Mister Gum – An Interview with Rhys Hughs


Next up in our Doghorn Publishing series is writer Rhys Hughs.

Q1. How long have you been a writer & how did you get started?

A: I started when I was approximately 6¾ years old. I wanted to create my own comics but I couldn’t draw so I had all the characters standing unseen beyond the frames with their speech bubbles coming out and dominating each panel, so in a sense I was writing prose without realising it. I continued dabbling like this and also starting novels I never finished until the age of 14 when I decided to attempt the writing of a proper short story for publication. It wasn’t published, of course, but it started me off on a splurge of short story writing. I have barely stopped since then! I did have a brief break when I was about 18 but the fact is that I have been writing solidly for thirty-three years.

 Q2. Mister Gum sounds like a peculiar and filthy novel, can you tell us a bit about what it’s about?

 A: It’s a satire, a rambunctious and rambling adventure about a perverted teacher of Creative Writing who constantly breaks his own rules. So he might outline a particular rule to his students and then tell a tale in order to exemplify that rule, but in fact the tale that he is in violates the same rule. In order words form opposes and negates content. I just wanted to mock the process of teaching Creative Writing as a discipline because writing isn’t a discipline, it’s a self-discipline, and I also wanted to have fun doing so. Mister Gum is very Rabelesian and very absurdist and full of bizarre sexual episodes and I had the most enormous fun writing it.

 Q3. Do you consider yourself to be a writer of humorous fantasy?

 A: Yes and no. I love comedy but I don’t think that ‘comedy’ necessarily has to be funny. I know that sounds odd and perhaps paradoxical, but in fact comedy can be many things. In fact I prefer the term commedia, which is broader and implies that tragic events can also be a part of what happens, but they aren’t treated in a tragic manner. I do write quite a lot of fantasy and some of it is deliberately comical, but not all, and even when I do attempt to use humour it is generally of the dark variety. The writers I most admire seem to be able to combine comedy with darkness most adroitly and yet without the result necessarily being what we usually understand by the term ‘black comedy’. Boris Vian and Donald Barthelme, for instance, were able to be simultaneously funny and sad, flippant and profound, sympathetic and monstrous, but they didn’t really write black comedies. They just were what they were.

 Q4. What was it like to work with Dog Horn Publishing?

It was good and useful and I am delighted they exist. They are a small press that is happy or at least willing to take a risk on books that are probably never going to sell more than in small quantities. Writers who wish to liberate themselves from the demands of the mainstream markets rely absolutely on publishers such as Dog Horn.

Q5. Do you think the world of publishing takes enough risks even within the independent sector? Does progressive fiction have room to breathe?

No, it doesn’t. The biggest problem as far as I’m concerned is that innovations with form seem mostly to have been abandoned. It’s not just that authors aren’t concerning themselves anymore with the possibilities inherent in experimenting with form, but that publishers regard such experiments with horror. Gone are the days when a writer such as B.S. Johnson could ask for holes to be cut in pages of his novel so that readers might peer ahead to a future scene in order to prepare themselves psychologically for that scene, or when Raymond Queneau wanted his book of verse, One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems, to be presented with each sonnet line sliced into a strip in order that they might all be flipped at random into new and hitherto unseen permutations. Stuff like that just isn’t done anymore, or done very rarely.

Q6. Do you have a preference for traditional formats like real books?

The short answer is that yes, I do. Maybe I shouldn’t but there is something about the good old-fashioned paper book that moves me. I feel less engaged by other formats. Having said that, I am aware that my attachment to paper books is purely sentimental and has little to do with reason. Paper books themselves must have seemed impossibly modern and garish to ancient scribes who preferred clay or stone tablets. The times do move and I don’t always move with them, but at least I don’t oppose them moving without me.

Q7. Are you interested in using new digital media, like web platforms to do something different with fiction?

Yes I am interested, but whether I myself will make use of such platforms remains to be seen. I haven’t done much with them so far. I like the idea of combining fiction with music and imagery in live performance, but in some ways this is almost a step backwards rather than forwards, as fiction presented as performance was the original outlet for the form. There are many options open to writers these days and they should at least be open-minded about them.

Many thanks to Rhys for answering our questions, more info on him can be found here –


You can now purchase Mister Gum from our online shop.


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