In the latest in our series of Q&A’s with some of Wales’s leading artists, musicians, performers, and writers, Richard John Parfitt, founding member of 60 Ft. Dolls turned writer, discusses his inspirations and the process for writing his debut novel, Stray Dogs.
Where are you from and how does it influence your work?
I’m from Newport by way of Cwmbran although I now live in the Vale of Glamorgan. On the way I’ve lived in Toronto, the south of France and London. I believe class and life experience influences your work more so than place. You could live next door to someone and have a completely different worldview.
Where are you while you answer these questions, and what can you see when you look up from the page/screen?
Sitting on a sofa while Edith lays next to me silently passing gas [my greyhound]. When I look up I can see five framed and signed first nation prints I bought off eBay during the pandemic.
What motivates you to create?
This question is a lot harder than you might think. Possibly the idea that I might have something worth saying and not have enough time to say it? I derive satisfaction from revisiting and redrafting work more than anything else.
What are you currently working on?
It’s a non-fiction project that I’ve been working on and off for years. It deals with deep history and memory. Too early to say if it’s got legs. But the idea won’t leave me alone so I think there must be something in it.
When do you work?
Procrastinating is such an important part of the day. Even visiting a coffeeshop, if I hear someone saying something I can use I’ll write it down. I get some of my best ideas while avoiding work and idling about the place. So, the answer is, all the time if you count not working as working.
How important is collaboration to you?
Collaboration is not well defined and doesn’t signify creative equivalence. It takes many talented people to realise a project, but ultimately, the singular vision can only come from one source, which is why we know who wrote what Beatles song. One had the idea, the other improved it. Something like a good editor might do with a piece of writing. T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound for instance. Collaboration is objectionable, if inevitable. ‘Shoot the collaborators.’
Who has had the biggest impact on your work?
As a teenager my friends and I would gather at one another’s house with guitars and sit in a circle playing each other’s songs. Not really talking but communing. I think it was that sense of camaraderie that produced the effects of what it meant to be both creative and collaborative. The difference between the artist and the artisan. You gift your ideas to someone else’s work and they repay the compliment. I think Joseph Campbell said something like, ‘The craft ties you to the work. The artist is floating around somewhere up there on the ceiling’.
How would you describe your oeuvre?
I’d rather not, but if pushed, as a great heap of Bildungsroman.
What was the first book you remember reading?
We didn’t have any children’s books in the house when I was growing up, so it was probably Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield or one of Dylan Thomas’ book of short stories. Maybe Adventures in the Skin Trade. Dylan Thomas was my first literary crush. I loved the covers too. Those Aldine paperbacks.
What was the last book you read?
I’m half way through Paulette Jiles’ Chenneville and enjoying it very much. A civil war revengers tragedy. Probably best known for writing News of the World [which won the National Book Award], Paulette Jiles is a poet and novelist, and I’ve been an admirer for a while.
Is there a painting/sculpture you struggle to turn away from?
After the Great War they rebuilt Newport Town Bridge and found part of a Wayside Cross dated from the fifteenth century buried twenty five feet beneath the surface of the mud. During the Protestant Reformation religious artefacts were considered idolatry and dismantled and destroyed and it was probably thrown in the Usk. It rests in Newport library now, and it’s got Mojo. Just before the pandemic I took a trip up to London to specifically see The Löwenmensch figurine [the Lion-man] Thought to be 40,000-year-old and the oldest known representation of the supernatural. Museum and mythic artefacts interest me as much as art.
Who is the musical artist you know you can always return to?
There’s no nostalgia in pop music, only the perpetual return to the Eternalism of the Beatles.
During the working process of your last work, in those quiet moments, who was closest to your thoughts?
My mother and all my dead friends.
Do you believe in God?
See answer to question 12 [Proof that she exists]
Do you believe in the power of art to change society?
On its own I’m not so sure, but art can awaken the senses and that can have a tremendous power to affect change in relationship to other factors. I’ve just gone all around the houses and arrived at, Yes.
Which artist working in your area, alive and working today, do you most admire and why?
I wouldn’t presume, but the Scottish poet Robin Robertson. The Long Take is a noir novel in verse form and a masterpiece of epic poetry storytelling. I have probably read it more than any other book I own, with the exception of perhaps, All the Pretty Horses. I admire Robin Robertson’s originality, daring but essentially, his talent. Also, Adrianne Lenker. There’re so many people I admire, this list could change monthly.
What is your relationship with social media?
I have an Instagram, Twitter/X, but Twitter’s turned into an unholy mess. My relationship with social media is dysfunctional. There’s too much potential for people to misinterpret what you say. For evidence of this you can find me on X @richardjparfitt.
What has been/is your greatest challenge as an artist?
I think coming from a working class background. Only because you grow up not knowing anyone who’s made a record or published a book, so it seems such an unreachable a goal, but it doesn’t bother me, it’s just something I’ve been made aware of. What I’ve learned is that editorial skills are the most crucial. Subjective self-criticism even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts.
Do you have any words of advice for your younger self?
Hang on to your idea and don’t let anyone change it for commercial reasons. Sometimes the best thing you can do with a dream is to wake up from it.
What does the future hold for you?
On a practical and personal level, I plan a trip to Australia. On an artistic one, to just keep doing what I’ve always done. Keeping myself to myself. Chipping away at whatever project I’m working on. Walking Edith. Mainly walking Edith.
Stray Dogs is available now.