The Football

I’m sorry but I’ve got to talk about the football. You know – the European Championships? The ones Wales played in the semi-final of?

Ok, so I know we lost, but to have got to the semi finals at all was a major, major deal. The hashtag on Twitter was ‘Together Stronger’ and the extraordinary teamwork we saw on the pitch seemed to be echoed throughout Britain as Welsh people got together round screens large and small to cheer our boys on. Even people who don’t really like soccer watched and cheered and cried and grinned through their tears at the sea of red, white and green on the terraces, the red dragons waved with such pride. We are a patriotic lot and sport is the main outlet for our patriotism in the wider world. I wish it were otherwise, and perhaps we’re on our way there, culturally, but at the moment, sport is where we get to wave our collective flags.

As I recall, throughout my childhood, Welsh soccer was a bit on the weak side. Not really to be spoken of in the same breath as Welsh Rugby. (I’m talking about the seventies here when all the heroes of rugby seemed to be wearing red.) But times change. Wales has changed and continues to change. And, now, it seems, we are a soccer-playing nation who can challenge the best. And beat some of them.

Throughout that same childhood, the only books I ever got to read that were set in Wales were by the legendary Welsh-language author T. Llew Jones who lived and worked near where I grew up. As far as I could tell, there were no contemporary books set in Wales written in English. Not many historical ones come to that – though the ones there were, by Alexander Cordell and Richard Llewellyn were, to say the least, pretty successful

For years and years, if you were Welsh and wanted to write about your homeland, your only hope was to do it in Welsh and hope to get a publisher.

But, though I speak Welsh, my first language is English and that’s the language I think in and therefore instinctively write in. But I have wanted to write about my homeland. The first book I ever wrote was set in Cardiganshire as a matter of fact but I was advised, kindly, to think again for the next book.

Wanting to be published, I took that advice and Testament is set in the East of England, in Salster, a fictitious medieval university city. When I wrote an early draught in the mid 1990s, writing about real places wasn’t such a big deal as it is now – authors from Ruth Rendell to Joanna Trollope were writing about fictitious places, albeit fairly clearly geographically located.

But then something happened – at least in crime novels – and suddenly people were keen to read novels set in real places. Actually, two things happened, I think. The first was Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels in which Edinburgh is less a mere setting and more of a constant character, and the second was the televising of Colin Dexter’s Morse series.

Suddenly, we were in a different ball-game. Real world and fictional worlds collided and there were Rebus and Morse tours. Tourism feasted on the spoils. Writing about real places became a Thing.

Not just a thing: A Thing.

And now, after a long sojourn in the East of England, I’m back in Wales. More or less, anyway. I live two miles over the border in the Forest of Dean, but I work in Monmouthshire. I go home to Ceredigion a lot and have picked up the threads of friendships I’d thought lost.

And I want to write about home. Fun though it was to make up a university city with colleges and traditions and plausibly medieval-sounding street names, I find I also want to to tell stories about the bit of West Wales I grew up in and where my family still lives – the Teifi Valley. And, because I’m a historical novelist, the stories are about the past.

But the past turns out to be amazingly like now, in many ways. Which is why I’ll go back to what I was going to talk about when I finished last week. Generations and why they matter.

See you anon. And enjoy the footie final.

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