May 4, 2011

An Interview With Aled Lewis Evans - Author of 'Driftwood'

Aled Lewis Evans is a Welsh poet and writer in various media. Born in Machynlleth and now lives in Rhosllanerchrugog. His first volume of poetry was published by Barddas in 1989. He was a broadcaster on local radio (Sain y Gororau) from 1983–1993, then taught at Ysgol Morgan Llwyd, Wrexham. He has won prizes in the National Eisteddfod three times: in 1991 for his volume of poetry for young people, in 1998 for his monologue and in 1999 for his anthology of poetry for young people 12-14. AmeriCymru spoke to Aled about his new book Driftwood.

welsh author aled lewis evansAmericymru: Hi Aled, many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. Care to tell us a little about your new book - Driftwood

Aled: Driftwood is a selection of stories from over 30 years of writing in the Welsh language which are available now in English also. They come from two Welsh collections published in 1991 and 2006. It’s true to say that they are my favourites and mostly emerge from North East Wales life.

Americymru: In the course of a varied career you have taught Creative Writing, Welsh, English, French, Media and Drama. How has your teaching experience informed your writing?

Aled: Some of my poems in Welsh collections for Barddas feature a school or young people background. During the ten years teaching at a High School in Wrexham I particularly tuned into the world of young people, and wrote about it. This was good grounding for the creative work I now do in schools. Recently I have been conducting a Creative writing course in 20 schools in Denbighshire with harpist Einir Wyn Hughes, where the children were stimulated to write by music. Before the National Eisteddfod in Wrexham I will visit all 5 Welsh medium primary schools in the Wrexham area to write about parklands in the area – Ty Mawr, Parc y Ponciau and Melin y Nant. Some children will then perform their work at the National Eisteddfod. Through writing now I get a chance to meet and teach all ages.

Americymru: You have also worked for BBC Radio Cymru and Marcher Sound. Can you tell us a little about your experiences as a broadcaster?

Aled: I was a Welsh and English broadcaster on the independent local radio in North East Wales when it started broadcasting in 1983. My association with Sain y Gororau / Marcher Sound continued for ten years. For 5 of those I was a full time producer and presenter of Clwyd am Chwech, Cadw Cwmni, Both Sides of the Border and Voice and Brass. These were in the good old days when local radio was local. This void has now been filled by community stations. But I enjoyed getting to know the area and its people in a very intimate way. My Welsh programmes were magazine programmes. I presented some of my interviews to the Archive Services of the time, as they were a fitting record of a particular period. Nowadays I contribute quite frequently to BBC Radio Cymru especially to Dweud ei Ddweud a Thought for the Day slot on the Breakfast programme, and also to Rhaglen Dei Tomos. With the advent of the National Eisteddfod to Wrexham it is nice that the area will receive more media coverage.

Americymru: Professor Meic Stephens has said of your writing that:- " Many of the people who appear in his work are from the north-east corner of Wales where the Welsh language culture rubs shoulders with that of Merseyside, a confrontation that he finds stimulating." Care to comment?

Aled: I agree with Meic Stephens, but I must admit that I have seen a great change in attitude and practice in North East Wales as regard to the Welsh language. There are 29,000 Welsh speakers in Wrexham County alone, and due to Welsh medium education it is on the increase. The Council and cultural events have promoted the Welsh language, and it is being normalised more in the everyday life of Wrexham. My poetry and literature actually mirror this change. Wrexham has always had its own identity, like a separate entity in borderland. Perhaps the non- Welsh speakers don’t feel ‘proper Welsh’ like the people of Bala, but they certainly don’t associate themselves with Chester. Merseyside spills over more to Deeside and the North Wales coast perhaps, rather than Wrexham and these areas are also reflected in some poems and short stories.

I have written a great deal about Liverpool because of Liverpool in its own right. It is a very Celtic city and on the most part friendly. It is a place to escape to for a few hours from Wrexham, and over the years I have written a great deal about it especially its Cathedrals. There is a strong Welsh community in Liverpool and I have conducted services and meetings in Heathfield Road Chapel, Capel Bethel, and for the Literary Society of that church. Also I have been several times to Cymdeithas Cymry Lerpwl which meets in the city centre.

Americymru: Your story, 'Driftwood' focuses on a member of the 'Puget Sound Welsh Choir' whose life is in transition.. Have you visited the Pacific North West? What inspired this story?

