Ceri Shaw


 

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An Interview With Welsh Horror Writer Richard Rhys Jones

user image 2013-08-13
By: Ceri Shaw
Posted in: Author Interviews

richard-rhys-jones

Americymru spoke to Welsh writer Richard Rhys Jones about his published work and future plans. Richard is an ex soldier from Colwyn Bay, currently residing in Germany, who has published two horror fiction novels and is currently working on a short story anthology.

Buy Division Of The Damned here

Buy The House In Wales here

 

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AmeriCymru:  Hi Richard and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. Can you tell us a little about your Welsh background?

Richard: Hi Ceri, well though I live in Germany now, I originally hail from Old Colwyn, Colwyn Bay, on the north Wales coast. My family''s roots sit deep around the region, with my mother''s side coming from Colwyn Bay/Mochdre, and my father''s from Deganwy/Conwy. I lived on a council estate until I was sixteen, then took the Queen''s Shilling and joined the army. I still go back once, twice a year to visit my family, who are all still there. I do miss my home town, and suffer terribly from homesickness, which is ridiculous in a way as I''m forty six and I left north Wales in 1983!

It''s a strange thing though, homesickness. When I did actually leave home, I never gave Colwyn a thought. Yes, I visited now and then but I was young, eager to see other places, meet other people and I didn''t have that empty locker in my heart where you put your memories. Life was exciting, and home was a place taken for granted and visited as a duty.

This all changed with the birth of my children. Danny and Chelsea were born in 1997, and in one swift lesson, I realised what I had given up on when I left Wales. My kids would never go to the schools I went to, they wouldn''t speak English as a first language, nor would they learn Welsh, (to my eternal shame, I am not a Welsh speaker. I''m so glad Welsh is now being promoted as an important part of the Welsh identity). To all intents and purposes, my children would be tourists to my home town and that does twinge a little.

I wrote a piece about my feelings on the matter in one of my more melancholy moments and put it on the net, with a picture of my hometown. The picture is taken from Penmaen Head, an outcrock of rock that overlooks the bay. If you''re interested, you can find it here:

The Boy From The Bay

Don''t get me wrong though, I don''t spend my days morosely pondering on what might have been if I''d stayed in Wales. I have a good circle of friends here, a steady job and my own little family. It''s just that I don''t feel German, I feel like a visitor who will one day still go home to Wales. Whether that will ever happen, I don''t know though.

AmeriCymru:  You are currently living in Germany. How did that come about?

Richard: Simply put, I joined the army, was posted to Germany with my regiment, 1st the Queen''s Dragoon Guards, "The Welsh Cavalry", the finest regiment known to man. Once here I met a nice girl, and in January 1992, in a fit of recklessness, I stayed here when my unit left for Britain. I didn''t have a trade, couldn''t "speaka da lingo" and had no contacts to help me. However, in our youth we''re indestructible and I just knew I''d be alright... I know that sounds daft, but I did. Anyway, if things had gone badly, I could always have joined back up again; there was no cloud over my departure, so it wasn''t that much of a gamble.

As it turned out, things went alright. 1999 was the worst year and in January 2000 I asked Tad if there were any jobs going around The Bay area. However, an opening came up in the steelworks that dominate this region, (Salzgitter) and I''ve been there ever since.

AmeriCymru:  When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer and what attracted you to horror?

Richard: Writing was something I really came to a bit late in life. I liked writing in school, but it was the lazy schoolboy type of interest; the sort that blasts off like a firework with a burst of ideas but then immediately turns to ashes when the class finished.

Although I read a bit in the military, I didn''t even think about actually writing until I left. I found a job with a crew of ex soldiers working as armed guards for the British army, and suddenly, with lots of time on my hands, I started to think about writing.

I wrote song lyrics, joke ditties for the guys, and I even tried my hand at short stories. However, the idea of writing a full length novel would only ever be a distant castle on the horizon with the writing tools I had at hand, an army typewriter, built around 1954, and the modest library in the camp for research.

This all changed when I was given my first computer, (well, I actually bought it for €50). Suddenly I had no reason not to write a book, I had no excuses; well, apart from the fact that I couldn''t type properly and didn''t have a cohesive plot for a story. However, that didn''t bother me, and with the internet at my fingertips, Microsoft Word guiding my spelling and punctuation, and the fire of inspiration in my blood, I set myself to the task.

