INTERVIEW by Ffion Lindsay

NWR Issue 101

Interview with Lloyd Jones

Lloyd Jones’ own translation of his Welsh-language novel Y Dŵr will be published by Y Lolfa in spring. His memoir, ‘Four Days in September’, a response to The Autobiography of a Supertramp, is published in NWR 101 on 1 September. Here, Lloyd talks about his writing, politics, north Wales green-belt development and living in a Penmaenmawr B&B called The Silver Lining. He also contributes a poem.

Tryweryn, sad as it was, involved just one small valley and let’s face it, the lake is rather beautiful. Much more important events are unfolding now, and hardly anyone takes any notice.

NWR: First of all, I wanted to say a massive thank you for speaking to me. Your critically acclaimed English-language novels, Mr Vogel (Seren, 2004) and Mr Cassini (Seren, 2006) focused largely on journeys taking place in present-day Wales. As such, your first novel in Welsh might be read as a fairly drastic departure from what had come before. Although Y Dŵr centres around the dark future of the human race, it could also be read as a love song to the agricultural Wales of the past. What lessons do you think can be learned from remembering an older way of life?

LlJ: Mr Vogel and Mr Cassini were largely experimental, in that both were journeys into the unknown (for me and the readers). But I soon saw that people don’t want that sort of stuff any more. I don’t think either would get published now, that’s how much change there has been in ten years. We’re moving towards commercialisation in the Welsh arts; I was recently refused a small grant to cover my expenses while writing a biography of the artist James Dickson Innes, because it might not sell enough copies. Yet a Welsh presence at the supra-elitist Venice Biennale is costing £400,000 over two years. Can you see any sense in that?

Gradually I’ve realised that there are a huge number of comfort readers out there who want basically the same sort of thing all the time, with minor variations. By and large, people don’t want newness or experimentation. I’m not that bothered about what people want, but my writing has gradually become more and more normal, in an attempt to appear normal (I’m the usual Freudian mix of wanting to be different and apart, while also wanting the approbation of my peers). So Y Dŵr was my one attempt at the Standard English Novel (sic), with a strong plot and all the usual tugs on the reader’s emotions. To me, the modern novel has deteriorated into a massage parlour experience (er, not that I’ve ever been in one….)

So yes, I’ve realised how irrelevant I am now, a 62-year old hillbilly harking back to days without TV or modern sanitation, days spent on horseback up on the moors. Only recently have I seen how completely my childhood moulded me; the farm at Gwytherin provided me with my world map, and I spent hours exploring it with a gun, evading my drunken father, engrossed in the natural world. My middle age was a return to that; I have walked completely around the perimeter of Wales and I have also crossed the country ten times; I wander somewhere almost every day, looking at the beauty of nature and talking to people on the way. The only difference now is that I carry a Nikon instead of a gun. I am intensely rural. Last year I was one of the campaigners fighting massive greenfield developments in north Wales. I wrote to almost every MP, MEP, Assembly Member and councillor in the land. And I was amazed, simply amazed at the ignorance and arrogance shown by our ‘leaders’. They seem to have little idea of all the consequences of rampant human growth. Unfortunately, not one of the political parties is prepared to look after our countryside now – even the Conservatives, traditional defenders of rural Britain, have defected to the urban cause. The planned HS2 rail link is a fine example of this.

Darwin may have changed our general perceptions but mankind is still obsessed with itself, still convinced that it’s a supreme animal which can do what it likes with the world. Unfortunately that’s not the case. It doesn’t take a Gaia disciple to see what might happen unless we control ourselves and adopt a better model. Unfortunately, it’s probably too late. What will be will be. I don’t envy coming generations. My own time on Earth may have been the best of all for western humans. You’d be surprised how prevalent that view is among my (thinking) peers. We are also seeing a slow end to the wild world. What a terrible pity.

But let’s make a distinction here. Whilst I mourn the passing of old Wales, and you wouldn't believe how much change I’ve seen, I don’t wish to romanticise the countryside. Life was often very harsh for the people of Wales. If you read Cwm Eithin or My People you’ll see how bad it was for the rural folk, and a walk around any graveyard will show you how many children, and indeed whole families, perished for lack of basic food and care. We live in wonderful times. Although not religious myself I am a clear product of my rural nonconformist background: communistic, socially reticent, inquisitive, autodidactic, also basically pessimistic and fatalistic.

