100 Page Turners of Wales – A Round-up

As we reach the close of the year, Emma Schofield takes a reflective look back at our 100 Page Turners of Wales series.

The difficulty with selecting 100 books is that, at the precise moment you sign off on that list of 100 titles, you will, inevitably, think of more books which could have been included. If only I’d remembered such-and-such a title, or thought of this character, or that plot, they too could have been mentioned. It’s that all too familiar internal debate which I find tends to rear its head whenever I find myself in a situation involving selecting just a small number of the books I love. Yet, sitting here at the end of the 100 Page Turners series, I remind myself that the purpose of the list was never to be a definitive and comprehensive catalogue of the best 100 books from Wales. Instead, it is comprised of the personal responses from each of our judging panel, the books which they felt had left a mark on them when they first read them.

Just over a100 page turners year ago I sat down to write a piece responding to the BBC’s list of ‘100 Books which Shaped our World’, pointing out the complete dearth of literature from Wales on that list and the fact that it was not representative of the wealth of fiction available in Wales. Buoyed up by a desire to highlight just how rich an offering Wales has to offer, Wales Arts Review decided to invite a selection of judges to nominate the titles they would most like to see included in each category. These judges kindly agreed to take part and went on to demonstrate just how easy it would be to list 100 page turners from Wales by offering their own take on the books they would like to include. There were numerous challenges with compiling such a list; at the start of the series I acknowledged the fact that lists can be hugely problematic, as is the act of dividing books into categories. The aim was, however, to provide a Welsh alternative to the BBC’s list, so it seemed important to utilise the same categories and thematic headings. In the end, although every judge had a different perspective on each category, there was a surprising amount of crossover between their nominations. Looking back from this side of the exercise a few patterns emerge within the nominations as a whole, themes which transcend the borders set by categories.

The first of these is the breadth of fiction included in the 100 books nominated by our judging panel. So many different styles and genres were included here, from children’s fiction to fantasy ghost stories chilling enough to have even the most cynical among us nervously checking that rarely used cupboard in our home. Often these genres and categories collided, politics appeared within novels which also explored family dynamics, while issues of class and society cropped up repeatedly in coming of age fiction. Geographically, the novels on the list criss-crossed the whole of Wales, moving from city scenes in novels such as Cardiff Dead and Star Shot, to the countryside scenes in Carrie’s War, or the slate quarrying mountains of Feet in Chains.

The second feature which has stood out clearly from the 100 Page Turners list is the date range of the fiction included in the nominated titles. With publication dates ranging from 1880 until 2020, the list has drawn together contemporary writers from Wales, situating them alongside forgotten classics and well-loved titles spanning more than a century. The oldest title on the list, Amy Dilwyn’s political novel Rebecca Rioter (1880), still sits comfortably alongside the most recent title featured, Nikita Lalwani’s equally challenging novel You People (2020); an apt reminder that it is the quality of the fiction which matters most, along with its ability to engage readers, not when it was written.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, almost all of the titles on the list have one theme in common: that of resilience. Whether in the titles in the ‘Adventure’ or ‘Politics’ categories, or in the determined personal tales of characters in the ‘Love and Romance’ category, the majority of the books nominated here feature stories of persistence, resilience and a refusal to give up. Is that purely coincidental? It’s virtually impossible to say whether asking for nominations at a different time might have yielded different results, but I suspect that it’s fair to say that circumstances over the past year or so may have had an impact on the choices made by our judges in compiling this list.

Which brings us neatly back to where we started in the summer with the difficulty, and appeal, of compiling lists. I can only speak for myself when I say that I know for a fact that my own list will continue to grow and change over time. Yes, some books will remain constant, but other titles will most likely drift in and out of my own top 100 list, held in a perpetual, affectionate orbit of my favourite books. That doesn’t diminish this list in any way, but ask me, or any of the judging panel, for our top 100 page turners in a few years’ time and you may well get an entirely different list. For the time being, we have a list of the books which mattered most to us right now, the books which have impressed us, the books which made us laugh and those which made us cry. It is a snapshot of the titles which came to mind in each category at the moment it was compiled. In these strangest of times it is a sample of the depth and richness which literature from Wales has to offer. A literary taster, as it were, and you know what? It’s a damn good one.

