Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Blog sixteen o Gymru – the pleasures and pitfalls of reviewing


A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Margaret Redfern’s novel, The heart remembers. In my review, I may have mentioned that I didn’t like the cover. This may have caused a squeeze of horror in the breasts of those who had produced the book. They may just have written, wanting to know what, exactly, I didn’t like about the cover. I might have mentioned that I’d seen the advanced publicity for the book and preferred the earlier image of a ship. At which point, the author may also dropped me a line, telling me why the advanced publicity cover was no good – historically inaccurate (shows how much I know). By this stage, I was kind of wishing I’d never mentioned the cover. But…that is one of the pitfalls of reviewing.

Or is it a pitfall?

I’d been contacted by the author of three books I had enjoyed immensely and, after agreeing never to talk about the cover again, I’d had the pleasure of discussing aspects of The heart remembers, with the author herself. I seized the opportunity and asked Margaret Redfern whether she would be willing to answer a few questions for my blog. I had, of course, already Googled her. I knew that she came from Yorkshire, originally. I also knew that she’d spent time living in Turkey, Lincolnshire and Wales. My first question was whether she considered herself Welsh.

Now in case you are thinking I’ve developed right wing, ultra-nationalistic tendencies, this questions had nothing to do with genealogy or citizenship and everything to do with Honno (her publisher’s) submissions policy. Gwasg Honno is an independent, cooperative press, established to raise the profile of Welsh women writers. To submit to Honno, you need to be Welsh or have strong links to Wales. I was curious to know which category Redfern belonged to. Here is how she answered the question.

“My connection to Wales was either happenstance or synchronicity – take your pick […] One of my nieces was working in Pembroke Dock and was homesick for Yorkshire. She is also my goddaughter. I went down to see her, I think 1999 – certainly Wales had just beaten England in the (then) Five Nations. It was around Easter, icy cold and snow of Tenby beach. I got out of the train, walked down to the beach, looked out over Carmarthen Bay, Goscar Rock and across to Worm’s Head, and was smitten. My niece went back to Yorkshire. A year later, I removed myself to Wales.”

The inspiration behind Redfern’s first book, Flint, came about through a similar process of synchronicity. She had left a very difficult job situation in Lincolnshire – and was working at Coleg Sir Benfro and had begun immersing herself in Wales’ history and culture.

“I was roaming around North Wales, poking around the castles and I was standing on the banks of the Dee reading the CADW booklet on Flint Castle. Remember I said I had run away from Lincolnshire to Wales? Well, there was a paragraph that sent shockwaves through my whole body. ‘300 men from the Lincolnshire Fens had been marched from Lincolnshire to Flint to join another 900 fossatores to start digging the footings and moat of the first of Edward 1’s concentric castles. Lincolnshire was stalking me!”

These days, Redfern describes herself as Welsh by adoption, her ‘passport’ written by the writer Nigel Jenkins who declared her ‘New Welsh’ the term Gwyn ‘Alf’ Williams coined for those Sais who embrace Welsh culture and history. She was an awarded honours for MA in creative writing is from Trinity St David’s University. The first five chapters of Flint, written as part of her MA dissertation, were picked up by Honno and “the rest is history. Welsh history.”

For me, one of the most profound aspects of Redfern’s writing, is her universalist spiritual themes. She has somehow managed to write three novels that celebrate both the Islamic and Christian faiths without being preachy, prescriptive or sentimental. I asked her about the time she spent living in Turkey.

“I first went to Turkey in 1971. It was my first teaching post at private girl’s ‘lise’ (as in French lycée) in Adana, about twenty miles from Tarsus, of Paul fame, the ‘citizen of no mean city.’ We drove there, my first husband and me, in an A35 van stuffed full with belongings, setting out two weeks after I had passed my driving test. A terrifying experience, and hugely exciting, travelling across Europe into Turkey and through it, down to Adana in the far south. It was a far different Turkey from today’s tourist resorts: few private cars but huge TIR trucks and oxen-pulled carts and sheep herded through the centre of Ankara and terrible roads. I loved it. […] We took the girls to Konya for the Mevlana festival in early December, one year sleeping on the floor of a school room because there was ‘no room at the inn’. It was a very moving experience, nothing like the tourist attraction it has become, nor the clamouring pilgrimage of devout Muslims. Then, it was more a private experience, and a bit of a Road to Damascus for me. The words quoted in The storyteller’s granddaughter are very well known to Sufi Muslims: gel gel yenigel…come, come, come again, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.”

