Wrapped Up in Books #10: Carwyn Ellis interview, Ian Rankin on class and crime fiction, plus climate lit


In this month’s literary round up Getintothis’ Cath Holland spans the globe to bring you goodies galore. 

With ‘bloody Brexit’ in the headlines so much, it’s somewhat serendipitous that our April book review has the current political tensions running through it like a stick of Blackpool rock.

Amanada Saint follows up her debut novel, 2017’s If I Were A River – longlisted for the Not The Booker Prize- with Remember Tomorrow, a beautifully written and at the same time brutal exploration of the impact of climate change – and Brexit.

Ian Rankin was in Liverpool this week, so it seemed the ideal opportunity to ask him a question around the recent Twitter storm he was involved in around the issue of class.

Although to be truthful, there’s a Twitter storm every day over something or other.

Still, he kindly answered my answer fully and you can find out what he said below.

And finally, Carwyn Ellis talks about the making of his new album. Creativity is oft mirrored by events linked to art made in the past, and we find out the weird and wonderful parallels with Carwyn’s record and the life and writing of poet T. H. Parry Williams.

  • Book review

Remember TomorrowAmanda Saint

Remember Tomorrow tells the story of a changing world worried by long term climate change, yet carries an astute reflection of current events.

At the start of the book, we find ourselves many decades into the future.  The savage consequences of environmental damage mean parts of the UK are cut off from the mainland with no power or transport links. Outside communication is poor.

So it’s a grim world our protagonist Evie, a former activist, finds herself in.  One where the instinct to survive takes precedence over any sense of common humanity.

When we meet Evie, she is a mother of two and has spent most of her adult life focussed on bringing up her family, in a community of like-minded people living intentionally away from the mainstream, the initially idyllic Woody Bay.

Yet as the damaged environment isolates Woody Bay, day to day becomes tougher. Conditions get harder. This community turns in on itself.

Evie’s teenage grandson Jonah morphs into a religious zealot. Not only that, but he’s leader of the now toxic community. Most – in public at least – follow Jonah with unquestioning devotion.

Internal and external misogyny is a problem from the get go.  Teenage Evie blamed her mother’s religion for the family’s poverty, so  many siblings produced with a conveyor belt frequency.

That her father should keep it in his pants or get his head around the rhythm method at some point during his marriage doesn’t seem to factor in to her thinking. But when Evie’s teenage self has a child by a feckless man, and her own daughter becomes a young mother, and Jonah turns out as he does, she realizes the situation for women is a trifle more complicated.

Because of her herbalist skills, Evie uses natural resources and spirituality to heal the sick – she’s held up as a witch by Jonah. Wild rumour is declared fact. There is no room for debate.

Woody Bay once a place of peace and friendship becomes a world of black and white, polar opposites, no areas of grey. You’re either with Jonah, or the devil’s work.

It’s all very Brexit.  An interesting parallel to current times, the stubborn digging in of heels, refusal to negotiate or in some cases, even meet to talk, and the flourishing of fake news.

Early on in the novel, Evie’s friend Tess goes on marches and sings protest songs but confesses ‘it’s good to feel part of something…most of the time it’s just a party scene’.

With Saturday’s People’s Vote march and 6 million and rising signatures on the Revoke Article 50 petition having a negligible effect on the attitudes of the leaders of the UK’s two main political parties, Remember Tomorrow starts to feel almost journalistic by this point.

In the book, as the community in Woody Bay becomes increasingly toxic – hello again Brexit – behaviours within more extreme and intolerant, people unable to talk freely, the situation disintegrates.

Climate change is something we subtly see and feel having an effect, season after season, yet we ignore it pretty much.  Brexit is bloody everywhere, it’s loud and brash and ugly, and yet on we head towards it anyway.

Reading Remember Tomorrow, it becomes more and more apparent it is truly a book – a warning – for our 2019 complacency.

Remember Tomorrow is published by Retreat West Books, and out now.

Paul Johnston and Ian Rankin at Liverpool Hope University

  • Gerard Manley Hopkins Memorial Lecture at Liverpool Hope University

Guest speaker at the annual Gerard Manley Hopkins Memorial Lecture this year was international best selling and award winning crime author Ian Rankin, best known for creating the much loved Rebus novels.

Manley Hopkins was a poet, and Rankin himself started off as one, so the arrangement was an appropriate fit.

Rankin opted to submit to the questioning of fellow crime author Paul Johnston in lieu of a lecture and was truly on form – it came as a surprise to learn he’s in a band with JK Rowling‘s husband.

The things you learn at universities these days.

At the end of the interrogation, he submitted himself to questions from the floor.

