Friday, 17 August 2018

SIX OF THE BEST : Literary Welsh Connections

By Gillian Hamer

For a small country, Wales certainly has a huge amount of literary clout - not only in the talents of Welsh authors but as setting for some superb fictional triumphs. Below, I list six of my personal favourites.


THE MABINOGION

No foray into Welsh literature would be complete without a mention of this book; it is the original, earliest and probably the best collection of Welsh prose stories. Legend tells that the stories of the Mabinogion were carried down from oral versions and were translated and compiled in the 12th and 13th century into a collection of eleven stories that we know today that appear in either or both of two medieval Welsh manuscripts, the White Book of Rhydderch and the Red Book of Hergest.
The topics are wide and varied from philosophy to tragedy to humour many heavy with Welsh folklore and Celtic traditions. The stories were translated into English and modern Welsh in 1838 and are today part of the Welsh national curriculum.


UNDER MILK WOOD
I’m not a huge follower of much of Dylan Thomas’s work, but I fell into love at school with the drama Under Milk Wood from the moment our English literature teacher told our class that the name of the fictional Welsh fishing village – Llareggub – was actually Bugger All spelled backwards! With that kind of dark humour attracting me, I enjoyed both the 1954 BBC radio adaption and the 1972 film version.
The narrator takes the listener on a journey through the dreams and nightmares of the inhabitants of Llareggub, showing the dark and innermost thoughts of those who no one believed had ever owned a dark side. With fantastic characters such as Captain Cat, Myfanwy Price, Jack Black and Evans the Death this is a fantastic exploration of real people’s desires and fears from a hugely talented writer who found it easy to explore human nature.


THE LITTLE STRANGER

And what connection can this iconic novel by Sarah Waters have with Wales? Well, none is the honest answer. But the author certainly did. Born in Neyland, Pembrokeshire in 1966 Waters has often mentioned the beauty of the Pembrokeshire countryside as one of the greatest inspiration for her work. The Little Stranger is a brilliantly told story of family, mistrust and even ghosts if you believe in that kind of thing. It is currently being adapted into film.
For me there is a Celtic essence through much of Water’s writing and for that reason I believe she should be included in the Welsh connections.


FALL OF GIANTS

Another author with strong Welsh connections. Born in Cardiff, Follett was a reporter at the South Wales Echo and said his love of literature was sparked by visits to the Cowbridge Road Library in Cardiff, which he joined when he was seven.
My favourite work is his 2012 epic Fall of Giants, with follows the lives of  five families through the trials and dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for votes for women and features a coal mining family based in part on his grandfather’s experience of working in the pits from the age of thirteen.


MIDNIGHT SKY SERIES

Jan Ruth's series of contemporary women's fiction novels is set in one of my favourite places in the world - the North Wales coastline. Her use of location as a character in its own right brings her writing alive for me. And her passion for horses combined with the beauty of the landscape gives the reader the feeling of being in safe hands. For anyone who doesn't understand the power of location, I certainly recommend this series, or any other book by this author, and can imagine many people have chosen to take a visit to Conwy and the surrounding area after reading this author's work.



UNTIL OUR BLOOD IS DRY

Written by Kit Habianic a fiercely proud Welsh author and based on the fiercely proud past generations of her Welsh forbears, this is a spine-tingling read about a period in history that put Wales in the news for all the wrong reasons. When the miner's strike devastated normal working families in the South Wales valleys in the mid-1980's there were a huge number of stories of individual triumphs and disaster like the one detailed here. This novel screams everything that it means to be Welsh - the history, language, passion, tragedy and the intensity of the time comes across brilliantly here. Highly recommended.










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