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March = Wales

around the world 2013

We’ve been to France in January and Sudan in February; next we’re heading off to the greener pastures of Wales for the Around the World in 12 Books Challenge. They have to have the best flag around, don’t they?


I’ll be honest, I’ve always been rather confused about the nature of Great Britain and how Wales and Scotland figure into it. As far as I can work out, “United Kingdom” refers to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, while “Great Britain” refers to the island of England, Scotland and Wales – but I could be completely, absolutely wrong (I’m counting on someone from the UK enlightening me in the comments!). And then, I get confused over those last three. Scotland and Wales are officially countries, and have their own parliaments, but their still part of the UK and fall under the British monarchy?? I guess you couldn’t really separate them now, and maybe their economies wouldn’t support them alone, I have no idea. It’s just confusing that they can be countries without being completely separate from the UK (which is basically England really, isn’t it). Can anyone explain this?


The other trouble I have with Wales, or reading books set in Wales (or Scotland) or with characters with Welsh (or Gaelic) names, is that I never have any idea how to pronounce the words! I mean, some say it’s phonetic but it really doesn’t seem so to me! and I could really use some kind of cheat sheet to pronouncing Welsh or Gaelic words. (My own name is Gaelic, incidentally, but it’s an easy one!!) Cambridge University has a pronunciation guide, here, and there’s another one here. There are lots more on the web, including some on YouTube but I need to see spelling, personally, or I can’t match the spoken word with the written word.

Has anyone been to Wales/lived there? Anyone with Welsh ancestry? My family tree – on both sides – is 100% English, Scottish and Irish, very boring (and so is my husband’s, which makes our son very Anglo too!). Somehow, I’ve always found Wales, and the Welsh, to have something of that old mysterious, magical atmosphere – completely in my head I know, especially as I’ve never been, but it just strikes me as a really earthy, natural place. But maybe that’s only because the few books I’ve read set in Wales – or inspired by Wales – have been historical or fantasy!

Here are some links to web pages of Welsh books:

Books set in Wales and Books set in Wales on Goodreads – and another list here.

Books Set in … Wales

Welsh Writers (and novels set in Wales on News From Nowhere

If you come across any other good websites, please leave a link in the comments so we can share it around. Thanks!

21 comments to March = Wales

  • I have several books set in Wales, that I know of (or got deliberately for this challenge), though I might have more without realising they’re set in Wales. Here’s what I’m hoping to read this month:

    Heartbreak Hotel by Deborah Moggach
    The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
    The Other Half of Me by Morgan McCarthy
    Among Others by Jo Walton (though I’m not sure how much of it is set in Wales)


  • Jo Walton

    It’s a bit like Canada or the US. The United Kingdom is made up of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England, in the same way Canada has its provinces and the US its states. And the different nations of the UK have their own parliaments in the same way that Canadian provinces have provincial legislatures and US states have state governments, but they also come under Westminster in the same way that Canadian provinces come under Ottawa and US states come under Washington. Laws can vary, in the same way they do in different states. They also have their own cultures in a way that is different from Canada (except Quebec) and the US because of language and also because of just well, more history. But in the same way you’d expect a Texan to be different from a Hawaian, Welsh people are different from Scots.

    Wales became part of the UK partly by conquest and partly because when the Welshman Henry Tudor (Henry VII, father of Henry VIII who was father of Elizabeth I) became king of England the Welsh mostly gave up fighting. With Scotland it was much the same — James VI of Scotland inherited the throne of England and became James I, and there you go. I’m oversimplifying slightly.

    The thing you really seem to be missing is that England is a country. England does not include any of these other places, England is its own place. The UK isn’t “really” England or anything like that. People using the word “England” to mean the UK are just wrong, and in a way that’s just as demeaning to England itself as to the other nations. A Welsh person is British, is from the UK, and so is an English person. But if you call the Welsh person English it’s the same as calling a Californian a Minnesotan. I have no idea why people do this and it always drives me crazy.


    Shannon Reply:

    Thanks so much for that Jo, that’s really helpful. I think I find it confusing because they all operate like states or provinces, as you say, and yet they’re countries – it seems quite unique to the UK though I’m sure it’s just different terminology in a way. I know they all go to the Olympics under the banner of Great Britain (so what’s the difference between GB and UK?)

    It’s not that I don’t realise England is a country, it’s that from outside of the UK, England dominates. It gives off the impression that it’s in control of all the other places. Not that this is true, it’s just the impression you get. I’m always careful to use the term “UK” to mean the whole place, or “England” specifically if I know that’s what I mean, specifically, if you get me. But I’ve heard people from the UK complain about authors from other places using the term “English accent” when talking about someone from the UK, which I can see is pretty lazy at best, insulting at worse.


    Shannon Reply:

    Having thought about it more, I think I can explain better: it’s colonialism that gives this impression. I’m Australian, right, and growing up we learned our colonial history as English colonial history, as in, it was the English who came and settled and brought Irish etc. convicts. It was never “the British”, but the country of England. Same with colonising other places in the world. So growing up, the unspoken assumption was that the English dominated the UK, ruled it even – I mean with figures like the Prince of Wales, to an outsider it certainly sounds like the English carving up the UK doesn’t it, even though I know there’s much more to it than that. The central government and monarchy has always been based on England, which again makes it sound like a country ruling other countries, rather than a government simply based in a city ruling over a single country. It’s just different, and I suspect only the British, or people who’ve lived there for any length of time, really “get” it. My mum’s generation would understand it all, but the countries aren’t as close as they used to be and no one studies the way other countries work, not really. So it’s great to learn these things.


