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The Alternate Lavender Island: Gwen (Tibby) Jones.

Marooned Guest: Gwen (Tibby) Jones.


This time, our guest for marooning on Lavender Island is Gwen Jones, known to the denizens of the SLP forum as Turquoise Blue. Tibby is an example of the international reach of SLP, which stretches far beyond London (I should note here that I am a Londoner and view with trepidation any journey which takes me outside the greater City), hailing as she does from Wales.




I now have to moderate my Londoner’s disdain for anyone who is not a Londoner, as my Welsh wife is looking at me. But I have often wondered...


Welcome to Lavender Island, Tibby. How has your Welsh identity impacted you culturally?

Well, that is a bit of a difficult question, as I have just been brought up surrounded by Welshness. “Welsh” was to me just normal. I suppose, reflecting on how it could have affected me, above all there’s the sense of being part of a minority group, and a very culturally distinct one at that. So, I naturally embrace my Welshness quite strongly and try to help other minority groups in this intersectional way, informed of course by my being of other minorities as well, this sense of solidarity.


My family is also very strong in their Welsh identity, including being Welsh-speaking, and I was brought up with that identity very much part of me. For an example, while other children read fairy tales by the Grimm Brothers, I read from a book of Celtic fairy tales, taken from the strong Irish and Welsh mythology and folklore, and even now can still vaguely recall quite a few of the stories.


Overall, I would say it has shaped me extensively, and often in subtle ways I don’t realise.


How did you get into AH?

I first encountered AH sometime in the late 2000s when I became curious about the idea of there being different worlds with different Waleses (is that the plural?) and went on the Internet and started typing stuff into Google.


I eventually found Ill Bethisad, an online collaborative effort that had as a core part of it this very different Wales, which the Welsh there call ‘Kemr’. Kemr speaks Brithenig, which is a Romance language with clear Celtic influences and uses Welsh orthography. I found this all deeply fascinating and sank quite a bit of my time just reading their wiki and just really getting absorbed into this world very different to ours, yet not too alien to our eyes.


One thing led to another and I ended up joining in 2010 after, I think, one or two years of lurking. So, you could say that my Welshness led to my interest in AH.


What’s you first choice for an AH book?

The first one I would go for is, of course, the excellent work by Monroe Templeton, I Won’t Go To Mars (Or Dance in Strangers’ Cars). I proofread the original short story, and happily read the full one. It remains a very lovely story that blends alternate history with personal drama and a touch of the supernatural that enhances the first two elements. If there’s any book I would be happy to have on me when stranded on a desert island, it is certainly this one, for it continues to be quite a captivating story that really captures the fragility and uncertainty of human emotion. Isabella Tártago continues to be one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever read in any work of fiction.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

And the second AH book you’ve selected?

The second book I would choose is, hmm. Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, is what I’m thinking of, but that’s seven books, not one, so I’ll elect for the first one then, The Eyre Affair. It’s not what one would conventionally refer to as AH in the sense we often discuss it, as this idea of a plausible divergence from our world.


The world of The Eyre Affair is one where England is a republic yet continues to fight the Crimean War in the 2000s, for one!


There’s a lot of fantastical elements in the ‘real’ world of that story, let alone the ‘literary’ sub-world that you’re introduced to fairly early on, which of course has its own rules. The thing that I think Fforde does best is that while all this may seem random to people seriously interested in AH, it adds this deep flavour to the world of Thursday Next that makes it unmistakably distinct, and that is why it works very well for the purpose it was for, to enhance the unusual narrative he sought to write.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

Moving on to your third book. What is it?

