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FEMINIST BOOK FORTNIGHT – 4th – 18th May 2019

What is a feminist book?

We need to celebrate stories by women, for women, as just one more way to redress gender injustice.” Shami Chakrabarti

Honno is a women’s press with feminism as a core value – but we often publish books that don’t seem to have overtly feminist themes. So during Feminist Book Fortnight we asked ‘what is a feminist book?’, looking at a different book every day, chosen from both our contemporary and classic lists.

Here is the round up of the books selected by Honno staff and committee.

JILL by Amy Dillwyn.
The lesbian narrator of Amy Dillwyn’s novel Jill rebels against the class and gender constrictions of her society in her quest for self-fulfillment. At its first publication in 1884, it heralded the dawn of the ‘New Woman’ in fiction; reprinted in Honno Press’s Welsh Women’s Classics series in 2013, it remains today a vital and vibrant testimony to the pioneering feminism of its author. Jane Aaron

Judith writes about a group of women through the generations from the early 20 Century and pre women’s suffrage.She depicts very clearly how society and family, including the women, slows down or prevents the women from progressing and improving their lives. Gaining the vote does not mean total freedom, her female characters are also struggling against financial, familial and societal constraints as well. Nicky

GHOSTBIRD by Carol Lovekin is about a family of women: teenage Cadi, her mother Violet and aunt Lily. When Cadi demands to know the truth of who she is, she wakes the ghost of her sister Dora, who will make all the family face the secrets they tried to hard to hide. Part family drama, part magic realism, the moving story treats everyone, old or young, lesbian or straight, with great intelligence and warmth. Janet

NANSI LOVELL: Hunangofiant Hen Sipsi byElena Puw Morgan
– A novel about strong female characters who take charge of their own lives and struggle with the conventional expectations of society at the time, e.g. as regards motherhood. Doesn’t idealise women’s lot in any way.Wini
– “Nofel am gymeriadau benywaidd cryfion sy’n cymryd cyfrifoldeb am eu bywydau eu hunain ac yn ymgodymu hefo disgwyliadau confensiynol y gymdeithas ar y pryd, e.e. parthed bod yn fam. Nid yw yn delfrydu bywydau menywod mewn unrhyw ffordd.” Wini

FALLING by Debbie Moon
A futuristic story or a woman with abilities that are used by the authorities, and not always to her advantage. She has to re-adjust to her new timelines and skills many times whilst being aware of those around her, including her colleagues who may wish her harm. Her character is written as a strong determined woman working to keep herself safe and free. Nicky


The White Camellia, set in the early 1900s, has some great feminist characters: Sybil, the enigmatic business woman who can hold her own with villagers, mineworkers and some pretty treacherous family members to aristocratic; Vicky who intimidates authority in defence of her fellow suffragettes; and Bea herself who is fighting the prevailing norms of eligible marriages, work considered suitable for females and male authority in her own young life. It’s salutary to remember the enormous societal challenges that the suffragettes faced, and inspirational that despite all of those, using their wit, courage and tenacity, they WON the right to vote. Nicola

In We That Are Left Elin’s wealthy but controlled life is changed utterly by the first world war. With her husband away, she has to learn to grow food for the village and help her friends, and experiences great danger but also shocking new freedom. When Hugo comes back, how can she go back to how life was before? The novel captures the repression of women in the early 20th century, the life-changing power of female friendships and the terrible cost of war to women and men. Janet

THE VERY SALT OF LIFE: Welsh Women’s Political Writing from Chartism to Suffrage – an important and innovative collection of writing by Welsh women in a domain not traditionally associated with them in the period covered by the book, i.e. politics. The edited collection makes it clear that women engaging in politics today and venturing into the public sphere are part of a longer tradition than one might think, and it gives a new platform and new visibility to female voices that have been neglected for too long.

The book that discusses the life of Eluned Phillips. She continually lived and wrote whilst every award and recognition that was given under her pseudonym was proclaimed as plagiarism (by men assumed to be her lovers) by her male and female peers when her identity was revealed. The strength Eluned showed through her life to continue to write is amazing. Nicky

This is described as a collection of witty, sharply observant stories, written at a time of great social change. What I didn’t expect was that it would feel so contemporary and relevant. Enjoyable and illuminating, and the wonderful ‘Latest Intelligence from the Planet Venus’: a witty, pro-female-suffrage parody, is particularly enjoyable. Helena

GOD’S CHILDREN by Mabli Roberts The skilfully-told story of a strong woman determined to make a difference, with believable characters, dramatic adventures and plot-twists and exotic locations – and based on a true story. Gwyneth

An amazing story of courage and enterprise against the odds. One woman in a time of great international upheaval standing up for human rights and for her own rights as a woman to make a difference socially and politically. Caroline

BETSY CADWALADYR: A BALACLAVA NURSE: An Autobiography of Elizabeth Davies by Jane Williams (Ysgafell)
The life-story of a Welsh woman who travelled the world, confronting monsters, typhoons, obstructive employers and Florence Nightingale – and did it her way! Gwyneth

And of course we have two very politically and overtly feminist books – WALKING TO GREENHAM: How the Peace Camp Began and the Cold War Ended bAnn Pettitt, a fantastic account of  how the author gathered together a small group of would-be marchers and set out to walk to a UK airbase given over to the Americans – and created an movemnt. And HERE WE STAND: women changing the world, by Helena Earnshaw and Angharad Penrhyn Jones, a fascinating and unique anthology about contemporary women campaigners and how they were changed by the process of changing the world.

We are looking forward to celebrating more feminist books not just during Feminist Book Fortnight, but for the rest of the year!

Helena Earnshaw



Feminist Book Fortnight was launched in 2018, by a group of radical and independent bookshops around the UK and Ireland, led by the wonderful Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham, as a celebration of feminist books. In 2019 even more independent bookshops, arts centres, feminist libraries and more around the country and abroad highlighted the diversity of feminist books over the two weeks with displays of books and lots of events. Participating bookshops reported lots of full events and a “thirst” for discussion of feminist issues as well as celebration of feminist achievements.

There has been an explosion of new feminist publishing in the last two to three years. Younger feminists are also discovering feminist classics. Independent bookshops wanted to celebrate these authors but also provide space for discussions and learning. Feminist Book Fortnight is a wonderful celebration of feminist publishing. If you missed out this year, then sign up for next year’s events – and maybe plan something yourself?

Keep in touch at: @FeministBkFt19


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Lost Voices: Welsh Women’s Classics

Queens of the Rushes team are: Helena Earnshaw: Cycle/Marketing, Tricia Chapman: Swim/Production, Caroline Oakley/Editorial. Alison Greeley/Finance did the whole thing!

