Caught by the River

The Keep Magazine

Nina Lyon | 7th June 2016

A few words from Nina Lyon on new magazine ‘The Keep’, a self-proclaimed ‘stronghold of ambitious thinking and artistic excellence’


In a time of global culture, there’s a quiet slow beauty in being cut off from it. In German there’s the term Aussteiger to describe people who drop, or opt, out of mainstream society. Being in the Welsh borders sometimes feels a bit like this: there are people who really have opted out of it all and a lot more who opted out of a standardised, sterilised way of seeing the world that seemed to govern lives of urban mortgages and long commutes.

In a place where salaried employment is hard to come by, you make your own work. It is a fallacy to see the so-called creative professions as the only sort of creative work there is – today’s border people make a living as oak-frame builders, brewers and bakers, professional foragers and activists for hire – but there are a lot of artists of all stripes in the hills. A school gate dad, recently arrived, expressed surprise at the number of cinematographers knocking around. He thought he’d be the only one in the village.

Some, as Oliver Balch describes in Under The Tump, moved in from cities in search of peace and space; many came from the Marches originally and returned in time. A strong sense of local community and a pride in all its produce characterises local affairs. It seemed obvious to showcase some of that produce with The Keep, a new print-only magazine operating out of a community interest company in Hay-on-Wye.

For Iain Finlayson, The Keep’s commissioning editor, it is about capturing a little of the creative drive of an area that has always remained doggedly autonomous in character. ‘What can a small market town have to say to the rest of the world? Quite a lot really. Especially when it is a quirky little oddity like Hay-on-Wye, straddling a borderland, a Celtic fringe, a town of independent mind and attitude, defined and defended by writers, photographers, and artists who are rooted in the Welsh Marches but look out upon wider perspectives, like watchmen on top of a keep.’

Iain and The Keep’s creative director, James Mannox, both worked in magazines in previous lives in London. Hay, a town with less than two thousand residents, wasn’t short of potential contributors. In Issue 0 there’s work from Owen Sheers, Tom Bullough, Ben Rawlence and Balch and photography from Finn Beales, Billie Charity and John Bulmer. I took Soma Ghosh on a road trip down the Golden Valley to ponder punk religion in ancient churches; elsewhere she wrote about the runaway public schoolboys who seem to regularly pop up among the hedgerows around her home.

Many of the initial connections came about through a writers’ book group in nearby Talgarth, currently struggling to contain its numbers because there are too many of us.
It is not exactly a cultural ferment, because everyone is off doing their own thing, and it might almost be the opposite of that. But there is a shared belief that the quality of the things we create here, whether cider or bacon or books, derives at least in part from being made in a small world, and that it can compete with the best of ‘from off.’ The Keep aims to document some of that.

‘The Keep’ is available to buy here, as well as from our bookshelf in Pedlars General Store just off Portobello Road.

Nina Lyon on Caught by the River