 

100 Page Turners of Wales (Full List)

Coming of Age

Gifted by Nikita Lalwani (2017)

Submarine by Joe Dunthorne (2008)

Pigeon by Alys Conran (2016)

The Hiding Place by Trezza Azzopardi (2000)

Grace, Tamar and Lazlo the Beautiful by Deborah Kay Davies (2008)

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog by Dylan Thomas (1940)

The Owl Service by Alan Garner (1967)

In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl by Rachel Trezise (2000)

Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve (1954)

Eva Shell (2009)

Rule Breakers

The Dark Philosophers by Gwyn Thomas (1972)

Stump by Niall Griffiths (2003)

We Don’t Know What We’re Doing by Thomas Morris (2016)

Mr Vogel by Lloyd Jones (2004)

Fireball by Tyler Keevil (2010)

Light Switches Are My Kryptonite by Crystal Jeans (2017)

Dat’s Love by Leonora Brito (1995)

Impassioned Clay by Stevie Davies (1999)

Harvest Home by Hilda Vaughan (1936)

Creed by Margiad Evans (1936)

Adventure

Carrie’s War, Nina Bawden (1973)

Cove, Cynan Jones (2016)

Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot, Horatio Clare (2015)

Seaglass, Eloise Williams (2018)

Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Eynne Jones (1986)

James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl (1961)

Resistance, Owen Sheers (2007)

The Meat Tree, Gwyneth Lewis (2010)

West, Carys Davies (2019)

The Grey King, Susan Cooper (1975)

Family and Friends

The Clockwork Crow, by Catherine Fisher (2018)

No Good Brother, by Tyler Keevil (2018)

Danny Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl (1975)

The Rice Paper Diaries, by Francesca Rhydderch (2013)

The Earth Hums in B Flat, by Mari Strachan (2007)

I Sent a Letter to My Love, by Bernice Rubens (1975)

Mud Puppy, by Erica Woof (2002)

The Life of Rebecca Jones by Angharad Price, translated by Lloyd Jones (2002)

Second Chance, by Sian James (2000)

The Claude Glass, by Tom Bullough (2007)

Romance

Country Dance, Margiad Evans (1932)

The Water Castle, Brenda Chamberlain (1964)

The Heyday in the Blood, Geraint Goodwin (1936)

Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters (1998)

The Haunting of Henry Twist, Rebecca F John (2017)

A Thing of Nought, Hilda Vaughan (1934)

Work, Sex and Rugby, Lewis Davies (1993)

Awakening, Stevie Davies (2013)

Home to an Empty House, Alun Richards (1973)

Star Shot, Mary-Ann Constantine (2015)

Identity

Crawling Through Thorns by John Sam Jones (2008)

Sugar and Slate by Charlotte Williams (2002)

Dignity by Alys Conran (2019)

There Was a Young Man from Cardiff by Dannie Abse (1991)

Shifts by Christopher Meredith (1988)

Border Country by Raymond Williams (1960)

Hearts of Wales: An Old Romance by Allen Raine (1905)

Addlands by Tom Bullough (2016)

You People by Nikita Lalwani (2020)

So Long Hector Bebb by Ron Berry (1970)

Life, Death and Worlds

The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen (1894)

Among Others by Jo Walton (2011)

The Island of Apples by Glyn Jones (1965)

Gaslight by Eloise Williams (2017)

State of Desire by Catherine Merriman (1996)

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (2009)

Hummingbird by Tristan Hughes (2017)

Twenty Thousand Saints by Fflur Dafydd (2008)

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher (2007)

See How They Run by Lloyd Jones (2012)

Politics

A Toy Epicby Emyr Humphreys (1958)

The Medlar Tree by Glenda Beagan (1992)

The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness (2011)

Griffri by Christopher Meredith (1991)

The Rebecca Rioter by Amy Dilwyn (1880)

You’re Welcome to Ulster by Menna Gallie (1970)

Feet in Chains by Kate Roberts (1936) [translation by Katie Gramich]

The Element of Water by Stevie Davies (2001)

All Things Betray Thee by Gwyn Thomas (1949)

Everything Must Change by Grahame Davies (2004)

Class and Society

Outside the House of Baal, by Emyr Humphreys (1965)

Sugar Hall, by Tiffany Murray (2004)

Grits, by Niall Griffiths (2000)

Cwmardy, by Lewis Jones (1937)

A Small Country, by Sian James (1979)

Winter Sonata, by Dorothy Edwards (1928)

This Bygone, by Ron Berry (1996)

The Colour of a Dog Running Away, by Richard Gwyn (2005)

Random Deaths and Custard, by Catrin Dafydd (2007)

Starved Fields, by Elizabeth Inglis-Jones (1929)

Conflict and Crime

Blacklands, by Belinda Bauer (2009)

The Girl in the Red Coat, by Kate Hamer (2015)

A Buglary, by Amy Dilwyn (1883)

Strike for a Kingdom, by Menna Gallie (1959)

Cardiff Dead, by John Williams (1940)

Owen Glendower, by John Cowper Powys (1940)

The Golden Orphans, by Gary Raymond (2018)

Widow’s Welcome, by D. K. Fields (2019)

The Volunteers, by Raymond Williams (1978)

In the Green Tree, by Alun Lewis (1948)

 

With thanks again to the judging panel for their much-appreciated input, nominations and conversation.