Tuesday, 18 October 2016


YES! It's that time again! Another LIT FIEND INTERVIEW with a writer that has appeared in PAPER AND INK so many times that he is basically part of the furniture. A writer, poet and all round nice dude that I am a huge fan of, and once you read this interview you will be too...

What's your name, where do you come from, and what do you do?

My name's Gwil James Thomas, I'm from Bristol, England. I generally spend my days trying to make sense of life through writing. I'm a collector of shitty punk records, seashells, knives and parking tickets.

In your poem, The Mule's Early Retirement, you document a vast array of jobs you have undertaken over the years, what do you find yourself doing for work at the moment?

I currently work for a news agency - when the stories and pictures get sent in from the journalists and photographers, several people including myself, effectively archive them. There's a lot of content to go through from the newspapers to news sites online, internationally. The pay's okay and I spend most of the day listening to music, or Joey Diaz podcasts (after I recently discovered him). I'm constantly reading the news too, which although is largely depressing, is interesting and changes enough to keep my mind occupied. You get to see a bigger picture and how different papers chose what to report on and what they chose to ignore. A lot of them simply twist words and create fear to help justify people's beliefs. This is nothing new, but it's strange seeing it a little closer, once you know the actual facts behind the story.

I was at war with most of my old jobs and bosses, so it seems strange to say it - but my job at the moment isn't too bad. I can hear a younger version of myself calling me a sellout for taking a day job seriously, but I've had so many shitty jobs before this, that I know it could be a lot worse. I list a lot of the jobs I've worked in the poem, but the most frequent job that I undertook was dishwashing. I dished in many places across the UK and as far away as Austria, where I got stuck once.

The aforementioned poem is one of nineteen that feature in your debut collection GWIL VS MACHINE, tell us a little about the collection...

I don't really feel that there's one particular theme that runs throughout the collection - but there was a lot that was going on between the period of time of writing them, that ties them together. They were written in various places and various states of mind. I've seen a lot of change in the last few years, but I've changed too and mostly for the better. I think there's been growth for me as a human being and as a writer. I'm proud of the collection and I think the poems work together well, does that sound arrogant? I dunno. I certainly don't always feel that way about my work. Not only that, but it's been packaged together beautifully, with each poem typed up on an old Olympia. None of which was of my doing. What makes it even more fucking special is that there's only a very limited amount - so get one while you can or spend the rest of your life in regret!

The final poem in the collection is an affectionate farewell to the late great Dan Fante, was he a big influence on your writing? What other writers have you found to be influential on your work?

His father, John Fante was the first writer to really inspire me, he changed the way I looked at literature, plus you never forget your firsts. Dan definitely had an influence on me though - his life story was one of survival and more than enough to inspire. If I mention a Fante, I can't say that Bukowski didn't have an influence on me either. I like Raymond Carver too and how his stories seem to give you more of a glimpse into a life, or scene and often it's up to you to work out what happened after it ends. I discovered Billy Childish in my late teens and loved his music, then discovered his poetry and prose. His influences are clear, but at the same time there's something very original and authentic about his writing, enough for it to be very unique. There's some writers whose work's influenced me, but I've only read one book of theirs - like Virginia Woolf, Charles. R Jackson, or Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy's Blood Meridian, was a great book, amazing imagery. Italo Calvino's book If on a Winter's Night a Traveller was an interesting read and he had an interesting voice - confusing and intriguing.

I have been a fan of both your poetry and prose for a long time now, having first read your stuff in Hand Job zine a few years back. Do you prefer writing one or the other? Is there one form you feel more comfortable or natural with, or does it just depend on what you are writing about?

It took me a while to warm to idea of writing poetry, I was a closet poet. Both formats have their pros and cons. Given the nature of it, poetry can be a lot more experimental and there's a certain freedom with that, that's difficult to replicate. I rarely write poetry and prose simultaneously. I like to rotate between them. If I'm honest the whole process of writing can be love/hate for me at times. A good evening's writings can can be more satisfying than anything, but sometimes the process can be maddening. Each time you write something new it's an individual experience, I'm not sure if poetry feels more natural, as I've always been a bit of a story teller - but on the whole I'm more comfortable with poetry.

You published a novel several years ago, Captains of Sinking Ships, tell us a little about that and how people can get their hands on a copy?

It was based around a character called The Youngblood. He constantly carried an ideas book and a knife with him and wandered about, searching for more out of life. It was a coming of age type book really. I wrote it when I was pretty young and think there's a couple of things I'd do differently and a few things I also had to learn writing wise. Unfortunately copies are very difficult to find these days. There were a few on eBay and Amazon a while back.