As a writer I am always interested in people’s writing process. Flint was Redfern’s first novel but it was not, infact, the beginning of her writing career. As a child she was a fan of the TV series: Voyage to the bottom of the sea.

I was so in love with the series, Admiral Horatio Nelson and Captain Lee Crane that I transcribed every episode into story form. I was probably about twelve or thirteen. I illustrated the stories with any clipping I got hold of, usually from the Radio Times – the programme details, rare stills…”

She went on to write romantic fiction for IPC magazines and later for Bella. After moving to Wales, she started following in the footsteps of nineteenth century Pembrokeshire gentleman whose Tour through Pembrokeshire was published in 1810. Her resulting articles were published in Pembrokeshire Life over the next six years. Flint, as I have already mentioned, was started as part of an MA in creative writing. I asked Redfern whether she was a plot-from-the-beginning writer and also how the whole writing and editing process works out for her.

“It is not possible to have than an idea of a character to begin with, in a long story. […] It’s like meeting someone for the first time. It takes time to get to know them, their complexities, their reactions…other writers say this, also that when what you write is not ‘in character’, it’s almost as if the character is there jogging your elbow and saying, ‘You can’t make me do that!’ It also makes it impossible to have a definite plot. There must be the idea of a start and finish but, as the characters develop, so they edge the narrative into new directions. To be honest, so does the research. Another little nugget, and another, and another, and suddenly there’s a whole new world view. As for editing! I cannot, try as I might, write a first rough draft and then edit. I have to revise and revise so that some days are spent on redrafting with hardly any new writing. Together with research, both chair-bound and out-and-about exploring, it all takes far too long. Sometimes I obsessively search for some tiny detail for hours – days – and it amounts to a few words in the text. I’ve said before that, contrary to advice, I use a camera to record scenes, weather, settings, information, and often use this instead of written notes – which I also make. So tips for emerging writers? Recognise the demands of different genre […] and never be without that notebook and pen/pencil but beyond that do what works for you.”


Some gems there for the writerly among us. “Do what works for you.” Is probably the key element – not only for novel writing, but for life in general. Though, I can certainly relate to Redfern’s inability to write a completely unedited first draft and, of course, the allure of historical research.

Maragaret Redfern’s three books: Flint, The storyteller’s granddaughter, and The heart rememebrs are all available through Gwasg Honno, the Welsh women’s press. I cannot recommend them highly enough and, with Christmas coming up, they would be the perfect gift for any lover or Welsh history or, indeed, literary historical fiction in general.


Blog fifteen o Gymru – making headlines in West Wales

Stiwdio Maelor is a residency stiwdio in Corris, mid Wales – a place where artists and writers can take time apart from their busy lives in order to create. It has no permanent gallery space, or events budget. However, occasionally an artist on an extended residency, will express the desire to exhibit new work. Then, depending on space and timetabling the Stiwdio will host an exhibition.

Now, in case you haven’t realised, I do not have a visual arts background. When Veronica left, within twenty four hours of my arriving in Wales (yes, unavoidably bad timing) I began to realise the challenges I would face. Within days, I found myself taking down an exhibition, part of which involved dismantling delicate glass-domed landscape reproductions with white gloves and re-packing them into numbered polystyrene layers of protection. Driving home in the car afterwards, Jonathan Syltie, the artist who’d been roped into helping me, said:

‘You don’t know much about art. But you seem to have a fair amount of common sense which is almost as good in the long run.’

The comment filled me with a ridiculous level of pride.

I used the same common sense a few weeks later when the ‘organiser’ of Jonathan’s exhibition flew to Portugal, without telling us, on the morning of the opening.

