I usually find conferences quite stressful, whether I'm presenting a paper or not (and this time it was 'not'). There's the unfamiliar place, large numbers of strangers all trying to network and establish themselves in the academic pecking order, and the sheer weight of learning. But this one was utterly delightful: large groups of friendly and interesting people, fascinating topics and a delightful setting. Over the course of the three days I variously wished I was a Romanticist, a translation expert, a poetry specialist and a whole range of other fields as speaker after speaker made their field sound like the summit of human endeavour: even the one who got us all to sing the Welsh-language version of the Marseillaise… (you can sample Tystion's hip-hop version here).
Anyway, amongst the many and expensive books I bought were a couple of lovely examples of book design: Bert Coombes's I Am A Miner (1939) which looks graphically very fresh, and Gwyn Thomas's first novel, Where Did I Put My Pity? (1946). Coombes was a Wolverhampton man who pretended not to be and wrote a memoir (These Poor Hands) about becoming a miner in Wales which turned out to be mostly fiction… James Frey is a very late entry to the field. Gwyn Thomas was a bitter, darkly comic genius who invented a literary style apparently from nowhere to express the plight of people like him: hugely intelligent, fluent, and trapped by capitalism. Later on he became a bit of a media darling and his books lost their bite, sadly, but his first few (The Alone to the Alone, The Dark Philosophers, Sorrow For Thy Sons) are astonishing and deserve to be famous.
GT hated the Welsh language movement, probably because he couldn't speak Welsh whereas his parents and older siblings could. For my own amusement, I've got the book in the same protective packet as my copy of nasty neo-fascist Saunders Lewis's pamphlet Is There an Anglo-Welsh Literature? (his answer: no).