Support our Nation today - please donate here

On Being a Writer in Wales: Rebecca Roberts

10 Dec 2023 7 minute read
Rebecca Roberts

Rebecca Roberts

As someone who made her name as an author of Welsh language fiction, despite living in a community where Welsh speakers are very much in the minority, being a ‘Welsh writer’ must always be linked with the language of my forefathers.

In my own head, I hop unthinkingly between Welsh and English – after all, I am a translator by trade. There is no majority or minoritized language inside my brain; only what suits the moment or the project.

But outside of my head, it is a different story. Sometimes, being bilingual feels like a dual identity.

I could write an essay about my taith iaith and my experiences as a bilingual author. I could write about growing in linguistic confidence and pride at my perseverance, as well as feelings of otherness, occasional inadequacy and impostor syndrome.

I could write about the challenges of belonging to two sociolinguistic communities, and how sometimes the Welsh literary scene, particularly around eisteddfodau, felt like a game where no one explains the rules because they take for granted that you grew up knowing them.

Sometimes I feel ‘too Welsh’, at other times I don’t feel ‘Welsh enough’ – hence the otherness and a general feeling of not quite fitting in.

Working with words

I began writing an article in this vein – but then I had a change of heart. A few weeks ago I found an old VHS home video from 1988 showing me at three years of age, playing in English and singing a hymn in Welsh.

Yes, I sang it very, very badly, in totally the wrong key – but this audial torture reminded me that there was a time when I spoke or wrote or sung heedlessly, and language was unencumbered with emotional baggage.

This linguistic hyper-awareness is one of the pitfalls of working with words, especially in the Welsh language sector. But the home video showed me that I have always been, and will always be, a teller of stories, regardless of the language I choose.

Enough with the linguistic navel-gazing.


So… being a writer in Wales. What is the first thing that jumps into my mind at those words? Undoubtedly, it would be the writing community itself.

My family and friends are not, generally speaking, big readers. Before I was published, nobody in my immediate circle asked to read my writing, and I never asked them to read it.

Although I know my family love me, they were largely indifferent to my fiction. To paraphrase Jane Austen: ‘Nobody cares about writers till they are published’.

In those early days, it was other Welsh writers who boosted my self-confidence and encouraged me to persevere. Someone who had adjudicated my work in a fiction competition described me as ‘one to watch’ in a Facebook post many moons ago – something which meant a great deal when I didn’t have a single writing credit to my name.

Tough love

Several times, I’ve shared early versions of my work with mentors or judges. They could easily have doled out tough love in the form of harsh criticism, and although this might occasionally have been deserved, it would undoubtedly have shattered my egg-shell thin confidence.

Instead, these authors were unfailingly tactful and constructive in their feedback, and they continued to support me even after the mentorship ended, after the completed projects made their way into the world as fully-fledged novels.

They believed in me before I was quite able to believe in myself – and I am grateful to them for everything they taught me. Last year, at a Gŵyl Rhuthun event, someone senior in the library service commented that she’d been watching me from afar and enjoyed watching me ‘grow into being an author’.

I understood what she meant, and I know that being treated as an equal by my writing peers, not as some fledgling upstart, played a big part in my development.


So many Welsh writers have been unstintingly kind in their support. They’ve invited me onto podcasts, offered me paid work, shared writing opportunities, written blurbs and blogged about my books.

There’s a group of authors who debuted around the same time as I did, and we steadfastly cheer each other on and rejoice in each other’s successes, and occasionally commiserate each other.

Initially, we may have had nothing more in common than our publisher or genre, but we’ve bonded over our love of sharing stories.

Dizzyingly joyous

After throwing a book out into the void it’s always gratifying to receive an email or message from another writer, telling me how much they’ve enjoyed something I’ve written.

There’s something dizzyingly joyous about knowing that an author whose books you read as a child and teen, whose writing you secretly wished you could emulate, is now enjoying something you wrote.

Much as I value feedback from readers, it carries a special weight when it comes from a literary idol, a writer whose storytelling ability you truly admire. (I’m not naming names, to avoid causing embarrassment or offence by inadvertently leaving somebody out… but you all know who you are.)


But I’d be remiss if I didn’t also sing the praises of those working or volunteering in the Welsh publishing industry too. There are fantastic publishers, editors, librarians, bookshop owners, podcasters and other bookish people supporting us at all levels.

One hears so many disheartening stories about the gatekeeping and exclusivity of the London-based publishing industry. Dipping my toes (briefly) into these waters in search of an agent, I received scarcely an acknowledgement of my submissions. The general consensus seems to be that ‘no reply means no’ – not even a cursory, standardised refusal is sent.

I know that agents and publishers are swamped by mountainous slush piles, but it’s dispiriting to be ignored thus. I had a few positive responses from potential agents, but the feedback they sent me left me wondering whether my Welshness, something I’m so proud of, may have limited the appeal of my writing.

Home and community

I’ve given up searching for a literary agent, because I’ve realised that I’m perfectly happy working exclusively with Welsh publishers.

I’m not going to relocate my characters to Cheshire or Bristol to appeal to the more Anglo-centric market. Wales is more than my country – it’s my home and my community too. My cynefin.

I love the fact that we’re a nation that values storytellers in all their forms. After all, our most famous war hero wasn’t a Brigadier General, but a farmer poet from Trawsfynydd. Our largest festivals platform bards rather than bands.

We’re a land that reveres stories old and new, the music of language – and I find it wonderful that those who are actively engaged in wordsmithing themselves are kind enough to take the time to sing other writers’ praises, without expectation of a reward.

Perhaps it’s because they know how excruciatingly difficult it is to bare your soul, serve it up on a page and offer it up for judgement. Perhaps it’s because there is a collective joy in sharing and celebrating our literary heritage.

Whatever the reason that prompts this generosity of spirit within Welsh writers, I’m very proud to be among them. Yma wyf finnau i fod.

Rebecca Roberts’ latest novel is The Rituals, published by Honno. It is available from all good bookshops.

Support our Nation today

For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Our Supporters

All information provided to Nation.Cymru will be handled sensitively and within the boundaries of the Data Protection Act 2018.