This is a special blog post written particularly  for reading groups or book groups or book clubs – call them what you will. It’s for any bunch of people that read the same book and then come together to discuss it.

According to The Guardian, there’s a boom in such groups, especially among younger people.

If you want to get more out of your group/club’s reading experience, read on for some extras – from thought-provoking discussion points to music, poetry, recipes and even immersing yourself in the landscape of This House!

These resources are also for any reader who wants to know more – and there’s always more to know for the curious mind ….

Why is This House a suitable reading group pick?

Book front cover that includes a pen-and-ink drawing of the upper body of a woman holding a balloon.

This House contains no fantasy, other than – of course – being a work of fiction. It is rooted in real life. It is written in finely honed but straightforward language.

At the core of the story are life events which many people experience. There is also one that only a few experience, and yet more people than you might think have experienced it. However, that particular event may be triggering for some readers. To avoid a spoiler, here’s a  downloadable PDF saying what the experience is: this-house-reading-group-trigger-warning.

The story also has an excellent twist. It doesn’t read like a mystery to begin with, but as you get deeper in, you start wondering more.

There’s burgeoning interest in translated fiction, and This House is my translation of Yn y Tŷ Hwn, originally written in Welsh. This House is available to buy from bookshops and direct from our publisher here, or elsewhere online. You can also get it as an ebook.

I’m in – what are the extras?

Author and translator availability

Both the author, Sian Northey, and I would be happy to speak to reading groups in either Welsh or English about This House. Please contact us via an email to sw@sueproof.wales.

Woman wearing glasses    White woman.

 Discussion points

With the help of author Kathy Hopewell, I’ve come up with some questions to get your group discussion started. Some novels come with such discussion points as part of the publication. I didn’t want to do that because it could reveal spoilers.

The discussion points are here, as a downloadable PDF: this-house-reading-group-discussion-topics.

Woman wearing glasses looking puzzled.
Music

The songs mentioned or quoted from in the story aren’t random. The allusions and associations they engender contribute to the overall storytelling. As a translator, I had to decide what to do with the three pieces of music in the original Welsh novel, Yn y Tŷ Hwn.

The decision was whether to leave the song in the original language, translate it, replace it with something that does the same job, or – a last resort – leave it out. Fortunately, I didn’t need to leave any of them out.

The songs in Yn y Tŷ Hwn and This House are:

Page 46: ‘Blaenau Ffestiniog’ – Tebot Piws in Yn y Tŷ Hwn

replaced with ‘Tap Turns on the Water’ – CCS in This House

Page 85: ‘Ceidwad y Goleudy’ – Mynediad am Ddim

replaced with ‘Rescue Me’ – Fontella Bass.

Pages 62–63: ‘Hiraeth am Feirion’ – Siân James, retained as in the original.

In the long footnote* at the end of this post I discuss these decisions in more detail. For each one, I show how the song is positioned in the original, give a translation of that excerpt from the original text, and then explain how I came to the solution I picked.

Poem on page 23

As with the music, the poem included in Yn y Tŷ Hwn also serves an important purpose in the storytelling. It is ‘Y Blotyn Du’ by Hedd Wyn. Here it is in context in the Welsh original:

Ymbalfalodd ei hymennydd am ryw linell ‘…hawl ar ddim, dim ond … yng nghanol rwbath neu’i gilydd Duw …’

‘Nid oes gennym hawl ar y sêr,
Na’r lleuad hiraethus chwaith,
Na’r cwmwl o aur a ymylch
Yng nghanol y glesni maith.

Nid oes gennym hawl ar ddim byd
Ond yr hen ddaear wyw:
A honno sy’n anhrefn i gyd
Yng nghanol gogoniant Duw.’

‘…Lle dysgist ti honna ar dy go fel’na?’
‘Yn ’rysgol. …’

‘Ei theitl hi ydi’r peth gora,’ medda fo. ‘Y Blotyn Du – damwain, llanast.’

Her brain struggled to recall a line ‘… no claim to anything… Set among God’s something worth’.

‘We have no claim on the stars,
Nor on the mournful moon,
Nor yet the gold-fringed cloud
Set among the endless blue.

We have no claim to anything
Except the weary old earth:
And that is a chaotic thing
Set among God’s glorious worth.’

‘ …Where did you learn it off by heart like that?’
‘In school. …’

‘The title’s the best thing,’ he said. ‘The Black Blot – an accident, a mess.’