The Queens of the Rushes

The Honno staff recently teamed up to ensure that one of their Welsh Women’s Classic titles: Queen of the Rushes by Allen Raine is brought back into print.

Queen of the Rushes sold over 300,000 copies at the beginning of the 20th century, when it was first published. It was made into one of the first British silent movies and was the first title in Honno’s Welsh Women’s Classics series. It is hugely deserving of remaining in print and the Honno staff swam, cycled and ran in the DYFI DASH triathlon on April 7th to raise money for a new edition to ensure it continues to be read. It is a tale that maps out a distinctly Welsh literary landscape and demonstrates Raine’s powers as storyteller, delineator of character and social historian.

Thank you to all who have supported our fundraising so far. There is still time to support us at:

Jane Aaron, editor of the Welsh Women’s Classics explains why they are so important, below.

ps. we all completed the event successfully and had fun doing so!

Lost Voices: Welsh Women’s Classics

The aim of the Honno Welsh women’s classics series is to bring back into print the lost voices of Welsh women’s writing, and what they have to tell us of Welsh women’s history, for the benefit of new generations.

It’s over thirty years since Honno Press was founded, and one of the first books the Press produced was the autobiography of the Welsh nurse and traveller Betsy Cadwaladyr, originally published in 1857 but out of print for over a century, during which time Betsy’s story was virtually forgotten. Born and raised near Bala, Betsy told the tale of her global adventures, which included nursing with Florence Nightingale in Balaclava, to the then eminent but also subsequently forgotten historian and poet Jane Williams, who set it down in print. Before 1987 Betsy and her story were virtually unknown in Wales, and it is unlikely that she would be enjoying her current fame without that Honno Press publication. Deirdre Beddoe, who wrote the introduction, gave a copy of the book to a professor in the Department of Nursing at the then University of Glamorgan; that professor subsequently named a student’s training hospital ward at the University the Betsy Cadwaldr Ward. Thus remembrance of Betsy’s name and her story was revived in medical circles, and ‘Betsy Cadwaladr’ was finally established as the name of the Health Trust in north Wales.

Honno’s Welsh Women’s Classics series has also had an impact on the teaching of Welsh writing in English at Higher Education levels. In the 1980s, though what was then called ‘Anglo-Welsh Literature’ was being taught at Aberystwyth, Swansea, Bangor and Lampeter universities, very few women authors were included in the syllabus. In 1990 only one woman writer was included in the Welsh writing in English modules at Aberystwyth University – the Welsh-language novelist Kate Roberts, taught in translation. Since then the ratio of women authors to men on these syllabuses has been transformed, and Honno can take a large part of the credit for this change. 33 women writers, compared to 44 men, featured on Welsh university syllabuses in 2013, and 21 of those 33 women appeared in the Welsh Women’s Classics.

The question then arises: why were these women’s books ever allowed to fall out of print in the first place? The publishing career of Menna Gallie helps to explain that process. A mid-twentieth-century author from Ystradgynlais in the south Wales valleys, Gallie is today an important figure within the Welsh canon because not only was she an excellent novelist, witty and empathic, but also because she was one of the few writers recording in detail the experience of working-class women in the coalfields during the heyday of King Coal. But Gallie’s reputation was affected by the double disadvantage which all Welsh women writers pre Honno suffered, that is, she was Welsh and she was a woman.

Before the 1970s, and the development of English-language publishing in Wales,  most Welsh writers in English, including Gallie, were published in London, where their work tended to be categorised as ‘provincial’. Secondly, and this is true for all women writers, of course, publishers, like critics, reviewers and university lecturers, tended until quite recently to be predominantly male.

But with her re-emergence in the Welsh Women’s Classics series, Gallie’s voice was rediscovered, along with that of many another writer, some of whom experienced a yet further disadvantage, being not only Welsh and female but also of another ethnic minority. It is particularly important in these post-Brexit days that we value the contribution to Welsh culture of such writers, Lily Tobias, who was raised in Ystalyfera in the 1880s and 1890s, was the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Poland. When her novel on conscientious objectors during the First World War, Eunice Fleet, which first appeared in 1933, was republished by Honno a reviewer in the journal Mslexia remarked

This is an important book to be made available and I found myself wondering why it had ever been lost.

Traditionally it was supposed that women, by and large, had little to say about political issues apart from feminist ones. But that supposition is only arrived at by those who neglect the actual evidence of women’s voices often raised in political protest. In order to give Welsh women’s political voices a hearing once more, the historian Ursula Masson and I brought out an anthology of Welsh women’s political writings, The Very Salt of Life.

Until quite recently it was thought that Welsh women had not made much of a contribution to the pre First World War suffragette movement. That misinformation is now being corrected, in part because of Honno’s resurrection of voices like that of Rachel Barrett, whose ‘Autobiography’ written in 1924 only existed in manuscript form in the Museum of London’s archives before Honno republished it in The Very Salf of Life. Rachel Barrett writes:

I was born in Carmarthen of Welsh, Welsh-speaking parents.  In 1905 I became science mistress at Penarth County School…and it was during this time that I became interested in the new movement for woman suffrage…Adela Pankhurst came to Cardiff as WSPU organiser [the militant branch of the suffragette movement] and I helped her in her work

Christabel Pankhurst asked me to give my whole time to the movement…. I was sorry to give up my work at the School and all that it meant [she was by then studying for doctorate in science – it meant giving up on a career] but this was a definite call and I obeyed…I became organiser for Wales…

In the autumn [of 1912] I was asked to take charge of the new paper The Suffragette…In April 1913 when we were making up the paper a group of CID men appeared and the staff of the paper were arrested…At the Old Bailey trial I was sentenced [to 2 months in prison]… …I was released on licence after a 5 days’ hunger strike…. In about 3 weeks time, I was re-arrested. This time I was in for 4 days…. When I had recovered I was re-arrested. This time I did the thirst strike as well as the hunger strike and was released after, I think, 5 days feeling very ill…I was smuggled into Kingsway House under the eyes of the detectives. I lived there bringing out The Suffragette as before, never leaving the office and taking my exercise on the roof.[1]

She carried on editing The Suffragette till it came to an end with the suffrage movement’s cessation of activities at the outbreak of the First World War, by the close of which, of course, women had won the vote. Her contribution to the Women’s Cause went unnoticed for years, but it was an essential one, and it is now being recognised – there’s a detailed entry on Rachel Barrett in Wikipedia, for example. Another lost voice restored, thanks to the Welsh Women’s Classics series.

