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On Being a Writer in Wales: Sophie Buchaillard

30 Mar 2024 5 minute read
Sophie Buchaillard

Sophie Buchaillard

What does it mean to be a writer in Wales? In a way, it is hard to draw any comparison, since I have never been a writer anywhere else. What about France? I hear you ask. Ah! Yes, France.

Do you think that’s where my story starts? At the launch of my second novel Assimilation, a few weeks ago, I was asked Have you always written? by a lady who introduced herself as an aspiring writer.

She sat on the front row, propped forward, a pen and notebook opened on her lap, eager for an answer which would maybe vindicate her own journey. Yes and no, I replied.

She looked disappointed. I tried to explain…


I was born in France, the only one in a family of people speaking other languages, located in all corners of the world. Everywhere, in fact, but France.

At the age of eight, an estranged uncle gifted me a small, red, leather-bound, hand-made journal. A fascinating object which started the habit of a lifetime: recording personal thoughts, family anecdotes, mundane experiences, key moments in the life of a child.

Later on, I learnt to observe the places I travelled to with my parents, noticing how small details had the capacity to bring whole worlds into view.

Most of all, I read, and read, and read. Everything from children stories, to Greek myths, literature to plays, non-fiction to poetry.

Everything isn’t quite right, though. I read what was recommended to me by school and the local library. A curated perspective, if you like.


Only later on, once I’d come to Wales and was faced with the urge to find where I belonged, did it occur to me that all these authors had been men.

Men, telling stories from the perspective of other men. Not a great help for a twenty-year-old girl seeking her place in the world. I joined a writers’ group for a while. A group for women writers exclusively.

We met once a week, shared our writing, and received reading recommendations from the facilitator.

There, I discovered Hélène Cixous, Doris Lessing, Angela Carter, and many authors who taught me writing can convey many different perspectives.

At the same time, I was young, and lacked the resilience to receive feedback that could have improved my writing.

Still adapting to life as a migrant, my sense of self was too fragile, in a way. In the end, I drifted. Stopped attending the classes. Lost touch with those inspiring ladies who for a moment acted like so many literary mothers.


Then life happened. Work. Marriage. Children. A career in third sector campaigning where the use of the just word often made a difference to the life of thousands of people. A word with the ability to effect concrete change.

Fast forward fifteen years and here I am in 2019, leaving my job to return to university and study a Masters in Creative Writing.

I was out to right some wrongs and prove to myself (and our children) that it is never too late to fulfil a dream. 

Have you always written? the lady asked. Yes and no, because although I have been writing consistently since that first notebook, aged eight, it is only when I joined the MA that I truly understood that it isn’t the writing that makes the writer, but rather the ability to edit, to reorder the narrative.

So in a way, I became a writer in 2019 on the benches of Cardiff University.

Supportive ecosystem

Along the way, I approached many local authors and independent publishers for advice. Being a writer in Wales, to me, is being part of a supportive community of creative minds, generous with their time and willing to welcome new voices.

People who offered their guidance and shared their experience, despite a climate of austerity which disproportionately impacts the arts.

Five years on. My first novel, This Is Not Who We Are (Seren Books) was shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year, compounding that sense of a supportive ecosystem, and of the value of promoting different perspectives, be that, in my case, women, migrant or both.


And so it is this journey, and the lessons it had to give, which informed Assimilation (Honno), a fragmented story which tracks the experience of migration across time and countries, from the perspective of three characters: Marianne, a young French woman born in the Protectorate of Morocco in the 1940s and seeking work in London first, then in South America; Wilson, a Nigerian would-be medical student in the 1980s, fallen victim to the administrative machine of the French state; and Charlotte, a Paris-born twenty-year-old arriving in Wales three days after 9/11.

Three characters who illustrate aspects of travel usually excluded from typical travel writing, a genre shaped by a handful of privileged European white male authors whose words disproportionately influenced our perception of who the other is over the past 200 years.

This is changing, of course, but the assumption that travel is necessarily motivated by entertainment or a thirst for adventure, whilst migration is this homogeneous one-size fits all, persists.

In Assimilation, I tried to create a fragmented narrative to throw the reader into the discomfort that comes with being the other in a new place, whilst illustrating that the experience of travel comes in many forms, most of which don’t fit into the prevailing stereotypes.

I hope Assimilation invites the reader to pause and consider the many other stories that remain untold.

What does it mean to be a writer in Wales? To me it is the freedom to ask uncomfortable questions and write my way to (some) of the answers, knowing incredible local publishers will work hard to help get this Wales-grown voice heard, and echoing in the heart and mind of the reader.

Sophie Buchaillard’s novel Assimilation is published by Honno. It is available from all good bookshops.

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