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A journey around my readers – The Great Welsh Auntie Novel by John Geraint

10 Sep 2022 8 minute read
John Geraint author of The Great Welsh Auntie Novel

Following the popular serialisation of The Great Welsh Auntie Novel over the summer on Nation.Cymru, award winning documentary maker turned novelist John Geraint reflects on getting to know a whole new audience.

John Geraint

“If you haven’t read it yet, then you’re in for a real treat.

A wonderful story of coming of age. Like the best authors John Geraint can merge the serious and funny, the sad and joyful with consummate ease. A great read.

Started reading it yesterday and I can’t put it down. An ex-Llwynypia and Porth County girl, it’s bringing back so many memories.

Funny, poignant and possibly a bit too close to home for me.

There is a literary device I’ve not come across before which works brilliantly, and at times there’s some dust my old eyes.

I am really struggling to express my absolute joy. A fantastic read.

It captures perfectly the confusions, complications, emotional lows and highs of growing up in the Rhondda in 1974.

Laughed and cried and loved it!!!

Can’t put it down. A fabulous read.

A sense of humour, a sense of time and place and above all, a quite intense sense of the feelings we young ones have, had, miss, regret, and (thank God) lost.

If you want a book that operates at several levels, from a quite affecting love story, through an exploration of the madness of growing up, a touch of Welsh magical realism, a lament for a lost time, and just very good writing: read this book.”

Diolch o galon

You’re going to have to help me out here. Cut me a bit of slack. Suspend your judgement for a short while. Please. You see the thing is, there’s no way I can do what I’d like to do in this piece without seeming… well, a little bit too pleased with myself, I suppose.

If you’re a regular visitor to Nation.Cymru, it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that I’ve just published a book, ‘The Great Welsh Auntie Novel’.

Across the summer, the first six chapters have been serialised here every week, ending on a bit of a cliff-hanger – who is it who’s going to come to help poor little Jac to deal with his childhood demons?

What I want to do now is to say ‘diolch o galon’, ‘thanks a million’, to all those people who’ve been kind enough to respond to those instalments – and of course especially to those who’ve bought the book and read it and who’ve let me know how it’s struck them.

You may find it hard to believe, but in all the busyness and business of preparing my book for publication as a first-time novelist, I’d somehow lost sight of the fact that people would actually read it. It was a great and pleasant surprise when they got in touch or posted on social media.

The book has reached readers all over the UK, and as far afield as France and America, Bangladesh and Australia.

But I’d like to let you know about three of the most encouraging things that have happened closer to home as a result of ‘The Great Welsh Auntie Novel’ being published.

Encouraging not just for me, but I’d like to think for the kind of Wales we live in, and the kind of Wales that we might see tomorrow.

And goodness knows we need some encouragement right now!

Positive impact

Perhaps the most surprising thing was that the Chief Executive of the Football Association of Wales got in touch.

Honest, now.

Noel Mooney is a highly impressive Irishman, new to the job, determined that Wales’ success at the highest level of the game will have a positive impact at the grassroots and indeed far beyond the field of play.

He wants to put ‘culture’ at the heart of Welsh football.

To my amazement, he invited me to the FAW headquarters in the Vale of Glamorgan to come and talk about the novel, and what it’s saying about Welshness.

Noel gave me the full tour of the training facilities, and I got to sit on the changing room bench where Gareth Bale had parked himself just a few days before.

And I left 11 copies of the novel there.

Of course, I can’t be certain that the full Welsh team will read them. But – if Wales meets with success at this autumn’s World Cup – it’s not going to stop me claiming that it was ‘The Great Welsh Auntie Novel Wot Won It!’

Popular quality

Another great chat I had about the novel was with Adrian Emmett.

He’s the galvanising force behind the rise of Treorchy’s High Street to be recognised as the Best of British, and he’s a key figure in a new hi-tech initiative which will help to take that fantastic success even further, and which I understand will be launched in this coming week.

Adrian owns The Lion pub in Treorchy, and we met and talked there. It was fascinating to hear him reveal some the secrets of building a burgeoning shopping mecca.

And as I was leaving, Adrian requested a whole pile of copies of my novel to sell alongside other Rhondda produce in Green Valley, Treorchy’s zero-waste greengrocers.

Selling a novel next to fruit and veg may be unusual, but I think it’s a great idea. As with the football, art and culture – in the form of my novel – is finding a place where some people might not expect to see it.

The third occasion that lifted my spirits was the Rhondda launch of the novel, in the Workers Gallery in Ynyshir. It’s not so surprising that a space dedicated to art should get behind a work of literature, I suppose.

But it was glorious to read from the novel in front of an audience of friends and strangers, Porth County classmates and Bracchi café owners.

And what made it special was witnessing the spirit with which Gayle Rogers and Chris Williams run the gallery, their bold vision for putting art that brooks no compromise as well as material that everyone can relate to at the heart of their community.

Reaching people with popular quality – it’s what I’ve always aimed for.

Act of faith

Publishing a novel, I discover, is act of faith: faith that it will find sympathetic readers, faith that those who read it will ‘get’ what’s intended.

In my novel, it’s a deep Christian faith that’s the most important thing in Jac’s father’s life; but Jac – my 17-year-old alter ego – simply can’t bring himself to accept it. Most of the sleepless nights I had before the novel appeared were spent worrying how my Christian friends would react to that.

I have to say they’ve been very generous – I suppose I should say ‘very Christian’ – in acknowledging the honesty and, yes, the pain with which I’ve written about these things.

One reader – a Baptist preacher himself, like Jac’s father – went so far as to suggest that a novel is like a sermon, in that when you’re writing it you can never be sure which bit of it is going to strike home in the hearts of the audience.

I suppose the response I’ve treasured most came from T. James Jones.

Jim Parcnest, as he’s known in bardic circles, has carried off the Crown twice and the Chair twice at the National Eisteddfod. A former Archdruid of Wales, his translation of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, Dan y Wenallt is regarded as a classic of Welsh literature.

So I suppose he knows what he’s talking about.

He posted a tweet, congratulating me: Llongyfarchion ar bortread dawnus, bythgofiadwy o’r Rhondda a’i phobol. A classy, unforgettable portrait of the Rhondda and its people, wonderfully entertaining and enlightening in equal measure.

And, yes, it’s hard not to be pleased with yourself – just a little bit – when a literary giant says something like that.

The Great Welsh Auntie Novel by John Geraint is published by Cambria Books and you can buy a copy here or in good bookshops.

You can catch up on all the exclusive extracts here.

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