Tag Archives: creative writing

Rhyl’s secret passages

As a lad I used many short cuts around Rhyl and assumed that everyone else knew of them.

One of my favourites was pointed out to me by my dad. He grew up in King’s Avenue, and the family continued living in the same house after he got married.

When he moved into the first marital home in Gwynfryn Avenue, he showed me the short cut he used to travel between King’s Avenue and our house in what seemed to be an unfeasibly quick time.

From his house in Kings Avenue he would cross to Oxford Grove and turn into an entry of maybe twenty metres. At the end of the entry was a corrugated iron gate. Once you passed through it you would think it was just another back gate to the houses in the Grove. You were now standing in the much bigger entry which was at the back of West Kinmel Street. When you came out from this entry you were looking at the old Rhyl Engine Shed near the corner of Ffynnongroew Road.

It must be close to fifty years since I last used this short cut. Is it still there I wonder?

It always seemed mysterious to me and I thought it was just my dad and I’s secret passage.

Hardly secret, but the little wooded entry between Mona Terrace and Mount Road which opened out onto Grange Road was always a great short cut.

The footpath over the railway from Lynton Walk gave access to the pathway that bordered the railway and led to some steps onto Grange Road Bridge – short-cutting and trainspotting was always a winning combination with me.

On the Reso was the little footbridge over the Cut at the top end of Gwynfryn Avenue. This was a favourite place to catch sticklebacks and eels. In fact, there were footpaths for much of the length of the cut and if nettles or rats were not a problem you could navigate around the town following the Cut. I even ventured under the bridge where the Cut  went under the railway tracks. My mum would have had kittens as she always gave me morbid warnings of the horrors that would await me if I played in the Cut, ventured near the bottomless brickpond, or messed about in the Foryd. She seemed to suffer from hydrophobia.

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For years I thought  mine was the only solo expedition to venture through there and it was only recently when I mentioned it to Peter Trehearn that he disabused me of the fact as it was a regular haunt of his!

So what have I missed? Where else in Rhyl were there secret passageways?

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Americymru… one great organisation!

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The Welsh expatriate community in the United States and Canada is large and has a great interest in all things Welsh. In some cases, this is because they have emigrated from one culture to another, in other cases, it is an abiding cultural link spanning several generations.

Either way, Ceri Shaw of both Americymru and Eto Welsh Literary magazine is the go to guy for curating and promoting all things Welsh.

It is almost a decade since we first met online and we have been corresponding off and on since. Few people have been more supportive of my writing. He has been a great gateway into promoting my writing in North America. It is always good to speak with him.

You can find his work here:

Americymru

Eto

He published my ramblings on writing and getting published today:

Potential Welsh Writers

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The trials and tribulations of a Welsh writer

I have often been exasperated by the way booksellers classify my books. They tend to work to set parameters and the Reso can easily fit into several categories, so in some book listings it appears as fiction: young adult, in others as general fiction. I’ve even seen it in a section on social issues: young people!

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In truth, all of these are technically correct. Others would be equally appropriate such as  fiction: Wales, fiction: historical (it is disconcerting to realise that what appears to you as your short life to date, is now generally considered as an historical time span!) fiction: the sixties.

Unfortunately the way a book is classified can also have an impact on sales because readers tend to concentrate on the sections they know and will never find books in other sections, unless by recommendations. This is what makes recommendations so powerful and valuable. Thank you so much to all those people who took the trouble to write something on a website about how they enjoyed the books, it is biggest compliment you can pay to an author and keeps me positive and writing.

A back-handed compliment which really frustrates me is the reader who tells me that they enjoyed the book immensely, and that they have passed it round the family and everyone enjoyed it immensely as well! I’m not looking to make my fortune from writing, so few people do, but I would like some recompense for the hundreds of hours spent researching, writing, re-drafting and publishing the books. If you love a book, any book, try to encourage the author a little more by buying a couple of copies for birthday or Christmas presents.

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Regarding making my fortune from writing, a few statistics will soon disabuse that notion. If you take all the fiction books published in the UK in a single year it amounts to almost a million. The average number of copies sold per book is 18! That means from J K Rowling, who sells millions, down to me who sells a few less, 18 is the number of copies that the average book sells.

There are few fortunes to be made in publishing your writing – so it is best to write because you enjoy doing so or because you think you have something important to say about humanity. I am in the first camp.

