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A Medieval Welsh tale in the style of The First Branch of The Mabinogi
Words by Christopher Meredith, Images by Sara Philpott.

The story of The Afanc King is a tale of two brothers, rival princes, who encounter a supernatural other-world while out hunting. It shows Christopher Meredith entranced by the ‘arrowlike directness and suggestive power of impersonal, unadorned storytelling’ that offers a relief from the sometimes cluttered naturalism of contemporary fiction. In this story he fuses materials freely adapted from an Algonquian, native American, source with a style based on the First Branch of the Mabinogi. The result is a text that, recreating the power of oral delivery, itself offers an arresting example of the kind of slippery ‘shape-shifting’ that is so often celebrated in legend and in myth; here is a shimmering tale that is both ancient and modern, Algonquian and Welsh, familiar and yet strange. This ‘amphibious’ quality (a little like the beaver itself) is perfectly reproduced, in visual terms, by Sara Philpott, through work that does not so much illustrate the text as reincarnate the elusive spirit of its life.

Christopher Meredith is an internationally respected poet and novelist whose first novel, Shifts (1988) has come to be regarded as a classic text of post-industrial south Wales. All his work bears testimony to the restless resourcefulness of imagination that is so engagingly evident in this latest book. It was originally intended for inclusion in his remarkable second novel, Griffri, a powerful, unillusioned depiction of the savage romance of Welsh life in medieval times that earned for Meredith the title of ‘the Kurosawa of Wales’. In its delicately nuanced charm, the ‘Afanc King’, while accommodating violence, was intended to offset that novel’s sometimes lurid grimness.

Born and brought up in Tredegar, but now living in Brecon, Chris was a steelworker and schoolteacher before becoming a lecturer at the University of Glamorgan. He has won numerous awards and bursaries, and he has served as a judge for such major competitions as the Welsh Book of the Year award and the Roland Mathias Prize.

Sara Philpott is a painter and printmaker who studied at the Central School of Art and Design before moving to mid Wales, where the Welsh landscape and her children’s early years strongly influenced her work, and allowed her the freedom to explore different print-making techniques. She has exhibited widely in the UK since 1985, including Christies Contemporary Art in London and Japan. Her work with fine press publishers exists in many collections including the Contemporary Art Society of Wales. The images for ‘The Afanc King’ are not intended to be literal illustrations of the text but rather suggestive of the atmosphere of the realms that this mythic story moves through. Aiming to convey the multi-layered realities of a tale that is constantly ‘breaking the skin between one world and another’, in Christopher Meredith’s words, she uses the language of symbol to explore such themes as transformation (associated with the element of water), isolation (island existence) and destination (homeland). For her, the texture of the blocks has the feel of Welsh stone carvings and of ancient artefacts that resonate through the tonal quality of the etched lino.


Designed by David Vickers, Controller of Gwasg Gregynog, and printed letterpress by him on a Heidelberg cylinder press in an edition limited to 200 numbered copies for sale. The type is 16pt Monotype Baskerville Series 169, cast in hot-metal at Gregynog by Gerard O’Shea from spools produced by Speedspools of Edinburgh. Sara Philpott’s etched linocuts will be printed in colour, direct from the blocks. Large in format (250x350mm), the book is printed on mould-made paper and bound by Stephen Conway in a quarter cloth binding.
28pp., 250x350mm
ISBN 0 9549839 2 0
Price: £175 (Bound)
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£125 (Unbound)
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Example pages: click on an image for a larger version.