'Y Llyfrgell': Meirion and District National Eisteddfod, 2009


Fflur Dafydd is the winner of the Daniel Owen Memorial Prize at the Meirion and District National Eisteddfod this year, in a competition that attracted seven litterateurs.

The Daniel Owen Memorial Prize is given for an unpublished novel of not less than 50,000 words with a strong story line. The adjudicators this year were John Rowlands, Geraint Vaughan Jones and Rhiannon Lloyd, and the title of the prize-winning novel is Y Llyfrgell.

£3,100 of the cash prize was donated this year by the D Tecwyn Lloyd Trust and £1,500 was given by Siop Awen Meirion, Bala.

Three years after winning the Prose Medal at Swansea and District Eisteddfod 2006, and a few months after she snatched the Oxfam Hay Prize for Emerging Writers 2009 for her English novel Twenty Thousand Saints, Fflur Dafydd has reached the summit once again with a controversial novel that takes a peep into one of the major institutions of Wales, the National Library. Set in the year 2020, the novel follows a cast of characters during one dramatic day when two armed lady librarians occupy the Library.

This is a satirical novel, with a large dose of black humour, which lampoons librarians, academicians, civil servants, politicians and janitors, and throws them mercilessly together in a sinister and bizarre crisis. The novel also deals with a number of topical themes – digitisation, post-feminism, literary criticism and, most importantly, a nation’s memory and identity. The novel is an alternative view of the nation’s future, a future where women will govern; politicians overly influence the arts, and the book – and the author – are things that have been forgotten as the new technology takes their place. This is undoubtedly a challenging novel that will upset many a reader – particularly the male critic – and is certain to stimulate debate.

Like Fflur Dafydd’s other works, such as her novel about Bardsey, the novel is an amusing analysis of one of the icons of Wales, with the location itself turning into a major character during the course of the novel, as the reader sees this institution in a new and thrilling light. The author was inspired by the place when she was there completing her doctorate on R.S. Thomas in 2004, as she visited the Library daily over three months.

“I found myself imagining all sorts of different scenarios that could happen in the Library rather than concentrating on my work! There is something thrilling about the grandeur of the building, the red carpet, the white pillars, and the concept that all the secrets and history of the nation being collected in one place. This is one of the most powerful and significant institutions that we have in Wales – but, again, this is one of the last places that one would expect to find any kind of upheaval, as it is such a quiet and peaceful place – and it is that duality that interests me.”

The novel has already broken new ground, as this is the first novel to be set completely in the National Library. The novel also pushes the envelope constantly between the real and the absurd, containing references as it does to all kinds of historical and fictional authors and, although it is set in 2020, the author’s achievement is that she has created a terrible and absurd future that is believable enough.

The novel is published two years after the centenary of the National Library in 2007 and it will be on sale on the Eisteddfod field and in shops throughout Wales from today.

Fflur Dafydd was raised in the Llandysul area. She graduated in English from Aberystwyth University, before going on to gain a doctorate for her studies into the works of R.S. Thomas at Bangor University. By now she is a lecturer in the English Department of Swansea University.

She came to the fore in several competitions at the National Eisteddfod, including the short story prize and the Emyr Feddyg scholarship. Her second novel, Atyniad (Attraction), won the Prose Medal at the National Eisteddfod Swansea and District, 2006, and her first English novel, Twenty Thousand Saints, won the Oxfam Hay Prize for Emerging Writers 2009.

She is also a popular singer-songwriter, and her third album, Byd Bach (Small World), which is a journey in song around Wales, is released in October this year, on the Rasal label.

She has just married Iwan last Saturday and they will be making their home in Carmarthen.

The National Eisteddfod draws about 160,000 visitors a year, and it is held in the north and south in alternate years. For the price of a daily field ticket, all the activities of the National Eisteddfod are available to the visitor.

The Eisteddfod receives a grant from the National Assembly of Wales via the Welsh Language Board, and the Government gave £100,000 in addition for the Meirion and District Eisteddfod in 2009. In addition, the Eisteddfod receives finance from the Welsh Unitary Authorities in partnership with the Welsh Local Government Association. The Eisteddfod is being held on the Rhiwlas Estate near Bala until 8 August.