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On Being a Writer in Wales: Del Hughes

14 Apr 2024 9 minute read
Del Hughes and her book, A Year of Living Dangerously which is published by Cambria Books

I guess, because I’ve been asked to pen this, I should now consider myself to be an actual, proper writer, but between you and me, I don’t.

Three reasons why I find embracing that label problematic:

  1. I possess a hefty inferiority complex – so hefty in fact, it has its own bedroom.
  2. I have not one scrap of confidence in my writing ability.
  3. Using that word, when referring to myself, is just plain embarrassing.

However, since I have a book launching next week, I’m trying to grab that epithet and run with it. So, with that in mind, here’s my take on being a writer in Wales…

…which starts, and ends, with Wales itself – its landscape, culture, and people.

Without those elements, there would be no book, no features, no writing, no anything. In fact, though you might think I’m being a tad dramatic, I think it’s fair to say that Wales has saved me.

See, before I started my ridiculous ‘DIY Dangerous Living Regime’, I was stagnating. After spinal surgery in 2016 left me with a snarling spine, and what my surgeon calls a ‘grotesque gait’ (Rude!), I was retired on disability grounds from my teaching job in Gloucestershire and had to move back home to Swansea.

I was in a bad way, Tim (my other half), was working full-time, and we needed family nearby to pick up the slack. It was a massive, and unwelcome, life-change. Bummer!

Dildo

Since then, most of my days had been spent supine on the sofa, in a soporific, analgesic fog, doing very little, and certainly not writing – I didn’t have the hwyl.

But that all changed on the evening I forced Mum to sit through The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (she’s neither a Tolkien nor a magicky-fighty film fan).

Twenty minutes in – as Gandalf attempts to persuade Bilbo to head off on an adventure, with the words, ‘You’ve been sitting quietly for far too long!’ – she turned to me and said, ‘That’s you. You’re Dildo!’

Despite the malapropism, she wasn’t wrong… but also, LOL!

It was the wake-up call I needed (though, if she hadn’t set off on her own unexpected, and unfortunately terminal journey just two weeks later, I’d probably have forgotten all about it).

It was time to make the most of my lot, get out in the world, and make some noise. And that’s how my year of dangerous living came into being.

The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey

Enriched

When my first article was published by Nation.Cymru, things spiralled from there. And while my life has become brighter, and certainly more enriched, the writing bit never gets easier.

I’d hoped that after each article, I’d grow in confidence, the process would become smoother, I’d be capable of penning quality pieces with gay abandon, and could view my work with a dispassionate, assessing eye.

But no such luck. Sigh.

In fact, it actually became harder. With my innate perfectionist tendencies raising their A*-seeking heads, I felt a pressure to, not only live up to my last article, but to outdo it.

And when I (unbelievably), won Feature Writer/Columnist of the Year at the Wales Media Awards last November… Well, though I was chuffed to mint balls, it made the weight of expectation even greater.

Battle

But I’ve battled on. And that’s a great word because writing is deffo a battle. A battle with myself, a battle against that mocking inner voice which tells me, numerous times daily, that I’m not good enough.

A battle against ‘The Fear’ I feel whenever I submit an article to the editor – always pre-empting their potential dissatisfaction, with the apologetic rider, ‘I know this is probably rubbish. So sorry, <Crying emoji>.’

See, despite a career where self-reflection was an integral part of the job, and where I could comfortably recognise when I’d taught a blinding lesson (or a stinker), it’s the opposite with writing. In fact, writing, whilst an inherently reflective process, feels more frenetic and more alarming than teaching ever did.

There’s an anxiety to it, which intensifies with every sentence, every comma, and every keystroke. And, until I’ve received external validation, I sit, chewing my nails, because I know what I’ve written is undoubtedly terrible. Heavy sigh.

A tutor once told me to ‘…write everything first, and only then go back and edit.’  And I’ve tried, I honestly have, but for me, that approach is nigh on impossible.

My every mistake is accompanied by flashing lights and shrieking klaxons – ‘Alert! Alert! Immediate correction required!’ – and I’m wholly unable to ignore these clamorous, syntactic sirens.

Hissy fits

Anyway, I generally write two articles per month (excluding my ongoing struggles with a Welsh gothic whodunnit and the occasional cheeky sonnet), so I thought you might like to see an average fortnight Chez Hughes. (Warning: Contains scenes of procrastination, panic, and sporadic hissy fits.)

Sunday: Article OK’d by editor and given go-ahead to be published. Woohoo! Crack open the advocaat, pour a pint of Snowball, and kick back with a guilty pleasure. Depending on the time of year this could be Love Island, The Traitors, or GBBO, with Lord of the Rings (extended editions), a perennial favourite. I’ve always been very incentive-driven.

