Eirug Wyn

Campaigning Welsh-language novelist
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The Independent Online

Eirug Price Wynne (Eirug Wyn), writer: born Llanbryn-mair, Montgomeryshire 11 December 1950; married 1973 Gwenda Pretty (two daughters); died Bangor, Gwynedd 25 April 2004.

Eirug Wyn upset the apple-cart of Welsh letters on more than one occasion and, just in case his compatriots were too thick-skinned or too polite to notice, pelted them with rotten fruit until they collapsed with laughter.

His talent was iconoclastic and, to change the metaphor, his favourite target the sacred cows on the mantelpiece of the Welsh establishment, at which he took pot-shots with all the dark humour at his command. At the same time, his readers had the impression that he dearly loved what he most gleefully castigated and that, like Caradoc Evans, "the hammer of the Welsh", he did it sometimes for sheer fun but more often because he thought his countrymen deserved better. It made for a complex man and a beguiling writer.

Like many who have kicked over the traces in Wales, Eirug Wyn was a son of the manse: his father was a Nonconformist minister in Llanbryn-mair, in the old county of Montgomery. The village has a tradition of Radical dissent and was the home of Samuel Roberts, the great campaigning journalist who, in the 19th century, railed against slavery, English imperialism, capital punishment and the Established Church.

Wyn was cast in the same mould, except that he put his shoulder to the wheel in the struggle for the Welsh language and its culture. In the 1970s he was a leading member of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh-language society) and, like so many young people in that confrontational decade, was fined and spent several terms in prison as part of a non-violent campaign to win a greater measure of official recognition for Welsh.

In 1962, as a schoolboy in Deiniolen, Caernarvonshire, where his family had moved, he had listened to the BBC radio lecture by Saunders Lewis in which the veteran nationalist had called for a movement which would challenge the British state for its failure to grant legal status to Welsh. A few years later, as a sixth-former, he decided he would take direct action of his own: he refused to display the L sign on the car in which he was learning to drive, courting prosecution until it became legal to use a D (for Dysgwr), a small victory which eventually led to the widespread use of the Welsh version.

On another occasion, in 1971, he caused chaos in court when he protested against being tried in English, making even the judge, policemen and journalists laugh aloud at his surrealist wit.

As a student at Trinity College, Carmarthen, Eirug Wyn (he had dropped the anglicised spelling Wynne) discovered that if you are going to have a revolution it is best not to be too gloomy about it. He was a regular contributor to the satirical magazine Lol ("Nonsense"), sharing with his friend Robat Gruffudd, the magazine's proprietor, a distaste for the bearded orthodoxies of Welsh-speaking Wales. Between them they made fun, by fair means and foul, of many eminent Welsh people, publishing blatantly scurrilous articles, tastelessly lubricious pin-ups and outrageously spoof book reviews that besmirched the reputations of those they wished to belittle. On the other hand, to be lampooned in Lol was seen as a sort of accolade and some, affecting insouciance, pretended to complain if they did not regularly appear in its pages.

Unfortunately, when ownership of the magazine passed to Wyn it led to disaster for his business interests. In 1993 he was taken to court for having defamed a number of directors making programmes for S4C, who were awarded substantial damages that ruined him temporarily. It is said that he could have avoided the outcome if only he had offered to apologise in public but, a headstrong and often wilful man, he refused and faced the consequences.

Among his many commercial enterprises - he was a canny businessman who once had a brisk line in "Welsh watches" - had been bookshops in Carmarthen and Caernarvon, a company that produced Welsh greeting cards and a share in a printing works at Penygroes. He also worked as a television producer with Ffilmiau'r Bont, one of the most accomplished of the many independent companies now flourishing in Wales. But he found greatest delight in writing novels, of which he published 15 between 1992 and 2004, including four for children.

As a point of honour he did without grant-aid because, in his view, it was patronage dispensed by the tainted hand of the Establishment - by which he meant the grey eminences of the Arts Council and the Books Council - for which he reserved his most pungent gall. His books nevertheless sold well, commanding not only admiration among the book-buying public but also respect in academic circles.

Despite his animus towards the great and the good, Eirug Wyn was a genial, sociable man with a wicked sense of mischief, delighting in the fact that he was often mistaken for Eurig Wyn, the Plaid Cymru MEP and prospective candidate for the Ynys Môn seat at Westminster, a confusion which he did nothing to dispel since they shared the same political beliefs. Among his interests were Manchester United, Native Americans and Elvis Presley, about whom he wrote a splendid book in Welsh. He also published a volume of verse under the pseudonym Derek Tomos which is a hilarious send-up of some of our most famous poets.

He came to prominence as a prose writer when he won the Prose Medal at the National Eisteddfod of 1998 with a novel entitled Blodyn Tatws ("Potato Flower"). To win this prize once is usually enough to satisfy the amour propre of most Welsh writers but Wyn went on to win it again in 2000 with Tri Mochyn Bach ("Three Little Pigs"), perhaps the most entertaining of all his books. He also won the Daniel Owen Prize, the most lucrative award the Eisteddfod has to offer novelists, in 1994 and 2002. The main character in his hard-hitting novel Bitsh! ("Bitch!", 2002) is a lad employed in a branch of Woolworth's during the 1960s; it pillories the Welsh people for, inter alia, their failure to resist the anglicisation of their country.

He wrote in his hospital bed almost until the last, and had the satisfaction of seeing a collection of his short stories, Y Dyn yn y Cefn heb Fwstash ("The Man at the Back Without a Moustache"), appear just a month before he died.

Meic Stephens