Dewithon Diary

“If you want to find God,” Jon says “you just have to come here and look, don’t you?”

It’s St David’s Day – or it was when I first sat down to write.  I have daffodils in the garden and on the window sill.  And we are at the start of Dewithon 19, hosted by Paula aka Book Jotter.  I’ve been swept up with the idea of a Welsh readathon; I have an impossibly long list of books in mind with others being added all the time.  And I feel that I should post something on this, the first weekend of the event.  But what, with several books started and none yet finished?

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As a child, I had numerous holidays in Wales.  North Wales is what mostly stands out.  My face glued to the car window as we toiled along the A5 and finally entered the mountains; tiny waterfalls dancing down the hillsides to the edge of the road.  I was transported not by the car but by the waterfalls.  Wales truly felt to me like a foreign country, something quite apart from the rest of my world.  We passed through villages, always in the rain it seemed, with shiny slate roofs and front doors opening onto narrow pavements and tiny shops squeezed between long terraces.  They captured my imagination, those villages, those mountains, those waterfalls.  I felt something deep and spiritual for Wales though I couldn’t possibly have understood it at the time.  I knew instinctively that it was best to keep this a secret.  I hugged it to myself and I never forgot it.

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Photo by Mitchell Orr on Unsplash

Until now, this connection with Wales has simply been a memory. Always a strong memory but leading to nothing more.  When we moved to Cornwall I was struck again by that visceral response to a sense of place and people.  Wales and Cornwall have plenty in common; I’m not surprised by my strength of feeling for both.  And perhaps because I now have the time and because I like to think that I know myself a little better than I did as a child, I can appreciate and understand it more fully.

Living in Cornwall has sparked a desire to know more, to experience more of the history and literature of the region as well as the land itself.  But my appreciation of Wales has lain dormant.  Perhaps now is the time to ignite it again.  Dewithon is the perfect way to start.

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This is what I’m thinking of for the month.  It’s bound to change.  Given that for me Wales is so strongly bound to my childhood I’m including some award-winning children’s classics:

 

I also have two books suggested by Paula, including the ‘official’ book for the readathon:

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There cannot be Wales without poetry.  I’m sure I’ll be exploring more of W H Davies’ work but I’m hoping to include two contemporary poets as well: Gillian Clarke and Owen Sheers.  Again, I’m certain to read their poetry but I also want to try these two works by Clarke and Sheers:

 

Having read my first Horatio Clare earlier this year, parts of which are located in Wales, I’m tempted by his memoir of his Welsh childhood

 

But I know I have to make time for some novels.  I have several in mind both contemporary and classic.  I’ve started one; the others remain undecided.  I’ll write about those later.

Will I read all of this?  It’s way more than I would ever read in a month ordinarily.  But I’m excited to try and I’m already a good way through several. I have the vague notion of posting a ‘diary’ each week to capture thoughts, impressions, connections…  Wales beyond the daffodils.

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My thoughts as the month begins?  Wales speaks to me of rock and water, hills and valleys; mists, wind and rain; light and shade.  I think of castles, hill farms and mines; of struggle, triumph and disaster.  It speaks to me of history, myths and magic; a sense of place; of beauty, of hard work, hardship and loss, pride and passion; a sense of identity, heritage, humour…

I know I shall find all of this and more in the pages of its literature.

I’ll finish with some snippets from my reading so far and a hauntingly beautiful traditional song.  Wales in words and music…

Beth Yw’r haf I mi (What is summer to me)

taken from

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(by Catrin Finch and Elin Manahan Thomas arranged by John Rutter)

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In convoy we drive to the end of the Llyn peninsula, where the cliffs scoop down to the sea.  Bardsey, the isle of saints, seems to float on the seven currents which beset it.

We get the writers to describe Bardsey, to paint in large strokes.  We have them study the starred colours of the hedges and render the minute world in detail.  We watch choughs and ravens, gulls and rock pigeons.  The light is almost indescribable, a great flaring silver-gold kindled between the sky and the sea, a  singing, blinding beauty.

“If you want to find God,” Jon says “you just have to come here and look, don’t you?”

The Light in the Dark: A Winter Journal by Horatio Clare

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But Wales was nothing like that.  It was empty and wet.  It had stiff grey grasses and a big dark sky.  Rain was like flung grit.  The car lurched up the hillside, throwing me from side to side… Outside there were rocks and mud and trees with no leaves on.  I saw no other houses.  No homes, no lights in the distance, no hidden gateways or drives.  There were no other cars, no passers-by.  The car plunged into a pothole.

“That’s home for you now,” the woman said.

Eve Green by Susan Fletcher

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Nain told Nia about the boy who had just left them.  About the line of magic that stretched back through her family to a time when princes and magicians ruled Wales, and the people that Nia had thought were only part of a story became as real to her as the mountain beyond Nain’s door.  She saw a time and place where enchantment was a necessity, the life-blood of an ancient people, who had changed and grown through invasion and suppression, still keeping a small piece of magic inside themselves until, once every century perhaps, it bubbled out and a witch was burned …

Emlyn’s Moon by Jenny Nimmo

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(With a thank you to Liz from Leaping Tracks, whose recent post introduced me to the music of Catrin Finch.)

