Jan 18, 2012

New Edition of Hedd Wyn's Poems - An Interview With Daffni Percival of Merilang Press

Daffni Percival has lived in Wales since 1985. She writes poetry and children's books and publishes both from Merilang Press.She lives in an ancient farmhouse with two border collies. two cats. three pet sheep and a dozen or so ducks.She is partly retired but teaches occasional crash courses in Russian, French and Welsh. AmeriCymru spoke to Daffni about Merilang Press and about the recent publication of a new edition of the poems of Hedd Wyn.

ei farddoniaeth , hedd wyn front cover detail, published by merilang press
Hedd Wyn - Ei Farddoniaeth
AmeriCymru:  Hi Daffni and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru.You are the publisher and editor of Merilang Press, what is Merilang Press and how did it come about?

Daffni: Merilang Press is a small publishing house, basically me. It came about because a few years back when I was about 76 I think, I decided that although several of my poems have been published in various magazines, I realise that I am somewhat lazy about submitting them. Also if I wanted to have a collection out there it was probably no good waiting for someone else to publish it, especially in view of the unlikelihood of me remembering to submit in the right place at the right time. So I decided to become a publisher so that I could deal direct with printers. That done, I in fact printed and manufactured the poetry book myself SUN ON THE HILL. It is only one section so all I needed was a long stapler.

But then I finally finished a children's book I was writing. This grew until it needed 4 sections including illustrations, so I set about reviving my book-binding skills and published that from home. I found that bit by bit it sold quite well and I kept running out of stock and having to go back to bookbinding when I wanted to write. So, having ascertained that the cost of coloured illustrations was prohibitive, I turned all the pictured to grey scale and had it printed by Lightning Source. That has proved a good idea as it means the black and white book is a little cheaper than the one I still print at home so the stock lasts longer. The only problem was producing a pdf of the book for the printers; I had always been scared stiff of pdf as I didn't understand it in the least. So a fellow writer with better technical skills did that part for me.

Then he, David Gardiner, found that his publisher had disappeared just when his second book of short stories should have been coming out, so he asked me to publish it. He did the technical side and thus began a working partnership. Now I have published more of my own and more of David's and also a book by an American writer, Andrew McIntyre. Maybe that's enough for now about Merilang Press and I'd better get to question 2.

AmeriCymru: You recently edited a new edition of Hedd Wyn's poems, can you tell us more about the project?

Daffni: You say I have recently published Hedd Wyn's poems but when you wrote to me I was in fact enmired in the problems of editing them and getting someone to write a foreword in decent Welsh. I asked my one time Welsh teacher but he didn't want to tread on the toes of experts but sent me the names and addresses of some bards. I write to Elwyn Edwards, who was the nearest and he kindly consented to do it. He also corrected quite a few typos etc that I'd missed.

The next thing was to produce a cover. For this I painted a ring of Welsh poppies and inserted a sepia photo of Hedd Wyn with a dark brown background. Unfortunately the printing process has rendered the brown more orange but at least it will stand out on shelves. As usual David formatted it as pdf and it is now a reality.

We are having a launch in the village hall, just about opposite the house where the poet was born. The house where he lived, next farm along the lane to me, is getting a new roof. They are putting a tent over the whole house to protect it during this operation and have promised to finish it by St David's day. That means there will be quite a lot of interest so I have booked the launch for that day.

AmeriCymru:  Where can readers find this book and your other books?

Daffni:  All Merilang Press books can be purchased from my website or David's They are also on Amazon etc. Andrew's book, The Short, the long and the Tall, short stories, is available from me and for signed copies from his site.

AmeriCymru: In March, 2010, you completed and published Alphonse Daudet’s Lettres de Mon Moulin/Letters From My Mill, how did you come to that project?  How has it been received? 

