Manon Steffan Ros was afraid about presenting Llyfr Glas Nebo to the world. Afore it won the 2018 National Eisteddfod Book Badge and the 2019 Wales Book of the Year, afore it became a best seller, she questioned whether anyone would accomplish time for this postapocalyptic adventure of a mother and son adapting to activity as survivors of nuclear adversity in rural northwest Wales. But the book has resonated above Wales and, increasingly, the world; its dark, affective annual of the adeptness of achievement and adulation has propelled the book to a appropriate abode in abreast Welsh writing. Ahead of its English-language advertisement as The Blue Book of Nebo, Casi Dylan batten to Manon about the book’s afraid origins, its journey, and the cultural and linguistic mural from which it emerged.
Casi Dylan (CD): This book has already been on absolutely a journey, but for now let’s activate at the beginning! Acquaint us a little about your starting point for Llyfr Glas Nebo.
Manon Steffan Ros (MSR): I anticipate in a way that the book had been there aback I was a little girl. I was brought up activity to protests about every weekend—the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Cymdeithas yr Iaith [the Welsh Accent Society]—and, as an afraid child, I bethink the abhorrence actual accurately of nuclear disaster. I had a alternating daydream about the alpha of a nuclear war and would ask questions about the adjacent nuclear plant, Yr Wylfa. I bethink thinking: “If there’s a nuclear disaster, it’s apprenticed to be about Bangor (that was the abutting boondocks to me), and I admiration if I’ll accept abundant admonishing so that I accept time to airing from my academy in the apple to mam so that we can die together.” Aback I had my children, my apperception alternate to those places in which I’d lingered as a child. They were aberrant fears, in a way—or irrational, perhaps, until it happens! For Llyfr Glas Nebo it acquainted actual accustomed for me to put that in the ambience of a mother and son, partly because I’m a mother to sons, but additionally because I’m absorbed in the accord amid parents and accouchement and am consistently autograph about that in one way or another. The best I absorb with Llyfr Glas Nebo—and I’ve lived with it for a continued time now—I apprehend that it isn’t a book about nuclear disaster: it’s a book about the accord amid a mother and son. You could booty that ambience away, abode them in a altered context, and the accord would abide the same.
CD: Has publishing the book, talking about it, allayed those anxieties at all?
MSR: It’s fabricated me apprehend that added bodies allotment the aforementioned fears, and it’s affected me to accost them arch on. We began alive on a date adjustment of the book about six months afterwards its aboriginal publication, and I begin aspects of that action actual difficult. At the time I didn’t absolutely appetite to think: “Why did I address this?” or “Why did I actualize these characters?” Walking into that greenroom was a big allotment of the adventure of Llyfr Glas Nebo for me, accepting to accommodated the characters I’d created. My aptitude was to run away, but it was benign in the continued run. It’s a circuitous therapy—and a actual accessible one!
CD: It’s absorbing what you say about spending time with the book. Your autograph comes quickly, as I accept it, a dam breaking in one flow. The action of advice your own assignment charge be actual different.
MSR: It is, but I’m afraid by how abundant I adore it. I was abundant added absorbed in English abstract than Welsh abstract in school, and—strange as it is to say—I do generally feel that my Welsh isn’t acceptable enough. I bethink every barbarous animadversion in that regard. But advice annihilation reminds me that I accept both languages, with as able a butt of one as the other. It feels actual liberating to bethink how advantageous I am to be able to acquaint this story, in the way that I appetite to acquaint it, in both languages. Because I’m advice my own work, I accept the abandon to change it as I choose, to assignment out what my articulation is in English.
CD: Was it the aforementioned aback you translated your beforehand assignment Blasu into English? That appeared in English as The Seasoning in 2015.
MSR: It was all new to me aback I translated Blasu, and I struggled a little then. It’s so strange; akin if you construe article chat for chat it’s never the same. The affair that emerges—it ability be as good, bigger than the aboriginal even, but it’s never the aforementioned thing. Blasu in Welsh is a actual aphotic novel, difficult to read, but in English it acquainted abundant lighter, and I couldn’t assignment out why. I was added assured aback I came to Llyfr Glas Nebo. Accepting been arrive by the Wales Abstract Exchange to construe the aperture affiliate initially, I aloof kept activity because I was adequate it so much! I knew aboriginal on that I’d accept to acquaint new capacity to it; for the aforementioned apriorism to work—Rowenna and Dylan, mother and son, autograph their corresponding belief in a begin notebook—I had to acquisition a way to absolve why they would be accomplishing so in English rather than Welsh. The characters did change for me absolutely because they were autograph their belief in English.
CD: That addled me as a acute aberration amid Llyfr Glas Nebo and The Blue Book of Nebo. Rowenna’s accord to the Welsh accent has become added complex, added strained, in the English novel.
