I’ve posted a new short story, Obituary.

If you happen to be in Berlin this weekend

NOISE or sometime next week, do take in a showing of my daughter Esther’s first film, Noise, at one of the following film festivals:

Première at Achtung Berlin on

  • Saturday, 17 April – Cinema 1 @ Babylon Mitte 20:15

During the Achtung Berlin festival the film will also be playing at these places and times:

  • Sunday, 18 April – Cinema 5 @ Filmtheater am Friedrichshain 18:30
  • Monday, 19 April – Cinema 1 @ Passage Neukölln 19:45

And at Sehsüchte in Potsdam:

  • Thursday, 22 April – Cinema 1@ Thalia in the Block “Unter die Haut” 20:00

I’ll be at the première if anyone wants to finally find out what I look like!

Gluscabi and his bag full of tales


Two children lost in the middle of a huge forest meet Gluscabi, a friendly wood sprite, who keeps them company and safe from harm.

Here’s what Ioan — actor extraordinaire and Corvus podcast narrator — has been up to lately: writing a children’s play, Gluscabi,  which has just been performed at the Greenwich Children’s Theatre Festival in London. Received enthusiastically too, by all accounts. What a shame I couldn’t be there, having left London only a few days before.

William Bowers

My quote of the week – or maybe month:

Identity, schmidentity: projecting a coherent self is overrated, and probably, for those who can pull it off, the result of a dishonest performance. Anyone who has suffered under the hard bigotry of high expectations knows what a total bum-out it is to one’s American freedom to have some acquaintance, friend, lover, or fan crave consistency from you, pretending that contemporary Western personhood involves more than blood sugar, preadolescent trauma, central air, and matte effect texture gel.

Jeez, how the hell am I supposed to compete with writing like William Bowers’? Want to read a fantastic essay he’s written? Try this one. And you’d best print it out for safekeeping just in case the link up and dies on you. I reckon dead links end up in cyburgatory, waiting for the next Dante.

William Bowers, write more!

An interview with Ioan Hefin

click on image to view showreel

The Welsh actor Ioan Hefin, who has worked for over twenty years in theatre, radio, and television, successfully completed his one-man show ‘You Should Ask Wallace’ for Theatr na n’Óg in October and will be touring with it in 2010. In addition to several other major projects, notably a BBC TV series and university teaching, Ioan is narrating the Corvus podcast series.

Ioan has been kind enough to answer some questions.

What first got you interested in acting? Despite the Hollywood glitter, it’s surely not an easy way to make a living.

I often think about the answer to this question! I didn’t like drama initially but got into it while studying music at university. I realised that I’d never cut it as a musician so I fancied trying the equally daunting task of making a living as an actor. Why do musicians have to spend their time in dark, damp pits while the actors get to wallow in the spotlights?

It’s obviously not an easy way to make a living – but the constant insecurity seems to suit my personality. I’ve tried the alternative, and the security of a regular wage doesn’t fire my ambition.

You’ve played a large number of very different roles in your career. When you prepare a part, how do you generally work? Is empathy a crucial part of the process?

Empathy has to exist in some form, but it can also be an antagonistic empathy. I enjoy being taken to areas of study that are consequential and would not normally be a part of my life without the variable nature of casting. The way I prepare for different parts varies from production to production. I’ve recently started to increase the intensity of my research and preparation – I’d like to think that I’m finding some a different kind of maturity at last!

You’re bilingual in English and Welsh and have often acted in Welsh-language productions for radio, television, and stage. Twenty years from now, will there still be performances in Welsh? How important is this to you?

Mmm – interesting question. I feel privileged not to have been a monoglot actor and I’ve even experienced one peregrination into French language television drama and my theatre travels have taken me to Ireland, Iceland and Italy. Language is an intrinsic part of performance and I love the way it influences the characterisation and interpretation and affects the melody of a performance. Working in a minority language has a different cultural impact and carries a different political and historical resonance. I see no reason why Welsh language work won’t still be as strong in 2030. In fact, I think it will be stronger. The Welsh Language National Theatre is currently heavily subsidised. Perhaps it’s even reached the point that the work is over dependant on the financial support. When not challenged, some of the work can appear stifled, censored and lazy but I guess this isn’t exclusive to the Welsh language.

Are there any types of stories or characters which particularly interest you?

I enjoy venturing into subject areas that expose my ignorance. Acting opportunities are often the catalysts of unexpected personal discoveries. I can’t think of any other area of employment that gives me such a breadth covering history, philosophy, psychology, politics, human nature, religion, physicality, emotional intelligence, nature, sex, death, life and any thing in between. I try not to be judgemental or prejudicial about any subject area or any character type. We all have a range of personalities within us.

