UKYA

Celebrating Young Adult fiction by UK authors

Author Susie Day, on YA with a Welsh Setting

11 Comments

I grew up with the sea at the end of my road. Writing a summer story set on a beach was kind of inevitable.

Penarth Pier

Mmm, beachy. Penarth Pier and, um, some mud. (It looks lovely when the tide’s in!)

I’m from Penarth, a few miles from Cardiff: a Victorian seaside resort, where sickly people would come to ‘take the air’ on the promenade. It’s also a few miles from Barry Island, the more traditional bucket-and-spade hangout – and where the sitcom Gavin & Stacey was set. For my currently-living-in-England self, that show was like some sort of magical gift. After years of trying to explain the mere concept of ‘Wales’, I could just point at the telly and go ‘I’m from there, sort of.’ (Penarth and Barry are not remotely the sam as any local will tell you – while laughing – but I did learn how to do hill starts outside Uncle Bryn’s house. Cracking for your clutch control, Barry is.)

log flume

Nessa and co on the soon-to-be demolished Barry Island Pleasure Park Log Flume. *sniffs*

My book The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones is set in Penkerry, a fictional Welsh seaside town that borrows from Penarth, Barry, Porthkerry and bits of Pembrokeshire at random. There’s a fairground, and a pier; an island (loosely based on Caldey Island off Tenby); a pebbly beach, and dangerous tides, horror stories about which were drummed into me as a kid.

The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones

The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones: certified harp/goblin-free.

It’s the first time I’ve written a YA novel with a strong sense of place. Big Woo and My Invisible Boyfriend took place in a sort of ‘everyland’, an unobtrusive Could Be Your Town. Intentionally, I should add. As a teen, if I found a YA book set in the UK, it took place in England, probably London (the geography of which the author seemed to assume I’d recognise): hugely annoying. Meanwhile, anything set in Wales was invariably fantasy, with runes and harps and mystical retellings of the Mabinogion by a goblin up a hill. (Which is fine, of course, but not really my cup of tea.)

So I wanted to write a contemporary story that was firmly set in Wales, even if Penkerry itself isn’t real: the story I would’ve loved to read back then.

My relationship with my own Welshness isn’t simple, though. On the train back to Cardiff to see my family I’m always reassured by the old familiar voices and phrases, that sense of coming home – but I also feel a bit of an imposter. I’ve got an English accent these days (unless I’m shouting at the rugby). I’m one of those Welsh traitors that left and never went back.

So I decided to use that unease. In the book, Bluebell is on the brink of ‘true’ teenagerness, the sudden blossoming of self-confidence she imagines will arrive automatically with her 13th birthday – wrongly, of course. I made her English (with a Welsh Dad), a visitor for the summer holidays. Her lurking sense of foreignness in a Welsh-accented landscape is yet another worry, one more for the list of ways she fears she’ll never fit in.

Luckily for Blue, she meets a bunch of lovely, accepting – and very Welsh – teens at Penkerry funfair, ready and waiting to help her figure herself out.

This post is part of the Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones blog tour. Click here for more info, and for a chance to win a Bluebell Jones-style retro camera enter the Summer Snap! competition.

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11 thoughts on “Author Susie Day, on YA with a Welsh Setting

  1. Can’t wait to read it..I’m English with a Welsh dad and we used to have brilliant holidays staying with my Grandma in Swansea.

  2. I didn’t know your Dad was Welsh! We do get everywhere. :)

  3. This entry resonated so much for me – especially this bit: “My relationship with my own Welshness isn’t simple, though. On the train back to Cardiff to see my family I’m always reassured by the old familiar voices and phrases, that sense of coming home – but I also feel a bit of an imposter. I’ve got an English accent these days (unless I’m shouting at the rugby). I’m one of those Welsh traitors that left and never went back.”

    That is so similar to how I feel about my Americanness nowadays, after 10 years of living in the UK, dual citizenship, and over 4 years since my last visit to the US. On the one hand, I still think of the US as “home”, at a really basic level. But on the other hand, the last time I got on a plane back ‘home’, it felt SO WEIRD to be surrounded by people who had my own accent…to the point where I actually started to cry because it’s just wrong to feel like an alien in your own home country! (It all got better after that first shock of readjustment. But still.)

    Thank you for this post!

    • Yep: ‘Home’ feels like such a simple straightforward concept, but it takes on all these other complications the further away from it you get. I’m glad mine’s only a train ride away, though – 4 years sounds like a long time but it’s a long way to go!

  4. He’s from Treforest, and my Grandma grew up in Ynyshir.

  5. Oh that is amazing! Right, I will get onto my dad and see if he has any knowledge of his grandparents’ shop in Ynyshir. I think it may have been a drapery. Maybe your grandparents used to go there!

  6. What do mean you’ve done away with the harps and goblins, Susie?? Tsk!!
    Seriously, though… I’ve read Bluebell twice already. It’s a wonderful, wonderful book.

  7. Well, I grew up on the Cotswold and on a clear day could see the Black Mountains of Wales from my window. Spent every summer holiday in a caravan in North Wales, Snowdonia – so being a border girl even I feel ‘reassured by the old familiar voices and phrases, that sense of coming home ‘ when I pootle down to Llanberis or see the peaks of the mountains in the distance. I think Penkerry is a VERY real place. X Sarah

    • I’ve still never been to Snowdonia! Seen it from the top of another mountain, but never been up. It’s on the list – not least because of a certain secret story set in the Llanberis region…;)

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