(For a better translation of ‘Y Blotyn Du’ than mine, see former National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke’s version in the Bloodaxe Book of Modern Welsh Poetry: 20th-century Welsh-language poetry in translation.)

As with the music, I had to make a decision between leaving it in the original language, translating it, replacing it or cutting it. To cut it would have been to lose an important node of the story. Leaving it or translating it would have removed the significance for anyone not familiar with the poem. So, what to replace it with?

The replacement had to be something that links to stars, has a sense of fate and prefigures a calamity. And it had to be well known enough to have been learned off by heart at school, and out of copyright.

I ended up with six or seven contenders, but an excerpt from ‘The Stolen Child’ by W. B. Yeats won out. It wasn’t just a case of cut’n’paste, though. I had to re-write the text that leads into the poem, and the bit that follows it.

You may be familiar with ‘The Stolen Child’ from its use on this track on the Waterboys’ album Fishermen’s Blues.

Food

There are two particular dishes that are significant in This House. One is beans cooked with cumin, and the other is Tante Adèle’s Pudding. For a reading group that includes food at its gatherings, these would make wonderful extras when discussing This House!

The bean dish is Lebanese, and could be served with meatballs, pita bread, hummus and plain yogurt. On page 65, Anna, the main character, serves it with chicken and roast potatoes. (I like it with pickled herrings, myself.)

For 6:

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed or cut finely
  • 1 lb (500g) topped and tailed green beans – fresh or frozen
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 14 oz (400g) tin diced tomatoes
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Heat olive oil in a large pan over a medium high heat.
  • Add the onion and sauté for 3–4 minutes.
  • Add garlic and continue to sauté for 2 minutes.
  • Add the green beans, cumin and diced tomatoes and mix together.
  • Bring to a boil, then cover and turn the heat to low.
  • Simmer for 40–45 minutes, or until green beans are tender, stirring occasionally.
  • Adjust seasonings and add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve warm over rice or quinoa.

And here is Tante Adèle’s treasured recipe for her ‘amazing pudding’ (page 67). See how treasured this recipe has been!

Typed recipe,

It’s served with cream the first time Ioan makes it for Anna (page 60).

Place

This House is not set in a particular place, but is inspired by two houses within the area of Ardudwy – the sweep of Welsh coast and mountain between Harlech and Barmouth.

One of these houses is Gelli Bant in Cwm Nantcol, Eryri (Snowdonia). It is now a holiday cottage, ideally placed for a walk up onto the sheep walk – the ffridd – as Anna does in Chapter 27. The pub where Siôn takes Anna to eat when she has no kitchen (Chapter 30) could be one of several in the area.

Excerpt of Ordnance Survey map.

The whole package

For a totally immersive reading group meeting with extras, go for a walk in the hills of Ardudwy, discussing the discussion points as you go. Or dissect the discussion points over a gin and tonic (with lime, of course) or tea (there is a lot of tea in This House) by the fire when you get back.

Follow this with an hour’s listening party comprising all the music referenced while you eat your beans and Tante Adèle pudding (with cream –  you deserve it after that walk). Here’s another sung version of ‘The Stolen Child’ to add to your playlist. It’s performed a cappella by White Raven.

——————————————————

*LONG FOOTNOTE

1. ‘Blaenau Ffestiniog’ – Tebot Piws

Allai hi byth wneud hyn heb glywed llais Dewi Pws yn ei phen, yn canu ‘rhoi d?r uwchben y llestri’ cyn ‘mynd ’nôl i Flaenau Ffestiniog . . . dala’r trên cyntaf mas o’r dre . . .’

She could never do this [put dishes to soak] without hearing the voice of Dewi Pws [Tebot Piws’ singer] in her head, singing ‘put water over the crockery’ before ‘going back to Blaenau Ffestiniog …catching the first train out of town …’

This song dates from 1970, so – apart from any meaning in the lyric – it underlines Anna’s age. However, the lyric is also crucial because it pops up in her head when she’s running water onto dirty dishes, and it contains the idea of running away.

The significance of the lyric would have been lost if I’d left it in Welsh. The resonance of the era – the subconscious associations of being young in the early ’70s – would have been lost if I’d translated the lyric snippets into English.

Because I’m of the same vintage as Anna (and Sian Northey, the author) a solution presented itself easily: ‘Tap Turns on the Water’ by CCS – taps, water, and an allusion to escaping to somewhere else. And it was a hit in 1971.

