Of all the Welsh crime writers I’ve explored lately, Menna Gallie is the one I most wish I had met. She was provocative, committed to social justice for all, a great raconteur. and used wit to deliver savagely honest points.
Born in 1919 into a Welsh-speaking home in the mining village of Ystradgynlais, Powys, Menna Humphreys was surrounded by strong and active Labour supporters, which formed her approach to society for most of her life. She read English at University College, Swansea, where she met her husband Walter Gallie, a philosophy lecturer. Although no one in her family was directly affected by a mining strike in the 1920s, she witnessed the resulting hardships suffered by her classmates. This experience informed her first novel, Strike for a Kingdom, which is a hybrid: disguised as a straightforward detective story, it is deeply political, and critical of the authority wielded by those wearing the armour of public institutions. It gives a truly atmospheric insight into a Welsh mining community, with a lovely central character in coal picker-poet D. J. Williams, and was a runner-up for the Gold Dagger prize.
Menna Gallie was not, strictly speaking, a crime writer, and her subsequent novels treated other subjects and genres. But they were never less than penetrating, even when difficult to pin down. She also became a popular public speaker: about Wales, gender issues, politics, and literature, her humour and store of anecdotes softening the blows landed by her fervent views. After she died in Newport of a stroke in 1990, Menna’s work was forgotten for a time. But Honno, the Welsh Women’s Press, has republished four of her titles, so she is finding a new audience for her very Welsh, very clever, sometimes poetic voice.