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Heads Held High

Phil Bennett
Max Boyce
ISBN-13: 
9781854115713
Publication Date: 
Thursday, November 24, 2011
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For those of us who are still feeling the pain of that fateful night in Auckland when fate conspired to rob Wales of a deserved World Cup Final place, this book serves as a reminder of the immense highs and lows we all experienced during the Autumn. -- gwladrugby.com

For two weeks in October, Wales held its breath. In the Rugby World Cup, with an influx of young players and probably the most exciting rugby played in the competition, Wales had negotiated a difficult qualifying group to reach a quarter final against an unbeaten Ireland side.

Ireland were despatched 22:10; next up was a France side which had misfired throughout the tournament. In New Zealand and at home, Wales believed: over 60,000 people watched the game at the Millennium Stadium. But injuries to key players, missed kicks, and the sending off of skipper Sam Warburton meant that Wales came up just short in a grippingly tense match they dominated. And defeat against Australia in their last game left Wales fourth. Yet this was still a time for celebration. Wales had lost to three of the world’s top sides by a collective margin of five points. It couldn’t have been closer, and the Wales squad could return home confident for the future and with their heads held high.

Max Boyce is a comedian, singer and cultural icon, closely associated with Wales’ national sport. Phil Bennett is one of Wales’ most famous fly-halves. He played for Llanelli, Wales, the Barbarians and the British Lions. He is now a television commentator and newspaper columnist.

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Review from gwladrygby.com

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As a phrase, “A picture says a thousand words” can be over-used, but when you look at the miles of column space devoted to Wales’s ultimately doomed 2011 Rugby World Cup campaign, it would be nice to have them all distilled into a wordless series of dramatic, emotional and revealing photographs.

Heads Held High
from Seren Books does exactly that, albeit with the photos sandwiched by a pragmatic assessment of Wales’s campaign by Phil Bennett, and a typically poetic epilogue from Max Boyce.

For those of us who are still feeling the pain of that fateful night in Auckland when fate conspired to rob Wales of a deserved World Cup Final place, this book serves as a reminder of the immense highs and lows we all experienced during the Autumn.

It’s amazing how a photograph can take you back to a moment during a match, bringing it back to life and forcing you to re-live the emotions you felt as you watched it for the first time. As a piece of silent reportage on Wales’s World Cup campaign this is a splendid memento to have.

There will be many more books written about Rugby World Cup 2011, but few of those thousands of words will come close to capturing the spirit and fervent feelings we all experienced when a nation dared to believe that the impossible was possible.

09/12/2011 - 09:16

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Review from The Sunday Times

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“Like the city he grew up in, Liam Carson’s memoir of life in Belfast winds like a tangled web of streets, dreams, cultures and philosophies, where every page, pavement and street corner offer another dab of colour to a fascinating picture… Carson’s natural push against his parents in the 1970s coincided with the devastating change in Belfast’s complexion. Its nascent punk scene offered a soundtrack to life in a war zone. While Carson read new-wave science fiction and moved to London, his mother, Mary, drifted away from a language partly hijacked by republican violence. His father, though, retreated to his books. It seems he was living, writes Carson, ‘just off reality.’

“In time, the detached universe William created offered his son profound truths that defined the rest of his life. His father often spoke of tearmann—the idea of the Irish language as sanctuary where the language’s power to shape culture could be celebrated and explored. It is a daunting idea, but Carson handles his journey to accepting the ideas with great skill, successfully conveying the concept of the Irish language as a living, breathing organism without alienating the simplest, most compelling episodes of family life that make this book so moving in parts.

“His description of his mother’s Alzheimer’s disease and eventual death are blessed with clarity, gentleness and a heart-wrenching sadness. His memories of shared moments with his father are beautifully rendered… Carson’s greatest achievement is recycling a complex mix of emotions and ideas on language into a deeply moving read.”

