Mark Thwaite You've been a farm worker, nurse, newspaper editor and lecturer. And now you're a writer. Which is best - and why - Lloyd?
Lloyd Jones My farmboy days were very enjoyable: hard physical work and a certain warrior-like sense of achievement every season as the plough gleamed or as the crops came home. I still respond strongly to the smell of the soil; if you want to taste elemental life take your clothes off in a granary full of loose barley and submerge yourself in it! I earned £8 a week, with £5 going towards my keep. But I wanted to see the world ...
Nursing: I was among a small group of Bangor University students who set up two homes (rather like communes) shared by students and mentally handicapped people on an equal basis. It was a decisive time in my life: the people I met during that 'experiment' are still my closest friends. We were seen as ground-breaking, and someone made a film about us. I'd love to see that film now! As a result I became a mencap nurse at the hospital in Llanfairfechan.
My days as a local newspaper editor were also great fun, but the big corporations moved in and turned newspapers into financial sausage-machines; these people are very slick and pretend they're interested in editorial values, but news is just infill between the adverts for them. Computers have also downgraded elements of journalism, making it more of a Playstation game than a serious attempt at social representation.
I was a lecturer in journalism, and learnt the hard way that you know nothing until you try to teach others ...
Writer? I see myself very much as a learner. I enjoy the research more than the tapping. Why write? A worm with a pen has wriggled inside me since I was born. Talking of worms, Adam Phillips says in Darwin's Worm: "It is the consequence, if not always the intention, of both Darwin's and Freud's writing to make our lives hospitable to the passing of time and the inevitability of death, and yet to sustain an image of the world as a place of interest, a place to love." I go along with that. Also, we cannot imagine anything which has no word to describe it. Our course, therefore, is plotted by the new words we coin. If we don't know where to go next we invent a new word and move into the vacuum created by it. Fucking hell, I'm wise tonight!
MT On quitting drinking you set off, on a 1000 mile trip, around Wales to find ... what? Yourself? Your story? Your muse? Wales itself??
LJ I actually started walking around Wales with a large bottle of Smirnoff (triple distilled for ultimate purity) in my backpack, having been thrown out of a human habitation for the fifth time in 2001. I said to myself: Lloyd me boy, you're doing something wrong if you get kicked out by five different people in one single year. I didn't eat for well over a month at one stage (oddly enough, it must have been close to the biblical 40 days and 40 nights, but I certainly wasn't feeling messianic. Going without food for that long does amazing things to your brain, and I was on a fantastic trip for quite some time - not mad, but in a very strange head space which was quite exciting to be honest with you).
As I said, I was chucked out yet again so I said fuck it, I'll walk all the way round Wales, get out of everyone's hair, give them all a rest. So I just walked and walked, from Llanfairfechan to Aberdaron, over 4/5 days during the late summer. I didn't think anyone would miss me: unbeknownst to me the police and coastguards were searching for my body (I'd been spotted in an inebriated state on the Britannia Bridge). Anyway, they were great days, me and Mr Smirnoff in the sun by the sea, sleeping rough together. I got weak, and my cousin Jonathan fetched me home when my body packed up on the beach at Aberdaron. I got very ill then, yellow and being sick all the time. My piss was like minestrone soup. It's a pathetic state to be in, neither alive nor dead.
I had long conversations with Death, the sleek young Italian gigolo-Death I describe in Mr Vogel. I was in Llandudno Hospital on new year's eve, 2001/2, and the doctors had been prodding me all day so I was sore as hell. As Big Ben sounded and the fireworks went off in town I was summoned to my bed for another prod, and it was then, as midnight sounded that I decided: if they came back with bad news I'd drink myself to death as quickly as I could, if there was hope I'd stop drinking and get a life again. I was sick of being neither alive nor dead. They gave me great news: I didn't have cirrhosis. You don't waste that sort of luck. I felt as though I was in a small white room, sitting on a low white bench, looking at two virtual doors, everything was perfectly white. I knew that one door led to life, the other to death. It was a very easy decision. I ran for my life. Boy did I feel lucky.
This is life second time around. Along with millions of others I have experienced the blaze of life after a near-death experience.
I was buzzing. It was like being on speed. So I got myself a home, got my friends back and had a fine old time with my daughter Ella (10). She has been at my side throughout, loyal as hell. Fortunately I was a benign drunk, always well behaved, so she never knew. She lives half her life with me.
