New Novel Charts Course To Devolution
Book review by Dafydd Williams, Plaid Cymru General Secretary, 1971-1993 and Chairman of the Plaid Cymru History Association
If you want to know about the crucial decades leading up to the successful 1997 devolution referendum, this is the book for you. ‘Ten Million Stars Are Burning’ is the enigmatic title of the newly published novel by the well known writer and political commentator John Osmond.
Osmond sets himself an ambitious task – to tell how the people of Wales struggled to come to terms with their identity during the last quarter of the twentieth century; and in particular how the disaster of 1979 turned into the hard-won victory of 1997.
To accomplish this, he uses the vehicle of a documentary novel, with two main fictional characters – along with a host of real-life players, who speak to us from the past in their own words, as recorded in interview and archive material. This is the first of a trilogy, and covers the period between 1973 and 1979.
There are heroes and villains galore, over two hundred of them. On the side of the angels, there is Gwynfor Evans, with his never-failing optimism together with the brilliant though sceptical Phil Williams (sceptical about the good intentions of the Labour Party, that is).
Among the villains there’s a starring role for Leo Abse, whom Osmond came to know well (and a detailed picture of how Abse’s firm of solicitors profited from the leasehold system in the valleys while the chief partner inveighed against its iniquity). Sometimes I still have to pinch myself to believe that ultimately the visionary Gwynfor’s team prevailed against the cunning Abse.
I personally knew quite a few of the actors in this tangled drama, and can testify to the historical accuracy of a number of events I witnessed.
The result is a fascinating blow-by-blow account of the struggle for self-government; and since John Osmond himself played a central role in those events, we are entitled to conclude a considerable element of autobiography in the character of the main fictional character, Western Mail journalist Owen James. In fact I have a funny feeling someone using that soubriquet used to contribute to the Welsh Nation!
One thing is certain – this novel is required reading for everyone interested in the background of Plaid Cymru’s campaign for a free Wales. I can’t wait for the next two.
‘Ten Million Stars Are Burning’ by John Osmond is published by Gomer, price £11.99.