Ceri Shaw



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An Interview With Lloyd Jones - Author of "Mr Vogel" and "Mr Cassini"

user image 2008-11-11
By: Ceri Shaw
Posted in: Author Interviews

Mr Cassini by Lloyd Jones Lloyd Jones will need no introduction to most of our readers. He is the author of two novels, "Mr Vogel" and "Mr Cassini", and has recently published his first collection of short stories ( "My First Coloring Book" ). In this interview he speaks about his life, work and future literary plans

Many of your writings revolve around journeys or more particularly walks. It is well known that you do a lot of hill-walking/hiking in "real life". What initially attracted you to this form of recreation?

"I had been very ill, mentally and physically, following a major breakdown caused by stress and alcohol in 2001. As I recovered from my near-death experience I found that walking was the best medicine for body and soul. It still is - I go for a walk every day. Every walk is a celebration of the concept of freedom".

To what extent is "Mr Vogel" autobiographical?

"Almost all the book is based on my life. I walked completely around Wales, a journey of a thousand miles, in 2002/3 and I have walked across the country eight times in eight different directions since then. Also, I was a patient at Gobowen hospital in Shropshire, strapped to a metal frame for a year, when I was aged about six. The bonesetters of Anglesey, featured in my book, were a real family and they have descendants in America".

You have published a collection of poems which were distributed privately. Do you have any plans to publish further poetry anthologies?

"No. Friends have assured me that my poems should remain in a locked drawer. I have written a narrative poem for 2008 with an entry for each day - and it''s still going strong, in November. It will have 369 poems eventually, and will be published to critical acclaim when I''m dead; if my family burn it my mini-epic will be remembered as the great lost poem of the twenty-first century. Or maybe not."

It has been suggested that "Mr Cassini" is an attempt to explore and elucidate modern problems and neuroses utilizing ancient Welsh myth and legend. Is this true and if so, what role do the stories of the Mabinogion play in the book?

"Yes, Mr Cassini is an Arthurian book based on the legend of Culhwch ac Olwen - probably the first Welsh story ever recorded. Mr Cassini is also a voyage around my alcoholic father. In the Mabinogion legend, the beautiful Olwen''s father is a nasty giant who forces Culhwch to perform a number of Herculean feats before the two can wed. Arthur (Duxie in my book) helps them in their quest. I have tried to use the Arthurian legend in a contemporary Celtic context - as a reaction to the romantic and sentimental rubbish promulgated by TV and film directors."

It has often been suggested that short story writing is a very different art to novel writing. Did you find this to be the case in the course of writing the stories which make up "My First Colouring Book"?

"Short stories are supposed to be a Welsh speciality. The form doesn''t sell particularly well in Britain but it''s popular in North America. Compared to the novel, the short story is a different kettle of fish, and I enjoyed reading a wide range of exponents, from Chekhov and Maupassant to O''Henry and Kate Roberts before tackling the form myself. I thoroughly enjoyed the micro form after writing two macros."

Is there any particular theme which unites the stories in this collection?

"Eros and thanatos - love and death. And colours, obviously. There''s a mysterious, recurring house which links many of the stories. This house demanded its own presence."

What are your future writing plans?

"I have just completed the first draft of a novel in Welsh called Y Dwr (The Water), due to be published by Y Lolfa in 2009. I plan a year off in 2009: I hope to travel to India with my daughter and cross Wales for a ninth time, if I live. It''s going to be a walking year, I hope. Can''t wait. I have no plans for a book after that because I think I''ve dumped enough poo on a very patient Welsh public. Maybe some more short stories?"

Do you have a particular process when you write? Do you have to set yourself up to write or just jot it on candy bar wrappers or do anything in particular to grease your creative wheels?

"Every book is different and has its own dictates, but I tend to write on a laptop in short bursts in the early morning, on my own, in absolute silence. I write a first version, leave it for a while, then return to it. At some stage I engineer a transaction to another person, during which I perceive what needs to be done without words being exchanged. I see myself as a free range hobby writer who delivers bantham eggs complete with shit and straw."

How important is Anglo-Welsh literature to the future development of a distinct Welsh cultural identity?

