I’ve just returned from the annual Association of Welsh Writing in English (AWWE) conference at Gregynog Hall, Powys. After battling against the elements the conference brought together academics and students from the field of Welsh Writing in English. For a first conference experience I couldn’t have wished for anything more. My nerves immediately disappeared as I was welcomed into an academic field that is so friendly and encouraging.
A thoroughly stimulating and enlightening weekend, I was thrilled to be surrounded by people who are as passionate about WWiE as I am. Being only one of a few students at Bangor concentrating on Welsh Writing it was refreshing to meet postgraduate students from other universities. It was also a pleasure to meet and chat with academics in a relaxed environment that was not at all intimidating.
The conference was based on ‘Literary Topographies: Mapping Welsh Writing in English’. All papers and keynote lectures focused on the way Welsh Literature is linked with space and place. The schedule was packed with over thirty papers given over the weekend but plenty of fuel was provided in the form of cake and coffee.
Despite the weather creating a worryingly murder-mystery atmosphere, it was refreshing to spend a weekend isolated without signal and internet connection, allowing for no distractions. After an exhausting term the conference provided much needed inspiration and I am now looking forward to my next conference.
Deindustrialized Wales in the 1970s
Anglophone Welsh writing gained momentum in the thirties yet there is a wealth of more recent writing to discover. The industrial novels of Lewis Jones and Jack Jones explore the boom and bust of the early twentieth-century, whilst Christopher Meredith’s debut novel Shifts (1988) explores the harsh reality of deindustrialisaton during the seventies- something which changed the industrial face of Wales forever.
The stagnant relationship of unhappily married Keith and Judith mirrors the decline of their steel town in the valleys. Shifts tackles themes such as emasculation and issues that surround the changing economic face of Wales. Women are soon to become the breadwinners as the hard labour of the steelworks makes room for the ‘clean’ industry of the marshmallow factory.
Returning from England to his native Wales, no-good boyo Jack has left his English ex-girlfriend in the lurch and is about to embark upon an affair with Judith when he becomes Keith’s lodger. When Keith finds out about the tryst his reaction is not one you might expect from a man scorned. You’ll like this if you enjoyed Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night, Sunday Morning. Jack possesses the same Jack-the-Lad qualities of Arthur and both novels deal with the realities of relationships in working-class Britain.
A great read to compare against earlier industrial novels set in the valleys. Shifts as it title suggests deals with themes that are ever-present in Welsh Writing in English texts – industrial life and the passing of time.
Click here to buy ‘Shifts’ or browse other Welsh Writing in English texts at Palas Print.
For the first meeting we will be meeting at Palas Print in Bangor on Thursday 21st March at 5pm.
Palas Print is located on the High Street, opposite Bangor Cathedral.
Come along for coffee, cake and a chat about how the book group will run. There will be no book discussion on Thursday but we will arrange a convenient time for the first book group and which books to read.
Poet and Priest
R.S. Thomas is a poet that many people recognise as being part of the Welsh Writing in English tradition.
R.S. Thomas was an Anglican priest and poet who was known for his dislike of the anglicanisation of Wales. It may be surprising that a poet who was so well-known for his anger about the encroaching anglicanisation of Wales that he did not write his poetry in the Welsh language. However, Thomas didn’t learn Welsh until adulthood, a reason why his poetry is written in English.
He spent a lot of time in North West Wales and was a student of Bangor University. His poetry often references to the spiritual and depicts Welsh people and the landscape. Thomas is proof that Welsh authors do not necessarily need to write in the Welsh language to express the feelings and emotions of being a Welsh person.
R.S. Thomas at the Study Centre, Bangor University
In 2000, the R.S. Thomas Study Centre was set up at Bangor University ‘in recognition of his poetic achievement and in order to promote research into his work.’ The centre holds manuscripts as well as unpublished work.
Thomas’s work is widely accessible and one of a few Anglo-Welsh writers actually taught in schools and colleges. ‘Stark but passionate’ is the description of his Selected Works at Palas Print – a great place to start if you want to learn more about one Wales’s best known poets.