Jane Aaron: Emeritus Professor of Literature at the University of South Wales,  is the editor of the Honno Classics English-language series (known as the Welsh Women’s Classics). Born in Aberystwyth, she has now returned to the town and taken up her old place on the Honno Committee once again. Her publications include Pur fel y Dur: Y Gymraes yn Llên Menywod y Bedwaredd Ganrif ar Bymtheg (1998), which won the Ellis Griffith prize in 1999, and Nineteenth-Century Women’s Writing in Wales (2007), winner of the Roland Mathias Award in 2009. She also co-edited the essay collections Our Sisters’ Land: The Changing Identities of Women in Wales (1994), Postcolonial Wales (2005) and Gendering Border Studies (2010).


[1] Rachel Barrett, ‘Autobiography’, mss c. 1924, in Museum of London, ref. 57.116/47, in The Very Salt of Life, pp. 298-302

Celebrating LGBT History Month – LGBT Themes in the Welsh Women’s Classics

Honno Press have over the years published a number of novels, short stories and poems with LGBT+ themes, many of them in the Welsh Women’s Classics series.

Amy Dillwyn’s novel Jill, for instance is the story of an unconventional heroine, much like the author herself, and is based on the author’s own passionate attachment to a woman she called her wife, but who she couldn’t have. Jill is a poignant story of same-sex desire and unrequited love and is an under recognised lesbian novel, written 45 years earlier than The Well of Loneliness which is often hailed as the first British lesbian novel.

The editor, Kirsti Bohata, writes in Diva magazine that:

Writing against the patriarchal assumption that two women could only set up home together as a last resort, her novels validate lesbian love as a desirable alternative to marriage and family duties. In her novels, she turned to literary codes which emphasised a challenge [to the social order – her characters cross boundaries of gender, class and the law – in order to depict a same-sex desire that she wanted to be paramount, not a last resort.”

In Welsh Women’s Poetry, 1460 – 2001,  the first bilingual anthology of Welsh women’s poetry, in both the Welsh and English languages – Honno have published several lesbian poets. Gwerful Mechain [1462-1500], the most well-known Welsh female poet from this period, often challenged ideas of gender in her writing. Her poem ‘I’r Cedor’ for instance subverts the expected medieval odes to women on their beauty and is instead written to female genitalia.

Sarah Jane Rees (1839 –1916), another lesbian figure in Welsh writing, edited Y Frythones, (a monthly Welsh language periodical for women), from 1878-1889 as well as writing her own poetry under the name Cranogwen. Examples of her passionate poetry to women can be found in Welsh Women’s Poetry, 1460 – 2001 as well as a poem written in loving admiration of her – ‘Cranogwen’ – by Buddug, another key female Welsh poet of the time.

Author Margiad Evans had an affair with Ruth Farr whilst married and lesbian themes are explored in her short story ‘A Modern Adornment’, published in A View Across the Valley: Short Stories by Women from Wales c.1850-1950, through the relationship between Miss Allensmoore and Miss Plant, elderly women who ‘lived together for many years in a cottage outside a small village’.

Another writer, Bertha Thomas, was a nineteenth and twentieth-century ‘New Woman’ known for writing in support of women’s suffrage as well as on themes of gender and sexuality, alongside Anglo-Welsh identity, published in the anthology Stranger Within the Gates.

The identities and themes of gender, sexuality and national identity that run through the writing of many of the great Welsh women writers of the past  highlights the importance of keeping in print women’s historical writing to illuminate sexuality and gender in Welsh history.

You can find the texts listed above and below on our Classics page: Also check out our collection of lesbian novels, classic and contemporary, on offer for LGBT History month at:

With thanks to Mair Jones for her research on exploring LGBT themes in Honno’s books. Mair was writing an MA Dissertation on the Queer History of Wales while studying MA History of Wales at Aberystwyth University, and provided the material for this blog while volunteering for Honno.



Aaron, Jane ed. A View Across the Valley: Short Stories by Women from Wales c.1850-1950 An Anthology. Wales. 2002.
Aaron, Jane ed. Nineteenth Century Women’s Writing in Wales: Nation, Gender and Identity. Cardiff. 2010.
Bohata, Kirsti. Postcolonialism Revisited: Writing Wales in English. Cardiff. 2004.
Bohata, Kirsti & Gramich, Katie ed. Rediscovering Margiad Evans: Marginality, Gender and Illness. Cardiff. 2013.
Dillwyn, Amy. Bohata, Kirsti ed. Jill. Wales. 2013.
Dillwyn, Amy, Gramich, Katie. The Rebecca Rioter. Wales. 2001.
Dillwyn, Amy, Favre, Alison. A Burglary: Or ‘Unconscious Influence.’ Wales. 2009.
Gramich, Katie & Brennan, Catherine ed. Welsh Women’s Poetry 1460-2001 An Anthology. Wales. 2003.
Painting, David. Amy Dillwyn. Cardiff. 1987.
Roberts, Harri Garrod. Embodying Identity: Representations of the Body in Welsh Literature: Writing Wales in English. Cardiff. 2009.
Thomas, Bertha. Bohata, Kirsti ed. Stranger Within the Gates: A collection of short stories. Wales. 2008.

Book covers, and letting go.

‘Don’t go to Belchite at night,’ Manolo our neighbour says, ‘there are voices.’

It’s easy to believe there might be. Belchite is a monument to the Spanish Civil War, a village left in ruins after it was taken first by the Republicans in 1937 and then by Franco’s troops in 1938. By the end, in a deadly game of cat and mouse, any building still standing was pulverised as the Nationalists troops moved from house to house hunting down the last Republicans.

For a long time after the war the impoverished villagers went on living among the ruins, which Franco declared should be left as a monument ‘de victoria nacional’ and ‘Red barbarousness’. A new village was built alongside the old, but some residents refused to leave their old homes.

I didn’t know about Belchite except as a name in the history of the Civil War.  It was only when my third novel, Albi, was published that somebody told me the haunting cover photo had been taken there. I’d asked, of course, but that’s the thing about book covers – the publisher rarely knows much about how they were put together.

It turns out Belchite is only a few hours away from the remote village where we have a house. So a month after Albi was published my husband Nick and I set off to see for ourselves.

Spain is a wonderfully earthy place and so are its guided tours. We march round the ruins with our guide Nati and a group of Spanish, most of them young. One of the girls mentions that her great grandfather came from here and Nati breaks off her spiel to discuss whereabouts he might have lived. We move off again, past the group of men tossing a section of mud-brick wall (fibreglass, it turns out – they are making a film), under a stormy sky that threatens rain.

The sun is fitfully hot, poppies bob their scarlet heads in the meadows beyond the perimeter fence, and it’s hard to take in the enormity of what happened in this place: in less than two years nearly 5,000 people lost their lives here. It was late August and extremely hot when the Republicans drove out the Nationalists in 1937. The bodies had to be hurriedly buried in a mass grave. A year later when the Nationalists took it back more than 2,400 people were taken prisoner, many of them dying later in the labour camps.

