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Manchester Writing explores Welsh Fiction in Translation

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By Joshua Lee

“There is a massive Welsh culture, which most people don’t know about, ” says Manon Steffan Ros about the vast array of Welsh literature which does exist, yet which English speaking audiences may have been missing out on. A special guest at the recent Manchester Writing Welsh Fiction in Translation event, hosted by the Manchester Writing School, Ros came to give a reading of her most recent novel The Seasoning. She was also joined by Cardiff born author Llwyd Owen, reading extracts from his novel Faith, Hope and Love.

Wales is a country famed for poets such as Dylan Thomas and Gwyneth Lewis, and what both Ros and Llwyd managed to do so well in their reading, was to incorporate flowing descriptions of people and places in Wales that an English speaking audience may not have been entirely familiar with. In describing childhood memories of her North Wales hometown of Towyn, Ros brought a sense of warmth to the event, describing her home with all of the love, hate, and poignancy that only a local could feel. If the style of both authors had anything in common, it was the theme of family bonds and the re-occurring ideas of generational conflicts, which especially dominated Owen’s reading. Infamous for his unflinching approach to writing about unwholesome characters – sex, drugs, and nymphomaniacs – it added to Owen’s credibility to hear the self-deprecating, but very honest, portrayal of the human experience evident in his prose.

What brings both of these authors to the fore of the Welsh literature market is the fact that they have also translated their own works into English. Joining Manchester Met student Ava McPherson for a Q&A after the reading, both authors were asked to explain their reasons behind translating their books. “For me, there are a lot of Welsh people who don’t speak Welsh,” said Ros, who published ten novels before translating into English.

Owen, who works part-time as a translator, said, “There’s a lot of negativity towards the Welsh language in Wales. But, to me, it’s a massive part of my identity.”

However, translating their works was not an easy task, as both authors talked about the amount of hostility and criticism they received for doing it. As Ros confessed, she was once accused of translating her novels, “to be validated by an English speaking audience.” Such claims are totally untrue, according to Ros, who remains fiercely protective of the Welsh language. An interesting aspect of translating a novel, both authors agreed, is how much a narrative is shaped by the language used. “It’s a completely different novel in English,” Ros said of The Seasoning.

No preferences were made over the English and Welsh versions of their books. Ros, and Owen were sure that they could each enjoy their own books, whatever language they happened to be in. However, when discussing the Welsh language, there was an inescapable sense of it as being somewhat ‘endangered.’ Ros and Owen both stressed the generational grasp of the Welsh language, as it is becoming more and more common for Welsh people to be brought up knowing English as their first language. “I feel as comfortable speaking English, as I do speaking Welsh,” Owen said, yet he was also insistent upon publishing his novels in Welsh, thereby, “playing a tiny part in preserving the Welsh language, for future generations.”

After hearing the authors talk, the audience were keen to gain a little more insight into what it actually means to be a writer. Ros, who started writing in her twenties, described it as something very personal to her. The first book she published was a children’s book. “I had lost my mother, and was pregnant,” she said. “I wanted to write about my mother as a character in the book, so my children would have a chance to know her.”

Owen, whose literary influences include John Williams and Lloyd Robson, said that he writes for the pure joy of writing: “You’re only doing it because you want to.” And, to any aspiring writers searching for the most helpful piece of advice, it might not hurt to take Manon Steffan Ros’s advice: “Just do it!”

Considering the future of the Welsh language, one thing is clear: both of these Welsh authors feel it a personal duty to preserve the language and the culture that surrounds it. “Some people aren’t even aware of the Welsh language,” Owen said, “and why should they? It’s a different country, and culture.” If anything was evident on the night, however, it was that there is an entire world to Wales, which isn’t always acknowledged by mainstream popular culture.

For more information about Manchester Writing School events, visit manchesterwritingschool.co.uk/events

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