Black Apples of Gower is the latest non-fictional offering from Iain Sinclair which sees its publication on the independent small press Little Toller Books. For those unfamiliar with Little Toller they are a family run publishing company that has specialised in books about rural life and local history since 1974. Amongst their fine efforts in reviving forgotten classics are also some modern gems, and this is one of them.
In a recent interview I did with artist Cerys Rhys Matthews he mentioned the mystic west when talking of West Wales where he holds a musicians retreat in the Preseli Hills. He said ‘everyone has their mystic west’ (listen to it here). Iain Sinclair is, maybe surprisingly to some, also drawn westwards. We’re maybe more use to Iain’s focus being on London where, as a writer and filmmaker, much of his work has centred. Referred to recently as the Mythographer-in-chief of England’s capital city his urban wanderings first led me into contact with the word psychogeography. His journeys have led him on many an interesting excursion including a series of trips by foot around the M25, as recollected in his book London Orbital.
This new book is far removed from the London that ‘made him’, although he made an interesting response to one such suggestion during a recent BBC Radio 3 interview stating that “…what they don’t appreciate is that London is a Welsh city, I always thought of London as a Welsh colony. That’s what you get out of the Mabinogion, and I think once you start to look at it from that point of view then I’m quite happy to be in London as a form of benevolent exile, and all of the real topics I’ve grasped into have grown out of London… from that Celtic sub-soil.”
It transpires that he was born in Cardiff and spent much of his childhood discovering the Gower Peninsula. The book takes its title from a series of paintings by Ceri Richards. After hearing his friend and poet Dylan Thomas was dying in New York in 1953, Richards was inspired by Dylan’s works to create a series of drawings which he later pursued as a series of paintings called Afal du Brogwyr (Black Apple of Gower).
The following short film gives an interesting insight into the book:
IAIN SINCLAIR walks back along the blue-grey roads and the cliff-top paths of his childhood in south Wales, rediscovering the Gower Peninsula, a place first explored in his youth. Provoked by the strange, enigmatic series of paintings, Afal du Brogwyr (Black Apple of Gower), made by the artist Ceri Richards in the 1950s, Sinclair leaves behind the familiar, ‘murky elsewheres’ of his life in Hackney, carrying an envelope of black-and-white photographs and old postcards, along with fragments of memory that neither confirm nor deny whether he belongs here, amongst the wave-cut limestone, the car parks and the Gower bungalows.
But digging and sifting, he soon recognises that a series of walks over the same ground – Port Eynon Point to Worm’s Head – have become significant waymarks in his life, and his recollections of a meeting with the poet of place, Vernon Watkins, is an opening into the legends of the rocks and the mythology behind the Black Apples of Ceri Richards and the poems of Dylan Thomas. Under cliff, along limestone shores, Sinclair comes to realise that the defining quest must be to the Paviland Cave, where in 1823 the Reverend William Buckland found human bones put to ground 36,000 years ago. All the threads of this story lead underground, through this potent and still mysterious cavern, to the site of the first recorded ritual burial in these islands.
9th July – London Review Bookshop (LRB) with Brian Catling – 7.00pm
14th July – Blackwell’s Oxford with Brian Catling – 6.30pm
27nd July – Stanford’s London – 6.30pm