I can still remember sitting at my desk for that first time, (which was actually a wooden board on two chairs), and simply going for it, writing the prologue in a flurry of one fingered, type-key hunting, vigour. In that initial burst, those first few months, I was a man possessed and I''ve yet to recapture that same zeal, that same passion as I experienced when I first started writing, "The Division of the Damned".

The first draft was 160,000 words , a massive rambling tome of a book that had everything I''d been interested in since my days as a soldier. The Third Reich, Teutonic Knights, Sumerian mythology, Biblical folklore, werewolves, the Eastern Front and last but not least, vampires. I was forced to cut it down radically, (I think Word has the word count now to be around 117,000) but happily I still managed to keep all the elements in that I wanted, AND hold the story tight.

Why horror or fantasy? Because basically I already had my ideas for the story, concepts that had gathered dust at the back of my consciousness for years, and I just needed a kick start to fire them all into life.

AmeriCymru: Your first novel Division Of The Damned feature s Nazi Vampires in WWII. How did you come by this idea?

the-division-of-the-damned Vampires had always been my favourite monster, way before they were cool and pretty. I loved the whole Dracula thing, the legend of the mysterious count with a penchant for red corpuscles, capes and midnight flights. Vampires were a vague notion at the back of my mind from the start, but they somehow grew in importance as the unconscious rough copy for my story took shape. The question was, how do I write about vampires, keeping the whole cape, blood sucking, sun-aversion elements of the story, without it turning into a regurgitated Christopher Lee cliché''? I have nothing against his vampire films, but I didn''t want my story to be dated and kitsch.

The Third Reich is a fascinating story in itself, but a visit to any one of the concentration camps that are dotted around Europe puts it all in a different perspective. The true horror of Nazi Germany hit me when, as a young soldier, I visited Dachau concentration camp, just north of Munich.

It made me wonde r how the Holocaust could have happened, how a land could go from being one of the most cultured societies in the world to a country of uniform wearing automatons; slaves to the Party and executioners of all the inhuman acts it ordered done. I knew it couldn''t be down to the German people being simply evil, something else must have happened. So I started to read about it and the awareness of its fascination gestated in the back of my mind.

Years later now, and I''m working with a colleague who I always thoug ht was Bavarian. However, the more we spoke, the more I realised his accent wasn''t from the south, and so I asked him where he came from.

He told me that his family came to Germany from Romania when the Iron Curtain fell in 1989.

"So you''re Romanian?" I as ked him.

"No, German." he replied, and then went on to explain that the Transylvanian region of Romania is home to a very large population of Germans. The Siebenbürger Sachsen, (Transylvanian Saxons) used to live in Romania among the Romanian population, and yet apart. They went to separate schools, drank in separate pubs, worked in German firms and generally lived as Germans, in a foreign land.

It was like flicking a switch! A German colony living in the traditional land of the Vampire, a more perfect marrying up of elements I could not have wished for and that night, after shift, (I was working the 1400 - 2200 hrs shift) I set about putting down the plot for my book.

AmeriCymru:  Your most recent novel The House In Wales features satanic rituals at a remote locat ion in north Wales. Shades of Dennis Wheatley? Care to tell us more?

the-house-in-wales Richard: The decision to write, "The House in Wales" wasn''t actually 100% my idea, (gasp, shock, horror!), and the story behind it is a little more mundane.

My publishers at Taylor Street asked a couple of authors if they were willing to write about a haunted house. The reason being the series "American Horror Story" and the film "The Woman in Black" had done so well in the States, and they wanted to see if they could capitalise on that. " American Horror Story", with its bizarre characters and perverse undertones, and "The Woman in Black" with its ghostly ambience and sinister isolation, had turned the haunted house genre around in the public mind, putting it firmly back on the map.

When they ask ed if I was interested in writing a haunted house story I was plodding along with the sequel for "Division". The plot was weak and missing something, the characters seemed tired and it was turning into a chore, so they couldn''t have approached me at a better time.