The top-selling books tend to come from established writers with agents, big publishing houses and massive marketing budgets. There are also the best sellers from ‘celebrities’ ghost written for them to give them another income stream and promoted shamelessly on television chat shows. Not that I’m bitter!

For the rest of us, it is rather like the lottery… you have to be in it to win it, but the chance of making a living, let alone a fortune from writing, is very remote indeed. I console myself with the thought that when I die, something will live on beyond me and will consistently fail to provide an income stream for the beneficiaries of my Will. 

Having originally gone through a publisher to have a professional endorsement of my writing, I made the decision to self-publish through a company called Lightning Source, part of the Ingram Group. This allowed me to cut costs and to take out the publisher from the trough. Even so, I receive about 1.40 in pounds sterling for every book I sell, the rest is accounted for from set up and production costs.

There is a line of reasoning that suggests you should set the book cost level as low as possible so as to maximise sales.   5 pounds is often seen as a critical price point for fiction books, which is why so many retail at 4.99.  However, this assumes that you have a budget to promote your book so that it can compete in the crowded 4.99 market. I don’t have a marketing budget. I am in the Catch 22 situation of knowing that to maximise book sales I need to market the book but I can’t market the book until I have generated enough sales to justify a marketing budget, which I can’t do until… round and round it goes!

That leaves this blog and sites such as Linked In on which to promote the books. The secret here is to segment the market by exploiting the different categories a book will appear in. My books are time bound to the sixties, the seventies and the eighties respectively so I would do well to find niche markets for such writing. Similarly my books have a Welsh setting and there are active Welsh communities overseas to which my writing is recounting their youth, or making a wider cultural connection.

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In this context, no-one has been more helpful than Ceri Shaw and the team at Americymru  and Eto magazine for bringing my work to a large expatriate community in the United States and Canada. The Welsh appear to be great networkers so that the Americymru  connection has led to Australian, New Zealand and South African sales – just leaving the Patagonian  market to crack!

There is support for Welsh writers in the form of bursaries and writing camps under the auspices  of Literature Wales, but these, quite rightly, focus on writers writing in Wales and debut authors. I wish I had known that when starting out on my debut book!

For the most part this has been a dismal article of trials and tribulations, so I feel I muse end on a positive note. Nothing quite prepares you to have people share their memories with you and tell you that you brought back to life things half-remembered or forgotten.

My favourite reader comment was from a Principal of a Welsh primary school. He could not have pleased me more when he said, ‘I see a lot of young Dylan Thomas in your writing.’ I’m assuming he was referring to stylistic qualities and not plagiarism!

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Wales: Land of myths and legends. St Winifred, Caradog and a domestic!

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Wales has a strong culture of the Arts. Today that can be seen in the International Eisteddfod and a continuing oral and musical tradition stretching from Male Voice choirs, to harpistry to internationally popular musical bands.

Each area has its own myths and legends and this story comes from Holywell, a few miles from Rhyl…

Mad, bad or humble? 

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The ‘best room’.

Graham 21st birthday

The core of my family with the green bamboo wallpaper in our Front Room in June 1969

 

A characteristic and perverse feature of working class houses, despite frequent overcrowding, was reserving a room to be used only on special occasions. The front room or best room was a feature of my and all my friend’s houses on the Reso.

In our house, regular visitors would be shepherded into the back room which served as dining room and general meeting place. There was method in this though. The house was heated by coal fire, and the back room had the boiler behind the fire so it made sense to only keep one room heated rather than going to the expense of lighting two fires.

This back room was full of comfortable, if old furniture in green patterned designs, which brought to mind the sort of material that the British Railways carriages were upholstered with at the time. The dark wood table had leaves which folded down after meals to give more space.

When not entertaining friends, the chairs would all be angled to face the television and we lived most evenings from the 6pm News through to its reappearance at 10pm held in thrall to its grey glowing tube.  We laughed heartily at the comedies, concentrated open mouthed at the documentaries and wondered at the nature and travelogue programmes about places that we could never imagine visiting. We even spent time during intermissions staring at the test card or a soporific potter making a clay plot. If before 10pm  the box went dark it was as much a crisis as the heart monitor flatlining in a hospital. I cannot remember a day in my youth when the television wasn’t on in the evening, unless it was requiring urgent repair. It brought us both great news and bad, the 1966 England World Cup victory,  a Rhyl win in It’s a Knockout, the Death of President Kennedy, breaking news of the Aberfan disaster of 1966 and of course Blue Peter.

