‘freely and fiercely inventive short stories… supercharged with ideas.’ Jon Gower, reviewing Pugnacious Little Trolls by Rob Mimpriss for Nation Cymru. ‘Where is the Welsh short story going? Wherever Rob Mimpriss takes it.’ John O’Donoghue. Pugnacious Little Trolls, a new collection of short stories published by Cockatrice Books. ‘Bathed in white fire in every sense... Borges would happily own them.’ Gee Williams on Pugnacious Little Trolls, a new collection of short stories published by Cockatrice Books. ‘A fine Welsh writer working under the radar who deserves to be much better known.’ Nation Cymru greeting Pugnacious Little Trolls, a new collection of short stories published by Cockatrice Books. ‘Beyond question Wales’s finest and most subtle short-story writer working today... A work of great beauty and subtle force, a fine, distinctive voice.’ Jim Perrin on Pugnacious Little Trolls. ‘Zestful playfulness... along with a grand energy and capacity for invention.’ Jon Gower reviewing Pugnacious Little Trolls for Nation Cymru. ‘Dark, complex, pensively eloquent’ (Sophie Baggott, New Welsh Review) — Reasoning, For His Warriors and Prayer at the End, three short-story collections now published by Cockatrice Books. ‘Heaving with loss, regret and familial bonds.’ Annexe Magazine on ‘Gemini,’ a short story in Prayer at the End, published by Cockatrice Books. ‘Lucid, skilful, and above all, of enormous timely relevance’ (Jim Perrin). Rob Mimpriss’s new translation of Morgan Llwyd’s allegorical masterpiece, A Book of Three Birds. ‘There is nothing ostentatious about his writing... And yet the best of these pieces express something important about psychology and human relationships, and the sparseness of the writing is capable of considerable power.’ Brian George, The Short Review. ‘These stories are a rare kind of joy. Even when they approach moments of discontent and danger they bring an optimism founded in human relationships. This is a wonderful collection.’ Prof. Graëme Harper, editor, New Writing. ‘An invaluable translation.’ Angharad Price on Hallowe’en in the Cwm, the short stories of Owen Wynne Jones, translated by Rob Mimpriss. ‘Humour and pity often arise from the characters’ inability to understand themselves and those close to them. In suggesting the truth and the self-deception Mimpriss not only engages our sympathy but makes us question our assumptions about ourselves.’ Caroline Clark, gwales.com ‘Quietly written, contemplative... whose powerhouse is the depth of its moral reflection.’ Siân Preece, Rhys Davies Competition on ‘Hamilton Park,’ published in Prayer at the End. ‘An immaculate collection.’ Nigel Jarrett, twice winner of the Rhys Davies Award, on Prayer at the End, a collection of short stories by Rob Mimpriss published by Cockatrice Books. ‘Through the stealthy movements of his prose, Rob Mimpriss enacts the quiet enigma of people’s lives and relationships. The result is an understated fiction of compelling intensity.’ Prof M Wynn Thomas. ‘The story is called ‘Valiant’ in the collection, For His Warriors. I recommend it. Highly. It feels to me already like a classic.’ Fiona Owen, editor, Scintilla. ‘A quiet writer with a loud voice... I’ll be listening for more.’ Michael Nobbs, gwales.com on Reasoning: Twenty Stories, published by Cockatrice Books. ‘In the most seemingly unremarkable of Rob Mimpriss’s pieces there is a skill, and a mystery and elusiveness to that skill, which other short-story writers might envy.’ Gee Williams. ‘Industry in the Country of the Blind,’ new fiction in Land of Change, radical prose from Wales edited by Gemma Howell and forthcoming from Culture Matters. ‘This exemplary collaboration’ (Philip Gross). Dangerous Asylums, an anthology of fiction by leading Welsh writers, inspired by Denbigh Mental Hospital, edited by Rob Mimpriss.

The formalist critic, Cleanth Brooks, whose book, The Well-Wrought Urn (1947) provides the title of this post. Image taken from Wikipedia.

A Well-Wrought Urn: Politics, Poetics and the Cabinet Reshuffle

Shortly after I was awarded my Creative Writing PhD, and shortly before much of that PhD thesis was published in book form, I attended a job interview with one other short-listed candidate for a lectureship in a university in the English midlands. The other — successful — candidate was witty, gossipy, charming, an excellent companion for the day, who confided joyfully in my ear that his publishers had accepted his first novel, but he doubted that anyone would be so foolish as to publish his second, that he had no experience of working in Higher Education, that he did not think he would be clever enough to do a PhD, and — after his interview, during which I heard the panel roaring with laughter — that he thought he could get into this Creative Writing malarkey. He thought it would be a bit of a laugh.

