Reading English novels with Welsh connections can inspire people to learn Welsh, and that’s exactly what happened to Jen Bailey, who lives in the Netherlands but is originally from Australia.
As a child, Jen read The Grey King by Susan Cooper, which is a children’s fantasy novel based in Wales, and this sparked her interest in Welsh. Jen spent a week in the children’s hospital in Perth, which was two hundred miles away from her home, when she was 10 years old, and during this period, Jen’s mum read her this particular novel and all the other books in the series.
Jen enjoyed The Dark is Rising, the title of the series that includes five books, but The Grey King, the fourth book in the series, captured her imagination because of its Welsh connections, as she explains;
‘‘I was brought up on a farm in Wheatbelt, Western Australia, therefore I could identify with the rural life in the novel. I loved reading about places like Cader Idris and Craig y Deryn in Gwynedd, North Wales. I intend to come to Wales in June to visit these places, and I cannot wait.’’
Jen plans to visit the locations that made such an impression on her, and will also sit a Learn Welsh exam at Intermediate level. During the pandemic, Jen’s work as an orchestral conductor slowed down, therefore she started learning Welsh with Learn Welsh Gwent which is run by Coleg Gwent on behalf of the National Centre for Learning Welsh.
In The Grey King, the chief character, Wil attempts to pronounce some Welsh words, and it was then that Jen decided she would like to learn Welsh at some point. She claims that many have followed her example;
‘‘I know of others who have learnt Welsh after reading The Grey King. I shared a questionnaire on Facebook, and individuals from as far afield as America, Sweden, Australia and Germany said they had been inspired to learn Welsh having read the novel. I also have friends who have been inspired to learn Welsh, having read books such as The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, The Snow Spider by Jenny Nimmo, Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters, Constable Evans by Rhys Bowen as well as books by J.R.R.Tolkien.’’
Jen is thrilled she is learning Welsh, years after she first heard about Wales and the Welsh language in The Grey King;
‘’I speak eight languages but I have fallen in love with Welsh. I adore the language and its history and others clearly feel the same. Speaking to learners from all corners of the globe, who have also been inspired to learn Welsh having read novels with Welsh connections, has been wonderful.’’