Writers at work

26th May 2000 at 01:00
Secondary. WRITERS FROM WALES. Channel 4 Schools video. pound;19.99.

This videotape, aimed at 14 to 16-year-olds, consists of five 25-minute programmes. Each presents the work and background of two writers, paired for contrast.

Most, like the poet Gillian Clarke, the short-story writer Mike Jenkins or the playwright Ian Rowlands, are Welsh to the core and address issues of national identity and local literary tradition. Some of the others, notably the performance poet and former singersongwriter Labi Siffre, though based in Wales, are more cosmopolitan when it comes to the impulse behind their work. This certainly makes for variety and many insights are offered in each of the programmes.

The presentation, however, is uneven, and there's a lot of tiresomely tricksy and liched camerawork which distracts from the literary content. Particularly irritating is the over-familiar device, interspersed throughout all five programmes, of setting up a situation in which the writer discusses his or her work with a small group of children who fire dutifully prepared questions and then listen respectfully while the camera keeps returning for close-ups of their attentiveness. Sometimes they seem rather less than fully engaged, although in some cases, notably with the personable television journalist Peter Morgan, their enthusiasm is palpable.

It's a pity that more directorial effort was not put into livening up some of these encounters. Perhaps it would have helped if writer and pupils had been given longer to become acquainted.

John Mole

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