To me, Wales feels less Welsh by the moment. You hear more Chinese and Polish spoken on many of the northern bus routes nowadays. You can walk for days in the countryside without encountering a Welsh speaker. Recently I was passing a school in Anglesey’s rural hinterland and not one of the many waiting mothers greeted her child in Welsh. This tends to make me feel reactionary, not towards incomers but towards the Americanised omni-bilge we get on TV, and the gross, vacuous, tattooed human by-products of endemic pop/urban culture. Yes, I’m getting old and grumpy.

But to answer your question: I’m not sure if lessons can be learnt in a social sense. Human existence is purely evolutionary and we change only when we have to, usually in response to periodic crises – for example, both world wars brought about rapid change in Britain, but as soon as the last one was over the country settled down to a night on the couch with a Chinese take-away and a Jeremy Clarkson video. You might possibly convince me that there is a Jungian collective memory which works over long periods. Basically, society slows everything down to the speed of its slowest members, which means that issues like gaydom take half a century to sort out, to the point where we all eventually give up and say oh for fuck’s sake, let's just get on with it. I was born gay friendly, so I’m sick to death of hearing about it. God, this is already turning into a rant. Brilliant.

Here’s the basic equation:
We’re born. We spend far too much time in a stupor, drunk or stoned, during which time the world changes quite a lot. We wake up old, and then we get grumpy because we can’t get drunk or stoned any more and nobody wants to shag us, then we go on and on about a golden age we can hardly remember because we were too drunk or stoned. We die, then someone else takes over. That’s the whole point of getting old – you get a zero hours contract to be sad and cynical. Pass me those Rizlas, will you?

PS If you want to see what over-population and poor education can lead to, go to India. It’s not inconceivable that Britain could be in the same state in a century or so.
[PAGE 2]

NWR: The history of Wales and its landscape has been at the heart of all of your works. In your view, what has been the legacy of tragic modern events like the flooding of Tryweryn on Welsh literature?

LlJ: The prominent Welsh poet Gerallt Lloyd Owen made an interesting and important point recently. He expressed the view that Tryweryn actually did Wales a favour by activating a protest movement and thus creating a fresh sense of national identity. I agree with him. One of the reasons Wales is so quiet now is that successive governments have grown wise to nationalism. They’ve realised that if you give people a small present in a big box now and then you can keep them quiet. Ironically, it was the Conservatives who gave Wales its biggest presents. But Tryweryn, sad as it was, involved just one small valley and let’s face it, the lake is rather beautiful. Much more important events are unfolding now, and hardly anyone takes any notice. The Welsh Assembly is decidedly reverential towards Westminster and it has been more than happy to take in some of the population overspill from the English cities. That has involved large scale building, often on greenfield sites. Wrexham activists claim that the Assembly worked covertly with various English councils and agencies with a view to creating overspill townships within north-east Wales to cater for the so-called ‘English Problem’. That infuriated me, because recent Local Development Plans (thrust upon us by Westminster) have sought to cater for this population problem by creating huge housing parks on the north Wales coast, the most notable being at Bodelwyddan, where a small community with a good Welsh presence is about to be swamped by an estate of over two thousand houses. To facilitate this the Welsh Assembly went as far as to downgrade good local farmland, giving it the same status as moorland. The whole thing stinks. The end result is that the great plain of Rhuddlan is gradually being eroded by houses and caravans, so you can pretty well say goodbye to the natural beauty of the coastal strip – there’s virtually none left. Which makes Tryweryn look like a drop in the ocean, no pun intended. Fact is, the new breed of professional middle class politician we have in Wales doesn’t seem to care a damn about the country long-term. They’ve swallowed the old capitalist clap-trap about jobs, jobs, jobs.

