The top picks of ‘22: Our writers select their cultural highlights of the year
As a documentary-maker, and rugby union fan, I loved a small gem – Clive Sullivan: Rugby League Legend, made by Jason Mohammad and Nathan Blake’s new company, Jams and Mr B Productions.
It brought into sharp focus the shocking prejudice experienced by black Welsh players, reminding me of another ‘doc’ which exposed the issue in 2018, Carolyn Hitt’s The Rugby Codebreakers.
Speaking of Carolyn, the inspired appointment of this journalist and broadcaster as Editor, Radio Wales, deserves to be the cultural highlight of 2022.
She’s a worthy successor to the founding editor, the late, great Teleri Bevan, who launched the station – Wales’s first ever stand-alone radio service – in 1978, in what historian John Davies described as the most significant day in Welsh broadcasting history.
But (forgive me!) I can’t ignore two publications much, much closer to home. In a year when the plight of migrants and asylum-seekers was constantly in the headlines, my wife Angela Graham’s poetry collection Sanctuary (Seren) was sadly, almost prophetically, all-too-timely.
And I became a first-time published author with The Great Welsh Auntie Novel (Cambria Books), a tall tale about growing up in the Rhondda, serialised here on Nation.Cymru.
In all the busyness and business of getting the book published, I’d somehow forgotten that people would actually read it.
Their reactions delighted me. Bookshops – including Pontypridd’s expanding indie, Storyville – were enormously supportive. But the outlet that shifted most copies was a fruit-and-veg shop!
Yes, there was my novel on sale alongside the cabbages and carrots in the wonderful Green Valley store on Treorchy’s award-winning high street. If, as Raymond Williams insists, culture is ordinary, that has to be my personal high spot of 2022.
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The live music highlight of the year was the Ukrainian-British violist and conductor Maxim Rysanov conducting the BBC National Orchestra of Wales performing the UK Premiere of a Viola Concerto by Gabriel Prokofiev, grandson of Sergei, and a composer whose music combines classical orchestration with turntables and dance music.
At this year’s Frightfest in London I saw Lola, a British-Irish micro-budget sci-fi thriller shot entirely on Bolex cameras.
Written and directed by Andrew Legge, with dystopian pop hits by Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, it’s the story of two sisters who invent a television that sees into the future, inadvertently changing the course of world history in the 20th Century.
More recently I saw All Quiet on the Western Front, Edward Berger’s adaptation of the 1929 novel by Erich Maria Remarque.
It’s an unflinching depiction of the horrors of trench warfare from the German perspective, with a surely star-making debut performance from 27-year-old actor Felix Kammerer as Paul Bäumer.
Hidden away on horror streaming site Shudder is the brilliant three part documentary series Queer for Fear, which explores the horror genre’s Queer roots, from the bisexual Mary Shelley to James Whale’s fabulously camp Bride of Frankenstein and beyond. It’ll change the way you watch many classics.
You can David Llewellyn articles for Nation.Cymru here
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Matthew G. Rees
Putting a finger on the precise nature of those feelings that come with the ‘discovery’ of a special book in later life is a difficult thing.
Arrest and astonishment are reactions one tends to feel less as one gets older, but with the best books this can still occur: an echo of those feelings experienced as a teenage reader, a kind of startling re-affirmation of the world’s wonder and mystery.
Such has been my experience with Caradog Prichard’s One Moonlit Night which I – for one reason and another – have ‘come late to’, reading it for the first time this year.
Prichard’s is a strange and haunting story set in a slate-quarrying community in North Wales in the early part of the last century.
Its emotional ‘pull’ comes from its concern with childhood. But this is not ‘comfort fiction’. Far from it. It has rawness, bleakness, and shocks aplenty that go on right to the end. And yet the lyrical and the comical is also here.
Finding comparisons is difficult because it really is an extraordinary book.
I have read nothing quite like it, but – very loosely – it might be said that there is some Laurie Lee and perhaps some Kilvert in these pages, along with some of the darker matter to be found in Dylan Thomas, Glyn Jones and Rhys Davies. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye might, I suppose, be mentioned.
But ultimately Prichard’s story seems to me to stand alone.
It has been called ‘The Greatest Welsh Novel’. I use the word ‘story’ because that is how I think of it – what some consider Wales’s definitive literary form.
Caradog Prichard (1904-1980) was born in Bethesda in north-west Wales. He became a sub-editor on The Daily Telegraph newspaper in London.
His book was first published in Welsh as Un Nos Ola Leuad in 1961. An English language translation appeared via Canongate Books in 1995. The 2015 Canongate edition that I’ve read has a foreword by Niall Griffiths and an afterword by Jan Morris.
Griffiths notes that Prichard’s book was first conceived of as a radio play for voices. The text gives a strong sense of this, all adding to the hybrid feel of the work, its peculiar and hypnotic hold on the reader.
Come to it early, come to it late, but come to it you should.
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