Interview with Together.and.Sunspell

1 – Happy New Year!

2 – I was interviewed by Wide Vicinity. They’ve just published the interview …

You can read my interview here: Helia Phoenix | Writer and content creator | Cardiff

I wanted to show them around the Cardiff Bay Wetlands Nature Reserve and to Hamadryad Park – particularly this view underneath the A4232, which is one of my all-time favourite spots. Such nice perspective …

Intro quote from the interview:

I guess at heart I think of myself as a writer, although I work across a number of different mediums ‒ photography, film, I’ve made radio pieces and done various audio things. I’m a polymath, I suppose, interested in telling stories through whatever channel best fits them.

I was born in 1980s Wales to Iranian immigrant parents. We moved around a lot, but I eventually ended up back in Cardiff for university where I studied English Literature. I did my final year out at Berkeley College in the University of California, and then came back and did a Masters in Creative Writing, and in between a bunch of other jobs working in a record store and DJing, then as a BA for the BBC, and at a magazine publishers, I eventually did a postgrad in web journalism in Sheffield back in 2008. I interviewed for two jobs at the end of that ‒ one was for a digital producer on 6 Music and the other was for web editor at the National Assembly for Wales. I didn’t get the former but was offered the latter, so ended up back in Wales again, where I’ve been permanently ever since.

Check out the Together and Sunspell project

And happiest of happy new years x


Album review – Gwenno’s Le Kov

Cardiff-based singer-songwriter Gwenno released her latest album Le Kov on Heavenly Recordings last week. It is a really wonderful collection of music that I reviewed for Caught By The River.

Part of my review:

“The album … speaks to all displaced peoples who have ever dreamed of returning home, however impossible that might be. By the end of 2016, the number of displaced people in the world had risen to 65.6 million – more than the population of the UK. These people may end up living for the rest of their lives away from the countries of their birth, dreaming of homelands and speaking languages that may soon no longer exist.

When Gwenno sings “A tongueless man / A tongueless man has lost”, my only thoughts were about those homelands disappearing (and the rich cultural history contained within all languages disappearing too). It made me think a lot about refugees in general, and more specifically about my own parents, who escaped Iran before the revolution, and their brothers and sisters, who left at the same time, scattered across the globe. None of them can ever go back home – the Iran they grew up in (the Iran they would call “home”) is not a place that exists anymore. I grew up as a first language Farsi speaker in Wales – communicating in a language that was imbued with nuance and poetry drawn from a land that I would never live in.”

Head over to Caught By The River – Gwenno’s Le Kov to read the full piece, and why not order the vinyl from your local friendly independent record store, Spillers Records?

Nice druiding on the Eus Keus video…

More Gwenno:

You can catch Gwenno performing songs from the album on the Caught By The River stages at Port Eliot and the Good Life Experience this summer.

Meet Zelda!

Every writer needs an assistant. Meet mine!

I’ve been thinking about getting a dog for ages. Earlier this year I was semi-set on jacking everything in, selling all my worldly belongings and going travelling for as long as my meagre savings would afford me.

Instead, in September, I ended up at Cardiff’s Dog Home, bringing this little lady home with me. It’s the same as travelling indefinitely, right??

The one thing a dog does bring into life is a real sense that you’ve got to live every day.  You can’t just laze around passively on the sofa, doing nothing, messing around on your phone, when there’s a greyhound that needs a pootle around the park. And there’s no doubt that I’ve been feeling a hundred times better since we’ve had her.

I wrote more in depth about adopting Zelda for We Are Cardiff: Meet Zelda, the newest member of the We Are Cardiff crew. They had called her Zara there but obviously Zelda is a much better name (I am also a massive Nintendo fan, and have spent about 300 hours of this year playing Breath of the Wild). We don’t have much info, other than she was an ex-racing greyhound, shipped over from Ireland. She’s nearly six years old, and her racing name was Skywalker Candy.

I didn’t know anything about greyhounds before we got her, but I boned up with the Retired Greyhounds book, and I’m so glad I did. I learned lots of things – like greyhounds can’t really do ‘sit’ properly, they love following you around all day long, and they don’t actually need much exercise at all – two 20 minute walks are enough for most dogs.