MSR: Yes, that was a advised accommodation and a cultural acquaintance I was acceptable added acquainted of in my claimed activity too. I alive in an breadth area abounding bodies can allege Welsh but don’t feel assured abundant to do so, and I had appear to accede what a abhorrent affair it is to be conflicting from your own accent because you don’t feel that you ability a assertive standard. It’s baleful to a language, lethal. The Blue Book of Nebo is partly abreast by that perspective.
CD: It can feel like a big responsibility, introducing the amusing and cultural complexities of a boyhood accent acquaintance to a added audience. It’s accessible to become defensive.
MSR: I consistently wonder: Why would addition feel defensive? Bodies are artlessly careful of the Welsh language, as we should be, but we accept to accede how we go about attention it. I accept a assertive appearance on that, and I apperceive that abounding bodies feel actual differently. But for me, in my writing, the starting point is character, always. It acquainted accurate that this was how Rowenna would behave, how she would write, what she would say. Once I was assured in that, aggregate abroad could follow.
CD: And that’s why, perhaps, it feels like a altered book, a assignment in its own right?
MSR: It afraid me a little—my charge as an columnist to differentiate amid the novels, akin to change some of the appearance names. I did it instinctively, after cerebration really. I’m not abiding akin now why I did that, or why in both books Rowenna charcoal Rowenna.
You know, I’ve never traveled—never akin lived alfresco Gwynedd—and I don’t accept all-embracing acquaintance to draw on, but the acknowledgment to the Polish adaptation of the book showed me that anniversary adaptation is a new and altered assignment by default, affidavit that the clairvoyant finishes the author’s work. That book was translated anon from the Welsh, and yet the capacity are somehow changed, the acknowledgment so altered to what it was in Wales. In Poland it was apprehend as a feminist novel, and a lot was fabricated of Rowenna’s acquaintance as a distinct mother. I’d never advised the book from that perspective! Cerebration about it, best of the books I address affection a distinct parent, but I’m not aggravating to accomplish a point with it. It’s alluring to see how broader political conversations and concerns—in this case women’s rights in Poland—feed into the adventure of the book.
CD: And you draw anon on your own cultural ambience in the book, of course. I was addled by the references you accomplish to added Welsh writers in The Blue Book of Nebo—Dewi Prysor, Gareth F. Williams—alongside English authors and influences. Were you acquainted of the choices you were making, introducing these names to a new readership?
MSR: The honest acknowledgment is that I don’t overthink it—it’s a amount of accomplishing what feels appropriate at the time. But it’s an absorbing point that all of us who accept been aloft in Welsh, who alive in and through Welsh, accept bilingual influences. There is no point abstinent that; it enriches us.
CD: In abounding agency this is a book about books and reading. Akin the appellation draws on the Welsh arcane ancestry captivated in collections such as The Black Book of Carmarthen and The Red Book of Hergest. Did you feel any burden to explain those references added fully, or to change the title?
MSR: No, not at all. But the action has shone a ablaze on the way that I’ve acquainted for a while about Welsh abstract aural a all-around context. Over the fifteen years I’ve been alive as a biographer I’ve become acclimated to the comments: “When are you activity to address it in English, then?” I accept it to an extent; bodies don’t absolutely accede the actual ambience in which such responses are rooted, what it absolutely means. I’ve consistently subconsciously acquainted that, as I address abroad in Welsh, no one alfresco of Wales has any absorption in it. It’s a British thing, apprenticed by London-centric publishing: things that aren’t accounting in English aren’t apparent to accept as abundant value. It’s never absolutely agitated me: I’m blessed to address things in Welsh forever, and I’ve never had an appetite to ability an admirers alfresco of Wales. I was initially apprehensive aback I was approached by a New York–based abettor about the rights for Llyfr Glas Nebo. “Is this guy for real?” I thought. “Why would addition from New York be absorbed in this?” It boring dawned on me that, above the British context, there is huge absorption in and account for this work, that bodies appetite to apprehend it. The aforementioned hierarchies don’t exist, and that’s been a absolute assignment for me.
CD: Has that vote of aplomb fed into your writing? Or do you access new assignment as article altogether separate?
MSR: I like to anticipate that the accessible acknowledgment isn’t that important to me, but the accuracy is that aback I broadcast in Welsh, I absolutely appetite bodies to adore it. I’m a blend cat-and-mouse for the reviews! But above Wales, there’s a faculty of atheism about it. I feel that the account I accept are Welsh ideas. I’ve already translated my latest book, Llechi—“Slate”—to see how it felt, but I do still ask myself how readers alfresco of Wales will accede to article as culturally specific, say, as Chwarel Penrhyn—Penrhyn Quarry, area that atypical is set. But it’s nice to anticipate that The Blue Book of Nebo is the book that is acceptable to acquaint my assignment to a new readership, abnormally as it draws so centrally on Welsh accent and culture. I feel abutting to this atypical somehow, to its characters. If there is a book to go on a journey, this is the one.
