The idea of writing is what makes my mind move. But occasionally the time comes to collect together what has been written. Otherwise what once seemed newly-minted can be tarnished by time.
Thus gradually, my prose collection, Island of Lightning has been brought together. It comprises twenty-three separate pieces, ranging from five hundred to fifteen thousand words. A real assortment. Indeed, maybe Island of Lightning is like a box of chocolates. A reader might not want to sample every one, but at least there is a wide choice.
Possibly ‘place’ is the clearest theme, which means the book has a global scope. But Island of Lightning is not a travel book, or a collection of journeys. It’s about examination of places where I’ve found myself, and the fruits of close observation.
The collection begins in China’s Yellow Mountains, and there are individual sections set in Manhattan, Italy and Babylon. But I live in Wales and it’s vital I write about my own environment. In places the book is intensely local. So the reader encounters Porthcawl’s Elvis Presley festival, a salvage yard in Cardiff, a ‘rainforest’ near Corris, and a stream in Penyfai, where I compulsively trespassed.
‘Trespassing’ is what I think writers do, in other people’s lives and places. Yes, trespassing is enormous fun. And sometimes terrifying in its illicit thrill.
I deliberately returned to Penyfai to reacquaint myself with the Nant Ffornwg, a stream where I fished and searched for birds’ nests and generally mooched, as all children do when out of doors.
There are two long sections in the collection. ‘I Know Another Way’ was first published by Gwasg Gomer, and recounts a walk from Llandaff to Penrhys in the Rhondda. Real figures such as the writer Gwyn Thomas, the botanist, Edward Lluyd, and my father, accompany me on the way.
And the volume takes its title from my account of a writer’s residency spent in Malta, funded by Wales Literature Exchange. Residencies can be bittersweet experiences. Gradually the lucky recipient realises that something is required of them that might be impossible to provide. Or will take years…
Thus at last I deliver ‘Being a Description of Some of those I Encountered during my Sojourn on the Island of Lightning’. I spent a month in the marvellous city of Valletta, puzzling over the Maltese language, getting lost every day in the labyrinth of Malta’s capital. I lived in Old Mint Street behind the Manoel Theatre – reputedly the oldest baroque theatre in Europe – and dealt every day with callers who wanted to rehearse or pick up their costumes.
Like Valletta, Island of Lightning is densely populated. It begins with a crowd of Chinese tourists, and the book is packed with characters, some fictional, others ‘real’.
There are several literary figures. Jean Luis Borges is one such, pictured in Buenos Aires. Island of Lightning owes him a lasting debt. Portraits of other writers include Dannie Abse, on the most tragic night of his life.
And the book ends in Porthcawl’s Pink Bay with a glimpse of a possible future. Yes, twenty-three in the chocolate box, put together while mooching, while trespassing, while doing what writers do.
Island of Lightning is launched 8pm, Wednesday, February 12, at ‘The Stage Door’, Grand Pavilion, Porthcawl CF36 3YW.