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Careful what you wish for – A profile of Gary Raymond

27 May 2024 5 minute read
Gary Raymond

Gustav Dunck

One of Wales’s most prolific literary activists and entertaining cultural agent provocateurs will be launching his latest book at Hay on Monday.

Gary Raymond, pronounced the way Steve Coogan would, will be introducing Abandon All Hope, which promises to be a ‘personal journey through the history of Welsh literature’ and a handy metaphor or possibly cataclysmic prediction.

He is joined on the journey by Ray Williams, formerly of Pandy and Trinity College, Cambridge.

Ray has of course long-since abandoned the land of the living but that won’t stop him being an entertaining companion.

The dead don’t answer back.

It will be at, a conservative estimate, Raymond’s sixth book in a decade or more of creativity which has included a novel of the lies and betrayals of the Spanish civil war – For Those Who Come After; a dark comedy set in Cyprus – The Golden Orphans; a biting one-volume criticism of an iconic film –How Love Actually Ruined Christmas; a satire of the film festival industry set in Egypt – The Angels of Cairo; a murder-mystery thriller set in Newport and immortalising the Murenger pub – JellyBread – there’s even a plaque been hung in his honour in the bar.

On the wall at the Murenger

He also wrote and produced a play on the life of the writer Dorothy Edwards who committed suicide on a railway track in Llanishen, a dreary suburb of Cardiff on a cold January morning in 1934.

Festival of words

In addition to this festival of words, Raymond has found time to be one of the founding members of Wales Arts Review. A stunning venture that brought to critical consideration much of what was good or not so good in Welsh culture over the last decade.

The decision to wind it up at the end of 2023 was a significant loss to cultural debate in Wales. Raymond was one of the first critics to call attention to some of the lamentable productions produced by the now defunct National Theatre of Wales.

Wales Arts Review provided a much-needed real-time engagement with theatre productions, album releases, art exhibitions and newly published books that no-one else was covering in such style or depth.

It was the real thing, and we are only now beginning to realise or appreciate the significance of its demise.


Raymond has also carved out a position as a broadcaster of talent and perception with the BBC Wales Art Show, while he also appears on those other cultural behemoths, Radio 3 and Radio 4’s Front Row and is prepared to put across opinions on largely taboo subjects such as the Arts Council of Wales’ lack of strategic thinking or why Welsh language cultural projects receive considerably more public funding than their English equivalents in Wales.

He has recently questioned Literature Wales (What do they do?), Welsh publishers (They’ve had a bad year.), the Wales Book of the Year show (Really?), the Books Council of Wales (funding ineptitude) and the Arts Council of Wales (being largely asleep); all through his new venture, the Substack column Blue, Red and Grey, in addition to reviewing plays, books and albums.

His views are sometimes controversial but in a climate of cultural apathy or narked shouting from the wings he has been prepared to say what he thinks about both root and branch of Welsh culture.

He may be saying too much and too often but at least he is out there, saying something, and it’s usually apposite and perceptive.

He seems to occupy the void left by both the Welsh Union of Writers so cruelly shut down by Margaret Thatcher and the Academi Gymraeg whose elected fellows nominated each other to insignificance.


And so onwards Mr Raymond to the next venture: do we abandon all hope, or do we read it? Us the impotent people, sick with worrying about an old song?

Is it Delilah or Land of My Fathers, my fathers, according to Harri, can keep it. Or that one the football fans sing in Welsh? They certainly are this summer.

Will we be like Iago, gnawing on the bones of an old carcass, or will culture and society save us in the Border Country? Peasants, the lot of us. I know, too much.

Raymond is a writer breaking out of the expected norms. He’s not afraid to experiment, take a risk. He has been central to Welsh culture in English for a decade and we are lucky to have him – but careful what you wish for.

He is not at the Hay Festival but at the fringe in North Books on the High Street. 4pm on Monday according to his twitter.

I expect he’s banned from the actual festival. He probably criticised it once.

Gustav Dunck is writing a play for National Theatre Wales.

Gary Raymond will be hosting BBC Radio Wales: Arts Hour live from Hay-on-Wye, today Monday 27 May 2024, 11.30am at the Exchange Marquee and will be appearing at North Books, Hay-on-Wye at 4pm, reading from his latest book Abandon All Hope

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