Monday AM: Wake early with ‘The Fear.’ Eek! What the hell am I going to write about? I’ve got nothing lined up, no ideas, and basically no clue. Shit! Stress eat 4 – 8 French Fancies plus pack* of Frazzles. (Okay, yeah… it was a multipack.)

Monday PM – Saturday: Use Google/eventbrite/AA Atlas of the Road etc. to find fun stuff to do, or cool places that Geoff (my elderly Kangoo), and I can visit. Try and rope in a pal  – though now my mates are mostly wise to my ‘Come along, it’ll be fun!’ entreaties, and frequently find themselves busy/away/unavailable/ill. Eye-roll! Go and do it, after which I’ll give myself a mental pat on the back – I’m putting myself out there and trying new things. Yay me!

Sunday AM: Wake early. ‘The Fear’ has now morphed into ‘The Dread.’ Only six short days before the article’s due. OMG! Right, breathe. Stress eat three jam doughnuts Tim got from the farm shop, and several Crème Eggs. Drink many mugs of tea. Okay, let’s do this. Start writing.

Sunday PM – Saturday: Write, read, edit, write, read, edit, write… Argh, it’s crap! Delete. Time out for tears, Frazzles, special coffees (slug of Baileys instead of milk), strum Duke the uke, calm down. Dry eyes, sniff, start over. Retrieve drafts from recycle bin. Write, read, edit, read, edit, edit, edit, write, write, write… Oh, sod this! Bed. Repeat process daily.

Duke the Uke

Sunday AM: Wake early with ‘Deadline Dread’ – 90% blind terror, 10% anticipation. I’m at the final finessing stage which is actually my fave part of the whole process. I try (though certainly rarely succeed), to inject a lyrical lilt into my writing, probably because 1. Poetry is my first love, and 2. I’m aiming to emulate that sing-songy-ness that’s so distinctive to Wales. Use Word’s ‘Read Aloud’ feature (to gauge said sing-songy-ness). Repeat twice/thrice hourly.

(Side note: I haven’t long discovered Word’s speak feature, but it’s been a game changer for me. Closing my eyes while an electronic voice tells my story means I’ve picked up on numerous spelling errors, missing punctuation, and paragraphs that make no sense. I should also mention that I have, occasionally, been sent to sleep during this part of my ‘process’ – though I’ve put that down to the earliness of the hour rather than the dreariness of my prose.)

High Noon: Submit. Wait. Chew nails. Wait. Chew cuticles. Wait. Chew… Beep. Editor response. I can’t look. I can’t. I do. ‘It’s lovely, Del. All fine. Stop worrying.’ Woohoo! Relieved exhale, triumphant air punch, first smile in a week, shout ‘Tim, it’s Snowball time.’ Epic!

Monday AM: Wake early with ‘The Fear.’ Eek! ... And repeat above. Lol!

Some wonderful adventures

Angst

Now, you might be wondering why I still write, given that it causes such angst, and the simple answer is, I have to. Over the years, I’ve filled hundreds of notebooks with poems, stories, plays, and the like, most of which have never seen the light of day and, with no false modesty, that’s probably a blessing.

(Nobody needs to hear Ode to Dogs, or a lyrical ballad entitled Why Hamsters are Cute, or even read the undiscovered classic that is Sam Ease, Private Eye, the feline equivalent of Sam Spade.)

The point is, I’ve always written, and I probably always will. And, if shedding a little light on some of Wales’ more curious hidden gems, comes with having to cope with crippling impostor syndrome, that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

Because, without Wales, I would never have (deep breath): flown an owl, dabbled with witchery, discovered an abundance of natural poisons, freed my inner stag, enjoyed sublime sensory deprivation, tried taphophilia, starred in a smash hit stage show, walked on fire, faced down serious fears, chased phantoms, bathed in sound, communed with cacao, enjoyed terpsichorean thrills, taken up the ukulele, dealt with a haystack of heartache, dined with the dead, adopted two giant pups, toured the wildlands of Wales, written a book, found a diverse and wonderful group of new pals, and be living my best life for the first time in fifty-four years.

So, when I said Wales ‘saved me’, it really wasn’t hyperbole. #YOLO

A Year of Living Dangerously by Del Hughes is published by Cambria Books and also available here.

Tickets to the book launch on Tuesday 16 April at Dunvant Rugby Club can be reserved here.


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G S
G S
22 days ago

Μπράβο. Πόλη καλά, μπράβο.

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