Setting up for Helfa Gelf – Gwynedd’s open arts trail – was decidedly tricker. Two of our Stiwdio artists had cancelled at the last minute leaving me alone with a big empty house and an American artist, Cindy Steiler. Fortunately, Cindy was more than adequate to the task. Between us, we managed to fill the house with art-work and people. After going through the Stiwdio one elderly gentleman said: ‘I haven’t seen anything this good in years.’

‘Seriously,’ Cindy said, when I mentioned it later. ‘That old guy needs to get out more.’

She was right. But that didn’t stop me feeling blue ribbon proud of what we had achieved.

When Mita Solanky, our British born artist in residence with a Gujarati heritage, expressed an interest in showing her new body of work, Veronica came up with the idea of asking, Mayur Raj Verma, a former Bollywood actor who now lives in Dolgellau to open the exhibition. He agreed and, as the dates of Raj’s availability, coincided with Diwali – the Hindu Festival of Lights – we decided to run with a Diwali theme – complete with candles, rangoli lights and Indian nibbles.

My job was to set up the Facebook publicity and to write the press releases. Stiwdio Maelor hasn’t hitherto enjoyed much success with the local papers. This time we hit their sweet spot. I like to think it had something to do with my excellent turn of phrase but, more likely, the name Raj Verma provided the entry point. Whatever the case, we were in there, on page twenty six right after the headlines: Boss hits employee on head head with broom, and, Police make arrest after part of man’s ear bitten off. Indeed! It’s all happening in West Wales.

In the lead up to the exhibition, we stripped the wallpaper and re-painted the common room. Found out the framers could not get our donated works ready in time for the exhibition. Spent a day framing them ourselves and another day hanging them. The latter was a serious business, involving hammers, nails, and plumb lines.

‘Damn!’ Veronica said, soon after she arrived. ‘I have forgotten my drill.

‘No, you haven’t,’ I replied, pointing to a big orange drill on the bench.

‘That’s not my drill. It’s Inge’s.’

At which point , I realised I had missed out on one of life’s foundational experiences. Drill ownership. ‘I’ve never had a drill.’ I confessed.

‘Every woman needs her own drill.’ Veronica replied, with a disbelieving shake of her head.

We planned a rough program for the afternoon:

2pm – doors opened

2.30 – Veronica welcomed everyone

2.35 – Raj made a speech and opened the exhibition

2.45 – Mita’s work was open for viewing

3.00 – artist talk by Mita Solanky

3.30 – readings by writers in residence Justin Wolfers and Elizabeth Jane Corbett

4.00 – short documentary on the Bollywood film industry

The afternoon went without a hitch – apart from floods making the Machynlleth Bridge impassable, Mita’s sister’s car breaking down, the Stiwdio doors getting accidentally locked so that people were standing in the rain, and Veronica announcing she lived in Dolgellau with Raj. Fortunately she corrected her error – perhaps it had something to do with the startled look on his wife’s face? Otherwise, Stiwdio Maelor may have enjoyed an altogether different headline in the local paper. Something like: Bollywood star’s wife hits stiwdio owner over head with broom.

Blog Fourteen o Gymru – in preparation for an exhibition

An exhibition

The artist is keen

She’s been here two months

Has new works to show

Autumnal works

A Gujarati heritage

I wonder! would Raj open the show?

Raj, you mean, Raj Verma?

The Bollywood star?

The event now getting

Big as Ben Hur

We’ll have readings


Yes, why not?

You – and the other writer

You’ll have something, surely?

Yes, you do – but

Twenty minutes each

Will that be enough?

We’ll need posters

And invites

Facebook event

Oh, yes, and, I think

We should paint


Yes, nothing, fancy

Over the wallpaper


On second thoughts

I have a steamer

And a sander

We’ll do the lot


It’ll be fun

You write a press release

Print posters

Your name is on everything

But what to read?

A short story?

Part of your manuscript?

No! You can’t

Your work is sh*t!

Perhaps, no one will come?