Aled: I have very dear friends in Seattle, and have visted on three occasions – first as the MC for Brymbo Male Voice Choir in a number of concerts in 1985. Then in 1994 and 2000 visiting Jennifer and Holt my friends there. The story Driftwood orginally title Bae y Broc Môr in Welsh featured places we visited in the Pacific North West. Driftwood Bay was one of these and the photo on the front of Driftwood is actually one I took of the bay. The actual story is an elaboration on a real life decision that the main character had to make and the fact that she had to tell her son about it, because of the special bond between them.

Americymru: In 'The Border' you seem to take a rather pessimistic view of the Welsh language's chances of survival in this part of Wales. Would that be an accurate assessment of your opinion?

Aled: This early story was actually based on breaking down and asking for petrol at the farm. It happened as it says in the story and I hope it depicts the area near Oswestry and Arddlin where it happened. The only difference is that years later I did actually meet the lady who welcomed me that night at a service in Oswesty Welsh Chapel. So it was not a dream after all. But for years it seemed as if it was, and I still can’t always locate the house!

The story of the Welsh language is in reality far more hopeful in the Wrexham area than that story suggests. In the future I think the key to making Wales a totally bilingual nation is in making every primary school in essence a Welsh school – teaching Welsh and English effectively to all pupils as it should be in all schools in Wales. (Similar to current policy in Gwynedd). Two or even three windows on the world are better than one. Some of the Welsh learners in the Wrexham area are truly inspiring.

Americymru: The book closes with a dramatic adaptation of your first novel 'Y Caffi'. Care to tell us a little about the play? What unites the characters and what divides them? Are there currently any plans to stage 'The Cafe' ?

Aled: When my nofel Y Caffi was published in Welsh in 2003 it sold very well, and was somehow a mirror to the postmodern period of literature and the 80’s and 90’s in Wrexham. It’s structure was a little disjointed, and the insular lives depicted in the book and this was deliberate.

The Cafe in the Library is the one thing that does unite these different characters. In the play the monologues present separate lives and indeed nothing much does unite them. The play was presented in 2006 in the Wrexham Festival and others have used various monologues for other presentations. However it would be great to have another production of the Cafe. Perhaps a good producer could suggest an unifying factor, something to bring them all together in the end.

Americymru: What's next for Aled Lewis Evans?

Aled: It has been a very busy two years preparing for the Natinal Eisteddfod’s visit to Wrexham and District. As Chairman of the Literature Committee we have devised the List of Subjects and then recently as a committee worked on filling eight days of events for the Pabell Lên (Literature Pavilion). I think we have a good mix of National and local topics in a variety of forms lined up fro visitors, and there is something for eveyone, and all ages are taking part.

At the Wrexham National Eisteddfod I publish my latest collection of Welsh language poems “Amheus o Angylion” (Wary of Angels). I am particularly excited about this coinciding with the Eisteddfod itself. Then after the Eisteddfod and after a break I hope to get back into my own writing in a big way. I have many projects one of which is producing a sister book to Driftwood – a collection of some of my poetry from the last 30 years of writing in English.

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

Aled: I hope you enjoy Driftwood, and if you visit the National Eisteddfod in Wrexham come and see me in the Pabell Len on the Field. I hope to visit America again in the future, and best wishes to Americymru.


driftwood by aled lewis evans front cover detail"Aled Lewis Evans writes in both Welsh and English, and the pieces in this collection have all been adapted from the original Welsh, either by Martin Davis or by the author.

The collection opens with a series of stories about sad and sorry characters – bored, ignored wife and mother of four, Sue, whose spirits and hair colour are temporarily lightened in response to the attentions of the local Casanova; homeless Harry, interminably snapping away with a camera that contains no film (we are pre-digital here); Gareth, the lonely radio presenter, wondering who will listen to him on Christmas day; and middle-aged Ruth throwing an attention-seeking tantrum that backfires on her. Is there anyone out there? Is anyone listening? Does anyone care? These are the questions that resound throughout, as Evans’s characters convince themselves that they have either failed or been failed, and fall into the inevitable trap of anger and self-pity.

Other stories and monologues address questions of language and roots from various angles. In ‘The Gulf’, Melys Parry, exiled in Wolverhampton and married to Dave the gas-man, visits the Eisteddfod in her hometown of Mold. In ‘Just a Few Seconds’, sisters Rhiannon and Naomi are estranged because of the cultural divide that has opened up between them. And in ‘The Border’, an elderly couple expresses their pride that their sons went to prison fighting for the Welsh language, and their bewilderment that those same sons now live in England.

The back cover description of the short stories and monologues as ‘driftwood from three decades of writing’ is apt: an assortment of treasures and trivia, of curiosities to enjoy or pass by, of pieces that have dated with the passing of the years and others that are very much of the now."

Interview by Ceri Shaw Email

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