We love all types of art here at Abergavenny Pride, whether it be music, poetry, paintings and everything else in between and I’m sure that’s the same for everyone. There’s always something for every mood and occasion so we are going to sing from the rooftops about queer artists and put them on stage, just for you.
This month we have the very talented Norena Shopland. a Welsh historian and writer who specialises in (LGBTQ+) research and history. She has been highlighted as a Welsh LGBTQ+ person of significance, and she gives talks, lectures and workshops on Welsh heritage and LGBTQ+ history. She has organised, curated, and consulted on exhibitions and events within the heritage sector in Wales. Norena is one of the founders of the network forum Hanes LHDT+ Cymru / LGBTQ+ Research Group Wales, which unites and supports LGBTQ+ history of Wales enthusiasts and researchers. She is also the diversity officer for the Women’s History Network.
How long have you been writing, and what is your favourite part of the process?
I was writing short stories at school and still remember one story a teacher liked so much that he read it out in class. It was about a feisty girl detective. My first book was published in 1987 and since then I’ve had 10 books published (and about 5 sitting on my laptop as I haven’t got around to them) but nowadays it’s mainly on LGBTQ+ and Welsh histories, particularly Welsh women as women’s history lags such a long way behind that of men. My favourite parts are doing the research, which is a bit like being a detective, and doing the actual writing but I’m not keen on collating all the research and editing, I seriously hate editing!
Who are some of your biggest influences?
It tends to change with what I’m doing, but I’ve always loved the beauty of Oscar Wilde’s writing. And Maya Angelou, her writing is so perfect, and her life is simply amazing. When people say who’s your favourite writer, or what’s your favourite book I struggle because I don’t really have specific ones, I tend to get very hooked up with the subject I’m studying at the time so then rave about so-and-so and so-forth. My last book was on women working in Welsh coal mining and I have to say I came to love those women; they were so determined not to let people push them around in the late 19th century and they just carried on doing their jobs. It was hard and dirty work and people couldn’t understand how they could be so cheerful, but why not? They simply got on with their lives, like most of us, and did the best they could, and I think they’re a lesson to us all.
How do you get ideas to bring to the fore new and exciting stories? There must be so much we don’t know about, so how do you narrow it down?
When I started researching and writing Welsh LGBTQ+ history back in 2011 there was relatively little known. A handful of people like Ivor Novello, and the Ladies of Llangollen, but people like Lady Rhondda and Cranogwen were barely mentioned, now loads of people know who they are, which is great. I dig around a lot in Welsh Newspapers Online, books and old journals trying to winkle out those who’ve either rarely, or never, been written about – and people are there if you look. My book Forbidden Lives (Seren Books, 2017) broke a lot of new stories and some of them I’ve been building up even further ever since. Sometimes, just a tiny story of 100 words is as exciting as a much longer one because it adds new information to our history so I tend not to narrow it down but try and put it all in the public domain through our website such as LGBTQ+ Cymru, funded by Swansea University https://lgbtqcymru.swansea.ac.uk/ and the new timelines I’m publishing in February so that every county in Wales will have its own history – the only country in the world to do this.
Do you feel there is enough representation of LGBTQIA+ history in your local scene? If not, how would you like to see things change?
One of the difficulties of our history throughout the world is the lack of local representation. 99% of all museums in the world do not have us on permanent display so where do we go to learn our own history? Hence the timelines. Another difficulty is that libraries, museums, and archives are so short of money, staff, and time and have so many calls on them to represent everyone in various celebratory periods throughout the year that they struggle to fit it all in. That’s why we have to do our part because if we don’t care about our history, who will? What is good to see is that over the last decade, more and more people and organisations are doing stuff, so I really look forward to History Month and Pride Month to see all the events taking place. However, we need to move away from mainstream narratives that often get dragged out every year, and concentrate on local people, and what they’ve done and are doing – because history is not just the past, it’s yesterday and today.
Where can we follow you? And do you have any new releases or events you would like to share with us?
I’m on social media platforms under my own name and I post about talks, events, I’m doing. As I mentioned, the timelines will be released in February, one a day, so keep an eye out for them. And if anyone fancies writing anything, Amgueddfa Cymru/National Museum Wales and I have been running a Proud Writing workshop on creative responses to extracts from Welsh history so if you fancy having a go at fiction/non-fiction/poetry or even doing art, have a look at – https://lgbtqcymru.swansea.ac.uk/2023/04/12/proud-writing-call-out/ The last course before we publish the e-book in February is in Cardiff by Cardiff Central Library, watch my feeds for more details. I’m also writing a new biography on Katherine Philips, the Welsh Sappho because, at the moment, she is one of the most fascinating women I’ve come across in a long time.