Ahead the publication of his debut novel Mostyn Thomas and The Big Rave, author Richard Williams discusses the inspiration behind his writing, and why he didn't have to look too far from home for it.
As a debut writer with no formal literature training/education, the only way I knew I could pull off writing the novel was to be honest and write what I know. This made things quite easy – no real research was required and no studying random strangers’ facial movements on train platforms was ever necessary. I just pictured the people I grew up around, and took quirks from most of them to develop ‘best of’ Pembrokeshire characters – hybrids of four or five different local people to create each individual character in the novel.
I wanted to write about farming, particularly the challenges for the rural industry at the time the novel is set. More often than not Welsh farmers are portrayed as a bit backward, even “twp” (stupid in Welsh) in television and literature. So I wanted to put this straight.
The Grapes of Wrath was the catalyst for this interest and pursuit – it had a profound effect on me, being a farmer’s son. Steinbeck’s ability to convey man’s beautiful and brutal relationship with his land made me want to attempt to write in a similar way about the life and character of a Pembrokeshire farmer, which are often misunderstood or misrepresented.
I also wanted to write about rave culture, which had a massive impact on youth culture in Pembrokeshire in the early 1990s. A fascinating paradox appeared in the county around this time: on one hand our rural communities were crumbling due to the challenges in agriculture (BSE, Common Market competition for small-scale farmers) and dwindling church numbers, bringing an end to a centuries old Sunday tradition. Margaret Thatcher was banging on that there was “no such thing as society,” and that individual and selfish pursuit of ones objectives was the way forward. All of this led to a glum outlook for the future of community life.
But on the other hand, at the very same time that BSE was expediting the rural demise, rave culture arrived in the clubs of Cardiff and Swansea, and soon after in Tenby in South Pembrokeshire. Within twelve months, the youth of all four corners of the county became mobilised like a tribe, every weekend, in a popular culture youth movement that was broad, inclusive and hedonistic. It smashed down class barriers and infected a young generation with an egalitarian and community-focused mind-set that sought simply peace and good times. This lasted for years, even after the drugs had worn off. This really was two worlds colliding – the ancient world of rural outpost farming with the crisp electronic world of rave culture.
People ask me if I think rave culture has had any lasting effect on art and popular culture, and I always have the same reaction: Did you not see the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games? Without rave culture, that ceremony would have been very different. I don’t know Danny Boyle, but I will bet my bottom dollar he was deep inside the Hacienda or similar nightclubs in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Sheer unbridled, joy, love, energy and colour shone out of the most watched ceremony on earth. It screamed “rave!” – and it was universally lauded. There were actually direct rave references (the smiley faces!) during the show that made myself and, I expect, a whole generation of ravers smile.
Any success I’ve had in the food business can partially be attributed to my experience in rave culture, without question. It’s given me a love for bold and exciting branding, colourful food, and playful, uninhibited wording in social media and web communications. But most importantly – instilling a community and egalitarian mind-set in the restaurant teams has been key to creating a great working spirit and community mentality that our clients appreciate and respond to. In such a reserved country as Switzerland, I think the locals have appreciated our joie de vivre, and embraced our fresh and fun mentality to work and business (without compromising our professionalism of course!)
My writing methods are sporadic, to say the least. After a long hot summer it is clear that I can’t write in sunshine. I’ve not written a paragraph in over five months. I’m a cellar and lamp kind of guy after the kids go to bed. Now the winter is finally upon us I’m already feeling the draw of my underground cave (a standard in Swiss houses). Airports are another place I can write – so much din, it’s hard to be distracted by a single irritation.
In my day job I oversee a number of restaurants that I founded with my wife, Jess. They are dotted all over Switzerland. This means I spend a lot of time in the trains, which is the other place I enjoy to write. I take notes on my iPhone constantly – things I see and hear during the day, then maybe twice a week I copy-paste the note into an email and send it to myself, subject: ramblings and the date. Then I print them off when I next sit down to write in the cave.
I tend to write a very skeletal pre-draft - just hammer out a series of events, then try and stitch them together later. Same with the characters – I first detail them physically, then go back and develop their characters later in line with the other evolving characters and the developing plot and sub-plots. Chapters are continually beefed up then split into two, so each pre-draft chapter becomes two full chapters by the time the first full draft is complete.
Most of my story lines fall into place while I’m mountain biking. Being in the mountains allows me to empty my mind, and have remarkable clarity to work out a sequence of storylines as I’m riding. Character creation and evolution is different – I am most productive in urban areas, where there are more people to observe and to listen to.
I’m about a third of the way through the first draft of my second novel, The Sheriff of Geneva. It’s based in Switzerland and will hopefully satirize the quirks of the country and particularly the international community of Geneva. The main protagonists are Peter Grout, the down and out son of a high flying UN director, and Mr Bonjour – a Swiss, James Bond villain-esque international man of mystery. They get tangled up over a hijacked cache of Venezuelan gold bullion that ends up in Peter’s hands. It will hopefully be leaning towards some kind of black comedy, if I can finish it!
Mostyn Thomas and the Big Rave by Richard Williams is out now.