‘A Different Kind Of Man’- An Interview

Right. This is a weird one. You know those magazine interview type things where people sit in a café or somewhere and chat? Well I thought I’d have a go at writing one… But I had nobody to interview… Except for myself… But that wouldn’t really work. You can’t interview yourself! You need somebody to interview you… Which I didn’t have either. So how to absolve these two problems? Simple… Write it as if somebody was interviewing me! Who though? The idea of using one of my own characters appealed to me. It was a suitably off-kilter idea and I thought it might make for something a bit more unusual. So this is me, writing as one of my own characters, interviewing myself…

By Marcus Morfasson

I’ve known James, the man they call JPC, for about ten years now but I don’t really know him that well. For most of those I’ve been hovering in the background, not quite fully formed and waiting to pounce onto the stage. He’s been too preoccupied with my older (by about a minute) and less civilized brother to have much to do with me and my own story. Over the last year, however, we’ve spent a fair amount of time together as he has finally started work on my own slice of the action; Eboracvm, a book that has been knocking around inside his head in various guises for pretty much all the time I have known him.
‘Yeah. I got distracted,’ he admits with nary a hint of an apology. He seems to find it funny actually. Fair play to him though, those distractions did include three years at university and a futile attempt at launching a radio career for himself. I guess I can forgive him for that. What I can’t forgive is that I’m still not going to see the light of day until after my brother’s story (Dark Legend) is finished with. In James’s words releasing me into the wilds before then will ‘give too much away.’ I don’t care about that. Just get me out there! I threaten him with spoiling the ending but he says it won’t work. ‘Nobody will believe you!’


Looking Handsome?

The man himself…


It’s a Tuesday morning and we’re sat in a Liverpool coffee bar, both of us with large coffees and James’s is predictably over the top. It has marshmallows and cream and chocolate. This is a relatively new thing for him, what he likes to call the ‘ridiculous coffee.’
‘I’ve only been drinking the stuff properly, regularly, for about a year,’ he tells me. ‘Before that I’d eat coffee flavoured stuff- ice cream, tiramisu…’ James makes a mean tiramisu. Gorgeous! ‘I used to buy the occasional cup when I was in Bangor (where he went to university) but that was about all I ever drunk. Then last year I was back in Bangor with this ridiculous marshmallow filled thing in front of me, and I thought… You know what, I want this to be a regular thing. I just want to sit in a café somewhere and drink ridiculous cups of coffee.’ And then he started drinking coffee regularly. ‘And then I started drinking coffee regularly!’ He takes a sip. He’s clearly enjoying that thing, though he does make clear it isn’t as good as one he had in Chester a few weeks ago. ‘I still wish I’d gone for that Pecan pie,’ he smiles when the subject of his last visit to Chester comes around, one which he documented in an article entitled Chester Day Out.

‘I’m definitely getting better at the travel writing,’ he muses. ‘Its something that I can’t imagine not doing anymore.’ James has been writing travel pieces for five years now, ever since he left university, and he is right when he says he’s getting better. Chester Day Out and his personal favourite, Drumbeat, are certainly a different kettle of fish to the spartan John Lennon & The Ketchup Dwarf which started the whole thing. From our seat in the coffee bar we can see right across the river Mersey to Birkenhead and the Wirral. There’s a teasing glint in his eye as he points across the water. ‘That’s where I’m going next. The almost unknown!’ He’s been to the Wirral before but that was before he began documenting his travels. ‘My last visit there was an A level geology field trip… Hilbre Island in the middle of the Dee estuary. We walked across the sands at low tide to get there. It was a good day.’


‘She’s obviously pointing at me. Bitch. The spine isn’t really my fault. It’s called being underdeveloped.’


There’s a nostalgic glint in his eyes. Does he miss those days? Those days that gave birth to both myself and my brother and which saw his literary world begin to take on a vaguely recognisable shape? ‘Sometimes. They were better than the days I had at my secondary school anyway. It was a lot of fun, a lot of exploring and hanging out with friends. It was the first time I could really be myself… But if I could go back I’d go back to my days at university.’ The nostalgia is replaced by sadness, a longing to return to the city he calls home. He regrets leaving. He thinks that if he had stayed then perhaps things wouldn’t be so bad. But then what would he be? He might not have started the travel writing and perhaps I’d still be cruising around limbo, waiting to leap forth. ‘True! Every cloud has it’s silver lining I suppose. Without leaving I wouldn’t be who I am today.’ He drums on the table and goes silent, perhaps wondering how he can get back.

