(Robert blogs at thoughtsofrob.com and Meagan at ceridwensonnet.com .)
AmeriCymru: Hi Rob and Meagan and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce your new book The Welsh Tattoo Handbook for our readers? What inspired the book?
Rob/Meagan: The project came to us completely out of the blue. We and the publisher have a mutual friend who recommended us. The publisher, Bradan Press, has a series of Celtic language tattoo handbooks, and wanted to add Welsh. Based on our friend’s recommendation, the publisher got in touch with us and invited us to do a book proposal. We hit it off right from the start, and from our proposal and the publisher’s response, it was clear that we shared a wavelength. So, we signed a contract and started developing the book in detail. We would never have thought to do anything like this on our own, but it was a real pleasure and privilege to get the chance. We spent two and a half years bringing the book to life.
AmeriCymru: What do you hope the book will achieve? Is the intention to encourage people to become fluent Welsh speakers?
Rob/Meagan: We have multiple goals for the book. Goal number one is simply to help people connect with their heritage by enjoying the Welsh language. It isn’t just about tattoos, really, although pictures of bad tattoo translations in every language imaginable are certainly all over the internet—and the book has Welsh examples! The book is a resource for anyone who doesn’t speak Welsh but would like to be able to incorporate some Welsh into their life, be it a tattoo, a t-shirt, a mug, a family motto, whatever. You know, people even look for translations or proverbs to put on a gravestone, right? So really, the book is designed to be an accessible entry point for someone, even someone who doesn’t really know any Welsh at all, to encounter the Welsh language and strike up an acquaintance with it. The book incorporates both a capsule history of Wales, and a sort of “speed date” between the reader and the Welsh language, so the reader can quickly learn some interesting things and be supported in trying to learn about Welsh. Goal number two is that, in the process of supporting people in connecting with their Welsh heritage, or just their enthusiasm for Wales, we can also help them make sure the Welsh they use is good Welsh and not bad Welsh. We’ve all seen the mistranslated signs and things, the immortal road sign with the Welsh out-of-office message printed on it. Whatever it is people want—the tattoo, the mug, the shirt, what have you—we want it to be good Welsh. Goal number three is that, among the people who do find the book useful or enjoyable, some portion of them really will be motivated to start learning Welsh. Recognising the goal set by the Welsh government, we dedicated the book to the one million Welsh speakers and more of the year 2050. We certainly hope that the book will inspire at least a few people to think that it’s worth learning Welsh. Fluency is a very complicated thing and it’s a bar that learners often imagine to be in some high, far-off place that they will never be able to reach. We would never want to say that the only worthwhile goal is for people to become fluent. Any goal a person sets for themselved with respect to learning Welsh is a worthwhile goal. And we know from experience that, as a learner, any time you can use Welsh in Wales, you feel on top of the world.
AmeriCymru: You currently live in Alabama. What can you tell us a little about your Welsh background?
Rob/Meagan: Robert is originally from West Virginia. His ancestors came from South Wales to the United States in the 19th century, to work in the coal mining industry. Meagan’s ancestry is Celtic but not explicitly Welsh; like so many Americans, she comes from Irish and Scottish stock. However, she embraces her Welsh-by-marriage status and feels as though she's been welcomed into this rich heritage. Robert has been able to trace his family back to their last known address in Wales before they emigrated, and we have visited the street! The original houses aren’t there anymore, but it was a lovely thing to be able to do.
AmeriCymru: How long have you been learning Welsh and what inspired you to start?
Rob/Meagan: Robert has been studying for over 15 years, going back to when he was in grad school. The idea just came to him one day, and he got some exercise books and some CDs to listen to. He didn’t really make serious progress, though, until he finished grad school and moved to Arizona for work. There he got involved with the Welsh League of Arizona and the class that John Good (aka “Sioni Dda”) was teaching, and that’s how he really started to learn. John also told him about Cymdeithas Madog, the Welsh Studies Institute in North America. Robert’s first course with Cymdeithas Madog was in 2009. Meagan’s first course with Cymdeithas Madog was in 2013. Robert was already studying Welsh when we met, and was strongly hoping for a partner who would be interested in learning Welsh as well. Meagan is a gifted poet and a language enthusiast, so the prospect appealed to her. As a linguist and fellow Celt, Meagan saw the value in passing on the living language of Welsh to our (at the time) future children. She previously studied French and German, which have certainly helped in her Welsh studies. Cymdeithas Madog's enthusiasm and wealth of knowledge propelled her on after Robert gave her the idea to give it a try the night he proposed. The value placed upon poetry and the arts in Welsh language and culture has also been a source of inspiration. Over the years we have been to multiple Welsh courses together and have travelled to Wales together twice, including taking an advanced immersive course together at Nant Gwrtheyrn, the renowned language center in North Wales. Now, we are glad to have the opportunity to share Welsh with our almost two year-old daughter, Kira.
AmeriCymru: Are there any persons or resources who have been useful along the way that you would like to credit?
Rob/Meagan: In addition to the Welsh speakers of the year 2050, the book is dedicated to some of the people who have been most instrumental in our Welsh language journey. First is John Good, who we still study with. We have a weekly online class with him when we read and discuss contemporary Welsh literature. Second, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Cymdeithas Madog, without which neither of us would ever have reached the Welsh proficiency we have, nor indeed even have had the chance to write this book. We were the local organisers for the Cwrs Cymraeg in 2016, we have both served on the board, and we’re still involved; during the pandemic, Cymdeithas Madog has started offering online Welsh lessons and Robert has gotten to teach beginners. Third, we have to credit Nant Gwrtheyrn and our dear friends Deian and Annette Evans, who first took us there to visit and blew our minds with the idea of a place in Wales where it was possible to not hear any English spoken. They inspired us to want to go there for ourselves as students one day, and in 2017, we did! Nant Gwrtheyrn is an extraordinary place filled with wonderful people. It feels like a worthwhile pilgrimage for any Welsh learner—and they’re offering online lessons now, as well. Also, for their aid in the monumental task of compiling a glossary full of Welsh tattoo and craft ideas, we must thank Antone Minard, Cymdeithas Madog board member and member of the Vancouver Welsh Society, and Angharad Devonald, Welsh television, theater, and fiction writer. Their grammatical, cultural, and editorial advice made this project possible.
AmeriCymru: Are you currently working on any follow up projects?
Rob/Meagan: At the moment we’re just trying to raise awareness of the book so that it can be of use to as many people as possible. We both have various other projects that we work on as we have time—writing fiction, poetry, and Robert dabbles in game design. We also both have blogs; Meagan blogs at ceridwensonnet.com and Robert at thoughtsofrob.com . But before the pandemic we were both working, and Robert still works full time, and we have a toddler at home, so it’s not easy for us to have enough spare time to be terribly productive. The Welsh Tattoo Handbook was a labor of love!
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?
Rob/Meagan: Learning any amount of Welsh is a good and worthwhile thing to do, and you can do it! We hope the Welsh Tattoo Handbook will help you get started. And don't hesitate to reach out to others in the Welsh learning community! Whether it's AmeriCymru, Cymdeithas Madog, or Welsh speakers and learners in Wales, you will be welcomed with open arms.
The Welsh Tattoo Handbook is available from bradan press. Price: $11.99 US | $14.99 CDN | £7.99 UK | €9.99 EU | $14.99 AUS