Reading Wales ‘Turning Points in Welsh History’ Bromfield and Madoc-Jones #Dewithon22

University of Wales Press, Cardiff (Published 2004) University of Wales Press celebrating 100 years of publishing 1922 to 2022

What a rip-roaring, no holds barred non-fiction account of living, working and being Welsh from 1485 to 1914. Questions like “Should Henry VII be a Welsh Hero?” and interesting historical facts I did not know like “The Rebecca Riots”. This comes under the heading “Were the Welsh people Troublemakers in the 19th Century?” but I think they had good cause to rebel.

Another section explains why William Morgan’s translation of the Bible into Welsh in 1588 was a turning-point for bilingual Wales, keeping their language alive.

Stuart Bromfield, Euryn Madoc-Jones and University of Wales Press have compiled this historical overview for school use. Five hundred years over 175 pages with notes for students and teachers. Illustrations, paintings, drawings and photographs create an excellent visual guide to the standard of living for both rich and poor.

Royal taxes, crime and punishment, and the struggles of ordinary people to make a living and put food on the table are not glossed over. During the winter months, women gathered to knit woollen stockings. According to Thomas Pennant (1777) there was a good market for them.

Amid the turmoil Mrs Rose Crawshay, who lived in Cyfarthfa Castle with 72 rooms and umpteen servants, helped the poor with soup kitchens and free libraries and encouraged women to read.

I bow in respect to the forgotten women “hauliers” who hauled materials from the pit face, removed coal from stone, and used large axes to break up iron stone at the surface of the mine. And I am very grateful that I never had the laborious job of five year-old “trappers” who opened and closed the pit doors all day. I hope food and a hug awaited them at the end of each gruelling day.

The industrious slate quarries, coal mines, copper and iron industries are mentioned in grim detail; such dirty, dangerous work and ultimately the rich got richer while the workers died of cholera, malnutrition and lung disease. Then the mining industries collapsed: people and landscapes bore witness to the ravages created by two centuries of coalmining.

Every country has a sad past, but the Welsh rose above it. Fellowship was strong, art and leisure time increased, choirs created “The Land of Song” and rugby players excelled. Education, religion, literature, music and the inevitable politics flourished.

Of course, citizens have their own view of their country which may differ but this book satisfied my curiosity. It has made me more aware of the Welsh families who travelled across the seas to Australia in search of a new life. Ipswich City, not far up the highway from Brisbane City, has strong Welsh ties—but that’s for another day.

Excerpt from UWP website
by
Natalie Williams
Director, University of Wales Press

“We are publishing two celebratory titles to mark our first 100 years; The History of Wales in 12 Poems by M Wynn Thomas and Dychmygu Iaith by Mererid Hopwood; re-sharing the first articles of the Press’ journals, as well as hosting a very special Centenary event in the Senedd, and events at the Hay Festival and Eisteddfod Genedlaethol during the summer.

“Our Centenary year 2022 will also see a very special announcement – the launch of a brand new imprint to serve a trade (non-fiction) readership. The imprint will offer fascinating and engaging stories, aimed at a global trade audience, with our distinct Welsh perspective and flavour. Our first books publish this year, with news and updates in the coming months until the formal launch in the Autumn.”

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I think their History of the Press is well worth reading. And, of course, University of Wales Press has hundreds of books you can buy and read during #Dewithon22.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

My thanks to Book Jotter, Paula Bardell-Hedley, for instigating #Dewithon22. This is the fourth year I have participated and each time I have read eye-opening, unforgettable books set in Wales. Actually I have a couple more to read this month!

Reading Wales ‘The Owl Service’ by Alan Garner #Dewithon22

The Owl Service by Alan Garner was a totally unexpected read for me. For a start the title does not refer to a Harry Potter-style owl delivery service. First published in 1967, I read the 2017 50th Anniversary Edition and had to adjust my thinking.

Reading Wales 2022 #dewithon22

Winner of the Carnegie Medal and The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, Alan Garner’s story is set during summertime in an old house in a picturesque Welsh valley. There is a wonderful introduction by Philip Pullman and The Observer writes ‘Remarkable… a rare imaginative feast, and the taste it leaves is haunting’. Susan Cooper adds ‘The power and range of Alan Garner’s astounding talent has grown with every book he’s written’.

Okay, let’s get the owl service bit out of the way. It refers to a dinner service (plates) long hidden in the attic above young Alison’s bedroom where she is convalescing from a tummy bug. From the moment she sees them, she is besotted with the curious floral owl pattern and begins to copy them onto paper, cutting and folding them into tiny owls, little realising her actions will unleash events that affect several lives. Thus the atmosphere gets a little bit odd as ancient mythological forces seem to stir in the Welsh countryside.

Teenagers, Alison and her stepbrother Roger, and local lad Gwyn feel the vibes but only the caretaker Huw Halfbacon seems to understand it. The youngsters devise ways to get hold of all the owl plates because Gwyn’s mother Nancy, the cook, is horrified at their discovery and warns the children off. Too late, of course, and gradually they become not only secretive but snippy-snappy with each other and resentful of arrangements they have no control over, mainly their parents. Adult dad Clive seems to be the only calm one.