There was no television in our front room, but there was a large and ornate wooden radiogram which, taste of the future,  combined both a radio and a gramophone in a single unit the size and weight of a Pharaoh’s  sarcophagus.

The furniture in the front room was all Remploy, as my mum was keen to support those with disabilities and was purchased from John Brookes and Sons of Vale Road. Unlike some, who will remain nameless, all our furniture was bought cash on the nail. Not for my mum and dad the ‘never-never’ and the constant worry you might, by force of circumstance, find yourself falling behind on the payments, or worse, would have your furniture repossessed in sight of the neighbours. My parents never lived far from contemplating what we now call ‘the worst case scenario’ or what my parents called a ‘streak of bad luck’. I suppose first hand experience of the Great Depression and six years fighting the war against Fascism changes your outlook fundamentally. I was always surprised that there were others on the estate who, having lived through the same experiences took a ‘devil may care, live for today’ attitude, but that was never for us.

My parents were always trying to save. They did this in a green metallic cash box labelled with gas, electric, rent, insurance and food. Each heading had a slit in the lid of the box in which to save against that element. Once a month my dad , with his sharp pencil would consult the bills kept in the box in anticipation of the new bill coming in and do a calculation of how much the tin was up or down on the anticipated bill. If we were down on the anticipated bill there would be sacrifices made and things foregone.

In this way, and after many years delay,  a luxurious three piece suite was purchased in a red and grey tapestry pattern wit well lacquered wooden arms. Complementing this was a Remploy cabinet which held the beer and wine glasses placed on a liner of old Christmas wrapping paper, as well as precious biscuit tins containing the insurance policies and family photos in the main cabinet and domestic detritus and my dad’s brown leather gloves in the top  drawer designed for cutlery. The other two drawers to the right hand side of the main cabinet contained an assortment of scarves, souvenirs, old coins, badges and important white A4 envelopes containing precious documents which,  taken  together, could only be classified as miscellaneous.

The table and four chairs was of a light walnut design, mirroring the sideboard. These dining chairs, unlike the ones on the back room had padded seats and back rests in a green eiderdown type design and were more than adequately upholstered.  If I had been asked to find an adequate adjective in Mr Jones’ class I think I would have described them as ‘sumptuous’ and he and I would have been content with the description.

The last item of furniture in the room was a delicate glass display cabinet with engraved glass and a chinois silk pattern in the back plate. The four glass shelves were full of China, small pictures, more souvenirs like wooden clogs from Belgium from my dad’s time on active service in North Western Europe. There was a set of China which was literally Chinese – a large teapot with a red and golden dragon head forming the spout and the tail forming the handle. This impressive pattern was repeated on all the plates, saucers and cups. This magnificent tea set has been acquired and transported home by my Uncle Eddie, or Wink as he was known, from his national service posting manning 40 mm Bofors guns in Hong Kong to ward off a massive Chinese incursion. I was never sure which was more impressive, the fact that Uncle Eddie managed to transport this and a second set for my Auntie Doris around the world with no breakages, or that he was sat in Hong Kong for two years with nothing more than a 40mm Bofors gun to defend against the hordes of Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

The Chinese tea set never left the cabinet. My mum explained that it was ‘mostly decorative’ but it turned out that it was wholly decorative. At no point in my or her life did it leave the cabinet to make and serve a brew.

The last piece of furniture in the room was an occasional table which my dad had made and varnished to a very high standard, as he did all his projects in wood. Whether it was a bedside table in formica and plywood, a dropped ceiling in 2be1 and hardboard or a shed for Snowy the rabbit in marine laminated wood the result was always painstakingly executed and beautifully finished. I asked my mum why it was called an occasional table and she replied that it was because we only used it occasionally, and usually on a family occasion… this seemed to cover all the bases.

My dad had gone to particular trouble to wallpaper the room following several visits to local paint and wallpaper emporiums in the town because my mother could not quite see something she liked. Samples were brought home and laid against the wall only for my mum to declare that she liked the pattern on one, but the colour on the other. The impasse was only broken when he stormed off to the Labour Club for a pint, insisting that by the time he got back she had made a final decision. After much deliberation she went with the red semi flock which was all the rage at the time.

