Novelist Dan Tyte chats with Wales Arts Review’s Rhys Milsom about his debut novel Half Plus Seven, a coming of age novel about lost love.
Dan Tyte’s debut novel Half Plus Seven – a ‘coming-of-age novel snorting with energy’ (Daily Mail), ‘a lethal cocktail of Bukowski and Mad Men’ (NME) – was published by Parthian last year. His short story ‘Onwards’ led the Parthian collection Rarebit and is currently exhibited on the wall at Little Man Coffee in Cardiff. He’s performed at Hay Festival and co-founded the contemporary lit night Pyramid Scheme. He’s currently working on his second novel, Alone, Together, a tale of lost love/WiFi signal.
Rhys Milsom: So, you chose to re-interpret ‘Extraordinary Little Cough’ by Dylan Thomas. Why did you choose that story?
Dan Tyte: It’s the latest tactic in an overarching life strategy to convince Literature Wales and other public bodies to designate 2081 the DT (Dan Tyte) Centenary. The socio-economic benefits are manifest: Martian tourists taking part in an interactive street theatre recreation of my Splott childhood, a holographic Clwb Ifor Bach Redux dance floor experience, a guided hoverboard tour through the Queens West shopping centre. The message is clear: let’s talk.
The story focuses on a character called Brazell. For readers who haven’t read ‘Cough’, can you give some information on who this character is and why you chose him/feature him so strongly?
‘Extraordinary Little Cough’ is a lovely little knockabout story about a teenage trip to the seaside. Think The Inbetweeners with less jokes and more beauty. Brazell is one of the bully boys who steal the girls from the nicer lads. I thought it’d be interesting to tell his story. His character isn’t really sketched out in ‘ELC’, so it gave me the space to play with. In my story we meet him 70 years on. He’s an old man. He’s gay. He’s living in a home and suffering from Alzheimer’s. We need more of this sort of thing in our literature. Who else is telling the elderly gay love stories?
‘The Rhossili Effect’ is quite an evocative title. Was this the first title that came to mind? If not, why did you choose this title?
It was. Straight out of the right brain. However, trivia piece #1: I’ve got a bit of a superstition with titles. Half Plus Seven was originally called The Hanging Cat and I kept the Google Doc I wrote it in with that name until it was finished. And the novel I’m currently working on was going to be called Post-Hipster, but is now Alone, Together. But the Google Doc remains the previous name until it’s done. In other mild OCD news, my socks have to go on before my pants and I have an irrational fear of Tuesdays.
I’d say the style of the writing you employ in the story is quite hazy and provocative. Did you have any writers in mind when writing in this shade? If so, have these writers influenced your other work?
Not at all. I think if you intentionally set out to ape someone else’s work, you’re onto a bad thing. Readers might as well just read the original. Who wants to be The Bootleg Beatles? The haze comes from the sad state of Brazell’s mind, his thoughts a mix of half-remembrance and clinical instructions.
Your ‘normal’ writing style is very different to the one shown here. Was that change planned or did it arrive naturally when you wrote the story?
Enough writers have made enough of a living by sticking to a formula but that’s not really how I want things to go for me. Less Mills & Boon, more of a musical reinvention every time the cursor winks on the blank document. Expect a whiteboy funk novel, a free jazz short story collection, a punk poetry memoir. The important thing is the overall feeling that resonates with the reader is one that fits in with the narrative of the rest of my work.
Talking about your own writing, your novel ‘Half Plus Seven’ was published last year. How has the reaction been and have you got anymore novels in the pipeline?
The reaction has been positive. Novels are abusive love affairs, wars of attrition that sap the soul and soar the spirit in equal measure. Half Plus Seven was in my brain and my belly for an elephant pregnancy and now it’s out there, it’s maybe been too easy to put it on the shelf and move on. But after all the blood, sweat and beers that went into it, it’s important, to me at least, that it finds as many readers as possible. I’m still waiting for the call from Hollywood to turn it into the mid-sized budget movie adaptation that it deserves. My message to the Weinstein Brothers/Wes Anderson is this: Tolkien was dead when Peter Jackson got to work. Let’s not do that. Carpe diem. I’d be a huge asset in the publicity campaign. I know an excellent gîte near Cannes. I’m affable company.
As to the next novel, I’m working on it as we speak/type. Halfway there, maybe. Watch out world.
You also put on the rather furtively-named literature night Pyramid Scheme with fellow author, Richard Owain Roberts. What is it all about?
It’s a much-needed platform for people who like books to wear their new sweater and speak to that girl/guy they’ve been stalking online for the past month. It’s an opportunity to upskill the next generation. I can’t get an image out of my head of a mattress salesman in a small town in the American south filming an ad for a local TV station, wearing a crown on top of his cowboy hat and shouting ‘yee-ha’. But I realise this is probably unrelated. If this memory is real, this business man would be allowed free entrance into Pyramid Scheme. He would enjoy himself. He would hear some people reading really interesting work, sometimes for the first time ever. He would see the faces of authors from Montreal blown up giant on projector screens via Skype. He would wish he wore his new sweater.
Nobody really likes talking about their day-job, but yours is pretty interesting I’d say. So, for those who don’t know or are just a bit nosey, what is your job and how has this had an influence on your writing (if any)?
I tell stories for a living at a PR agency. My whole professional life has revolved around the essence of how to craft a compelling story, which must help more than laying bricks or frothing lattes. Although I’d probably have more time to day-dream doing either of those.
And, finally, I found out you’re a keen 5-a-side football player when we met. Who’s your favourite football player ever and, if he was to write a fictional novel, what would it be titled and why?
Sources close to the great man tell me Gareth Bale has started storyboarding his Choose Your Own Adventure-style novel ‘Great Bunch of Lads’ (working title), about Wales’ glorious triumph at Euro 2016. I’m confident my control of the Spanish language is at a more advanced level than his, so it seems to make perfect sense to get me on board to bring his vision to reality while also utilising me as part of his team to help with the logistical aspects of life in foreign country e.g. does the lady I’m speaking to have a cat and/or a sister? Where is the delicatessen?