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ZOË BRIGLEY, KRISTIAN EVANS AND ROBERT MINHINNICK Sand & Snow: a Conversation for Three Voices

Robert Minhinnick: Recently I received a request to provide a poem to be carved into an eisteddfod chair for Porthcawl Comprehensive School. I offered:

What the sand reveals Is not what the sand conceals.

Why? Because sand is unavoidable in my world. If they persevere, writers, those sad obsessives, create their own myths. I believe sand is a feature of my own Porthcawl myth. Other writers’ mythic places? A myriad.

For me sand is part of ‘belonging’, which is something both learned and inherited. Belonging can be a spiritual condition, which might be the opposite of social or cultural alienation, which can also spur (or smother) the writer.

Literally, my sand consists of the dunes and coastline between the Kenfig and Ogmore rivers, including the town of Porthcawl. This area encompasses the prehistoric, the postpunk and a Wales falling over the Brexit brink…

All I compose about Porthcawl contributes to this myth. Musings on its natural history and people (fictional or not) are attempts to enrich, no, explore, that myth.

For me, the place names under the sand are crucial. Searching old maps, I feel I am salvaging history from amnesia. These names always reward investigation, revealing other explorers.

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Kristian Evans: I fell in love with the natural world as a kid, almost by accident. My kind-hearted, decent parents, a cop and a barmaid, were fighting, shouting, breaking up. It was as if the nest was blowing away around me, and I hadn’t yet learned to fly. Feeling betrayed, defiant, confused, I began to run away, roaming the rivers, woods and ruins beyond the town, anywhere I could drift unseen and smoke undisturbed the sticky black hashish we all had back then.

I found more than peace and quiet. I found miracles: a blackbird tossing leaves and sweet wrappers to pluck a worm from the gutter, then meeting my eye, its whole body a triumphant scowl. I remember the thrill, the shock of a big fox flickering across the frost ahead of me, its breath like mine a scroll of prayers. I swear, my heart dragged me away, day after day, out into the fields and lanes. I could do nothing about it.

School became irrelevant. I quit. So young I was I wept some days, just recognising the fugitive lives of the wild creatures, our kin, so frail and fierce, forced as they were to survive on the margins of things. And what if the margins were actually the centre? And what if heaven is hiding here, in the scrublands and dunes, where no roads go?

Strange thoughts, dangerous thoughts. But I had nothing to lose – increasingly, I began to stay out all night, shivering until dawn in the wreckage of Candleston Castle, or under a bench on Sker Beach, sand fleas in my coat, fingers too numb to roll a smoke. Listening to the edges of things creep closer, questioning the difference between the scream of a starving gull and the howl of an angel’s hosanna.

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