Tuesday, April 4, 2017

So Your Character is From Wales ... Featuring Ester @ To Write or Not to Write & Tasha @ 365 Days, 365 Photos

It's time for this week's So Your Character is ... Post! This is a weekly segment where I interview lovely volunteers from around the world to give you a firsthand account of being a citizen of their respective country or having a disability. I'm hoping to encourage international diversity, break stereotypes, and give writers a crash course on how to write a character from these different places on our planet. If you haven't checked out last week's So Your Character is from the Midwest United States ... be sure to hop on over there and give it a read!

I have Welsh blood and I've seen so many Doctor Who episodes set in Wales. That is the majority of my knowledge of the country, so I'm so happy that Ester and Tasha could be here to tell more!

Disclaimer: The content below may be culturally shocking to some. Each of these posts are as uncensored as possible to preserve the authenticity of the cultures of each of the interviewees.

(None of the Images are Mine)

Hi, I’m Esther Lowery, a seventeen-year-old girl from North Wales in the United Kingdom. I live with my family and my dog, Sooty. And my sister’s bajillion pets. I’ve written from pretty young and most of the time I write some form of fantasy, occasionally dipping into sci-fi and dystopian. My reading habits are essentially if it’s a book, I’ll probably read it. I’m currently halfway through my correspondence degree in English Literature. 

Hi, I’m Tasha! I’m nineteen and from the Brecon Beacons in Mid-Wales. Right now, I’m working as a badminton player and coach whilst studying for my fourth year of a degree with the Open University (Earth sciences, so my educational background is not in writing!!) 

I was brought up around literature. My mother has had stern words with me about dating anyone who has no obvious piles of books around their house. I’m involved in the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts, and am usually found trying to persuade my alpacas to get out of the neighbors’ garden. 

What do you feel is unique to your country? Landmarks? Celebrations?
Ester: Well, in terms of celebrations, we have St. David’s Day (Dydd Gŵyl Dewi in Welsh) which occurs on the 1st of March. On that day, we basically celebrate the patron saint of Wales, St. David, along with our culture and heritage and stuff. We eat traditionally Welsh food, wear daffodils (which is the national flower of Wales), and some people dress up in traditional Welsh clothes. Then there’s the Eisteddfod, which is an artistic festival. There’s a National Eisteddfod which runs during the first week of August and is entirely in Welsh. It’s not the only one, there’s a few others, but that’s the most important one. 

We have loads of castles, quite of few of them dating back to Edward I. And we have a place called ‘Llanfair¬pwllgwyngyll¬gogery¬chwyrn¬drobwll¬llan¬tysilio¬gogo¬goch’. I’m not even kidding.

Rhuddlan Castle
Tasha: I moved into Wales from the Home Counties in England, and the first thing that struck me was how generous the people are. Wales is still very much centered around sheep farming, and as a result of that there are still the old communities which are incredibly tight. There’s a village five minutes away from where I live, and every single house in it is owned by the same family. There are grandparents and great-aunts and cousins and step-siblings and it kind of blows my mind.

The Welsh are very proud. Of anything. We’re proud of our mountains, we’re proud of our coastline, we’re proud of Cardiff, we’re proud of the red dragon on our flag, and we are very proud of our rugby. But we don’t have big celebrations or festivals, which is a real pity! St. David’s Day is celebrated on the 1st of March and is our patron saint’s day, and Dydd Santes Dwynwen is, in the “Welsher” parts of Wales, celebrated on the 25th of January and is much like Valentine’s Day.

That’s the other thing about Wales. We have this tongue-murdering language as well. 


Tell me about your country's environment. What are some of your favorite places?
Ester: Rainy. Really rainy. Swansea is the wettest city in Britain. We have more rainfall than the rest of the UK. I’m being completely serious. It doesn’t tend to get particularly hot, I don’t think, but it doesn’t get extremely cold either. It’s ridiculously hilly. A running joke in my family is that you can’t get anywhere in Wales without going up or down a hill at some point.  My personal favourite places would be Llandudno (a seaside town), Moel Famau (a hill in the Clywdian Range), Llangollen (they have, or used to have, this steam train that you could go on), New Quay, Greenfield, Rhuddlan Castle and the surrounding town. 

