A nation with two literary languages but one soul that speaks passionately through its writers - here is the guide to the modern literary scene covering circa 100 works that sum up the currents and corners of Welsh life from the 1920s to the present. This little book puts the lot at your fingertips.

Contributions by Ray Keenoy, Rhian Reynolds and Sioned Rowlands

Guide

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New Penguin Book of Welsh Short Stories

Richards, Alun ed.

Here we can find twenty-eight stories by twenty-eight authors sourced from both of the literary languages of Wales.

The anthology should be considered as an addition to rather than a substitute for the original Penguin Book of Welsh Short Stories, which was based around an older generation of writers. Only one story is carried over into this more recent volume. The Penguin short story collections of this type represent a continuation of a great tradition of accessible literary culture and thought from Penguin Books, a key educational and mind-broadening instrument in its heyday.

Highlights include a story by that Chekhov of the Welsh sitting-room, Kate Roberts, with her extraordinary sense for objects and places and her frequent demonstration of emotional absence or unexpressed feeli..READ MORE

Re-imagining Wales: Contemporary Welsh Writing [Literary Review v44n2]

Curtis, Tony and Meredith, Christopher eds.

Since there is so little Welsh-language writing available in English we are unusually (for this series) including a book-style publication, a special issue of the American (New Jersey) Literary Review entirely dedicated to writers from Wales. Like this Babel Guide the collection ranges over both Welsh and English works by Welsh authors, comprising ten short stories or novel extracts, some reproductions of Iwan Bala’s art and much poetry.

The fifteen poets represented include Dannie Abse, a major name in his era. Peter Finch’s ‘Chew My Gum and Think of Rifles’ cited below is a wry and witty ..READ MORE

Classic Welsh Short Stories

Jones, Gwyn and Elis, Islwyn Ffowc eds.

Classic Welsh Short Stories is a collection of twenty–five stories from the twentieth century and includes fifteen stories originally written in English and ten translated from Welsh. There is a striking vitality to these stories, which offer a good insight into Welsh culture and the breadth of its literature.

Traditionally the Welsh story is seen as a tale about the exploits of some colourful character living in an agricultural or mining community. In this vein Rhys Davies’ entertaining ‘Canute’ describes the events when a group of men leave a south Wales valley for London, off to see the England vs. Wales rugby international: ‘You had the impression that the place would be denuded of its entire male population, as in some archaic war. . .  In black mining valleys, on rustic heights, in market towns and calm villages, myriads of house doors opened during the course of the night and a man issued from an oblong of yellow light, a railway ticket replacing the old spear’. Davies has affectionately set up the men for s..READ MORE

A White Afternoon

Stephens, Meic ed.

A White Afternoon, published in 1998, is a collection of thirty short stories whose vibrancy and range reflect a period in which the short story enjoyed a new vogue. Angharad Jones’ ‘Dear Mr Atlas’ is typical of some of the stories, in that a small event in a person’s life takes on a greater magnitude and significance. When Elen trips in front of a builder who has whistled at her as she walks to work, he rushes to see if she is hurt. This moment lends colour to an otherwise drab life, and causes Elen to question the way she feels about her boyfriend, Gronw. That evening she notices how Gronw, a scholar, has shadows under his eyes: ‘the kind caused by thousands and thousands of academic paragraphs’. In contrast, the builder — less remote and more virile than her partner — is not repelled by the ‘undignified’ spectre of her blood seeping from the cut on her knee through her nylon tights.

‘One Lettuce Does Not a Salad Make’ is similar to Jones’ story in that a small event, such as a man’s reaction to a salad, can be symbolic of more important ..READ MORE

A White Afternoon

Stephens, Meic ed.

 (Additional review on this important collection)

The collection’s title story by Sonia Edwards is as intense and artistic as one would expect from this exceptional author, relating a girl’s view of her mother’s (second) wedding day, probably not such an unusual mixed-feelings sort of experience these days. Similarly ‘Linda’s Story’ by Aled Islwyn cleverly explores some less-travelled aspects of married life, in this case a woman discovering her husband is gay or bisexual. The focus is on the domestic again in ‘Mothers’ by Meleri Roberts, a short, sharp shock of a piece that ought to be further anthologised for its perfectly artful dive from the sentimental to the bleak. Aled Lewis Evans’ ‘Dean and Debs’ are a couple of happy Chavs living on ‘the Wern estate’. Dear old Debs is only eighteen and about to have her first child. Will Dean stick around? Read here to find out… Martin Davis’ ‘Water’ is a graphic, powerfully written story of civilians inside a civil war, perhaps the Yugoslav one but in any cas..READ MORE