If any man is a product of his past then it’s James. His life, for want of a better term, has been a bit shit; The many sad facts of his childhood include that  he was fed on very little but microwave chips and cheese for years as a result of it being claimed that he had an eating disorder and that he ’wouldn’t eat anything’ except the chips and cheese. He sighs. ‘The stupid part is that I believed what I was told but when I look back I can see that it wasn’t true. I would eat things… Bacon & ham and things like fish fingers and chicken nuggets spring to mind. Not the healthiest of foods but better than I was getting. All the foods I eat now… Mushrooms, tomatoes, r’hubarb… (I correct him to rhubarb, just to annoy him. He corrects me back.) I was never given them. Never even got near. And mushrooms and tomatoes are pretty basic foods. I didn’t actually have a burger until I was sixteen. SIXTEEN!’ The result of this poor diet is evident. James is no giant. He’s skinny as a rake, a minuscule 5’4.5 (he likes to round it up) and he has posture problems. ‘I was in Manchester once, just coming out of Piccadilly station, and I hear some woman shouting ‘Oh look it’s Quasimodo!’ She’s obviously pointing at me. Bitch. The spine isn’t really my fault. It’s called being underdeveloped.’ There’s a photo of a young James on the Flickr section of his autobiography which I bring up, one that really does show how the curvature of his spine. ‘It’s not as bad as it used to be but it could be a lot better. And that photo… My back is almost a semi-circle. I really do look like Quasimodo. Quasimodo in swimming trunks!’


By the Sea

Quasimodo in swimming trunks…


He’s come out the other end of this shit childhood as someone who is determined, independently minded and kind of a bit stubborn. In that way he shares a lot with my brother and he rolls his eyes at that. It’s a comparison that’s been made before. ‘Look. Every writer slips a bit of themselves into their characters, mostly on a subconscious level. Will just happened to get my independent streak. But I’m nowhere near as charismatic as he is. I’m not as confrontational.’ Again, true. James, although he can come across as confidant when he wants to be (or needs to be) is nothing of the sort. He’s shy and quiet most of the time, especially around strangers. He’s not a man that stands out in a crowd. Would he like to be? ‘If I’m walking down the street, no. I just want to go about my business in that case. But in my work…And maybe at parties. It would be nice to be noticed a bit more in those cases.’

Getting his work noticed is something he agrees he has struggled with. Getting himself noticed, much the same. He is definitely not a whiz at social media. He has (at the time of writing) only 47 twitter followers and five YouTube subscribers. His recent attempt to launch a Facebook page for himself was something of a disastrous flop. Over the last year he’s been trying to break into mainstream publishing but so far he’s not had anything resembling a positive response. ‘They all say the same thing. ‘It’s good but we don’t feel confident enough about it. It’s not what we’re looking for.’ The other thing they say is that they ‘can’t find a place for it in the current market.’ I’ve had so many responses that say those things that it’s all beginning to sound like buzz speak, like it doesn’t actually mean anything and it’s just something they say to everyone.’ Would he rather they come out and say his work is absolute shite? ‘I’d rather they be a bit more honest about it. Be polite, yeah, but cut the buzz speak!’


‘If I was qualified why didn’t they take things further? I should have at least gotten a few more than zero interviews if I was qualified.’


He sits back, cup in hand, and thinks. His eyes stray back to that dirty old river outside, a river that is central to the work that is most uniquely him, Stop The Cavalry. Nobody else but James could have written that book, an off the wall story about a group of soldiers forced to remount Operation Market Garden on the aforementioned Mersey. Like everything he writes it’s something that is radically and mind bogglingly different to the norm. Is this difference, he thinks, one of the reasons why he has struggled to get published? ‘It scares people! My writing is like this alien creature when you compare it with what everyone else is writing so I think it definitely has something to do with it. But that’s just the way I do things and it isn’t going to change. I never set out to be different. My writing just ends up that way and always has done.’ So why isn’t he standing out more? Why isn’t the fact that he is different getting him noticed by the publishing industry? ‘Perhaps because they don’t want different. Like I said, it scares them.’

‘When I was trying to get into radio I had very similar responses.’ We’re going back a few years now, to when he first finished University. After three spectacular years on student radio he was hoping to continue up the ladder, get into a proper radio job but he found himself shot down. ‘Every time I applied for a position, any position, they were all ‘You’re more than qualified but you aren’t what we’re looking for.’ What? If I’m qualified for the position then what’s the problem? If I was qualified why didn’t they take things further? I should have at least gotten a few more than zero interviews if I was qualified.’ Could this be the difference thing again? Is James just too different in himself? ‘I could well be. The thing is, when people do find my stuff or see it, be it writing or radio or whatever a large proportion of them appear to like what they see. The trouble is that the people who can push me to the next level don’t want to know. They’re the ones speaking the buzz speak and not letting me through. They’re the ones who don’t like the fact that I’m different.’

