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On being a writer in Wales: Diana Gruffydd Williams

26 May 2024 5 minute read
Diana Gruffydd Williams

Diana Gruffydd Williams

Born in Abernant, Aberdare in 1944 where my three surviving grandparents lived, we ‘emigrated’ to Essex when I was just two.

Holidays in Aberdare and later in Goodwick (Sir Benfro) were the highlight of my life. My parents spoke no Welsh to me so I had to learn it and I’ve done my best!

I went to Coleg y Drindod, Caerfyrddin from 1963- 1966 when the indomitable Norah Isaac was keen to ensure that I learnt Welsh.

I have taught in several places, in a Manchester slum school (the buildings in the area have all been demolished now). My class of six-year-olds were disadvantaged children.

For example, one poor boy came to school suffering from an ear infection which triggered his epilepsy.

His mother told me that the alternative to him coming to school was to stay at home all day on his own. I had to be his nurse.

I taught at the Arts Educational Trust School in Tring where the ghost of Nell Gwynne was said to wander around the building; the children were very imaginative and creative, so I spent several evenings going through the secret passageways in the school with a torch, searching for the ghost.

Later, I taught at the former Clive Hall school (art) and adult evening classes in art history. I was fortunate enough to be able to arrange a class visit to see Josef Herman in his London studio.

So, my time teaching gave me a wide range of experience. But perhaps it was my years of illness that taught me more.

I spent a long time in the late sixties until the early seventies as an in-patient or out-patient as my bipolarity and temporal lobe epilepsy proved to be very hard to manage.

Wales

Before I moved back here in 1969, I had learnt so much from my grandparents. My paternal grandparents were poor but so loving.

Through them, I saw the bitter experience of pneumoconiosis killing my grandfather after a lifetime as a collier.

Through my grandmother, I saw how her very limited means still enabled her to be gracious, funny and extremely hard-working. She always smiled.

My maternal grandfather retired to his native North Pembrokeshire and there, in his kitchen, we had long talks about Wales, life, literature and faith.

In 1969, I returned to Wales permanently. I have lived in Canton, Cardiff ever since. I am married, have a wonderful daughter and three strong-willed and lovely grandchildren – and they all speak Welsh much better than I can!

Writing   

I used to paint a lot and I have always written. Initially scribbles in exercise books, poems in small magazines in the late 60s to early 70s.

Theatre features for ‘Welsh Nation’, art reviews from Wales for the Guardian, feature reviews for the Western Mail.

My first novel was translated into Welsh by the Welsh Books Council (‘Ond doeddwn i ddim yn lloerig’, Gwasg Gee).

I have had short stories published (in ‘The Old Man o the Mist’. Martin Brian and O’Keeffe), two short stories broadcast on Radio 4 and have done some other freelance broadcasting.

I have had two books published by Y Lolfa ‘My people’s pilgrimage’ in 2008 tells the story of my particular family history (but also tells the generalised story of so many Welsh people).

Working on the land but owning none, they tilled the earth for generations until farms became bigger and more efficient tools reduced the need for many of the labourers at the end of the nineteenth century.

Without work, many of them had to come to the South for the coal and iron industries.

The work was so arduous, but, for a few generations, they were locked in poverty. With the 1944 Education Act, schooling was compulsory until children were older, and this brought the opportunity for further education. Amongst these people were my own parents who trained as teachers.

In 2018, Y Lolfa published ‘Fit for a Purpose’. Seen as an autobiography, it offers more than an account of my life. I tried to incorporate my spiritual values there and offer fairness and forgiveness into the text. There is no other way.

Spirituality

From my teenage years, I have had a deep interest in spirituality and I have tried to incorporate this into my life. I am a Christian – but an open-minded one.

At the heart of all religions, when they don’t get coloured by misinterpretation, lies compassion. I know the importance of prayer and meditation. I belong to two meditation groups (one focusing on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola and the other one involves group silence while attempting to let go of the ego).

Sadly, these ancient forms of worship are often misunderstood and neglected even within the Church. I have tried to rectify this by writing my most recent novel, ‘Names and Addresses’ (Open Space, 2023).

The protagonist, Megan Roberts, is a mystic. She is a person who gets insights beyond her own thoughts, a person who prays and meditates.

Sometimes she is misunderstood as she follows things that are meant to be. This book opens up the subject of spirituality in a way that is accessible to people who might otherwise reject it. That is my plan!

Names and Addresses is written and published by Diana Gruffydd Williams and can be purchased here.


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