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On being a writer in Wales: Meredith Miller

06 May 2024 5 minute read
Meredith Miller

Meredith Miller

As a writer I’m most concerned with two related things, place and dialect. So far, all of my novels have been born out of the shape of the land in which they’re set, whether that landscape is imagined or real.

For me that first gut feeling that will become a novel, the first sense of who the characters are and how they move through the story, comes from a sense of the landscape.

Secondly, I think to myself, what are the voices of this place? How do those voices relate to each other? What chorus do they make together?

I’m sure it’s already obvious that Wales is the perfect place for a writer like me. What better environment for someone preoccupied with the relationship between language and sense of place?

Having learned Welsh, I am now very often involved that wonderful conversation that begins, where do you live, then? Based on a lifetime of non-Welsh socialisation, I tend to respond with the name of my general area.

Yes, but where exactly? Oh, that’s near…? I have a cousin/sister/friend/in-law who lives just down the road. And we carry on until we’ve identified the exact, quite unforgettably dangerous, bend in the A470 near which I live.

I recently heard the geographer Kevin Morgan say that an Italian colleague of his thought that he came from the most localised culture on earth – until he spent some time in Wales.

Rural life

That conversation is a familiar and comforting ritual now, one I think of as very Welsh.

At local book signings and literary circles, host and guest speaker will spend five or ten minutes at the outset telling stories about where they lived relative to each other as children, where their parents lived relative to each other, what friends and relatives they have in common.

It is a very rural practice, I suppose. It characterises a country which, in spite of its wonderful cities, has always imagined itself through rural landscape and rural life.

There is an important and valuable question enacted in this ritual of location. How do we all fit together on this landscape in which we live? How are we connected on this land?

I like to think of this question in the most expansive possible way. I also think it is a sensibility we’d do well to cultivate in an era of climate crisis.

Second homes

As we all work and communicate increasingly ‘remotely’, as people come and go from our communities, leaving their Welsh second homes empty for most of the year, we could ask that very Welsh question.

There is a painful wrenching going on across Wales. People feel like they no longer make sense in their own hills.

I hadn’t realised when I began my latest novel, that I would move to Wales, spend a pandemic here. This country has taught me more than I ever dreamed I would learn about the novel’s subject – existing on the invisible edges of a centralised economy.

When I conceived the idea for Fall River, I was living in the Plymouth dockyards. The novel was born out of one moment in that landscape. I was on a train, passing over the Tamar Bridge from Cornwall into Devon. Across from me was my literary agent, a young and very privileged Londoner.

If you’ve been over that bridge you’ll know how spectacular the view is, and also how sharply that river divides pastoral from post-industrial Britain.

As we looked down on the expanse of terraced streets that make up Devonport, I pointed and said, ‘There’s my house. Right down there.’

The agent looked a little shocked. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘don’t you find it soul-destroying?’


This was 2017. In that moment I thought, this is what is wrong with us. This easy disdain for everywhere that isn’t London is what broke us.

So I wrote a novel about a regional community defined by its industrial landscape, and about the relationship between that community and London.

The UK is the most centralised nation in Europe. All of our power and money, our travel routes and most of our cultural production go through London.

And London sees us as nothing more than a passing existential horror glimpsed from a train window. Or a beautiful place that should be kept pretty so that they can spend five days a year in it.


We shouldn’t romanticise the local, that is very true. We might also remember, though, that recent right wing populist movements have been promoted and driven by cosmopolitan elites.

They capitalise on our local and regional anger, on people who feel disenfranchised and undervalued, because they are.

For Fall River’s publication day, Rachel Bonner read the novel and interviewed me about it. She began by saying, I’m from the South Valleys and there was so much here that spoke to me. And that is all I hoped for, really. To make that world outside the train window feel visible, wherever it is.

Because for better or worse, mostly worse, we do all fit together in the landscape of this island. Our riches and our deprivations, our visibility and invisibility, are connected.

Meredith Miller grew up in the New York and moved to Britain in 1997. Having worked in Wales from 2002 to 2004, she came back to live permanently in 2018. With the help of her neighbours, she has learned Welsh.

She keeps a Welsh-language diary, where most of her fiction is now composed before being translated into English.

Fall River (Honno, 2024) is her third published novel. You can read her most recent short story in issue 6 of Tamarind literary magazine.

Fall River is published by Honno and is available from all good bookshops.

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Another Richard
Another Richard
10 days ago

Good luck with the book! It might be more accurate to refer to the UK as a state rather than a nation, given the separate identities of its components. Anyone thinking the UK is the most centralised country in Europe should take a look at France. Paris is central in a way Londoners can only dream of.

Arthur Owen
Arthur Owen
10 days ago

If Ms Miller was a native, conversations would not start with ‘where do you live?’ but ‘who are you related to?’ and this is not just an inquiry about brothers and sisters but all your kin to the ninth degree(y nawfed ach).

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