Whilst we’re on the subject what happened to the attempt to get into radio anyway? ‘I ran out of options, out of people to send my stuff to and I ran out of patience. I tried every door I could and got nothing. I did it online for a while but then I got into the YouTube thing and it all fell by the wayside. It ended up taking a lot of time that I just didn’t have.’ Will this ever happen with the writing I wonder? (Yes… I’m worried about never making it into the limelight.) ‘I hope not,’ he answers. ‘With publishing it’s slightly different anyway. With that, for the moment, I have the self publishing option which isn’t perfect but it’s still something.’



Photo by JPC… Not a bad one either.


With his next book, Max & Anna, James is again going down the self publishing route. Where he was hoping to have it published in print it is now certain to be self published. ‘That’s a real disappointment to me because it is one of my best books.’ The story is about my own great, great grandfather, Max and his assignment to protect Princess Anna of Ardeluta (In modern day Romania) from crazed revolutionary types. ‘It’s a really lovely sort of book. It’s about these two people brought together by circumstance and how they spend their time together. I think people are really going to love it.’ The book is both touching and very funny, as well as very sad in some parts towards the end. There’s something that’s a bit E.M Forster about it. For myself the highlight is when Anna takes it upon herself to undermine local landowner, Baron Penrhyn, by making off with twenty of his best paintings. James laughs at this. ‘I like that bit as well. The great thing is, although it seems like a throwaway sort of incident, it becomes crucial to the plot. It’s an unexpected little twist and I’m very proud of that.’ He goes quiet again. He does this a lot. He talks and then suddenly goes really quiet. ‘I keep thinking,’ he muses eventually, ‘that this really deserves to do well.’ A new determination enters his eyes. ‘I want it to outstrip everything out there. I want to show all those people that currently don’t want to know about it that, actually, there is a place for this in the world. I want them to kick themselves that they passed it over.’

And how does he intend to do that, given that so far getting himself noticed has been a major difficulty? ‘I honestly do not have a clue. A few things that I’ve tried in the past haven’t worked out so well… Recently I joined a writing website where you could post extracts and stuff, hoping it might get me a bit of attention, but the culture there… Urgh!’ He shudders. ‘It was full of these holier-than-thou tosspots who really couldn’t write to save their lives and wanted to lord it over everybody else.’ One of the comments he got on there was about his level of detail. ‘I had uploaded this extract and it really wasn’t what I would call detailed but then this guy comes along and starts grousing about how half of what was there was pointless. Mainly it was all the character building stuff and the atmosphere, the stuff that was there to give the book a bit of soul. It was a really arsey sort of comment and combined with the culture and the general attitude of people on there I thought, you know what… Fuck this shit! So I left.’


‘It was also to do with the fact that I was climbing too far up my continuity but yeah… It gave me an opportunity to create something that was rich and deep and atmospheric, really detailed.’


Interestingly, James hasn’t ignored the comment. He’s taken what has been said and is now deliberately making his work more detailed as a deliberate ‘fuck you’ to his detractors. This is exemplified by the fact that he has started over on Eboracvm. ‘It was also to do with the fact that I was climbing too far up my continuity but yeah… It gave me an opportunity to create something that was rich and deep and atmospheric, really detailed.’ It is that! A huge proportion of the second chapter is dedicated to a motorbike ride between Morfa Nefyn and my home village of Cythry. James has been going this way for a while though, even before the comment, as I point out to him. Max & Anna has whole chapters that are entirely descriptive. ‘There aren’t that many actually. Two and a half I think… One on Anna and where she comes from, how she got to where she is, one that’s a description of Morfasson country, which I have never fully defined before. The half chapter is on religion. Anyhow… the reason I put those in wasn’t to do with detail it was more to do with the style of the book. I was emulating an old fashioned style, you see, and they were a natural fit.’ The other work that exemplifies this change is Liverinth, a book that is essentially all about Liverpool. ‘It’s a very artistic kind of book… It’s set simultaneously in 1964 and 2014 and a huge proportion of it is dedicated to what’s changed and what’s stayed the same. It philosophizes on those changes- what’s good and what’s bad about them. I’m also trying to thread in as much that can be taken back to Greek Mythology as I can… I’m using the Liver Bird as a kind of Stymphalian bird for example.’

