Personal News

Ceredigion, December 2008

Mandeville

My book of poems Mandeville appeared in March this year. It describes the world through medieval eyes, full of miraculous creatures like dragons, the phoenix and giant ants that dig for gold, but also full of things we are familiar with but which seem equally strange to the narrator, like bananas, pepper, chameleons and crocodiles. We had a launch for it in the National Library of Wales with medieval music and modern wine. The reviews started appearing soon afterwards and were the best Iíve ever had. I was hoping to launch another book later this year, my collection of short stories Singing a Man to Death, but the publication has been delayed. My novel Arise has made slow progress Ė actually it has been moving sideways and backwards most of the time, so it canít be said to be making any progress at all. Every now and then I wake up in the middle of the night with a wonderful idea for it, but as this always involves throwing out everything Iíve done so far, I have mixed feelings about these moments of inspiration.

I have returned to teaching after my sabbatical, and am just about to stop again for another one. (I know this sounds like everyoneís idea of the academic life, but they arenít usually that close together Ė Iíd postponed my first sabbatical for a year to allow colleagues to take theirs.) I have been enjoying teaching again: coping with the challenge of recognizing students whose hair changes from orange to blue from one week to the next, noting that the fashion in stories this year is for zombies rather than vampires etc. I have seen one of my students though his PhD now, and a couple more should be following shortly.

Creinaís idyllic rural church went into schism this year over the issue of who was to succeed the retiring rector. An evangelical woman was appointed, alienating those members of the tiny congregation who didnít approve of women priests, and also those who, like Creina, wanted to keep the services high church. The split more or less coincided with the division between English and Welsh members, our first real experience of any ill-feeling of this kind in the area. It ended with the English high church faction moving en masse (perhaps not the right term for half a dozen people, but strangely appropriate all the same) to Lampeter University Chapel which is so small and high the congregation risks being suffocated by incense. She is still involved with the Welsh branch of the Jane Austen Society; we went with them to visit the historic Hafod estate in the summer, and we have a demijohn of orange wine, made according to a contemporary recipe, brewing in our back kitchen for a future celebration.

Gurnard's Head Hotel We didnít have a big holiday because I was working on my novel, but we had brief trips to Snowdon, which I almost climbed, Shaftesbury, for my motherís 90th and my brother Johnís 60th birthdays, and Grasmere, where I read my poems at the Wordsworth Trust. We spent a few days in Cornwall at the Gurnardís Head, which used to be the drinking-place of the poet W.S. Graham (the subject of my PhD thesis), but is now a boutique hotel doing very good food, especially the brown soda bread and rhubarb and ginger jam for breakfast. It is in the middle of the fields near Landís End and a herd of cows walks past the front door every morning and evening. We managed to catch some reasonable weather at the end of the summer to renew our acquaintance with St Ives and do some walking on the cliffs.

Miranda has acquired an admirer, an ugly tom who visits her when weíre not around to stop him. We call him Lothario, but he shows more interest in her food, or any food thatís left out, than in her. Worse than that, he leaves his scent behind him. Weíve tried lying in wait for him with a Super-Soaker, but neither of us can remember how to fire it before he disappears over the garden fence. So we have ordered a new Lothario-proof catflap activated by the microchip in the back of Mirandaís neck.

I am still playing chess, though I have cut down a bit on the tournaments. Having won a couple of the minor ones, I am no longer eligible for them because my grading has gone up and I have to play at the next level where itís more difficult. I am still not back to playing badminton, but have bought an exercise bike, which I ride about once every three weeks, between winter colds.



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