found on the mountain’ as part of the Literature Day. This was with Valerie Norris, who has written a novel set in this area (so very appropriate). Mike Ponsford was in charge of the questions, and did an excellent job of finding common threads between our two books, which were, in fact, quite different. Thank you to Mike, Patrick Thomas and Pepper’s, who again hosted. It was very exciting to be on the same platform as Booker long-listed Sophie Mackintosh and the prize-winning, endlessly entertaining and prolific author, Jon Gower – great to meet them, too!

The last Festival of the year was in Knighton, a very friendly, welcoming place and exactly the same can be said for the town’s arts festival. Thank you so much for having me! It was also an opportunity to catch up with poets Vanessa Owen and Sam Rhydderch, who were appearing there. So nice to see them and hear them read and discuss their work.

And that’s the thing – success at any level is always welcome, always appreciated, but the people you meet along the way and the kindness you receive are gifts to be treasured.