I’ve long been curious about the lives of authors. Their writing routines, the writers that inspired them; their quirky habits and the places where they lived, worked and died.
So I thought I’d start a series of posts about the homes that provided shelter, solace possibly, inspiration for some of history’s greatest literary talents.
Let’s kick off with the most famous literary export from Wales – the poet and playwright Dylan Thomas.
From his “wordsplashed hut”, perched on a cliff, Dylan Thomas watched eagles and egrets wheel and cry above the river mouth, and composed what were to be his last poems.
Dylan Thomas Falls In Love
Thomas lived with his family in The Boathouse in the Welsh village of Laugharne for four years. He’d fallen in love with the place when he first saw it on a day’s outing with a friend. He became, he said one of these residents who arrived by bus and simply forgot to leave. And it wasn’t simply because the village had seven pubs!
Rather, it was the “timeless, mild, beguiling” nature of Laugharne that appealed to Thomas.
In one of the prose pieces published the collection Quite Early One Morning he described it as a place:
of herons, cormorants (known here as billy duckers), castle, churchyard, gulls, ghosts, geese, feuds, scares, scandals, cherry trees, mysteries, jackdaws in the chimneys, bats in the belfry, skeletons in the cupboards, pubs, mud, cockles, flatfish, curlews, rain, and human, often all too human, beings.
From The Boathouse (“My seashaken house / On a breakneck of rocks”) he could look across the estuary of the Towy where it flowed into the vast Carmarthen Bay and beyond it to the cliffs of the Gower peninsula.
The four years he lived in Laugharne coincided with a creative surge for the poet. He used a shed a little further along the lane from the house as his study.
A Poet’s Inspiration
It was here that he wrote some of his most famous poems, including Do not go gentle into that good night, and Over St John’s Hill, which depicts hawks swooping over the river mouth in search of prey.
The sounds and sights of the estuary were captured in another poem, written in 1944 to mark a walk he took on his thirtieth birthday to the shoulder of Sir John’s Hill.
Dylan Thomas lived in The Boathouse for four years from 1949. It was from Laugharne that he departed for his ill-fated trip to New York where he died suddenly in 1953.
Follow in Dylan Thomas’ Footsteps
Today visitors to Laugharne can experience both The Boathouse and Thomas’s Writing Shed. They are well worth a visit.
The house is now a museum which contains memorabilia from the family and some of the original furniture, including Dylan’s father’s desk. The interior has been returned to its 1950s appearance, with a recording of Thomas’s voice playing in the background.
When you’ve finished in the house and enjoyed your cream tea, do take a moment to walk around the side of the building from which you get a fantastic view of the estuary. The way the light plays on the water is simply magical and hard to leave behind.
You can’t go into the writing shed itself but you can get a good view just by peering through the window. It’s just one room that has been set as it looked when Dylan Thomas used it – even down to the scrumpled sweet wrappers on the floor amid discarded sheets of paper (early drafts perhaps?)
If a visit to both these places gives you an appetite for more Dylan Thomas connections, you are in luck.
You can re-tread the route Dylan Thomas took on his birthday (celebrated in the Birthday Walk poem). It skirts the castle ruins and runs along the estuary with information boards along the way.
Or you go into the town of Laugharne to visit Brown’s Hotel (one of his favoured watering holes).
You can listen to Thomas reading with almost too much gusto, via this recording for the BBC).
On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Eight Maids a-Milking
Day 8 of the 12 Days of Christmas game and giveaway.
We’re into the section of the song where people feature more prominently than feathered creatures. Doesn’t make the selection of titles any easier though. I suppose they mean by maidens not ladies in frilly aprons who serve high tea or do the dusting for you? Wonder how many of those can also milk a cow – an unusual skill to show up on your CV…
Booker Talk Titles for Day
Milking takes me to Hot Milk by Deborah Levy which was shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. I haven’t read it – the furthest I got was chapter 1 which featured a dialogue about stinging jelly fish which bored me so much I didn’t feel inclined to read any further.
The other association would of course be the ‘play for voices’ Under Milk Wood by my countryman Dylan Thomas. If he’d stuck to drinking milk instead of spirits and beer he might be alive today. Then again maybe he wouldn’t have produced such distinctive poetry…..
But thats exhausted my list of associations with milk so I’ll switch to maids. Now I could go with the bestselling The Help by Kathryn Stockett which though it doesn’t feature the word maid in the title, is in fact all about maids. More particularly maids in the deep south and how badly they were treated in decades past. Far more enjoyable than I expected it to be – pride of place has to be the set piece where one maid takes revenge on her boss because she wouldn’t let her use the same toilet as the family.
I shall give a bonus today and add a fourth title – Lady’s Maid by Margaret Forster. I love Forster’s work for its blend of fiction and non fiction and this was one of the earliest experiences of her work. It’s a fictionalised account of a woman who goes to work for the poet Elizabeth Barrett and becomes a close confidant of her mistress, even helping in her secret marriage to Robert Browning. It gives a fascinating insight into the life of the poetess who now would probably be diagnosed as suffering anorexia and into Victorian life and culture.
Now over to you – here’s How to Play:
Come up with book titles or book images or anything book related (could be the name of a location mentioned in the book or a character) that matches with maids, maidens, milk or milking. Let’s see how creative you can be. I’m looking ideally for 3 titles/images etc . You can mix and match your nominations.
Put your titles into the comments field of that day’s post. Don’t just give me the name since you could easily get that from a Google search – tell us something about the book itself. Why did you choose these titles – are they from your TBR or ones you’ve seen mentioned on a blog. Please try not to just use lists from Goodreads etc.
Feel free to blog about this on your own site or via Twitter using the #12days hashtag
There’s an incentive to play along with this which is a giveaway of a book up to the value of $20 USD from the Book Depository
To participate, your list of books must be in the comments field by 10pm GMT/5pm Eastern Standard Time on Monday, Dec 12.
Day by Day Prompts
Day 1: Partridge in a Pear Tree
Day 2: Turtle Doves
Day 3: French Hens
Day 4: Calling Birds
Day 5: Gold Rings
Day 6: Geese a-Laying
Day 7: Swans a-Swimming
Day 8: Maids a-Milking
Day 9: Ladies Dancing
Day 10: Lords a-Leaping
Day 11: Pipers Piping
Day 12: Drummers Drumming
Rules of the Game
1.Each day a post will go live on booker talk.com matched to the task for that day. All you to do is post a comment with your list of books on the page
2. Each day try to come up with 3 titles. No need to think of 11 books featuring pipers or eight with maids in them. This is meant to be fun not mission impossible…..
3. Participants are encouraged to be creative with the names of titles matching each day. But the books do need to be in existence – no scope here for making up your own titles.
4. The number of contributions per person will be totalled and the one with the highest number will win the prize. So if you post three titles for day 6 and 5 on day 11, that gives a total of 8 points.
5. Contributions should be entered on the page within the time limit stated each day – typically I will give 48 hours between the time I post the day’s challenge and when comments will be closed.
6. You don’t need to play every day in order to be entered for the prize. Some days will be easier than others – and anyway you have all that shopping and packing still to do
7. There is only one prize – available internationally. The Prize winner will be announced on the blog around about the 15th of December.
6. The prize is that you get to choose a book up to the value of $20 USD from the Book Depository that I will arrange to ship to you. This will probably not arrive until next year given the last postage dates for international mail.