What do you do when you don’t like a character you have to play? Does it matter?

A number of elements have an impact here. Is it a short contract or a long term contract?!

I find it much easier to sustain a character during a short-term contract. Sustaining a characterisation has more to do with discipline than liking or disliking. I’ve enjoyed playing some very interesting characters that I would never include in my group of friends.

Do you prefer film work or live theatre? What do you see as the important differences between them?

Bring on my cliché. I prefer the nature of the work in a theatre production – and the salary of filming work! Again, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience work in a number of different genres that call upon the same core skills but utilised in very different ways. The differences are relatively obvious, but I’m driven more by what they share. You have to keep on top of your game. This industry has the capacity to gift employment to practitioners who are willing to keep learning and exploring and to progress for as long as they have good health, memory, ambition and desire.

You’ve just completed a successful one-man show as Alfred Russel Wallace, which will also go on tour next year. Isn’t it very strenuous to be up there on stage entirely on your own? How do you manage to direct yourself, so to speak?

‘Go Ask Wallace’ is one of the most fulfilling productions I’ve ever undertaken. Driven by pure narrative and not much theatricality, the subject matter is entirely exposed and stands by virtue of the astounding life of an inspirational explorer. I’m very lucky to have the directorial guidance of Geinor Styles who is equally transfixed by Wallace’s life story, but the prospect of having to navigate yourself through a performance with one person on the cast list is equally frightening and stimulating. I can’t wait to revisit the show again next year.

You’ll also be lecturing at university next year. Will you be teaching future actors? I’m under the impression that method acting is no longer popular. Is there another approach that you use?

I’ll be working on the delivery of the Theatre in Education unit at Trinity College Carmarthen. The course there has an excellent breadth of content for aspiring actors, technicians, designers and directors. A natural, instinctive performance is what audience members expect – they don’t care what method, if any, has been utilised to achieve this performance. You need to find what works for you.

I’m a huge advocate of Theatre in Education – I just wish all drama schools would treat TIE with the status it deserves.

Corvus is your first podcast series. Is narrating a podcast very different than performing on radio? What are the challenges of this new medium?

I’ve worked on a radio drama series and a radio narration and I guess the biggest difference with podcasting is the independence. You have the freedom to be a bit more adventurous but don’t have the assurance of knowing if it’s the right interpretation. Being autonomous also means being a technician, editor, PA, director and producer!

And finally, you’re volunteering your time for Corvus—a considerable amount of time indeed. You’ve even purchased equipment to record the podcasts, which are being released as free downloads. What is motivating you?

The availability of the recordings is a social motivation.

Recording in South Wales, sending the chapters to an American living in Germany and then accessing the end result on a platform available all over the world is a technical motivation.

Trying something new and exploring different challenges is a performance motivation.

With Corvus, the biggest motivation is a personal one. I love the writing. It has a depth, complexity and a style that I find captivating. The text commands respect. Pitting myself against writing of this quality is exciting for me. I sincerely hope my readings are a worthy interpretation.

The Not-Dead and the Saved

My daughter spent two weeks in intensive care back in July and nearly six weeks in hospital. She remembers very little of that time. I do much of the remembering for her.

I remember her terrible pain.

I remember her seizures.

I remember her confusion.

I remember her hallucinations.

I remember her attempts to escape – lifelines ripped loose.

I remember her hands bound to the bed.

I remember desperation.

I remember exhaustion.

I remember anger.

I remember being terrified to answer the phone when not at the hospital.

I remember her pleading ‘Let me die’.

I remember promising her, silently, that she wouldn’t die alone, if she had to die.

I remember her determination to withdraw from the morphine, when it became possible.

I remember her strength.

The Not-Dead and the Saved  is a short story by Kate Clancy that I urge you to read.

You should ask Wallace


When Welsh actor Ioan Hefin isn’t busy recording Corvus, you can find him playing Alfred Russel Wallace, the lesser known co-discoverer of natural selection. Next year there’ll be repeat performances of his one-man show, plus an extensive schools tour from September to December. He will also be lecturing at university and filming several other roles.

I consider myself unbelievably fortunate that Ioan has taken over responsibility for the podcasts, solely on a pro bono basis.

Expect an interview with Ioan in the near future.

A new interview

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Hadrien Gardeur of Feedbooks is intervewing several of their self-published writers for his blog. My contribution is available here.