Nati barks this information through her microphone and leads the way towards a church which looks as if it might be the one on my book cover. Nick tells her why we are here and gives her a bookmark. She holds it up in front of her – is it here? Yes, it’s here. Off we go in pursuit but no, when we get up close the shell of the church is similar but the house wall in the foreground doesn’t fit with the photo.

No problem, Nati declares, there are still two churches to go, and a convent.

The photo, of course, might be from many years ago, before the ruins subsided quite so much. It might even be a digital reconstruction of different photos. By now I am handing out bookmarks with gay abandon and everyone is joining in the debate in lively Spanish, all reverence gone. We go round the village sizing up the ruins and arguing until we get to the last church, and there it is: wall and window in the foreground with an old iron bracket that might have been for a sign, and in the background the blind façade of the church.

So that’s all right then, we’ve found it, and Nati can go back to her spiel. We become reverential again, because high on a ledge of the ruined tower of the church an un-exploded shell is visible, still lodged in the stone. History is shockingly real at moments like this and for me it is a doubly profound moment. I have borrowed these people’s history. Have I done it justice?

As for my book cover, the buildings of Belchite are only half of it. I will never know the identity of the ghostly child whose face hovers in the background and that is as it should be. We write our stories and someone else’s history becomes our own, but once out in the public arena our stories no longer belong to us. They belong to the reader.

Hilary Shepherd has lived most of her adult life in Wales, farming and making oak windows and kitchens, but during the 70s and 80s she and her family lived in Ghana and in the Sudan, which provided the material for her first two novels (Animated Baggage and In A Foreign Country)

In 2001, with her second husband Nick, she started spending time in Spain, in a remote village in southern Aragon. This is an area where the resistance fighters known as the maquis hid out in the mountains after the Civil War, until well into the 50s, and there are many stories in the village about living caught between the maquis and the hated Guardia Civil. Thinking about what it must have been like was the starting point for her third novel, ‘Albi’ (published April 2018).


Organising a Book Fair

Thanks so much to Judith Barrow for this detailed account of how to organise a book fair. Judith is currently organising the Narberth Book Fair which is being held on Saturday 22nd September 9:30am to 4pm at the Queen’s Hall, Narberth.

Over the last seven years of organising a book fair I’ve made many mistakes but, thankfully, learned from them. That’s not to say things don’t go wrong, or that something that seemed a great idea at the planning stage, turns into a disaster or, at the least ‘something to be avoided next time’.

So let’s start with the obvious; find someone like-minded to help you with the organising of the whole affair. More importantly, someone who you know well enough to recognise you’ll be able to work together without egos getting in the way. (And, yes, I’m speaking from experience; enough said!)

For the first two years I was on my own, didn’t sleep for weeks before and, on the day was too exhausted to enjoy any of it. Luckily, friends and fellow authors, Thorne Moore and Alex Martin, volunteered. (Well, I’m sure they did!). Anyway they came on board and, although we’ve lost Alex to the delights of France, Thorne is still with me and we work well as a team; each of us have our strengths. And a sense of humour. Believe me, if you’re determined to hold a book fair, you’ll need one.

So, to the practicalities:

You’ll definitely need a constitution for the official book fair bank account and if you’ll be looking for grants, sponsorship etc.

Get started early; you’ll need plenty of planning time. Work out the best time of year for your area by looking around, seeing what else is on at certain times. Is there any event happening on the date you’d like that might help or hinder footfall to your book fair? Is there a festival you could link up with? Or a similar event to yours which would take away your potential public? If the latter, don’t be inflexible, change your date.

Book your venue. You want somewhere that people will pass and enter easily. (Check for disability access and facilities). And check that there is somewhere outside of the building that you can hang a banner advertising the book fair on the day – or, at the least, somewhere that you can stand A boards outside without causing any obstruction.

If you intend to ask your authors to give talks, hold creative writing workshops, hold panels on various aspects of writing or genres, or invite publishers to put on an appearance for talks or editor sessions (always a good move and the authors will thank you!), make sure there are enough rooms. Most importantly, make sure the actual room/hall you’ll be holding the book fair in is large enough. You’ll need a fairly spacious area because you’ll be inviting lots of authors to participate… won’t you!?

Also check for the number of tables and chairs the venue has. And make sure you can get your hands on more tables if necessary. You don’t want to have more authors than tables

Find out if the venue has public liability insurance. If not you have two choices, stump up for it yourself (in which case you could be paying out a fortune) or ask the individual authors to take out their own – much the better option and a lot of writers have their own insurance anyway. We’re lucky; our venue has its own cover.

Lists, lists and more lists! Try to include as much detail as possible and when things need to be started or completed by. You won’t always hit the targets but you’ll know when they go whizzing by (a bit like that deadline you’ve set for yourself with your WIP). Know which of you is responsible for each task. But don’t forget to ask for or offer help from one another… you are a team working to one goal.

Set up your website. If you’re lucky you’ll find a whizz-kid happy to do it for you for free. (I found Thorne!! – smiley face.) If not, factor in the cost. Don’t forget you’ll need a domain name.

Set up a Facebook page.

Start to send out invitations to authors as soon as possible, giving clear details of when and where the book fair is taking place and the cost of hiring the tables. (We ask if they will need a full or a half share of a table; it depends on the number of published books each author has). It’s a system that’s worked well for us. Try to vary the genres, try for a good balance of men and women writers, certainly include children’s; writers (they bring their parents… potential adult readers!) Be clear what’s expected of the authors. By this I mean the simple things: a table cloth that fits the size of the tables (which you will be providing along with a couple of chairs- some authors bring along partners/friends to keep them company or to watch the table if they need to leave it for a few minutes). Where was I? Oh yes: tablecloth, books, of course, plenty of change. Suggest display stands, any flyers, leaflets, banners or posters, book price list, bookmarks and business cards. (It’s surprising how many authors don’t think of these things). Some authors, on the other hand, bring small free gifts or a bowl of sweets/chocolates as a tempter for potential readers to stop at their tables.

Children’s author Wendy White who also writes for adults as Sara Gethin displaying her books

I’ve said above that the authors are paying for the tables to showcase their books but that’s not strictly true. Any money we get in, after paying for the hire of the hall and rooms, goes on publicity and advertising the event. That’s the A5 advance “make a date” flyers. A4 posters, leaflets to go into libraries, supermarkets, shops, doctors and dentist surgeries and any public place we can think of (always asking permission, naturally). We also pay to place advertisements in local newspapers. If we do that we usually get a column or two of a free mention or even a photograph with details of the fair. Any money left over goes towards the authors’ very popular “goody bags” that we give to them. These contain a table sign, a badge, a pen (with the Narberth Book Fair logo on – a handy reminder over the next few months – and publicity if they get “lost”), sweets, a bottle of water (it’s thirsty work selling books), a couple of blank price signs, one or two bags (to put sold books into) and a couple of safety pins (to pin table cloths up). The idea is to provide the little necessaries that any of the authors have forgotten. To cut a long story short, we use all the money raised to the benefit of both the book fair and the authors.  Only fair, I think! Excuse the pun.