If I felt somewhat bemused by the relationship between this applicant’s talents and the qualifications they had said they required, if I found myself wondering why, if I was not kind of candidate they were looking for, they had put me to the trouble and expense of attending an interview, then these are common complaints about a decision-making process which is notoriously prone to be questioned.(1) If they told me that ‘creative writing’ cannot be marked because it is too subjective, or that the creative writing workshop is doomed to stamp on talent and nurture only conformity, or that Creative Writing courses are a waste of time because so few of their students are published, I wondered that they used arguments against my specialty that could so easily have been used against theirs. If they asked me, at that university of some other, to confirm that I was willing to emigrate to England,(2) if they implied that my publisher, Gwasg y Bwthyn, was less worthy of their recognition than an English publisher would have been, or if they told me that if I only write short stories it must be because I am not clever enough to write a novel,(3) I assured myself that it was not beyond me to become a lecturer, since despite their obvious ineptitudes, they themselves had somehow managed it. And if I felt that others of the questions I was asked at this and other interviews were generally foolish, if I felt that interviewing panels composed of literary critics were ignorant of the subject for which they were recruiting and uncertain of their reasons for engaging with it, if I felt that they had often misunderstood the relationship between their discipline and mine,(4) or if I suspected that some institutions actively preferred candidates who would not think about the Creative Writing discipline too deeply, or demonstrate such abstract intelligence that existing hierarchies of study might be threatened(5), then this was not a problem so severe as to drive me from the profession, nor so avoidable that I have not encountered the same misunderstandings since.

Moreover the day I spent in this applicant’s company gave me no cause to doubt that he could make a contribution to his students or to the life of their institution. When I encounter students I taught twenty years of more ago, when they remind me of things they claim I said that inspired or helped them, then these are not necessarily things I recorded in my lecture notes, or even remember saying at all, while the lecturers and tutors who most helped me did so by the attitudes they embodied as much as by the actual skills they taught. And I doubt that it is so much that the interview panel failed to identify, as that they actually preferred, his lack of seriousness. If I said on that day, or on some other, that both a well-crafted seminar and a well-crafted poem could serve as a metaphor for a well-crafted life, that the skills learned in the lesser task could be applied to the greater, if I explained that I was inspired in my teaching by practitioners like John Gardner,(6) for whom the ego is laid aside in artistic pursuit which is indistinguishable from the mind’s most earnest pursuit of truth, then perhaps students found a freedom to experiment and play under this applicant’s instruction who would have found my seriousness stifling.

This candidate had — I see no reason to doubt it — qualities to bring to his rôle. The less said about Liz Truss(7) or Nadine Dorries(8) the better.

  1. Robert S. Baron , Norbert L. Kerr, et al. Group Process, Group Decision, Group Action. Open University Press, 1992.
  2. The economic relationship between Wales and England leaves many of us with no choice. Even so, my ability to cross running water or handle iron were, perhaps mercifully, left undiscussed.
  3. The prejudice is long-established, its counter-arguments too numerous to be listed here. But see, for example, my response to of Bernard Bergonzi’s critique of the short story, first published in New Writing and available here.
  4. See my own article, ‘West of the West: Sexual Representations in the Work of Charles D’Ambrosio, or Should writers read as literary critics and what will happen if they do?’ available on site here.
  5. Richard Hugo entertains similar suspicions in The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing. W. W. Norton, 2010.
  6. See John Gardner, The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft For Young Writers. London: Vintage, 1991.
  7. Richard Osley, ‘ No mistakes: Justice Secretary Liz Truss can’t think of a single error made by Tory government.’ CamdenNewJournal, 11th May, 2017.
  8. ‘There was little need for Eric to guide his faithful cob, Daisy Bell, along his milk round. The early morning mist lay close to the cobbles of the Dock Road and the four streets but the mare knew each step of the route by heart and had never wrong-hoofed him as he dropped the reins to turn the pages of the Daily Post which, by arrangement, he removed from a bundle piled up on the pavement outside the tobacconist and replaced with two bottles of silver top.’ Nadine Dorries, Coming Home to the Four Streets: A beautifully written historical saga by a Sunday Times bestselling author. London: Head of Zeus, 2021. The quotation is from the opening. And even though it embodies a clear attempt to master the leisurely unfurling of the literary sentence, it does not, to use James Wood’s descriptor of competent writing, work.

I am the author of four short story collections. Reasoning and For His Warriors, originally published by Gwasg y Bwthyn, Caernarfon, with Welsh Books Council support, now join Prayer at the End and Pugnacious Little Trolls in revised editions at Cockatrice Books. My anthology of fiction, Dangerous Asylums, including work by Gee and David Williams, Glenda Beagan, Carys Bray, Simon Thirsk and others, was published by the North Wales Mental Health Research Project, October 2016. I am a contributor with Nigel Jarrett, Rachel Trezise, Tristan Hughes and others to Brush with Fate (Albawtaka, 2014), an anthology of Welsh fiction in Arabic translation by Hala Salah Eldin, to Land of Change (Culture Matters), and to Creative Writing Studies (Multilingual Matters, 2007), essays on writing as an academic discipline edited by Graëme Harper and Jeri Kroll, and of the foreword to Rivers of Wales by Jim Perrin (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 2022).

I am the translator of Going South: The Stories of Richard Hughes Williams (Cockatrice, 2015), Hallowe’en in the Cwm: The Stories of Glasynys (Cockatrice, 2017), A Book of Three Birds, the seventeenth-century classic by Morgan Llwyd (Cockatrice, 2017), and of fiction by D. Gwenallt Jones, Angharad Tomos, and Manon Steffan Ros. I was Artistic Coordinator of the North Wales Mental Health Research Project convened by Prof. David Healy at the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, and am the editor of Cockatrice Books. I hold a Ph.D. in Creative and Critical Writing from Portsmouth University, and in 2011 I was invited to membership of the Welsh Academy in acknowledgement of my contributions to Welsh writing.