Posted by BookerTalk
Alison Layland probably has the most varied career of all the Welsh authors to join me in Cwtch Corner.
She’s been a quantity surveyor and a taxi driver. Alison is now a writer, translator and member of the highly esteemed Gorsedd of the Bards.
Her second novel ‘Riverflow ‘ confronts the controversial issue of fracking and its impact on a rural community.
Q. How would you describe your new novel Riverflow in one sentence.?
It’s a novel of family secrets, community tensions and environmental protest against a background of fracking and floods on the river Severn.
Q. The environmental issue is highly topical right now with the Extinction Rebellion protests and concerns about plastic. What prompted you to take on this issue in your novel ?
“I’ve always been passionate about environmental issues and try to live as “green” a life as possible. I specifically wanted to focus on these issues when I wrote Riverflow, with the intention of writing an engaging, character-driven novel, but through the characters’ own lives and passions raising readers’ awareness of these issues and the climate crisis, and hopefully giving some food for thought.
Between starting to write it and publication, I’m pleased that these issues have gained a certain amount of prominence, due to movements such as Extinction Rebellion, which emerged more or less after I’d finished writing the novel, Greta Thunberg and the school climate strikers, and the work of David Attenborough, Chris Packham and many others – though there’s still a long way to go in terms of government and corporate action.
The process of writing has also inspired me to get personally involved, and I’m now an active campaigner with Extinction Rebellion“
Q. How difficult is it when you are translating fiction, to maintain the voice/style of your writer? Does the author in you ever want to change some part of the text?
“Getting to know, and conveying, the author’s voice is an essential and enjoyable aspect of translating fiction.
It does take a few chapters for me to fully immerse myself in it, and in my subsequent redrafts and revisions, it’s the early chapters that need the most work.
I think being an author in my own right possibly makes it easier for me not to “interfere” unduly, as I have my own voice and way of writing and can keep that separate from my translation work.
Issues often arise in translating for a different culture, whether it’s German cultural references that need to be subtly explained to English-speaking readers, or differences in style that may be required in order to appeal to a different readership, and both I and my editors may make changes, in consultation with the author.”
Q. You’ve had a varied career path from taxi driver and chartered surveyor to translator and writer. What made you decide to add ‘author’ to your list of occupations?
“I’ve always told myself stories and been an avid reader, always enjoyed working with words and always wanted to do something creative so, although it wasn’t something I seriously considered when I was younger, I guess it was likely if not inevitable that I would become a writer – eventually!
I started writing fiction when we moved to Wales in 1997. I immediately set out to learn the language and our tutor happened to be a poet and creative writing tutor. After our language course came to an end, the group had achieved a lovely momentum and we carried on with creative writing classes.
I found, strangely, that writing in a second language removed my self-consciousness barriers and I was soon writing short stories and flash fiction in Welsh. My first (unpublished) novel was also written in Welsh, and it was through translating that for friends and family to read that I finally gained the confidence to begin writing in my native language, English..”
Q. As a non-native Welsh person, how has your experience as an ‘outsider’ shaped your perspective on the country?
I lived in rural mid-Wales from 1997 until about three years ago, when we moved to a house right on the border, and learning the language has given me a unique insight into the literature and culture of Wales.
Living in the kind of rural and village communities that characterise a lot of this area of Wales is also fascinating, and feeds into my writing, although the village on the banks of the Severn that forms the setting for Riverflow is fictional.
The border town of Oswestry and the surrounding area, although just in Shropshire, is a fluid one with a very Welsh feel and a Welsh-speaking community; I’ve sometimes felt that these places are just as, if not more, “Welsh” in character than certain places within Wales. Especially here, but also in the close-knit communities of rural Wales where there are a substantial number of English incomers, there’s a lot of – usually friendly – cultural banter.
As a Welsh speaker and “Cymraes fabwysiedig” (adoptive Welsh woman) I sometimes feel I have a foot in both camps, which is great for a writer and people-watcher!
Q. You recently participated in the Crime and Coffee festival organised by Cardiff library service where you and other Welsh authors got to meet readers. Do you enjoy these kind of events? What’s the most interesting question you’ve ever had from a reader?
“Despite being really nervous beforehand, I really enjoy public events.
I particularly enjoy interview and panel formats, like the one at Crime & Coffee, which was a panel discussion with fellow Honno authors Jan Newton and Gaby Koppel.
Another activity I enjoy is being asked to visit reading groups; it’s lovely to meet readers, talk about their reactions to my and others’ books, and answer questions about writing.
In terms of interesting questions, I particularly enjoy questions or comments from people who are touched by the subject-matter – when talking about Someone Else’s Conflict, that is people who have first-hand experience of the 1990s conflicts in the Balkans, and with Riverflow – although I’ve only talked about it at a couple of events so far – it’s people who are involved in environmentalism or protest.“
Q. What book is on your bedside table right now?
“I’m about to start This is Not a Drill, the recently published Extinction Rebellion handbook. It’s probably not ideal bedtime reading as thinking about the future of the planet is a decidedly scary prospect right now, but I’m sure that many of the essays and articles will be essential reading. It’s also a book I intend to pass on to people after I’ve finished reading it.“
Spotlight on Alison Layland
Alison Layland is a writer and translator. She says she has told herself stories for as long as she can remember, though she first started writing them down for others to share when she moved to Wales in 1997 and a Welsh language course led the way to creative writing classes.
She won the short story competition at the National Eisteddfod in 2002.
She studied Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at Cambridge University, and after a brief spell as a taxi driver worked for several years as a chartered surveyor before returning to her first love – language. She translates from German, French and Welsh into English. Her published translations include a number of award-winning and best-selling novels.
She is currently teaching herself Croatian as a by-product of her research for her first novel Someone Else’s Conflict.
She was Welsh Learner of the Year in 1999, and in 2002 won first place at the National Eisteddfod with a short story written in Welsh.
Her latest novel Riverflow was published by Honno in June 2019.
Her first novel, Someone Else’s Conflict. was published by i Honno in 2014. It’s a tale about trust and betrayal, love, loyalty and honour, that moves from present-day Yorkshire to the 1990s conflict in Croatia.
You can learn more about Alison’s books at www.alayland.uk
She is also on Twitter via @AlisonLayland
Cwtch Corner: where authors from Wales get to talk about their work, what inspires their writing and their favourite authors and books.