Saturday, 9 April 2011

Stars in my eyes

The final event for this evening was a brief chat and reading by Wiliam Owen Roberts, which really made my day: I read his Y Pla, translated as Pestilence, in 1994 and envisioned him as this hip young gunslinger - the 1987 novel is hugely ambitious, cutting between bloodily comic medieval Wales and the Vietnam war to make some very provocative points. If you can find a copy, you've got to read it, though people around me reckon his Paradwys is a masterpiece. It's set in the 18th-century. This conference is packed with 18-century specialists, and the leading one introduced him by saying 'They say there are only two subjects which fascinate human beings: sex and the eighteenth-century. They're half right', which made me laugh a lot.

He's now 50, and I'm feeling rather old too! He's written a number of experimental, wide-ranging novels since, as well as TV, plays etc. The latest work is Paris, a sequel to his Russian Revolution novel, Petrograd, part of a panoramic trilogy of a kind not often done in Welsh Even in the English translation (by his wife: he said that she's a Jane Austen fan, while he's more 'muscular'), it's a punchy and compelling narrative, influenced by Bulgakov and Gorky amongst others. On translation, he suggested that while English has such a big vocabulary, Welsh is a much more flexible language for a writer: he can invent compound words, for example, which can't be done so much in English (though there was a move to de-Latinize English which involved a lot of Germanic compounding, usually to clumsy effect - it's always seemed a bit racist to me)

He was also very amusing about the translation process: some blinkered moron from Bloomsbury wrote back bemused that anybody would bother to write about Russia in Welsh! Much bitter chortling from the crowd - some colonial habits are hard to shake.

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