The Master of Pen y Bryn [Gŵr Pen y Bryn]

Davies, E. Tegla

Subtitled ‘A Story from the Period of the Tithe War’ (referring to a public campaign, with riotous interludes, in the late nineteenth century against enforced contributions to the Anglican clergy in Wales by its largely Nonconformist non-Anglican population) this is not, however, the dramatic account of rebellion and national struggle one might expect. Rather it is a morality tale centred on the lives of two men, John Williams ‘Master of Pen y Bryn’ and his adversary, Hughes, and seems to represent a shift from a worldview of rule-book Protestantism and chapel morality to a Romantic view of Natural Beauty and Love as inspiration for redemption and moral regeneration. As Marcus Aurelius put it well before the Christian age: ‘overcoming the obstacle to a task becomes the task’. The ‘task’ here is the overcoming of petty anger and vengefulness and the resultant improvement of the soul or character. But it is not the bleeding Jesus on the cross that inspires the morally improving protagonist Hughes but a vision of romantic and erotic bliss, a lovely scene of young love, the young love that Hughes himself largely missed out on when young.

Edward Tegla Davies (a Wesleyan minister and a pr..READ MORE

The Master of Pen y Bryn [Gŵr Pen y Bryn]

Davies, E. Tegla

Subtitled ‘A Story from the Period of the Tithe War’ (referring to a public campaign, with riotous interludes, in the late nineteenth century against enforced contributions to the Anglican clergy in Wales by its largely Nonconformist non-Anglican population) this is not, however, the dramatic account of rebellion and national struggle one might expect. Rather it is a morality tale centred on the lives of two men, John Williams ‘Master of Pen y Bryn’ and his adversary, Hughes, and seems to represent a shift from a worldview of rule-book Protestantism and chapel morality to a Romantic view of Natural Beauty and Love as inspiration for redemption and moral regeneration. As Marcus Aurelius put it well before the Christian age: ‘overcoming the obstacle to a task becomes the task’. The ‘task’ here is the overcoming of petty anger and vengefulness and the resultant improvement of the soul or character. But it is not the bleeding Jesus on the cross that inspires the morally improving protagonist Hughes but a vision of romantic and erotic bliss, a lovely scene of young love, the young love that Hughes himself largely missed out on when young.

Edward Tegla Davies (a Wesleyan minister and a pr..READ MORE

The Golden Road [I Hela Cnau]

Eames, Marion

Two recent events have revived Wales’ love–hate relationship with Merseyside. One was Liverpool City Council’s apology for the flooding of Tryweryn’s Cwm Celyn river valley and its community in 1965 for the sake of the city’s water supply. The second was Liverpool’s slightly less controversial proposal to stage the National Eisteddfod as part of its European City of Culture programme in 2007.

Marion Eames’ The Golden Road shows the roots of this symbiotic relationship in the 1860s, when north Walians escaped rural poverty to start a new life on Liverpool’s facing shore: Birkenhead. Lancashire mills created Merseyside’s wealth — mills fed by American cotton picked by slaves and shipped from its new docks; all this was threatened, however, by the American Civil War, despite some ship-owners continuing the trade with the Confederates using falsely-registered ships.

..READ MORE

The Secret Room [Y Stafell Ddirgel]

Eames, Marion

Laughter fills the first few pages of this novel: the laughter of the Dolgellau Hiring Fair of 1672, as the crowds celebrate their new-found freedom to enjoy themselves. Within a few hours the crowd is a frenzied mob, drowning an old crone in the river. The horror of their cruelty, the complaisance and acquiescence of his privileged peers, and his own impotence to resist sets the novel’s protagonist, Rowland Ellis, on a dangerous course of self-discovery as he questions what lies beneath the surface of his settled life. ‘Far better leave things as they are,’ the rector tells Rowland, but change is inevitable. This is the strength of The Secret Room: it wears its historical and local knowledge lightly, yet solidly enough for us to participate in the tension and emotion experienced by the characters, faced with painful dilemmas and religious persecution.

