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Category: about

image001.jpg Between the mid 1840s and late 1860s about 5,000 Welsh people, inspired by the Mormon faith, left Wales to start a new life in the far west of the United States. In  Welsh Saints on the Mormon Trail  (Y Lolfa), written by Wil Aaron, the story is told of their journey by ox-carts and on foot from the Mississippi and the Missouri to Salt Lake City, and of their subsequent lives in Utah. 

The book explores a little-known episode of Welsh history. The Welsh Mormons were crossing a continent at a particularly dramatic time in American history. The ‘49ers’ and the Pony Express shared the trails with them. They were passed by the first trans-continental stagecoaches. They saw the beginnings of the Indian Wars and the end of the Civil War. Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickock rode the same trails and Calamity Jane and Crazy Horse have a place in their stories. Part of the Mormons religious responsibility was to keep diaries, and hundreds of these documents describing their adventures are now kept in the Church archive of the Mormon Church History Library in Salt Lake City. Wil Aaron has made good use of this rich resource and of the Welsh journals and memoirs collected on ‘ ’. 

“This is a book about the grit and steadfastness of ordinary men and women whose remarkable tale deserves a place in the history of the Welsh people,” says author Wil Aaron. 

Professor Jerry Hunter of Bangor University writes, “Here is a volume I shall return to time after time, and I know that others will do likewise. The author has consulted extensive historical resources and has discerningly deciphered them, arousing anew an interest in the story.” 

Wil Aaron’s career has been in television. He has made documentaries and factual programmes for the BBC and HTV in Cardiff and in London. His production company,  Ffilmiau’r Nant , produced many of S4C’s early successes.  

Welsh Saints on a Mormon Trail  by Wil Aaron (£14.99, Y Lolfa) is available now. BUY IT HERE

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teach your cat welsh.jpg Teach Your Cat Welsh has been developed due to the huge popularity of the dog version, as well as numerous requests by cat-lovers who are learning Welsh!

“The popularity of the series has been amazing! I was thrilled when Teach Your Dog Welsh was re-printed for the first time – but I’m amazed that it’s been reprinted three more times since! A lot of cat lovers approached me personally or contacted me over social media asking if there’d be a cat version of the book,” says author and illustrator Anne Cakebread.

The mischievous black cat in the book, who – unlike the very obedient dog in Teach Your Dog Welsh – often ignores instructions, has been inspired by two cats: one being Chanel, the cat of Anne Cakebread’s two nieces. Mari and Elin are thrilled to have Chanel in a book.

“Chanel made a lovely model as she’s nice and plump and full of character,” said Anne Cakebread. “The other cat that inspired the personality is the local black tom cat with yellow eyes who prowls and hunts around the old Abbey ruins, and is a bit of a legend here in St Dogmaels. He’s a seriously tough character!”

Originally from Cardiff, Anne and her partner moved to St Dogmaels on the west Wales coast. She wanted to improve her Welsh as it was important to her to become part of the lively Welsh-speaking community in the area.

“I first had to unlearn the Welsh I'd been taught in school as it's nothing like the Welsh people speak here. That's why I've made the expressions in the book colloquial, as a large part of learning is listening to what people say around you.”

The original book was inspired by Frieda, a rescue whippet, who only understood Welsh commands when she was first homed with Anne and her partner. Slowly, whilst dealing with Frieda, Anne realised that she was overcoming her nerves about speaking Welsh aloud by talking to the dog, and her Welsh was improving as a result – this gave her the idea of creating a book to help other would-be learners whilst also using her skills as an illustrator.

Summoning up the confidence to use a language you’re learning can be daunting at first, and a number of books are available to help with vocabulary and pronunciation, but the light hearted context and the beautiful illustrations mean that this book is a bit out of the ordinary. Lefi Gruffudd from Y Lolfa says:

“This book is both a practical and a fun way to practise Welsh, and hopefully it will be a useful resource to Welsh learners.”

Carolyn Hodges, Head of English Publishing at Y Lolfa, who developed language-teaching materials for Oxford University Press for many years, said: “Some people have a bad experience of learning Welsh at school and that puts them off trying again as adults. One of the key factors in motivating someone to start learning and using a new language is to make it enjoyable. Teach Your Cat Welsh really brings the language to life and makes it fun – it’s a really positive (re)introduction to this wonderful language.”

“It was particularly fun for me to edit the book as I started learning Welsh on my own in Oxford, where the only ‘person’ I had to practise on was my cat! This book would have been really useful!”

There are plans to expand the Teach Your Cat Welsh and Teach Your Dog Welsh series to include translations into other minority languages including Cornish and Irish. Teach Your Dog Māori is already available as an e-book, and there will be a special travel edition teaching Japanese to coincide with the Rugby World Cup in the autumn.

Anne Cakebread is a freelance illustrator with over 20 years’ experience in publishing and TV, including cover art and illustrations for numerous books, magazines and adverts. She also illustrated sets and props for Boomerang on S4C’s award-winning ABC. She grew up and went to school in Radyr, Cardiff and now lives with her partner, two whippets and lurcher in St Dogmaels, where she runs a B&B Oriel Milgi.

