Stray Thoughts Archive (1-3)

No. 1 - From Cambrensis issue 47 - March 2001

* Are you a published author yet? Why not? Besides Cambrensis, I can think without breaking a sweat of A470, Carousel, NWR, Poetry Wales, Roundyhouse, SWAGMAG, and various newspapers free and otherwise, all publishing within twenty miles or so of where I live. Of course, there are an awful lot of writers out there, too. Most of us are lazy, and we can't be bothered to find out the addresses of the magazines, let alone what the editors want, or think that they want. But why limit horizons to twenty miles, or either of Offa's Dyke for that matter? We have one enormous asset (even those who can siarad and ysgrifenni Cymraeg) with the English Language and should use it to spread our literary wings overseas as well as side over the border.

* It probably didn't sound much like it to the good people who came to Day 8 at Penarth, but what I meant to say in answer to Phil's question about short-shorts was that short stories have a natural length of around 1,200 to about 3,500 words. Much longer or shorter and there's a danger of losing the focus of the story - an expression much in vogue at Penarth, and with good reason. It can be done - the stories in Cambrensis by Hilda Phillips and Mike Jenkins spring readily to mind, and I've even had a couple published myself - but it's hard. The special danger with shorter stories is that it's easier to fail to establish what you'd set out to do in the first place. That's why my former review column was often critical about appearances of the short-short in Cambrensis. But not always, as the more perceptive members of the readership will have noticed.

* So, R.S. Thomas is dead. Better brace ourselves for an almighty shaking of the literary bandwagon, then. I sometimes think that academics as well as accountants are the enemies of the written word. Controversial, eh? Before anyone says anything, Thomas was a fine poet, one of the very best produced by these islands. But I like his poetry too much to get fat by picking over his skeleton.

* Buried in a Business News supplement, I find that WH Smith is to announce the shelving of plans to have a national distribution system to replace the 'inefficient' regional systems. To their eternal credit, the magazine publishers as represented by the Periodical Publishers Association have been resolutely opposed this move, calling it as well they might as 'an abuse of market power'. One forecast predicted the closure of 12,000 independent outlets as a result of the proposal. So, two cheers for democracy, then. Two? Better make that a single cheer, at half volume. WH Smith or something like them will be back to bury this example of inefficiency. And it will hardly be reported at all next time.

* Not totally unrelated to the above, I see from the NME (New Musical Express) that the Melody Maker is to be incorporated in it. A sad end for a magzazine that started in 1926. According to the NME, for the Melody Maker 'market conditions made continued publishing impossible'. So it's a coincidence, then, that both magazines were owned by IPC Music & Sport. And the giant music business can only support one weekly magazine? Hmmm.

No. 2 - From Cambrensis issue 48 - June 2001

* The Internet is not quite all it's cracked up to be. It's slower than it was a few years ago. Far more people now use it and supply isn't keeping up with demand. Also it's advertiser-ridden, and much of its content tends to be commercial. All the same, it is useful. It's like having a vast but infuriatingly inadequate library at your fingertips. Where else would I have readily found minutiae on the Battle of the Little Bighorn recently? Not in my own collection of books, for sure, which though good reflects my own tastes. These don't usually extend to the Old West. But screens will never replace books, or it will be a sad day when they do.

* E-mail is generally, despite the worrying seeds of a police state that it carries, OK at the moment. I was reminded of this the other day by having copied to me a series of outraged e-mails addressed to a company, along with the unintentionally amusing replies. Forget the triviality of the actual example - did the gentleman concerned really expect the company to quietly produce trainers with NIKE and SWEATSHOP appearing in close proximity? But the point is that the corporate pretenders had their efforts to look upright exposed not only to me but to many others across the world, and I could similarly have forwarded this classic example of posing to many others at the touch of a button or two.