Michael Foley, The Sunday Times

04/07/2012 - 15:28
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Review from The Sunday Telegraph

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"A tender, contemplative memoir examining Carson's upbringing in a happy but complex Irish-speaking household during the Troubles; it eulogises not only his parents but the Irish language itself"

The Sunday Telegraph 2012

17/12/2012 - 10:43
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Call Mother a Lonely Field New Welsh Review

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"Amy Mc Cauley discovers language is sanctuary in this memoir nominated for the Ondaaje Prize"

Liam Carson’s Call Mother a Lonely Field is a memoir of a very strange kind. Although it features some of the standard characteristics of memoir: family narrative, the odd humorous anecdote, photographs, etc, the book is much more than the sum of its parts, chiefly because Carson turns the usual chronological format inside out. Time here is fluid; like memory, it doesn’t simply represent the accumulation of events in a sequential manner. Carson instead puts forward an alternative view – one popularised by JW Dunne - which argues that ‘all time is eternally present. In other words, the past, present and future coexist.’ Carson goes on to suggest that ‘we exist on two levels, both inside and outside time.’ This idea is absolutely central: it relates not simply to the philosophical atmosphere but to the structure of the text, which embodies the very concept it proposes.
The book is also about our experience of identity. Carson comes across as a protean character – a man who reads, dreams and wanders. At various stages of his life he adopts different selves, each of which he rejects. But his relationship to these selves is alive with the spirit of enquiry. Carson is careful to resist the monomania of autobiography, however. This is firstly (and most importantly) a paean to his parents, and secondly a love letter to the Irish language.
Carson, who was born in 1962 in Mooreland, part of the Falls area of Belfast, writes lyrically about his parents, ‘the Ma’ and ‘the Da’. He says:

My parents were Falls people, with all that they entailed. Catholic people. Nationalist people. They belonged to a particular world with particular values […] In the ritual of the mass they were bound to their neighbours, to the world, to God. In the incense, the statues, the Stations of the Cross, the rosary, the stained glass, the Latin, they reaches a from of communion and community that held up their daily lives.

He goes on to say that ‘One afternoon [my Da] told me if he’d been in Iran, he would have been a devout Muslim. Perhaps it was not so important to be Catholic as it was to believe.’
‘The Da’, for me, is the most fascinating character. His singular strength is underlined by a story Carson hears only after his father’s death. When the Da joins the IRA in the 1940s, he soon realises he will have to kill. Unable to square this with his strong Christian faith, the Da leaves, only to find himself arrested and jailed. When he is released from prison he returns to work (as a postman) he finds his pay has been docked for his time spent inside. Carson writes, ‘He took a court case, logically arguing that since his employer and his gaoler were one and the same – the Royal Mail and His Majesty’s Prison Service, in other words, the King - then it followed what his employer was the cause of his absence.’ The Da wins the case and sets a legal precedent.
Call Mother a Lonely Field is full of these unrecorded, ‘unofficial’ histories. Personal family mythologies – songs, stories, poems and dreams – stand shoulder to shoulder with violent reality of Belfast’s ‘Troubles’ from the 1970s onwards. Structurally. I is like a home, each chapter is a different room witits own distinctive atmosphere and pressure, while the presence of dreams is a brave and valuable addition. They represent the hidden strand – the inner supports – of a person’s experience, and it is Carson’s unification of physical, human, linguistic and psychic geographies which make this a real stand-out read. If I had to pick a weakness I would say the ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ section of the book (detailing Carson’s love of comic books) felt slightly out of place, but otherwise I found it quite gripping. Most powerful for me was Carson’s suggestion that language is an environment we inhabit - a sanctuary which can be used to represent the various visible and invisible environments we occupy both physically and in our imaginary lives. The hidden places of memory, childhood, identity and dreams therefore become achievement is the meshing of the public and private worlds so often kept separate by the official records of history.

Amy McCauley for New Welsh Review

04/09/2013 - 11:45
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