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Read Around the World: Wales

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The next stop on our world tour of reading is Wales! This month, we have a special guest contributor: Louise. Louise is from Wales and runs the wonderful blog book a week. You should check out it! She will be sharing some fun facts about her country, Welsh literature, and her personal recommendations for books to help immerse you in your “travels.” I’m especially excited to feature Wales as it is home to the book lover’s paradise Hay-on-Wye. I’ll hand it over to Louise to tell you more…

Hi all, and thank you very much to Jen and Bookworm for their kind invitation to be a guest blogger for their Read Around the World feature about my home nation of Wales. My name is Louise or “Mushypea” and I blog (a lot more infrequently now I’m afraid since my daughter was born 15 months ago) at bookaweekblog.wordpress.com. I am very passionate about being Welsh and, like most of my compatriots, get rather miffed if you suggest we are English! Wales is not a very big country but it really punches above its weight in cultural terms, we have a rich history of sport, music and writing.

Fun Facts About Wales

  • Our national symbols are the leek and the daffodil. Every year on the 1st of March, which is St David’s Day (the patron saint of Wales) all men will wear a leek and women will wear a daffodil. Little girls are dressed in traditional Welsh costume to go to school and boys will usually wear a Welsh rugby shirt.
  • Wales has its own language which has Celtic roots, like Irish Gaelic, Scots Gallic or Breton from France. About 20% of people in Wales speak Welsh as their first language. There are some lovely words in Welsh which don’t exist in other languages like “hiraeth” (pronounced here-eye-th) which means a deep longing for your homeland when you are away, and “cwtch” (pronounced k-u(like in put)-tsch) which is a noun or a verb meaning a snuggle or hug.
  • Wales is known for its beautiful countryside, we have some amazing mountains and a gorgeous coastline (including Rhossili bay which was voted 3rd best beach in the world (see photo at the bottom on this post), and is about 15 minutes from my house. But we are also known for our weather… it rains… a lot!
  • Book lovers should make a beeline for Wales, especially the border town of Hay-on-Wye which has a population of less than 2000 but has more than 2 dozen bookshops and an annual literary festival where all sorts of people come to discuss literature, current affairs and much much more. Bill Clinton called it “the Woodstock of the mind”.

I have found it very hard to choose one book which I think is a great example of Welsh literature because we have so many great writers. The obvious pick would be a collection of Dylan Thomas poetry as he was from Swansea like me, but I thought I’d go with something a bit less well known.

Firstly Selected Short Stories by Gwyn Thomas. These are short little pen-pictures really about life in the South Wales valleys during the 1920s and 30s which was a time of great unrest and economic depression. Rather than being miserable and earnest, they are witty and clever. A real delight to dip in and out of, my favourite being “The Hands of Chris” about an illiterate miner who tries to get himself imprisoned for beating up a local mob of fascists.

Next to bring us right up to date is Submarine: A Novel (Random House Movie Tie-In Books) by Joe Dunthorne. Now, Joe doesn’t live in Wales any more but he was born here, I went to school with him, this book is set in our home town of Swansea and he lived in the street in front of my Auntie so I think he counts as a Welsh writer! Submarine is a bittersweet tale of an eccentric teenage boy trying to negotiate his way through his parents’ marriage and his own attempts at young love. Its very funny and very quirky, and has been made into a really successful indie movie (but read the book first!).

I must also give a mention to the wonderful Roald Dahl, who was born in Cardiff, the poets RS Thomas and Idris Davies amongst so many others, and other modern writers like Owen Sheers. And if you are interested in mythology, The Mabinogion is a must-read which overlaps with a lot of Arthurian legend. (King Arthur was Welsh, of course!).

We want to hear from you. Have you read any literature from Welsh authors or set in India? Do you have any recommendations? Share your thoughts with us!

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*Photos from trip advisor and Wikipedia

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hooray for Wales! My dad’s granny was Welsh and I studied at Aberystwyth University (home of the National Library of Wales). I wish I’d learnt Welsh while I was there, but all I know is Diolch am fawr and Dwi ddim yn siared cymraeg!

    My favourite books by Welsh authors are The Testimony of Taliesin Jones by Rhidian Brook and

    Liked by 1 person

    December 7, 2015
    • …How Green Was my Valley by Richard Llewellyn. (Sorry for the break in communication, sometimes hitting the right part of the screen on my tablet is difficult!)

      Although Niba Bawden was English, as a child I loved Carrie’s War, which is set in Wales and I think gets across the beauty of the place and the warmth of the people.

      We always holidayed in Fairbourne on the Cambrian coast when I was a child, and one of my favourite places to visit was Mary Jones’s cottage – she set off from there to walk over Cader Idris to Dolgellau to buy a Bible. Dedication!

      I’d like to read more Welsh literature, so I’m adding the Gwyn Thomas stories to my wish list and would like to know what other people recommend.

      Liked by 2 people

      December 7, 2015
      • Typing Nina is also apparently difficult. Sheesh, Jan.

        Like

        December 7, 2015
  2. JoLene R #

    I haven’t been to Wales or read much literature set there or by Welsh writers. I did really enjoy the Hood trilogy by Stephen R Lawhead. He took the Robin Hood story and set it in Wales because he felt that the historical research indicated that it was in that part of the country.

    I also know that one of my favorite historical fiction writers: Sharon Kay Penman has a series set there which starts with the book Here Be Dragons.

    Liked by 1 person

    December 7, 2015
  3. Great to see my native country featured. I love about 45 minutes from Louise and know that beach in the picture very well. My additional recommendation would be ‘The Redemption of Galen Pike which is a collection of short stories by Carys Davies. It was a winner of the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize in 2015. Every story is a gem

    Liked by 1 person

    January 3, 2016
    • Thank you for adding your recommendations. In look forward to checking it out further!

      Like

      January 3, 2016

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