10 Welsh Authors To Explore #WritingWales
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.
31 thoughts on “10 Welsh Authors To Explore #WritingWales”
Great post, Karen! Many of these authors are familiar to me, but I didn’t realize they all came from Wales!
What a great list! Thank you so much for reminding me of some great Welsh writers -and also introducing me to new voices 🙂
Happy to share the wealth of talent that exists
I didn’t know Dahl was Welsh! maybe that explains why his stories are so weird 😉
Weird isn’t a description I’ve heard applied to my fellow countrymen. Although come to think of it, it is rather odd behaviour to go to a rugby match wearing a hat in the shape of a daffodil which is what my sister does….
If I had been pressed to name Welsh authors, I doubt that I could have gotten past Dylan Thomas, although I am familiar with Ken Follett and Sarah Waters. So I greatly appreciate this list that will help me to widen out in my reading!
P.S. It also makes me realize that my lists of Canadian reading are worthwhile posting. Sometimes I think the names I put forth must be as familiar to the world as they are to me but, after reading your list, I suspect not. 😉
you might want to take a look at this guest post about Canadian literature https://bookertalk.com/2013/09/23/a-view-from-here-canada/
would be good to get your reaction to this – maybe there are different names you would suggest
Tanya gave a brilliant overview of Canadian literature – both in the ‘classic’ authors and the newer ones. My only comment would be that, as she alluded, there are regional voices. I moved to Atlantic Canada from Ontario 15 years ago and now read many authors that my sister, also a voracious reader and who still lives in Ontario, has never heard of.
A look at books in a country as large as Canada or the US would probably benefit from being broken into regions: Atlantic Canada, Central Canada (chiefly Ontario because the French puiblishing indutsry in Quebec is a beast unto itself and should be a separate category), and Western Canada. (I freely admit that I know little about authors west of the Great Lakes except for the few giants such as Guy Vanderhaeghe or Miriam Toews.)
I had no idea that Sarah Waters was Welsh. I simply adore her ever since I read Fingersmith. I also loved The Little Stranger, though it was a bit different from her usual. I was a bit disappointed by The Paying Guests though. Thanks for the list!
I should get around to reading more of her back catalogue
I found The Dig (Cynan Jones) really hard going and depressing. The writing was brilliant, but the subject … almost as depressing as The Road, even if equally well written.
Dylan Thomas – never liked any of his stuff, I really think he was over-rated.
Roald Dahl – brill. I recently watched all the old Tales of the Unexpected episodes – the ones he introduced were best, sat in his armchair by the fire. Very dry humour!
I was trying to think of anything to add. I read some thrillers (horrors?) this year by a Welsh writer Carl Drinkwater, and was impressed at how tense they were – the kind of thing you’d expect to be set in America usually, but set in Wales. There was one set on a Welsh island where people started killing each other (Turner) and one about a harvest festival with aliens attacking Wales – that made me feel ill in parts, but was great because it focused more on the family at the heart of it than the gooshy stuff.
I have only read one thing by Ken Follett – he wrote a novella to go with a computer game many years ago, and I thought it was a brilliant introduction to the world, with a Star Wars joke that made me laugh out loud at the time once I realised what he had written. I dread to think how long ago that was.
I’ll go and look at some of the others from this list, I should support my home nation a bit more! Thanks for compiling it.
Karl Trinkwater isn’t elegible I’m afraid – he just lives here rather than being born in Wales I discovered from his website http://www.karldrinkwater.uk/p/about.html
There were a few names I had to leave out since i was limited to just 10. If you like crime fiction, there is Belinda Bauer who lives in the Vale of Glamorgan. They are good psychological thrillers. If your tastes are lighter, there is Catrin Collier. She writes novels set in and around the Swansea area. Very popular though I don’t care for them much http://www.catrincollier.co.uk/novels.php
My mistake! I must have just read that he was based in Wales. Thanks for the other suggestions, I’ll follow them up. 🙂
I read a book last year from Seren, a small Welsh publisher which ended up on my books of 2015 list. It’s Significance by Jo Mazelis – absolutely gripping!
thank you for highlighting Seren, I hadn’t heard of them previously but have now got on their mailing list
Oh Cynan Jones is WONDERFUL! I loved The Dig so much I went out and bought his other books. So far I’ve only read The Dry and I loved it too. He has a real flare for writing about the countryside and damaged people.
Ive bought The Dig as a Christmas present for my husband
I didn’t know that about Roald Dahl. He is one of my favourites. And Sarah Waters is a writer on my radar. I hope to read her soon
Hope you enjoy Sarah Waters
I loved The Paying Guests, and plan to read more from Waters. Thanks for sharing.
Owen Sheers, Kym Lloyd.
I don’t know Kym’s work but have just ordered Book of Guilt – have you read that?
The Man from St. Petersburg is a favorite of mine also. It and The Key to Rebecca must have been the first books I read by Follett.
I can’t remember if I read Key to Rebecca – probably because I did have a bit of a binge on Follett
I’ll check to see if any of these books are in my library. I can always use a little author diversity! 🙂 I read Matilda as a kid and didn’t even think of where Dahl was from. My TTT
happy to know authors from my native country are sparking some interest
Some interesting titles to investigate, good luck with the Ghost Bird for Christmas.
Oh no, what about the formidable Bernice Rubens?
Oh bother. I had her name on my list and then somehow overlooked her!
I didn’t realise Sarah Waters was born in Wales so thank you for teaching me something new today. Love that you gave your Mum a copy of Paying Guests, a brilliant book but some steamy sapphic love too!
I didnt know that about her either – found it by accident in an interview.