James laughs when I point out that their presence is another ‘fuck you.’ ‘It is… To Liverpool football club. For some reason they decided to trademark the bird as their own, not just the logo (which was already trademarked) but THE IMAGE of the bird, the actual symbol of the city. They own it, effectively. If they wanted to they could have every use of it taken down or destroyed. They could sue half the city. Those two bronze statues on top of the Liver Building? Liverpool football club could probably have them taken down if they really wanted to.’ James clearly hates the idea, and not just because it is a football club that did it. ‘You can’t trademark something like the Liver Bird. It’s an emblem, a symbol, a representation. It doesn’t belong to anyone. It’s a part of Liverpool’s heritage. Imagine if the Welsh Government began trying to trademark red dragons because there’s one on the flag… You’d think it ludicrous. This is the same.’ As such the Liver Bird makes a number of appearances in Liverinth.


Liver Building, Liverpool

‘It’s another ‘fuck you!’


What is it about Liverpool that appeals to James so much? He wasn’t born here after all… He has no connections here. He was born in York and brought up just outside of Manchester and yet Liverpool seems to exert an enormous pull over him. He even insisted that we meet here instead of somewhere more convenient. ‘This city just has something special about it. There’s something in the air, an atmosphere, a kind of sizzle. It sucks a person in. It’s an endlessly fascinating place… Most of all I like it because it doesn’t pretend to be anything that it isn’t. It’s just Liverpool. It’s just itself. It knows it doesn’t need to be anything else and it isn’t afraid to shout about it.’ Is there any wish that he was brought up a Scouser, that this was home? He shakes his head. ‘Not that this was home, no. It’s a great place and all but I can’t see it as home. As for the scouse thing… I can think of worse cities to be lumbered with.’ He puts on his best Geordie accent (which is actually a perfect scouse immitation) ‘I’d pick being a Scouser over being something like a Manc any day of the week.’

Despite having left five years ago, home for James is still Bangor and a part of his reason for the move towards being properly published is to be able to get back there. A year ago he was sat in a hotel room (he corrects me, it was actually an inn room) and he had a ’moment’ where came to the conclusion that he had to get back at all costs. Is that still the plan? ‘Yeah. Or at least to somewhere nearby. I keep looking at other places around Wales and think to myself ‘damn, that looks nice. I want to live there.’ I’ve looked quite seriously at Cardiff… There’s a bit more action and things to do round there than up north but my heart is still kind of set on Bangor.’ Again, there is that regret in his eyes. ‘Of course, I can’t have the life I had when I lived there before. That would be silly. Everybody I knew, or most of them, have flown the city and of course, I wouldn’t be a student this time around. I could have at least some sort of a life though… It would be better than where I am right now and I’d have the mountains nearby. I keep thinking that when I get back I should buy a bike and go on long rides to the middle of nowhere.’ He should… That’s a great idea. It would make for a different style of travel piece. I suggest he could do a series where he cycles to various places around North Wales- The first stop being my home of Cythry (in reality, Ffynnon Llugwy) of course. James likes the idea. ‘Yes… Especially Cythry. Because, and this is really my own fault for not doing the proper research beforehand, Cythry is ridiculously difficult to get to unless you have a car. Last time I checked buses only go past three times a day and it’s a heck of a long hike otherwise.’


‘As James will tell you, the first time he set out to reach it he nearly froze to death.’


Given that Bangor is home and that my family predate his arrival there, did he choose to place my homestead nearby because of that or was it just coincidence that we all ended up in the same place? ‘It was kind of a weird how things got there. It was a bit serendipitous and a bit purposeful,’ he responds. ‘I decided I would go to Bangor for university and then not long after I reached the point where I started to seriously think about where the Morfasson home was. When I wrote the first two books (of which now only fragments remain) they had no proper home. There was a modernist house in France in the first book but that was all. I just assumed that they lived in an ordinary house somewhere, perhaps in York. That was a bit dull though so when I was writing the third book (which again only exists as printed fragments in James’s old notes box) There was this scene where a character is interrogated by the police and I needed an address for him. I suddenly thought about Wales and the mountains and boom, there it was. I liked it! It felt natural. And being in Wales it had to be an old ruined castle didn’t it.’ He grins from ear to ear. Originally he sited the castle at Llyn Dulyn but later changed his mind and moved it to the other side of the mountains. Why was that? ‘A matter of convenience and better road access,’ is the only answer I get. It does make sense. Llyn Dulyn is an even bigger pain to reach than Ffynnon Llugwy. As James will tell you, the first time he set out to reach it (Llyn Dulyn) he nearly froze to death. ‘I went over the mountains and it was a really nice, really warm day. I got up Foel Grach and then suddenly the weather came down and I found myself hiking through deep snow!’