After meticulously measuring up, my dad made his way to town to purchase eight rolls of the chosen paper, only to find that it was out of stock. He had set aside his two days off this week to complete the decorating, and was not prepared to wait for the next delivery to come in.  So he settled on a green bamboo pattern paper instead. My mum was happy enough as she confessed she was having second thoughts about the red flock anyway.

I loved the decorating and was fully entrusted with a small wallpaper scraper, a bucket of warm soapy water and a demand that I clear up all the mess as I went along. It felt illicit peeling off strips of paper as I was usually told not to touch it. I often over-watered the old paper hoping that I could work the scraper all the way to the top, but this rarely happened. More often I was left stripping the wall one postage stamp size piece at a time.

When I thought I’d finished my dad had other ideas. He washed down the walls with sugar soap… one of the packages and jars he kept in the shed and which he warned me, under pain of death not to touch with stories of death and poison. He then went over my work, removing slivers of spent wallpaper which I’d considered too insignificant to remove. The exhortation at this time was always the same ‘The secret to hanging wall paper is all in the preparation!’

Once he was happy that the walls were adequately prepared, a papering table would be brought in and all the adjacent carpet and lino covered with old sheets. A plumb line was set up in the correct position in the room. Despite being told numerous times I could never remember if that was next to the door, on the wall opposite the door, or the wall opposite the window. I would have started in a corner, but my dad started in the middle of the wall with the fireplace in it and centred the first piece of wall paper so that it would have an even number of drops to each side heading to the corners. It was only now that I realised from the faint after smell that he had already painted the skirting board and door. He must have completed this overnight whilst I was asleep… such was his meticulousness.

He measured and cut half a dozen drops with a pair of scissors of a size and weight which were enormous. He pasted each drop thoroughly and evenly and using the old wooden step ladders offered them to the wall. and let the weight of the paper fall to the level of the skirting board with no more than a couple of inches to spare at top and bottom. The wallpaper grabbed the wall and stuck first time as he made minor adjustments before giving the new paper a good massage with the wallpaper brush. He’d step back and check his work and then he’d be pasting the next sheet. Up it would go the same process as with the first. He returned to the first sheet and eased out any bubbles that had formed before trimming the top and bottom neatly. He worked without pause, not quickly, but like a runner taking on a long distance – in a measured way.

Dad was immune to my pleas to paste or hang a piece of paper.

‘Your time will come son, your time will come, for now just watch and listen and keep quiet unless you have a sensible question! A cup of tea wouldn’t go amiss.’

He was as good as his word. After several such sessions, four years later he let me wallpaper a room. He helped me set up the first drop with the plumb line and then left the room saying he was looking forward to seeing the result. I was determined to show my worth and remembered all the tips he had given me. It worked out well for me, and even better for him. He never had to do more than a quarter of the decoration in the next decade as I was challenged to decorate each room in turn.

The front room, now fully decorated and complete, was the scene of the best and worth of our family history. It was the place when the whole family gathered at times of crisis, like when my Nain had a heart attack and was not expected to last the night. I always sensed trouble when adults talked in hushed tones.

It was also the scene of joyous occasions such as the New Year’s Eve Parties where you could hardly move in there for the sitting and jiving and talking and drinking and incessant laughter.

It literally was the place where the vicar was entertained to tea and cake, especially when the said vicar was none other than my Uncle Glyn, my mum’s youngest brother.

Amongst my favourite memories of the room was the Christmas of 1964 when, with Auntie Margaret staying over, we decanted into the room which was full of the Christmas tree decorated with tinsel and paper lanterns and bells and crepe paper trimmings, in two colours no less, all merging at the glass lamp shade in the centre of the room, expertly created by my dad.

At mid morning, with the smell of turkey and stuffing cooking in the kitchen, we all decanted to the front room to open the presents and having searched the upstairs cupboards previously I knew I was having several Airfix kits, as requested as well as a steam engine, some carriages and wagons and an oval of track. My happiest memory was lying on the patterned carpet with my railway and my Airfix soldiers set up, a sparkling Corona lemonade in the small frosted glass, that only came out at Christmas, and a warm glow from the family and the fire, as Christmas dinner reached perfection. I could have burst with contentment.

These are the only tangible remains of that glorious Christmas of 1964, the rest is all now dust… my dad’s Christmas and New Year’s beer mug and the last of the set of little sherry glasses … my favourite was the blue one, there were also red and green topped ones.

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