But – wait, no

That’s why you’re here

To grow

Take your work seriously


This isn’t about you

It’s about the other artists

And Maelor

And the exhibition

Which will be wonderful


Or without

Your contribution


Blog thirteen and a half o Gymru – an invitation

Blog thirteen o Gymru – bridging the cultural divide

There are two world in Wales. Within weeks of arriving, I had begun to get a sense of the divide. I worked out that the Church of Wales services were all bilingual and, as not many Welsh speakers attended, the bi tended to swing towards the monolingual. I found a Welsh chapel in the Main Street of Machynlleth. It’s notice boards were completely in Welsh. No taint of bilingualism there. The services were held every second Sunday, the notice board informed me, and on alternate weeks at Capel y Craig. The notice board gave no indication of which Sunday was the second Sunday. Or indeed the location of Capel y Craig. There was no phone number to contact.

Nothing to help and Aussie language learner in search of Cymru Cymraeg.

I had read about the resurgence of Papurau Bro (local papers) in Janet Davies excellent book The Welsh Language: a history. But as I had been given a pile of Welsh magazines to read, not to mention novels, and the articles in my Welsh homework book. I didn’t give the local Papur Bro (local paper – singular), much consideration. Until someone pointed out that the Chapel services and times were listed in the pages of Blewyn Glas.

Blewyn Glass! I’d seen that magazine. But where?

‘You can get it at the local post office,’ my source informed me. ‘The October edition came out this week.’

Okay, so I may have got a little excited and headed down to the post office first thing the next morning. I may also have failed to notice that Blewyn Glas cost £1 and walked home with it tucked under my arm, marvelling at the amazing free news service.

I showed my illegally acquired copy of Blewyn Glas to the long suffering artists in residence who had been forced to endure my lectures on the future of the Welsh language. I pointed out the calendar pages. It’s all there, I told them. Every Chapel service – times, preachers, locations – along with every Merched y Wawr meeting, Cylch Llenyddol (literature circle), Cwb Gwawr and choir practice, in every small town, in the whole district.

Once they had expressed the obligatory murmurs of excitement, they scurried back to their creative pursuits. I made myself a cup of tea and sat down to read Blewyn Glas from cover to cover. After the calendar section, it was arranged by towns, each section made up of reports, coming events, milestone celebrations and photographs. Corris took up one and a half pages. I started reading the Merched y Wawr article. Hang on a sec. I stopped, blinked, doubled back. Started reading again, more slowly. There was someone called Liz mentioned – a someone called Liz who happened to be an Australian language learner.


I was there on page 10 of Rhifyn 419 of Blewyn Glas.

What does it say? I’m not going to tell you. You’ll have to learn Welsh if you want to read Blewyn Glas. But it may have just included the words ‘especially good’ and ‘from an ‘non Welsh speaking family’ as well as talking about the BBC grammar book that inspired me to learn Welsh on the other side of the world.


Blog twelve o Gymru – don’t judge a book by its cover.

When a reviewing copy of The heart remembers arrived at Stiwdio Maelor, I ripped open the postal package, saw the cover – burnt orange and black with a group of modern, trail-rider type horsemen – and thought there must have been a mistake. The story was mean to be set in the fourteenth century Europe, wasn’t it?

I checked the author’s name: Margaret Redfern. The subtitle promised an incredible adventure across fourteenth century Venice, Ypres and Wales. So what had happened? I opened the cover, saw the familiar mediaeval frieze across the first chapter heading. I began to read. Found familiar beloved characters, Redfern’s poetic prose, a tactile evocation of setting. I thought, the first thing I will write in my review is: don’t judge this book by its cover.

Right. Having established that important detail, let’s move onto the review.

Late autumn, 1336, Welsh trader, Dai ap Heddwyn ap Rickert, and his band of travellers approach a fog bound Venezia, in a cargo ship ship under the command of the ruthless and ambitious Marco Trevior. The journey from Attaleia has not been without tension. Even so, the group of travellers are not prepared for the vicious quarrel awaiting them on the quayside. Or the violent train of events this quarrel will set in motion – events that will see them scattered from Attaleia to the English Fens, and across the Welsh Marches to the Mawddach in North Wales.

In keeping with Flint and The storyteller’s granddaughter, The heart remembers celebrates the universal nature of faith and humanity in a way that makes you want to start believing all over again.

