About Mwy o Lyfrau

How did this get started?

Hi. I’m Jason. I started this project. Let’s explain why.

First, a TL;DR warning. There’s a lot going on on this page. There’s a box at the bottom with the short version, if you’d prefer that.

How I nearly unravelled, but instead found a project

While I grew up in South Wales, I live in Australia now, have done since 1999.

In January 2023, I was back in Wales after a long time away. The reason for my visit wasn’t exactly a joyous one. My mum had passed away during lockdown - a year after my dad had passed away - and it had finally become unavoidable to go back home and put the old house in order. The ceilings were sagging, there was damp everywhere and nothing significant had changed since the day the ambulance crew had whisked my mum off to the hospital.

While in Swansea, on my own, in my childhood home surrounded by the detritus of the past, I had a slight crisis of identity. What, I thought, does it mean to be a Welshman after all this time about as far away from Wales as it’s possible to be. I started to really explore in my head what it meant that I’d grown up here but moved off to there and, for a while, severed ties with the country of my birth. It was made all the more bittersweet by discussions with my partner about starting a family. A family I’d most likely be raising away from Wales.

Philosophical exploration gets physical, and geographical

As a logical extension of this exploration of self, I went and visited some places.

I went to the Gower Peninsula, I went to Llanelli, I visited Carmarthen, I wandered around Cardiff a bit. I breakfasted in Mumbles and soaked in the accents of the people around me. I found myself driving the long way to get anywhere, just so I could be somewhere I hadn’t been in decades.

I considered heading to Bannau Brecheiniog or Eryri - both renamed since I’d left - but the amount of work I needed to do in Swansea meant I was stuck in the South, but I certainly did a lot of reminiscing. I caught up with old friends and lurked around old haunts, wondering what was missing.

One night I got comprehensively drunk with some old friends, and the next day - with a resounding hangover - I went and got “Cofiwch Dryweryn” tattooed on my arm.

I still hadn’t resolved what was nagging at me, clearly.

Finally, I went to visit Aberfan, on a snowy valleys day, and that’s where I figured it out.

Being Welsh is not something you automatically lose on going through passport control, but you do lose it over time. And you can’t get it back by bulk-buying laverbread and getting a tattoo before jetting back to somewhere entirely other. It’s something you slowly lose by degrees as your links to the culture slowly decay and you need to actively work to bring it back.

There was clearly some kind of metaphor in the decay of my old childhood home.

I’d moved to an Airbnb due to the dust and mould in the old place. Coming back from Aberfan to my accommodation a little misty-eyed, I made an important decision.

The Plan

I was going to learn - or I guess partly re-learn - Welsh. And not just to the I-went-to-secondary-school-in-the-1980s-so-I-can’t-really-hold-a-conversation level I’d got to before, but properly.

Step 1: Online Learning. I started with Duolingo. I devoured the course inside six months, and old vocabulary has slowly returned, along with a lot of new terminology. When I’d last learned Welsh, the internet was barely a glimmer, mobile phones were briefcase-sized boondoggles rarely seen, and that wasn’t the half of it. I also added Clozemaster and Glossika into the mix. When I have some downtime these days, I have an embarrassment of riches in learning and practice apps.

Step 2: Find an online community where I can get exposed to novel vocabulary and maybe converse at a manageable pace. Mastodon’s #dysgucymraeg hashtag has been a firm friend in this process.

Step 3: Fire up S4C Clic and get immersed. From starting out fairly lost, I’m now a regular viewer and the amount of times I need to pause or rewind is dropping. And I delight in episodes of Sam Tân, despite being an actual grown adult.

Step 4: Podcasts and Radio. Radio Cymru has some, and there’s a tiny but dedicated cohort of podcasts around. I listen while walking my dogs, and find myself quietly chatting to them in Welsh here and there.

Step 5: Buy books. Lots of books. I’ve always been a book person. I started building a Welsh library pretty quickly, including a modern dictionary, several short books on grammar, lots of kids’ books, some novelty learners’ books, Stephen Rule’s excellent “Parsnips and Owls” series, one Terry Pratchett novel and a copy of Dan y Wenallt, both as a book and as a Blu-Ray of the superb 2015 film adaptation.

And there, in trying to build a small library, is where Mwy o Lyfrau started.

Wales Needs Books

I was casting round for books in Welsh, books I’d enjoy, books that would engage me, books that would expand my vocabulary and my agility with the language. Books that, hopefully, I knew a little of already. In particular, I hoped that someone had done the work to translate the Sherlock Holmes canon, or at least part of it. I found one translation of The Speckled Band, but the rest were not there.

Well! (I thought) why not explore how hard it is to translate one? Most of the canon is short stories, they’re all very engaging and I know their English versions inside-out. It’d expand my vocabulary, if nothing else. Anyway, how hard could it be? This thought nagged at me constantly.

I have a background in Software Development and delivery, and it occured to me that the methods we use to collaboratively build software could also serve a distributed effort to translate classic books into Cymraeg. Taking a technological but moderated approach using tools like Google Translate, mixing that with the GitHub distributed source control platform, add in some volunteers willing to spend a few hours here and there translating or reviewing a few lines, a paragraph, a chapter or maybe a whole book… It seemed possible.

It also seemed like fun, and a great way to expand my vocabulary rapidly.

And so, here we are. Mwy o Lyfrau is a thing now.

I don’t mind if I’m the only contributor, or if I’m joined by a teeming horde of volunteer translators. I’m just happy I’ve got a thing going and perhaps in a few years time I’ll be able to read aloud to my child a version of Winnie The Pooh that I’d helped to translate into Welsh. Cnoc, cnoc, cnoc.

Jason Brown,

Dydd Llun 2 Hydref, 2023. Melbourne, VIC.

The TLDR box
I grew up in Wales. I went back a while ago and while there, went slightly mad. On returning, I (re)learned Welsh, and through a convoluted process, decided that we needed more books in Welsh.

Mwy o Lyfrau is the result

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