Whenever I travelled for work I made a point of asking local colleagues what authors and books they would recommend from their country.
I thought I’d turn the tables and ask myself what I would recommend to anyone who wants to get more familiar with my own country of Wales. So here are ten suggestions of Welsh authors.
You’ll be familiar with some of them but others I’m sure will be unknown quantities.
1. Let’s start with one of the biggest names and the one you will certainly have heard of: Dylan Thomas. You may have read his poetry or seen a version of Under Milk Wood but my recommendation would be to try the rather delightful whiff of nostalgia in A Child’s Christmas in Wales
2. One name even bigger than Thomas is Roald Dahl who was born and went to school in Cardiff. There’s a blue plaque marking the shop where he bought a supply of sweets on his walk to school. I have a fondness for my first Dahl book – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
3. Ken Follett was born in Cardiff, Wales and lived there until he was 10 years old. Of his many novels Pillars of the Earth stands out for being the longest (its a trilogy covering five families from war through to the 1980s.). Rather more manageable is The Man from St Petersburg which is set in 1914 as the world prepares for war. This was the first Follett book I read and I can recall being entranced by it.
4. Sarah Waters: Yes this leading author of Tipping the Velvet is from Wales. All her novels fall into the highly readable category. I made the mistake of buying The Paying Guests (my review is here) as a Christmas gift to my mum one year. I was reading it myself and thought it was pretty good. That was before I got to the rather detailed lesbian love scenes. I’m not sure if she ever read it but she has put it in a bag of books to go to the charity shop.
5. Cynan Jones won the Wales Book of the Year prize for fiction with The Dig, (a novel about a badger baiter, and a grieving farmer). I would recommend a later work, the novella Cove which was utterly mesmerising. The Guardian described it as “a minimal, occasionally mysterious, man-versus-the-elements fable.”
6. Jan Morris, a historian, author and travel writer (though Morris hated that last description). I suggest you read The Matter of Wales for an education into contemporary issues in the country written in lyrical style by someone who loves the country. Jan Morris died in 2020.
7. Gwyn Thomas. One of the most erudite of Welsh authors, Thomas had an acerbic wit and lyrical command of language. Despite growing up in a poor family he rose to become one of the leading voices at the BBC. One of his key books is The Alone to the Alone which portrays the hardships experienced by a Welsh community during the grinding poverty of the 1930s. It sounds bleak but there are also some unexpected humorous moments.
8. Alexander Cordell was a prolific Welsh author in the 1950s and 60s, with around 30 novels to his credit including Rape of the Fair Country, Hosts of Rebecca and Song of the Earth. They would be good choices for anyone who wants to understand some of the industrial heritage of Wales.
9. Turning to more contemporary Welsh authors we have Carys Davies a writer I discovered through her success in the 2015 Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize. I seldom read short stories but her winning collection The Redemption of Galen Pike was superb. Her first novel, West was equally fascinating.
10. Coming right up to date we have Carol Lovekin who loves to mix Welsh mythology into her novels. One of her novels, Ghost Bird was recommended by Joanne Harris (of Chocolat fame) who called it “Charming, quirky, magical“. My review can be found here on the blog.