Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
My name is Rhys Hughes and my age is 51.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I am Welsh and therefore British but I have spent so much time living in a variety of countries that I do feel like a citizen of the world. I know that our Prime Minister recently declared that “if you say you are a citizen of the world you are a citizen of nowhere,” but I think that’s nonsense. It might be a cliché but we really are all in the same boat, and that boat just happens to be an oblate spheroid called Planet Earth.
Fiona: A little about yourself (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
My education has mainly been in science. I graduated as an engineer and worked in many different places. I don’t do that kind of work now. My wife is Kenyan and we are planning to move back to Africa within the next two years to settle for good. We are building a house in Nairobi and we also have a farm up in the highlands.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
This year (2018) I have three books due to be published, including my first collection devoted entirely to experimental fiction, also a weird Western, and a big book of tribute stories to authors I admire. The first of these, How Many Times?, is due out in the next few weeks.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I usually answer that I have been writing all my life, but I only began really applying myself when I was 14 years old. That’s when I wrote my first proper short story. I didn’t submit anything for publication until I was 17 and my first story wasn’t published until I was 25. So there was a gap of eleven years between the first story I wrote and seeingmy work in print. This is referring to fiction, because I had been having chess problems and maths puzzles published in newspapers long before my first story was published, but I’m not sure if those count.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
It’s a word that makes me uneasy. I don’t like describing myself as a ‘writer’ and I also think there is something unpleasant about people who come up and say, “Hello, I’m a writer.” Because I don’t like people doing it to me, I avoid doing it to others. I think that people should only call other people ‘writers’ and not themselves.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book was a collection of short stories called Worming the Harpy and each of the stories in it had a different inspiration. I submitted lots of stories to the publisher and he selected those he liked best, so the process wasn’t quite the same as it would have been for a novel. I never envisaged the book in the form that it eventually acquired until he made his final decision about which stories were going to be in it.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
I owned a cat that was ugly. He had two long fangs and rather a bad attitude and I used to joke that he looked like a harpy. One day it was time to worm him and I thought to myself, “Today I am going to worm the harpy,” and then I decided that could be a title for a story. I wrote the story and when it was later included in the collection I thought it should be used as the overall title for the book.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
I don’t find writing to be particularly challenging these days. When I was young I found it difficult to come up with original ideas, but the more you try, the easier it gets. It’s like anything else, like riding a bicycle. It gets easier with constant practice.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
It depends on the book. Let’s take as an example one of my recent books, a collection of eighty linked tales called World Muses. I am very fond of this book. Each of the tales is about an inspirational woman. Some are based on real people who I know, some on people I know only indirectly, some are a variation on real people, some are a hybrid of several individuals, and a few are totally made up. The experiences in the stories show the same variety. A few of the tales were directly inspired by real life events, others are products of the imagination with no bearing on reality, and many fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
I don’t have to travel, but travelling can help writing, not necessarily by providing material to write about, but by refreshing and recharging the person who is doing the writing.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Different artists have designed the covers of my books and I have been very lucky in having some superb artists to do this work for me. It is usually the publisher who decides about the art work for the covers. Occasionally they might ask my opinion first, but the truth is that a writer gets little say over the cover art for their books. I have sometimes been able to negotiate with a publisher if I thought some aspect of the cover wasn’t quite right. For World Muses I wanted a black model on the cover, but the publisher wanted a white model. In the end, the compromise was that the hard cover has one cover and the paperback a different cover, and I like them both. That’s just one example. Generally I am delighted with my covers.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Oh gosh. Lots of messages and none at all. The main reason I write isn’t to convey messages but to relieve the pressure of all the ideas in my mind. By setting those ideas down on paper and embedding them in stories, they are removed from my consciousness before the pressure starts building up again. I write to relieve the pressure of too many ideas on my mind. If there are any messages in my fiction, that’s a bonus, but it’s not the main point of what I do. There are certain philosophical and political positions that I have taken and some of that probably comes across in my work. It’s hard to say how strongly this occurs, though!
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favourite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
I love the work of Italo Calvino, because he is equally at home with the cerebral and the heartfelt sides of life. Another writer who was a massive influence on me is Donald Barthelme because of his wit, precision and whimsical irony. I also love the work of Boris Vian, Stanislaw Lem, Flann O’Brien, Georges Perec, and many others. If I gave you a list of all the authors who have inspired me, it would be rather long. One of my favourite writers at the moment is Mia Couto, who has a very original and lyrical style. In the past ten years, two writers I have discovered that I like a lot are Ismail Kadare and BohumilHrabal. The world is full of tremendous writers!
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
No one has ever supported my commitment to a writer. When I was young I kept the fact I wrote fiction a secret from everyone around me, and even now I don’t involve my family. A writer needs to have sufficient self-belief and tenacity in order to succeed. I don’t see the point of leaning on others for any kind of support when it comes to my writing. I work on my writing alone and I persist alone and that’s the way I like it.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
No, it’s a hobby, a paying hobby. I teach maths for a career.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No I wouldn’t. When I have finished a project I want only to move on. If I did want to make any changes it would be tiny things like the position of a comma rather than alterations in the story. I have no regrets about any of my books. Some sell better than others. Some do terribly, others do quite well. I almost feel that this is none of my concern. My attention is taken up always with the next project and the project after that.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I learned that writing short and intense pieces of fiction can be harder than writing long stories. But actually I already knew this.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
There are eighty women in eighty different chapters of World Muses, so there would have to be eighty actresses. That would take a heck of a lot of work by the casting director! My favourite actress is Gong Li and my hope would be that a role would be found for her, of course.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Keep going. Don’t be put off by others. Don’t go to writing class. Don’t get hung up on the ‘rules’ of writing. Read lots and try to read lots of work from cultures other than European and American.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Just relax and don’t worry so much.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Yasunari Kawabata’s Palm-of-the-Hand Stories, which is a collection of very brief tales that he wrote over his entire lifetime. It is an extremely beautiful book. I have been wanting to get hold of this book for a long time and I finally managed to obtain it a couple of days ago.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
The first adult novel I ever read was The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells when I was 10 or 11 years old. I have forgotten what was the very first book of any kind that I read. I have absolutely no idea.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is one of my heroes. I think I would like to meet him for a coffee and a croissant. The danger with meeting people you admire from a distance is that they might turn out to be disappointing in real life, but I don’t believe that would be the case with him.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
Mountaineering, music, dancing, travelling, hiking.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
I am a vegetarian and I love salads. The three best in the world in my view are som tam, kachumbari and waldorf salads. I like curries and tagines. My favourite colour has always been orange and my favourite shade of orange is the one known as anaranjado. I adore many different kinds of music but I could quite happily spend the rest of my life just listening to soukous.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Relax on our farm in Kirinyaga with my wife and eat the mangoes, avocadoes, papaya, guavas and passion fruits that just fall from the trees. Go climbing and trekking and animal watching. Take the train down to Mombasa for the beach and coconuts. Read all the books on my to-be-read list. Learn some soukous music on the guitar so I can play it in the light of the moon. Very relaxed and sweet life!
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
I don’t actually want a headstone. This is going to sound weird to a lot of people but I don’t feel the need for a monument of any kind. The life I am living is my only monument.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
My main blog is at
But I have another blog at:
And I also have some samples of my stories online at:
Amazon Authors pages