Wales, the Gregynog Press, Dylan Thomas and Baritones

Literary Tourist in Wales

Before heading off to Wales for a sneak preview of what that principality had in store for literary tourists the following year (2014), I took an inventory of what I knew about the place: Dylan Thomas of course: grew up in Swansea, lived in the coastal village of Laugharne, baritone, had a tempestuous marriage, died in New York, drank a lot. Tom Jones, baritone, drank a lot, tempestuous marriages, hairy chest. Richard Burton, baritone, movie idol, Taming of the Shrew, tempestuous marriages, drank a lot. Hay-on-Wye, leeks, and the Gregynog Press.

The team at Visit Wales did a superb job touring us around, rounding out my limited knowledge of the territory. Part of that rounding involved my interviewing people about Dylan Thomas for The Biblio File podcast. Annie Haden for instance.

She’s a tour guide who specializes in the poet. With over 20 years experience in the tourism sector, she uses an easy to listen to story-telling technique which keeps her charges both awake and informed.

I caught up with her at Morgans hotel in Swansea, Thomas’s home town, to talk about poet and place. Listen here:

I also interviewed George Tremlett an author, bookshop owner, and former politician. After leaving King Edward VI School in Stratford-upon-Avon he worked for the Coventry Evening Telegraph from 1957 onward as a TV columnist and pop music reviewer. In the 1960s he became a freelance rock journalist and in the 1970s wrote a series of paperbacks on pop stars, including The David Bowie Story, the first bio of the musician.

He’s also a biographer of Dylan Thomas and his wife Caitlin. In Caitlin: Life with Dylan Thomas he argues that the poet was the world’s “first rock star.” In 1997 he published a book with James Nashold, The Death of Dylan Thomas, which claimed that Thomas’s demise was not due to alcohol poisoning but to a mistake by his physician prescribing cortisone, morphine and benzedrine when it wasn’t called for, because Thomas was actually in a diabetic coma.

Tremlett runs the Corran Bookshop in Laugharne, Wales – has since 1982. The shop is located right across the street from Browns,

the pub that Thomas frequented (frequently). In addition to a selection of used books, his shop offers tourist information and it’s where I met George to have this conversation:

***

Unfortunately we couldn’t fit Gregynog Hall,

where the press’s books are printed, into our Welsh itinerary. So I decided Continue reading “Wales, the Gregynog Press, Dylan Thomas and Baritones”

Tumbling into the Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart in Paris

Literary Tourist in Paris

It was a tough trek. Way longer than I expected – from the American University of Paris to the Shakespeare and Company bookstore along the Seine. I was lugging my laptop too, and the books Daniel Medin had given me after our conversation about translation, plus this

Shakespeare and Company Paris: A History of the Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart. Predictably I wasn’t on time for my interview with its editor, Krista Halverson. It wasn’t that I was winded, or, despite the heat, sweating too much; no, I was annoyed because I was unnecessarily late. Krista quickly shooed this funk away, assuring me that she hadn’t noticed, inviting me to join her for a beverage at the store’s adjacent cafe (there on the left,  all dressed in white).

Yes, Shakespeare & Co. has its own cafe now! – a luxury that long-time owner George Whitman could only covet. The store, and cafe, are now owned by his daughter Sylvia –  as in Beach – who I had hoped to interview. Unfortunately for me, she was off on maternity leave, nurturing the next generation of bibliophiles.

I ordered an espresso, Krista chose some sort of energizing berry-carrot concoction. Of course that’s what I should have had – being hot and tired and late and all. We moved to the outdoor patio to plot out how our conversation would go. Krista couldn’t finish her drink and offered me what remained – looked like half the glass. Perfect.

She showed me through the shop, which, thanks to various adjacent rooms and apartments coming on the market and being bought or rented at different times , really does

resemble a rabbit warren.