Teach Your Cat Welsh by Anne Cakebread is available now (£4.99, Y Lolfa).

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Read Anisha Johnson's  winning entry here:  Flapper Girl

AmeriCymru: Hi Anisha and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. When did you first decide to start writing?

Anisha: I've been writing for as long as I can remember! My mother taught me to read when I was three and put a pencil in my hand as soon as I could hold one, so I was always encouraged to read and write as much as I could.

I was homeschooled by my mother my whole life, so I had the chance to write not just essays but also creative writing pieces for school. However, I wouldn't say that writing really became one of my hobbies until freshman year of high school, when I started to write outside of school hours as well. I started writing poetry first, and I finally decided to tackle the challenge of writing a novel when I participated in National Novel Writing Month in 2015. After that I set myself the goal of writing a novel every year, and I've continued to write short stories and poetry since then.

AmeriCymru: What is your writing process? Do you rely largely on observation or are your stories pure products of the imagination?

Anisha:   Both, actually, although I would say that the latter is usually more prevalent. I've been writing a lot of historical fiction lately, which has seemed to require more observation and research than imagination, but whenever I write fantasy, short stories, or poetry, I tend to write from my own imagination as much as I can. As fantasy is usually my genre of choice, I spend a lot of time with my eyes shut just thinking about various possibilities and ideas (this is usually what I'm doing when I'm caught daydreaming). I feel obligated to think of all my worlds and characters completely on my own, because it somehow seems like cheating to borrow from something that I saw in real life (that being said, if I'm really stuck and desperately need inspiration, I tend to get it from my writer friends. I’ll tell them about my ideas and ask them to pitch in and give ideas of their own, and sometimes by the end of these conversations the story has changed completely!).

My writing process is very haphazard. I hate writing outlines, so I usually just trust myself to remember all of my ideas, although sometimes if I have an idea for a particular line or scene I'll write it down in a document full of notes related to that particular writing project. For all of my novels, I basically just have these twenty-page long documents full of random ideas and pieces of dialogue, that I scroll through periodically to remind myself. It's complete chaos, but it's worked for me so far. And it's very gratifying to finish writing a novel and delete the last random idea from my notes, knowing that I have incorporated everything I wanted to into the book.

I also try to write for at least an hour a day (even if I'm writing trash! Writing stuff that I know I'll throw away later is better than writing nothing at all, and many of my best ideas have come from short stories or false starts that were eventually deleted). Discipline is a very important part of my writing process. Consequently, I don't usually write out-of-sequence; I like to write all of my scenes in the order that they're going to appear in the final version.

I guess you said say that my writing process consists of organized chaos…

AmeriCymru: In his adjudication Mike Jenkins says:- " the end I went for 'Flapper Girl' by Anisha Johnson, which really caught a moment in time very well." Did you have a particular effect on the reader in mind as you wrote this story?

Anisha:  Sort of, but I didn't put as much thought into it as I'd like to pretend I did. I mainly just wanted readers to put down the story and immediately start wondering what would happen to the character next. I think that everybody has experienced difficult situations where telling the truth could lead to disaster, and struggled with the outcomes of such situations. It's easy to feel sympathy for people going through similar situations, and I had this in mind when I wrote this story. I wanted readers to feel pity for the character trying to make a difficult decision, but I also wanted them to feel proud of her, in a way, for finally choosing to take the hard-but-right path, in the same way that we all feel proud of ourselves when we do the right thing despite the hardship that sometimes entails. Other than that, I really just wanted readers to enjoy the story!

AmeriCymru: Have you published anything else? Where can readers go to find more of your work?

Anisha:  Yes! One of my poems, ‘human’, was published as a winner in the California Coastal Art and Poetry Contest, an consequently published in an electronic issue of Chapman University’s TAB: A Journal of Poetry & Poetics. My poem ‘sometimes’ was published in the Live Poets Society of NJ’s anthology “My World” in summer of 2018. And my short story ‘The Fog’ was published as an Honorable Mention in Bluefire, the literary journal of the Leyla Beban Young Authors Foundation.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Anisha Johnson?

Anisha: I graduated from high school in June 2018, and am taking a gap year before attending Mount Holyoke College this fall to study computer science, film, and creative writing. I have several more writing projects in the works, ranging from novels to poems, and I hope to learn screenwriting in the near future as well.

AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?

Anisha:   Thank you for reading my story and my interview — it means the world to authors like me who are just starting out in their careers! Writing really would mean nothing without people to read it. Every new audience that I write for helps me grow as an author, so thank you for being one of those audiences.

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AmeriCymru:  What can you tell us about the history of the Malad Valley? What is the Welsh connection?

Jean:   Malad Valley was named by Donald McKenzie and a group of French trappers who camped along the Malad River in the early 1800s and became very ill from drinking the water. Hence, they named the area “Malad” or “sick” in French. (They probably ate the poisonous water parsnips, but the water is pretty alkali and would taste bad.)