Search out sponsors, if you need them, around this time. Bribe them by saying they’ll be mentioned on all promotional material – including online mentions.

It’s nice around now to find a charity (hopefully a local one) to support. This could be where the sponsors come in as well; some shops etc. may offer something for a raffle.  We’ve also often asked the authors to offer one of their books as a prize and then reimbursed them the wholesale price. Most of them will donate because they lose nothing and maybe gained a few more readers.

Design posters and leaflets. Search out the cheapest but most professional printers. (You’re aiming for classy but economical!)

Around three months before the date of your book fair have A5 “Make a Date” flyers printed and put them into all the above places (libraries, supermarkets, shops, doctors and dentist surgeries etc.)  Start to casually and occasionally mentioning the event on any social media you’re connected to. Direct the public to your website because, by now, you should have at least some of the authors confirmed and fully paid up. Encourage your authors to do the same. (They’ll be as keen as you to get a good footfall on the day)

We also ask the authors for bios and images of their latest books: short bios for our Facebook page, longer bios for the website. We give each author a separate page here where they can write anything that’s applicable to their work and gives all their links on social media and their Amazon/ Kobo/Barnes and Noble pages etc.

Ramp up online publicity as the weeks go by.

Have regular meetings with your co-organiser(s) over the months. Make them fun as well as official; meet for coffee/ lunch, whatever floats your boat!)

Author Carol Lovekin’s book display

Draw up a map of the room where the book fair will take place with all the tables arranged and authors names on them (invaluable: for one, this makes sure they will all fit and, two, that the potential readers have a definite route around the room, so all authors will be passed/seen). We put the children’s authors together to make an attractive area that draws in the children (and parents!! Remember these are the potential readers of the adult books). We also try to group together the authors of same/similar genres.

Keep track of all the authors; there are almost always some who drop out at the last week or so, so make sure you have a few eager stand –by authors. You’ll find your waiting list grows every year as your book fair becomes more popular and gains more footfall. You’ll need a policy here for returning authors’ money if they don’t attend. We work on the basis of how much notice they give us and genuine reasons. Obviously if it’s the day before or on the day they lose the fee (unless we’re able to fill the space) because, by then we will probably have emptied the coffers on all the publicity.

It’s a good idea to have a page on the website that only the authors can see. This will keep them in the loop by giving out information that’s relevant just to them, give them chance to ask any questions, show them where their tables are situated in the hall.

Keep in touch with the management of the venue to make sure all is as you originally agreed. If they hold other events make sure to share them on social media; it pays off, they will reciprocate.

Around two weeks before start to distribute the leaflets, put up posters, place adverts and interviews in local newspapers. You will already have contacted your local Arts/Books Council and local County magazine months ago to make sure your event will be a featured at the right time – won’t you? Is there anywhere else you can think to advertise?

If you’re allowed, put up your banner outside the venue to make sure passers-by can see that your book fair is really going to happen

If you’ve filled all the spaces, this is the time to make sure all monies are in. You never know what last minute expenses will need to be paid.

The week before have a meeting to check, as much as possible, that all is ready and in place.

We always set up as much as possible the evening before the book fair: tables (labelled with the names of the authors), chairs and goody bags. Remember, some authors will have banners and so will need to be against the walls of the room, some will need to be near socket outlets if they have table lamps or laptops. Set up the raffle table if you’re having one and any posters, entry forms and explanation leaflets of the children’s competition, if you’re having one.

Set up your own table, you’ll have more than enough to do tomorrow.

And so to the day… Panic!! No, I didn’t mean that; but there will be an underlying unease that something has been missed/ has gone wrong/ been left out/forgotten. If anything has, now is the time to sort it out. And you will. Or you will if you can. If not, and it’s not a great disaster, forget it.

Authors Jan Newton, Thorne Moore and Judith Barrow

Some authors may have arrived the evening before and set up their tables but be sure to arrive a good hour before the time stated for the authors arrival on the day… some will be there early.

Be available to help/advise/chivvy along latecomers.

Open the doors to let in the hordes. Well we like being positive.

At the end of the day – put all the tables and chairs back to the storage places if required, clean up all rubbish, gather up any lost property (you’ll be surprised at the things that get left behind). In other words, leave the venue as you found it.

Breathe. Sit back on your laurels for … at least an hour. (only kidding!!) Arrange to meet your fellow organisers as soon as possible to recap, check receipts and monetary records and to highlight any issues that arose, adding ideas to make the book fair even better.

Check with the venue management that all was well after the event. After all you’ll need them again next year… won’t you?.

Judith Barrow has lived in Pembrokeshire for nearly forty years. She is the author of five novels, and has published poetry and short fiction, winning several poetry competitions, as well as writing three children’s books and a play performed at the Dylan Thomas Centre. Judith grew up in the Pennines, has degrees in literature and creative writing and makes regular appearances at literary festivals.

Read more about Judith’s books, workshops, and events as well as her blog devoted to conversations about writing and publishing at or on twitter:


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Clasur Cymraeg Diweddaraf Honno Nansi Lovell: Hunangofiant Hen Sipsi

Ar Awst 1af ymddangosodd clasur Cymraeg diweddaraf Honno, sef argraffiad newydd o’r nofel Nansi Lovell: Hunangofiant Hen Sipsi, gan Elena Puw Morgan (1900-1973) yn ysgrifennu o dan yr enw Elena Puw Davies. Fe’i cyhoeddwyd gyntaf yn 1933 a’i hadargraffu fwy nag unwaith o fewn degawd, gymaint oedd ei phoblogrwydd ymhlith darllenwyr Cymru. Mae’n stori sy’n pontio pum cenhedlaeth, a Nansi Lovell, sipsi Gymraeg o dras y Romani, yn aelod o’r drydedd genhedlaeth. Mae’n adrodd, wrth ei hwyres Nansi Wyn, hanes ei magwraeth o dan ofal ei Nain hithau, Nans Wood.