Added to the owl mystery is the local legend of a man who takes another man’s wife Blodeuwedd, a woman made from flowers. Retribution involves a rock and a spear which supposedly speared straight through the rock killing the man.

After a swim in the river, Roger discovers this rock with the hole: the Stone of Gronw. He’s an amateur photographer (think rolls of B&W film and F-stops) and muses over the paradox as he lines up trees on the horizon. This significance (and others!) was lost on me. What were the odd sounds like scratching, the motor bike, villagers mumbling or even Huw’s strange pronouncements?

Amazing artwork is found hidden in the billiard room of a dairy shed conversion. Behind the pebble-dash wall is a vision of womanly loveliness or perhaps evil? The trio are uneasy. Is it payback for that bygone grievance? Is floral Nature emerging to take revenge? The most puzzling question is what roles do the paper owls play and why are they vanishing? These vignettes do not bode well and I was floundering for a rationale, trying to conjure an explanation. Is it that the clues are merely to mislead the reader? (Here I pause thoughtfully to study the subtext, slowly untangling it)

I enjoyed the snippets of daily life, e.g. Gwyn pulls up lettuces for dinner, the teenagers visit a nearby shop—a front room in a cottage—and the casual way they talk about pocket money and cigarettes. Gwyn tells Alison he’s getting ‘out of this place’ and she says ‘I thought it meant a lot to you’ and Gwyn replies ‘It does. But you can’t eat a feeling.’

PAGE 122 THE OWL SERVICE BY ALAN GARNER

As tension mounts within the families, Gwyn likes Alison and he fights with his mother who wants to leave. I kept wondering where things were heading. The way is not clear-cut. At times I found the writing style difficult to get into and emotionally overwrought. Alison is the mercurial girl and Roger the snobbish boy; cruel things are said, especially to Gwyn and eventually he cracks under pressure. Huw watches on… this is where things get fast and furious and brilliantly captures the angst, the rain, the mountains, the desperate urge to escape.

The awe-inspiring Welsh setting, and the subtle way author Alan Garner has subverted the norm, is intriguing. Garner actually stayed in the valley where he based his story, using ‘an expression of the myth’ the legend of mythical woman Blodeuwedd and he carried out extensive research—even the owl plates are real, designed by Christopher Dresser sometime between 1862 and 1904.

The characters are fleshed out by their dialogue alone (not Welsh) and everyone plays their part—perhaps leaning towards a stage play ensemble. Indeed The Owl Service was made into a Granada Television series of the same name in 1969, and was dramatised for BBC Radio 4 in 2000. (Wikipedia facts behind the book)

Another Welsh fantasy novel of the 1960s written by Susan Cooper Over Sea, Under Stone indicates that Young Adult fiction in general began to thrive in this decade as books were being published and marketed expressly at teenagers.

I would suggest The Owl Service rating as mild fantasy with a psychological twist. It is certainly a literary milestone, although I did wonder if millennial teenagers were reading it. In my opinion, this story is more suited to those who have lived through the no-internet era. Enjoyable, yes, but far removed from the type of graphic and immersive YA fantasy novels published today.

My thanks to Book Jotter, Paula Bardell-Hedley, for instigating #Dewithon22. This is the fourth year I have participated and each time I have read eye-opening, unforgettable books set in Wales.

Actually I have a couple more to read this month!

https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2022/03/07/reading-wales-dewithon22-has-arrived/

Happy reading – darllen hapus 😀

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

My Taste Tester for Wales Readathon 2021

To view stunning photographs of breathtaking scenery and villages around Wales which inspired Welsh authors, poets and artists to create their world-famous works, I can highly recommend Visit Wales “The word trail: 8 journeys through Welsh literary landscapes” website—

https://www.visitwales.com/things-do/culture/welsh-poets-authors-welsh-artists

Dylan Thomas

Creatives, some well-known, some not so, feature on the list including my favourite Dylan Thomas, who spent his final years in Laugharne, where he lived in a boathouse down on the estuary.

Read about contemporary poet Gillian Clarke (I have already downloaded her “Collected Poems”) and Medieval European poet Dafydd ap Gwilym (14th century) who was born into a noble family in the parish of Llanbadarn.

There’s even a giant peach commemorating Roald Dahl’s eponymous children’s story.

Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff, Cardiff.

Caernarfon Castle

Kate Roberts, hailed as “Brenhines ein Llên” (Queen of Our Literature) chronicled the lives of slate workers. The South Wales coalfields attracted thousands of migrant workers, but the North Wales slate mines were almost exclusively worked by Welsh-speaking local men, which had a major influence on cultural life. Yet it was a woman – Kate Roberts (Caernarfonshire 1891-1985) – who was the greatest chronicler of the lives of men, women and children in the slate-producing north.

Have a look at Book Jotter’s Wales Readathon 2021 for information, or find out more about the literary greats of Wales and post your review for the Readathon.

You might learn a few wise Welsh words to whip into your next literary conversation!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Wales Readathon in March #Dewithon21