The Guardian - 7th July 2010
19 July 2010
Not just a Welsh author
Deep thinker and local writer Rhys Thomas talks about the big themes in his latest novel, On the Third Day, out tomorrow
Rhys Thomas isn't one for self-promotion. But the quiet author from Pontyclun – north west of Cardiff – has a second novel coming out tomorrow and whether he likes it or not, it is sure to see him well-established as one of the Wales's top writers.
Thomas will also be joining a stellar line up of Welsh authors at Milgi Lounge in Roath next Wednesday 14 July for Oxfam Cymru's Readathon. Other members of the Welsh literati attending the evening include Philip Gross, Rachel Trezise and Cardiff trilogy master John Williams and Cardiff public poet Peter Finch.
But Thomas, 32, doesn't consider himself a 'Welsh author,' since he doesn't write about this country and rarely circulates with fellow Welsh littérateurs. He says:
"I wouldn't associate my name with Wales and I'm not really aware of lots of writers writing about Wales – but I'm sure they're out there. I only get called a Welsh writer because I'm Welsh – not because I write about Wales."
Thomas won critical acclaim with his first book, The Suicide Club – which Trezise herself called 'brilliantly crafted' and listed in her top ten list of underground Welsh novels.
This second novel, On the Third Day, depicts a dark dystopian world where a plague of sadness is washing over Britain – the opening apocalyptic scenes reminiscent of 28 days later see London in panic as the disease grips its victims for three days in a gloomy and depressive existence resulting in death. The four-part fictional tale documents one woman's journey through the new world and ultimately focuses on the nature of hope.
Writing on his blog, Thomas admits:
"I just wanted to write a big, sprawling, exciting story that people can get lost in."
Later he tells me he also wanted to get away from the vampires and viruses of popular modern sci-fi fiction and focus on telling the story.
"I got the idea for the book as I imagined a scene of people sitting in a doctor's waiting room with their heads in the hands," he says.
"Modern books go so fast and this goes a lot slower - I wanted to explore descriptive writing."
Thomas cites Margaret Atwood as one of his inspirations – an apt choice since the novel would fit neatly next to her Handmaid's Tale, with its religious undertones which intermingle futuristic projections with ghosts of Old Testament stories.
But it's tackling the bigger themes in life and philosophies behind them which actually captivates Thomas. He seems preoccupied with Nietzschean themes of civilisation verses savagery and compelled to explore the depths of human nature.
"This is a metaphysical exploration of hope.
"There are a lot more themes in this book such as power and freedom. The last section is the part I'm proudest of.
"it's more to do with wanting to tell stories than trying to say something. Stories are about conflict and I'm not a social commentator. If you are going to write a story it should be as good as it could be."
Despite the big themes, in person Thomas is not the larger than life personality you'd expect. In an endearing way he chuckles self-consciously at little ironies, chooses his words carefully and explains he is quite shy in interviews.
Thomas recently quit his Cardiff office job and moved back home to juggle working part time at his sister's café with explosive stints of writing in coffee shops – not the clichéd writer's kind, mind – he prefers supermarket cafés.
"It's hard to make a living from writing and it takes up a lot of time – but I want to make it my career."
Thomas is nervous about the reception of his second novel – which ends his contract with publishers Doubleday – but he's in the middle of writing a third book and is soon to move to Cardiff to help expand his career as an author. The next book, he says, will continue on big themes but be shorter – set 500 years in the future it dreams up a tribal community suffering the after affects of climate change.