* I hear that one of our leading booksellers is in a bit of a mess, with low staff morale and all the usual signs of disarray. It's surely no coincidence that the company concerned was taken over a few years ago by an even bigger one. Rampant capitalism and the books trade don't mix easily. I'm not against capitalism; it can clean out fusty old tubes very nicely. But it needs careful handling - you wouldn't clean your teeth with carbon tetrachloride, would you?

* A microcosm of our democracy: on a busy Saturday in Cardiff the protest against GAP (the usual thing - world-wide exploitation of employees) attracted just handful of people, while the fire-eater on the next pitch drew huge crowds.

* Whatever happened to the idea of a Poet Laureate for Wales? I hope it's gone the way of all daft ideas. Why copy an outmoded English concept? Not that I'm saying that there's anything wrong with the poets concerned - Andrew Motion is pretty good, Ted Hughes was even better and even John Betjeman had his moments. They say, incidentally, that you're all right when policemen look young, but when the poet laureate looks young...

* I always thought that George Orwell got a rough deal in the year 1984. His great book was a warning, not a prophecy. Now television has stolen the names of Room 101, and made it a vehicle for unfunny 'jokes' from that escapee from a typing pool, Ms. Robinson, and Big Brother, grossly misclassifying it as 'Reality TV'. Makes you wonder what Orwell will be remembered for later in the century.

* Nigel Jarrett is usually worth reading and his Writer's Notes in the last Cambrensis is no exception to this. I was a bit alarmed, though, to find that in a few years' time I'll be writing 'Dear Editor' letters in verse. Help!

No. 3 - From Cambrensis issue 49 - September, 2001

* How's this for idiocy? The other day on a Radio Wales programme one of the guests was in all seriousness trying to describe venereal diseases as 'sexually shared diseases'.

* Presumably making a bold bid for the PC (prize clowns) prize of 2001, HarperCollins is to repackage Agatha Christie's Miss Marple as Ms. Marple. Has the person responsible for this piece of imbecility actually read any of the books? If ever there was an old-fashioned spinster, it was this famous and unlikely creation of detective fiction. Her creator, a writer of limited but definite talents, would surely see the funny side of this and chuckle in her grave. You can't change history, folks.

* I Hear'Say that this bolt-together pop group, the ultimate triumph (so far) of the PR men, is to appear this summer at the University of Swansea. Something symbolic about that.

* The Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival has certainly grown. It's never had much to do with Wales and this year's appearances of Bill Clinton and others confirm that it's having less to do with literature as well. Does this matter? Not really. There are plenty of smaller and more 'pure' events and we can enjoy the remarkable story of this little border town of only 1300 people.

* You hear a lot these days about 'dumbing down'. Unfortunately, it seems like it's a real phenomenon. It certainly is if satellite television advertisements, usually a good indicator of cultural vigour, are anything to go by. To see screeds giving you 'a great deal' on a loan, or offering you the opportunity to 'restructure' your debt, or of claims specialists offering all and sundry a 'no win, no fee' chance to sue somebody for what seem to me to be quite small sums of money is frankly depressing. Perhaps it's partly because these commercials are shoddily made and so frequently repeated. It's as if the advertising world has largely given up its attempts to trick us and decided to bore us into submission instead.

* So, Jack and Myfanwy were on holiday for the last Cambrensis. I'm glad they were; it gave Alan Cliff the opportunity to give us some fascinating insights into the Broadcasting Act of 1990. Unlike Alan, though, I find the ban on religious groups having their own stations a good progressive move. Now, if it also applied to political groups, that would really be something.

* Apart from on the cover, I'm not usually a big fan of illustrations in magazines like Cambrensis. But I'll make a willing exception for Linda Kinsey's Portmeirion. The execution and medium were just right. I felt like I was in this odd little place again. (HINT: it's much better on a nice day out of season).

* I've been told that I shouldn't have lumped in free newspapers with more respectable local publications in the first of these features. Fair point. These advertising sheets are quite the most useless thing to jam up my letterbox twice a week. Unlike their Metropolitan equivalent, they hardly even pretend to be newspapers. The odd scraps of news are no more than a flimsy decoration for the advertisements.


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