There is a massive conversation going on right now around class and publishing. Issues around access, acceptability, prejudice, poverty, social disadvantage factor in.  When the author Kerry Hudson wrote an article for the Guardian newspaper late last year asking the question ‘Where are all the British working-class writers?‘, Rankin tweeted a rather mischievous reply.

So it seemed appropriate to ask him about genre fiction and class.

Because his tweet made me think that working class genre writers – commercial fiction writers – aren’t always included in the conversation.

Ian Rankin: ‘Most of the crime writers I know come from a working class background…and writing from the working class experience. The thing about cops is, they tend to be – well, maybe not so much now because a lot are college educated – but if you go back a generation ago they were from working class backgrounds. And the people they are dealing with are predominantly from working class backgrounds, so it’s a working class literature, a literature of the urban experience.

‘If you’re looking at problems in society, a lot of those problems are happening to working class people.

‘And the crime novel in England recently has taken on austerity and it’s taken on migration and xenophobia and what desperation does to people, what drugs do to communities. If you look to explore any of these as a reader or a writer, crime fiction is a good way to do it.

And a lot of writers who come to the genre come from working class backgrounds.

Partly maybe there’s been a slight snobbery in the past not taking genre fiction seriously in academia but that’s all changing now, because better and better young writers are coming into the genre…genres…whether it’s fantasy, historical or whatever it is. And bringing a literary sensibility with them. They’re trying to do new things, trying to re imagine the crime novel….there are some pretending to be podcasts so they’re almost in the shape of podcasts but they’re actually novels.

Read our review of Changeling, Matt Wesolowski’s latest instalment of his Six Stories podcast novel series

‘So they’re looking at the world around them and taking inspiration from that world and dealing with the experiences and issues that are around us every day. Any culture, in any country in the world in crime fiction you’ll get  a sense of the people, problems they’ve got, social issues, the geography, the climate.’

Paul Johnston: ‘...in the last ten years or so there’s been a real explosion of South African crime writing.’

Ian Rankin: ‘If you’ve got cultures where there’s a lot of violence, often crime fiction comes along afterwards. So in Northern Ireland there was almost no crime fiction during the Troubles, as soon as the Troubles finished there was – sorry – and explosion of really good Irish crime writers….trying to explain what just happened.

‘It’s interesting what’s happening now in India and with crime novels about street people, about kids being taken off the streets and sold into slavery or sold into the sex industry.

All around the world the crime novel is moving into quite difficult territory, big moral questions and I love that.

‘(Crime fiction) can be as serious as you like, it can be as light and frothy as you like, it’s a very Catholic church, a very broad church. You can have books that are funny and witty and charming and you can have books that are harrowing and it’s all containable in this one genre.’     

A House Of Lies, Ian Rankins latest Rebus novel, was published last year.

Carwyn Ellis

In 1925, the Welsh poet  T H Parry Williams went on a rather lengthy trip.

He visited Cuba, then went through the Panama Canal to the Pacific, Peru, Chile, Argentina.

As he travelled, he soaked up the history and culture of the different cities and towns, as poets and writers – and musicians – are wont to do as they wander.

At the end of his journey he reached Rio de Janeiro in Brazil  where he wrote his famous poem Y Ferch ar y Cei yn Rio, the amalgamation of his experiences and observations of this new, unfamiliar world.

Fast forward almost a century later, and that journey and sense of creativity inspired by people and place has undergone an eerie mirroring but this time expressed through song and film.

Musician Carwyn Ellis has spent much of the last two years touring the world as a sideman in The Pretenders..

The tour took in a South American leg in 2018. That time, he says, provided him with ‘one of the great adventures of my life’, having the chance to explore great cities like Rio de Janeiro , São Paulo, Santiago in Chile, Buenos Aires.

‘It made a big impression on me. I was like a Hoover, buying records particularly in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.’

Noticing Carwyn becoming intrigued and enthused by the music he was hearing, The Pretenders‘ Chrissie Hynde – keynote speaker at this year’s Sound City + conference in May – played him music by Brazilian band The +2’s.

‘It blew my mind – I thought it was incredible.  It was so fresh sounding, 14, 15 years old but modern Tropicália.

I’m a fan of Brazilian music generally, from bossa nova to salsa to the Tropicália style, which  encompasses all sort of psychedelia, rock n roll. and all sorts of Brazilian indigenous music.

‘This seemed like a modern take on it that’s taken in everything that’s happened since, from early to mid ’70s in music not just in Brazil but everywhere. Vibrant quirky, melodic and exciting.

‘Things that I aspire to actually.’