You need to pay attention to details if you want to get the full bookstore experience. Floor tiles

overhead signs, biblical

and otherwise

(City Lights in San Francisco is a sister store, and sports a Shakespeare &Co. sign above its door), and I really liked this window full of flowers

We even stopped in on some young Continue reading “Tumbling into the Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart in Paris”

Literary Agents and Emma Bovary in Le Perche, France

Literary Tourist in France

Le Perche is known for the Percheron horse

Horse, Percheron

and, at least in my world, the literary agent. We were looking for Pierre Astier’s house, and knew that it was located next to a cemetery in Moutiers-au-Perche, 80 kms east of Le Mans (two hours’ train ride south of Paris). Countryside villages don’t come much prettier than this, with its charming tile-roofed cottages

Le Perche, France

and blazing red, potted flowers

(Franco-American director Sophie Barthes agrees, she shot parts of her film Madame Bovary here).

We’d found an old church, with it’s extruding drainpipe-tongued gargoyles,

Gargoyles, Le Perche, France

and yes, there was a cemetery attached to it. Two choices: up the hill toward a forest (where Emma kills herself), or around the side of the church. We chose the road more travelled, and found the house down a ways, first thing on the right.

le perche, france, house

I was here to interview Pierre and his partner Laure about their literary & film agency for my Biblio File podcast. They invited me into the garden and poured me an espresso. The terrain was a bit wild. The two of them had spent the previous afternoon together trying to tame it. While doing so Pierre had been bitten by a tick. He had to go to the hospital (not wise to play around with these things), but was kind enough to engage in conversation with me for about 20 minutes before leaving Laure

Laure Pecher

to fend off the rest of my questions. You can listen here to our discussion:

Among other things we talked about french publishers’ resistance to literary agents, the differences between pitching book publishers and film producers; translation, author/agent relations and Andrew Wylie.

After the interview, Caroline and I headed for Mortagne-au-Perche where we had lunch, here

mortagne au perche

Sitting beside us was a man with a Quebec accent. We soon learned (biblio-coincidence alert) that he,

Louis Duhamel

Louis Duhamel, had spent his entire working life as a librarian at the Ottawa Public Library, and that his father had been Queen’s Printer under prime minister John Diefenbaker, appointed in the late 50s, and unceremoniously dismissed from this supposed (according to Louis) lifetime position, by Pierre Trudeau.

Louis was touring the region researching his ancestors. Many from here are known to have emigrated to Quebec in the 17th century. And another thing: Louis’s father collected The Pleiade, a uniform series of world classics put out by Gallimard, starting in the 1930s. As it happened, several weeks later I was in Bordeaux where I visited the oldest independent bookstore in France, Mollat, and they just happened to have what looked like a full run of the series for sale:

but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Five must see places in Bath for Jane Austen fans

By Angela Youngman

For any fan of Jane Austen, Bath has to be the place to go. The elegant, genteel streets filled with buildings of pretty yellow stone still bear a distinct resemblance to the Bath that Jane knew so well.

The Assembly Rooms & Museum of Costume

Jane knew this building as the Upper Rooms and it was the venue of many of the dances and social events that she attended. She refers to it in Northanger Abbey and also in Persuasion when ‘Sir Walter, his two daughters, and Mrs Clay, were the the earliest of all their party at the rooms in the evening; and as Lady Dalrymple must be waited for, they took their station by one of the fires in the Octagon Room’.

Administered by the National Trust, visitors can explore the rooms, which still have many of the original features including the elaborate chandeliers. On display is an elegantly decorated sedan chair – typical of the type of chair Catherine Morland would have used in Northanger Abbey.

The Pump Room

This was another social venue frequently used by Jane and her characters. Visitors came to Bath to take the waters and enjoy the social round. Edward Austen, her brother, came to Bath suffering from gout. Jane wrote ‘he was better yesterday than he had been for two or three days before ….He drinks at the Hetling pump ….. is to bathe tomorrow’.

The Pump Room was also where the Subscription book was kept. New arrivals to Bath could insert their names, alerting others to their arrival. It enabled visitors to subscribe to Assemblies and concerts in the Pump Room and the Assembly Rooms. In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Moreland visits the Pump Room to ascertain if Henry Tilney was still in town: ‘His name was not in the pump-room book, and curiosity could do no more. He must be gone from Bath.’

