Mar 4, 2010

'The Carmarthen Underground' by Gaynor Madoc Leonard

The Carmarthen Underground front cover detail
Gaynor Madoc Leonards first novel, 'The Carmarthen Underground' was recently published by Y Lolfa. On this page we are pleased to present both a review of the book and a short interview with the author. Additionally we would like to invite our readers to take the opportuniy to win an autographed copy of the novel by participating in our giveaway competition. (see bottom of the page)

Review of 'The Carmarthen Underground'

Gaynor Madoc Leonards first novel is an entertaining and occasionally thought provoking spy-thriller set in an alternate Carmarthen after the 'Battle for Wales' has secured Welsh Independence. Although we are told little about that historic struggle it is evident that Wales' security is still under threat 43 years after the event. The action is largely set in Carmarthen and Myddfai although there are international ramifications and rumblings are heard as far away as Eastern Europe as the perfidious Anglo Saxon plot to undermine the Welsh body politic unravels. The 'unravelling' is effected by agents of Carmarthen Intelligence and the WBI ( Welsh Bureau of Investigation ) with occasional help from WARF (Welsh Assault & Rescue Force ).The labyrinthine plot unfolds over 288 pages steering the reader on a roller coaster ride of conspiracy and intrigue.

The whole affair ends with a spectacular international embarassment for the English parliament which is described in the following terms:-

'The President of the United States and his aides were watching the proceedings from the White House with amazement; in Paris, the French President sat on his wife's knee nuzzling her neck and giggling wildly at the antics of Les Rosbifs. In Rome, the Italian President ( actually there were two that day but the first one had got back into power by the end of the TV broadcast ) threw up his hands and declared a holiday so that everyone could have a laugh at the British Prime Minister.'

There are many humorous touches scatered throughout the book. Special agent Wyndham contacts HQ on his 'Blackcurrant' mobile phone. There is a thriving green tea plantation in Beddgelert and we discover that much of south west Wales is criss-crossed by a secret underground railway network the existence of which is known only to agents of the WBI.

The book is a must for all Cymruphiles with a taste for the whimsical and bizarre.

An Interview With Gaynor Madoc Leonard

Americymru: What is the significance of the title? Why Carmarthen?

Gaynor: I had a plan to go to Cork in Ireland and I thought it might be fun (and polite) to try and learn a few words of Erse. I came across a book (also published by Y Lolfa) called The Pan Celtic Phrasebook. As I was flicking through it, I came across the Welsh section where there was a phrase "Is there an underground train in Carmarthen?". This struck me as very funny and a friend said it would make a good book title. Some time later, still not having made it to Cork, I sat down at my PC and started typing. I knew I had to have a first line or paragraph that would hold people's attention, but, at that point, I had really no idea of what the story would be.

Americymru: How would you describe the book to a potential reader?

Gaynor: It's a light-hearted (and warm-hearted) mystery or thriller with, I hope, the potential to amuse, divert and inform to some degree. Beneath the humour, there lies a message that Wales is a separate nation with a rich history and we should not be ignored.

Americymru: The book is set in an alternative universe and talks about The Battle for Wales in its pages. Do you have any plans to write about that in future novels?

Gaynor: There will be certainly be more about The Battle for Wales in the sequel (which answers another of your questions!). I have a sequel more or less completed and a third novel is well under way. In the second book, I shall be elaborating on the Battle and its effect on Rhian Jenkins and her late husband, Meirion Jenkins. I want readers to understand that while The Battle for Wales is fictional, the fight for recognition of Wales's language and culture has been very real for a very long time. Yes, it is an alternative Wales, an alternative Carmarthen, but all the towns and villages mentioned in the book(s) are real and so are the problems that the Welsh have been dealing with for some 1500 years and even before that, during the Roman occupation.

Americymru: Which writers influence you? Who do you read for pleasure?

Gaynor: My favourite writers are probably Graham Greene, Edith Wharton, Elizabeth Gaskell and E M Delafield. If I could write even fractionally as well as they did, I would be very happy indeed. It's really only in the past 3 years or so that I've started reading the thriller or mystery genre. I started with Chandler and, rummaging in secondhand bookstores, found contemporary writers like Lindsey Davis, whose Falco stories set in Vespasian's Rome are enormous fun. I've also discovered Donna Leon and Barbara Nadel, whose books (respectively) are set in Venice and Istanbul and very well-written. And I've become addicted to Alexander McCall Smith, particularly his Scotland Street and Isabel Dalhousie series. There's also a wonderful little publishing house here in London, called Persephone Books, which has some marvellous titles.

I think that if I were to suggest a book or books which would fire the imagination about Wales and its history, I would point people toward Mary Stewart's wonderful Merlin trilogy. I've had these books on my shelf since childhood. In the non-fiction department, Jan Morris would be a good person to read and Terry Jones (historian and former Python) did a very good TV series with an accompanying book called "Barbarians".

Americymru: Any final message for the members and readers of Americymru?

Gaynor: I would like to thank those people who so kindly sent messages to me when I first joined your site. I'm still getting to grips with it! And I would like to thank you for your interest in my book.

I have scores of relatives in the USA (on my mother's side), many of whom had no idea of their Welsh heritage until fairly recently. In 1999, a large group came over to Wales and several of them are now building family trees.

I don't pretend that my light-hearted little book can make much of a difference to Wales's place in the world but, obviously, the more people who read about Wales and understand that it's a place with its own identity, the better.

Win A Signed Copy of 'The Carmarthen Underground'

Here at Americymru we like to give things away! This month we are offering an autographed copy of 'The Carmarthen Underground' together with a congratulatory card from the author. All you have to do is answer the three following questions and email your answers to :-

The deadline for entries is april 3rd 2010 and the lucky winner will be announced on the site on april 4th. Please remember that we will only accept one entry per email address and duplicate submissions will be disqualified. up the Wikipedia and answer these questions to win the prize:-

1. In Roman times Carmarthen was the civitas capital of which Celtic tribe?
2. In which years did Carmarthen host the National Eisteddfod?
3. Carmarthen Railway Station is situated on which Welsh railway line?

Pob lwc/Best of luck:) Comment on Gaynor's americymru page HERE.

Interview by Ceri Shaw Email

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