Digwyddiad tyngedfennol sy’n llywio datblygiad y stori oedd ymweliad cyfrinachol Nansi Lovell, yn ferch ifanc, chwilfrydig, 17 mlwydd oed, â  gerddi Plas Madog. Yno, daeth Madog, mab ifanc y plas ar ei thraws a chael ei swyno ganddi.  Penderfynodd y buasai’n hoffi ei phriodi, gan drefnu iddi gael benthyg ei lyfrau, a derbyn addysg gonfensiynol. Wrth i’r stori symud yn ei blaen, archwilir y tensiynau sy’n codi wrth i ferch o sipsi briodi un o wŷr mawr yr ardal, a’r camau a gymerwyd i gadw’i gwreiddiau’n gyfrinachol.

Er i’w priodas fod yn gymharol ddedwydd am nifer o flynyddoedd, yn y pen draw, aeth y tyndra ac ymddygiad trahaus ei gŵr yn drech na Nansi, ac mae’n dychwelyd at ei theulu, gan adael ei phlant yng ngofal dynes a ddewiswyd ganddo ef fel person addas i fagu ei blant mewn dull confensiynol. Ar ei dychweliad daeth yn benaethes ei llwyth, fel ei Nain o’i blaen, ac yn ei henaint, yn unigedd ei charafán, mae’n myfyrio ar ddirgelion a thrychinebau ei bywyd a’u hegluro i Nansi Wyn. Yn ei thyb hi, roedd ei hwyres Nansi Wyn – oedd yn gwbl wahanol i weddill teulu’r Wyniaid – yn berchen ar yr un natur fentergar â hi ei hunan fel merch ifanc, a’i gwreiddiau Romani wedi goresgyn dylanwadau ei magwraeth mewn cartref confensiynol, cyfoethog, breintiedig.

Ychwanegir at ddrama’r nofel gan ymddangosiadau dirybudd Alana Lee yn ei dillad llachar ar ei cheffyl mawr gwyn –  presenoldeb bygythiol sy’n gwyrdroi cwrs y nofel a bywydau prif gymeriadau teulu’r Woodiaid.

Wrth osod Nansi Lovell yn ei chyd-destun, gellir gweld bod gan Elena Puw Morgan ddiddordeb gwirioneddol yn y sipsiwn, rhai ohonynt yn ymwelwyr cyson ag ardal Corwen, lle’r oedd y byw, a’u gwreiddiau’n ymestyn yn ôl i ddyddiau Abram Wood. Mae diffuantrwydd ei chefnogaeth iddynt a’i hedmygedd diffuant  o’u talentau – fel pysgotwyr, fel arbenigwyr ar geffylau ac fel perfformwyr cerddorol – yn cyfoethogi’r nofel hon. Nid eu gweld o safbwynt y giorgo (pobl nad oedd yn sipsiwn) fel rhai i gadw’n ddigon pell oddi wrthynt a wneir, ond edrych ar y giorgo o safbwynt y sipsi, a hyn yn cynyddu ei hunigolyddiaeth fel ffuglen. Ac yn wahanol i ffuglen Gymraeg y cyfnod, a oedd bron yn ddieithriad o dan ddylanwad Anghydffurfiaeth, nid oes son am gapel nac eglwys yn Nansi Lovell, sy’n cynyddu ymhellach ei gwreiddioldeb.


Roedd Elena Puw Morgan yn gymeriad amlwg yn ei chymuned, a’i haelwyd hi a’i gŵr yng Nghorwen yn denu pobl flaengar y byd llenyddol, yn cynnwys yr ymwelydd cyson, John Cowper Powys. Cydnabyddir yn gyffredinol gan feirniaid llenyddol ei bod yn un o’r awduron a symudodd ffuglen Gymraeg gam mawr ymlaen. Hi oedd enillydd benywaidd cyntaf y fedal ryddiaith yn yr Eisteddfod Genedlaethol a hynny yng Nghaerdydd yn 1938 am ei nofel Y Graith, ac yn 1997 cynhyrchwyd ffilm o’i nofel gynharach, Y Wisg Sidan. Ar ei marwolaeth talwyd teyrnged iddi gan ei chyd-awduresau, Dyddgu Owen a Kate Roberts, y ddwy yn gresynu bod afiechyd a gofalon teuluol wedi rhwystro Elena Puw Morgan rhag datblygu ei photensial ymhellach, a ninnau fel canlyniad wedi ein hamddifadu o gynnyrch talent a fyddai wedi blodeuo ac ychwanegu heb amheuaeth at gyfoeth llenyddol Cymru.

Yn ffodus mae dwy wyres Elena Puw Morgan, yr academyddion Mererid Puw Davies ac Angharad Puw Davies yn ymddiddori’n fawr yng ngwaith ei Nain, ac mae’r ddwy wedi ysgrifennu Rhagymadrodd i’r clasur hwn. Ar nos Wener, 14 Medi, 2018, bydd y ddwy yn siarad am fywyd a gwaith ei nain, pan fyddwn yn lansio Nansi Lovell yn eu cwmni yn Academi Hywel Teifi yn Abertawe am 6 o’r gloch. Croeso i bawb!

Mae Rosanne Reeves, yn un o aelodau sylfaen Honno, Golygydd y Clasuron Honno, ac awdur Dwy Gymraes, Dwy Gymru: Hanes Bywyd a Gwaith Gwyneth Vaughan a Sara Maria Saunders; Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, 2014 . / Rosanne Reeves, is one of Honno’s founding members, Editor of the Clasuron Honno, and author of Dwy Gymraes, Dwy Gymru: Hanes Bywyd a Gwaith Gwyneth Vaughan a Sara Maria Saunders; Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, 2014 .








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Q&A with Marketing Manager Helena Earnshaw

How long have you been working at Honno?

For just over a decade. I started as a volunteer, while finishing my MA in Creative Writing and eventually became the permanent Marketing Manager.

What did you do before you worked at Honno?

Immediately prior I was doing my MA in Creative Writing. Before that I was an online editor for a human rights organisation,, amongst many other varied jobs and involvement in environmental and social justice activism.

What is the most important part of your job?

I was discussing this with some of the Honno authors recently, and concluded that it essentially comes down to relationships – with the authors, our distributors, the press, and our readers and supporters.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The people I work with. It is a real privilege to work with such interesting, intelligent and passionate women – our authors, the Honno staff and committee are all so engaged in their work, whether writing wonderful fiction, researching the great Welsh women writers of the past, or making sure that the books we produce are of the highest quality we can manage.

Tell me about the difficult aspects of your job?

The behemoth that is the publishing industry! It can be a lumbering beast at times.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I hang out with my family. I like to cycle or go for long walks, garden, read and spend far too much time on the internet reading about politics. (Not sure I should admit to this but I do also love to play computer games…)

What do you like to read?

Science fiction was my first and longest love. I also enjoy crime and contemporary fiction mainly but I will give anything a try. A friend I catch the same bus to work with has suggested that we have a ‘bus book club’ so we are currently looking for a good book for that – any recommendations?

