Fiction Map of the World – Wales

by Travelbag on 07 August 2014, 14:08PM

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We make a trip to the valleys this week to have a look at some of Wales’s greatest literary figures, celebrated films and musicians. Significant contributions to the world of fiction are primarily rooted in poetry, but they aren’t without some excellent novelists, one name in particular took me by surprise! Continue reading to find out who

Essential Holiday Reading
For holiday reading I’m going to edge away from the format I’ve so far set and recommend a book not written by a Welsh author. It is, however, set in Wales with Welsh characters and plays comically with the very concept of ‘Welshness’. The book is The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis. Winner of the Booker Prize in 1986 and considered by Kingsley’s son Martin as his finest work, it tells the tale of the criss-crossing lives of a group of old friends in a small Welsh town and the affect the return of another friend and his subsequent death has on their relationships. A comic tale, it’s also very touching as romances are rekindled or left alone. Despite not being of Welsh authorship it’s my recommendation because of the typically Welsh backdrop and setting and it also happens to be a fantastically well-written novel that will have you laughing and crying too.

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Notable Welsh Books
Despite a predilection for poetry Wales has its fair share of excellent novels. Sarah Waters has produced several books best known for their lesbian protagonists such as Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, both of which have been adapted for television by the BBC. A Toy Epic by Emyr Humphreys, a story of growing up in post-war Wales or Submarine by Joe Dunthorne, a modern coming-of-age tale adapted for the big screen by Richard Ayoade in 2010 are both good reads as well.

As for children’s literature you can choose from some of the greatest works for children ever written. Anything by Roald Dahl can be recommended strongly; personally I edge toward James and the Giant Peach and Danny, the Champion of the World.

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Notable Welsh Authors
As stated above Wales is known largely for a long list of poets. From Dylan Thomas (Under Milk Wood, Do not go Gentle into that Good Night, And Death shall have no Dominion) to his namesake RS Thomas who was nominated for a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996. Further back there’s Dafydd ap Gwilym, a contemporary of Chaucer, to more recent poets like Owen Sheers. It’s fair to say the fair countryside of Wales has inspired many a prodigious talent.

A surprise, personally, was to learn Roald Dahl was Welsh (though born to Norwegian parents, he was born and raised in Wales) and is one of the world’s most prolific and celebrated children’s writers, but was also known for contributing to film and television scripts too (it was he who created the character of the Childcatcher for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). Other celebrated Welsh authors include Howard Spring (Fame is the Spur), children’s author Jennifer Sullivan and the Welsh language writer Kate Roberts.

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Notable Welsh Films
Welsh film has a habit of revolving around mining, unsurprising considering the history of the nation. Films such as The Proud Valley, the Karl Francis documentary Above Us The Earth are in this vein. The Oscar-winning How Green Was My Valley, beating Citizen Kane that particular year, is another mining oriented film focusing on a family and the effects of life in the mines and in a mining town.

If crime is more your thing then try Tiger Bay, the 1959 classic crime drama known for containing genuine footage of street culture from the time around the Tiger Bay district of Cardiff. Despite not being known for its edgy modern cinema the late 90’s saw Human Traffic hit cinemas and featured a first performance by Danny Dyer as well as John Simm in the lead role. Dealing with drug use within the dance culture of the late 80s to early 90s it’s well worth a look.

Essential Holiday Listening
We return to the mid 90’s Britpop scene for some holiday listening. Though not initially thought of in such respect, with the release of Everything Must Go, the Manic Street Preachers’ first release following the disappearance of Richey Edwards, they involved themselves in the scene and announced themselves with a critically acclaimed and commercially successful album. Combining their serious lyrics, both political and poignant, with a catchier, pop-like sound really launched them onto a festival headlining level.

If you’d prefer something a little lighter there’s The Family Jewels by Marina and the Diamonds, a modern quirky pop classic boasting numerous songs you’ll find yourself humming no matter where in Wales you happen to be. And finally if you have a penchant for an operatic, classical voice and a classical collection then take a look at Voice of an Angel, the album that launched Charlotte Church as a young and extremely talented vocalist.

Notable Welsh Musicians
Wales has a particularly strong history for rock music, with names such as the aforementioned Manic Street Preachers, Feeder, Stereophonics, Super Furry Animals all the way through to heavier bands such as Bullet for my Valentine and Funeral for a Friend and acts like Kids in Glass Houses and The Blackout.

Wales also provided a part of, founding member and musical contributor to, one of the greatest experimental rock bands of all time, The Velvet Underground. John Cale, alongside the late Lou Reed, was the early driving force of this iconic band. On top of this he’s spent a career in the music industry collaborating with various top artists as well as enjoying success as a solo artist too. And how could anyone forget the forever youthful Tom Jones, still going strong after nigh-on 50 years in showbusiness?

Aside from this rock music history Wales also has a its share of classical music stars, from Katherine Jenkins and Charlotte Church to Bryn Terfel and even the early career of Aled Jones, famous for his cover of Walking in the Air for the animated film The Snowman.


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