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    29 May, 2005

    Library of Wales

    There was an interesting discussion at the Hay Festival today on the new Library of Wales, chaired by Mario Basini of the Western Mail. My good friend Prof Dai Smith spoke and so did novelist Niall Griffiths.

    The Library - classic Welsh writing in English - is being supported by the Welsh Assembly Government. It follows from a report by the Assembly's Culture Committee, to which I contributed, on Welsh writing in English.

    Parthian is publishing the series. The first two titles to be produced are Raymond Williams' Border Country and So Long Hector Bebb by the late Rhondda author Ron Berry. It was great to meet members of Ron's family including his wife and daughters, who still live in the Rhondda, at the event.

    Dai is chairing the group which is selecting the titles to be published. Niall Griffiths turned out to have been influenced by Ron Berry. I bought Niall's new novel Wreckage in Hay.

    Shortly after I was elected to the National Assembly I had an article in the Western Mail (which isn't in their online archive, but I re-published it later in the Bevan Foundation Review ) about the fact that so many Welsh 'classic' novels written in English were out of print. Click Read More below to read it.

    I told the story in that article of trying to locate Jack Jones' Rhondda Roundabout on the Internet. At the time, a search on the second-hand book website abebooks.co.uk showed one copy for sale for over £500.

    I told that story again today, and explained how young people need those stories to shape an understanding of where communities like the Rhondda had come from. To get a laugh, Dai pointed out that Jack Jones came from Merthyr, not the Rhondda. He and I have had lots of conversations about Rhondda and South Wales writers in the past, and he knows I know this! 'Once you're on that platform, you're a comedian' he told me afterwards. Today I played his straight man. I'll get the cheeky beggar back for that!

    Written out of History

    Leighton Andrews AM

    Twenty-five years ago Raymond Williams, Wales’s foremost cultural critic of the twentieth century, delivered a lecture in Cardiff on the Welsh Industrial Novel. Analysing the writing of novelists such as Jack Jones, Gwyn Thomas, Gwyn Jones, Lewis Jones and many others, Williams noted that the industrial novel had special characteristics of its own. In particular, the world of work was central to the writing.

    Today, the bulk of the novels referred to by Raymond Williams are out of print. Gwyn Thomas’ All Things Betray Thee – out of print. Gwyn Jones – Times Like These – out of print. Lewis Jones’ Cwmardy and We Live – out of print. Jack Jones’ Black Parade and Rhondda Roundabout - out of print. Check the Welsh Books Council’s gwales.com website search facility.

    Of course, if you’re lucky, you might be able to pick some of these books up second-hand. But in the case of Rhondda Roundabout, it will cost you. A search on the second-hand book website abebooks.co.uk shows one copy for sale for over £500.

    Strangely, as we head towards Cardiff’s centenary as a city, the one novel which tells the making of Cardiff probably better than any other – Jack Jones’ River Out of Eden – is also out of print. This is the story of the growth of a small village to be the world’s greatest coal-port – an Empire City – which you would think a Welsh TV company would have jumped at by now.

    These books are an essential part of the modern narrative history of South Wales, as well as being worthwhile novels in themselves. They tell the story of the South Wales’ coalfield and its people. At a time when we are all encouraged to think about cultural tourism or industrial heritage, their absence is a scandal. Jack Jones’ novels are family sagas, but then family history is enjoying a real boom today. Family history connects us with our society, with where we have come from. My own family history – my great-great-grandfather coming to the Rhondda from the Forest of Dean shortly after the Tonypandy riots – turns out to be typical of so many others at that time.

    All of us who represent Valleys’ constituencies are conscious that we do not want to dwell in the past. Our focus is the future. We all object to the
    stereotyping of the Valleys that persists in metropolitan television views of Wales: the slagheaps, the pit-gear, the choirs and so on. Our Valleys today are increasingly green and fresh, providing a fine environment in which to live. We want people to have a better understanding of the attractions of the Valleys – while not in any way denying the social deprivation and other contemporary challenges that we face.

    But you cannot explain the Valleys and their settlements without reference to the history. You cannot begin to paint the picture of industrial heritage without reference to that history. You cannot begin to connect our capital city and the Valleys without reference to that history. As Raymond Williams said in his lecture:

    In the second half of the nineteenth century there was a further major transformation: the intense development of valleys like the Rhondda, in the independent coal trade; the very rapid expansion of Cardiff as a coal port.

    Without the Valleys, Cardiff might still be a fishing-village. You cannot tell the Cardiff story separately from the story of the Rhondda Valleys. That is why it is essential that the celebration of Cardiff’s centenary as a city reflects the role of the Valleys in the making of the city.

    People find pride and identity in that history. Re-discovering that history has been an important part of providing understanding and making generational connections in many of our communities. In recent weeks I have seen in my own constituency how the Penrhys Partnership has been making good use of local history in just this way to help young and old tell the Penrhys story.

    The absence of English-medium Welsh literary texts like the novels I have cited must be addressed. The Welsh Books Council needs to give a higher priority to ensuring the availability of the classic Welsh industrial novel. The Assembly’s Culture Committee has begun an enquiry into English-medium Welsh culture, and that provides a focus for this issue to be addressed.

    We cannot live on our history. But we cannot live without it either.

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    Promoted by Leighton Andrews AM, National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff CF99 1NA.

    Author's editorial policy: This blog does not publish anonymous comments, unless they are really witty and I like them. If you have something to say, then have the courage of your convictions and use your name or an identifiable alias. Even then I reserve the right not to publish comments that are malicious, defamatory, stupid, pointlessly cynical or boring. Any of the statements or comments made above should be regarded as personal and not necessarily those of the National Assembly for Wales, any constituent part or connected body.