Rhys Hughes: The Man Who Laughs At Goldfish

By Steve Redwood

1. A Quite Unnecessary Introduction:

I was recently enthused/bemused/amused (but only infrequently abused) by a two-week visit from the Welsh Word-Wielder, during which time I ensnared curls and whirls of wisdom as they floated across the cafetera/bar/chocolatera/plaza, intending to write them up later into Possibly The Most Penetrating Interview Ever. However, now that the moment has come, I realise three things. One is that I need to change my socks: well, maybe at a pinch I could get away with changing only one, since the hole in the other is still safely smaller than the foot itself. Second (and perhaps to some people--those without feet, for example--more relevant) some of the things I learned are so Utterly Shocking (the Maestros three-day peanut diets, for example, or his Technique for Washing and Drying a Shirt Without Divesting Himself of It at Any Point) that I find I do not dare to make them public. But third, and most important, I have just reread the interview with Anthony Brocking at


and this really is such an excellent interview, touching on all the main strands in Rhys writing and hair, and encapsulating many of the ideas aired over the last few days, that another Q-A interview would be redundant (and, worse, inferior). Anyone at all interested in Rhys work should take a look.

However, I did promise the good Lady D of Whispers (in return for her considering benignly my new Chicken Soup for the Soul story about a cockroach who succeeds in becoming a pop star) an interview, so here are a few snippets that may be of interest. Or maybe not.

2. Whispers SCOOPS:

Scoop 1

Excerpts from The Very Latest Story (Margaret Thatcher: Le Bouffant Terrible) written in this very room to the sound of dying and non-metaphorical peanuts and nearly-black coffee: admirers of the Rusty Lady please leave now. (Within hours of being written, the story was accepted by another website, so in fairness to that site I limit myself to three cruelties.)

At night, after the blood of sunset had dripped all away over the table-edge of the horizon, she stalked the corridors of her college, her shadow on the far wall magnified by the thin rays of light coming from the keyholes of occupied rooms, her silhouette crouched and leering with outstretched talons, but half its height taken up by the penumbra of her hairdo.

In her final years of power, Thatcher devoted her time to inventing cruel new taxes to harass and depress the people. She began charging homeless citizens rent for using the sky as a roof to sleep under. But her grandest scheme was the cutting down of the famous Sherwood Forest in Hampshire to make a sharpened pole for every inhabitant of her country. The Pole Tax was an amazingly simple concept. All men, women and children, regardless of age, financial circumstances or mental capacity, were required to pay a monthly sum of Fifty Guineas or else be decapitated and have their heads impaled on the pole that bore their name.

Major occasionally went to Checkers to visit Thatcher but these trips became more and more infrequent. She had slumped into a deep armchair and deeper depression, her hairstyle now so tall and heavy it had to be supported from the ceiling by chains.

The contents of her handbag, I can reveal, include the conscience of Jeffrey Archer and the shrunken but still living bodies of her predecessors.

This is in fact an addition to the New Universal History of Infamy, published by Nightshade Books in the US, and only available in Britain, I believe, from The Fantasy Centre (and Amazon). This book has been the most successful of all his books (over 3000 already sold) , and yet in some ways, he says, the easiest to write, because the skeleton of the story (in the case of real people) is already there.

However, his favourite books are, he says, a balance of entertainment and profundity--such as Lem, Calvino, Alfau - while Borges himself may be profound, but isnt exactly entertaining, except is a very cerebral sort of way.

Scoop 2

Rhys plans to stop writing fantasy at the age of 40 (hes only three years off), and devote himself to creating the world longest book (Fous le camp, Proust!), a saga following the fortunes of a family beginning in ancient Sumer, through all the Egyptian dynasties, up to the present day. The title of the first book is The Sky Saw. He doesnt think hell finish it before he dies.

Hes also planning a normal fantasy story (an offshoot from Conan) in order to make it into the big time.

As well as a Brand Old Universal Futurology of Infamy (sequel to present Infamy).

Scoop 3

His death will take place somewhere between the ages of 48 and 56, as foretold by at least three fortune tellers/palm readers. The how was not divulged.

Scoop 4

Nowhere Near Milkwood (Prime Books) will now be just one of a trilogy. The sequel is called The Crystal Cosmos (already written, seeking a home) and after that will come Occams Beard (presumably the razor eventually became rusty).

Scoop 5

He is also writing what he claims to be a Welsh cowboy novel, in which a Welsh sheep farmer is shanghaied to New York, but thinks hes still in Wales. In case you think Rhys has reformed, the title is Fists of Fleece! I dont think it will be Zane Grey territory.

Scoop 6

(Will the delicate of constitution please leave now?) He is going to write a sequel to one of the five greatest pornographic novels ever written (according to Susan Sontag), George Batailles Histoire de lOeil (1928). As I sincerely hope you will not all know, this ends with the protagonists, after doing really unnice things to a Spanish priest, purchasing a yacht in Gibraltar and setting sail towards new adventures with a crew of negroes. Rhys upcoming trip through Morocco and Western Sahara is designed to provide background. It will be absolutely filthy, he assured me, beaming benevolently. (Provided the aforementioned delicate of constitution are still absent, I can here reveal also that hes very pleased with the man making sex with a comet--actually shes a girl, but also an avatar of a comet--in The Percolated Stars. I must not reveal too much, but, yes, a telescope does come into it!)

And (oh dear!) hes also writing an essay on Transgressive Fiction, called Eye and O (no, I refuse to explain to you!).

Scoop 7

Vanilla or strawberry?