R.S. Thomas Centenary
The Centenary Website set up by Literature Wales lists all the upcoming events to mark the Thomas Centenary on 29th March. It also lists upcoming publications including a collection of previously Uncollected Poems edited by Tony Brown and Jason Walford Davies.
Today, Thursday 7th March, is World Book Day – the perfect time to announce the launch of the Reading Wales book group.
Do you live in the Bangor area? Do you want to learn more about English language literature in Wales?
Postgraduate Alex and Palas Print owner Eirian are joining forces to establish a new book group.
Welsh Writing in English is established in academia but this book group will aim to promote it to the wider Welsh community. If you’re a new mum, retired, or just fancy trying out something new, the book group will offer the time and space to discuss a literary tradition that is important to Welsh culture.
Our aim is to meet every month, and the first meeting will give us a chance to discuss when and where to meet, and most importantly, what books to read.
The first meeting will be at the end of March. Anyone interested in joining the group, or just finding out more should contact Alex Ross by email firstname.lastname@example.org where she will provide further details including the date and time of the first meeting.
Or you can contact Eirian James at Palas Palas Print on 01286 674631, or 01248 362676, email email@example.com or just pop into the shop.
Channel-hopping one evening and suddenly I see Rolf Harris singing on Bangor pier – were my eyes deceiving me?! No, this was ‘Rolf on Welsh Art’ and this episode was dedicated to Bangor-born artist and writer Brenda Chamberlain. During the programme Rolf makes his way to Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli). The island is a place of ancient Christian pilgrimage and was home for Brenda between 1947 and 1961 and the subject of her book Tide-Race.
“You Who Are In The Traffic Of The World: Can You Guess The Thoughts Of An Islander?”
Tide-Race, Brenda Chamberlain, Seren.
Situated off the Lleyn peninsula in North West Wales, it could be argued that the island itself is the protagonist of Tide-Race. It is more than a back drop as its sheer wilderness shapes and orders the lives of its inhabitants- it is sometimes surprising that the island is habitable at all. Its beauty tempts the mainland dwellers, as Chamberlain explains:
‘The island wore a deceptive summer innocence like a flower garden in which a serpent lay asleep.’
What strikes you is the relationship the islanders have with their surroundings, both on and offshore. Described in dozens of ways, each description of the sea is simultaneously believable and terrifying. It torments and it placates, it gives and it takes away. It is what makes the island at once a secluded sanctuary and a hellish prison. Tide-Race encompasses a breadth of experience from Jack Issacson the Ancient Mariner to the children of the island who could not ask for a more unique playground. With a population of less than fifty there is still plenty for Chamberlain to chronicle including the quarrels of nosey neighbours, the superstitious fisherman and bodies washing up on the island’s shores.
A place to escape, yet full of foreboding Chamberlain conveys the charm that pulls one towards the island and the brutality that fends one away. For an island that is supposedly the resting place of twenty-thousand saints, Tide-Race evokes its unique essence. As Jonah Jones mentions in the afterword, in terms of text and image there is nothing else quite like Tide-Race. An evocative account of life only islanders can comprehend, intertwined with Brenda’s own line drawings of the islanders themselves- it is an account of Wales and all of its elements.
Happy St. David’s Day from Bangor!
Dogs aren’t just for Christmas and Welsh literature isn’t something that should just be celebrated on one day of the year. As a primary school pupil I loved St. David’s Day. It meant dressing up, playing my violin at the school Eisteddfod, singing and thinking up bardic names for the poetry competitions.
I was lucky enough to have an education that taught me the riches of Welsh culture but the 2011 Welsh Omnibus Survey by the Arts Council of Wales shows that the older you are the less likely you are to attend an arts event in Wales:
Around nine-in-ten 16-24 year olds (89%) and 25-34 year olds (91%) attended an arts event once a year or more often and this level declines as we move through the age groups with the lowest level being recorded by those aged 65+ – 58%.
Whilst Welsh Writing in English is actively researched by students and academics it is vital that the tradition and its authors are accessible to the general public and to people of all ages. By encouraging a more diverse readership this creates a broader range of ideas and opinions about Welsh literature and (most importantly!) encourages Welsh writers to continue writing in a country that historically supports its creative arts.