But most of those new jobs go to outsiders because they’re low paid; for instance our hotels are stuffed with Poles. And the new houses being built are expensive bourgeois homes which bring in yet more people because few locals can afford them. So that creates a vicious circle, with more incomers demanding more housing and jobs, thus creating more incomers... the bottom line is, how long can this go on before Wales is despoiled? Go to Queensferry – is that what we want along the whole coastline? Grungy boarded-up industrial estates, run-down housing, littered verges, dying hedges... is that what we really want? So as you can seen, Tryweryn was a very small event compared to what’s going on nowadays.

Tryweryn has had a tremendous effect on Welsh literature, to this day. But it’s a sentimental, retrospective thing now. What we need is an avant garde in Wales, to stir up some shit about what’s going on, but ironically the grants culture has acted as a dampener on social comment and political statement. I have a daughter of 19 and a stepson of 26 and I really like that generation. On the whole they seem gentler, more sussed than my lot. But they’re politically disengaged. They’ve been beaten by the system before they’ve started. One of the most damaging events of recent times was the Iraq War March. At least a million people went to London, but Blair ignored them. It was a huge blow to modern democracy because afterwards people just shrugged their shoulders and said what’s the point? There have been other important developments, such as the decline of local papers, which used to inform people about planning and crime, thus acting as a social glue. And with the decline of other community meeting points, such as chapels and pubs, Welsh society is in danger of becoming as atomised as your average city. I’ve noticed this very strongly in my local town, Llanfairfechan, which was a tremendously vibrant community when I went to live there in the seventies. Now it’s a shadow of its former self, a dormer town for people who don’t take part in local life, don’t look up when you pass, don’t say hello. Opinionated little sod, ain’t I?

NWR: Perhaps, but in the nicest possible way! Last year your novella See How They Run was published by Seren, a retelling of the story ‘Manawydan, son of Llyr’ from the Mabinogi. Myth and legend is clearly a major theme in your work. In Y Dŵr alone there are references to the Mabinogi, the tale of Cantre Gwaelod, as well as to Scheherazade and Polish folk tales. What is it about these legends that made you want to incorporate them into your writing?

LlJ: Yes, what happened to my little book? The critics seemed to like it but the reading population gave it pretty low marks. I was intrigued by a critique from a young woman called Nikki on Goodreads. Nikki, a postgrad student living in Wales, who says she’s deeply in love with academia and can’t stand the idea of leaving, posted this comment:

Not a fan of this one. When the main character says he’s a shit, is right, and doesn’t alter his behaviour, while pursuing obscure revenge for something that goes unexplained for at least – I didn’t finish reading this – half the novel, well... I love the story of Manawydan in the original Mabinogion and in Evangeline Walton’s retellings, but nothing about this one interested me.

Wow, that hit me for six because I thought I’d written a decent book. I’d never heard of Evangeline Walton so I looked her up, tried to read her, and was pretty horrified to come second best in Nikki’s evaluation. My initial reaction was –

Bloody hell! Here’s me, born and bred in the Welsh hills, couldn’t speak English until I was seven, studied the Mabinogi in Middle Welsh at Bangor University, as Welsh as Chwannen Chwyslyd Chwilog, being snubbed in favour of a romantic American author writing about a land she never even visited....

But in answer to your question, I have no idea why I lean heavily on native folk tales, since I don’t read them that often. In fact I seem to read poetry more than anything nowadays. There’s an old joke about a Welsh MP going to the Anglesey Show to press the flesh and make himself visible. Trying to cosy up to a grizzly local farmer, the MP admitted, ‘I can’t speak Welsh but I understand every word, you know.’ The farmer replied, ‘ I’ve got a dog like that at home.’ That’s how I feel about my use of myths. I’m a sheepdog responding to ancient whistles from an unseen master. Welsh dog commands are remarkably uniform throughout the land, and probably go back to prehistory. Indeed, historians believe they may be among our earliest sounds. Chwid, chwid, chwidogaith....

[PAGE 3]

NWR: I’m not sure the average Welsh sheepdog can write quite like you, but the myths were certainly an aspect I enjoyed. Your translation of Y Dŵr is due to be published in spring 2014. Do you see Y Dŵr and The Water as the same novel, or are they independent works to you? And how did you approach the process of translating your own work?