Anyway, I won’t go on too much about her here, even though I’m sure there will be endless posts about her in the future! I’ve also become one of those people, and started an Instagram for my dog, so if you want to see how she’s doing, follow her here: Frankly my everyday life is pretty boring apart from her, plus sometimes seeing things being shared on there was making me judge my own life harshly, and feel bad about it. So it’s all about dogs now. Everything is all about dogs.

If you’re thinking about getting a dog, please consider adopting one. Since getting Zelda, we’ve joined an “unofficial” sighthound walking group, nearly all of whom were rescued from Cardiff Dogs Home, and they are the loveliest, goofiest group of hounds you’ll ever meet, with so much love to give.

Adopt don’t shop!

From me and from my snoozing greyhound.

Urban exploring: Plas Gwynfryn Mansion, Llanystumdwy

A couple of weeks ago, I took myself up to Criccieth for a yoga and writing retreat with Literature Wales at Tŷ Newydd. Very bloody lovely it was too, I highly recommend it.

On our last day, we had some free time in the afternoon so I mentioned to our tutor that I might just go off wandering and get lost in the countryside somewhere. She suggested I go look for an old abandoned mansion that was in the nearby wilds (she had been there before and written about it for a book – here’s the entry from her collaborator) and that I ask the Tŷ Newydd staff for directions.

Directions would have been sensible – but I would always rather work things out myself (ending up traipsing across fields and covered in cow shit than just ask for directions). So I thought I’d use Google Maps and do some online research, and see if I could work out the way like that.

From the satellite view, I could see the driveway to the mansion (at least a mile or so long), which seemed to link up to a main road. Easy.

On arrival at the spot, I realised it might not be so easy. The driveway was right next to a house, with a sign warning of no public access. Although I didn’t see anyone around, I’ve never been good with blatant trespassing, so I thought I’d do some more investigation to see if I could find a way to illicitly reach the mansion. There is another access road that leads straight to it (which you can see running from left to right), but this goes past a couple of farms, which raised the concern of being eaten by an overzealous guard dog (or possibly chased off by zombies – always a worry when wandering around woodland by myself).

After driving around the outside perimeter road a couple of times to orient myself, and some more consultation with Google Maps, I eventually found a public footpath that looked like it might skirt around some fields and intersect with the driveway.

I parked my car up on the verge, tucked in the wing mirrors, and armed only with the GPS on my phone to orient myself, I set off, heading for Plas Gwynfryn Mansion.

It was a pretty boggy field, and stupidly I’d only brought mesh running trainers so it wasn’t long before I was walking through massive pools of pure, liquid cow / sheep shit.

The path ran around the edge of two fields, with stiles in between (so I could make sure for the most part I wasn’t trespassing too much). Eventually, after dancing around cow pats for about 20 minutes, I reached the driveway leading up to the mansion. There’s still a fence on either side of the driveway so the animals can’t wander across it, so I vaulted over the very rusted barbed wire at the top, and did the rest of the walk along the concrete.

Weeds have started to overpower this route. Each side is thick with brambles, and ragwort has started cracking through the concrete underfoot. I reached a point where the driveway was so thick with weeds I couldn’t carry on, so I had to jump back into the field for the last part of the walk.

Plas Gwynfryn is visible through the shrubs above. You can see it from about a mile away, peeking out above the overgrown thicket, guarded by arable land, grumpy cows and skittering sheep.

There’s been a house of some kind here since the 1500s, but the building you can see above was built by Hugh John Ellis-Nanney in 1876. It was the Nanney’s family home for half a century, but after that rotated between a retirement home for the clergy, a hospital, and finally a hotel. It finally burned to the ground in 1982, and has remained vacant ever since.

Tŷ Newydd (where I was staying) was once the home of Prime Minister David Lloyd George. It’s now home to Literature Wales and its writing retreats. One of the other women on the course remembered coming to Plas Gwynfryn for afternoon tea as a child, when it was still a hotel.

In a twist of synchronicity during my trip, I found out that Ellis-Nanney was also a politician – an MP, defeated by Lloyd George in 1890.

The entrance to the house is along the side, shown in the portrait photo of the archways above. Most of the original external stonework is still standing, but internal walls and roofs are long since gone.

There’s an iron fire escape tacked onto the outside of the house that’s still relatively sturdy. I climbed to the top, but there’s very little to see from up there – only the tops of green, reaching for escape from within the walls.

There are other strange bits and pieces that have been left to rust: like the trolley by the front door (presumably for carrying luggage in and out), and various frames, fallen to the ground, over original tilework.