I knew I simply couldn''t copy those two films; it had to be similar and yet far enough removed so as not to be too familiar. So, cunningly, (well not really, as we''d just returned from a family holiday in my home town), I decided to set in North Wales during World War Two.

The villain of the story is the house keeper, Fiona Trimble, a willowy, seductively attractive lady in her early forties. My problem was how could this slender, graceful woman force her will on the hero of the story, a rough seventeen year old lad from bombed out Liverpool? Surely not by womanly guile alone? 

I liked the idea of someone physically frail using a large animal as their muscle, and what better companion than a big dog? However, I wanted to avoid the clichéd Rottweilers, Dobermans or German Sheepdogs, so I decided on an Irish wolfhound. 

Irish wolfhounds, as lovable and trustworthy as they are, have always intimidated me by their size. A friend of mine has one, and though he''s friendly, and not particularly large for his breed, he always manages to elicit a tiny shudder of anxiety when he barks, (which he does to every guest before licking them to death). I decided they''d be perfect for the story and gave Trimble one to do her bidding

As I''m no expert on Satanism, though I obviously read quite a lot about it, I decided to concentrate on the characters and let them carry the story rather than let the props take the centre stage. "Division" was packed full of facts woven into a story that moved from Transylvania, Germany, London, Dachau, The Ukraine etc etc.

"House" is set in a village in north Wales, and doesn''t move from there, so I had to focus on the dramatis personae and their emotions a lot more than I did in "Division".

I''m afraid I didn''t think of Mr. Wheatley at all, which in hindsight is unbelievable to me now!

AmeriCymru: What are you reading at the moment? Any recommendations?

Richard: Truth be told, I could sit here and type five thousand titles as recommendations. If a book can take me somewhere else, then I''m sold and with my imagination, it doesn''t take much for a story to whisk me away.

So I''ll go for the last four books I''ve read.

The Martian by Andy Weir. I''ve just finished it. An excellent story, full of facts that slot in nicely to the story. I loved this book and ate it up.

Sliding on Snow Stone by Andy Szpuk. Andy''s father survived the man made famine in the Ukraine in the 30''s, the German invasion during the 40''s and the communists after the war, so he put it down in story form. Brilliantly researched, I loved it.

The Outlaw King by Craig Saunders. First book in a series of three by a very talented Indie author. Craig can write, I haven''t read one bad story by Mr. Saunders yet, and I''ve read most of his work.

Run by Blake Crouch. I picked this up on a freebie and what a find it was!! A riveting story that doesn''t stop right up to the end.

AmeriCymru:  What''s next for Richard Rhys Jones? Are you working on anything at the moment?

Richard: I have an anthology of short stories coming out with Paul Rudd, a friend of mine and author of the very well received book, "SHARC".

Called, "The Chronicles of Supernatural Warfare", the idea behind the collection is as the title says, to chronicle the supernatural in warfare.

For example, the first story is, "The Vampires of Sparta". Imagine the 300 Spartans who held the pass at Thermopylae were in fact vampire warriors, fighting against Xerxes, the greatest vampire hunter of all time?

The second story is, "The Wooden Wolf of Troy" and, if you''re of the mind, you can read the first three, "chapters", (it''s more of a novelette actually) here: The Wooden Wolf Of Troy

The stories progress through ancient Greece, to Rome, then World War One and Two and then finally the future, with nine tales in all. They''re much more like "Division" than "House" and if any of your readers are of the mind to download it, I''d bear that aspect in mind.

I''m at the research phase right now for a book set in Las Vegas. The background is the fire at  the MGM Grand Hotel. If you can imagine, "The Shining" meets, "The Towering Inferno"? Something along those lines.

AmeriCymru:  Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?

Richard: In 1986, as a young soldier, I visited Fort Carson in Colorado and fell in love with the area. America is a magical place, with friendly, warm people who are so much more open than we are in Europe. When I found out about AmeriCymru on Facebook, I was electrified.

The Welsh/American link is something special, and I think sites like this, that promote that relationship, should be applauded and supported to the best of our collective abilities.

I''ll stop blathering on now, but I''d just like to thank you, the reader, for reading to the end, and to Ceri for being so nice and setting this interview up.

Hwyl.