We started with a panel discussion (including yours truly) to explore the nature of mythology and its relevance, the practice of writing and a range of other subjects, went into the reading, and then opened the floor to questions from the students and colleagues massed (ahem) for the event. We talked about mythology being the history of the oppressed, resistance, the experience of reading PhD theses about your own work and a whole range of other subjects.
|Horatio Clare and Niall Griffiths|
|Horatio Clare and Niall Griffiths listening to a question|
Niall and Horatio are extremely good value as guests. They're thoughtful, relaxed, opinionated and ridiculously well-read. They also demonstrate the quality I think is essential in a writer: they're interested in people. Little details or events catch their attention and become material.
|Niall Griffiths reading from The Dreams of Max and Ronnie|
If you've not read their work so far, read their Mabinogion stories (Horatio's is The Prince's Pen and Niall's is The Dreams of Max and Ronnie), then all their other work, but don't expect them to be much like the mythical stuff. Niall Griffiths' might lazily be likened to Irvine Welsh: novels in full dialect (Liverpool in his case), low-life characters etc. Actually, there's a lot more to him than this: below the rush of violence, drugs and dark, farcical misadventures, his characters and plots draw on a rich hinterland of mythology and half-forgotten origins. Frequently set in Liverpool and/or its hinterland North Wales, the legacies of the population's Irish and Welsh roots locate and inform Griffiths' often disturbing presentation of a hand-to-mouth existence. Start with Stump (never has a Morris Minor seemed so menacing) and its semi-sequel Wreckage, Grits or the Welsh Straw Dogs novel Sheepshagger. Kelly and Victor, his novel about a desperate, existentialist dysfunctional relationship is about to be released as a film, and Wreckage is in production now.
Niall's a gruff, scruffy, warm bloke – tattoos, cap and fascination with everything: he found the concept of Bilston Chips hard to swallow. He is Liverpool personified, boasting the full range of Irish and Welsh grandparents and an openness to the world rather than merely to England. Horatio's a different model of a writer: suave and sophisticated but just as warm. His work ranges more widely than Wales, and covers more genres - he's a journalist, a radio drama writer and a memoirist as well as a novelist. Running for the Hills recalls his rocky childhood amidst divorcing parents, expulsion from exclusive schools and the difficulty of being a borders Welshman with an aristocratic English accent: intriguingly, he wavered between 'we' and 'they' when talking about the Welsh. Truant: Notes from the Slippery Slope covers his wild 20s: the escapades an intelligent and privileged young man gets into when he tries to escape his origins - he discovers that slumming it can rapidly descend into squalor and futility. He's also a highly accomplished travel writer - particularly on Africa.
|Horatio Clare and Niall Griffiths|
Sadly, the audience only got a taste of Horatio and Niall's wit and wisdom. I got the lot, as we headed to the pub, then to Tipton for dinner at Mad O'Rourke's World Famous Pie Factory. If it isn't world famous, it should be. The pies were massive and delicious, and the conversation slipped easily between banter, teasing and erudite discussions of books. As usual, we all came away with a list of more to read… I also loved Niall's description of one great unwritten Welsh novel by Richard John Evans (author of the stunning Entertainment) as 'Don DaiLillo'. Perhaps you had to be there.
A grand night. Be there next year.