Apart from some wonderful Welsh male choirs, Wales is renowned for its poets – among the best of British poets – going back to the 16th and 17th centuries with Tomos Prys and Henry Vaughan. It was particularly in the twentieth century that, with poets like Dylan Thomas, R.S. Thomas, and Edward Thomas (none related) that poetry blossomed in Wales, and later with such poets as Gillian Clarke.
Regarding fiction, Wales has long been a depressed region of the United Kingdom, which has inspired writers to explore the struggles of those who live there. It is a world of miners and agricultural workers, and that’s where much Welsh fiction is focused. Here are ten of the best Welsh authors.
Cadadoc Evans, 1878-1945
Caradoc Evans was probably the most famous Welshman of his time. Without a formal education, he began writing short stories quite late in life, the first being published in 1915. My People was influenced by Sherwood Anderson the writer on whose writing Hemingway modelled his early work. He was also heavily influenced by his contemporary, James Joyce, particularly James Joyce’s short story collection Dubliners. Evans followed that success with several other short story collections and novels but none of them attained the level of success that My People did. Evans was both popular and reviled at the same time. The press named him “the best hated man in Wales” but he is now regarded as the first modern Welsh writer.
Kate Roberts 1891-1985
Kate Roberts was a prominent Welsh nationalist, and one of the foremost Welsh-language authors of the 20th century. She began writing when her brother was killed in the First World War, using her literary work as a comfort and a way of coming to terms with that. She was very popular among Welsh-speaking people and was given the unofficial title: The queen of our literature. She gave her home, Caer Gors to the nation after which it fell apart but, due to a vigorous campaign it was restored in 2005 and is now a museum dedicated to her.
Richard Llewellyn, 1906-1983
Richard Llewellyn was the pen name of Richard Dafydd Vivian Llewellyn Lloyd. He is famous for his novel How Green Was My Valley set in a coal mining village in South Wales. The novel was made into a classic Hollywood film. The best-selling novel depicts the lives of a Welsh mining family. After that Llewellyn wrote 3 sequels. Up, Into the Singing Mountain (1960), And I Shall Sleep . . . Down Where the Moon Is Small (1966), and Green, Green My Valley Now (1975). He is regarded as one of the top national Welsh writers.
Dylan Thomas, 1914-1953
Dylan Thomas was not only one of the most important poets writing in English during the 20th century but he was Wales’s top writer altogether as well as being Wales’s most famous writer. He wrote poems, short stories, film scripts, and is most famous for his radio play Under Milk Wood which is a classic of the genre. Apart from his poetry, Dylan Thomas wrote short stories. The early ones were quite dark and very much like the themes of his poems. The later stories included the famous collections Portrait of an Artist as a Young Dog and A Child’s Christmas in Wales, which look back nostalgically on his childhood.
Roald Dahl, 1916-1990
Although Roald Dahl lived most of his life in England he was born in Wales to Norwegian parents. He is famous for his novels, both for adults and children and also for his short stories which are distinguished by the twists in their tails. He is still, long after his death, one of Britain’s best-selling authors and his writing style is unique: he invented more than 500 new words and names for his characters. He is the writer of such famous books as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, George’s Marvellous Medicine, and the short story collection Tales of the Unexpected.
Bernice Rubens, 1923-2004
Bernice Rubens was a Welsh novelist with a huge literary output of some 40 novels. So far she is the only Welsh writer to have won the Booker Prize, which she did in 1970, becoming the first woman to win that prize. The winning novel I sent a letter to my love, published in 1975 was made into a film in 1980. Before beginning to write she had been a high school teacher and then a documentary filmmaker. She explored the theory of R.D. Laing which is that behind every disturbed person, there is a disturbing family. Her novel I Dreyfus, with its bleak prognosis of anti-Semitism, is the result of that.
Dorothy Simpson, 1933-
Dorothy Simpson’s great mystery novels won a silver dagger award from the crime writers Association of Great Britain. When she began writing in 1977 she achieved instant success with her first novel published that year. That did not continue, however, as her following three or four manuscripts were rejected but, determined, she came up with the idea of a police inspector who became a very popular character among Welsh readers. The Night She Died was the first in the series of 15 novels featuring Inspector Luke Thanet and his younger colleague Sergeant Michael Lineham who became household names among the Welsh
Philip Pullman, 1946-
Philip Pullman was born in England he grew up in Llanbedr in Wales. His writing, mainly for children, is also appealing to adults. He is one of the most acclaimed of all 20th-century British writers. A BBC poll named him the 11th most influential person in British culture in 2004 and in 2008 The Times newspaper dubbed him one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945. His trilogy His Dark Materials included the novel Northern Lights which was one of the all-time British best sellers. Among the most famous works are the novels The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ and The Golden Compass.
Malcolm Pryce, 1960-
Pryce has been dubbed “the king of Welsh Noir” because of his style which is reminiscent of the famous king of noir, Raymond Chandler. His Aberystwyth novels are set on the streets of an alternate universe Welsh seaside resort. The protagonist is Louis Knight of Aberystwyth who fights crime against the local druids. In a complex whirl of activity, he investigates the case of the mysterious disappearance of its youth and he becomes involved in Aberystwyth’s film industry that produces What the Butler Saw movies. Pryce claimed that he had long been aware that it was his destiny to catalogue the moral turpitude of Aberystwyth.
Niall Griffiths, 1966-
Griffiths is a prolific novelist. His first novel, Grits, received mixed reviews. It is about addicts and drifters, set in Wales. It was nevertheless a success, however, and he followed it with his novel Sheep Shagger which featured a feral boy. That also received very strong reviews. Griffiths won the Wales Book of the Year award twice, most recently in 2020 with his novel Broken Ghost. The first was in 2003, with Stump. Although Griffiths is technically English he has long family roots in West Wales, and his novels are mainly set in Wales. In addition to his novels, Griffiths writes travel books about both Wales and England.
And that’s our pick of the best Welsh authors. You may also like our article on the best Welsh novels. What’s your take – anyone missing from this list you think we should add? Let us know in the comments section below.