LlJ: I translated the book during that awful April last year when it never stopped raining. I’d started a walk to Cardiff but then the weather intervened, so I said to myself, I can’t just sit here waiting for death, I must kick on with something. But I didn’t feel like writing, so I translated Y Dŵr. I just went at it and turned it around in no time. It was just a job to me, not a labour of love like translating Angharad Price’s little gem, O! Tyn y Gorchudd, The Life of Rebecca Jones. My translation of Y Dŵr hasn’t been edited yet but I want it to be roughly the same book. Other Welsh writers have been very supportive and they’ve endorsed my own belief that it’s a good book, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered. The reading public has also been very supportive, but the Welsh establishment, if there is such a thing, has been very negative. Y Dŵr failed to make the longlist for the Welsh Book of the Year, which was patently ridiculous. That’s what happens when you have two old preacher types on the judging panel. The chapel still casts a long shadow in Wales. And apart from Bangor University, I don’t think it has received any attention from the Welsh universities, which is a pretty poor show in my opinion, given its very modern message. Or do they think that climate change is a Mabinogi-style myth?

PS I eventually finished the walk to Cardiff, which I recorded in 2,488 photographs (roughly ten to the mile). I really enjoyed the trip, from my own doorstep in Abergwyngregyn to Jon Gower’s home in Cardiff, via Offa’s Dyke. The collection is entitled I’m Just Popping Over to Jon Gower’s Place for a Cuppa. I put the collection on seven pretty memory sticks and gave them to friends. It was a nice thing to do.

NWR: Iain Sinclair described Mr Vogel as a ‘mongrel monologue’, and it’s certainly true that Y Dŵr features a curiously harmonious mixture of Welsh and English. What prompted you to write your first primarily Welsh-language novel?

The literary taffia down in the valleys… prefer listening to pretty young things posting tearful postcards from a ravaged society much as Gwyn Thomas did a long time ago.

LlJ: I was amazed that he bothered to read it, but he was very supportive and his assessment was absolutely spot on. That’s exactly what the book is, a mongrel monologue, and that’s what it was meant to be. I was a journalist for most of my working life and I can write as leanly as anyone, but when I started to write for pleasure I splurged. Also, I’d been mentally ill, and there is evidence of that in the book. But Y Dŵr is a straight story. It’s a contemporary novel with a cogent theme. I was persuaded to write the book by Lefi [Gruffudd] and Alun [Jones] at Y Lolfa, great guys whom I met at the Welsh Book of the Year ceremony when I won with Mr Cassini in 2007. ‘Come on,’ they said, ‘how about a book in Welsh now?’ I thought they were joking, but a few weeks later I received a letter from them, urging me on. Lovely bunch, great people to work with, and there’s an added bonus, you get your money on the nail. With some of the others you have to go round with a baseball bat, no kidding. Anyway, I’m glad I wrote Y Dŵr. I played it dead straight with the language because my Welsh is good but not fancy, which is probably just as well because it forced me to tell it straight and simple. My English can be a bit over the top, which doesn’t go down well with the literary taffia down in the valleys, who prefer listening to pretty young things posting tearful postcards from a ravaged society much as Gwyn Thomas did a long time ago. But I love farting around with words, I’ve always been more interested in form than content. Unfortunately for me, the present age is absorbed with content. I read some of Raymond Carver’s thoughts on writing this week and I can see that his generation’s manly, no-nonsense American delivery has influenced most of our produce nowadays, though I’m not anti-American despite their repulsive foreign policy. I was mightily impressed with some Don DeLillo and Walter Abish books last year, and much taken with Jorie Graham’s volume of poetry, P L A C E.

NWR: I think that farting around with words is one of life’s greatest pleasures, so we’re agreed on that front. Despite their extreme poverty, the characters of Y Dŵr have the tranquility and beauty of Dolfrwynog to protect them, until their peaceful world is torn apart by outside forces. You have spoken before about the rapidly worsening problems of overpopulation and climate change overwhelming us. What message would you hope the future leaders of Wales, and of the world, would gain from your novel?

