This very first publication of a lost classic by the poet Eluned Phillips (1914 – 2019) throws new light on the life and work of an important woman of Wales, whose legacy has for too long remained undercelebrated. The only woman to have twice won the bardic Crown at the National Eisteddfod of Wales, Phillips’ unconventional life – which took her from rural Carmarthenshire to pre-war London, bohemian Paris and urban Los Angeles – won more judgement that praise. Famously reticent about her personal story, there is no doubt that Cyfrinachau (Secrets) draws inspiration from her extraordinary biography, though the line between fact and fiction remains compellingly blurred.
A heady mix of adventure and romance, Cyfrinachau is set against the backdrop of the Second World War and the story of Yann, a Breton journalist condemned to death as a traitor for allegedly conspiring with the Germans. A rollicking plot takes us from Wales to Brittany, Ireland, and, ultimately, the US, as we follow the attempts of Yann’s former lover, Tegwen Rhys, and his friend André to free him from prison. Dubbed an autographical novel, the book’s fascination lies as much in Phillips’ story as its own: her relationship with a young Breton nationalist on the cusp of war proved a romantic and political awakening, and we know that her home in Cenarth later became a refuge to many Breton Nationalists fleeing accusations of German collaboration.
Edited and introduced by the acclaimed poet Menna Elfyn (whose 2016 biography of Phillips was shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year) the volume features another lost classic alongside the novella: Corlannau Bywyd: La Môme Piaf is a poem inspired by the life of Edith Piaf – whom Phillips knew well – and claims the rare achievement of coming second to her own winning poem in the 1967 National Eisteddfod of Wales.
“Dedicated to the new generation of female writers so that there will no longer be a prejudice about their excellence and their worthy place in our literature.”
“There is love and deception, loyalty and betrayal”