2012 saw the centenary celebrations of Brenda Chamberlain. Born in 1912, Brenda was brought up in Bangor and like many other Welsh women writers (including Margiad Evans) she initially trained as an artist.
A selection of her art work can be viewed on the Martin Tinney Gallery website.
However, perhaps one her most interesting ventures was a project which allowed her to combine her passion for image and word. During the Second World War Chamberlain set up the Caseg Press in Llanllechid with the help of her partner, artist John Petts.
Alongside war poet Alun Lewis, the trio created the Caseg Broadsheets. Inspired by chapbooks and broadside ballads, the broadsheets featured original woodcut artwork by Petts and poetry from prominent Welsh poets of the time including Dylan Thomas and Lynette Roberts. Alun Lewis wanted to create an affordable piece of literature available to the masses. Unfortunately the broadsheets did not take off as they would have hoped as the team struggled to fund their venture. However, it is still possible to find original copies of these wonderful pieces of artwork that combine poetry and images that highlight Welsh artistic output during the war. Brenda Chamberlain’s own account of the process behind the project is also documented in her book ‘Alun Lewis and the Making of the Caseg Broadsheets.’
Original copies can be found at Bangor University Archives.
It wasn’t until the influence of heavy industry in the South Wales Valleys that English language fiction really developed into what we consider Welsh Writing in English today. A variety of factors including the development of English language education, immigration and the effects of industrialisation led to an upsurge in English language writing.
Many writers who form the basic canon of WWiE came from this first wave of writers in the 1930s. Although writers like Dylan Thomas and Gwyn Thomas spoke Welsh at home, it was English that was taught in school and the language in which they choose to express their experiences of Wales.
As the Welsh valleys experienced sudden anglicanisation, a variety of writers emerged telling stories of life in the mining communities of South Wales. Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley (1939) became the ‘exportable’ version of Wales sold all over the world – seen in the success of the book’s 1941 film adaptation. These visions of Wales defined early perceptions of Welsh Writing in English – Llewellyn’s depiction of Gilfach Goch was for many non-Welsh readers the only English-speaking Wales they had encountered in text or on-screen.
These images of Anglophone Wales are important to understanding the country’s industrial history, yet through my blog posts I aim to write about lesser-known authors of WWiE – those who have been marginalised, particularity women writers who have been neglected but whose work has much to say about Welsh experience.
Defining the texts that could be considered ‘Welsh Writing in English’ can be difficult and some texts are easier to define than others. Dylan Thomas and R.S. Thomas are perhaps some of the most well known authors in this tradition, however, there are many other writers to uncover.
Let’s take Lynette Roberts for example – born in South America, educated in Bournemouth, yet her most important modernist poetry was written whilst she lived in rural Carmarthenshire during the Second World War and the influence of Wales in her work is undeniable.
In one sense, Welsh Writing in English texts are those written in the English language by Welsh authors. However, the tradition branches out further – to include authors with Welsh parentage, connections to Wales or those who currently live in Wales. The authors’ backgrounds are diverse yet they all have one thing in common – a passion to creatively express what it means to be Welsh.