Plas Gwynfryn Mansion - urban exploration August 2017

Vertigo radiator

Plas Gwynfryn Mansion - urban exploration August 2017

Plas Gwynfryn Mansion - urban exploration August 2017

Plas Gwynfryn Mansion - urban exploration August 2017

Plas Gwynfryn Mansion - urban exploration August 2017

Plas Gwynfryn Mansion - urban exploration August 2017

Original tiles still looking class

Plas Gwynfryn Mansion - urban exploration August 2017

Plas Gwynfryn Mansion - urban exploration August 2017

Plas Gwynfryn Mansion - urban exploration August 2017

This bakery never got their trays back

Plas Gwynfryn Mansion - urban exploration August 2017

Old sewing machine …

Plas Gwynfryn Mansion - urban exploration August 2017

Plas Gwynfryn Mansion - urban exploration August 2017

Plas Gwynfryn Mansion - urban exploration August 2017

Charred chandelier …

Plas Gwynfryn Mansion - urban exploration August 2017

Remnants of books burned in the ’82 fire …


Plas Gwynfryn Mansion - urban exploration August 2017

Plas Gwynfryn Mansion - urban exploration August 2017

Plas Gwynfryn Mansion - urban exploration August 2017

For my first real ever urban exploration expedition, I was pretty pleased. I managed to get myself there, not get eaten by dogs or zombies – and get back to the car, all by myself …

You can see all my photos over on Flickr: Plas Gwynfryn Mansion – urbex August 2017.

Blue Dot Festival 2017

Spent last weekend in magical, tropical Cheshire at Blue Dot Festival. Got sunburned, super drunk, listened to loads of music, missed all the science talks, and operated the third largest telescope in the world. It was amazing.

Stayed at a Travelodge near Crewe the night before to break up the journey. I can confirm, no one ran through this field of wheat.

The whole festival site is based around the amazing Lovell Telescope. It dominates, like some weird 50s sci-fi prop. At the time it was built, it was the biggest telescope in the world. It’s currently third biggest.

My favourite thing bar none was the interactive sound and vision experience with the telescope after dark. There was a control panel that allowed you to change the projections going onto the telescope and the sounds accompanying them. The AV show was created by artists based on radio frequencies received by the telescope from pulsars (dying stars out in space). This was data that had been received over long periods of time, but there was also a LIVE FEED INTO SPACE that you could choose.

It was absolutely mind blowing.

Me by the scope, being super impressed with it.

Preece and Natalie CONTROLLING SPACE.

The view from the campsite, Lovell glowing eerie off in the distance.

The next best thing we did was explore the Luminarium. This is a giant inflatable structure made of rubber. It’s got multiple rooms and you can walk around inside it endlessly. I went in with a couple of people that had smashed some mushrooms and some acid. It was so hot in there I came out after about 20 minutes. I think they were in there considerably longer.

 Back out in the festival itself, it was a baking hot weekend. We spent most of it outside, listening to music and enjoying the general atmosphere. It was a lot cleaner and less sketchy than most festivals I tend to frequent (no weird krusty hippies causing chaos), which double edged for me: nice to be in such a safe, comforting place – but at the same time, I always like a bit of chaos …

This was one of the best things I saw all weekend: Nightmares on Wax DJ set. It had been a long, hot day – we’d just been in to see Max Cooper do Emergence which was INCREDIBLY INTENSE – me and a couple of others bailed, and ended up listening to this wonderful two hour journey through disco, funk, electro and housey house. It was upbeat and uplifting and very fun.

Other great things of note that we saw through the weekend:

FRIDAY – Leftfield (pumping tunes – shame they were on at 6pm and the crowd was full of parents with very upset looking children ramming their fingers in their ears, trying to leave, being forced to stay … darkside); Jane Weaver (amazing space pop kween); Pixies (who I saw at Glastonbury and bored the balls off me – but I loved them here!); Vitalic, who did THE BEST TECHNO EVER.

SATURDAY – Goldfrapp; Orbital; Factory Floor.

SUNDAY – Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band; Rival Consoles (he was AMAZING); Warpaint (which I left because they were SO BORING);  but then I went to Shobaleader One (MUCH BETTER – Squarepusher LIVE!); Alt-J (really, really boring … I left after about five seconds and went and found a cocktail bar by the telescope that was rinsing out really loud, funky old school drum and bass and breaks classics. BEST TIME EVER, full of really friendly and lovely people from Manchester. Big love, MCR).