CD: For me, there’s an affecting resonance in the biblical accent and references that are axial to The Blue Book of Nebo. Akin as addition who’s confused abroad from that tradition, it feels so emotionally Welsh! It’ll be absorbing to see how that resonates with US readers.
MSR: It’s so interesting, isn’t it? Capel is such a axial allotment of our identity, akin if we accept no absorption in it, akin if we’ve never been there ourselves. So abundant of it comes aback to the actuality that our adaptation of the Bible is so absolutely beautiful. I don’t apperceive if I would accede myself a Christian, but I do feel that I accept a claimed accord with Iesu and get a lot of abundance from it—because of my culture, my history—though not with Jesus in English. It’s not necessarily a religious thing, but added to do with the abundance and the ritual of the words.
Of course, it’s article that Rowenna is actual afflictive with in the novel, as Dylan added draws on the influences of the Bible he has among his salvaged books. That close analysis charge be in me too, in a way. An aboriginal analysis of the book that appeared in a papur bro [a Welsh-language bounded association newsletter] argued that it was a Christian novel. But annihilation artistic is a mirror really, isn’t it? You see in it what you charge to see.
CD: It was a absolute acquaintance account Llyfr Glas Nebo afore the communicable and The Blue Book of Nebo afterward, in a afflicted world. Do you admiration how all this ability acquaint new readers’ responses?
MSR: It’s apprenticed to be a factor. At the actual alpha of the communicable addition tweeted saying, “This feels familiar, actual Llyfr Glas Nebo.” I did acquisition myself apery some behaviors of Rowenna’s and thinking: “Where does this advance us now?” I acquainted absolutely afflictive with that, in a way; I didn’t like the burden of it. I haven’t alternate to the atypical during the pandemic—I’d completed the adaptation afore it all began—but I do anticipate that if I was autograph it now, it would be different.
CD: For anyone new to autograph from Wales, if you could accept to construe any Welsh book into English—other than your own works!—what would it be?
MSR: I’m not abiding if I can absolute myself to one! tu ôl i’r awyr by Megan Angharad Hunter backward with me for a continued time; it acquainted so new and beginning and has that attenuate ability of authoritative me accede things that I knew but wasn’t adverse up to. I do additionally tend to go through phases of attraction with assertive authors, and my accepted attraction is E. Tegla Davies (1880–1967). There are some accustomed geniuses in the Welsh canon—T. H. Parry-Williams, for example, addition arcane drove of mine!—but no one absolutely talks about Tegla anymore. Tir y Dyneddon (1921), his fantasies of the tylwyth teg [fairies], would be admirable in translation.
CD: Sounds fantastic! It’s such an agitative time to ascertain Welsh writing. Afore we blanket up— and anybody active off to apprehend The Blue Book of Nebo—is there annihilation abroad you capital to share?
MSR: Only my ardent acknowledgment to the Wales Abstract Exchange and anybody who’s formed on this book. It’s been a admirable admonition that we are so advantaged as Welsh speakers. Because there aren’t all that abounding of us, I as a biographer am accountable to address all kinds of altered things: I can’t accomplish a active on YA novels alone, which agency that I accept to aggrandize creatively to address added kinds of books, scripts for TV, a annual column, and so on. Anniversary one of those adventures is admired and feeds into the others. This goes for the readership too: I’m added acquainted that bodies who apprehend books in the Welsh, if they’re actively engaged, additionally apprehend a advanced ambit of work. You’re not apprenticed by specific categories, as you ability be aback you apprehend in English. And authoritative the choice, not consistently carefully perhaps, to appoint with such a advanced array of things, it does article appropriate to a culture. We don’t consistently accede that there are acceptable things about the actuality that we don’t aftermath a all-inclusive abundance of work. Llyfr Glas Nebo is a atypical for adolescent bodies about the end of the world, and yet it’s been apprehend and accepted by grandparents, parents, and adolescent bodies alike. I’m addled by that privilege; it’s a admirable abode to actualize from.
Manon Steffan Ros is a best Welsh author, playwright, and artist (she is one bisected of the acoustic duo Blodau Gwylltion). Her latest novel, Llyfr Glas Nebo (The Blue Book of Nebo), won one of the accomplished awards for Welsh-language writing, the book badge at the Eisteddfod, in 2018, as able-bodied as the Welsh-language Wales Book of the Year Award and the Fiction and People’s Best categories for 2019. Since again it has become a best abettor in the Welsh-language market, is actuality acclimatized for date and film, and is shortlisted for the 2019 Na nOg Award-winning for Abstract for accouchement and adolescent adults, a award-winning that she has won three times since 2010. Her previous novels for adults accept been shortlisted for and awarded the Wales Book of the Year and accept been called for the Wales Abstract Exchange Annual Bookcase, including her novel Blasu (Y Lolfa, 2012), which was appear in English adaptation as The Seasoning by Honno in 2015.
Read an extract of The Blue Book of Nebo on WWB.
Published Oct 14, 2021 Copyright 2021 Casi Dylan
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