3. Why does he write?

Contradictions over various days (the privilege of genius) here:

1. I crave fame.

2. The point of writing isnt fame--it is getting enough money to give your girlfriend a good time.

3. He now prefers to write stories as presents to people he admires. Its a way of giving them something unique. Hence the more romantic turn to some of his more recent stories. Woman as a Muse, as he puts it. Some of these stories have follow-ups to reflect what is happening in real life. A third Don Entrerrosca, for example, (see The Lady and the Lute in Stories from a Lost Anthology) is planned to allow for the heroines real-life recent wedding.

4 Likes and Dislikes:

Although he has read a pile of books by authors with unpronounceable names (even by a Welsh tongue, which really ought to be able to tackle anything!) he has also read tons of traditional stuff. He loathes Jane Austen. He loves Thomas Hardy. And Wells. His living idols include Mike Moorcock (Dancers at the End of Time is one of his favourite books, and one of mine, too) Brian Aldiss, Stanislaw Lem, and Jeff Vandermeer (again, an admiration I totally share). If you havent yet bought City of Saints and Madmen, you, as Dr Johnson would have said, havent lived! (I take this opportunity to plug also the cult book edited by Vandermeer & Roberts, The Thackery T Lambshead Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases (which has just been nominated for a Hugo). You may think this is because I have contributed to it. That is true. I am deeply ashamed. Rhys is also in it. Plus lots of irrelevant major authors, such as Mike Moorcock, Neil Gaiman, and China Mieville. Remove plug; swill bath with detergent.)

5. Advice to new writers.

(I forced the poor man to write the following on pain of depriving him of the use of the shower.)

If a new writer actually needs encouragement, then something has gone wrong right at the beginning. The best state for a new writer to be in is one where he/she doesnt even realise theres a need to be motivated or a danger of being disillusioned. When starting out on a writing career, ignorance really is bliss. Dont think about all the difficulties and pitfalls and potential disappointments, close your mind to everything other than your desire to write, and push forward without looking backwards, forwards, or anywhere else. But if this state of innocence has already passed, the next best thing is to ignore all advice*, be obdurate, individualistic, take risks, and try not to compare yourself with anyone else! (* Including this advice!)

Related to the above: The only thing that kept me going was I didnt realise it was so difficult. If Id known, I wouldnt have continued Knowledge is power, yes, but ignorance is also power and action!

More advice: If something is a mistake, dont correct or erase it--add to it so that it becomes deliberate , coherent, and right. (Advice with which I totally disagree, by the way: when some of his stories become too recherché, this might be the reason.)

However, some bad news: Once you begin writing, you cant LOSE yourself any more in reading because youre studying the technique used in the book youre reading. (Not sure this is true, either.)

6. Oddments:

I can vouch that the constant references to spicy foods (and ladies) in the fiction is based on fact. Part of my tongue is cauterised by a mild curry he produced Even the chilli debunked, unable to take the heat. Indeed, the exotic in general attracts him. He has travelled a lot, especially in Eastern Europe, but yearns for more exotic climes. In June he will be working in what was the Spanish Sahara.

He is like his characters--extremes. Will guzzle and fast with equal enthusiasm.

His favourite character in Buffy is Giles!! At first I hated him, but then he won me over. I hesitate to speculate about this.

Most emotive music? Albinonis Adagio in G Minor: It cuts me up as if the violin strings drag out the heart. (In my own case, the music I dare not listen to in public because it smashes something soft inside is Zbigniew Preisners soundtrack music to La Double Vie de Véronique.) Other favourite pieces are Erik Saties Gnossiennes, Villa-Lbos Bachianas Brasileiras.

He has been accused of name-dropping (of unknown names) and indeed a list of his favourite writers does seem a bit show-offy. But I can vouch for the fact that twice I caught him clutching my copy of Felipe Alfaus Locos, so this expressed love is clearly real, and not merely for effect.

Reliability is not his main virtue (neither is virtue, for that matter!) He arrived in Madrid a week late, because at the airport a plane was leaving for France before one leaving for Spain, so to France he went. Had that plane been leaving ten minutes later, he would have caught a plane to Nigeria. My tongue would not now be burnt.

He is a great admirer of Mr Bean. (As are the Czechs, as apparently he reminds them of their former, unpopular, President.)

One of his favourite lines in literature? We avoided orgasms and went sightseeing. (History of the Eye)

The fan letter. I only ever sent one fan letter, and that was to Borges--but a year after he died!

Despite the early death alluded to earlier, I am destined to make it. He says he has believed this since the age of 14, when he first began to write. It took ten years to publish his first work. Worming the Harpy sold only 200 copies in three years--and now rare copies are offered on the web at $400 apiece!

When I remarked that I was thinking of getting rich one day by bringing out a book of Hughes quotes, he admitted that hed also thought of that--or at least, he would like to appear in profusion in a book of quotations--and that was one reason he worked very hard on each sentence. But the sentences can get in the way of the ideas.

The famous metaphors. For instance, The Metaphorical Marriage on Whispers. This took only about four minutes to write the whole point is that the metaphors should not be appropriate (the husband has been to writing school). This isnt so easy to do as it seems.

7. A New Departure?

He has developed a new philosophy of life since coming to Spain. Me ro de los peces de colores. This literally translated means, I laugh at goldfish. This might at first seem to be a limited philosophy, until you bear in mind that his pronunciation of this phrase, and the order of the words in it, is as unpredictable and wider-ranging as a Kandinsky brush stroke. It also seems to have a winning effect upon the local ladies.


Return to Whispers interview archive