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Hynde came up with the idea for him to collaborate with The +2’s, record it in Welsh and Brazilian, because ‘no one’s done that before have they.’

Carwyn looked into it and as it happens, she was perfectly right. No one had.

Back in London, he met up with  (Alexandre) Kassin, legendary Brazilian producer and multi-instrumentalist from the band, with Chrissie making the introductions. He spent weeks  ‘frantically’ writing songs before travelling to Kassin’s studio in  Rio de Janeiro in November  to record.

He took film maker Griff Lynch and photographer Dafydd Hughes with him.

It was Griff who noted the parallels between TH Parry Williams’s trip all those years ago.

Bust of T.H. Parry-Williams by R.L. Gapper  at Gwynedd Museum and Art Gallery Photo credit: Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net).

‘I think Carwyn going to create a Welsh album in Brazil, represents much more than just a change of location for the recording.

By creating Welsh art outside of its natural habitat, you are forced to approach it with a fresh mindset, much the same as T H Parry Williams did on his….trip to South America, where he composed the poem,’ Griff tells me.

The band only had 3 to 4 days in the studio, but was filmed by Griff, the resulting documentary named Ar Y Cei Yn Rio in tribute to the connection.

Carwyn played acoustic guitar, with Kassin was on bass, double bass, Domenico Lancelotti playing drums and Andre Siqueira on percussion.

Collectively the three BrazilIans on the record are known as Rio 18.

‘I think the sun shines through in both T H’s poem, and in Carwyn’s new album. A Brazilian context to Welsh music and art is particularly interesting purely because of the change in weather!’ jokes Griff.

The recording, Carwyn says, ‘was terribly exciting and a lot of fun.

‘(There was) friendship, mutual admiration, and love of music. Fairly simple things.

It makes you appreciate it more, enjoy it more, I’m excited and protective about it. When the world is so uncertain and can be very bleak…it was a really great antidote it’s like a weapon against all the negativity and stupidity going on, at least in our cocoon everything was great.

‘The language barrier was a funny thing but you soon get through it. Because you have a shared feeling that exceeds boundaries.’

The TH Parry Williams story and parallels do have a deeper resonance – this album has threads spanning the globe, geographically and culturally.

The seed of the idea conjured up in South America between Carwyn, a Welsh man, and Chrissie, an American woman, inspired by music in Brazil.

Connections were made in London, recording in Rio, the recordings taken to Wales, Welsh musicians adding more music, then off to London again for American Shawn Lee to add his magical twist.

Even the physical presence of Griff and Dafydd had animpact on the recordings.

‘It’s been a very team effort, the lads coming with me (to Brazil) ….to remind me who I am, where I’m from and also speaking in Welsh…if I’d gone on my own there’d be no Welsh spoken anywhere around the place.’

Each had a unique part to play.

The album arrives in the summer and the single from it Duwies Y Dre – which means Goddess of the Town in English – started off as a bossa nova tune and morphed into disco under Shawn’s influence.

‘…in the film I was singing it an octave lower…then I had a day to add a few things when we were in Rio and I came up with a little piano part…and that piano part changed the whole thing’s context,’ says Carwyn.

‘Myself and Kassin…us muso nerds often get right into things sometimes and the night before I had to leave we were having a few drinks and a chin stroking discussion about whose influence do you hear most in soul music now.

He maintained it was Marvin Gaye, and I maintained it was Stevie Wonder.’

Did that debate go on for a while?

All night…  But it gave us an excuse to listen to a lot of records. And particularly Marvin Gaye ones and that had a strong bearing on the direction that the song went.’

Back in London, in yet another studio with Shawn and Kassin, ‘I thought, why don’t I sing it in falsetto because I haven’t done that before so I gave it a go and I was happy with the result. And having Shawn there to help realize it was a big big help…

Kassin and Shawn.…Their imaginations know no bounds…there’s nothing beyond the realms of possibility.’

But it’s the documentary of the time in Rio which provides context to the entire record.

‘It’s a fly on the wall documentary, capturing the process at the beginning of the recording. And what we got up to. We have a wander, we have a coffee on Copacabana beach, there’s a bit where we wander around the beautiful botanical gardens in Rio de Janeiro.

‘But really it’s about being in the studio and the creative process getting to know the fellas and some of the shared fun and happiness comes through.

Because that’s how I remember it.’

Carwyn Ellis: Ar Y Cei Yn Rio is broadcast on S4C at 10pm on Friday 29 March. It will be available on the BBC iplayer afterwards, with English subtitles.

The single, Duwies Y Dre is out now on all digital platforms. The album, Joia! by Carwyn Ellis & Rio 18 will be released on June 28




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