Cythry and Wales have become major places in his works, being the main setting for Max & Anna and the starting point for The Rebels as well as featuring in my own story and (spoiler alert) cropping up in the final Dark Legend book. The village even made a cameo in one of his short stories, Iolo Fflint. Once more it is something different and different in a way that only James can do. ‘Most writers, when they want somewhere in Britain that is isolated and out of the way, they go for the Highlands of Scotland, sometimes the Yorkshire moors or maybe Cornwall. They never go for Snowdonia or the Brecon Beacons. They never think of Wales.’ As such this has given James the scope to play and do his own thing. The land is his oyster and he’s been free to populate it not just with my own family and village but a whole cast of people and untouched places. Some of them, like Bethesda and the Gwydir forest, are real but he’s twisted them around, made them a bit more fantastical. James’s Bethesda has a seedy underbelly of vice, for example. And the mountains… Err… Well… ‘You want to know about the Frodorion?’ Yes. What the hell possessed him to create this group of isolationist hill farmers with their own dialect and culture? ‘They make the place seem a bit more wild and exotic. Up in the Carneddau you might not see anybody else for days so it’s all too easy to imagine that the silhouette of a lone hiker standing atop the next peak could be this strange man from another culture. The dialect thing is just an excuse though. It’s to cover up the fact that my Welsh is terrible and I have to use Google translate half the time.’ In order to enhance this he’s made them a bit more legendary. ‘In the modern age they’ve gone. The story goes that they get subsumed by twentieth century society so in Max & Anna they’re all over the place but by our own time there aren’t any left.’ As fond as I am of James, I can’t help but think that some of his ideas, like this one, are a bit too wild.


The Man in Black...

He really doesn’t look too bad… So long as you keep him in the suit!


You need someone to rein you in every once in a while, I tell him. He squints. ‘How do you mean?’ I mean that he needs to settle down, find himself someone who can act as a check to his wilder moments. He needs someone who can keep him grounded. ‘Like a girlfriend?’ I expect him to cast me down but he doesn’t. ‘As nice as that would be it isn’t likely to happen any time soon… Not around here at least. Maybe the girl for me is around somewhere but if she is I have no idea where.’ Has he ever thought about using a dating website? Tinder or something? He makes noises. ‘Yes… BUT… I don’t really like the idea of them overall. They’re really big now and EVERYONE uses them but I tend to still think of them as places where you only find lonely, fifty something women and not someone more suitable for me. I’d like someone more my own age. A few years younger or older isn’t going to matter but twice my age is stretching it and I have this fear that if I go on a dating website then that is going to be ALL that there is. That and that nobody will match me and I’ll be one of those people who get their money back after six months. Also… I don’t like the thought of being in a relationship with where I am in life right now. I’d rather be more comfortable, more stable.’ I remind him that he once claimed he would like a 5’4 red headed Yorkshire goddess called Susan and he covers his eyes. ‘I don’t actually care if she’s from Yorkshire or if she’s called Susan or even red headed. If I’m attracted to a woman then I’m going to be attracted to her wherever she’s from or what her hair colour is. A tall girl might be a bit of a problem for me though. But so long as she has the nouse to put up with me, hump and all, I don’t see why there should be any issue.’

Finally I want to ask him about the future, about where he wants to go with life- Besides back to Bangor and across the river to the Wirral. ‘More travel… Further afield. I’m thinking about going up to Edinburgh early next year and if Max & Anna does well enough I might go down to Italy and a few other places as well. Dublin is somewhere I’ve wanted to go for a while. My main goal at the moment is to start earning enough so that I can base myself in Bangor for the foreseeable future. Whatever money is left over after that I can then use for travel.’ It sounds like a good plan.


I’ve read James’ school reports and there’s a bit in there from one of his teacher’s that says he deserves to be successful. As I watch him go to the counter to pay our coffee bill (he offers, I don’t complain) I’m reminded of that and I agree with it, for not entirely unselfish reasons. He deserves to be successful, for Max & Anna to fly and outstrip all other books in the way he hopes, to get home to Bangor and to earn enough to see the world. Sure, he looks unassuming and as I watch I can’t help but smile as the cashier notices he’s there, with a look of surprise on her face as if he just appeared whilst her back was turned. Once you get to know him you start to understand why. He’s not like other people, not in the least. He doesn’t follow trends or jump onto bandwagons. He does his own thing, whatever that might be. In every way he is a very different kind of man.



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