ESSAY Kieron Smith

NWR Issue 114

One Foot in the Water

Islands enjoy a prominent place in the Welsh imagination, so much so that we might call Wales an ‘islophiliac’ nation (Pete Hay). This is perhaps understandable, given the abundance of islands peppering the coastline: from tiny, uninhabited (and, to anglophone eyes, misleadingly named) islands such as Ynys y Bîg in the Menai Straits, to the ‘mainland’ it neighbours: Ynys Môn. In Tristan Hughes’ 2008 novel, Revenant, the character Ricky, ever a source of idiosyncratic philosophising on such matters, has his own ideas. For him, it’s as though:

When the world w being made God sort of lost the plot or the energy when he got to and started flnging what he left all over the place, like he was a making a jigsaw and got bored with it and left a load of pieces lying about around the edges.

Islophilia can also be explained in political terms. In a nation long annexed to a dominating neighbour, it is hardly surprising that islands, with their sharply delineated borders and vaguely utopian connotations, should provide a source of imaginative potential. The exemplar of this form of thinking in recent years is of course Iwan Bala, many of whose paintings explore variations on the conceit of a Wales geographically liberated from England. However, not all such island thinking is quite as utopian. As one character in Niall Griffths’ 2000 novel, Sheepshagger, opines: ‘If yew got a fuckin big saw an separated the country down Offa’s Dyke an let us float out to sea we’d still be in their fuckin power.’

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Kieron Smith is a Research Associate on the Digital Literary Atlas of Wales project at Cardiff University. He is currently writing a monograph on the poet and filmmaker John Ormond, and has written on the poet for New Welsh Review. He lives in Swansea.

The Digital Literary Atlas of Wales and its Borderlands goes live in June. All author interviews will be available on the website and on Twitter @litatlaswales.

Tristan Hughes’ latest novel, Hummingbird, is published by Parthian in June, and was extracted in our e-edition, Review 16 (1 May 2017). Fflur Dafydd’s television series for S4C, Parch, was reviewed in Review 12 (1 November, 2016).


previous essay: My Artemis, My Ephesus
next essay: The Poet, The GP, The Publican and a Pig Named Wallis


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