Continuing my new series in asking writers, directors, actors, designers, poets, sculptors, artists, burlesque performers, playwrights, choreographers, and other artists who catch the attention 20 questions about process, creativity and their work…. My third interviewee, Jon Gower…
Jon Gower has written fifteen books on subjects as diverse as a disappearing island in Chesapeake Bay – An Island Called Smith – which won the John Morgan award, Real Llanelli – a west Wales tour in psycho-geography – and the fiction of Dala’r Llanw, Uncharted and Big Fish. His most recent work of non-fiction isThe Story of Wales, which accompanies a landmark TV series and his latest Welsh language novel, Y Storïwr, won the Wales Book of the Year award in 2012.
20 Questions…. Jon Gower
What first drew you to writing?
My primary school teacher at Ysgol Dewi Sant in Llanelli, Mr. Thomas – known to us as “Tommy Tomatoes” – turned up at a talk I gave recently in the town and handed me a copy of school essays I wrote when I was nine or ten. The fact that he had kept them all this time – they would have been written around 1968 – along with the fact that Mr. Thomas was still alive made this a life event. but the quality of the writing, too, impressed me. I was at that age reading Defoe, Louisa May Alcott and Conan Doyle. Reading avidly would eventually lead to writing, as it so often does.
What was your big breakthrough?
I’m still waiting for it. Time enough.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?
Finding time, as I have a young family and a lot of projects on the go at the same time, always.
Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you?
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ is the only book I finished reading and then started reading it straight through immediately, despite it’s being four in the morning. I was a student at the time, so this was maybe 1980. This mesmerizing novel still exerts a quiet but insistent influence on my writing which, even now, tends towards Welsh magical realism.
What’s more important: form or content?
Content, though choices of form as regards, say, length – short story or novel, essay or book – are clearly pretty important.
How do you know when a project is finished?
I don’t. Even when my recent novel ‘Y Storiwr’ was at the final proof stage my editor wasn’t sure that it was finished. Truth be told, I was trusting a bit of the final writing to the reader!
Do you read your reviews?
Yes, and they can hurt. A lot. Or make the heart sing.
What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?
Read lots. Read attentively. Read widely.
What work of art would you most like to own?
What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?
That everyone has a book in them or, rather, that they would know how to write it.
What are you working on now?
Just finished half of a Welsh language stage play (which has given me the time to answer these questions) and am in the final few furlongs of a collection of short stories, also in Welsh.
What is the piece of art/novel/collection/ you wish you’d created?
Simple. John Updike’s entire output.
What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?
That the real work comes after the first draft.
What’s your greatest ambition?
To please the reader.
How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?
It’s a necessary part of it all, not dissimilar to the nerves felt by an actor before curtain up or a rugby player before kick off. You’re never satisfied, though the occasional good sentence might torch some pride in you.
What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?
A reviewer for New Welsh Review condemned my latest collection of stories, ‘Too Cold For Snow’ as being journalistic and cliched in their language. I work too hard on language for this to be true. Had the critic been a proper writer it would have hurt more than it did. It still hurt, though.
Richard Ford praised the self-same collection and his opinion graces the front cover. For a moment I felt that Ford was a peer but then the old, necessary insecurity set in!
If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?
It’s a river, sometimes running swift and true, at other times meandering slowly, or worse, coming up to the weir, or did I mean the wire?
What is your philosophy or life motto?
Life is about creating things – be it conversation, babies, friendships, art.
What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?
The best stuff often comes unbidden, and in the middle of the night. Also, if you’re writing you’re always writing, even as you sleep. So be prepared to get up to write it down.
What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?
Why do I do it? Because I have to. It’s an acceptable, realistic and manageable version of something grand, such as having a destiny.
For information on Jon’s books, go to his Amazon page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jon-Gower/e/B001KDY5WA/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1364235160&sr=1-2-ent