Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus! as we say in the Land of My Fathers (that’s Welsh for “Happy St David’s Day”). Blessed with soul-stirring hymns and arias, enchanting legends, verdant valleys and a stunning coastline, Wales is also blessed when it comes to world-class literary talent, as this collection dedicated to singing the praises of Welsh wordsmiths reveals. Read on to discover a host of books worth harping on about and cwtching up with (that’s Welsh for a special kind of hug that feels like home).
From esteemed Celtic bards, to outstanding contemporary novelists, Wales has a richly diverse writing tradition that stretches back several hundred years, with The Mabinogion of the 14th-century representing the earliest prose stories of British literature, and Dafydd ap Gwilym considered to be one of Europe’s greatest poets of the Middle Ages. Skipping to the late nineteenth-century, Caerleon-born Arthur Machen was a hugely influential writer of supernatural fiction, made famous - and infamous - by The Great God Pan. In the early twentieth-century Wales gave us flamboyant poet and dramatist Dylan Thomas, and RS Thomas, whose spiritually-charged poetry evokes Wales’s exceptional natural beauty.
Talking of talent for conveying an exceptional sense of place, Welsh historian, journalist and travel writer Jan Morris enjoyed a remarkable career spanning seven decades. At the other end of the spectrum, mention must go to Griff Rhys Jones’ entertaining travel writing and non-fiction. Tonnes of funny fiction writers hail from Wales too, from Monty Python’s Terry Jones, to Holyhead-born comedienne, actress and novelist Dawn French, to Ruth Jones, co-creator of Gavin and Stacey.
If you’re more into thrillers than funnies, they don’t come bigger than Cardiff-born Ken Follett. His espionage epics and historical page-turners have sold over 170 million copies worldwide. For modern noir, Malcolm Pryce’s novels are highly recommended - they’re a rambunctious romp of Welsh wit and sabre-sharp satire set in Aberystwyth, where there’s only one Private Investigator in the village. Then there’s Dick Francis. Born on a Pembrokeshire farm, the jockey-turned-novelist has been acclaimed as one of the world’s finest thriller writers.
Staying in picturesque Pembrokeshire, Sarah Waters was born in the estuary town of Neyland and has authored several hugely celebrated novels, among them The Little Stranger, a chillingly gothic ghost story that’s been adapted for the big screen. Similarly accoladed, Trezza Azzopardi’s Booker Prize shortlisted novel The Hiding Place draws on the author’s experiences growing up in the Maltese community of Cardiff’s Tiger Bay. For an alternate take on Tiger Bay, Leonora Brito’s Dat’s Love and Other Stories delivers dazzling short stories set in the Bay’s Caribbean community.
A recent personal favourite is Caryl Lewis’s haunting West Wales set novel The Jeweller, published by Honno, an excellent independent press dedicated to publishing writing by Welsh women. Other Honno highlights we’ve loved here at Love Reading include The Seasoning, The Homeless Heart-throb, The Party Wall and Someone Else’s Conflict. On the subject of wonderful Welsh publishers, Cardiff-based Firefly Press publish fabulous books for children and young adults, such as the Branford Boase Award-winning Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot, and the empowering, entertaining Tulip Taylor.
Lastly, since she was born to a Welsh father (albeit on the majestic Caribbean island of Dominica), Wales can lay claim to the incomparable Jean Rhys. Best known for Wide Sargasso Sea, the “My Father” piece in her unfinished autobiography, Smile Please sees Rhys ponder her Welsh roots and family, while “Overture and Beginners Please” in Sleep It Off Lady sees the autobiographical main character “packed off to responsible Aunt Clare in Wales”.
Wales’ green, green grass of home is certainly lush with literary fruit - read on to sample some of our favourites.