The Sydney Gardens

This was one of Jane’s favourite places in Bath. She enjoyed walking in the gardens. In a letter to Cassandra dated 21st January 1801, she wrote, “my mother hankers after The Square dreadfully and it is but natural to suppose my Uncle will take her part. It would be very pleasant to be near Sydney Gardens – we might go into the Labyrinth every day….” Her wish was granted, and they took a house at Number 4, Sydney Place.

The Royal Crescent

In Jane Austen’s books, this is referred to as The Crescent. It was later renamed The Royal Crescent after a visit by Prince Frederick, second son of King George III. It features in Northanger Abbey when the Thorpe and Allen families discover that the place to be seen on Sundays is the Crescent, rather tha the Pump Room. Situated in the upper part of the town, it comprises a great half circle of thirty, linked houses all made out of the pretty yellowish Bath stone.

Trim Street

This was the site of Jane Austen’s final home in Bath. They had returned from a holiday with friends in Steventon in considerably reduced circumstances and took, what they hoped would be, temporary accommodation in Trim Street. Located in the very centre of Bath’ it was noisy, confined, narrow and bustling. They were very pleased to be able to leave it when the opportunity arose.

Angela Youngman is a writer and journalist with numerous books linking travel and literary/film sites. She is the author of Discovering Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Jane Austen: The Writer, the Story, and Places to go

Bath, the Pulteney Bridge, Jane Austen and Victor Hugo


By Angela Youngman

On a recent visit to Bath, I was strolling along the river towards Pulteney Bridge when something jogged my memory. It looked very familiar and yet different at the same time. Naturally curious, I did some research and found that this spot has some intriguing literary connections. Built in 1770, the bridge is unusual. Designed by Robert Adam during the town’s period of Georgian splendour, the bridge was designed to link the old town with the new suburb of Bathgate. Unlike most bridges – once on it you cannot see the river! It was deliberately designed to resemble the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, and has shops across the full span on both sides. Only by going behind the bridge or looking at from the river can you appreciate the architecture.

Walking along the little alley leading up to the supermarket, you get a good view of the back of the bridge and see the shops hanging out over the river flowing sedately below. It was this scene, which was recreated by writer and illustrator James Gurnley for his Dinotopia series. Jane Austen lived near here for several months when the family rented a house at No 4 Sydney Place. She had to cross the bridge each day on her way to the shops in Milsom street, or when visiting the Abbey, Pump Room and Assembly Rooms. The former Sydney Hotel located near the bridge was the site of numerous public breakfasts and dances that Jane attended regularly. Her life on this side of the river was her favourite time in Bath, as it gave her access to the open spaces that she loved so much.

Jane would instantly recognise the scene as you cross the bridge. It has not changed much since her day. The shops quickly give way to elegant residential, Georgian buildings leading down to the Holburne Museum and the Sydney Gardens. In a letter to Cassandra, Jane wrote ‘it would be very pleasant to be near Sydney Gardens – we might go into the Labyrinth every day’. Opened to the public in May 1795, the gardens were the place to walk and be seen. The building (now known as the Holburne Museum) had a long room suitable for country dancing and where visitors could stroll in bad weather. Firework displays were a speciality. In 1799, Jane wrote to Cassendra “we did not go till nine and then were in very good time for the Fire-Works which were really beautiful and surpassing my expectations – the illuminations too were very pretty’.

The weir just below the river has a very striking design. Rebuilt in the 1970’s, it has a three tier, stepped crescent design, which creates the appearance of a continuous series of waterfalls along the entire span of the weir. It is this scene which has become familiar to film goers worldwide – yet many will not immediately recognise it.

At the end of the film Les Miserables, Javert is shown perched on a parapet desperately trying to come to terms with conflicting images of justice. He eventually commits suicide by jumping into the River Seine. When the film was shot, the spectacular weir at Pulteney Bridge was used for the scene. Cinematic techniques were used to superimpose the skyline of nineteenth century Paris behind the bridge parapet. The actual filming shot was taken from the wall on the Abbey side of the river where there is a flat, broad parapet overlooking the weir.

Angela Youngman is a writer and journalist with numerous books linking travel and literary/film sites. She is the author of Discovering Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Jane Austen: The Writer, the Story, and Places to go