Bookcase Focus: An interview with Martin Davis

Bookcase Focus: An interview with Martin Davis

To note World Day Against Trafficking In Persons, Wales Literature Exchange interviewed our Bookcase author Martin Davis whose novel Broc Rhyfel (Dealers) takes us on a journey to some of Europe's darkest and most dangerous corners.

What first inspired you to be an author and where do your ideas come from?

A love of reading, a love of story and a love of words – particularly Welsh ones. There was no television at home and books of all sorts were a staple in terms of feeding my imagination. My dad was blind and so I used to do a lot of reading aloud to him – all sorts of stuff – all unabridged, no skipping or scanning – which I now realise, probably gave me a fair insight into what constitutes good and bad writing. Radio drama was also another source of entertainment which fired my imagination.

My mother was the great storyteller of the household and there were certainly some absorbing tales surrounding our family. I began learning Welsh in my mid-teens and once I started to write in it, I couldn’t stop. It just seemed to be one of the best things ever – and still is.

The event which actually triggered my writing career as such was reading Iwan Llwyd’s volume of poems, Sonedau Bore Sadwrn – I was so fired up by them I just knew the time had come! I had been scribbling a few poems in Welsh over the years for my own amusement rather than for publication. I decided to send these off to Professor John Rowlands, a constant source of inspiration and encouragement to many would-be Welsh writers. His response was positive and the die was cast… I parcelled them up and sent them to Y Lolfa who published them in their Beirdd Answyddogol (Unofficial Poets) series in 1986.

Ideas? They just come from life – past and present and some of those stories my mother told.

How would you describe your writing?

Story, story, story, because that’s what I enjoy most. Realism with a strong socio-historical element and plenty of references to the natural world and landscape. My novels are mostly set in rural Wales but I always endeavour to put Wales in some sort of international context or at least a context which stretches beyond Offa’s Dyke. However, my characters all speak Welsh whether they are native to Crouch End, Borth-y-gest, Moldova or Mali – I can’t imagine them doing anything else.

Which authors have influenced you the most?

I used to be an avid reader in several languages. More recently I read much less and take a long time to finish books and probably soak up much more as a result. Certainly the craft and technique of other authors can be very influential and inspirational. Two authors who come to mind whose work has definitely had some influence are Dieter Noll (1927-2008) from the former DDR and the Welsh author J.G. Williams – the former for his ‘page-turning’ narrative skills, the latter for the clarity and lyricism of his autobiographical works Pigau’r Sêr and Maes Mihangel (his novel Betws Hirfaen was somewhat less inspiring). But there are so many others I could name and everyone who writes has to be a bit of a magpie.

In your opinion what are the biggest challenges that writers face today – and do you think these challenges have changed since you started writing?

To a Welsh language writer in his late fifties appealing to a younger audience seems particularly daunting – the generation gap was certainly not as apparent when I started.

What are the hardest and easiest parts of being a writer?

The easiest thing is to get hooked on what seems to be a viable idea for a novel and then the more you develop this idea the more convoluted, contrived and unsustainable it becomes – but unfortunately there is no turning back and then it all becomes very difficult.

Which writer from Wales would you recommend to readers and why?

I would certainly recommend Wiliam Owen Roberts to readers anywhere and everywhere because of the breadth of his canvas and the provocative historical and sociological insights he provides in his novels, as well as the host of quirky and colourful characters he conjures up at every turn.

Broc Rhyfel (Dealers) by Martin Davis has been selected to the Wales Literature Exchange 2014 - 2015 Bookcase, our annual selection of recent Welsh literary works which we recommend for translation. Read more here.

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