Today, we welcome Matt Brown into the VIP Reading blog to discuss the exciting collaborative project, The Mab. As described on the crowdfunding site, Unbound, it is ‘Eleven epic stories from the Mabinogion, retold by Welsh writers and beautifully illustrated.’
For those of us who are not familiar with The Mabinogion, can you give us an idea of what to expect from these Welsh stories?
The stories in the Mabinogion were first written down nearly a thousand years ago but were part of the oral storytelling tradition for centuries before that. They are stories of adventure and magic, and feature knights and evil wizards, dragons and giants, women made of flowers and cauldrons that can bring the dead back to life. That kind of thing. King Arthur makes his first appearance in the Mabinogion, which is really cool. All the stories speak of a time when the real world interacted with the supernatural world. Sometimes good things happened, sometimes bad.
The Mab will be told by an impressive team of award-winning authors and writers including: Eloise Williams (Children’s Laureate Wales and author of Wilde), Sophie Anderson (The Girl Who Speaks Bear), Catherine Johnson (Freedom), PG Bell (The Train to Impossible Places), Alex Wharton (Rising Star Wales winner 2020), Claire Fayers (Storm Hound), Hanan Issa (My Body Can House Two Hearts), Zillah Bethall (The Shark Caller), Darren Chetty (The Good Immigrant), Nicola Davies (The Day the War Came), and Matt Brown (Compton Valance). Who was the brainchild of this project and how did the collaboration arise?
The idea to retell all the stories of the Mabinogion came to me when I tried to find a copy to read to my 11 year old son. He likes Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and so I thought he’d love these stories. I was really surprised to find that an English-language version of all eleven stories didn’t exist. I thought then that it would be a good idea to create one. The first UK lockdown gave me the time to think about the project and I got in touch with Eloise Williams to see if she would help me. She was incredibly supportive and loved the idea and we then set about trying to get our dream team of writers.
You recently gave supporters a taste of The Mab, with a wonderful reading of The Prince and the King (and the other king) which tells of how Pwyll, the Prince of Dyfed, became the Prince of the Otherworld. Have all of the authors been designated a story that they will be responsible for the retelling of?
Yes they have. So, here’s the full list. I’ve put the stories in the order that they’ll appear in the finished book.
The First Branch – me
The Second Branch – Sophie Anderson
The Third Branch – Nicola Davies
The Fourth Branch – Eloise Williams
Peredur, Son of Efrog – Darren Chetty
The Dream of Emperor Maxen – Alex Wharton
Llud and Llefelys – Zillah Bethall
The Lady of the Well – Catherine Johnson
Geraint, son of Enid – PG Bell
Culhwch and Olwen – Hanan Issa
Ronabwy’s Dream – Claire Fayers
Having read The Prince and The King (and the other king), I can see that these stories would be enjoyable both in the classroom and the home environment. Who are you hoping will read and enjoy the stories?
I think these stories will be read and shared and loved by everyone who likes reading and telling stories. The tales in The Mab are so good and we’re so lucky to have some of the very best storytellers working on them. They are so rooted in the history and culture of this country that I hope to see copies in every classroom and home. I can imagine someone being given a copy as a child, reading it themselves, then years and years later sharing it with their kids or grandchildren.
Being the son of an Irish immigrant, I grew up listening to my father retelling Irish stories that had been passed on by previous generations. How important is it for you and the team to share this aspect of Welsh cultural heritage?
One sad thing about the Mabinogion is that the stories have been neglected over the years, even in Wales. I know so many English-speaking Welsh people who have never even heard of the Mabinogion before. I want The Mab to change that. I want the stories in The Mab to be loved and shared by generations to come.
My favourite Irish legend was of Finn MacCool and the Giant’s Causeway. A story in which the Scottish Giant is fooled by the Irish Giant pretending to be a baby, and giving the impression that the unseen adult giant must be enormous! Is there a particular Welsh story from the Mabinogion that made a lasting impression on you?
One that I think about a lot is the story of Blodeuedd (pronounced Blod-ay-with). Her story appears in the Fourth Branch. She is a woman conjured from flowers (Blodeuedd means ‘flower faced’). Hers is an exciting story but a sad one. It is full of adventure, love and betrayal. It was the inspiration for Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, for those old enough to remember.
The cover of The Mab is superb, what can we look forward to from Max Low?
One of the things that Eloise and I agreed on, right from the start of the project was that, while the stories will all be set in the medieval world of the Mabinogion, we wanted the book to look fresh and new. The Mab is going to look incredible because of Max’s amazing talent. His illustrations are so vibrant and exciting and I can’t wait to see what he does with the stories. I think people are going to love it.
Working with such a talented team, what are the advantages of such a collaboration and can you foresee any challenges?
The advantages are that we have the best writers working on the project. For example, Claire Fayers won this year’s Tir Na N-Og award and Sophie Anderson won this year’s Wales Book of the Year. The challenges have already started. We are crowdfunding this book, so that means that we have to raise all the money before we publish.
What can people do to support The Mab?
You can do one of two things to support The Mab. First, you can choose a reward from the website. Or, you can share the website link with friends and family who you think would like it.
There seem to be some exciting rewards for those people who decide to support the project. Which rewards are you most excited about sharing with your supporters?
I really love the Bookplate Mab, that’s where you get a copy of The Mab with a bookplate designed by Max Low and signed by all the writers. I’m also really excited about the School Rewards. Schools can support The Mab and get downloadable content and author visits as well as copies of the book. And everyone who supports The Mab at whatever reward level will get their name in the book. I think that’s really special.
Who has been the most surprising supporter of The Mab so far?
Well, we’ve had some amazing support from people you might have heard of. Philip Pullman, Dermot O’Leary, Cerys Matthews and Michael Sheen have all supported. I can’t wait for the launch party!
Finally, can you describe The Mab in three words?
Thrilling, funny, and weird.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. We wish you and The Mab team the very best of luck with the exciting project. We hope to feature this brilliant Welsh book on the VIP website soon!
Q & A hosted by