I’ve always had a liking for The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick. It is very much a peculiar book, and very of its time, but I’ve always liked the underlying idea behind the story – that thinking of different, better worlds helps – in some way – to give hope that change can truly happen, even in a horrifying world where evil triumphed. Ultimately, is that what AH is about in the first place, endlessly asking “why” to how the world came about, and thinking of ways in which it could have gone differently. In a world where the Nazis and Imperial Japan triumphed, naturally thoughts go to a world better than that, but the key desire to imagine difference is at the heart of everything AH, this endless ‘why’. The story itself is fun to read, and I would be very happy to read it on a desert island.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

Can you talk about your fourth book?

My fourth book has to be a SLP classic, Daughters of Elysium by Adam J Ellison, a good friend of mine. There are quite a few works oriented around the idea of an election night, including of course the classic Lectern duo [5] by Andy Cooke, but Daughters of Elysium takes it to a new level by using this election night to itself tell of the world in which this European election takes place. There’s a certain level of absurdity in a British-style election night happening for a Europe-wide election, but it just works and is quite fun to read. I actually haven’t read this book for quite a while, so I would be very happy to have the opportunity to reacquaint myself with the text of a story I remember fondly.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

What’s the fifth and final AH book you’ve chosen?

For my fifth book I’m opting for another SLP book and saying Charlton Cussan’s Our Free and Happy Land. The reason I really like this story is that it speaks of a deeply flawed world and a  South Africa with a lot of issues, but unambiguously a world where South Africa never experiences apartheid, and this has long consequences.


As flawed as South Africa’s leaders can get in Our Free and Happy Land, they are infinitely better than what the country experienced under the National Party. It’s what one could call a “realistic utopia”, as contradictory as that term may sound.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

You’re also allowed one history book of OTL history. What will you be taking?

I regularly consume a lot of books about real history, so that may be a struggle to choose from, but after thinking about it, the book I would plump for is Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus by Rick Perlstein.


It is a book all about the effort to get Barry Goldwater nominated for President by the Republican Party and then his ill-fated campaign in the general. Nixonland is widely seen as the classic for a very good reason, but I prefer Before the Storm because it feels perfectly self-contained. Most of the action is in four years, and Perlstein really gets to grips with those four years, and the wonder of his writing is that he makes real people pop off the page as distinct and memorable personalities. It is a very fun read, and one I would gladly take with me.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

Those are your books. We move on to the music section. What AH music would you like to have with you?

Ah, I’m afraid I can’t really answer on matters of music, for I’ve been profoundly deaf since birth. Unfortunate fact of life for me, really.


In which case, we’ll make special dispensation for you to choose a piece of AH art.

Oh, for AH artwork, there’s a good few choices, even if we exclude maps – always a favourite thing for people interested in AH to do! The Hearts of Iron IV mod Kaiserreich: Legacy of the Weltkrieg has those really lovely posters made by the ‘Kaiser Cat Cinema’ people that often emulates real-life posters and which communicates well the various dynamics of the competing factions in this world where Germany won WWI, and 20 years later Europe is gearing up for a very different WWII between Imperial Germany and Socialist Britain and France. If I must choose one of those poster and only one, I would go for the Break The Chains, Britain! Poster, even if out of sheer provincialism.

The final item you are allowed is a luxury item taken from Alternate History. What have you chosen?

To tell you the truth, my regular life is fairly austere as is, so I struggle to even suggest any luxury item – whether AH or OTL – but I suppose I could go for a solar-powered fridge with an unlimited, or at least enough for my stay, supply of various soft drinks from AH. I’m sure all those different worlds have fairly interesting fizzy drinks with unique flavours – imagine what a surviving Roman Empire would find delicious in a carbonated form! I would find the experience of trying new flavours very pleasant and the refrigerated nature would help after a hot day on a desert island.


Those are all your items. How well do you think you will cope with the isolation on Lavender Island?

It depends on how long it is, really, as I’m an introvert who enjoys social interaction considerably. But a couple of weeks would be quite a fun experience that I can then regale people with for the rest of my life until they end up going: “Oh, of course she’s telling that story again,” and roll their eyes at me. Which is always fun for sure!



Discuss this interview Here.


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