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Literary Atlas offers new perspective on Wales

11 October 2018

Literary atlas

The geography of Wales is being explored through its fiction, as part of an interactive online project.

Literary Atlas, which goes live this month, plots locations featured in English-language novels set around Wales. Hundreds of works of fiction have been studied for the exercise, a joint venture between Cardiff University and Swansea University, in partnership with Literature Wales and the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods (WISERD).

Focusing on 12 books in detail, researchers have recorded all geographical references mentioned in the stories. This online tool allows users to follow each plotline around Wales and the world, exploring every place that has shaped the novels.

As part of the project, artists were also commissioned to create 12 original artworks, one to reflect each book. This exhibition will tour Wales in 2019.

Novels included in the 12 include The Rebecca Rioter by Amy Dilwyn, which is mainly set around Upper Killay in Swansea and The Owl Service, by Alan Garner, which is based in Llanymawddwy, in Mid Wales. Twenty Thousand Saints by Fflur Dafydd, is set on Bardsey, North Wales, while Mr Vogel, by Lloyd Jones, is set in Llanfairfechan, North Wales, as well as taking the characters around the circumference of the country through some epic journeys and quests.

Literary Atlas also plots the main geographical locations of all English-language novels in the Welsh collections of Cardiff University, Swansea University, and the National Library of Wales. One key location was taken from each of the 558 novels, giving users a broad overview of the relationship between a story’s plot and the place it is set in.

Professor Jon Anderson, of Cardiff University’s School of Geography and Planning, who led on the project, said: “The website gives users the chance to explore Wales and see how the incredibly diverse country and its people have influenced key works of English-language literature.

He added: “Although this project has initially focused on novels written in English, there is certainly scope to extend the research to look at Welsh-language literature, to give a full picture of how geography and literature are intertwined.”

Professor Kirsti Bohata of Swansea University said: “The readers we worked with described the powerful emotional connection they felt between literature and locations. The project explores the varied ways literature affords intimate knowledge of places, both real and imagined.”

Other features of the website include a list of all the blue writers’ plaques which commemorate the link between particular geographical sites and famous Welsh writers.

There is also a chance for people to submit their own “microfiction”, a short piece of writing about a place in Wales that is special to them.

Professor Anderson said: “Everyone living or visiting here will have memories and associations with places around Wales that they can draw upon. We hope that this project will spark people’s creativity to form a rich and detailed literary map that can be shared and added to for years to come.”

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