As the short story landed him a BBC prize for literature this week, Cynan Jones is only stripped back as it gets.
The Welsh author lives in a log cabin that he built all by himself, drove the same car for 14 years and writes in longhand on an A4 pad, in his mother’s garden shed.
Not surprisingly, that he expected that the Â£15,000 he took with his BBC National Short Story Award for 2017 for its work, the edge of the swarm, to last him and his family “for at least a year, maybe two.”
Jones wealth, he said, lies in the natural landscape that surrounds him in his home town of Aberaeron, Ceredigion.
“If I am in need of inspiration for my writing, I dropped out of the mother and walk 50 meters to the edge of a cliff, where I Bay can immerse yourself in this extraordinary Cardigan-landscape,” says Jones.
Welsh writer wins BBC short story award
You, Jamie Parker, listen to you read the edge of the shoal by Cynan Jones
“All of my stories have grown out of this landscape,” he said.
“The idea for the edge of The shoal came from sitting on the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea.
“I thought, what would happen if I threw a man in a boat? The story was built, in my mind, while I sat there.”
The story began as a 30,000-word novel, but it was “clean-shaven and shaved-down” to 11,500 words, because Jones says, “it didn’t work”.
The abridged version was fond of US literary magazine The New Yorker, but was still considered “too long”. Could he cut in half? the magazine asked.
“So I had to halve the four days, more or less, a story that I wouldn’t have wanted someone to cut, by a single word,” he says.
“I pulled a stiff drink, while considered the task, but you can never drink and write.
“So I worked frantically for four days, Stripping what was the decorative and the result is a story that has now punched its weight in this BBC competition.
“The task was very intense, but it was exciting. I optimized and smoothed, and I thought, ‘that’s it, I’m from the workbench’.”
Jones says he is used to writing fast. His first novel, The Long Dry, weighed in at 28,000 words, but it was written in less than two weeks.
“If I put myself in my mum to write to the old shed, I have Long Dry, it is in only 10 days.”
“Of course, the novel had already grown in my head for months, maybe years, without me actually putting pen to paper.
“I was working as a mentor for a child in a local pupil referral unit and, before that, I had fulfilled a childhood dream of working at the aquarium. I would also tutor a supply and a freelance copywriter in Glasgow can do it, churning out copy about steel pipe and bank rebrands. It was not a lot of romance.
“I didn’t know I wanted, a 44-year-old man who accused his wife and his children and his job for the to write never a novel, so I quit my job at the age of 28 and put my arms.
Now at the age of 42 and married – he tied the knot with his wife Charmian in the past year, after 19 years together – he still preferred his “quick, intense” method of writing, and ahead of lengthy dives in the West Wales countryside.
“When it’s time to write, I pick myself up and not work just as frenetic, more often than not, until five o’clock in the morning, if I’m going to bed, sleep crawling for a couple of hours before you start again at 10 o’clock.
“I’m going to turn my phone off, ignore the post and do nothing but write. My wife sees it coming and keeps it until it is finished. In General, the write does not take longer than three weeks for each novel.”
As its currency grows in the literary world, Jones insists, is to earn the riches which he now stands, that will not change his life style.
“I live in an exceptional environment – this is how I make my wealth. The rest, we don’t need. I have the same car for 14 years [Peugeot 307], even though the garage tells me that it is not its next MOT, and I built our cabin where we live. We have no iPods or iPads or digital TV, and we don’t need to.”
Not that Jones don’t appreciate the Â£, he won 15,000 in prize money at the award ceremony in the BBC Radio Theatre in London on Tuesday.
“This is money we would normally spend in a year, maybe two, to live, to buy, so this money will give me the time to write and this is the best type of payment, a writer can be given,” he says.