Guest Feature – Angela Johnson

It is a delight to introduce author, Angela Johnson, a fellow Swanwick writer, to Patricia’s Pen for the first time. Angela has come along to chat about her novel, Arianwen. Without further ado, it’s over to Angela.


Angela Johnson

I believe that when we write we search conscious and unconscious memory as well as freeing the imagination to wander the byways of human existence, I was encouraged to write from a very early age, compelled by a belief in the huge power of language. I come from a community with a strong tradition of story-telling, and poetry was everyday as breathing, and ordinary working men were experts at the traditional form of cynghanedd: a strict verse form.

Arianwen published by Black Bee Books is the story of a woman who deems herself very ordinary, yet through the turbulent course of her life we see that she is a remarkable woman ,a woman whose life ends prematurely in the most violent and cruel fashion,. Brought up in relative comfort in the secret valley of dark trees and the beautiful old mill, she spends her formative years lodging in two very different households, then trains to be a teacher and goes to work in a North Pembrokeshire village. Her first marriage ends in tragedy and, ultimately, through the power of music, community and friendship she learns to live again.

We see how others depend on her quiet strength and pragmatism, her kindness and her empathy, and her gradual questioning of women’s place in society. The novel is also a portrayal of a changing society where the age-old certainties are threatened by new ideas, and communities are evolving in unexpected ways, and the Welsh language is under siege.

The novel is a tribute to those whose lives were enslaved by the demands of the agricultural life, the resilience of the human spirit, and the way in which human contact and friendship sustains us.

Not all my writing is set in Wales. I live close to the North Kent marshes, bleak and beautiful, where Dickens set Great Expectations. The marshes are inspirational with always changing colours and diffused light, the water reflecting the moods of the seasons. I am inspired by Nature and love to watch birds, mystified by their strange freedom. I like wild flowers and looking for rare orchids on the Kent Downs in Spring and Summer. All these are nourishment for the writer’s imagination, as are faces and actions and conversation, and the infinite complexity of human nature.

About Angela Johnson

Angela Johnson was born in West Wales, and grew up in Newcastle Emlyn, a small market town on the banks of the River Teifi. Welsh was her first language, and the language of her family, and in her writing about Wales there is a  conscious  echo of the rhythms of her language even though she writes in English. The landscape of her childhood is portrayed in  ‘Arianwen’.as  are the memories of the stories she heard in an enclosed commnuity.

She attended the local grammar school, and was encouraged to write by an inspirational English teacher, and in turn became an English teacher herself after studying in Swansea, and later in London. Her experiences as a teacher play an important role in a recently completed novel.

After teaching in colleges and schools in North Kent she chose to study Creative Writing at the University of Kent and was awarded a Distinction.

Her novel ‘Harriet and her Women’ was shortlisted for the Impress Prize for Fiction and she was also shortlisted for the H.E. Bates Memorial Short Story Prize for her story ’George and the Dragon’  She has also won poetry competitions.

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