Former Bardd Plant Casia William discusses the importance of family in her writing life, and the daunting prospect of writing a book about Betty Campbell.
Where are you from and how does it influence your work?
I’m from the Llŷn Peninsula in north Wales. Living in a rural area I went to relatively small primary and secondary schools, and therefore had a lot of experiences and opportunities that influenced me. I still remember author visits, walking from school to the local library and teachers reading to us at the end of the day. Also, people are very open and there is a strong sense of community on the Llŷn, and that’s definitely influenced my work, and I think is partly why I’m so fascinated by people and their stories.
Where are you while you answer these questions, and what can you see when you look up from the page/screen?
I’m in a café in my now home-town of Caernarfon, enjoying a rare coffee in peace. I have two young boys, so café visits are often a frantic mix of trying to keep everyone occupied and stopping drinks from spilling! This café has windows all along the front so it’s the perfect spot for some people watching; I can see an elderly man in a blue cap and sunglasses even though it’s overcast, and four young girls chatting and laughing.
What motivates you to create?
More often than not, it’s people. I will meet someone and think, ‘I want to put you in a book’. I’m interested in what makes people tick, what people get up to at home, what goes on in their minds. I’ve recently been motivated by wanting to explore certain topics too; in my first novel for young adults, ‘Sêr y Nos yn Gwenu’, I explore the idea of being a young person in a rural community. Then again, sometimes I’m motivated by seeing a big old gap that needs filling. When I was the Bardd Plant (Children’s Poet Laureate) from 2017-2019, I was struck by the huge difference between the children that were sat in front of me, and the children featured in Welsh language children’s literature. That’s why I wrote the ‘Sw Sara Mai’ series, novels for children aged 8+, with a black, Welsh main character.
What are you currently working on?
Something very exciting and a little scary. I’m writing a book about Betty Campbell, the first black headteacher in Wales. I’m excited because she was such an amazing woman, and I feel very privileged to be able to tell her story, but I also feel the weight of responsibility, to speak to those who knew her, to ensure that I truly capture who she was. The book will be published in English and Welsh by Gwasg Carreg Gwalch and will be out next year.
When do you work?
Whenever and wherever I can. With two young children and working as a freelance communications consultant, life often feels like one big jigsaw, and my writing often feels like those bits of the jigsaw that you can’t seem to fit in anywhere!
How important is collaboration to you?
It’s a strange one. If I’m completely honest I’m always a little nervous of working on collaboration projects or books; I’m so used to writing being a solitary practice. But if an opportunity comes my way, like it did with The Fish Princess, when I was invited to work with the North Wales Africa Society to write a new story, I always go for it. That’s because I know that only good can come of it; being with others, learning from their experiences, seeing the world through their eyes, it’s always interesting and always rewarding.
Who has had the biggest impact on your work?
My Mum is an author too, so she has been my biggest influence. Seeing her work and work for months, sometimes years on a book has really shown me the dedication and discipline it takes to become a published author. Other than that, I would have to say the people around me, my two sons, Caio and Deri have influenced a lot of my most recent children’s books. Being with them means that I have this insight into what makes children laugh, what they want to hear about, what they enjoy. And my recent book for young adults was influenced by a job I had helping to organise community assemblies on the climate. All the people I worked with and met during that time helped me write that book.
How would you describe your oeuvre?
Ask me again in 10 years.
What was the first book you remember reading?
I remember being obsessed with a Christmas Book called ‘Nadolig Tosca’, about a cat that’s always in the way when the family are trying to wrap Christmas presents and putting the tree up.
What was the last book you read?
I tend to read one English and one Welsh language book. I treated myself to an easy-read Jenny Colgan book recently, The Bookshop on the Corner. Pure bliss. I know from trying that writing something that’s as easy as that to ready is very difficult! And I’m in the middle of a series of essays by Angharad Price, called Ymbapuroli. They’re all wonderful and thought-provoking, and whereas I normally fall asleep when reading in bed, this book has me staying up late.
Is there a painting/sculpture you struggle to turn away from?
We have just bought a painting by local artist, Stephen John Owen, and I love it. It’s a picture of a house along the estuary by where we live.
Who is the musical artist you know you can always return to?
During the working process of your last work, in those quiet moments, who was closest to your thoughts?
When I was writing Sara Mai ac Antur y Fferm, the third in the series of Sara Mai books where Sara goes on a school to trip to a farm, it was the children I recently met in school in Pen Llŷn. When I asked them about their favourite animals, they would name specific breeds of sheep and cows and so on! So, I tried to always keep them in mind when writing this book; they were my audience.
Do you believe in God?
No, but I do believe in the goodness that comes from believing in or doing something bigger than yourself.
Do you believe in the power of art to change society?
Oh yes, most definitely. I believe more and more that art has the power to change and cause action, much more than politics these days.
Which artist working in your area, alive and working today, do you most admire and why?
If I had to pick just one, I would say Megan Angharad Hunter. Her first novel, ‘Tu ôl i’r Awyr’ broke the mould. It’s bold, daring, endearing, and gripping. She has just released a new novel for children, and I can’t wait to read it. When she writes, magic happens.
What is your relationship with social media?
Mixed. I have to use it for work, and it certainly had its benefits, but it’s such a time thief.
What has been/is your greatest challenge as an artist?
Finding the time to write and being a mam.
Do you have any words of advice for your younger self?
Surround yourself with inspiring women and you’ll be fine.
What does the future hold for you?
Hopefully many more books and a lot of happy times.