Moel Famau
Tasha: Here in the Beacons, there’s a bit of a running joke. If you can’t see the mountains, it’s raining. If you can see the mountains, it’s about to rain.  That aside, it’s absolutely gorgeous here. This photo was taken from my garden last week. In the summer, it’s very lush. There’s a lot of green, a lot of rivers and an awful lot of sheep. 

Wales is one of those places that varies dramatically. It’s a country that used to be famous for it’s mining, and that’s left a mark on the country. I don’t see it where I live, because the Beacons has been about farming since the dawn of time, but the south has a lot of old coal towns, and they look tired. So the country goes from stunning to worn in the blink of an eye. 

It’s also worth noting that my land backs on to the ground used by the SAS to train, because it can be as extreme as Afghanistan. When it rains, it pours. When the wind blows, it howls. When it snows, we stay put for a month. But it’s actually very pleasant, I swear!

Tell me about your country's food. What are some of your favorite dishes?
Ester: We have Welsh Rarebit, which is basically melted cheese on toast with things such as ale, mustard, cayenne pepper and other spices mixed in. Then there’s Welsh cakes, which are like weird little cakes made from flour with sultanas, raisins and currants mixed in, then fried and dipped in sugar. Cawl, which is a lamb stew. Welsh lamb, which is pretty much what it sounds like. Bara brith, which is a sweet loaf of bread (either with yeast or without) with various bits of dried fruit in it.  My favourite is Welsh cakes, as they are really, really tasty. 

Bara brith

Welsh Rarebit 
Tasha: Wales has a couple of traditional foods. There are the aptly named Welsh cakes, which are basically like American biscuits (I think!!) and are made from flour, raisins, and if we’re feeling super wild then spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. So those are great, and don’t taste too much like diabetes unless my neighbor makes them and then it’s like a sugar fest.
Then there is bara brith, which is another raisin-y deal. It’s made with tea, dried fruit and raisins and walks the fine line between a fruitcake and bread. It’s very lovable.

It’s also worth considering that the leek is our national vegetable. So there’s a lot of leek-y things like cawl, Glamorgan sausages (vegetarian, no oinks were hurt) and cawl cennin. 

Brecon is a barracks town as well, and the Welsh guards share with the Nepalese Gurkhas. I’m not 100% sure why we have a Gurkha population in Mid-Wales, but we do and  they are fab and have normalized Nepalese food here. So you can tuck into your Glamorgan sausage with a side of Nepalese noodles. Which, if you ever get the opportunity, I would definitely recommend.

Glamorgan Sausages

Welsh Cakes
Tell me about any different speech patterns in your country. Slang? Idioms? Words for things such as “biscuits” instead of “cookies”?
Ester:  Well, we use ‘biscuits’ instead of ‘cookies’. That is one. Although if you speak Welsh, you might call them ‘bisgedi’ as that’s Welsh for ‘biscuits’. We tend to be pretty similar to the English in which words are different to American. 

A lot of our idioms are either the same as English ones (spanner in the works, fit as a fiddle, popped his clogs, kicked the bucket, easy peasy lemon squeezy, piece of cake), as most of the original ones are spoken in Welsh and so not normally used in English. There are some Welsh words that are widely known so they’re sometimes used even by those who don’t speak the language. Examples of that would be ‘Bore da’ meaning ‘good morning’ or ‘Esgusodwch fi’ meaning ‘excuse me’. We tend to use ‘like’ a lot in our speech. 

Our slang is similar to English slang. We sometimes use ‘cwtch’ for hugs or cuddles. Again, much of it is Welsh. ‘Pysgod wibbly wobbly’ is one of these. It means jellyfish. Sort of. It actually means ‘wibbly wobbly fish’.

Tasha: English is primarily spoken in Wales. However, Welsh is spoken throughout the country and it’s actually on the rise due to the Welsh government making it compulsory in schools. Signs and road markings are bilingual (So a “Slow” marking on the road will be “SLOW” with “ARAF” just beneath it.) and while many of us still don’t speak the language fluently, we know a bunch of words like slow, school, exit – repeated exposure is key, kids. 

But okay, we’re going to crash course in Welsh because if I could do it – you definitely can. Sneeze. Then sneeze again, really fast.  Great, you just introduced yourself and told me about your interests. Thank you so much.

