Wales Book of the Year

As weeks go, this has been a blinder. It’s bewildering, honestly; you slog away for years then, all of a sudden, loads of things happen at once. Monday, we started filming Mr Burton – and the rushes are gorgeous: we’ve been so blessed with the actors, the crew, the whole lot. Then Thursday, Sarn Helen wins the Wales Book of the Year. That’s something I never dared to imagine – especially after 2008, which made the prize feel like it was cursed for me. (Details in Sarn Helen, if you don’t know what I’m on about.) Most important is the way that the message of Sarn Helen has been received: everything about climate and ecology. I’m cautious about the word optimism; it strikes me as a counterpart of anxiety – something diffuse, unmoored from the facts. But given that the change we need to make is, at root, a cultural change, a change in our mode of being, that the cultural establishment in Wales should be so willing to embrace this book – this is a cause for hope for me. It feels that way for now at least, and I’ll take that.

Thanks so much to the judges (and to all the incredibly kind people who have written in the past few days).

Burton Begins

OK, so it’s not like you can’t see the moving parts (lights and atmospherics and sound folks and cameras) but all the same, after nine years trotting round your head, it’s amazing to see your characters manifest. July 1st and here is Mr Burton in St Theodore’s Church, Port Talbot. Toby Jones and Harry Lawtey – what a remarkable pair they are. (I’ve got to sit in on their rehearsals.) So many thanks to them, to Ed Talfan and everyone at Severn Screen – and, of course, to Josh Hyams and Marc Evans, as seen in the pic below this.

Wales Book of the Year Shortlist

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Brilliantly, Sarn Helen is on the WBOTY shortlist. Many thanks to everyone who made that happen, and if you’re feeling public-spirited then please do vote for the People’s Choice Awards: (Eee, but I would like it to win that, though…)

Mr Burton

Back in 2015, about an hour after I sent Addlands to Clare Alexander (estimable agent), a friend named Josh Hyams (estimable producer) phoned to talk about an idea. This struck me as a good sign; I listened, was involved at once. The idea revolved around the early life of Richard Jenkins, who, over about two years during WW2, transformed from a no-good boyo working in the Co-Op in Taibach, Port Talbot, to a student at Oxford by the name of Richard Burton, already appearing on the West End stage. Josh and I read and conferred and visited and made up reasons to enter houses in Port Talbot. We drafted many, many times – I have about 200 versions on my computer – and slowly became more and more drawn to Philip Burton, the teacher who brought about the transformation and, ultimately, gave Richard his name.

The thing I remember best about our first conversation was Josh telling me quite how fast it was to write a screenplay, as against a novel.

Hmm. Anyway, nine years later, it looks as if we’re nearly there. As this article in Deadline explains, Mr Burton is due to be filmed this spring, directed by Marc Evans, with Toby Jones as Philip Burton, Lesley Manville as Philip’s landlady/ confidante Ma Smith, and Aimee-Ffion Edwards and Aneurin Barnard as Cis and Elfed: Richard’s sister and brother-in-law. This is a dream cast, as doesn’t need saying. More soon, and let’s hope it happens!


Am very happy to report that Sarn Helen has been awarded the Waterstones Welsh Book of the Year. Obviously, I’d be delighted in any event, but the idea that this will bring some of those ideas around climate and ecology to people who have not yet met them – this is a real lift of spirits, and has led to six or seven pages of this new novel (On the Utmost Limits of the World) in about a day and a half. Which for me is light speed. Long may that last! Many thanks to all at Waterstones for reading and supporting Sarn. I appreciate it more than I can say.

Black Mountains College

There are still a couple of tickets left for this year’s Climate, Writing and the Living World course at Black Mountains College, led by me and the great Jay Griffiths (with Pascale Petit back as guest reader, she is that magnificent). It runs from Thursday 20th July to Monday 24th July, in partnership with Literature Wales and the Arvon Foundation. Last year was really an extraordinary experience. It’s fed my writing ever since – with its ideas, and its sense of community and so much rekindled purpose…

Anyone who writes do consider joining us. And please share! Thanks a lot, TBx