THE TOUGH QUESTIONS – Rhys Hughes
Without telling us what your favorite passage / scene in the book is, can you describe how it felt when you wrote it? Was there anything unique about your writing set-up when you wrote this passage?
One of the end chapters, which is actually more like a short story than a chapter, is my favourite part of the book because the action flows from one absurdity to the next in a way that feels really smooth. As the narrator attempts to escape from each of the absurdities, his efforts directly lead to the next bigger absurdity. I’m pleased with the way this chapter is constructed, especially as it begins with such a trivial incident, a man wondering about the origin of a particular word, then it progresses inexorably to extreme lunacy. I think of it almost like a classical farce with a dark heart and this dark heart is banana shaped, like an overripe banana.
Can you briefly describe an experience that played a role in how you wanted to develop THE HONEYMOON GORILLAS?
I have always wanted to write a weird Western. This is not actually my first weird Western. Several years ago I wrote a novella called ‘The Gargantuan Legion’ which ended up as part of my book CAPTAINS STUPENDOUS, but the rest of that book isn’t a weird Western, so this is the first weird Western I have done that is a weird Western all the way through, and I guess I just wanted the experience of writing a book that I could point to and say unequivocally, “This is my weird Western.” And of course I could describe this book as the cactus in my fruit bowl, but in fact it’s more like the banana, a spiny banana.
If you could ask any deceased artist one question, what would it be?
Gosh, I doubt I would be so discourteous as to ask a profound question of a dead person, I would much rather just nod politely and not say much. I guess it would be nice to find out something about the lost works of Sophocles. In fact let’s go a step further and summon up Homer and ask, “Are you a woman or a committee as has been suggested by some academics?” But already I feel a little embarrassed at being so forward, too embarrassed to make any wisecracks about bananas even!
Do you think fiction has any function or purpose outside of the entertainment realm?
It mostly doesn’t, but it can do, and occasionally it can be very important on many more levels than just on the entertainment level. But let’s not flatter ourselves too much. It’s rare that fiction drives change in society, politics, philosophy. It reflects change more often than it drives it, or it expresses a wish for a certain change that is rarely granted, or it merely reveals the frustrations of the author and there’s often a good chance that these frustrations will be very similar or even identical to those of some readers, so a connection will be forged, but this connection isn’t the same as a real change in action. I see fiction as a curve superimposed on the spectrum of the human condition and this curve is shaped like a banana.
Of all the entertainment media available, pick a SUB-GENRE and explain why you like it or hate it.
I love African magic realism. In fact there is no such sub-genre, there isn’t even a genre called magic realism, not truly, not really. There is just a style or collection of styles that have the same or similar tones and conjure up a particular mood or series of moods that we in the west like to call magic realism because we have no other way of describing it, but in fact not all of us like calling it that, not now. So what should we call it? Just literature or fiction, I guess, and yet there is something different about a certain type of writing coming out of Africa that seems to have a spiritual connection to some of the South American literature that is exactly what we regard as being exemplars of magic realism. So it’s not a sub-genre, but that’s my choice anyway, and my favourite author of it is Mia Couto.
Which book do you think is overrated?
If I answer this question honestly I am going to get into trouble. I just don’t get why a certain very successful author is so highly praised by everyone. It is better than I don’t reveal this author’s name, it is better than I protect his identity and also protect myself from the wrath of his legions of admirers. I don’t find his ideas or his prose to be as invigorating or amazing as everyone says they are. I find them to be quite ordinary and bland, to be honest. But the man is untouchable and one is not allowed to express anything other than the highest praise for him. I still refuse to say who it is, but I will reveal that he looks like something that has been found growing in an abandoned allotment, and also that his famous book that I think is hugely overrated has the word “American” in it.
Can anyone be a “good” writer?
It takes practice like everything else. This is the same as asking if anyone can be a good cyclist. Yes and no, is the answer. Can anyone successfully shoot rapids in a canoe carved from a giant mutant banana? Yes, with practice! And writing is the same, it’s not a mysterious process or a supernatural act, it is not something that is done by demigods or geniuses, although I dare say those categories of being could do it quite well if they tried and if they practiced. This doesn’t mean that it’s easy, that the practice isn’t difficult. It also doesn’t mean that every writer who practices the same amount will achieve a sort of parity. There is such a thing as difference of ability, but this difference doesn’t mean that any ordinary person can’t write good prose if they are willing to devote the necessary time and energy to learning the craft. There are some ‘naturals’ out there who produce fantastic work without any practice at all, but that doesn’t change the basic facts of the matter. Practice might not make perfect but is certainly helps to make good.
Like all media, genre fiction is trendy; what is one literary trend that you despise? Is there one that you think is interesting?
I find zombies very boring and it was dismaying that they were a fad a couple of years ago. I find vampires boring too and it is dismaying that they are still a fad. I never liked a trend that was very big many decades ago but is mercifully much less common now, the story that starts with a man who goes to visit a psychiatrist. “So you think you are a ghost / werewolf /alien? Is that your trouble?” “No, doc, you gotta help me, doc, I really am undead or from outer space or have been changed into an animal.” The shrink puffed on his pipe and regarded the man on the couch before him who was dressed in a scarlet cape or had an antenna protruding from his head. The psychiatrist’s room’s story. Horrid and annoying. Too many writers have done too many of them, far too many, even one is too many. I have even done one or two myself, to my shame. I have also done a few vampire stories and even a zombie story. Yes, it was wrong of me. I make no excuses, doc. I wish I could stop doing them, you have to help me, doc.
Which book or other piece of art do you think is underappreciated? (misunderstood)
An enormous amount of literature and art is underappreciated and the moment I list here a few examples, then I am doing a disservice to all the examples I don’t list and I end up making them even more marginalized. That’s the bitter ironic truth of the situation. But I will mention several works that I believe are underappreciated and it would be nice if they were better known. The two comedy novels of W.E. Bowman, for example, The Ascent of Rum Doodle and The Cruise of the Talking Fish, both of which are among the most sublime examples of ironic daftness that I’ve ever encountered. Bowman wrote a third novel too but because the first two sold badly it was never accepted for publication and his son still has the manuscript. I would be absolutely delighted if that third book was published one day, or maybe an omnibus of all three in one volume. Then there is The Exploits of Engelbrecht by Maurice Richardson, a collection of bizarre and humorous stories that so deeply impressed me that I wrote a sequel to it. Neither the original book nor my sequel has sold many copies. That’s the way it is.
Rhys Hughes has lived in many countries. He works as a tutor of mathematics. His first book, Worming the Harpy, was published in 1995, and since that time he has published more than forty other books, eight hundred short stories and numerous articles, and his work has been translated into ten languages around the world. His fiction is generally fantastical, whimsical and inventive. A lover of paradoxes, he incorporates them into his fiction as entertainingly as he can. His most recent book is a collection of stories based on mathematical puzzles, How Many Times?