Since I began reviewing for this site, I've seen several excellent examples of independently-published "local
interest" (for want of a better term) books. Len Burland's A Historical Tour around Mynyddislwyn Mountain is another
such, even if the title is not exactly snappy.
The cover illustration is a cross between a holiday brochure and a private photo album, with Rowan Williams
making his appearance alongside a somewhat out-of-perspective sketch of a Nonconformist chapel. The collage of photographs
and drawings contributes to an overall impression of a labour of love as much as one of learning, but this hardly detracts
from the value of the collection of facts, images and personal comment to be found between the covers. There are literally
dozens of maps, charts, drawings and old photographs, all combining to create a comprehensive picture of a Gwent community.
If this proves one thing, it is that almost any part of the British Isles can furnish enough sites and objects of historic
interest to fill a volume of several hundred pages.
The book was apparently written in the hope of making a small profit to be put towards the millennium fund
for replacing the bells of St Tudor's Church, Mynyddislwyn. I don't know whether it succeeded; books of this type all too
often have to be underwritten, and even when they do make a profit, it is rarely enough to repay the personal time and effort
put in by the author. Len Burland is clearly an accomplished local historian, not a dabbler. He knows how to assemble and
present his material, and he takes care to produce an effect which, if not slick, is at least professional. As might be expected,
some of the old photographs are not of good quality, but the reproductions are the best one could hope for in these circumstances.
Perhaps an even better visual presentation might have been achieved if Mr Burland had not crammed quite so
much material into the book. The margins are narrow and the quantity of type on each page is such that a casual reader might
be put off. It would be possible to read the book from beginning to end, but it seems more likely to be viewed as a miscellany,
something to be dipped into. The reader who does this would undoubtedly miss out on quite a bit, and it rather counteracts
the effort that has gone into giving value for money. On the other hand, as I said at the outset, this is a labour of love.
For the author, I suspect, the setting down of knowledge was as important as the knowledge that someone, somewhere, would
read what he had written. Whether or not those who buy this book make the most profitable use of its contents, Len Burland
has fulfilled his side of the bargain, and has done so admirably.
ISBN 1 874538 84 0
373pp, illustrated paperback
Published by Old Bakehouse Publications, 2002
Retail price £15
Review by Deborah Fisher