Sunday, 25 October 2009

Swn Word: Tom Anderson, Rhys Thomas, Rachel Trezise and Susie Wild at The Vulcan

If the developers had had their way, this literary outpost of the citywide Swn musical festival wouldn’t be possible. But The Vulcan pub, a Cardiff landmark since 1853, thanks to a high-profile campaign, is safe – at least for three years – from demolition that would see a multi-storey car park take its place.

Curated by John Williams, author of the Cardiff trilogy and co-organiser of the Laugharne Weekend, this event brought together four of Wales’ outstanding young writers for a relaxed early evening of heavy drinking, light discussion and lively reading.

The informal question-and-answer session that followed brought into focus two of the only similarities that allow us to group this seemingly eclectic group of writers together: they all write – in one way or another - about youth, and despite being Welsh or long-term residents of Wales, none feels the need to necessarily write about Wales. One questioner was determined to bracket the writers into a kind of global ‘Generation Y’; perhaps Rachel Trezise summed up all of the writers’ responses to this when she said, ‘You write for yourself and you write what you know. You don’t write with a target market in mind.’

For travel writer Tom Anderson, whose second book Chasing Dean was compared by The Times to Jack Kerouac, it is a case of broadening his audience. Jokingly, he admitted, he had the surfing fraternity ‘pretty much in the bag’. Both Chasing Dean and Riding the Magic Carpet concern quests to find the perfect wave; where Dean is different is in the way it is set against the moral quandary of surfing waves caused by a hurricane which elsewhere is destroying homes and taking lives.

There was also a watery feel to Susie Wild’s dramatic reading of Aquatic Life, a slice-of-life story set in and around a bath, taken from her forthcoming collection. Between these two, Dylan Thomas Prize winner Rachel Trezise read from Dial M For Merthyr, her ‘rockumentary’ recounting her experiences on the road with Midasuno and Rhys Thomas read from The Suicide Club, his novel set in a world of teenage disaffection narrated by Craig Bartlett-Taylor, a latter day Holden Caulfield.

John Williams edited a collection of new writing from Wales a few years ago called Wales Half Welsh and in the introduction talks about how it was ‘in the back room of the Vulcan, a time warp of a pub where it’s for ever 1975 and the Brains beers are cheap and the toilets are outside in the rain’ that he realised ‘[he] didn’t know what a literary scene was but it seemed as if, here in Cardiff, we were stumbling on one.’ That day, Williams was accompanied by a slightly older generation of writers: Desmond Barry, Niall Griffiths, Lloyd Robson. It’s a sign of a healthy literary culture, surely, that just a few years later, Williams can assemble an equally impressive line up from Wales’ next generation of literary stars. And it’s even better that, just opposite the brand new Atrium building – ‘centre for creative and cultural industries’ – there still stands a pub where the toilets are outside, and when you come in from the dark and the drizzle, it might as well be 1875.

Text: Dylan Moore, Editor, The Raconteur
Photograph: Susie Wild reading from Aquatic Life


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