Nov 19, 2010

An Interview with Welsh Author - Jon Gower

From the Gomer Press site:- "Jon Gower is one of Wales’s brightest literary talents. He grew up in Llanelli, graduated in English from Cambridge University, and now lives in Cardiff. A former BBC Wales arts and media correspondent, he has published ten books, including An Island Called Smith, winner of the John Morgan Travel Award. Uncharted is the author’s own adaptation of his acclaimed Welsh-language novel Dala’r Llanw (Gomer, 2009)."




welsh author jon gowerAmeriCymru: Your latest novel - Uncharted has been described as:- "a tale of Tango, unfathomable mysteries, and two ancient lovers who will not be parted". How would you describe it for an intending reader.

Jon: A friend said that it "mythologizes an Argentine woman's journey around the world" and that pretty much sums it up. The woman, Flavia, is in a sort of purgatory, neither alive nor dead. Her story becomes a myth which becomes a religion, a case of global Chinese whispers. I tried to write about a character much as Dickens' writes about Little Nell, and wanted people to be moved by her death. To make me care a lot about her I modelled the central character, Flavia on my wife Sarah but when I came to killing her off I couldn't because it seemed too much like wishing my wife harm, so I kept her alive. Or seemingly alive!

AmeriCymru: The story is set partly in Buenos Aries, partly in Oakland and partly in Cardiff ( including a wonderful description of Caroline St, the hub of Cardiff's sophisticated nightlife ). What made you choose these locations?

Jon: I've been lucky enough to travel a lot in Latin America but hadn't visited Buenos Aires. When I did I fell completely in love with the place and came back to Wales on fire with a need to write about it. The competition for the prose medal at the Eisteddfod the following year required an urban theme, so I found myself writing about B.A and after some 10,000 words thought where else can I go? I decided to write about other ports I knew well, so plumped for Oakland, California, my wife's home town and as the Eisteddfod was in Cardiff I thought I'd write a judge-pleasing ending and set it in my own home. So it's a tale of three cities.

AmeriCymru: The book is adapted from Dala’r Llanw ( Catching The Tide ) which is the first book you have written in the Welsh language. Is writing in a second language ( or perhaps i should say first ) a problematic or an enriching experience?

Jon: I usually try to write prose that has a melody and found writing the English translation difficult at first as I was trying to impose the Welsh "music" on the English version, that is until I decided to go with the English music. Adapting the book also gave me a chance to winnow out some weaknesses, and to alter the ending. The current archdruid James Jones said he didn't like the ending of Dala'r Llanw and I agreed with him, so I tacked on a new conclusion, which is less Hollywood ending and much more lyrical.

AmeriCymru: This is not the first time that your writing has featured an American location. In An Island Called Smith you presented an account of your stay on Smith Island in Chesapeake Bay. Care to tell us a little more about that experience and about the book?

Jon: I was intrigued to read a tiny little newspaper article about the Welsh and Cornish settlers of Smith Island and kept the piece of paper. Years later I was lucky enough to win the John Morgan travel writing prize which funded two trips to Smith Island, a disappearing island because of sea level rise. Here crab fishing is the mainstay of the economy and it was a rare opportunity for me, as a naturalist, to spend time with people who understand the richness and complexity of the natural world in an instinctive way. It's also a Methodist island, and gave me a glimpse of what parts of Wales were like when it was one of the most religious countries on earth.

AmeriCymru: You have also written short stories, some of which are anthologised in a collection titled Big Fish Care to tell us more about this volume?

Jon: I see myself as a short story writer above all else, although it's a form that doesn't sell. I still find this surprising when you consider reduced attention span, the pace of life, etc: it should be conducive to people's lives nowadays. 'Big Fish' mashes up Welsh themes with my take on American style, reflecting the fact I've always read a lot of American fiction, especially John Updike, Annie Proulx and Alice Hoffman. People found the stories zany, and I like that.

AmeriCymru: What is your working routine?

Jon: I have two daughters, Onwy who is twenty months old and Elena, who is five and a half years old I have to write around them, so it's a case of trying to get up before them to write, or doing so after they've gone to bed. Luckily, owing to years of news journalism I can write quickly in the time available. Though they often hear me getting up early and see it as a cue to get up themselves. Anyway 1000 words a day assuages enough guilt to allow me to enjoy the rest of life, and them. They're great kids.

AmeriCymru: Where do you get your ideas?

Jon: If I'm really stuck I deal a card from the Oblique Strategies website. The musician and record producer Brian Eno used to write post it notes in the studio with tips he and his engineer Peter Schmidt culled from their working day. They turned into a physical pack of cards and now you can generate one at random on the website. Even though they're about music they can usually get you out of a corner, or spark something off.

AmeriCymru: How did you become a writer?

Jon: I've always enjoyed writing, but writing books is an offshoot of earning a living as a journalist and trading words in that way. Gradually I've moved away from non fiction to fiction and like the freedoms of lyricism and imaginative flight.

AmeriCymru: Which of your own books do you like the best?

Jon: I'm genuinely proud of 'Uncharted' and like the fact that many people who've read it have enjoyed doing so. Not that it'll be everyone's cup of tea, of course.

AmeriCymru: Where can people order copies of 'Uncharted' and your other works online?

Jon: In the U.S you can get it through the Big Beast, Amazon.com. You have to hunt for some of the others, but Powells is a good place to start.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Jon Gower?

Jon: There's a new Welsh language novel out next year, when I finish it! It draws heavily on my own life and I spend a lot of time trying to protect the innocent! That will be followed by collections of stories in both Welsh and English ('Too Cold for Snow') in 2012 and then, in 2013 or 2014, I'm hoping that my "deep map" of Y Wladfa, the Welsh settlement in Patagonia will see the light of day, ahead of the 150th anniversary of its establishment in 2015. It's inspired by William Least Heat-Moon's wonderful book about Chase County in Kansas.

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

Jon: Do check out the books on the long list for next year's Wales Book of the Year, due out in March. I'm one of the judges and even though we've yet to reach year's end it strikes me that there will be some wonderful books on the list, a very strong year seemingly and hopefully a good snapshot of the variety and confidence of Welsh writing at the moment.


Jon Gower on Amazon


uncharted by jon gower front cover detail
big fish by jon gower front cover detail
an island called smith by jon gower front cover detail
Uncharted
by Jon Gower
Big Fish
by Jon Gower




Interview by Ceri Shaw Email


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