Sunday, 27 April 2008

Suddenly, Wales is Sexy

Read on It’s a Crime’s site the other day an extract from the Times announcing that, after years being very unsexy, Wales is now culturally hot.

Well, thank goodness for that! Wales is where the action in my new book takes place and I’d hate to have it turned down because I’ve chosen to set it the geographical equivalent of a fat git with back hair.

But, the article (in case you didn’t follow the link) continues:

Peter Gill, however, worries that, although there are Welsh singers, TV stars and sportsmen aplenty, there are fewer writers, poets and composers to match.

Well, that’s as maybe but I’m hoping that Peter Ho Davies’s ManBooker nominated The Welsh Girl and Owen Sheers’s Resistance, both set in Wales, will begin to break down the novel-buying public’s prejudices to work set in the Principality.

Interestingly, both these books are set during the Second World War – is this an indication that writers think this is the last time Wales was interesting? Both are also set in rural areas, unlike most of the success stories which the Times article is celebrating which are urban-based TV programmes and bands/solo artists most of whom (with the exception of Duffy, from the Lleyn peninsula) are from South Wales.

My novel is not set in the Second World War. It is, like Testament, a parallel narrative with one strand set in the past (in this case, the nineteenth century) and one taking place in contemporary West Wales. I think it’s a fascinating place to write about not just because I grew up there (that would just be frank nostalgia) but because I’m aware of everything that’s going on there still. All my immediate blood relations (except my children) live there. I have parents growing old there and wishing they’d got to grips with Welsh when we were little and nephews growing up there, trying to be bilingual. I read bits of the local paper now and again online (didn’t always do that, I started doing it for research and kind of got into it) and visit the website of the town nearest to the farm where I grew up. This website used to have a well-contributed-to forum in which natives and incomers had a lot to say to each other. Sadly, it’s been closed down, though a similar online presence makes an appearance in the book.

The Times article which It’s a Crime quotes, says:

Could it just be that much of Wales reminds many of us of how the rest of Britain used to be, in simpler, quieter, smaller times?

Well, if that’s the case then I’m on to a hiding to nothing as the last thing the new book does is to portray a simpler, quieter way of life.

West Wales isn’t the conventional rural idyll. It has all the usual problems of rural youth depopulation, unemployment and retiree-immigration but, on top of that, it’s trying to preserve a culture and a language. If young people are the life blood of a language (and they are) then Welsh is suffering a slow, inexorable haemorrhage. If the greying of an area makes it difficult to keep village schools (the heart of a community) open, then West Wales has a real problem.
Immigrants who are past compulsory school age see no need to learn Welsh as everybody speaks English and so the attrition continues.

All this forms the backdrop to the book I’m writing.
It presents a community finally saying ‘enough’ and doing something on its own cultural and linguistic behalf. It is not simple, quiet or nostalgic.
I hope that’s not a mistake.


KAREN said...

I have visited Wales a few times, but only saw the 'rural idyll.' It's funny how places come into fashion though. I enjoyed 'Resistance' by Owen Sheers and thought his passion for the place really shone through.

I'm waiting for someone write a novel set in my home town, Scarborough. Maybe it should be me??

Alis said...

Definitely! Get to it!

David Isaak said...

I thought Wales was always sexy. You, the whole Richard Burton-Christian Bale-Tom Jones thing.

Okay, I guess it might be partly offset by Terry Jones. But, still...

David Isaak said...

That second sentence above begins "You know,..."