LlJ: Don’t take my word for it, take a look at what David Attenborough has to say

During our recent campaign against greenfield housing in the region I wrote to various people, including David Attenborough, asking for support. None of the Welsh ‘celebrities’ wanted to know, but I received a charming letter from the great man himself. However, I have no relevant message on that score. People with brains, like Lovelock and Attenborough, have sounded a warning bell so we’ll just have to wait and see. Foretelling the future is almost impossible anyway, it never pans out as you expect. Y Dŵr is set in Gwytherin, where I was born – a beautiful U-shaped glaciated valley on the hem of the Denbigh Moors, near Llanrwst. I used my childhood as a setting for the poverty and isolation portrayed in the book; by poverty I mean a lack of worldly goods, since we had all the essentials, like beds, food and peace.

I went to India and Nepal a couple of years ago with my daughter and we travelled a long way, saw a lot. Witnessing that sort of poverty and deprivation with your own eyes is quite different to seeing it on TV. I was astonished, too, by the level of environmental degradation; the Indians use plastic now but don’t know what to do with it afterwards, so there are mountains of it everywhere, and it litters every roadside. They burn it to heat themselves up in the early morning. And since there are regular power failures almost all the businesses and hotels have generators which thrum into action whenever the power goes. With a continent the size of India that entails a huge level of petrol emissions hitting the Asian atmosphere every day. So I realised that no matter what we do in this country (and I recycle everything like most people), it won’t make any difference. The dye is cast. And our political leaders can do nothing because the world is actually run by the forces of global capitalism.

NWR: Whilst it’s evident that your characters have a deep emotional investment in the land, the ties between family members seem less stable. The novel’s adults are caught up in their own little worlds of depression and madness, the little boy is half-feral and the girl is lost in a world of fantasy. Was there a particular message you were trying to convey by making each of them so isolated?

LlJ: I was trying to portray what might happen when society disintegrates and people have to really struggle for survival. My own family fell apart when I was quite young; my father was a violent and abusive alcoholic who created a fair amount of mayhem in his life. When I was about six I spent a year in Gobowen Hospital, strapped to a metal frame, and when I returned home my mother left my father, going to live in a neighbouring village. I didn’t see her again for ten years. My brother and step-sister (with whom I’m very close) went to live with my mother but I made a fateful decision, based probably on pity for my father, to stay with him. I had a difficult and wild childhood, if you can call it a childhood because it was me who ended up doing much of the farmwork. I document this in the volume Bron Haul, the Croft on the Moors. I finally ran away from my father when I was fifteen, but his relatives were very good to me and protected me from his worst excesses. Also, I knew that in his own mad drunken way he loved me. That makes a difference. I believe there is such a thing as cold, loveless cruelty which usually damages children beyond repair, and there is a hot cruelty, incorporating elements of love, which can eventually be dealt with, though I became an alcoholic myself (fortunately, benign) and suffered terrible depressions and panic attacks for many years.

So I have some sort of insight into social and family breakdown, though it would be dangerous to use my own personal experience as a standard model because every situation is different. But basically, isolation is very difficult to cope with if you’re up against it. I had a wonderful aunt, Catherine, who fought my corner. She hid four old pennies in a crack in our barn wall and whenever my father went on the rampage I’d sneak off to fetch the pennies, then I’d pad down to the village and contact her from the public phone box. Then she’d come to sort things out. Fortunately, that didn’t happen very often. My father taught me cruelty: he’d make me go and beat the dogs in the doghouse (something which I grew to enjoy in a horrible sort of way) and I had all sorts of guns from a very early age, so I was a murderous little bugger. Also, I’d be cruel to my constant companion, a lovely dog called Fflei, who joined me on the bed at night when my father went drinking. I’d kick her and jump on her, possibly because I was spreading my pain in a kick-the-cat sort of way. What a terrible thing to do. I have sublimated my guilt about that period because I became a very gentle man, the sort who saves spiders etc. There’s no point in feeling guilty now, it was a long time ago and I was very young. However, it gave me an insight into the pleasures experienced by evil people, such as Nazis, when they do terrible things.

NWR: Your latest piece for NWR, ‘Four Days in September’, returns to some of the themes explored in Mr Vogel, namely your 1,000 mile walking trip around Wales, in recovery from alcoholism. What was it about that period in your life that made you realize you wanted to write?

