Library of Wales launched to great acclaim

PIC_libraryofwalesA major development in the Library of Wales project was announced today with the appointment of Cardigan publishing company Parthian as the publisher for the series.

The Library of Wales is an ambitious project that will bring back to print a long list of English-language classics from Wales. Aimed at the general reader the initial list of titles will include volumes by Gwyn Thomas, Raymond Williams and the Rhondda writer Ron Berry. The first five books in the series will be published in January 2006.

Too many of the best works by Welsh writers have been out of print for too long,’ said Kirsti Bohata on behalf of the Welsh Books Council who will oversee the project. ‘This high-profile project is intended not only to encourage greater educational take-up of these important books but to make an immediate impact on the public imagination in this country and abroad. We are confident that the publicity surrounding the project will also be seen as a further boost to Welsh Writing in English.’

The concept of the Library of Wales series was initially discussed during the National Assembly’s Culture Committee review of Welsh Writing in English and it is supported by additional financial funding from the Welsh Assembly Government. Alun Pugh, the Minister for Culture, Welsh Language and Sport, said: ‘The Library of Wales is a great opportunity for us to celebrate our literary heritage. These books are not remote, academic studies, but works of popular interest that will appeal to readers on many different levels. The Library of Wales will revive interest in our literary classics as well as giving fresh impetus to promoting new English-language writing from Wales.’

Professor Dai Smith will act as the Series Editor on the project, directing the list and commissioning special introductions for each book. He said, ‘The Library of Wales will keep in print the English-language literature of Wales in ways that will connect our past to our present. It will be an essential tool in the self-understanding required to build an emergent Wales. The world will note how we now sustain our common memory through literature and will share in our riches.’

Dr Richard Davies, Managing Director of Parthian added: ‘We are delighted to have been awarded this major project and look forward to the challenge of publishing a landmark series of books that represent some of the best writing produced in Wales. These are good books and we want them to be read and enjoyed.’

Contact Professor Dai Smith – (01446) 721064 or Parthian – Dominic Williams (01267) 676633

Photo caption:

1.Reading the classics (from right) with Alun Pugh, the Culture Minister, and Professor Dai Smith, Elwyn Jones for the Books Council and Richard Davies, Parthian.
Written by: Elwyn Jones
Sunday, September 25, 2005
source: Welsh Books Council
web site:

The Library of Wales Debate

niall_gLibrary of Wales series

The Library of Wales Debate

Guardian Hay Festival, The Review Stage

29th May 2005

with Niall Griffiths and Dai Smith

Are we a Border Country? Do we say So Long, Hector Bebb? Who wrote Country Dance? A Sunday morning scrum with Griffiths, the author of Sheepshagger, and Smith, author of The Fed, fighting it out with Mario Basini.

Border Country by Raymond Williams

So Long, Hector Bebb, by Ron Berry


The Library of Wales Debate was a sell-out event at the 2005 Guardian Hay Festival, and the audience questioned Professor Dai Smith, Mario Basini and Niall Griffiths with great interest following their lively discussion about the series
Sunday, May 29, 2005
web site:

Mario Bassini Interviews Richard Davies about the Library of Wales and Parthian

lewisDFrom nothing, Richard Davies has grown his Parthian Books into one of the most innovative and regarded publishers in Wales. Here, he tells Mario Bassini how he has an even more revolutionary plan for out-of-print novels.

Publisher Richard Davies brings a first-hand experience to dealing with the trials and tribulations of his authors. As a novelist and playwright he has lived through the long years of poetry and struggle a writer often needs to establish a reputation.

He worked as a labourer on a building site to finance his first books.

His publishing career grew out of a problem he shared with most young writers-how to get your work into print. When he could not find a publisher in London or Wales for his first novel he published it himself, hawking it around Wales’ bookshops.

The company he founded then, Parthian, has become one of the most innovative book publishers in Wales. It has established a cutting-edge reputation for rooting out promising talent. Among those whose work first appeared in his lists is Rhondda-born Rachel Tresize whose astonishingly raw and powerful memoir, In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl won her an Orange Futures Prize. She was still in her teens when she wrote the book.

Parthian has done much to promote the work of an emerging group of short-story writers. It has brought some of our best and most neglected playwrights a new audience by publishing their texts. Now, along with others in Wales, it is pioneering new links with the literature of Europe and the World.

It will soon be launching a new translation of Under the Dust, a novel by the Catalan writer, Jordi Cocoa, at a press conference in Barcelona. It tells the story of a boy growing up in the city under the dictator Franco.

At the beginning of June in the same city, Parthian is launching The Colour of a Dog Running Away, by Richard Gwyn, its poetry editor. It is a vibrant, poetic evocation of a love affair set in the Catalan capital. Its author speaks Catalan.

A chance meeting at the Frankfurt Book Fair between Richard Davies and the publisher Keri Hulme, the New Zealand winner of the 1985 Booker Prize, could lead to Parthian publishing a book of Maori short stories. It will be edited by Hulme, the author of The Bone People.

“He saw that, like his company, we produce collections of short stories,” recalls Richard Davies as we sit in a bar with a panoramic view of the breathtaking Teifi estuary near Cardigan. “So he said, ‘let’s do a book together’.”

Parthian has also pioneered English translations of major Welsh-language writers. From Empty Harbour to White Ocean was Robin Llywelyn’s own translation of his book O’r Harbwr Gwag I’r Cefnfor Gwyn which won the national Eisteddfod prose medal at Neath in 1994.

