Tag Archives: Writing

The Reso: A place in time

 

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Copyright: Rhyl Town Council

 

It started as a homage to childhood really, my childhood, growing up on the Reso council estate in the seaside town of Rhyl in the nineteen sixties.

It was a time when my most serious concerns were, in seasonal order, would it snow when forty of my family made their way to the Fun Fair on Easter Monday, would the temperature in Rhyl outdoor baths ever top 55F, would I be picked for the annual Gwynfryn Avenue 150 a side football match against Rhydwen Drive and where was I going to find the two shillings a day needed to feed my autumnal firework habit.

 

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It quickly turned into something else.

In a feat of memory that seems to rival the Rain Man, I seem to have stored forensic detail of my childhood which others have forgotten……

… the starched feel of the antimacassars in our Welsh chapel-going neighbours’ front room where I sat playing with the snow dome bought on a Sunday school visit to Llandudno

… the metallic clunk of the stamping machine in the railway station on which you could print out rude messages of sixteen letter lengths, on which, I, at the age of eight, managed “Bum. titty bum bu” because I miscalculated the spaces and the punctuation

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Not my copyright – Unknown Photo

…the intensely warm glow of a family Christmas tea at my Nain’s when twenty of my cousins would gather around the extended table to savour meats and pickles of cosmic variety and Corona lime and dandelion and burdock pop which was as flat as a witches’ tit, all the time sweating from the ship’s boiler room fire that my Nain had stoked up in the grate, inches behind me. 

…the wisdom of my mother, who reassured me that the reason we didn’t have chocolate biscuits in our house was because “I’d only eat them…”  an explanation that kept me happy until I was thirteen, and began wondering what else you’d do with biscuits!

…the twenty minute rule of my dad, which he reassured us, was more than enough time to have the immersion heater on for our weekly bath (whether we needed it or not!) in advance of watching the Beatles appearing on Sunday Night at the London Palladium

It seemed that my childhood was in fact everyone else’s childhood. Deeply rooted in that sixties decade when, despite the threat of world mutually assured destruction and random violence from the likes of Steve Caroli on the estate, everything seemed possible.

Many lived the same dream, and many today wished they had.

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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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Smells like Rhyl teen spirit…

 

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I had a conversation with a friend this week and we were talking about the evocative nature of smells which linger on the memory. It got me thinking about the smells associated with growing up in Rhyl…

My first is a general one which most of us shared up until August 1968 and that was the smell of sulphurous, hot oil and coal associated with steam trains stopped in the station at Rhyl. It was the smell of adventures as everyone in those maroon carriages was off somewhere, whilst I was stuck with a 1d platform ticket on the up line of the station. Luckily you can still re-live this in Rhyl by simply popping down to the Rhyl Marine Lake Railway and standing next to the engine before it sets off. Steam engines smell slightly differently today because they no longer have access to the Welsh steam coal which once powered ships across the globe. 260338_10200119901071348_901371961_n[1]

The second is a more distinctly Rhyl smell, that of donkey poo on the beach or on the journey from the beach to their overnight quarters. It was a distinctly fragrant and sweet smell, not, of itself, at all horrible. It whiffed of summer, sun, jelly sandals and ice creams.

 

My third is the smell of fresh baking at Reeds on Vale Road. I well remember popping in regularly for a 1d Hovis mini loaf which had both novelty value and a rich malty texture and smell. It was the essence of the smell of baking for me. I never minded queueing up in Reeds as you got to snort in the baking smell which quickly had you salivating like a dog in a butcher’s shop!  I later graduated to a regular habit of pineapple tarts which were sweet and tangy. I’ve never found any which came close to those from my youth.

You couldn’t think of Rhyl without smelling that concoction of caramelised onions, and candy floss that permeated the length of the west end. It smelt of summer adventures and fun. Possibly if you chose your ride badly at the fair,  the Rotor or the Mad Mouse for example, you might get a second chance to drink in this heady aroma later in the evening.

At the Foryd end of the town on a damp day, the smell of the wet seaweed and the incoming tide with a foamy head was very evocative. I’ve dreamed of that smell and woken up feeling homesick. I missed it greatly when I lived away from Rhyl.

Whenever we had relatives come to stay, which was often, we always ended up walking up the promenade and visiting the Lifeboat House. When the boat and tractor were in and the mechanic was working on them, the smell of the heavy deep blue lubricating oil was a rich smell I’ve only smelt in other Lifeboat stations.

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One of the least pleasant smells I associate with the town comes from the small beach next to the Foryd Bridge. I was drawn there one day, whilst playing along the river (and in the bushes between the river and the Marine Lake, from where my mother had warned me to stay away)  by a horrendous smell. It was the smell of rot and decay, yet I was drawn to it. I found a large tope, a type of shark, some eight foot long with the colour drained away from it so that it was almost indistinguishable from the sand and line of seaweed. It had been caught as a fishing trophy and dumped there once a photograph of the proud fisherman had been taken. What a waste of the life of an awesome fish I thought. It  was both scary and fascinating to be so close to this, by now eyeless, sea monster, the focus for millions of flies.

 

I spent an hour just looking at it and poking it with a stick to ensure it was indeed dead. The tope had probably been there for several days judging by the way the flies were entering a cavity opened up in the gut. There was little chance now that it was  simply sunbathing. Eventually the angry flies and overpowering dank odour drove me away, but I remained fascinated that such a beast had been swimming off the beach of Rhyl.

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Dank odours bring me to another distinctive Rhyl smell… the grotto that was the changing room at the open air pool on the promenade. The smell of wet mortar impregnated with almost fluorescent saturated moss was never forgotten. Those changing rooms were washed down by a firefighter grade hose pipe on a daily basis. The regular soaking the walls received only encouraged the tropical rainforest of moss and wet rot that climbed from the floor to every wall in each of the putrid cubicles. How I now miss that smell and the excitement it heralded.

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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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