In the latest of collaborations between Wales Arts Review and The Western Mail, award-winning novelist and TV writer Fflur Dafydd reflects on her artistic obsession with Welsh Institutions and their impact on her writing, charting the journey from bricks and mortar to the presence on the page, and how R.S. Thomas has proved an unlikely guide through it all.
“Why are you so obsessed with Welsh institutions?” It’s a question I’ve been asked many times, without ever being able to give a satisfactory answer. Although some institutional imagery has been present in my work ever since I started writing, by 2023 I seemed to have reached ‘peak obsession,’ having published two novels and released one feature film set in the National Library of Wales, and also a TV series, Yr Amgueddfa (The Museum), set in the National Museum of Wales. I also recently published a short story set at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, while my 2022 stage musical Lloergan featured the iconic Strata Florida Abbey as its backdrop. It seems that when it comes to any kind of Welsh institution, anywhere with a bit of history within its walls, and especially walls specifically built to preserve history, that I just can’t help myself. But it’s a perilous thing to do, and I often wonder how long it’ll be before I’m banned from all national institutions for the fictional crimes I might commit in them.
Writing about real locations and buildings in Wales often stirs up a hornet’s nest. It is no secret that my novels about Bardsey Island – Atyniad (Y Lolfa, 2006) and Twenty Thousand Saints (Alcemi, 2008) – written as a result of my residency there in 2002, have not gone down too well with the islanders. In fact, I was told during my last visit a decade ago that even the island itself did not want me there, as though the land was actively rejecting the narrative I had imposed upon it.
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