The interaction is centred on a gathering of Quakers in the small market town of Dolgellau, north Wal..READ MORE

White Tree [Y Goeden Wen]

Edwards, Sonia

White Tree is the English translation of the Welsh-language text Y Goeden Wen, translated by the author herself, Sonia Edwards. This is a sophisticated, innovative work that came a close second in the coveted prose medal competition of the National Eisteddfod in 2002, of which the author is a previous winner. As is characteristic of prose works tailor-made for this competition, it is perhaps most aptly defined as a novella and could be read in a single sitting. Which is not to say that its effect is short-lived, for it is the kind of book that lingers long after turning the last page. Its brevity is a testament to the clarity and control of the writing, and it is a guaranteed light and sprightly read, even for the most reluctant.

The White Tree..READ MORE

A White Veil for Tomorrow [Rhwng Noson Wen a Phlygain]

Edwards, Sonia

At eighty-three pages, this is a short but very rewarding book that employs poetic prose, where the minister’s house is ‘chapel-proud and sober’ and has a ‘beetle-black telephone by the front door’.

As to subject matter, Sonia Edwards plays with eroticism by taking it out of its accustomed and legitimate channels, and at the heart of the book are several tender but difficult loves; one couple in fact are brother and sister, notwithstanding that the relationship is not physically expressed.

The brother is also son to a father who has forgotten, through the curse of Alzheimer’s, all but the most babyish of things but somehow still has — in Edwards’ vision — the tragic knowledge of his lost knowledge. In the dysfunctional world of A White Veil for Tomorrow ..READ MORE

Return to Lleior [Yn Ôl I Leior]

Elis, Islwyn Ffowc

The central if not always most convincing character of Return to Lleifior (which is the sequel to Shadow of the Sickle [Cysgod y Cryman] also reviewed here) is the bloody-minded Harri Vaughan, a figure who sums up the concerns of the 1930s generation in Wales. His response to many things is primarily ideological: the Communism of his youth is reduced to doctrinaire Socialism as he approaches his 30s, and his ‘punishment’ for this is to end up on his knees sobbing for Jesus in the book’s somewhat unlikely finale.

Despite the weight in the book of the cardboard-like figure of Harri, who is portrayed as a reformed Toff taken up with the cause of the working man, ..READ MORE

Shadow of the Sickle [Cysgod y Cryman]

Elis, Islwyn Ffowc

This enormously popular novel first appeared in 1953 and heralded a new phase in Welsh-language fiction — a phase of novels featuring a young, confident, even rebellious generation. In 1999 it was voted the best-loved Welsh-language novel of the twentieth century.

It tells the story of Harri Vaughan, the son of a gentrified farmer in central Wales, who is a research student at Bangor and something of a heart–throb. He is engaged to be married to the rather dumb daughter of a well-to-do farmer, and it seems ‘a good match’ in the eyes of local people. At university, however, Harri is swept off his feet by fellow student Gwylan, a staunch member of the Communist Society, and he is converted to Marxism. This causes a painful rift between him and his family of pious Nonconformists. He declares his enmity towards the conservative values of his father, and brandishes a symbolic sickle above his head. Harri is not content just to preach this new gospel, but wants to live it out as well, so he refuses to live at Lleifior, the family home, and finds lodgings in the house of a counc..READ MORE

Out of their Night [Chwalfa]

Hughes, T. Rowland

Anyone familiar with north Wales will know that it is famous for slate quarries. During the late nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth, the slate was exported all over the world, and the slate roofs provided by Wales are justly admired. But what was the human cost? True, the Penrhyn quarry in Bethesda provided jobs to hundreds, and contributed to the economy, but the quarrymen worked hard in difficult and dangerous conditions for a pittance while the quarry owners lived a life of luxury. Lord Penrhyn lived in Penrhyn



Castle, and there was an unbridgeable gap between him and the quarrymen. To add insult to injury, the workers were Welsh speaking and the masters Englishmen, the workers Nonconformist in religion whilst the masters were Anglicans, the workers Liberal in their political persuasion and the masters Conservatives. A myth (and not an altogether false one) has grown around the ..READ MORE

William Jones [William Jones]

Hughes, T.Rowland

This novel was written in Welsh and is largely set in south Wales. A humorous work, it recounts the story of a north-Walian slate-splitter or quarryman who decides to escape a domestic situation quite devoid of bliss — his wife Liza is a caricature ‘bad wife’ who dishes up tinned food and spends his money hanging out in the cinema with Ronald Coleman, Gary Cooper et al.

