Saturday, December 08, 2007

Real Wrexham

Post-devolution Wales has witnessed a kind of Klondike rush to reclaim and redefine its culture. But it is in literature that this process seems to be most pronounced. Authors have been falling over themselves to rewrite Wales from the inside - just look at recent book titles: Cardiff Dead, Aberystwyth Mon Amour, Dial M for Merthyr, Swansea Terminal. And this doesn't even include writers like Niall Griffiths and Tristan Hughes who've forced us to re-examine neglected (dare I say unfashionable?) Welsh locales with fresh interest.

And then we have the recent Library of Wales reprints which resurrect forgotten or overlooked fictional works. The choosing of these books does nothing less than establish and shape a canon of Welsh writing in English. Quite a responsibility for those involved.

A non-fictional instance of this process of redefinition is the Real series edited by Peter Finch. These psychogeographic meanderings through Welsh towns and cities have already taken in Real Cardiff and Real Newport and now Grahame Davies presents us with Real Wrexham.

What I most enjoy about the franchise - apart from the detective-like uncovering of obscure local facts - is the notion that such workaday spots as Wrexham, Newport etc are as worthy of investigation as say, Venice. And why the hell not? How often in travel literature do we have to put up with some white-suited snob purple-prosing their way around some famous historical ruin or other?

The kinetic energy in these books is also a delight - that constant febrile sense of movement. Another engaging feature is the way that time becomes concertinaed so that a multitude of pasts are to be found lurking in the present.

And so it is with Real Wrexham - that Welsh Cinderella of a town. Streets and suburbs are tramped; buildings explored; the dead conjured back into life. There's Wrexham lager and Elihu Yale; a werewolf and St Giles' Church; Richard Nixon and CS Lewis; Hightown "skyscrapers" and the Blue Lagoon.

But ultimately it is not the constant revelation of interesting factual tidbits that makes this book so enjoyable. Rather it is Davies' subjective engagement with the town. That unique personal response to place that we each experience - there are, after all, as many real Wrexhams out there as there are inhabitants of the town.

Fortunately for us local-boy Davies is able to articulate his version of Wrexham with all the honesty and enthusiasm of the discerning insider. And this is what makes reading Real Wrexham - and the Real series in general - so much more satisfying than flicking through some dry and dispassionate guidebook.
*Real Wrexham by Grahame Davies is published by Seren and is on sale now.