Other than that, I'm writing another novel at the moment, it's currently titled The Gospel Truths of a Compulsive Liar. It's a prequel of sorts to Captains of Sinking Ships, or at least hints at where Captains came from. It wouldn't make much difference if you approached them separately, but by reading, you may see where they could cross over.

In content though they're really different. The biggest contrast though is in the person writing them. I've seen and written a lot since writing Captains. Even if I have to publish the The Gospel Truths of a Compulsive Liar myself - I want to get it out there.

You do not currently have any social media presence, or a blog, or website. In 2016 this is quite unique for a writer, especially one under the age of 30, what is the reason behind this? (if there is one)

Maybe it's not always in relation to writing, but people ask me this a bit. I have nothing against making a personal website. But I've never have a Facebook, or anything like that really. It's not that I hate social media, I've just gone this far without a Facebook account. However, I'm sure that one way or another I'll inevitably be forced into getting one. I'm also aware that a hell of a lot of people use it and that's not going to change until Facebook possibly becomes obsolete. For now I can still get by with emails, occasional letters and my phone. I'm paranoid and find social media pretty invasive. At the same time I realise that there's other sides to it, I seem to miss quite a lot of submission calls because of it and I can see that it's handy if you lose your phone.

You've been published in numerous zines and lit mags over the last few years but your 'author bio' always makes particular reference to your work being available in Greek bookshops, what's that about?

Years ago, I put together a short story collection and it was taken up by a Greek publisher. It's currently only available in Greek. The collection was called Halfway to Nowhere - which was intended to sound more lost at sea, or drifting through space, than anything depressive. I think the publishers ran a bookshop and dropped a few off in some bookshops in Athens. I haven't spoken to them in a long time, but they were nice people. The Greeks though have generally been good to me in my life. As a child, I had my life saved by Greek people. I was a pretty hyperactive boy and I'd gone on holiday to Cyprus (the Greek side) and me and my brother were mucking about outside and cutting a long story short, I ended up running through a glass door. I received some nasty cuts and lost a lot of blood. This barman heard the smash from across the street. So the barman, leaves his bar, runs over, sticks me in the back of his Merc and starts bombing it through all these red lights - while I was getting blood all over the white leather interior. Passing in and out of consciousness, he drove me to a hospital over there and I was swiftly doped up on morphine. I thought I died several times, hallucinated and tried to escape, before they sewed me back up. I ended up being stuck in that hospital there for about a month in the end. I remember one of the nurses bringing me something called a Gyro - it was good shit. It was sort of like a wrap/kebab hybrid from what I remember, it wasn't the healthiest thing, but I liked it at the time. I think that answers your question.

You currently reside in your home town of Bristol, are you very involved in the lit scene there? Do you get out to many readings or poetry nights at all?

Not really. The last reading I did was one Joe Ridgwell had organised. It was in The East End of London and it was just before I left London, or was chased out. The reading was in a basement of an old pub, there was darts, good poetry, fiction and an 'adult cabaret' and of course lots of booze. But that was over a year ago. If I'm honest, there's been a lot of change in my life between, which has impacted on parts of the writing process. Admittedly I haven't been as involved as I could. There are a few reasons for this, other than readjusting to different places and Googling poetry groups, I've wasted a lot of time getting suckered out and ended up in watering holes, when I could have been writing. There was one bar I went to where apparently they've had readings, but after a minor disagreement, someone ended up bottling me and me and my friend ended up getting banned, after my friend swiftly stepped in and threw the prick that bottled me into the road. So that one's off then list. I'm lazy and easily distracted, but over the last six months at least I've been keeping myself inside, bolting the door, switching my phone off and working on a variety of written work. One of those writing endeavours was Gwil Vs Machine.

Do you read much in your spare time and if so is there anything in particular that you are you enjoying at the moment?

Yeah, I read when I can and as much as I can. I was given a copy of Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, which is a mammoth read, but an interesting one. Besides that I ordered a copy of Jared A Carnie's Waves, I've only read a couple of pages, but I'm enjoying it. A friend of mine, also introduced me to his uncle Raficq Abdulla and I'm going through a copy of his poetry collection Reflecting Mercury, which is as complex as it is beautiful.

Finally, what does the future hold for Mr Gwil James Thomas?

First and foremost, hopefully old age. In terms of writing, once I've finished the novel I've been working on I want to put together another short story collection and poetry collection too. I also have two short stories in an anthology coming out at some point (I would mention who its for, but I think they're still keeping a low profile with it - you'll see soon enough). Other than that, I wouldn't mind having a go at writing a script for a short film. It's only an idea, but that's how everything else started too.

Gwil, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.


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