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The Writer's Corner with John Sam Jones

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The Writer's Corner with John Sam Jones

John Sam Jones is a Welsh gay writer and activist. Brought up in a working-class Welsh speaking family in Barmouth, North Wales, his life and writing has been shaped by his gay and Welsh identity. John has worked in community engagement for over thirty years, including becoming the first co-chair of LGB Cymru (now Stonewall Cymru) in 2001. He now lives in semi-retirement in a small German village a stone throws away from the Dutch border with his husband Jupp. 

John Sam Jones' recently published memoir The Journey is Home, records his life on the edge through a story of journeys and realisations and of acceptance and joy. From boyhood in Wales, to studying in California as the AIDS epidemic began to take hold, before returning to Liverpool and North Wales to work in community engagement. It is a powerful account of the struggles of a gay man living in an often toxic and homophobic society and how he overcame them. 

The Journey is Home is now also available as an audiobook narrated by John Sam Jones himself.

'The Journey is Home is a testament to finding one's voice'

- Caroline Sanderson, (The Bookseller)

Kiss and Tell is an evocative selection of short stories by John Sam Jones compiled for the first time in this new Parthian/Modern edition. Including previously unseen work and a new foreword by David Llywellyn. More books by John Sam Jones include; Crawling Through Thorns, Welsh Boys Too and Fishboys of Vernazza

We invited John into The Writer's Corner to talk all things books, his love of German crime dramas and knitting. 

What are you reading right now? 

I have just finished Pridd by Llŷr Titus.  Since coming to Germany to live in 2017 I’ve been reading one book in Welsh for every two I read in English.  Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine I haven’t read very much – I did get lost in a couple of Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels – I liked The Lady from Zagreb and The One From the Otherbut aside from a bit of German every day to help my faltering use of the language it has been quite a fallow time.
However, back to Pridd; it's a stunning piece of prose and the insights and maturity from one so young (I hope that's not patronising) makes for huge expectation in the future.

Do you have a favourite reading spot?

No!  Lying in the bath… lying on the bed in the afternoon… lying on a beach lounger in Gran Canaria… Lying: I suppose that’s my favourite reading position!

Tea or Coffee?

When we lived in Barmouth the water was so pure and soft that even a bog-standard teabag tasted good.  Here in Effeld we have the hardest water and it took us more than two years to find a blend of tea that satisfied.  We found a relatively inexpensive blend of Assam and Ceylon from a local wholefood shop and now enjoy tea through most of the day.  Coffee I can take or leave… it has always smelled so much better that it tastes!

What was the first book you remember loving as a child?

I didn’t read as a child. I struggled with reading because I mixed up letters: bs and ds, ps and qs.  I was at university before I had developed sufficient word recognition to read a novel without faltering too much.  Now that I’m learning German – and German has so many compound nouns – I realise that I still mix up my letters and reading in German is a chore – is that a b or a d, an ‘ie’ or an ‘ei’? Having said that, I had to attend Sunday school as a child and we learned Bible verses by heart… I love the Psalms and can recite many from memory – but mostly in Welsh.

Do you have any pets? 

We had Wash and Nel, two Welsh sheepdogs for almost 14 years – Wash died two years ago and Nel just last year.  The grief is still keen.  We tried not to anthropomorphise them, but they did become our ‘children’.  They are significant characters in the memoir I had published last year – The Journey is Home.
John and Jupp's two Welsh sheepdogs, Wash and Nel. One is black and white and the other is white and tan, they are standing proudly on a rock.John's sheepdogs Wash and Nel as puppies being carried in a woven brown bag.

What inspires you to write?

I’m a lazy writer… or perhaps it would be fairer to say that I’m a very self-conscious writer filled with doubts about my ability.  I’d rather knit – I knit well and beautifully!  My early writing was inspired by the lack of ‘home-grown’ stories about the lives of gay boys/men.  I had read a lot of American gay themed literature when I was in my twenties, but I didn’t really see myself in those stories – I didn’t drink Bourbon, I didn’t carry a gun, I didn’t wear chaps….  When I reflect on my published work I suppose it would be fair to say that most of my writing has been inspired by my lived experience as a gay man in a society that wasn’t very tolerant or accepting… and I took many of my own experiences and asked – ‘what if?’, so what I wrote became something other than autobiographical.

Describe your writing in three words. 

Honest.  Direct.  Intimate.

What TV show are you bingeing right now?

Germany has a huge ‘made for TV’ film industry and there’s a police drama called Tatort (Scene of the Crime) which has been on air every week for 50 years!  A ninety minute film which follows (fictional) detectives in many of the major cities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland – and all the episodes are available via the internet.  The dialogue is often slick and slangy – so it doesn’t help my understanding of German – but the plots are usually easy to follow.  Because we don’t pay for a British TV licence, we don’t see any British television.

Can we peek at your favourite bookshelf? 

I’m not sure I have a ‘favourite’ bookshelf!  When we left Wales in 2017 we ‘disposed’ of the hundreds of books we had collected over our 30 years together – we had a library in our house in Barmouth!  Here’s a photo of our only bookshelf!  Jupp uses the local library, which is fantastic – so most of these are mine.
A full bookshelf.

Any words of wisdom for writing. 

Read aloud to yourself what you’ve written – you need to hear whether the words are the right words and whether the rhythm is – rhythmic!

What are your guilty pleasures?

Baked rice pudding made from half milk half double cream.  This is the only one I’m prepared to own up to!

Morning bird or night owl?

Depends on what’s going on in my life.  If I’m writing I’m an early bird. If I’m knitting then I’ll stay up and watch late night TV. 
A blue knitted rectangle with different patterns still on the knitting needles.

What skill or talent would you love to have? 

Oh… there’s a list!  To be able to sight read fluently (I still have anxiety about coming across a word with a b or a d that I don’t recognize and thus stumble over it).  I’ve no talent for foreign languages at all – I got 18% in a French exam in secondary school and our French teacher suggested that I drop French at the first opportunity.  I’ve lived with a German man for 35 years and because he was very much at home in Britain and had no desire to return to Germany I didn’t learn much beyond a few pleasantries to be able to ‘get-by’ when we visited his family.  I only began to learn German seriously when we moved here – I was 62 at the time!
John Sam Jones with his husband Jupp, both smiling and holding their two sheepdogs.

Do you have a favourite literary quote? 

I’ve read a lot of James Baldwin and something he said has always stayed with me – ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced’.