  • My other half is Welsh and Welsh is his first language. He’s from an area in North West Wales where everybody speaks Welsh – when we go back to visit his family and friends that’s all anyone speaks, at home, in shops, pubs etc. So I’ve tried to pick up a bit of the language but it is HARD. I usually find it relatively easy to pick up bits of languages – I’m fluent in French, have a decent background in Latin & Greek, I have Irish heritage and have successfully taught myself some conversational Gaeilge with tapes etc, but Welsh is something else. The pronunciation is not simply phonetic (although that Cambridge University guide you posted is not bad at all!) and I find the grammar super complex.

    I have to say I can’t think of many Welsh novels to recommend! My boyfriend wouldn’t be impressed! I have heard good things about the mysteries by Gillian Hamer (The Charter and Closure) which are set along the North Wales coastline.
    Marie recently posted..A little treatMy Profile


    Shannon Reply:

    @Marie, It’s great that they’re holding onto their language so strongly, but it really looks daunting! I remember the TV show Red Dwarf used to make lots of jokes about the Welsh language – ah good times! 😉


  • I am excited for this month! My husband is 100% Welsh, so I think he will be very interested in whatever book I choose. I don’t know much about Welsh heritage other than the one thing he’s told me: they are known for digging ditches. LOL. That is probably about as accurate as saying I like potatoes because I’m Irish.
    Off to check the lists and decide on a book for the month!
    Kelly recently posted..Don’t Let The Door Hit Ya, February: Month in ReviewMy Profile


    Shannon Reply:

    @Kelly, Ha ha, I hadn’t heard that one before! It’s nice to have a bit fun with those kind of stereotypes. Hope you find a great book to read, Kelly. 🙂


  • My grandfather was Welsh. Despite the fact that I lived in the UK for 5 years I never actually made it to Wales which was poor form on my part I think..

    My favourite books set in Wales are the Welsh trilogy by Sharon Kay Penman – big, fat, juicy historical fiction at it’s best. I did like The Welsh Girl too which I see you have on your reading list.
    Marg recently posted..Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline WinspearMy Profile


    Shannon Reply:

    @Marg, I’ve read the first book in Penman’s Welsh trilogy – I liked it especially for the history, but I didn’t love it as a story. Glad to hear you liked The Welsh Girl, I’m hoping to get to it but it is a longer one so we’ll have to see.


  • So interesting about how the UK and its regions connect. I’ve been to London several times, but haven’t been to any other regions of the UK so far. When I looked for a book from Wales, i checked the map.. and then remembered that i actually read a book from there: “Deep Country” by Neil Ansell, who lived for 5 years in a cottage in the mountains of Wales. I still have it here, and read into it again now, and blogged a review with video clip already:
    Dorothee recently posted..tree seasonsMy Profile


    Shannon Reply:

    @Dorothee, Yeah it still seems really confusing to me, the idea of being a country and a province at the same time, and GB itself acts like a whole country internationally… it does my head in!

    Great, I’ll have to check that one out – don’t forget to leave a link in the widget box!


  • I have fallen a bit behind this month, but I’m about 50% done with Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley. It’s really excellent so far!! A great choice for anyone wanting to get a feel for late-1800’s Wales. Can’t wait to share a full review, hopefully next week.
    Kelly recently posted..Audiobook Review: The Tiger’s Wife by Tea ObrehtMy Profile


    Shannon Reply:

    I never even thought of that one! It’s quite the classic isn’t it. Good to hear you’re enjoying it.


  • […] for the fourth book, The Grey King.  It’s on my Classics Club list and also counts towards the Around the World in 12 Books Challenge.  March’s country is Wales, and even though this book takes place in England, it’s based on […]

  • I read The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker about a Dutch woman who flees to rural Wales. I think you get more of a feeling of the country from an outsider perspective than from one who lives there.

    My mother’s side of the family is very Anglo – England, Scotland and Isle of Man. One family tree has some Welsh very far back but we think that’s just speculation. I love Welsh and Gaelic names, there are quite a few we would have considered if people here would have been able to pronounce them properly. In fact, it’s possible that our son’s name is Gaelic, though we chose it from another language.


    Shannon Reply:

    I haven’t read anything by Bakker but I think I have another one of his books – The Twins? It’s in Tassie but the author’s name looked familiar.

    Yes I’ve noticed that too, that lots of names are claimed by more than one country, especially some Hebrew names that might get a slight change in spelling and then become Irish or what have you. And different baby books or sites will attribute the same name to different countries. My son is Hugh, and a friend asked me if I was going to use the Welsh spelling – Huw – but I happen to like the English better! Just looks well-rounded to me or something. 😉


  • I’ve imposed some fairly strict (and probably stupid) rules for myself in this challenge, like trying to find modern novels of critical acclaim. That didn’t work for Sudan, and it didn’t work here either. And yet I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both reads. I’m definitely the black sheep with my choice this month, but it was probably the most fun book I’ve read this year (probably because I’m not quite right in the head…LOL). Loving the challenge so far, and I’m already looking forward to next month!
    Daniel recently posted..Book Review: StumpMy Profile


    Shannon Reply:

    You’d think it wouldn’t be that hard to find modern (you mean, a contemporary setting?) novel with critical acclaim, wouldn’t you. One of the books I read, The Welsh Girl, had been longlisted for the Booker, but it’s certainly not contemporary! It often depends on what publishers over here have picked up I suppose. There might be more choice within the countries.

    The most fun book you’ve read this year…!! Definitely have to check that out!


  • […] the stop for this month’s “Around the World in 12 Books” challenge (as hosted by Giraffe Days), and I had one heck of a time digging out anything that fit my admittedly narrow criteria. To make […]

  • I’m late for it, as usual (studying occupies all my time 🙁 ), but I’ve read a great book of Welsh mythology for March and I’d like to share anyway 🙂
    Ekaterina recently posted..Mabinogion and Welsh MythologyMy Profile


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