We are nearing the end of Dylan Thomas’ centenary year. I hope that all fans have re-read ‘Under Milk Wood’ a few times in these past months and now have a little gap in the reading schedule before reminding themselves of ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’ – which won’t take long, I hope, because, by coincidence, I have discovered an author who offers the perfect read for the interim.
I noticed this plaque on a house in Newport’s Upper St Mary’s Street. I hadn’t heard of Menna Gallie before, but my find prompted a little investigation, followed by a visit to Seaways bookshop in Fishguard and I’m hoping to encourage you to do the same.
Menna Gallie’s first book, Strike for a Kingdom, was my choice when I browsed the bookshop’s fine selection and I was delighted to find this title in a top 10 list from Dai Smith, research chair in the cultural history of Wales at Swansea University. His list (published in the Guardian comment/books pages) is entitled ‘Dai Smith’s top 10 Welsh alternatives to Dylan Thomas‘.
Strike for a Kingdom is both a detective novel and a social panorama of a Welsh mining village during the miners’ strike in 1926. It was first published by Victor Gollancz in 1959 and shortlisted for the CWA crime novel of the year but this is not a procedural crime investigation, nor a gory bloodbath for the steely-nerved and voyeuristic. Instead it’s a gentle account of the difficulties of a local magistrate who is also a striking miner and a poet and who, in the end, plays a larger role in achieving justice than the policeman, Inspector Evans, whose lack of empathy and discomfort with his Welshness alienates the villagers.
There were many descriptions to linger over:
Repressed by good manners, she was like a grate decorated with a paper fan, never meant for a fire. (Wife)
In her spick-and-span, mind the cushions, don’t sit on the three-piece, little grey house, Jessie Jeffries sat in front of the kitchen fire; she sat with her knees apart, her skirt folded back to warm the tops of her legs. She stared into the flames and pushed the coals about with a thin poker. (Mistress)
In reading this short book of only 160 pages I found I had to keep stopping as the end was approaching too fast. When I got to the end I was ready to read it again.