Malad was founded in 1864 by Henry Peck and his sons, who had a contract with the Wells Fargo Freight Company to provide wild hay for the teams of horses taking goods to the Montana gold and silver mines and coming back with gold and silver. They brought their families and several other Welsh settlers to the Malad Valley the next year.

By 1868 several other Welsh Mormon families arrived in the Malad Valley, settling Malad City, St. John, and Samaria. They had been converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Wales and were encouraged to “gather to Zion,” which was the Salt Lake Valley. Considering that the English had usurped all the farms and mines, the attraction of free land under the Homestead Act was certainly a draw, too.
Hundreds of Welsh Mormons came north, stopping first in Willard, Utah, and then coming to the Malad Valley, which in the spring reminded them of their homeland.

Several years ago, researchers at Brigham Young University, beginning DNA research to trace ancient peoples, selected Malad as a starting point for their research because there were more descendants of Welsh ancestry in Malad than anywhere else in the world outside of Wales. They drew blood from hundreds of people in Malad and began their DNA research. That preliminary research eventually was sold several times and expanded to become some of the DNA-based genealogy companies today.

AmeriCymru:  What is the history of the event? When was the first Malad Valley Welsh Festival held?

Jean:   The Welsh pioneers brought their music and poetry traditions with them, and an eisteddfod started in the 1880s with competitions in choral music, vocal solos and ensembles, dance, and all types of poetry. The eisteddfod was held one year in Malad and the next year in St. John with judges coming from as far away as Salt Lake City. The eisteddfod lasted until the beginning of World War I.

People in Malad had talked for years of starting a Welsh Festival, but it finally became a reality in 2005 when the first Festival was held. A committee of 20 citizens interested in promoting and celebrating the Welsh heritage of Malad Valley planned and organized the first Welsh Festival in about six months. That first Festival attracted about 500 people. This year is the 14th annual Malad Valley Welsh Festival.

AmeriCymru:  A tremendous amount of work goes into organizing an event like this. When do you start planning and organizing the Festival? How many people are involved?

Jean:   After the first couple of years, the core committee members knew what worked and what did not although every year we introduce new activities and events. The next year’s Festival is already partly planned when the current year’s Festival is underway because we get names and suggestions for presenters, musical groups, etc., that we can’t use in the current year but that may be asked to participate in a following year. Everyone takes a month off to breathe after the Festival is over, and then plans get started for the next year with confirming presenters, musicians, etc.

We operate with a chair, co-chair, secretary, and treasurer and 26 committee chairs. The size of committees ranges from 1 – 20 members. In addition, many volunteers are involved as hosts and hostesses, drivers, guides, and judges. Last year approximately 200 people were involved in some way with putting on the Festival, including operating vendor booths.

AmeriCymru:  What’s on the agenda for this year’s Festival? Any particular events you wish to highlight?

Jean:   Our presentations are always featured. One presenter this year is Carla Kelly, an award-winning novelist, who will talk about writing her sequel to “My Loving Vigil Keeping,” the story of the Scofield (Utah) mine disaster in 1900 that killed over 200 Welsh and Finnish miners. The other presentation will be on traveling in Wales with anecdotes and pictures of places in Wales. To go along with that presentation, we will display “A Walk Through Wales” with huge banners with pictures of castles, landscapes, and other sites in Wales. Last year we started our poetry competitions – one for youths and one for adults. The crowning of the youth “Bards” after they read/recite their original poems will again be featured. The adult “Bard of the Welsh Festival” will be “chaired” in a beautiful Welsh Festival chair and will preside over the finale event and next year’s Festival. For the first time, we are having an introductory event when the Bard from the Festival last year will walk in, preceded by a “knight” and Welsh dancers. In addition, we have all-day Celtic music on the outdoor amphitheater plus three indoor concerts: a choral concert, a youth concert, and a piano ensemble concert. Kids’ activities, games played by the pioneers, wagon rides along historic routes, a quilt show and bake sale, tours of the historic 136-year-old Presbyterian Church, and community meals will provide fun for everyone. In addition, to celebrate its sesquicentennial, Samaria (a small town 6 miles southeast of Malad) will host several events, including tours of pioneer-era cabins, displays about Welsh pioneers coming to Malad Valley, a Welsh children’s farm, and other exhibits.

AmeriCymru:  You are featuring a presentation on traditional Welsh dance by Laraine Miner. Care to tell us a little more about this?

Jean:   Yes, Laraine Miner will be one of the outdoor presenters on the amphitheater. She will talk about traditional Welsh dances and use local students to demonstrate the dances. The students learned the dances during summer school and are excited to show what they have learned. Laraine is from Idaho Falls and is a well-known folk dance instructor and performer. We are excited that she is able to come to the Festival this year.

AmeriCymru:  Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?

Jean:   We are celebrating both our Welsh and pioneer heritage, which are intertwined for most long-time Malad residents. It is not an eisteddfod, but music and poetry are highlighted. We are proud of our pioneer heritage and want those early settlers and their struggles to survive drought, blizzards, grasshoppers, illness, and barren, sagebrush-covered land to be honored and remembered. Malad Valley did not end up being very much like their beloved Wales, but they persevered, and we are the products of their Welsh work ethic and stubbornness.

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