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Feminism and Women’s Presses

I first began to identify as a feminist at the age of twenty. As a teenager I came into contact with feminist ideas from reading novels like Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea and plays such as Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls, but I didn’t yet realise that I could be a feminist or that I could contribute to this dialogue in some way. My relationship with feminism changed in 2001 when I stumbled across the Silver Moon Bookshop on Charing Cross Road and encountered my first literary, feminist space.

I think Silver Moon and the extensive selection of books it stocked altered my understanding of feminism, as it enabled me to connect what had been an abstract philosophy to a living movement which could potentially be a force for change. During this summer I visited the Silver Moon a number of times to buy novels and browse large art books, discovering the works of Judy Chicago and Georgia O’Keeffe in the process. Running my fingers along the spines I came across names of publishers I’d never heard of before such as The Feminist Press, Pandora Press, The Women’s Press and Virago. It was here I bought my first Virago title: The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler. I think as a newly identifying feminist I was drawn to the provocative title and plus it was the perfect reading material for the train to accompany my newly shaved head and pink Doc Martens!

Now, sixteen years later, my feminism is more often expressed in the petitions I share on social media than in my appearance, but reading feminist and women’s literature published by the presses I discovered at Silver Moon has remained a constant. I have also discovered a few more along the way including Honno Welsh Women’s Press when I moved to Wales. During a recent discussion hosted by The Women’s Equality Network Wales in partnership with Honno I began to think more about these different labels such as ‘feminist’ and ‘women’s’ and what they have come to represent in publishing.

At the end of the 1980s, not long after Honno was founded, Nicci Gerrard questioned feminist publishing’s narrow commitment to ‘books about feminism’ and suggested an increase in the publication of ‘books influenced by feminism.’[1] Fifteen years on Simone Murray asked: ‘[W]hen is a women’s press a Feminist Press?’ and ‘does a press’s feminism reside in its means or its ends?’[2] In 2014 Catherine Riley concluded that Virago’s takeover in 1995 by Little, Brown (now owned by the mainstream conglomerate Hachette Livre) means that they now ‘reach a wide audience’. She concludes that ‘Virago has certainly adapted its way of conveying feminist messages, but retains its quiet influence. This has kept it relevant, continuing the attempt to convey feminist politics through publishing’.[3]

Therefore, is a press only a feminist press if all aspects of its operations are feminist-minded? And can this only be achieved if a press remains independent? Or is it the case that the ‘feminism’ resides in the output? But then should the output be solely about feminism or can it be more broadly influenced by feminism? Should feminist presses only be run by and publish women or is feminism actually a mind-set, an approach to be actioned by individuals of any gender? If a press is subsumed by a mainstream publisher is it a compromise or a progression? Although these questions are too vast to answer here they do reveal a complexity of purpose and thought which needs to be engaged with when discussing the future of women’s and feminist presses. Since the period of second-wave feminism – when many of these independent presses were first established – the publishing industry has changed dramatically and, as a result, presses like Honno are navigating a constantly shifting landscape whilst still trying to fulfil their key founding principles.

Here We Stand book coverHonno can be labelled a women’s press because it publishes only women and even though not every title is explicitly about feminism Honno is certainly motivated by a feminist agenda. For example its commitment to publishing reprints of titles by women long out of print reintroduces the writings of our ‘literary foremothers’ to the reading community. This series highlights a distinct women’s canon and provides further evidence of a history of feminist consciousness pre-1970.[4] Alongside its fiction list, Honno publishes biographies of women such as the Jewish writer from Wales Lily Tobias. Books like The Greatest Need reveal a history of female activism and creativity in Wales often hidden from view. As well as bringing to light Wales’ feminist history Honno also strives to document contemporary women campaigners. A good example is Honno’s recent anthology Here We Stand: a collection of interviews and articles which give an insight into modern issues, highlighting why the feminist movement is still relevant today.     

Although not a physical bookshop like Silver Moon was, Honno has also created a feminist, literary space which can potentially be a force for a change. It puts forward an alternative historical narrative which reveals a rich seam of feminist thought and action in Wales. This strategy continues to raise the profile of female writings whilst curating a historical foundation on which Honno’s contemporary writers can build. In her article on Virago press, Catherine Riley decries ‘the relative lack of published work on the important phenomenon of feminist publishing.’[5] Therefore, as Honno celebrates its thirtieth birthday is it now time for their contribution to feminism in Wales to be fully evaluated?


Calista Williams recently completed her PhD on ‘The National Library of Wales and National Identity c.1840-1916’ which was assisted by an innovative collaboration between the Open University and the National Library of Wales. She is currently researching the lives of the women who used the National Library when it first opened in 1909. Calista is now a Lifelong Learning Humanities teacher at Aberystwyth University.





[1] Nicci Gerrard, Into the Mainstream. How Feminism Has Changed Women’s Writing (London: Pandora Press, 1989), p.25.

[2] Simone Murray, ‘The Cuala Press: Women, publishing, and the conflicted genealogies of ‘feminist publishing’’, Women’s Studies International Forum, No.27 (2004), pp.489-506, pp.492-493.

[3] Catherine Riley, ‘‘The Message is in the Book’: What Virago’s Sale in 1995 Means for Feminist Publishing’, Women: A Cultural Review, Vol.25, No.3 (2014), pp.235-255, p.253.

[4] Cherie Kramarae and Dale Spender ‘Exploding Knowledge’ in Kramarae and Spender (eds.), The Knowledge Explosion. Generations of Feminst Scholarship (New York: Teachers College Press, 1992), pp.1-26, p.18.

[5] Riley, ‘‘The Message is in the Book’, p.236.


Honno Press – over 30 years of creating, publishing and companionship

An early Honno committee meeting with Luned Meredith, Althea Osmond, Rosanne Reeves, Leigh Verrill-Rhys (l-r) © Suzanne Greenslade

Back in October 1986 Honno was established as a Welsh Women’s Community Co-operative, the ‘Community’ being Wales. This was not a sudden event but a part and reflection of the enthusiasm and excitement which developed amongst women in Wales in political, academic and literary circles in a far-reaching campaign to draw attention to, and transform the sexist attitudes towards the role of the woman in the home and communities of Wales.