It’s a really interesting language, and is mostly spoken in the North. Mid-Wales is a lot more cosmopolitan, so we don’t speak it as much here. It’s a Celtic language, and the sentence structure is back to front, the alphabet is almost the English alphabet but not quite – it’s bit of a pig to learn.

Common phrases here are “I’ll do it now in a minute”, repeating “yeah” a couple of times, just for good measure, and saying “cwtch” which has no translation but basically means a cuddle.

Describe briefly a regular day in your country. 
Ester: Okay, so you begin with breakfast. Breakfast can be anything, we don’t have a traditional breakfast. Could be a cooked breakfast with sausages, bacon, eggs and toast (though that would nearly always serve as both breakfast and lunch), could be cereal like Shreddies or Weetabix or Coco Pops. My personal favourite is Krave, which is the actual best. We normally have our big meal or ‘main meal’ in the evening as the last meal of the day. Most people don’t bother with afternoon tea and not many people I know bother with supper either. Typically it’s just the three. 

Most people have jobs, most kids go to school. Yada, yada. We have a lot of schools where Welsh is the main language and everyone speaks Welsh during the lessons, except in English lessons. They’re there from about nine o’clock to three o’clock, unless you’re in sixth form (which is about sixteen to eighteen, you go there when you stay in school rather than going to college), when you have a much more relaxed schedule. I think. I don’t really know, as I’ve never been to school. 

Tasha: My regular day is a long way from the usual, I think?! I juggle life on a small farm (alpacas and sheep) with competing abroad, so there are days when I have been moving sheep one hour and jumping on a plane the next. 

Typically, for rural communities, the day would start with checking up on the animals and then catching school buses/driving kids to school. Work is varied around here – no one commutes to cities so there are farmers, outdoor enthusiasts, small business owners – and sports coaches, hey. There aren’t many home educators here. My brother and I moved in having been home educated for a while and everyone went “you what now.”

Religion is still prominent here, more so than in England. A lot of families go to chapel, I think it’s about 10%? But I’m not totally clued up on that.

And then there’s rugby, which is the other religion. Again – I don’t really follow it, but everybody knows what is going on with it. The rivalry against England is fierce, and on important match days then the pubs will be packed with people watching.

How does your country compare to others, especially the States since my audience is primarily American? Environmentally? Politically? Culturally?
Ester: Okay. Well, we hate the English. Just kidding. Sort of. Any Welsh person will probably kill you for calling them English. We don’t mind being called British (in fact, not a lot of people have much interest in independence from Britain), but don’t call us English. 
In terms of government, we have a Welsh Assembly that meets down in Cardiff. The members of said Assembly are elected. They have limited power to make legislations or prevent legislations, but are still technically under the control of Parliament. We get free prescriptions under the NHS.

Pretty majorly, Wales has its own language. All our signs are printed in both English and Welsh. We have Welsh churches where the sermons are all in Welsh. The strongest Welsh areas tend to be North-West Wales and Anglesey, though people do speak it elsewhere as well. 

Welsh Assembly
Tasha: Oh wow, that’s a big question. We are linked to England, so have their government and monarchy. And cuts. The laws are very strict in terms of guns, drunk driving, drug possession, etc.  There are a mixture of schools, just like in England. State schools are free to everyone. Private schools are fee paying. Public schools are rare here and they’re very, very, very expensive. 

Culturally, there’s a big attitude of “these things happen." If something goes wrong, something goes wrong. You deal with it, you make do. We love that our weather is so unpredictable and changes every five minutes, and we really  love talking about our weather. In the communities especially, you help each other out. There’s a lot of adopting people as your family. In the same way, there are arguments that are generations old and that nobody can remember the beginnings of. I don’t really understand that.

There’s a very slight divide between the North and the South of Wales – the language differs, the accent differs and the attitude differs slightly. But being kind and loyal is universal, here. The sense of humour is very soft, and there’s a lot of fond teasing!

What are some stereotypes about your country that irk you?
Ester: We exist. We’re not English. We are, in fact, a separate country, albeit one under the heading of the United Kingdom. Please understand this. 

