Culture

George Brinley Evans at 96: celebrating the journey of the soldier, miner, writer and artist

07 Nov 2021 4 minutes Read
George Brinley Evans

Introducing his route to becoming a writer, this is the first of our articles celebrating the 96th birthday of George Brinley Evans, writer, sculptor and painter who was born and still lives in the village of Banwen, and is the author of Boys of Gold and Where the Flying Fishes Play.

Richard Lewis Davies

George Brinley Evans has been listening to stories and then telling them all his life. From work as a miner’s boy filling carts of coal at twelve years of age at Banwen colliery to service in the British Army in the Burma campaign in World War II then to a working life in industry including coal and engineering. A serious accident where he lost an eye in the mine when he had a young family to support led to a period of rehabilitation in hospital in Swansea and then retraining.

During convalescence encouraged to write by his wife Peggy he sent a tv script called The Fourth Device, set in a Welsh coal mine, into the BBC and was promptly invited to London to discuss it with the successful Neath screen writer Harold Green. Green showed him around the studios but advised him to put the story between hardcovers and sent him home. The village doctor and intellectual suggested to George he needed a second opinion and the script was sent to ITV drama in London.

Again, he was invited up to London to talk to the renowned producer Kitty Black. She understood his talent but explained the difficulties of a script that was a challenge to film as it was all set underground. She suggested he move to London. They’d employ him on set and he’d learn how to work for the television. It was long train journey back to Banwen for George who was still recovering from his accident. His two boys were still in school. When he got back home he built a bonfire in the garden and burnt the scripts. It was a risk he couldn’t take.

A move forward thirty years. George hasn’t regretted the decision and the boys have gone to college and left home but he is now a widower. Peggy has died after a brief and unexpected illness. He is retired and not getting out and about enough. However the DOVE centre has opened in Banwen. An adult education centre and outpost of Swansea University. One of the courses is on short story writing, taught by a master of the genre Alun Richards, editor of the Penguin Book of short stories. Alun has been a professional writer most of his life and written for film, the stage, tv and as well a six or seven novels and several collections of short stories.

Alun is the real thing. He is older than George but only just and quickly sees his talent encouraging George to begin again to send out his stories. First to Cambrensis magazine edited by Arthur Smith and then to a few publishers.

Boys of Gold

I first met George when he turned up to the launch of the Mama’s Baby (Papa’s Maybe) anthology in Cardiff in 1998. It was a book which included stories by Alun Richards, Leonora Brito and a first story by Rachel Trezise. George was in good company. He was the type of writer a publisher likes as he brought the whole family and bought a copy each for all of them. He mentioned he had some more stories which became his first book Boys of Gold which went on to become a Welsh best-seller, in one season memorably outselling Dylan Thomas according to the Western Mail. And from there in a remarkable burst of creativity he has produced a further two books Where the Flying Fishes Play, When I Came Home and new for 2022, Banwen.

Where the Flying Fishes Play is George Brinley Evans’s masterpiece of a young man of 17 from Banwen joining the army in 1944 and being posted to Burma. That’s him and his friend in Kolkata on leave. It has a lot to say about class and society while also being a coming-of-age story as the world opens out in all its wonder and horror. He’d never been out of Wales before. He returned to Burma in 2005 as part of a British Legion Veterans’ reunion. I was privileged to be invited to accompany him.

He is now ninety-six and he is a remarkable and fascinating man, full of good humour, stories and a deep generous humanity. It has been an honour to publish his work and become his friend.

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