In the early 1980s Women’s Sections were established by Plaid Cymru and the Labour Party in Wales; a number of refuges were opened for women in Wales by Welsh Women’s aid; programmes on the history of women were broadcast, produced by new feminist independent companies; a series of articles were published discussing ‘the problems and aspirations of the women of our nation and other nations of the world’ in Asen Adda (Gomer 1975) edited by Ruth Stephens; the title Out of the Shadows (University of Wales Press 1981) by Deirdre Beddoe was published, creating a stir when she announced that Welsh women were invisible in the history of their country and in January 1986, to the great surprise of many, a special edition of the literary male-centered journal Y Traethodydd was dedicated to Welsh language literature and feminist criticism, written jointly by Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan, Kathryn Curtis, Elin ap Hywel and Marged Haycock. Around this time many students took an interest in, and specialised in women’s studies thus enriching the literary scene in Wales by presenting papers and books on all aspects of the life of women in Wales.

Caroline Oakley, Honno’s Editor, and Eurwen Booth, Committee member, toast Honno, at the 30th celebration. © Maria Wyles


In such an atmosphere, unsurprisingly, a group of women from different parts of Wales had the same idea at the same time, i.e. that now was the time to establish a publishing venture promoting writings by the neglected women writers of Wales. Numerous meetings and discussions followed and it was decided to assess the demand by writing to some hundreds of individuals asking them to buy as many £5 shares as they liked (with one vote for each shareholder at AGMs). We were encouraged by the response. We raised around £4000, and it became obvious that there was support for the idea. As a result Honno was founded, under the care of a voluntary executive committee including Kathryn Curtis, Ann Howells, Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan, Luned Meredith, Althea Osmond, Rosanne Reeves and Leigh Verrill-Rhys.


Over 30 years later we are delighted that these determined and passionate women have been recognised, with the Honno founders being included in WEN Wales’s list of 100 legendary Welsh Women.

Some of WEN Wales’s 100 legendary Welsh women with Honno founders Sheleagh Llewellyn, Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan and Rosanne Reeves (back row, 6,7,8 from left).

However, much more needs to be done, since there are many other female writers waiting to be taken out from the shadows – historical personalities, who worked tirelessly in their communities, and who portrayed their experiences in fiction and fact. As well as continuing to give a voice to the great contemporary women writers of Wales. Without doubt, we still need a publishing house like Honno, the only independent women’s press of note still remaining in the United Kingdom. And so, we look forward confidently to another 30 years!






Rosanne Reeves, is one of Honno’s founding members, Editor of the Clasuron Honno, and author of Dwy Gymraes, Dwy Gymru: Hanes Bywyd a Gwaith Gwyneth Vaughan a Sara Maria Saunders; Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, 2014 .

The fascinating Margiad Evans

Margiad Evans (1909-1958) was Peggy Whistler’s pen name. She was born in Uxbridge, but claimed the Welsh Border country around Ross-on-Wye as her spiritual home from her first visit to an uncle and aunt’s farm as a child. The Whistler family moved to a house just outside Ross later when Peggy was twelve. That is where her writing career began, the towns and landscapes of the area a barely disguised backdrop to her fiction.

Her first novel, Country Dance (1932) has a beautifully balanced structure representing the movement across the border of Ann Goodman, a young woman with a Welsh mother and English father, and the rivals for her love, Evan ap Evans whose name proclaims his heritage, and the Englishman, Gabriel Ford. The autobiographical fiction The Wooden Doctor came out in 1933, and Turf or Stone the year after that. Creed (1936) was her last and most ambitious novel, not remotely autobiographical and yet curiously representative of the total passionate commitment she displayed towards her beloved countryside, to her lovers, and to her writing.  Evans also wrote short stories, collected as The Old and the Young (1948), Poems from Obscurity (1947), Autobiography (1943), and finally the brave and heart-breaking Ray of Darkness (1952), an account of the onset and treatment of seizures caused by a brain tumour, the illness from which she eventually died at the age of 49.

Throughout her life Evans wrote incessantly. Her husband Michael Williams donated many of her letters, journals and diaries to the National Library of Wales after her death. The 1930 years are written in bound volumes; later exercise books, or scraps of paper document her frenetic emotional responses to relationships, as well as always testifying to her abiding love of nature. A picture of an emotionally intense family life emerges in the earliest entries: quarrels with her mother, sometimes bitter rivalry with her sister Nancy, spats and arguments with friends. In The Wooden Doctor (1932) the narrator’s detached but shocking comment ‘our home among the quiet fields became a cage of savagery’ neatly sums up one aspect of her family’s relations documented in her journal.

The narrator and protagonist of her novel The Wooden Doctor is Arabella, significantly a name Evans often used to refer to herself in her journals. She burned the early ones from her adolescence, but the novel tells the story of the years of her obsession with the family’s real life G. P., Doctor Dunlop, who becomes the fictional eponymous ‘wooden’ Dr Flaherty, a middle-aged man unresponsive to her adolescent declaration of love. The painful self-exposure evident in the fiction is the more remarkable once one reads in her diary that Dr Dunlop even failed to acknowledge the copy she sent him.

A picture also emerges in the journals of Evans as an unconventional young woman who took great sensual delight in her body. Several times she records swimming naked in the river Wye with her sister Nancy, on one occasion ‘two astonished men’ stared at them from the opposite bank’; elsewhere she says ‘we looked white and sparkling like jewels when we climbed out of the water and crouched under the banks drying ourselves on our knickers in the wind and sun’.  She was proud of her body and observed that nakedness changes one’s behaviour, ‘One acts strange when one’s naked: the shoulders swing, the arms glide, the back arches and the breasts expand in the air…’ The sisters shared a lack of inhibition.  One afternoon Peggy, in the kitchen making coffee, heard Nancy calling from the garden, ‘Sister…sister, come and dance for Harry’. ‘Harry’ was flying dizzy circles above their garden in his monoplane. Peggy picked up her skirt and chased ‘slowly and ridiculously about Nancy’ who was already ‘whirling and twirling in her chintz coat and her bushy hair floating’.  Peggy remarks in her diary that ‘Last time he flew in our sky I remember we were washing up on the grass, and the time before we were naked’.

Evans expended a great deal of emotional energy on writing her final novel Creed. Her diary entries for the period of its composition have none of the fun evident in the episodes described above.  Life was hard and emotionally exhausting, and it is difficult not to see some of that leeching into the fiction. Creed was never reprinted after it first appeared in 1936, so Honno’s new edition is especially welcome. It is not a polished novel, it conveys a sense of being deliberately rough-hewn, as rough and uncompromising as its characters. It takes on and challenges ideas about love, belief and wickedness, and although the rain is practically incessant throughout, the descriptions of drenched nature are acutely and imaginatively observed, powerful testimony to Evans’s attention to detail, to her imaginative and unusual perceptions, and her skill as a writer.

Sue Asbee



Margiad Evan’s novels – The Wooden Doctor and Creed have been republished by Honno, with introductions by Sue Asbee. You can buy them both through our website.

With thanks to Jim Pratt (nephew of Margiad Evans) for the pictures of Margiad Evans.

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