I wasn’t going to put a potential publisher in the position of having to pay for the right to reproduce song lyrics (for more on this topic see this post on the BookBaby blog) . Fortunately, the lead singer of CCS has a very distinctive, gravelly voice and an unusual name, so I was able to avoid the question of a direct quotation thus:

She could never do this without hearing Alexis Korner’s growl in her head, singing about turning on the tap to start the water’s flow, and then finding the sun.

2. ‘Ceidwad y Goleudy’ – Mynediad am Ddim

…na allai glywed geiriau ‘Ceidwad y Goleudy’, dim ond rhyw deimlo trwy gerrig y t? …. Tybed a oedd Mynediad am Ddim yn dal i fodoli? Doedd ganddi ddim syniad. Un arall o’r pethau nad oedd hi’n eu gwybod.

…she couldn’t hear the words of ‘Ceidwad y Goleudy’, just some feeling through the stones of the house … Were Mynediad am Ddim still going? She had no idea. One more thing she didn’t know.

The original was released in 1976, so again this underlines Anna’s age. As with the first song, I decided to replace the reference to this one with reference to another (oldish) one that would do the same job.

The title translates as ‘the lighthouse keeper’ and the song would be well-known to readers who are familiar with Welsh-language popular culture. The lyrics are an extended metaphor and include the line ‘A wnei di f’achub i?’ (‘And will you rescue me?), so the obvious replacement was ‘Rescue Me’, sung by Fontella Bass.

In the UK Fontella Bass was essentially a one-hit wonder, so this also helped with transposing Anna’s sense of the past slipping about when she wonders whether Mynediad am Ddim are still going. ‘Still going’ was switched to ‘still alive’:

… she could no longer hear the lyrics of ‘Rescue Me’, only some shiver through the stones of the house …. Was Fontella Bass still alive? She had no idea. One more thing she didn’t know.

3. ‘Hiraeth am Feirion’ – Siân James

Ac roedd y cyfarwyddiadau llwyfan yn nodi ‘cerddoriaeth, ddim rhy uchel, gwerin neu opera’. … y ddau’n sipian eu diodydd a llais Siân James yn dod o rywle, yn hiraethu am Feirionnydd.

And the stage directions noted ‘music, not too loud, folk or opera’. …they both sipped their drinks and the voice of Siân James came from somewhere, hiraeth-ing about Meirionnydd.

This is a traditional song sung simply and unadorned and, as with ‘Ceidwad y Goleudy’, there are no quoted lyrics. In this case the detail of the lyric is not especially important. As well as setting the mood for the first meal Anna is about to share with Siôn, the purpose of the song is to lead into Anna having a long chain of memories about hiraeth:

Anna had never got on with the word ‘hiraeth’ and all the romantic nonsense attached to it. It was as if the word had taken on a special meaning to Welsh people, but only because it was untranslatable into English. She remembered her pleasure on learning that there was a Portuguese word, saudade, with a very similar meaning. The feeling of hiraeth was not unique to Welsh and Welsh people; it was English people and their language that were odd, deficient.

Thinking that a potential publisher might want to transpose This House into a geographically non-Welsh context, at one stage during the translation I prepared a list of suggested alternatives to things that I might have to change. These included place and personal names, Welsh landscape terms, and Siân James hiraeth-ing about Meirionnydd.

Because of the mention of saudade, I thought my best bet for a Siân James replacement would be Mariza, who is a fado singer. Fado and saudade are intertwined in Portuguese culture, so that draft read:

And the stage directions noted: ‘music, not too loud, fado or opera’. … as they both sipped their drinks and the voice of Mariza came from somewhere, full of saudade.

If I’d needed to make this change, I was going to rewrite the next paragraph to read:

Much as Anna loved Mariza’s beautifully evocative singing, she’d never got on with the concept of saudade and all the romantic nonsense attached to it. She knew there was a similar Welsh word – hiraeth – equally fetishised for its untranslatability into English.

However, this version does not appear in the book because the publisher was happy to keep in a flavour of Wales and this reference to its culture.

Words ©Susan Walton 2024. Cover of This House ©3TimesRebel Press 2024. Photo of illuminated sign by Miguel Gascoj and photo of pondering woman by No Revisions, both on Unsplash. Photo of Sian Northey by Sian herself, photo of Susan Walton by Gwen Cooper. Thanks to Sian for the recipes and to Kathy Hopewell for help with the discussion points.

 

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