Photo of Dylan Thomas' home - The Boathouse - in Laugharne. Courtesy Paul Bailey.
Well I am sad to realise how long it is since I have put pen to paper metaphorically and written anything on this blog. Lot of good reasons like family weddings and christenings, prolonged tours of Great Britain and various activisms are really not good enough but here is a little catch up of one of our tours with appropriate reading material!
A winter tour of South and West Wales may seem inappropriate to many but sometimes winter excursions are more fun than a warm weather tour. Contrary yes, but despite the warm clothing it is easier to get around what can be in the summer heavily populated tourist spots and one gets to talk to curators, guides, stewards etc who in busier times one is lucky just to spot in passing!
There are lots of brilliant Welsh authors and this blog cannot be about all of them. Additionally, some of the books mentioned are not even by Welsh authors but this is just a 'postcard' from my holiday reading and pilgrimages [that last is a pun which will become obvious shortly...]
We were snowed in for one afternoon and night in the lovely general area of Carmarthen. Luckily we had a bit of warning and although I had packed my kindle and some books I thought I had better buy some more books in the local Waterstones 'just in case' [a readeraholic does not need an excuse to buy more books after all!]
Waterstones have a book club so I stood looking at the display stand and chose a couple of titles. Got back to the warmth of the hotel as the snow began to pile up outside and opened The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. And I honestly didn't stop until I finished it. I grudgingly ate my dinner whilst still reading it and had a few warm drinks absent mindedly. Other Half watched what he liked on TV and had sole use of the laptop in the peace and quiet. A difficult book to describe - certainly a book about one man's road journey which is also about the journey he takes back into his past and to an extent the journey which his wife at home takes along a parallel road into her past. There is a lovely review of the novel and more about Rachel Joyce here
We were staying not far from Dylan Thomas' last home in Laugharne. Despite spending a lot of time over the years in South Wales, I had never managed to get to Laugharne so we braved the snowy conditions to visit the Boathouse on a really cold day. The custodian said we were the first people for two days to arrive and we were able to sit with him and have a great chat -about Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan and Welshness amongst other things. As I have taught Dylan Thomas I had most of the books on display and for sale but I did buy his daughter Aeronwy's book My Father's Places which is a warts and all picture of her memories of her father, who died when she was only ten. Fascinating read.
Walking around Laugharne [despite the biting cold!] one could imagine the characters and places of Dylan's Under Milk Wood and if it had been warmer maybe I would have posed for some soppy looking pictures pretending to be various characters! However Other Half did catch a quite soulful looking snap of me looking out of Brown's Hotel window - where Dylan Thomas used to drink - although I was drinking hot milk rather than his favourite tipple of beer!
Courtesy Paul Bailey
As a county Carmarthenshire of course has its share of great Welsh authors who were born or lived in the county [including Richard Hughes, Raymond Garlick, just to start] Being me, of course, I am going to celebrate an obscure one: Anne Adalisa Evans who wrote under the pen name of Allen Raine.
Very few of her novels are in print, and a few more are available on kindle but if you can access them and are into Victorian fiction with a Welsh style giving a taste of life in the 19th century Welsh countryside and a side swipe of morality this is for you! Knowing that 'Allen Raine' was born in Newcastle Emlyn took us there sightseeing, where we found a charming village and a ruined castle which added to our delight!
When we are on one of our road trips we of course need to stop off at a few historic houses and Dinefwr Park and Castle in Llandeilo could not be passed by. And what was more natural than I should spend some time perusing the bookshelves in the library to see what the toffs were reading in the last century?
Samuel Smiles is of course nowadays mostly remembered for his work Self Help which is so often quoted as epitomising 'Victorian Values' - especially those of the emerging middle class! A link to an etext can be found here. I often used to quote it when lecturing on Victorian Fiction. The book above, Industrial Biography, can be downloaded here if, like me, you are interested in the Industrial Revolution and the men who led it.
Travelling along the M4 to further places in Wales, I had so often glanced longingly at Castell Coch and wished we could stop and visit. A TV programme a few years ago showed some of the brilliant restoration/decoration in the Arts & Crafts style that had been undertaken in the late19th century which had piqued my interest even more. So staying near by meant we could at last make a planned visit to the Castell, now in the guardianship of CADW.
Photo courtesy wikipedia
Castell Coch was one of those places where one wanted to just sit and look! for hours! We are great afficinados of the Arts and Crafts movement so the decorations are just to our taste [although they would look a bit over the top in our suburban house, although I am working on Other Half to finish our hallway in the style of, shown below]
Courtesy Paul Bailey
One of those 'well I never knew that' moments occurred on reading the guide book. I found that that Disraeli had based his novel Lothlair on the then owner of Castell Coch, the Marquess of Bute who was responsible for the renovations and decorations. This is a Disraeli novel which I have never read so again the trusty kindle proved a good friend and I downloaded a copy! A link to an online text of the novel can be found here.
Photo courtesy of http://www.oldukphotos.com/glamorgan_llangynwyd.htm
A visit to the villages where my ancestors were born, baptised, married and are buried is always necessary when we are in Wales. And of course we have our favourite pub in one because it supplies such good food. Even our grandchildren know it now and the regulars! It is in the tiny mountain top village of Llangynwyd and has its own literary connections. It was the home to Wil Hopcyn who is said to have written the haunting Welsh folk song Bugeilio'r Gwenith Gwyn about his doomed love affair with the Maid of Cefn Ydfa [Ann Thomas] Both Ann and Wil are buried in the village. The song lives on, is still taught to school children and has been recorded on many Welsh choral records as well as by stars like Tom Jones and bands like Catatonia. A really lovely recording by Mary Hopkins can be heard here. It is one of the songs of my childhood.
Travelling home through the old coal mining valleys of the Rhondda and the Afan always reminds me of the writer who was once so popular but is now also mostly out of print - Jack Jones. The only book that I could find that is still in print on amazon.co.uk was Black Parade . I can remember my mother loving his books in the 1950s and borrowing them again and again from the local library.
One of the books I had packed to read on my travels had been purchased as a result of an earlier road trip when we visited Portmeirion in North Wales. We had never watched the cult 1960s TV series The Prisoner which was set in Portmeirion, but never the less had heard so much about the village that we wanted to visit. In the bookshop there at the time the latest 'Josephine Tey mystery' by Nicola Upson was prominently featured as it is set in the village in the 1930s. It is also surprisingly contemporary in that it features Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville - the subjects of the upcoming film Hitchcock [which however is set in the 1950s/60s]
Portmeirion has other literary and artistic links, some of which are discussed here.
There are so many other Welsh authors to whom I haven't paid tribute. So many exciting new authors as well as older ones who stand the test of time. Subject for more blogs - I won't leave it so long next time....