Other than that, we don’t all own sheep. Even if we do have significantly more sheep than people. We don’t all own them. Sheep are not the centre of our entire culture. They aren’t all that important to most of us. Not all of us live on farms. In fact, most of us don’t. I swear we’re not all grumpy. We happen to be perfectly happy living in Britain. We just don’t like being called English. We aren’t stupid. We don’t drink constantly. We’re not boring. 
I mentioned the rain, but I will also mention that it doesn’t rain constantly. We do have sunny days where it is actually warm. 


  • Inbreeding really isn’t that common, I swear.
  • No-one has slept with a sheep, guys. That stereotype has to die.
  • Whilst a lot of Wales is rural, a lot of it is urbanized. The times, they are a’changin’… 
  • The Welsh hate being mistaken for the English. But I’m actually English, so I might not be in a position to comment?!

Briefly describe three of your country’s historical events that you feel are important.

  • 1. In around 607, King Æthelfrith of Northumbria defeated the Welsh at the Battle of Chester, probably taking place at Bangor-is-y-Coed. Æthelfrith then ordered the monks at the monastery to be slaughtered. It's believed that around 1200 monks were killed. This effectively brought the Church of Rome into complete control of both England and Wales. 
  • 2. In 1277, Edward I defeated Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. The two defeats in 1277 and 1282 resulted in Edward building the ring of castles across North Wales. 
  • 3. The revolt of Owain Glyndŵr which began in 1400 against King Henry IV. Initially Owain was successful and controlled a lot of Wales, but eventually the English forces overcame the rebellion but Owain wasn't captured. This also resulted in a number of laws being passed against Wales. They didn't allow Welshmen to carry arms, hold office or live in fortified towns. These laws pretty much ended (though not officially being repealed) in the reign of Henry VIII, who passed laws making Wales a part of England and banning the Welsh language from any official roles. It's interesting that in Chester, there's a law that has not been repealed that you can still kill a Welshman so long as you do it with a bow and arrows.

King Æthelfrith of Northumbria
What media portrays your country badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Ester: Honestly, we’re so badly represented that I’ve had to resort to looking up any shows, books or movie that portrays us in any way. While I haven’t seen it, The Valleys sparked a lot of controversy over its portrayal of Wales. 

Tasha: I think it’s more a case of Wales being invisible in most media rather than being badly portrayed. When Wales is portrayed, there seem to be a lot of people putting on diabolical accents and the dialogue is filled with “Welsh” gibberish. 

The Valleys
What media portrays your country well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Ester: Again, there’s such little representation of us, that I’m finding it hard to find anything. Doctor Who’s had some episodes set there, but rarely with actual Welsh characters I think. Torchwood is supposed to have more, but I haven’t seen it, so I can’t say either way. Y Gwyll/Hinterland is a Welsh detective drama in both English and Welsh. While, again, I haven’t seen it, it’s a Welsh show so I think it’s likely that it portrays Wales well. 
Oh, and there’s also The Chronicles of Prydain. That’s based off Celtic/Welsh mythology. I haven’t read it, but from what I’ve seen it seems to be accurate. 

Tasha: The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain. Seriously, that film is so, so, so good.

Who are your top three favorite characters native to your country in books, movies, or shows?

  • Will Herondale from The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare
  • Mick Rawson from the short-lived Criminal Minds: Suspect Behaviour
  • Merlin from general Arthurian Mythology. (He was Welsh originally. Maybe. Just let me believe it, okay?). 


  • Despite his over-affinity for writing in Welsh, which even fluent Welsh speakers struggle with! - Will Herondale, from Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices
  • Gwen Cooper from Torchwood
Gwen Cooper
Thank you, Ester and Tasha, for this very informative post! I hope everyone enjoyed reading it. Come back next week for So Your Character Has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder ... Featuring Emily Walker!

Are you interested in participating in this project? Slots for Australia, Canada, England, Scotland, New Zealand, the Philippines, Liberia, Algeria, Thailand, Peru, China, Slovakia, Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, Finland, and Wales have been filled, but if you are from any other country, shoot me an email at howellvictoriagrace(a)gmail(dot)com.

Do you have any Welsh characters? Did this inspire you to write a Welsh character or set a book in Wales? Are from this or been to this country and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Ester and Tasha? Be sure to thank them!

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