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?
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.
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.
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:
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.
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)
(by Catrin Finch and Elin Manahan Thomas arranged by John Rutter)
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
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
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
(With a thank you to Liz from Leaping Tracks, whose recent post introduced me to the music of Catrin Finch.)