It’s summer and here in Devon it is the time for Literary Festivals both large and small.
I spent the whole of Monday at beautiful Dartington Hall where the Ways With Words Festival has held for the last twenty years. The highlight of the day or rather highlights among so many stars were the talks by Jill Dawson and John Goodby. Jill Dawson talked about her latest book ‘The Tell Tale Heart’ and explained how she works from real life events into fiction. She talked about writing in the gaps between the known facts. I think all writers do that to a greater or lesser degree. After all facts don’t have feelings and it is in that unknown place the writer can work.
I have been trying to read Dylan Thomas’s poems from a collection I bought many years ago at the boathouse in Laugharne South Wales, where he worked. The collection says on the cover that it ‘contains most of the poems I have written, and all, up to the present year that I wish to preserve.’ The collection was published in 1952, a year before his death. I have been struggling with them so I was pleased to listen to John Goodby talking about Thomas’s use of word with multiple meanings, and his use of puns. I wanted to know if the collection was chronological as I found it hard to equate the poems I was reading (I’d got as far as Death has no Dominion) with ones like Fernhill and of course the humour in Under Milk Wood. Professor Goodby said I should wait until his annotated collection of Thomas’s poems is published in October which includes other poems and demonstrates how he developed over the years. It does make one query whether the author is the best judge of his own work? Is he too influenced by his own mood at the time?
Last night I went to a production of the Dylan Thomas play Under Milk Wood by Clwyd Theatre Cymru at the Northcott Theatre Exeter. I have always loved this play since I first heard the recording with Richard Burton playing the first voice. I rushed out to buy a copy and still have it. Last night’s production was memorable with an imaginative staging and I know has had some very good reviews. It is on tour so look at the website http://www.undermilkwoodtour.com for places and dates and go and see it if you can.
The real interest for any writer is Thomas’s use of language. Almost the first line ‘It is a spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible black, the cobblestreets silent and hunched, courters’-and rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack fishingboad-bobbing sea.’ makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The magic of a master of the English Langauge, whose descriptions paint such vivid pictures that there is no need of anything else.
And what about the imagination needed to create characters like blind Captain Cat, Rosie Probert and Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard. Apparently Thomas was worried because there was no plot, but he didn’t need one, just following the lives of these characters for a day is enough. It is the centenary of his birth this year and so it seems appropriate to dig out your copy, or if you haven’t got one, buy or borrow one, and read this magnificent work