Daffni: Letters From My Mill I first came across at school many years ago. I managed only about two or three pages with a dictionary but fell in love with it and vowed I'd one day learn the language well enough to translate it. I did, between earning my living and other bits of living, in due course learn French very well in a mix of ways. In fact the sources of my French were so eclectic that a teacher I had at one time was so amused by my conversational attempts that he couldn't keep a straight face. He kept saying, 'well, there's no reason you can't say that, but wouldn't explain. I insisted and at least he said, 'Well, you often give me a sentence that is half Parisian argot and half pure Racine. That fitted as I originally learnt from a gang of working class socialists in Paris, went back to work in Hereford [where there is not a lot of French] and subsisted on a diet of library books, Simenon until I reached the end of the shelf, Moliere but didn't fancy him, and then discovered and fell in love with Racine. So that was a good diagnosis.

AmeriCymru: You've produced some works on border collies and even on behalf of your own dog, "And Thereby Hangs a Tail,". Care to tell us more?

Daffni: The children's book 'And Thereby Hangs a Tail' that more or less brought Merilang Press into being was the autobiography of a border collie puppy as he grows up and learns about things in general and in particular how to be 'a good dog' as his mother always told him he should. Long before the book became fact, he used to send his mother postcards, and my friends from whose farm he came kept saying, 'You should write a book' and I kept replying, 'I haven't got time'. I had a border collie down in Exeter before coming to live in Wales and found myself in love with the breed. So I have had several now, mostly two or three at a time. I suppose it's a bit of an obsession. They take over my stories and quite a few of my poems. So much so that once when I had posted a poem [I forget what about] on Uk authors' site, someone praised the poem and added, 'and not a sheepdog in sight.'

AmeriCymru: You also provide language instruction and teach Welsh, Russian, French, German and have described yourself as having a  "passion for languages" How are your courses delivered?

Daffni: My language teaching really originated back in my university days when I went for a month to a summer school at Prague university, ostensibly to progress my Russian studies. I fell into temptation and studied Czech instead. I was so impressed by the methods there that I decided that was what I wanted to do. For about 12 years I taught English as a foreign language in Exeter at the same time as running an international centre. I enjoyed both these activities. The Centre was non profit making and meant that for all those years I was invited all over the world but never had the money or the time to go. The only invitation I did manage to accept was 12 days in Hungary. I drove across Euriope in a Robin Reliant van and arrived at the border able to say only 'goodbye'.

When I came to live in the wilds of Snowdonia, it was clearly not possible to teach EFL so I started teaching residential crash courses in Rusian. This was easy to advertise as the Soviet Union used to publish a newspaper for English Russophiles, a bit like the British Council publications for foreigners. For £10 I could have a full column inch and of course the readers were all interested in Russian so the percentage that might be interested in the language was higher than any other place I could advertise. It kept the wolf from the door and I enjoyed it enormously and eventually offered French and german as well. Then later when I had got enough Welsh under my belt, I added beginners' Welsh. That of course was a very good way to learn more.

The way it works is that a person comes to live in my house for a week [occasionally two] and they have 4 hours one-to-one tuition every morning, do some homework [voluntary] in the afternoon and watch films in the appropriate language in the evening. From these films I make cards with sentences from the film in Russian or French etc and English on the back and we use these in lessons to extend vocabulary and introduce all sorts or coloquialisms and interesting mnemonics.

AmeriCymru: You live near Snowdonia, Can you tell us a little more about your surroundings?

Daffni:  Snowdonia is truly beautiful and largely Welsh speaking. trawsfynydd is inland a bit from Harlech. In the middle ages men used to go to Harlech to work as it was then an important port. When they died they often had requested their mates to carry them back 'across the mountain' to be buried and that is how the village got its name traws=across mynydd=mountain.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Daffni Percival and Merilang Press?

Daffni: What next? Well, two main projects. One is to do illustrations for a series of stories where the main characters are a very small sheepdog and a junior dragon. And the other is to translate And Thereby Hangs a Tail into Welsh. And of course go on writing poetry.

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

Daffni: As to a message to members of Ameri-Cymru: It's nice to get to know some of you a bit and I will try to attend the site more often. Can't of course come to your eisteddfodau east and west as I am too far away.

Please go and look at my books.


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