‘We are a family now. Not through blood but through love and pain and struggle.’ Mehmi looked down at the cradled tanbur, his long lashes casting little shadows onto his sharp cheekbones. ‘I shall sing songs of this time, of the terror and storm of sea, and of how we escaped, each one helping his brother, whether Christian or Muslim.’

Throughout the narrative, Redfern shifts viewpoint with dizzying regularity. This could be disconcerting if you were looking for a recognisable main character with a clearly defined story arc. But if you bear in mind that ‘the group’ is protagonist in this story you will not be disappointed. For although, Dai, the picaresque leader of the group does not change greatly, his companions do. Their actions force a final decision on him that is quite out of character. This leads to a climax that is both devastating and ultimately satisfying.

The heart remembers is a beautiful book – a celebration of life and faith and all that is good in humanity. It is a fitting sequel to The Storyteller’s granddaughter and the narrative Redfern so beautifully set in motion in Flint. And although Will the Wordsmith’s tale comes a full circle, I wonder whether the author may not be finished with this rich Welsh story seam. It may simply be wishful thinking but I fancy she may have hinted at a continuation of this family’s story towards the end of the novel:

‘There’ll come a day,’ he said, ‘when there’ll be a man to lead us. A man of courage and honour. When that day comes – and come it will – all who long to be free from tyrants, all the little men and women of this country will rise with him, and follow him.’

I for one hope that is a hint and that Redfern is up to her elbows in research as I write this blog. But whatever the case, we can look forward to future novels that celebrate goodness and human brotherhood in singing prose as The heart remembers does so beautifully. This book is worth reading, despite its modern trail riders and burnt orange and black cover. In fact, if you haven’t already done so why not start at the beginning of the series. Gwasg Honno, the Welsh women’s press has a number of its titles on sale this month.

If you are in a Australia and reading this, Honno is having a massive Amazon Australia Spring sale.

Blog eleven o Gymru – three women on a boat

When I told members of my Melbourne Welsh class I would be living in Wales for six months, two of my classmates announced their intention to visit me. I wasn’t convinced this would happen. Promises made in the bar after Welsh class are not binding. So, when I dragged my case across the Abergavenny railway bridge, it was something akin to a miracle to see Sue and Nicky walking towards me. It was Nicky’s first visit to Wales. For Sue, it was a return to the country of her birth. For all of us, it was pilgrimage towards something in which we have a tangible investment – yr hen iaith.

Sometime during the planning process, we had decided a canal holiday would be an essential part of the experience. Which is how, half an hour after meeting in Abergavenny, we found ourselves taking possession of a narrow boat. The training took over an hour. We learned how to tie knots, clean the propellor, charge the boat, steer with a tiller, fill the water tanks, turn on the power inverter and a host of other grubby, miscellaneous tasks. As I stood in owl-eyed concentration, listening to the man from Castle Narrow Boats explain the various procedures, I know I wasn’t the only one thinking: what have we got ourselves into?

It rained torrentially the first day. The words: ‘this is a bit miserable’ may have been uttered. But around mid-afternoon, as we sat drying our socks, skirts and shoes on the radiator the sun decided to put in an appearance. After that, we enjoyed slow mornings over coffee (an addiction to which we all freely admitted), traveling at a snail’s pace, coffees in cafes, dinners in pubs, and discussing every small decision and manoeuvre. We laughed far more than we could have imagined, especially when climbing into our coffin like bunks. After a glass or two of Reverend James, one of us (who shall remain nameless) decided the very Anglicised inhabitants of Crickhowell needed educating. A black texta was the proposed implement of instruction. The all English banner advertising a forthcoming literary festival need the words Gŵyl Lenyddiaeth added. Not to mention every-second retirement cottage with an English name. Fortunately, the shops were closed and we didn’t have a black texta, so Crughywel (proper spelling), missed out on the bi-lingual transformation. But we did enjoy making up wildly bigoted statements in Welsh as we walked back to the narrow boat that may have involved the words Sais and cropian and dros y fin.



After our canal boat holiday, we headed up to North Wales where it soon became apparent that the ‘opportunities to practice speaking Welsh’ that one eager member of the group had organised, were causing quite a bit of consternation in the breasts of others. The word fanatic may have crossed lips. Along with an observation that some were far more interested in Welsh men than yr hen iaith.

