Welcome to Welsh Wednesdays and thank you for participating.
First up, please tell us about your connection to Wales. (Do you live here? Are you Welsh? Did you live in Wales or did we meet in Wales?…)
I was born in Barmouth in 1956 and lived in Wales until I moved to the US in 1981. My father’s family have lived in Barmouth for three hundred years – weavers, blacksmiths and the occasional prostitute. I am Welsh speaking.
Tell us a little about yourself as writer and as person. (Tell us about your writing history. When was the first time you decided to write and when was the first time you did? Your hobbies, family, pets..?)
I trained as a biologist and became a teacher – but as a gay man, growing up in Wales in the 1960s and 1970s, I was always aware that there were no positive role models in my life – not in public life, in literature, in history nor in any of the spheres in which I circulated. I grew up afraid! As a consequence I became quite solitary and secretive, with a very active ‘hidden’ sexual life. This duplicity troubled me for many years. In my solitude I liked to read, to hike, and to listen to music – and study…. I was a decent scholar.
Writing emerged as a gift when I changed direction in life and studied for the priesthood (in California by a strange twist of fate) – for the first time in my academic life I was required to write essays (as opposed to lab reports) and some element of creative writing came into some of my academic study of theology, especially where I was required to offer personal reflections.
I was in California for four years and I changed a great deal as a person; I went through a metamorphosis – from scared, secretive and self-hating to out, proud gay man about town! When I returned to Wales I was chastened to find that whilst I had changed, Wales had not – so I decided to write about the lives of gay men and boys in Wales – and two published collections of short storied came to life: Welsh Boys Too and Fishboys of Vernazza, both published by Parthian.
From somewhere the sense that short storied weren’t quite enough took germ and I embarked on a novel – With Angels and Furies was published by Gay Men’s Press and I thought I’d arrived on the literary scene – only for GMP to go bankrupt! (Angels never earned me a penny!) A second novel followed, Crawling Through Thorns. Largely autobiographical, the writing of t and the release of it to the general public took the stuffing out f me and I believe I’m still in recovery – though I am writing again now: a collection of linked short stories (that can be dipped into at random for the short story) or read in the sequence offered to offer a much more intertwined narrative.
I’m married to my German husband for thirty years – we run a small guest house and have two Welsh collies, Wash and Nel.
Why did you decide to write in your chosen genre(s)?
I wanted to begin to create a body of Welsh gay themed literature which might offer some handrails to gay men and boys who’d found themselves as isolated as I had found myself.
What is your life like outside of writing? What makes you laugh, what makes you cry?
I have more life outside writing than I have in! I have been very politically active – I as the first chair of LGB Forum Cymru, which became Stonewall in Wales, and I was on the board of Stonewall in London for three years… I was mayor of my little town for a year (on the council for almost 5 years) and I’ve been a school governor for 5 years and chair of governors for a year. I retired early from the education service in Denbighshire (because I have a dicky heart) and Jupp and I run a small B&B in Barmouth – so I spend a lot of time cleaning toilets and showers, ironing, making beds, backing bread and cakes and generally trying to be sociable to our guests (which is sometimes difficult).
Which Welsh person would you like to invite for dinner and what would you serve?
Oh – someone like Sian Phillips, or Richard Burton (if I can invite dead people)… I was in Hollywood once, the sleazy charm fascinated me and I’d love to explore that….
Who is your favourite Welsh author?
R S Thomas and Waldo Williams – a poet writing in English and a poet writing in Welsh – The title of my novel, Crawling Through Thorns, is a quote (in translation) from Waldo.
What is the best thing about Wales?
If you’d asked me this before the EU referendum I’d have said………. Well, Brexit, and the fact that Wales voted for Brexit, has changed everything. I’m finding it hard to find any good in Wales right now – but the view from our house, across the Mawddach to Cader Idris, still thrills me.
What is your advice to new writers?
Read out aloud what you’ve written – to hear the rhythms and the sounds. Do this always!
What is your favourite book?
Usually the book I’m currently reading – especially if I’m enjoying it. I’ve just read John William’s 1965 novel, Stoner.
What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?
There are so many ‘classics’ that I have not read – so I do try to read something by renowned authors who have recently died… So I’m reading, for the first time, Harper lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m reading a real book!
How do you handle criticism of your work?
I hope I can trust myself enough to hear what is valid in fair criticism.
Find John’s books here: