Happy St. David’s Day!
Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant Hapus!
1st March is St. David’s Day and St. David is the patron saint of Wales. I lived in Wales for several years and worked in Welsh publishing during that time, and I saw a lot of the struggles that Welsh publishers and Welsh writers face. I’ve seen interviews with Welsh authors who wanted to write about Wales being told that ‘people don’t want to read about Wales’, only for authors like Maggie Stiefvater to be hugely successful with a series featuring one of Wales’s heroes, Owain Glyndŵr.
That’s nothing against Maggie Stiefvater, by the way, but against the hypocrisy of publishers who only want Welshness on their terms, with the more they can anglicise it, the better. All I have to say to that is this: if readers can learn to pronounce fantastical names, then readers can learn to pronounce Welsh names.
During my first job in publishing I had the privilege of meeting Gillian Clarke, who was then the National Poet of Wales, and watched her give a talk in which she told the story that, at school, she was taught that there were no Welsh poets. Seriously. No Welsh poets in the land of the bards.
And yet Wales is a country brimming with stories and poetry and folklore. Storytelling is a vital part of Wales’s history – in fact the earliest prose stories in Britain are the tales in The Mabinogion – and it’s a country that’s never stopped telling stories.
I’m not Welsh and I don’t live in Wales anymore, but it’s a country I still visit frequently because my parents and one of my sisters live there, and it’s a country I’m always going to have a soft spot for.
So today I thought I’d celebrate by sharing three current Welsh women writers whose work I think is well worth checking out!
Sarah Waters is one of my favourite authors and I’ve read all but one of her novels. Though she’s more associated with London now – she’s lived there for a while and the majority of her books are set there – she’s originally from Pembrokeshire. If you enjoy historical fiction and you haven’t read her work then I implore you to do so – especially if you’re looking for some own voices lesbian novels! My favourite novel of hers is The Little Stranger, but I think Fingersmith is the best place to start.
Eloise Williams worked as an actress for several years before she turned her hand to Middle Grade. I read her second children’s novel, Gaslight, set in Victorian era Cardiff and I liked it a lot – it was so refreshing to see a novel set during that period of history that wasn’t set in either London or Edinburgh – and I have a copy of her third Middle Grade novel, Seaglass, to read too. This one’s a ghost story set by the coast and I’m looking forward to getting to it soon!
Carys Davies is possibly one of the UK’s best short story writers. Short stories can be more difficult to pull off than novels in many ways, but Davies has a real skill for it. In 2018 she published her first novella, West, which was written with her usual finesse for clear, simple, beautiful prose. I’ve also had the pleasure of listening to her reading some of her work and, as well as being a great speaker, she’s a genuinely lovely, incredibly clever woman.
These three women are just the tiniest sample of what Wales has to offer, there are so many other authors I have yet to read myself that I’m looking forward to getting to this year and beyond as well as checking out the forthcoming work these women have to offer.