LlJ: I’d been very ill, experiencing a full-blown alcoholic breakdown. I became a physical and mental wreck, ending up as a yellow, seven-stone skeleton at Llandudno Hospital. To cut a long story short I had my last drink on December 28, 2001. It was a simple decision. Every day we make countless decisions, but when you get to that state you have just one decision left: do you live or do you die? I was fortunate, my liver was badly damaged but still intact. I’d been having conversations with Death, and then I had a White Experience, something which is common to people approaching the endgame. Maybe I’ll write about it one day. Then Death pressed his nose against the hospital window and I became very scared. Our previous conversations had been funny, warm, calm. But suddenly he meant business. So I ran for my life. People have said to me over the last twelve years of sobriety – ‘You were so brave, etc etc.’, but I reply to them in full honesty – ‘No, I was an absolute coward, I just legged it... it’s the ones who stick it out and drink themselves to death (like my father) who are brave....’

So I quit the booze and got sober. In some ways it was hard and in other ways it was very easy. I’d been given a second chance, and I didn’t want to live that zombie existence any longer. It’s a shit state to be in; you’re being sick every morning as you try to keep some booze down, I still remember the smell of warm vodka-vomit slipping through my fingers. Anyway, I struck lucky. I found somewhere to live, a B&B called The Silver Lining in Penmaenmawr. I wanted to be as close as possible to my daughter Ella, then aged seven, and I couldn’t find anyone else who’d take me in since I was still yellow. Never was a place more aptly named, since they were absolutely lovely to me, feeding me up and letting me cry into my sausages, also allowing Ella to stay every weekend, and cheerfully accepting the fact that I bled onto the sheets every night, since a recovering alcoholic often shreds his skin because of a subcutaneous itch, one of the manifestations of the liver removing toxins as it recovers.

I felt so happy during that year. I felt as if I were on mescalin – the world seemed very beautiful, the colours seemed extraordinarily vivid. It was one long drugs trip, the only drugs being fresh air and happiness. I think it’s a common experience. I remember seeing a programme about Stalingrad, and one of the Russian soldiers who survived described the same sort of euphoria.

Then, suddenly, I felt much better. I felt absolutely bloody brilliant. My little body recovered physically in about four months, and soon I was hopping about the place like a flea, full of life. I was still emotionally vulnerable and prone to tears. I cried an awful lot during that period, as if I were crying all the accumulated tears of my childhood. Bucketfulls. Whole oceans of tears, I was in the Welsh Crying Team.

So I decided to continue the ‘walk around Wales’ which I’d started drunk, and which I’ve written about in the autumn issue of the NWR. And that’s exactly what I did. Over the next year I walked completely around Wales, not all at the same time nor all in the same direction, since I eventually met myself (and my lovely brother Dafydd) at Littlehaven in Pembrokeshire.

I felt so happy during that year. I felt as if I were on mescalin – the world seemed very beautiful, the colours seemed extraordinarily vivid. It was one long drugs trip, the only drugs being fresh air and happiness. I think it’s a common experience. I remember seeing a programme about Stalingrad, and one of the Russian soldiers who survived described the same sort of euphoria. He said it felt as if he was invincible. He thought he’d live for ever, he was immortal. Not that my experience was on that scale, of course. I lived for the moment; every minute, every second of the day was a beautiful bubble of time which I could explore slowly, languorously, pleasurably. Of course, that feeling has faded slowly and the trick has been to keep it alive for as long as possible. I am still capable of great happiness, and on the whole I am much more level and content than I was before the breakdown. It had been a terrible year, what with losing everything; I’d been a total wreck, my life comprising visits to the local psychiatric unit and living rough for periods. But I’m glad it happened, though not glad I subjected the people around me to the pain of watching me trying to destroy myself. It all worked out fine in the end. I’m still friends with my former partner, we go to jazz gigs together, and I’ve had a full and very happy relationship with my kids, which has been very important to me; fortunately, I was never nasty in my drink and they didn’t know I had a problem until the very end. They’ve both been magnificent and we’ve had great times together.

