Multi-award-winning director John Geraint launches a new career – as a novelist
One of Wales’ most successful and experienced documentary-makers launches a new career this week – as a novelist.
Multi-award-winning director John Geraint says he’s lucky to have filmed other people’s life-stories all over the world.
“But there was another story I needed to tell – a story closer to home, so story so real to me that it could only be told in fiction.”
The Great Welsh Auntie Novel is that story, a tender exploration of first love, lust and loss, set in the Rhondda Valley in 1974.
It’s also very, very, funny.
“The title itself is a joke, a pun,” explains Geraint. “Those of us brought up in the Valleys in the 1960s and 70s had dozens of Aunties, very few of them actually blood relations. But a ‘anti-novel’ was a fashionable term in the 1970s for a book that rips up all the usual conventions and tells the story in its own weird way instead.”
That’s certainly true of John Geraint’s debut.
Centre stage is Jac, a painfully thin 17-year-old with delusions of grandeur and a romantic obsession with the Rhondda’s past.
Jac has a Secret, a Big Secret, which gets him into – and out of – trouble, and sets him off on a roller coaster ride up and down the Valley, while the fate of the nation is decided on Election Night, February 1974.
Jac’s odyssey catapults him into encounters heroes from two millennia of Celtic history – everyone from King Arthur and Boadicea to Tommy Farr and Aneurin Bevan. He even writes a rock-opera with Don McLean.
But there’s another strand to The Great Welsh Auntie Novel – the story of ‘The Novelist’ himself, the old Rhondda boy, now in his sixties, who’s struggling to get this tall tale down on paper half-a-century later.
And behind it all, there’s – well, if not a moral, then certainly a kind of moral seriousness.
“In the terraces and gwlis, cafés and clubs of their once-mighty coal metropolis,” says John Geraint, “Jac and his teenage friends catch a glimpse of something beyond themselves that they can live by: the ghost of an idea that made Rhondda great. And could do so again – for them and for us.”
John Geraint’s own career took him from the Rhondda around the globe to work for major international broadcasters like National Geographic, the History Channel and France Télévisions, as well as BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and S4C.
His 2001 film, Do Not Go Gentle, a celebration of Dylan Thomas’s great poem, was nominated for one of the world’s foremost media prizes, the Banff Rockies, alongside blue-chip programmes like The West Wing, Blue Planet and Band of Brothers.
Geraint directed the landmark BBC history of the nation, The Story of Wales, and he’s currently linking up with Huw Edwards again to make a follow-up to the award-winning series.
“What TV documentaries and novels have in common,” says John Geraint, “is a sense of a story and the audience for it. I hope my readers will be entertained, and prodded into thinking a little, too – just like the balance I’ve always tried to pull off for the viewers.”
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