These differences established, we did all the touristy things one would expect in North Wales – Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), Beddgelert, Betws-y-coed, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerwchwrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (yes, I can say it), photographing an ancient burial chamber and, of course, visiting castles. An unexpected highlight was Barmouth which is truly the tackiest seaside town outside of Y Barri. But you see, Sue and I were born in the UK. We have tacky seaside memories. In a wave of nostalgia, we purchased, rock candy, some truly dreadful coconut ice and Jack Straws, a game I played often in my childhood.


I didn’t know Sue and Nicky well before the holiday – apart from our weekly Welsh classes and the occasional Saturday night dinner. But over the last fortnight, we have discussed language, relationships, faith, our family histories, hopes for the future, the experience of ageing, and have simply explored Wales together. We will have these memories for ever. No one can take them away from us. Or the friendship we have forged.

It has been a month of holidays for me with no great progress on my manuscript. But Sue and Nicky are the last of my scheduled visitors. The days are getting shorter and more greyscale. The landscape around me variegated. This will be the first winter I have spent in the northern hemisphere since childhood and, like the squirrels I have seen gathering nuts, I am looking forward to hibernating and making final pre-submission changes to my manuscript. By the time the trees begin to bud again, I will be back in Australia, hopefully, up to my neck in the submission process, as well as working on my next project.

Tan wythnos nesaf!

Blog ten o Gymru – creative writing for Welsh learners

At one stage, during a difficult phase in my life, I read The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. The book is a little bit new-age-power-of-positive-thinking. But life was pretty tough and, in my desperation, I did every darn exercise in the book. One of which, was to set up a Wish File. An exercise I had all but forgotten, until I spent the weekend at Tŷ Newydd.

Tŷ Newydd, is a sixteenth century manor house in the North Wales village of Llanystumdwy. It was once the home of Lloyd George, a Welsh man, and incidentally the only British Prime Minister to ever speak the language. Twenty five years ago, Tŷ Newydd became the National Writers’ Centre for Wales. And for some reason, back in that wounded, struggling place, filled with false positivity, I stuck a picture of Tŷ Nweydd in my Wish File, along with the words:

Do a writing course here.


Six years hence, I find myself living Wales and my days are no where near as difficult as they once were. So, when I saw an advertisement for: Ysgrifennu Creadigol i ddysgwr (creative writing for Welsh learners), at Tŷ Newydd, I knew it was time to make my wish come true.

The course was weekend course, completely in the Welsh language, with tutors Aled Lewis Evans and Bethan Gwanas. In our workshops we used childhood memories, postcards, and inanimate objects (such as flickering candles) as a stimulus for free writing. The writing exercises were familiar but, let me tell you, there was no absence of talent on the room and, as for the Welsh language, I had to paddle like a pup to keep my head above the water.

One of the writing exercises involved responding creatively to a piece of artwork and, because Aled, the tutor was a poet, I decided to break out of my comfort zone and try my hand at a bit of barddoniaeth (poetry). The result a rather basic piece (which is no doubt full of grammatical mistakes), of which I am ridiculously, new-mother proud.

The Widow’s House

Tŷ yn unig, tŷ tawel,

Tŷ sy’n sefyll ar ei ben ei hunan,

Lawr y bryn ar bwys yr afon,

Ble mae’r wlad yn priodi y mor.


Tŷ yn unig, tŷ tawel,

Tŷ tystio’r blyneddoedd hir,

Ysgythru straeon ar y wal,

Ble mae’r hen wraig yn fyw.


Tŷ yn. unig, tŷ tawel,

Tŷ sy’n gwylio y tymhorau heibio,

Cyrfri y tonnau ar y tywod,

Ble mae’r cwch yn trigio wag.


Tŷ n unig, tŷ tawel,

Tŷ sy’n clywed y dagrau gweddw,

Synth io ar y llwyd carreg llithrig,

bel mae ei gwr wedi boddi.



Lonely house, silent house,

Which stands by itself,

At the bottom of the hill by the river,

Where the old woman lives.