The company Richard Davies ran with his artist wife Jill, doing everything from writing the books to designing them and selling them out of a suitcase, now employs half-a-dozen people. They include a fiction editor, a poetry editor and a marketing manager.

Davies and Parthian have just clinched what could be the most important opportunity in the short history of English-language publishing in Wales. It has won the contract to publish the Library of Wales which will be funded by the Welsh Assembly.

The library, edited by historian and literary critic Professor Dai Smith, will bring back into print a series of 20th century classics written in English which are currently out of print and/or extremely difficult to obtain.

The aim is to restore to the reading public some of the key texts which shaped the unique contribution made by the English-language literature to Wales and the world. The open-ended commitment could run into scores of books.

Dai Smith and his panel of five have already chosen the first 20 titles to be resurrected.

They range from books by major literary figures such as Gwyn Thomas, Rhys Davies, Alun Lewis, Glyn Jones, Emyr Humphreys and Jack Jones to lesser known novelists and short story writers whose work has all but slipped from our collective memory.

The second category includes men like Geraint Goodwin George Ewart Evans and, perhaps, Lewis Jones.

According to Dai Smith, the library should prove that Welsh writing in English in the 20th century can compare with anything produced by Ireland, Scotland or England. “What we have here is a superb European literature that is largely unknown, even in Wales,” he said as he unveiled the library’s first 20 titles. He added that it would allow the people of Wales “to have a sense of themselves.”

According to Richard Davies, there will be a more specific benefit to the creation of the library.

“I think Wales will produce better writers as a result of the publication of these books,” he says.

“There are some authors you need to read to help you develop as a writer. Previous writers can help you explore where you are from in literary terms and help to shape your work.”

He mentions the miner-writer BL Coombes who, in books like These Poor Hands, described his life in the coal industry in the Neath Valley. “It would have been interesting for me as a 15-year-old growing up in the same valley to read his books. But I only learned about him in the last four or five years,” Richard Davies says. As the grandson of a miner, Coombes’s work has direct relevance to his life.

Every school and college in Wales is expected to take copies of the Library of Wales books. But, if it is to achieve its purpose, it will have to sell well to the general public.

Pricing, design, and marketing will play crucial roles in ensuring the popularity of the books. Parthian has priced each of the first books at a very reasonable £6.99.

The first five in the series will be published in January next year. They will include the novel Border Country, written by the influential philosopher and critic, Raymond Williams. Another will be So Long, Hector Bebb by the Rhondda author Ron Berry, a novel which explores the dangerous world of boxing in South Wales.

Each book will be introduced by an enthusiast. In Ron Berry’s case, the prize-winning novelist Niall Griffiths will provide the induction.

Niall, whose novel Stump won last year’s Welsh Book of the Year title, has publicly acknowledged his debt to the Rhondda writer.

The covers of these first will be bold and starkly modern. They will often be built around eye-catching, sombrely realistic black and white photographs. They demand a modern audience for these classic texts and they help to give the books an immediacy which dispels any lingering misgivings that they are ghosts conjured up from a dead tradition.

Richard Davies, 38, is the son of a Neath builder. He lives in a large and imposing house with Jill and their children Tai, eight, and Ella, five, in the centre of Cardigan. It is, not surprisingly, full of books and Jill’s vibrant, arresting paintings.

He loves the sociability of publishing in which he meets a stream of very different but like-minded people. He delights in discovering and encouraging new talent and seeing it in print. He has often backed it with his own money without the benefit of grants.

He has inherited a business talent from his father and enjoys writing complex business plans. His ambition is to grow the company beyond the confines of Wales or the United Kingdom. And he has the vision to achieve that ambition. There are precedents. He points to the Scottish-based companies like Cannongate which have won international reputations.

He has already put into place a network of distributors enabling him to sell books in the United States as well as Europe.

“Our challenge as publishers is to promote out authors and win a larger audience for them. We have to try to be a company with a world perspective, to sell books in numbers in the States and in Europe.”

The difference between being a small provincial company and one with international clout can rest on the success of a handful of books.

“You can turn things round and earn a place in the international market with two or three successful books” says Richard.

He admits that he needs to lay his hands on more good books which have the chance of selling all over the world.

Some years he may handle just one or two books with that potential. “What you need is five or six a year so that you can promote them heavily. Then one might take off.”

His enthusiasm for publishing is obvious. But he is determined not to neglect his first love, writing. He is a past winner of the Rhys Davies short story award. His first novel, Work, Sex and Rugby, written in 1992 under the pseudonym he uses as a writer, Lewis Davies, is a rite of passage story describing one young man’s story through a weekend of booze, rugby and women. Two years ago it was voted the best book to describe Wales in a poll organised to coincide with World Book Day.

A later novel, My Piece of Happiness, a sensitive and moving account of a social worker’s relationship with his handicapped charge, won critical acclaim. He has also written a number of plays, sometimes adapting his novels for the stage. He has just finished a political satire which updates the story of King Arthur’s Camelot by relocating it to Blair’s cabinet.

Richard Davies believes he can juggle the demands of running an expanding business with those of being a successful writer in at least two very different fields. He already has the next decade of his life mapped out.

During that time he will not only steer Parthian to further success. He will write at least two novels, one of which could be a thriller, and have a play produced on the West End stage. It would take a brave man to bet against him.
Written by: Mario Bassini