Iris Anne Lewis

Iris is a writer of short stories, poetry and non-fiction.  She has been successful in both local and national competitions and has twice been invited to read her work at the Cheltenham Literary   Festival.

Some of her work has been published or broadcast on local radio. Her writing is influenced by history, the landscape and the local community.  

Originally from Wales, she has lived in the North East of England, London and now in Gloucestershire.

As well as being a founder member of Somewhere Else Writers, Iris is also a member of Poetry Swindon.


I have chosen two pieces. The first, The 33, was first published in the magazine Domestic Cherry 4. The second No Small Thing won the Gloucestershire Writers’ Network 2014 competition and is published in Graffiti, Issue 17.

The 33

          What happened

                    A day like any other –

                    orange suited, booted

                    for work, they rattle

                    down the dark spiral.

          in the mine

                    A day like no other –

                    rocks crack,

                    men choke as

                    dust clouds smother

                    everything

                    out of sight.

                    Tyres burn,

                    smoke billows,

                    horns honk

                    in hope of rescue.

                    Just dead miners’ souls,

                    they said.

                    Workmanlike

                    they hunker down,

                    allocate roles,

                    organise teams,

                    eat sparse rations,

                    survive.

          stays

                    Time circles,

                    its only measure

                    sips of water –

                    three daily.

                    Each drop

                    a bead of hope

                    as on a rosary.

          in the mine

                    Silent now,

                    the mine, the men.

No Small Thing

Come, Dafydd, let’s sit here next to Iolo. Cwtch up to me as the setting sun warms our backs and the wind blows in our faces. Do you hear it whispering songs as it carries the voices of the valleys across the ocean? Listen to the calls of the birds as they swoop and glide on its currents. They are plaintive, insistent, as if they are calling us home.

It’s not too late to go back. At least, that’s what Mam says in her letter.  It only arrived this morning. There’ll always be a home for you and Dai Bach here. This is where you belong, she says. We always used to call you Dai Bach, Daffydd. Mam still does. You’ll always be Dai Bach to her, Little Dai, a babe who has only just learnt to crawl, still the same as you were the last time she saw you. But for me, you stopped being Dai Bach when we got off the ship and heard the news. Iolo, my young, strong, vital lover, was dead. It was at that moment you stood up, held onto my hand and took your first faltering steps. It was as if you knew you were the man of the family now, and so you became Dafydd.

But perhaps this evening since we are talking of the past you can be Dai Bach one last time, while I tell you the story of how we came here to this dry dusty place from the rain-washed valleys of Wales and why we are sitting next to the grave of your father, my husband. Do you see what’s written on his headstone? Out of the strong came forth sweetness.  That’s from the Bible, Dai Bach.

It was four years ago Iolo sailed on the Mimosa, the tea clipper that brought the very first settlers to this place. They had been promised a land flowing with milk and honey. Instead they found a wasteland, parched and barren. There was over a hundred and fifty people in the party – teachers, scholars, clerks, preachers. Men, whose tools were words, paper, pen. Some came with their wives and children. Only Iolo, with his miner’s skills, and Gareth Edwards, a farmer, knew how to wield the axe and till the ground.

Iolo took the lead and organised the men, and women too, into digging channels into the hard rock to irrigate the land, then Gareth oversaw the planting of crops. They scarred their hands and almost broke their backs as they toiled in the hot, arid desert.

When the first growth appeared Iolo sent for us.

Mam didn’t want us to leave.

‘What do you want to go to Patagonia for? We’ll have Dai Bach growing up a heathen.’

‘He won’t grow up a heathen,’ said Dad. ‘Not with the Reverend Jones in charge. You know what Iolo said in his letter – they’re already building a chapel.’

Dad organised my travel, hiring Elwyn Pony to take me to the station. There’s grand it was to sit up on the trap with you on my knee as Elwyn Pony urged his old mare on. Queen Victoria herself could not have had a better send off. The whole village lined the streets as they waved us goodbye. But sadness with it, for I would never see Mam and Dad again. It’s no small thing to leave your old life behind and travel thousands of miles to a new world.

Perhaps when you are a man grown you will cross the stormy seas to visit the old country where you were born. You are like Iolo, Dai Bach. There’s a restlessness in your spirit and tempest in your eyes. You need a man’s steady hand to guide you as you grow to manhood and for me, well, a woman needs a man, especially in this hostile land.

Tomorrow I will have a new husband and I will be Mrs William Jenkins. Will’s a good man, Dai Bach, and gentle in his courting. It’s no small thing to wed a grieving widow and care for another man’s son. He’ll be a fine father to you.

But that is for tomorrow. Tonight as the sun sinks behind us we will sit and look across the land where the green shoots are piercing through the once barren soil. That’s Iolo’s work, Dai Bach. Out of the stone he brought forth growth. That’s no small thing.

More of Iris’s writing can be found in the Cirencester Scene page and Cirencester Scene Archives.