Loved Blue Dot. Would definitely recommend for parents – lots to for babies, with kids, and for adults with an interest in the world around them. Loved it, would definitely go again.

Blue Dot Festival



Wandering the River Taff: new posts on Caught By The River

I’ve written a couple more posts for Caught by the River. I’m really enjoying my column for CBTR. Also the teenage indie fangirl in me can’t quite comprehend that it’s happening. But enjoying nevertheless!

Below is a round up of the last few pieces I’ve written for them. It’s a nice focus for my writing at the moment. Plus gets me out of the house and walking, always a bonus.

Wandering the River Taff: A Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy.

Did you know that Cardiff’s River Taff has its own Nessie, patrolling the waters, keeping wronguns away? Or at least it used to — an afanc of its very own. The afanc is a complicated thing to translate from Welsh, having been represented in Celtic mythology as anything from demon crocodile to barbarous beaver. It’s basically some sort of terrible beastie from the deep; a river monster that would attack and kill anyone who fancied a paddle or quick slurp from its waters.

Wandering the River Taff: Millennium Walk and the Doomed Graffiti Wall. 

Where can you find existential ponderings about mathematical logic, sharing wall space with messages about Mother’s Day, paedo ring cover ups in the BBC, and a sketch of Marge Simpson with a massive spliff in her mouth? In other cities, perhaps this sort of thing is omnipresent, but in Cardiff, there’s only one place: on the banks of the River Taff, at the graffiti wall on Millennium Walk.

Wandering the River Taff: Got Brains?

On my first visit back to Cardiff as an adult, back in 1999, one of the first things I remember is ominous lettering on a railway bridge, somewhere around the city centre, asking an ambiguous question that brought visions of the undead feasting on innocent Cardiffians: GOT BRAINS?

Til next time



Caught by the River: new column

So I promised I would write more. And here I am!

I’ve started contributing a new column to the wonderful Caught by the River website, inspired by my wonderings/wanderings around and about the River Taff. The column is called Wandering the River Taff, and my first essay for them is This is Rat Island. I mean I’m actually on to writing my third piece now, but you know, small steps …

As always happens when you start looking into something specific, it ends up raising more questions than answers …


So what happened, nutshell style, is that I did a bunch of research (SO much research … internet, books, Cardiff Central Library’s local area archive, which is an incredibly rich resource that I recommend to local nosy people) and published my piece. One of the things I did was to contact writer Peter Finch, who happens to be local and whose Real Cardiff series has been a total inspiration to me ever since I moved back to Cardiff as an adult. I published my piece – then got a response from Peter which completely went against all the research and anecdotal evidence I had read. So had to publish a secondary piece, documenting all my research and asking for more comments from people who might know more.

I mean, when you lay it out like that it sounds boring AF but if you’re interested in local history, I recommend you read them both. Plus the photos are nice.

I’ll write more about my other instalments soon.




Happy New Year!


Today’s post is about an awfully nice little feature I got in Cardiff Life magazine. I had no idea this was going in (my partner in crime, Hana, gave them permission to use the photo without telling me!) so I was mightily surprised to find myself in here, under the category of “Visionary”.

Nice descriptor that, I might start using it when people ask me to describe myself.


Anyway, seeing as they’ve put this as the thing you should look at to find out more, I really should update it more, eh??

(Read the full issue of Cardiff Life here)

I normally have the quintessential British response to people saying anything nice (which is to cringe and die inside) but I’ve decided that’s a stupid way to live my life, so I’m going to be less of a twat about it and just appreciate whatever comes my way.

So thank you, a big thank you to Cardiff Life for such a lovely write-up. I spend a lot of my spare time writing (every day, in fact!) and also a lot of spare time working on We Are Cardiff, so it’s really nice to get a shout for that.

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!


PS It appears it’s been over a year since I last posted on here … slightly embarrassing for someone who has “blogging” listed as a key skill on LinkedIn (does anyone even still use that?? Kidding, obviously I’m going to post a link to this on there)  … in my defence, my all my writing goes on We Are Cardiff these days. Also I’m trying to whole-ass one thing and have spent the past year finishing up edits on my novel, which is not a very interesting thing to blog about. But I’m going to try and keep this place a little more up to date. Pinky promise.