David Williams is a playwright, a founding member of The Red Button Theatre, author of several collections of poems. David has embraced the digital world and generously publishes much of his work-in-progress on-line, a brave move for any writer that allows his readers to share the creative journey and learn from this rare transparency of process. He has a built a reputation for potent, entertaining drama that does not shy away from politicising the everyday scenarios he often chooses as his focus... For the last few years, much of his work has been archived by the National Library of Wales.
|Author David Williams|
Your poetry often veers into prose and vice versa, do you have a definition of 'poetry' for us, and is it the same thing as 'the poetic'?
First of all thank you, Remy, for taking the time to read my work. As a former English and Drama teacher I am ashamed to say that I don’t know the difference between poetry and prose. They are all just words to me that come out in whatever form or order they do and that is why on my Amazon author’s spotlight I say that my poetry is really 'a collection of angry words'.
To me, poetry is the shortened form, a precis or lyrical form of the long-winded. Perhaps my opinion of poetry and the poetic is best summed up in a poem wot I wrote, Poetry is Cool...
There are many overt political references in your writing, including the poem you just quoted. Are some of these the views of the character espousing them and not your own?
Every character, play or short short story I write is me.
They are my political views. I don’t think I would be able to write them otherwise. The plays are agit-propaganda and ‘In Yer Face’. Not much room for subtlety in my work. I have never thought of the idea of fiction in poetry myself.
Most of my work, be it plays or poetry, is autobiographical in some way so not fiction at all. It has affected my world view and therefore I am sure it would offend some people if I was to say it to them. I leave it out in the digital realm for them should they wish to read it. In real life, I am not so much ‘in yer face’ as I appear on the page. If I get flak, it is for my glibness and facetiousness - a trait honed to deal with authority and institutions.
Do you think writing in a bilingual setting has affected your themes and approach? I mean, as opposed to the simply being able to use two languages., and am thinking of your use of other dialects, such as the Afro-Caribbean-South-London language of Brickstown…
Great question, and I think it must have done subconsciously.
I have an affinity with the oppressed and being a part of a linguistic minority, in a country that lends its name to one of the languages, gives you an empathy or understanding with others’ struggles - therefore, the gentrification of Brixton in Brickstown and the mental health conflict of the character in Freedom Come Freedom Go!
It was also in South East London that I was an English and Drama teacher and some of the patois and speak I must have picked up, but I am told by a former colleague that the Jamaican dialect does need correcting.
Do you think a writer has a social duty?
I think it is compulsory for why else are you writing? My succinct and ‘in yer face answer’ might offend a few because some might be doing it for elusive fame and fortune.
What is your connection with Red Button Theatre and what is the company’s connection with community health?
I set up Red Button Theatre at the University in 1994 as a vehicle for my own writing. I have wanted to work with it in a community health setting but have lacked the oomph to do this! We are there or rather I am there if people would like to work with us. My main interest is in Mental Health because after ruminating on the fact that I might not be ‘right in the head’, I was diagnosed with the writers and artists’ disease ‘Bipolar Disorder’ in 2005. This could be another reason why I have not extended the hand of friendship further out to the community.
You are quite active @Twitter and often tweet about mental health and related issues. It appears, whilst recognising it as a multi-faceted and complex problem, you also see a socio-political causation for many?
My opinion upon 'mental health' since I do tweet about it a lot is that it is a political problem. In my opinion 'mental health' is a problem of Capitalism and does not have to do with the Bio-Medical Chemical Imbalance in the Brain. We are all suffering way more than we need to be, even those who haven't been diagnosed, because the systems in place are not one to support us but ones designed to make us strive, compete against each other and to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.
The emphasis, in the UK at least, is that if you get back to work and pay your taxes, pay into the communal pot, then your mental health will improve... but people know, especially those who wish to express themselves creatively, that just any job is not the answer. It has to be a job where you can express yourself creatively and how many of those are out there? Not many!
That's why I am a supporter of Universal Basic Income. I think this would improve the mental health of thousands overnight, because at least people would know that they had a certain amount to budget and live on a month and be creative about it. As it is, our waking hours are set on how are we going to earn enough money to survive let alone be creative and how can we stay one step aloof from the hoops that the Department of Work and Pensions wish us to jump through.
I know many who are 'of a delicate disposition' in some way, or go through 'emotionally vulnerable periods' will avoid Twitter during those times as they feel it is 'toxic'. I wonder what your opinion is on that connection between social media and mental health...
I must admit that I thrive on Twitter. Facebook is a bit to passive for me. I had to leave Instagram because I was getting too political in my posts. Agit-propaganda is the name of the game for me and if you can't do that in 140 or 260 characters then you need to up your game!
I can certainly understand how it can affect people who buy into its toxicity. I feel that now I am in a more stable place, that it is a choice whether to buy into the toxicity of social media or not. You could just post pictures of kittens and paintings as many do.
Your words find their way to their readers along many different paths. Your poetry, prose, plays and novels have been published traditionally, via the small press route, as e-books, piecemeal on social media platforms and through self-publishing. As a very active writer, do you think social media and digital self-publishing are good or bad things - for you personally and for literature in general?
Self-publishing is good for me because I don't do rejection. I have been rejected so many times that I decided, I have something to say, I have a message and I am going to say it. Of course standards slip and just because I think something is good enough it doesn't mean that it is. If it has passed my censor then I am ready to self-publish but the danger then is that unless you promote your self-published work zealously, then it just sits on the digital book shelf gathering the computer equivalent of dust.