Amidst the Punch-and-Judy of an awful marriage is a fascinating description of the small world of north Wales in the 1930s. Small world seems to translate as ‘small-minded’ as doughty William Jones explores the naughty world of south Wales, shown as having quite different mores. In fact the south seems gay and libertine t..READ MORE

A Toy Epic [Y Tri Llais]

Humphreys, Emyr

Emyr Humphreys’ A Toy Epic, first published in 1958, is a classic work of twentieth-century Welsh literature, for which the author won the prestigious Hawthornden Prize. There are two versions of the novel: one in Welsh (Y Tri Llais) and one in English. In the novel we are presented with three main characters, Albie, Michael and Iorwerth, and the rest of the novel follows their journey through boyhood and adolescence with each boy taking up the story in turn. Through these boys, who grow up in north-east Wales during the 1930s, Humphreys explores the politics of national identity, language, class and religion. Albie is a victim of class and language conflict. Whilst his father desires to speak Welsh at home, and is thoroughly unashamed of being working class, his mother desperately wants Albie to make something of himself. Co..READ MORE

Corner People

Jones, Harri Pritchard

Corner People is a collection of thirteen stories by this doctor, translator and Welsh-language novelist, short-story and script-writer. ‘Exit’ is the reminiscence of a (rather banal) theatrical career, ‘Venturing Forth’ the account of a schoolmistress who has dedicated herself to marking and her ‘tada’ (‘dad’) — a firm chapel man: ‘With tada I could idolise him, love him body and soul, without there being any lust involved’.

‘Matinee’ is clever and intriguing; an ageing actress is called to witness her experiences with a (deceased) great poet whose biography has been commissioned. She aims to have the pleasure of ‘writing’ a bit of personal and poetic history all to suit herself and this will be her greatest performance. In fact the poet was ‘a creature set apart’, definitely not one of the gang and his relationship with the actress was not so wonderful for her. This is a short but very clever essay on reminiscence versus reality (‘falsified memory syndrome’ anybody?) but intensely sympathetic – as is ‘Venturing Forth’ to i..READ MORE

Tomos the Islandman [Tomos o Enlli]

Jones, Jennie

A beautifully made and beautifully written bilingual book with woodcuts of fisherfolk life by Kim Atkinson and a very funny introduction by John Rees Jones whose own family lived for generations on Ynys Enlli or Bardsey Island off the Llŷn peninsula of Wales.



It is the memoir of an old islander, Tomos Jones: ‘a small, gracious man with the salt of the sea in his voice’. The story is the story of so many places in Europe: the dissolution of a culturally homogenous community.

..READ MORE

The Plum Tree and Other Short Prose [Y Goeden Eirin]

Jones, John Gwilym

Reading these short stories by John Gwilym Jones when they were first published in 1946 must have produced a shock similar to that experienced by the first readers of James Joyce’s Dubliners. The settings, in a semi-rural, semi-industrial quarrying district in north-west Wales, would be familiar enough, whether from personal experience or from reading the pre-war stories of Kate Roberts. But the modernity of content and form caused considerable discomfort. Like the stories of Joyce (whose influence Jones acknowledged in an interview reproduced here) or Katherine Mansfield, these are not so much narratives of external events as studies of a psychological state or reaction to specific events or circumstances. In the story that provides the title, for example, identical twins, Wil and Sionyn, share as children the same experiences, thoughts and feelings to the extent that they seem to be a single person in two bodies, yet as adults their paths completely diverge. It is only years later that Sionyn realises that his fall out of the plum tree when they were growing up bro..READ MORE

Triptych [Triptych]

Jones, R.Gerallt

Blow-by-blow terminal cancer narratives are strangely compelling. The subtitle of this novel, ‘A portrait, in three parts, of Everyman, 1977’, reminds us that death comes to all, and reinforces the uneasy conviction that we ghoulishly enjoy reading of someone else’s inevitable journey to the grave. In this instance, the descent seems more dramatic because forty-year-old John Bowen has devoted his life to physical activity. A former international rugby player turned college lecturer in physical education, with a nice little sideline as a radio and



television commentator, this classic macho Welshman is peculiarly unprepared for the bad news ineptly delivered by an embarrassed doctor. His first reaction is anger at his fate, and it is anger which seems to sustain him throughout his remaining months of life. His feelings are charted in this tripartite narrative, supposedly his diary, where we follow the progress of his determined but useless battle, from initial shock, to an attempt to live with the situation, to final decline and death in hospital.

..READ MORE