I believe now that the explosion which destroyed the old Lloyd in 2001 had been waiting to happen since my early days in Gwytherin. I believe I spent my life coping with an inner tension which created a volcanic eruption when I was fifty. Since then I have encountered other people who have had a similar experience; it’s as though we coped with it for so long, then came apart at the seams. But on the flip side, life can be a whole lot better if you recover. As for my writing, it wouldn’t have been possible before the breakdown. It was an eruption – it was a volcanic flow of larva which is still coming out of me, though with less force (thank god!) and I’m beginning to cool now.

I explore this outflow in Mr Cassini, a strange little book by a strange little man. During that time I read many books by Adam Phillips, and one of them was a biography of the child psychologist Donald Winnicott. Winnicott postulated a theory of true self/false self in emotionally damaged children, and though his theory applied only to infants I could see parallels with my own condition, in that my own personal creativity only became possible when my false self had been destroyed and my true self had reasserted itself. Self-analysis is a minefield, so the jury’s out on that one. Like most drunks I don’t regret the journey, not in the least. I really like being sober but I really enjoyed alcohol too, until it took hold of me and became a tyrant. Best lover I ever had, Miss Smirnoff. We had such fun times together, I went to places unimaginable to the normal mind. I still think of her often.

NWR: A bit of a tempestuous relationship by the sound of it. You have said in previous interviews that you won’t be writing other than for your own pleasure from now on (a tragic loss to your readers I must say!). Do you have your sights set on any new creative avenues?

LlJ: As I said earlier, I’ve just been turned down for a grant to write a book about the Llanelli-born artist James Dickson Innes, which is a pity because I was looking forward to writing a factual book, but I can’t do it without some help towards my travel expenses. I’ve done quite well for grants from the Welsh Books Council but I’m a bit fragile when it comes to rejection and my confidence goes every time, so I’ll have to build up steam again before I tackle anything else. I won’t apply for another grant because I always get hurt when I’m refused. A few years ago Literature Wales rejected my bid for a bursary to write a book called 52 Beds, in which I was going to sleep all over Wales, in places like St Fagans, Teepee Valley and Dinefwr Castle, and combine a travelogue with memories of my life. The book had already been commissioned, but for some reason Literature Wales didn’t think it was worth a penny; I reacted badly and resigned from the organisation. No regrets, I’m an outsider now and I’m happy to swim on my own, without any establishment waterwings. The grants culture is a two-edged sword, and though it has done a lot for Welsh literature it has many pitfalls, one of which is that some people are better at grant applications than they are at writing.

It doesn’t matter anyway because I’ve had my say and let’s face it, none of my work will survive. However, over the years I’ve worked hard on my poetry and I’ve put together a book of poems which I’m about to tout around the publishers; I hope someone takes it, since it would be nice to leave a little book of poems as a memento.

Here’s one of my poems, about my relationship with alcohol.

Provoking Death

An alcoholic contemplates his life

To provoke death I fashioned a vessel from glass.

I am told by the people who knew me
That it was a rare fusion – brittle silicates and oxides
Of my own selection:
An elegant cylinder, long and cool
To hold the aqua vitae of my own happiness.

And they laughed when I filled it with a fluid, a drug
Of my own devising
And tipped it sideways, slowly, on a tropical day
With a wish to see clearly
The warm symmetry of its smooth internal craftsmanship,
The billow of its mammalian promise, shaped for pleasure.

When they went I crept quietly
Through the aperture of its neck
To my gulliver land, and built a tiny craft
Made of charm and balsa to sail the shallows
Of my enchanted sea.
My own bowsprit, my own sails made of tissue,
My own droplet to voyage with Columbus.

I passed a most beautiful and sweet country
Seamed throughout with many goodly rivers,
Replenished with all sorts of fish,
Adorned with goodly woods fit for building houses and ships,
Most abundantly sprinkled with many sweet islands,
Good ports and good havens,
The soil itself most fertile,
Fit to yield all kinds of fruit.

And so I come to land, where you wait for me.

With apologies to Edmund Spenser.

Ffion Lindsay is an online contributor to NWR.


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