After a short break we are returning with another #authorinsight from 2021 Rhys Davies Short Story Award author, Craig Hawes, who was shortlisted for his story, 'Coat of Arms'.
Born and raised in Briton Ferry, Craig spent many years working in London and Dubai as a journalist before returning to his native South Wales. Now a copywriter, he has previously been shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story prize in 2009 and was a runner-up in the Rhys Davies Prize 2010. His short story collection The Witch Doctor of Umm Suqeim was published by Parthian in 2013. His stories and plays have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4.
In Craig’s shortlisted entry, ‘Coat of Arms’, he develops the relationship between a father and his son during a day at a medieval re-enactment fair. Amidst the entertaining setting, the father learns to battle the consequences of loss and deal with the prospect of shared parenting.
1. How did you break into the writing industry?
After completing a history degree at university I did a one-year postgraduate journalism course in London with the sole ambition of writing for lifestyle magazines. I never really had any interest in newspapers or serious reporting. I find it slightly embarrassing now but all I was interested in back then is interviewing celebrities and writing about music, books, cinema and fashion - the fun stuff! Exposing political corruption or reporting on the front line of war zones was never really on the cards. I was a shallow twentysomething and it simply wasn't cool enough.
Obviously, these days I'm a bit wiser and those are the kind of journalists I admire the most.
Anyway, I broke into the industry by doing loads of freelance work, sometimes for free. I'd do night shifts as a porter in various London hospitals and write by day, eventually getting a portfolio of published articles together. I got my first job on a magazine as a lowly editorial assistant on a pitiful salary and worked my way up from there, eventually editing magazines in Dubai in the Middle East, where I got to travel substantially through my work. Tremendous fun!
I've always been a voracious reader obsessed with short stories and eventually I tried my hand at the form. My first efforts were piss-poor, with Roald Dahl-style twist endings. But I got a bit better and started entering competitions, getting shortlisted for a few. This led to me getting my book, The Witch Doctor of Umm Suqeim, published by Parthian back in 2013, a short story collection set in Dubai where I was based at the time.
2. Setting your story in a medieval re-enactment fair made it joyful, but also allowed the characters to ‘battle’ with their internal debates. What inspired this choice of location?
I took my two kids to a medieval event at Margam Park a few years ago and I took a few pictures of my son trying on armour and chainmail gloves, etc. I keep one of the photos taken that day in my wallet. Clearly the experience has taken root in my subconscious somewhere and wormed its way into this story. How a story forms in my mind is still a bit of a mystery to me. I try not to analyse the writing process; it serves no purpose whatsoever.
3. The family dynamic within ‘Coat of Arms’ is so interesting because the characters deal with grief, jealousy and self-worth – what influenced the focus on these emotions?
I'm not sure about the grief bit. I've had all my remaining grandparents pass away within the last few years and it's the first time I've had to deal with family bereavements so maybe that has something to do with it.
But the story mostly came about from being a divorced dad. At the time of writing the story, my ex-wife was in a new relationship and my two young children were spending time with her new partner, which I found slightly strange. Similarly, I was in a new relationship with a single mum and spending time with her children.
I began thinking about what happens if or when you break up. You've sort of formed a bond with children that you may never see again. It's a little sad but an interesting situation, I thought, to explore as a writer.
So that developed into this idea of a dad whose ex-wife had recently passed away. Their young son had formed a bond with his deceased mother's long-term partner who wanted to continue a relationship with the boy. There's definitely jealousy on the part of the dad who is faced with this guy he barely knows being in his, and his son's life, forever.
I'd never read anything that dealt with that family dynamic and I thought I could get a decent story out of it.
4. Your career has led you to be heavily involved in writing – where do you think this will take you next?
My career has involved nothing but writing. I'm woefully ill-equipped to do anything else, although I do occasionally fantasise about retraining as a Savile Row tailor making bespoke suits.
Basically I'm a technologically incompetent, literature-loving, textbook introvert with a limited skill-set. As far as I’m concerned I've found the perfect career and I'm damn well sticking with it for as long as I possibly can.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have made a living as a writer of some kind for the past twenty years. Right now I'm a copywriter working in the luxury watch industry, which I love as I've collected vintage watches for several years. And if writing about watches is what I do for the rest of my career then that's absolutely fine with me.
Eventually however I would like to have a proper stab at a novel. One idea has been fermenting in my mind for a while now and I'd like to think I'll at least have tried to get it down on paper over the next couple of years, but we'll see.
Like many writers, I'm a terrible procrastinator. So many books to read, films to watch, songs to listen to!
Thank you so much for taking part in our #DecemberDialogues, Craig! Craig’s short story can be found in The Rhys Davies Short Story Award Anthology 2021. Other stories within the anthology focus on themes of family dynamics, loneliness, and realisation. Together, the collection plays with language, characters, and Welsh writing traditions, to create artistic stories that emotionally move you.
The distinguished Rhys Davies Short Story Award is also now open for submissions for their 2022 competition, so if you want to get involved yourself, now is the time! Good luck!
And if you've been keeping up with our interviews, but missed our last conversation, where we discussed the short story 'Dogs in a Storm' with author Brennig Davies, you can read that here.