A GROUP of three Gwent men have been inspired to re-publish the works of one of the region’s greatest writers. MARTIN WADE speaks to the people who are reviving the work of Arthur Machen.

Arthur Machen, born in 1863, lived in Caerleon. The former Roman garrison town’s history was to prove fertile ground for Machen’s budding work.

From an early age he was entranced by the beauty and mystery of the countryside around his home, which had a powerful influence on his imagination: although he moved to London after leaving school and never again lived in Gwent, he returned to many times in his writing.

The latest book published by Newport press Three Impostors, is devoted to the influence of Gwent history on Machen’s writing. Set up in 2012 by the Rev Mark Lawson-Jones, David Osmond and Richard Frame, the name of the press is taken from the title of a Machen novel and their latest book hopes to shine a light on what inspired his often dark writing

In ‘The Fountains of My Story: Arthur Machen and the Making of a Museum’, Dr Mark Lewis explores the role of the author’s fascination with the Roman history of the area. It also investigates his grandfather and father's role in the setting up of what became the Roman Legion Museum.

The book aims to show how the Roman history and landscape of the Caerleon area, and the artefacts to be found in the museum influenced Machen’s imagination and his writing.

This publication is an expanded and edited version of a lecture given by Dr Lewis, who is curator of the National Roman Legion Museum at Caerleon in 2013, as part of a series of events organized to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Arthur Machen’s birth.

Members of the Monmouthshire Antiquarian Association will know Mark well from his close involvement with the Association over many years, recently as Chairman.

I asked one of the three publishers, Richard Frame, what is it about Machen that inspired the three?

“We used to meet and drive round interesting areas of Wales. Once when choosing the Usk valley, we realised they were missing a horde of fascinating stuff on their doorstep” he says.

“The 150th anniversary of his birth was approaching in 2013 and we asked the Caerleon Festival if we could add events about Arthur Machen to it. This was such a success that we decided to re-publish his biography.

This first volume ‘Far Off Things’ was very successful too. “Our aim was to produce high quality, scholarly, limited editions of rare and interesting out of print books” says Richard and clearly readers have responded to the subject and the high production standards.

‘Far Off Things’ is the first volume of his lyrical memoir and it describes his childhood and youth in the Monmouthshire countryside and his early years as a struggling writer in London. It evokes the lost world of the Welsh borders in the19th century, and contrasts it with literary and cultural life in the capital.

After the first volume sold very quickly, they published the second ‘The London Adventure’. It tells of the period between 1910 and 1921 when Arthur worked as a London reporter for The Evening News. This gave him rich and varied experiences of London life which he brought to life in this work. First published in 1924, Machen takes the reader on a rambling journey through obscure parts of the city: odd events and strange coincidences occur, sparking flights of imagination and reminiscence about the life behind the surface of the everyday.

This fascination with how Machen explores the unexplored is key to his appeal Richard says.

"He's not an easy writer to get into" Richard admits. "But I'm fascinated by the way he explores this darker side which exists alongside the normal world.

Richard sees him as a "writer of borderlands" between these two worlds. Machen's Monmouthshire home is very much too a borderland and when he lived there it was often seen as neither part of Wales of part of England.

This geographical rootedness is one of the things Richard finds most inspiring about Machen's writing. Although Machen is an important writer of gothic tales, he was also one of the first to write of something called 'pyschogeography'.

The term "psychogeography" is used to illustrate an array of ideas, from ley lines and the occult to urban walking and political radicalism. At its heart it unveils the story of a place by wandering through it and looking for clues and connections that will tell its history.

Richard likens it to peeling an onion: "Layer upon layer, the character of a place is revealed." As we spoke on the phone, Richard was walking along a street in Newport and he explained: "It's about taking all sorts of things in as you walk and reflecting on them. So I can see a manhole. Where was that cast, how old is it, is it from here? What kind of stone is the front of that building? What style is it carved in? How old is it? What is the design inspired by?'”

Richard explains that Machen was a pioneer of this before it was ever given a name: “He explores the by-ways of London and tells of chance meetings and encounters. Things happen that you can't explain."

This talent of Machen has been an inspiration to contemporary writers too like London author Iain Sinclair.

The love he and Richard share for Machen saw Iain give a talk on the author in April 2013 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Machen’s birth. Given at Housmans Bookshop in London, Richard recorded the talk and this was published as ‘Our Unknown Everywhere - Arthur Machen as Presence’.

They did the same with award-winning Welsh author and poet Catherine Fisher. Her lecture at the Caerleon Festival was another of the events organised to mark the 150th anniversary of the Gwent writer’s birth in 2013. Called ‘Machen’s Gwent - A Country Hardly to be Known’ she explored Machen’s relationship with his native countryside.

The three aim to cover other themes and have already published a book on the voyage of Chartist leader John Frost on a convict ship following the Newport Rising by historian Les James. Machen , though is a wellspring of inspiration for them. Future plans include a new edition of his famous gothic work The Great God Pan early in 2018, illustrated by John Selway. They are also working on a biography of Selway himself by Welsh writer Jon Gower.

The books are available www.threeimpostors.co.uk