Wallace Stevens on difficulty in poetry

‘Sometimes, when I am writing a thing, it is complete in my own mind; I write it in my own way and don’t care what happens. I don’t mean to say that I am deliberately obscure, but I do mean to say that, when the thing has been put down and is complete to my own way of thinking, I let it go. After all, if the thing is really there, the reader gets it. He may not get it at once, but, if he is sufficiently interested, he invariably gets it. A man who wrote with the idea of being deliberately obscure would be an imposter. But that is not the same thing as a man who allows a difficult thing to remain difficult because, if he explained it, it would, to his way of thinking, destroy it.’

From a letter written on 18th February 1942 (courtesy of One Poet’s Notes via Frank Wilson)


plum tart Cool weather and mellow light – my mind returns to the maple leaves my parents would rake to the roadside and eventually burn, no antipollution by-laws back then, returns also to the delight my sister and I would take in leaping into the enormous piles. My father, hardly the most patient of men, seemed himself mellowed by the onset of autumn, for he never complained no matter how often we scattered his handiwork. I wonder why it’s this, among so many things I might remember, which remains most vivid.

I’m writing again, but each day is a struggle. You finish a novel, but once you make it public, all its flaws, large and small, inadvertent or deliberate, turn malignant and rapidly metastasise. And every word of criticism, no matter how justified – exactly when justified – is another pass of the blade without anaesthetic. At least there’s baking . . . yes, I turn out a very fine loaf. And we’ve had a glut of plums, sweet and juicy and touched by a delicate bloom, which make for wonderful tarts.

Here’s a link to a Lit Drift article about surviving unemployment as a writer for which I was interviewed. Author Alex Lam was far kinder to me than I deserve!

Welcome to my new website!

Yup. It’s finally up and running after years of promising myself to consolidate everything in one place. First of all, huge thanks go to Chris for all his work on the site—and patience with my endless dithering. If you want to hear some really colourful swearing, just ask him how many colour changes the headers have gone through!

Then there’s Ioan, the Welsh actor who’s taken on the enormous task of reading and recording Corvus in its entirety for the podcasts—all forty-eight chapters and 526 pages. Like Chris, he’s not earning a pence for the hours and hours (and still more hours) of work involved.

I’m continually astounded, and humbled, by the generosity of people I’ve never met, people who share a commitment to online literature. Why do we do it? Perhaps because there’s a revolution in the making. As Fabio says towards the end of Corvus:

‘… it’s a rare and wonderful privilege to witness a major paradigm shift. Believe me, right now I wouldn’t be anywhere else in the scheme of things.’

I still haven’t decided—more dithering—whether I’ll continue to blog as frequently as I used to. It’s an awful distraction, and I’m thinking of limiting myself to a monthly newsletter, with the occasional post when the urge to rant overwhelms my good sense. (What good sense? my kids are sure to ask.) On the other hand, a blog is a handy place to store all those bits of writing you come across and want to remember, and in fact ought to memorise, if only your grey cells would cooperate—a sort of commonplace book. And if you’re anything like me, that way you can actually find the passages again, thanks to the search function.

Well, we’ll have to see. At the moment I’m working on a new short story, but it’s slow going. Despite a fairly clear concept of what I’m after, and a growing sense of its overall shape and weight, I’m struggling with my technical limitations and with a tendency to rely on my old tricks.

There is great satisfaction in craft, but it can obscure a lack of what writer Tim O’Brien calls ‘gravitas or thematic weight’. Diana Athill puts it this way in Somewhere Towards the End:

It is not the artist’s skill that works the spell, charming though it is in Bouts’s case [Madonna nursing the Child] and awe-inspiring in della Francesca’s [Nativity]. It is the selflessness of such art that is magnetic, as it is in a Chinese bronze of the Buddha, a medieval wood-carving of an angel, or an African mask. The person making the object wasn’t trying to express his own personality or his own interpretation of appearances; he was trying to represent something outside himself for which he felt the utmost respect, love or dread–to show us this wonderful thing as well as he possibly could. How the purity of this intention makes itself felt in the artefact I don’t understand, but it does.

Rediscovering Crystal

Absolutely my favourite narrative environment designer, Crystal is someone I’ve known since she’d crawl barefoot under my dining room table in a gorgeous jewel of a dress handsewn by her mum, but to my parents’ everlasting horror, sans knickers. Look what’s she’s grown up to be – and do! And yes, she does match the Portuguese tiles. (I have told you before, haven’t I, that every one of my books has an important character with tattoos?)

Go on, explore her website, you’ll love it.