Lonely house, silent house,

Which witnesses the long years,

Etching stories on the wall,

Where the old woman lives.


Lonely house, silent house,

Which watches the seasons pass,

And counts the waves on the sand,

Where the boat stands empty.


Lonely house, silent house,

Which hears the widows tears,

Falling on the slippery grey rocks,

Where her husband drowned.

Cheerful? Not! Don’t blame me. Blame the artist. But isn’t the image striking? It hangs on the wall of the Tŷ Newydd library.

I drafted four more short prose pieces over the weekend and developed a character I hope to one day use in a novel. I also wrote and performed a short mock-radio drama with two other learners using the word plu (feathers) as a stimulus.

At times, the writing life can be so serious, the rewards so distant and unattainable. Writing in Welsh gave me a chance to play and experiment without seeking a measurable (or marketable) outcome which, incidentally, was also one of Julia Cameron’s recommendations. So, maybe some of that new-age-power-of-positive-thinking stuff has value. If nothing else, the exercise forced me to identify my desires. Which is the first step towards attainment. So, who knows? Some of my other wishes might also come true.


Blog nine o Gymru – life in the stiwdio

I have been in Wales two months. It’s time I told you a little about my role at Stiwdio Maelor. Established in 2014, the stiwdio provides low cost accomodation for artists and writers to take time out of their busy lives in order to be refreshed and inspired to create. Situated in the historic slate mining village of Corris, Maelor has three apartments – each with a bedroom and a studio – a shared bathroom, kitchen and a common room. It also has a single bedroom room for the volunteer coordinator (which is me).

As an introvert, I wasn’t sure how I would like living in what is effectively a shared house. But sharing a house with artists and writers has its benefits. Firstly, they are not here to socialise. Secondly, when they do come out of their rooms, it is normally to talk about the creative process. The remainder of the time, they are roaming the hills looking for inspiration or holed up in their studios painting, writing, drawing, stitching or sculpting.

We have had six artists through the stiwdio since I arrived at the end of July. The last two, Cindy and Erin from Florida, helped me revamp my web page, design new business cards and put up with me ruminating about whether or not to buy a yoghurt maker. Sometimes, of an evening, we would go to the pub and anti-socialise together. It was like having a holiday with two best friends I didn’t know I had. The place is quiet without them.

Speaking of WIFI, let us move onto my daily routine. It starts, with what I have now dubbed the seeking signal pose, a stance half way between supplication and a Kundalini yoga sequence. It involves bracing myself, leaning out of my bed and holding my phone up to the window in order to get a signal, then ducking back down beneath the covers to check my Facebook feed. Of course, standing on the pavement would be more effective. But I’m not sure if Corris is ready for me in full length thermal underwear (yes, and, it’s only summer), my tufty morning hair, and a plum coloured satin dressing gown that I picked up from the local charity shop.

My studio work involves cleaning and changing the bed linen when new artists arrive, receiving enquires from future residents, sending out information, and keeping the webpage updated. In between, I have been working on my manuscript and trying to speak Welsh with a many people as possible. We have a Welsh chat group every Tuesday morning in the local Institiwt, and have started a Welsh language dinner for the learners in the village. I am also attending Merched y Wawr twice a month. Joining a Welsh chapel is also on my list of priorities. But it hasn’t been easy to get away during our month of open studios. Meanwhile, I have been attending the church in the village. This week. Welsh classes have resumed after the summer break. I now have weekly homework to complete and, as Veronica has re-claimed her car, my trip to Machynlleth (closest town) also invloves a bus ride with my dirty washing.

This week, I did the bus run for the first time. I borrowed a small suit case and got my clothes to the laundrette, then dashed across the road to the supermarket. I quickly worked out that my groceries we’re going to be heavier than my clean laundry. I loaded the suitcase up with food, my three reusable shopping bags with clean clothes, and turned up at my first Welsh class looking like a bag woman. Trudging back through Corris that later evening, bags bugling, suitcase over-loaded and my back pack stuffed to the brim, the local cafe owner said: ‘Let me guess, it’s washing day?’