That walk around Wales was the best thing I ever did (next to having Ella and being a father to my step-son Edwin, who is also a good friend). | started it drunk and finished it sober. I followed the coastline as close as I could. I think I'm the first Welshman ever to walk completely, entirely around Wales (including Anglesey and Wrexham Maelor). That's my little claim to fame. Can someone put it on my bit of slate?
I did it as I could, sometimes just a day or two at a time, taking my lightweight sleeping bag with me, though I didn't sleep rough that often. The most I did all together was five days. I went east or west as the fancy took me, and I 'met myself' at Little Haven in Pembrokeshire. I left five miles in the north so that Ella could finish with me (I do this with all my treks): we finished together at Pistyll, at the little church there. It was an emotional moment for me.
Since then I have crossed Wales north-south, east-west and west-east. As I write my next never-to-be-read best-seller I hope to cross Wales in seven different directions and I will travel to meet a mad and dishevelled Merlin in the Caledonian Forest, in Ireland, in France, and at Caerleon and Carmarthen. You see, I'm still a bit crazy...
As to what I found during that walk around Wales ... read Mr Vogel!
MT After such mammoth travelling, do you miss your perambulations? Can you sit still!?
LJ I can't wait to cross from Hay-on-Wye to Carmarthen via the Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons and the Carmarthen Van. I fell very badly on the Rhiniogs (just as well it wasn't the Trossocks) two months ago and buggered my left ankle. Only now is it ready to take me on another journey.
MT Are you surprised by how well Mr Vogel has been received (the Independent newspaper called it "one of the most dazzling books ever written about Wales")?
LJ Extremely surprised by Mr Vogel's apparent success. I suspect my drunken antics and the walk around Wales coloured the critics' judgement. Reasonably acceptable debut provincial novel, with a few primitive attractions. It'll sink below the waves as quickly as I will.
MT Welsh Assembly: good idea/waste of time - discuss!
LJ Welsh Assembly. As a steady Plaid Cymru supporter I voted for it. Disappointed so far. The great who-sits-where fiasco did a lot of damage. It has failed, miserably, to connect with the Welsh people. Incredibly bureaucratic, which doesn't suit the Celts: job application forms are as thick as telephone directories. I've been turned down for five jobs. Slightly bitter?
I saw its inception as a great opportunity to reflect Wales's radical past; after all, Welshmen were at the heart of the American and French revolutions. Funnily enough, Jac Glan-y-Gors, one of the more famous of the pub revolutionaries, has a walk-on part in Mr Vogel, as landlord of the Blue Angel.
The Assembly would succeed far better in a federal European context than as a pale and sickly cousin of the Westminster beast. Why not try another form of PR? The two-party system is completely fucked. Why not have representation according to profession and age groups? If 20% of the population are retired they should have 20% representation in the Assembly; likewise, if 20% of the population are farmers, or under 18, they also should have 20% representation. You could have a secondary, voluntary chamber representing various strands of society, from religions and charities to the arts and pressure groups. Voluntary senators representing each town. Anything! Something different! Do I sound naive?
MT What are you working on now? What is coming next?
LJ I've started my second novel, a weird one. Geography of the mind. Anti-hero: Mr Morton, the father from hell, Balor, Ysbaddaden Bencawr, a vampire who makes women cry so that he can drink their tears instead of their blood. It's about wells, lakes, littorals, holes, missing years, lost memories, crying, madness, mannequins, Merlin, John Dee, Arthur Machen and the white people, the Wizards of Cwrt-y-Cadno, all that shit. I meet Adam Phillips as a Merlin figure at motorway cafes, and I may have to fly out to Vienna with Ernest Jones to rescue Freud all over again. It's about the Afallon in my mind, where I meet my father, finally, without fear, and allow myself to love him again.
I've applied for a grant. Otherwise I'll end up in a garden shed with a candle.
MT How do you write? Longhand or on to a computer?
LJ I write on a computer. Has anyone done a study? I'm sure computers have heavily influenced the way we write. The Cursor-Mouse Syndrome. Cut and Paste Prosody.
MT What is your favourite book/author?
LJ No favourite book/author. Desert Island Discs ask I'd take the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
MT What book do you wish you had written?
LJ A much better Mr Vogel. Failing that, the Complete Works of Dafydd ap Gwilym.
MT Do you have any tips for for the aspiring writer!?
LJ Don't do it anything like I did it!
MT Anything else you'd like to say?
LJ Small, simple acts of kindness go a long way.
Only a few people can write drunk.
Put your ideas in a notebook: the memory is so fickle.
Don't be too hard on yourself.
Fuck Men in Suits!
You're a long time dead.
MT Thanks Lloyd!