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Best of 2021: A selection of cultural highlights from the last 12 months

28 Dec 2021 6 minute read
Max Boyce – Hymns & Arias

Continuing our week long review of 2021, more writers, reviewers and publishers share their cultural highlights of the last 12 months. All recommended books can be bought from your local bookshop

Richard Lewis Davies

I’ve been telling people I’m on tour with Max Boyce. He is a hero of mine and many others. We had his records in our house when I was growing up and my mother and father went to his concerts. It can be a risk to meet your heroes.

I spent a sunny weekend in December driving him to bookshops across south Wales. It’s the first time I’ve been with an author who has been clapped into the shops by a queue of people stretching along the street.

Max took a great amount of care with each signature and dedication and chatted to everyone and smiled for photographs.

It has been like selling a book of happiness with people reminiscing when they first saw him in Treorci in 1973 or Wolverhampton Woolworths or bringing the whole family along for a picture.

One man drove from Reading to Crickhowell to get signed copies another couple came down from Wrexham to see him. The manager in Swansea had a call from a customer in Dubai to secure a signed copy.

In between I had great time listening to stories of panto with Ian Botham and a charity cricket game where M.Boyce bowls to V. Richards and gets him caught by P. Bennett on the boundary.

To have the opportunity to work with him has been a real honour.

David Chalky White and Lorna Walker Harvard, Image Richard Davies

Richard Lewis Davies is one of the founding partners of Parthian and is the current commercial director of the Library of Wales series. In addition to publishing, Richard has a parallel career as a creative writer. His novels include Tree of Crows and My Piece of Happiness, and a critically acclaimed selection of stories Love and Other Possibilities.


Pity the Beast published by &Other Stories;Tides published by Granta; Mercia’s Take published by Swift Press

Cynan Jones

The plate of an 1815 geological map by William Smith in an early chapter of John Reader’s excellent Missing Links. A delineation of the strata of England and Wales with part of Scotland. Spellbinding.

Three brilliant proofs back-to-back, and I count that hattrick as one highlight. Robin McLean’s Pity the Beast (now available), Sara Freeman’s Tides (out in January) and Daniel Wiles’ Mercia’s Take (out February).

Dan Biggar’s Six Nations kick to Josh Adams quarter of an hour in against England. And it was my birthday, too.

Cynan Jones is a Welsh writer, who lives and works in Ceredigion. Jones published his first novel, The Long Dry, in 2006. In 2010 he published Le Cose Che Non Vogliamo Più in Italian. He later published three novels between 2011 and 2014. In autumn 2016, Cove became his sixth published work.


Bute Park lights, image Sarah Tanburn

Sarah Tanburn

In a complicated year, the Bute Park lights in Cardiff stood out. Joy, wonder, wit and stellar craft linked the installations as the city walks round in the dark, enjoying it together. You can marvel at them too, till 3 January.

I loved Salt Roads, read this year for research and my Book Club. Magical, sexy and painful, Nalo Hopkinson introduces multiple worlds in space and time. (Closer to home, on a related voyage, is Catrin Kean’s Salt, which I reviewed last year.)

Returning to the cinema was a delight, especially to my fave Penarth Pier. Nomadland was a fitting celebration of the velvety dark and a warm but distanced community.

Sarah Tanburn is a writer and accomplished sailor and works in environmental and public services. She is also a regular contributor to our Culture section as a reviewer and commentator.


Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen published by Fourth Estate

Roger Williams

My film highlight of the year was getting to see my movie The Feast screen to an audience at the London Film Festival.

Lee Haven Jones and I made this audacious Welsh language horror in 2019 and its release has been delayed by the pandemic. It will finally be unleashed in cinemas across the UK in April 2022.

I recently devoured Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Crossroads.  I studied American literature at university and admire his skill in telling stories about complex families wrestling with major themes.

Other highlights include Edgar Wright’s documentary The Sparks Brothers about the band Sparks and Dry Cleaning’s album New Long Leg which continues to surprise me every time I listen to it.

Roger Williams is an award-winning writer and producer working in both the Welsh and English languages. His drama series BANG won the Bafta Cymru Award and Celtic Media Festival Award for best drama series in 2018, and he was nominated for a Writers’ Guild of Great Britain award for his work on the show. He wrote and produced the feature film – THE FEAST – which premiered at SXSW in 2021 and has won awards at the BiFAN, Motel X and Neuchatel film festivals. He won the BAFTA Cymru screenwriting award twice for TIR (2015) and CAERDYDD (2010). He has written dramas for BBC, Channel 4 and S4C.


Tu ôl i’r awyr by Megan Angharad Hunter, Y Lolfa

Jon Gower

Megan Angharad Hunter’s Tu ôl i’r awyr, was my book of the year, a stunning debut and instant classic to boot which announced itself as if in a rush of fireworks.

Returning to the cinema was beyond exciting and a trio of films stood out. Two of them starred Mads Mikkelsen, compelling as ever.

The dark comic horror of Riders of Justice is an ideas-strewn Danish rollercoaster of revenge and, well, tenderness, as a bunch of misfits learn to act as a team.

Another Round is another fine ensemble piece, charting an experiment in which middle aged friends see if they can live their lives with fixed amounts of alcohol in their bloodstreams, to which I’d raise a steady glass. The fittingly joyous American Utopia redefined the live concert movie, taking away the connecting wires and replacing them with fine choreography to complement David Byrne’s music and late style.

Jon Gower is a prize-winning author, broadcaster and occasional actor. He is also our culture editor and an all-around top man.

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