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Cardiff Character: Richard Gwyn

Welsh writer Richard Gwyn in conversation with InterCardiff to discuss his promising writing career

Richard Gwyn and Patrick McGuinness, winners of the 2012 Wales Book of the Year for creative non-fiction and fiction, are in conversation with Tomos Owen.

Have you ever fantasized about escaping your depressing life and travelling to a foreign land? Richard Gwyn, one of the brightest authors in the UK, spent nine years travelling and drifting around the Mediterranean. “I had become an aimless wanderer: a vagabond, a drunk, and occasional agricultural labourer,” he writes in his memoir.

However, those “lost” years of vagrancy, alcoholism and illness became a great source of inspiration for his writing. “I’m not a writer who can invent the whole universe like a science-fiction writer. I need to be close to reality and to my own experiences” says Richard Gwyn, a Welsh writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

His memoir The Vagabond’s Breakfast, published in 2011, has won the 2012 Wales Book of the Year for creative non-fiction. InterCardiff speaks to Richard Gwyn about his winning work and the secrets of being a successful writer.

The Vagabond’s Breakfast

Born and grew up in South Wales, the 56-year old author has worked several different jobs in the past few decades. After dropping out of university, he worked as a milkman and sawyer in London. “I was going through a fairly depressing period and decided to leave,” Gwyn recalls, “so I set off without any clear ideas except the idea that I didn’t particularly want to come back for a long time.”

After ten years away, Richard Gwyn suffered badly from his serious illness, which had affected his life tremendously. But because of the success of the liver transplant operation and the nature of his recovery, he was able to return to work two years later.

When it came to why he settled in Cardiff after a long-time vagabondage, the writer explains, “I wanted to stay quite close to my family home. I met somebody, we had a child and I got a scholarship to do a PhD, so I decided to stay in Cardiff.”

In fact, Richard Gwyn didn’t earn much royalty from the publisher, though The Vagabond’s Breakfast has received critical acclaim from many book reviewers. “It’s not my best-selling book by a long way. The first novel [The Colour of a Dog Running Away] has sold far more copies.”

Secrets of being a good writer

Richard Gwyn is signing an autograph on his winning title.

Since Richard Gwyn is an up-and-coming star in British literary world, many young aspiring writers are eager to know his secrets to being a good author. As he told InterCardiff, the most difficult thing for all writers is the practical organization of their day and that they need to impose a structure on their writing.

“Most writing is rewriting. I usually do two revisions and it’s never enough. You always need to do more,” adds Richard Gwyn, “the other tip is to make use of every opportunity that you can and to see it as material for your own work, because nothing is too banal or too ordinary to be material for your own imagination.”

Richard Gwyn just joined the Creative Minds Festival, discussing his winning title with Tomos Owen on Thursday, 22 November.