I have been trying to exercise regularly since arriving. So far the weather has been kind. I have been doing a short jog to Aberllefeni (go on, say it) every couple of days and some longer walks in the hills around Corris. Today, for the first time, I rode my borrowed bike to Machynlleth. I’m not sure how practical this will be as a transport option when the weather sets in (not to mention, the hills). But this evening’s ride was glorious. I had to stop half way along the route while a farmer herded his sheep into a new field. I got chatting to his wife while we watched them pass. I told her I was from Australia and that I was a Welsh learner.

Yn wir!’ Dwedodd hi wrtha i. ‘O’n i’n meddwl dy fod ti’n Gymraes.’

Ann her name was. She keeps ieir (hens) and, from that kind utterance, I am claiming her as my new best friend.


Blog eight o Gymru – a London interlude

On the 1.06 Arriva train to Shrewsbury, when the guard came around, I held up a handful of tickets. 'Excuse me. I think I might have to change trains. Can you tell me in where please?

Yes. Certainly. The guard took my tickets and started shuffling through them. I saw his eyes widen, the nervous swallow of his throat. 'It looks like you're on the 1.06 from Machynlleth to Shrewsbury, the 2.33 from Shrewsbury to Wolverhampton, the 3.20 from Wolverhampton to Stafford, and then the 3.42 from Stafford to London Euston.'

'Ahh…that's why the tickets were so cheap?'

'Yes. But look, I've put them in order for you.


Following Google maps from London Euston Station to the St Pancras Renaisance Hotel with my handful of return train tickets, a borrowed suitcase, my cheap blue Kmart backpack, and slightly muddy Blundstone boots, I stopped in front of an impressive red-brick, turreted edifice: St Pancras Renaisance Hotel. I checked the email itinerary. It seemed to be the right place. I looked down at my boots. Hmm…maybe I wasn't dressed for this occasion? As I approached the glittering glass doors the concierge was clearly of the same opinion. He swooped down on me.

'Good evening, madam. Can I help you?'

'Yes. I think, I'm meeting my husband here.'


Approaching Drury Lane Theatre to a Saturday night performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I briefed Andrew on our seats.

'I booked them at the last minute. I couldn't stomach £95 a ticket. We're in the top balcony. RESTRICTED VIEWING. The website said we might have to lean forward occasionally.'

We climbed up and up to our seats. After we had finished staunching our nose bleeds, I said: 'Well this is nice. If we lean forward, we can almost see everything. But…I'm glad I didn't choose the seats that said: RESTRICTED VIEWING – POLE.'

The young couple who had chosen POLE were clearly of the same mind. As soon as the lights went down they scooted across to a better position. We joined them. After that, we really could see almost everything.


Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny. I said: 'Why don't we hire one of those Santander Bikes and ride along the Regent's Canal?'

'Good idea.' Andrew agreed.

So did most of Greater London. Those who weren't cycling were walking – along the same tow path. It was narrow. I had visions of myself shooting off the edge and sinking to the bottom of the canal with my iPad and iPhone (do I hear a collective shudder). We got to Regent's Park. I said:

'Perhaps, it's time for lunch?'


'We just have to park these bikes.'

But here's the thing about London bikes. They don't come with a temporary bike lock like in Paris. You have to find an empty bike dock. In our case, two empty bike docks. But it was bright and sunny and most of Greater London also thought lunch in Regent's Park was a good idea. Google told us we should have downloaded a Santander App. But I'm on a pay-as-you-go phone plan and Andrew is on an Australian phone plan. So, this wasn't an option. We decided to cycle back to our hotel.

'We can ride in the bus lanes,' Andrew said.

'Are you sure?'


We rode in the bike lanes. I think it was allowed. I think London Cabs might also have permission to use the bus lanes. There were quite a few of them. It seemed everyone in Greater London had now left Regent's Park and were whipping past us in cabs. Those who couldn't get a cab, were thundering past on huge red double decker buses. As I pedalled along Marleybone Road with with my cheap blue Kmart back pack and my Blundtsone boots churning like windmills, I thought: it's possible I'm going to die here in London.


I didn't die. I'm now safely back in Corris. I had a lovely time in London. Thanks for coming Andrew Corbett.


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