Can you tell us a how your involvement with the PORT collection came about, recently published by Dunlin?
Ella and Martin at Dunlin Press put out a call on Instagram for submissions about 'ports' and I thought that it might be a good opportunity to write about the real 'Cardiff Docks' before it became 'Cardiff Bay'.
I had been writing about my detective character, Ken Frane, in its environs and I felt this was an opportunity to turn fiction into faction. I remembered Cardiff Docks from late 1987 on, before it became Cardiff Bay and associated Barrage in the mid-nineties. Thus 'When a Dock is Booming' was born, the last story in Port, an anthology published in November 2019.
Ah, Ken Frane! What marks Ken aside from other hang-dog detectives? Can you give us a quick summary of how the character came about?
Challenging question Remy as yours always are! Who should want easy questions apart from politicians? Ken Frane 'hang dog detective' I love that description of him.
I suppose what marks him out immediately is his age. He's 58, older perhaps than most of his predecessors and contemporaries. Past his best? I think not. He is a man of his 'filltir scwar' and that square mile being the old Cardiff Docks.
He came about from my subconscious, from my days running a printing business across the road from the old Butetown Police Station. This was before the Cardiff Bay Barrage came into being. There was always something magical, something dangerous, something unsettling about the area. You had to treat the area and it's people with respect.
Butetown had been punished by the Lynette White case and it was from the ashes of this that Ken Frane appeared many years later. I have to remember back to being a teenager and reading Agatha Christie and enjoying the Ellery Queen mysteries on the television and very much enjoying playing the detective.
So, what can people expect when they read a Ken Frane story?
A short sharp hit from a Ken Frane case. I have written two novellas and 11 short stories, so far. Some available on Lulu and the others on Amazon Kindle. They are pretty site-specific cases with adventures occurring in Barmouth, Hay on Wye, Rhuthun, Tregaron, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport, Eryri and Cardiff Market. At the moment they are more of a story than a mystery to be solved. I'm still working on the craft and exercising my crime fiction muscle. Ken Frane is a work in progress and by no means the finished article.
Also, picking up on Cardiff Docks, now Bay, do you think the 'Genius Loci' of a place directly affects your writing in terms of subject and cadence?
I didn't know that there was such a thing as 'Genius Loci' until I went to the Liverpool Everyman Theatre in 2014, where learnt about 'the spirit of place'. I was positively enthused after I heard that it was a 'thing' and also being taught about psycho-geography I thought, 'Eureka', I might even have shouted it out in class.
I immediately left after the class had finished as if pulled by an invisible energy to the Welsh Streets of Toxteth, walking through Prince's Park and past the Prince's Road Church, which was known as the 'Welsh Cathedral'. I'm not really sure why place and a sense of place affects me so much. Perhaps it affects everybody but they don't talk about it as much as me. Most of my writing begins with place and characters and story come later. Sometimes much later and sometimes never at all. Sometimes it remains just Place.
What is the view like from your usual writing place?
“I see the church, I see the people, Your folks and mine happy and smiling, And I can hear sweet voices singing, Ave Maria.” Oops! Those are the lyrics to The Wedding by Julie Rogers. My glibness has surfaced again. Apologies, Remy!
When in Caerdydd, the view is of Anti-Social Housing, out the back, and when on sojourn in West Wales, the view is of a stunning beech tree.
You just mentioned Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen, a couple of mystery writers you enjoyed in your formative years... Who have been your favourite writers since and what have you learned from them?
Charles Bukowski and John Tripp as the poets. I have learnt to ‘say it as it is’ from them. I'm very partial to the ‘In Yer Face’ playwrights of the 1990s and am hoping that this form of anarchic theatre will make a comeback.
When did you realise you were a writer?
When I couldn’t stop writing. when I couldn’t stop filling up notebooks. When I wrote my final play for the Theatre and Drama degree at the University of Glamorgan as a mature student at the age of 28. I had always had pretensions as a younger person but really after my first degree and then after the MA in Playwriting at the University of Salford completed in 2014 I thought ‘yup this is me, a penniless writer’.
Do you have a writing ritual or regimen?
I don’t have a ritual or regimen. I am one of those rare-common creatures who waits for the muse to strike. To quote the old cliché, you are never ‘not writing’, at least in your head anyway, and fortunately when an idea or concept hits home I get it down. I should have a routine but I don’t and I think that is the difference between a successful and unsuccessful writer. The discipline... I'm in the latter category.
What are the similarities and differences between writing prose, plays and poetry?
The three are the same to me and there is a crossover. I write as I think, a stream of consciousness and if those words and thoughts fit neatly into one of the above definitions, then great, if not, even greater. As a human of this race I have been pushed into boxes that don’t fit me and don’t suit me and likewise my precious babies, my words, I don’t want them boxed into a definition.
What is your beverage of choice when writing?
I gave up the absinthe and balkan sobranie years ago, so now I will have a coffee when the muse strikes and follow it with copious amounts of Yorkshire Tea - Product Placement - throughout the day.
I like mine strong, no sugar, dash of milk... Thank you very much for chatting, David.
Diolch i chi!
David Williams was talking with Remy Dean
find out more about Poetry, Plays and other Stuff by David Williams at his weblog
and you can buy books by David Williams via his amazon author page
...follow David Williams on Twitter for news, views and updates
...follow David Williams on Twitter for news, views and updates
|PORT. an anthology from Dunlin Press|