"Sport, war and literature are possibly the most important components of nationalism. Wales has constantly reinvinted itself to stay ''alive''. If there are enough people who feel passionately about the country, Wales will survive; but the country is under enormous pressure at the moment because of a massive incoming and other global forces, so the next 100 years could be decisive. I wouldn''t like to predict the outcome. We are at the crossroads: Wales could go the Cornish way or it could go the Scottish way. My own writing could be another tiny evolutionary addition to Welsh morphology, or it could be one of its death throes."

Any plans to visit the US?

"American foreign policy under Bush really frightened and angered me: I found it hard to be objective and optimistic about the USA for quite some time. Also, our TV channels are clogged with poor American programmes; I fear that Britain is losing its identity, almost becoming a ghost American state like Puerto Rica. It seems to me at a distance that America is two countries, one dominated by thoughtful liberal people who tend to be on the Democrat wing, and another ''country'' dominated by the Republican Christian right. The latter is a big turn-off for me, so I have to fight a tendency to be bigoted against America with its putrid Hollywood/cool/gunslinging culture, although I know that the continent has also produced a huge amount of excellent stuff in the last century. I suppose I have become reactionary about hawkish America, while tending to forget that America is stuffed full of normal, decent people. Perhaps I have fallen into the trap of simplification and generalisation. But I get the impression, with the election of Obama, that America is now more willing to listen to the rest of the world. I would like to shrug aside my bigotry and come over to see the many beautiful places in America."

Many people in the US are concerned to promote Wales to the wider American public.. What do you think is the most important thing that Americans can learn from the history and culture of Wales? "

Small countries face a constant battle for survivial. Their biggest threat is the screen. Television, cinema and computers have made it increasingly possible for people to live in a virtual world, and that''s the most striking change during my lifetime: the virtualisation of the world. I won''t even watch nature programmes on TV now because it''s too convenient to watch pretty-pretty ahhhh material on the screen whilst the real thing is being wiped out all around us. People will watch panda bears on TV whilst never thinking of looking at a live robin in their garden. Wales is real and it''s different. Wouldn''t it be awful if everywhere in the world were the same? I''m planning to visit India next Spring. Wouldn''t it be terrible if India were full of little Lloyd Joneses? I''d throw myself in the Indian Ocean! As the French say, Vive le difference!"

"Wales has survived against incredible odds. Many thousands of people, probably millions, have died in the fight to keep Wales ''different''. The story of Wales is amazing. The literature of Wales is amazing. And the people of Wales are amazing. It''s a tiny, beautiful country with fabulous diversity. But the Welsh are now an endangered species; the old, shy upland folk are disappearing. Do your bit to save a truly original and different minority. Help to save Wales any way you can...and the best way is to say proudly: I''m Welsh!"

Wild Canary
11/13/08 01:20:32AM @wild-canary:
Ceri, thanks for the candid interview. It would be ashame if Mr. Jones would let impressions of our politics and our arrogant foreign policy keep him from visiting the diverse beauty that is America. Our Appalachian Trail is a beauty, though pollution and development have taken something from it over the years.There are still many beautiful rural and natural areas of interest to walk about though. Today I went with a nine year old neighbor to find the carcase of a porcupine the dogs killed the other day. Instead we found deer tracks, dog tracks and watched the full moon rise huge over the Texas Hill (we are nowhere near Texas:) He skipped stones in the creek and we listened to the Canada Geese flying. Then he jumped haybales and we headed home to do chores. My health is recovering nicely with this therapy.God is good when folks aren't throwing His name around in politics.I am hoping to read some of Lloyd Jones writings and also hoping to be well enough someday to ramble around Wales.
11/12/08 05:03:58PM @arthmawr:
Speaking as a Welshman who had a distant prejudice against America, based on perception, I can assure Mr. Jones that the reality is nothing like that. Come over and walk the Appalacian trail and you will discover many lovely people. An interesting contrast is Bill Bryson, an American writer who lived in Europe for a long time and then came back to discover the America he left had somewhat faded. He describes the process in "A Walk In The Woods"
Brian y Tarw Llwyd
11/11/08 09:54:26PM @brian-y-tarw-llwyd:
I don't blame Mr. Jones one bit for his reactions about the hawkish right in America. Apparently, there were enough thoughtful people here who showed up last week to vote that this country may redeem itself yet. Come walk with us here -- there are lots of beautiful places, and lots of people who know that the USA is not the only country on this planet. And keep writing!Blessings to you this day!