45 thoughts on “Dewithon Diary”

  1. Oooh what a delicious reading month you have in store! I can’t wait to hear more about what you decide to home in on, although all of the titles you mention here are make a rich reading list any time. And thanks for the link to my post. 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love the way you articulate your connection with Wales. I’m from the Midlands and stare with the same awe at the encompassing mountains of north Wales. What a superb idea to do a Welsh readathon! I’ve read a lot of Sheers and Clarke poetry and can’t recommend it enough. I’ve also read excerpts from Supertramp and love the rawness of it. The Owl Service is on my “to read” list, as is “On the Black Hill” by Bruce Chatwin, which hits me with all sorts of appeal. Thought I’d mention just in case you had time to read another! Good luck and enjoy.

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    1. Thank you 🙂 I’m delighted to have the recommendation for Sheers and Clarke; I’m looking forward to both. I read ‘On the Black Hill’ many years ago and I thought about a re-read now. There are just too many choices to squeeze into a finite period! As for the readathon itself, do join in if you can. I know Paula would be delighted!

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  3. You write beautifully and have painted a lovely picture of Wales. I would love to see those waterfalls– they would draw me in, too! Have fun with dewithon! It looks like you have a nice variety of books to keep you reading throughout March. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you 🙂 I have more than enough books I think! I rather like the idea of immersion for a month rather than the very random and varied reading I would normally manage.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What an interesting and beautifully expressed post. Wales is a foreign country to me, though I’ve had a few enjoyable holidays there. It’s always words like ‘dour’ that spring to mind when I think of it, though I also recognise this is most unfair. I’ll follow any reviews you post with interest.

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  5. What a lovely post, Sandra – and what an interesting list of books. I have read both The Owl Service and The Snow Spider, but so long ago I can remember very little about them. You’ve made me want to read them both again. 🙂

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    1. I’ve just this morning finished the final book in The Snow Spider trilogy, Helen. Absorbing, quick reads with plenty to hold my interest. The Owl Service will be a little more demanding I imagine.

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    1. I too love to hear Welsh but it’s always seemed incomprehensible to me. We’ve just recently started to learn Cornish, which of course comes from the same Brittonic root. Cornish seemed equally incomprehensible when I started but I’ve been surprised at how I’ve been able to pick it up, albeit at the most basic level. That said, some of the pronunciation is quite alien to our modern English tongues – that’s a real challenge! (I’m hoping to post more on this subject in the near future.)

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        1. Very few, and none as a first language so far as I understand. There are about 600 fluent speakers I think. Lowena dhis! (literally, ‘happiness to you’ which is a Cornish way of saying ‘have a good day’)

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  6. You whisk me away to a land of reveries and recollections. Those are delicious excerpts that nudge me towards the unread books of my own, unruffled memories of the alleys of my own childhood. They beckon me, both books and blooms lost to the cacophony of everyday life.

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    1. I find a well-written children’s book can be a delight, either as a nostaligic reminder or to catch-up on a classic that I missed as a child. The very best appeal to adults and children alike and remind us of the child in our souls 🙂

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  7. What a great idea and selection Sandra- I await your reviews! I know you’ll be inundated with recommendations BUT….. do have a peek at the poems of R.S.Thomas if yyou have time! xx

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  8. Sounds like you have a wonderful month of reading ahead – enjoy! I’m looking forward to learning more about Welsh literature from the Dewithon – I’m woefully ignorant about it, I fear. So I look forward to hearing your thoughts on your choices… 😀

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  9. Interesting to hear about these books and writers. I have a soft spot for Wales – my mother went to school in Wales, and I lived and worked in Cardiff for a time (long time back) though I realise that Cardiff is not regarded as being representative of the “real” Wales. I look forward to hearing more about the Welsh books you read as part of the readathon.

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    1. I somehow missed your comment, Carol. Cardiff has undergone a major redevelopment so I doubt you would recognise it now. I have tried to find some novels that represent the urban and perhaps more contemporary side of Wales. So far with no success – but possibly because I’m not trying that hard. It’s hard to turn away from the “real” Wales!

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  10. I think I’ve only been to Wales once Sandra, as a child, and that was for a day trip to Llandudno which, being a seaside resort, no doubt doesn’t represent Wales well! The Wales you speak of here makes me want to dive right in. I’ve recently read Horatio Clare’s Light in the Dark and enjoyed it, I also have The Owl Service to read. I’ll be interested in the results of your experiment 🙂

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    1. I know there are many places which speak to you, Andrea, even if Wales is not yet one of them 🙂 There are some beautiful passages in Clare’s book, descriptions of the night sky stood out for me. I enjoyed the book too and I have great hopes for The Owl Service. My pile of ‘welsh reading’ is growing daily – but it’s a great experience!

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  11. I see above that The Thought Badger is also a Chatwin fan — nice to know there are others out there. His book about traveling through Patagonia makes reference to the Welsh diaspora in Chile, so something to consider for future Dewithons (heavens, don’t add it to your list this year — yours is already impressive enough!).

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