Interview: Brian Hughes

Brian (white shirt, 3rd from R) with the Write Clicks, August 2021.

One of the true pleasures of being an everyday struggling writer—emerging, submerging, and maybe even re-emerging—is meeting others who are in the battle with you.

One such person is Brian Hughes of Winnipeg. I first encountered Brian during one of the Manitoba Writers’ Guild open mic critique sessions. I liked his stories and his slightly offbeat delivery, which I thought added a lot. (Hint: Faulkner is in the house!)

Brian and I ended up in the same writing group, the “Write Clicks,” with members from Winnipeg (some alumni from Carolyn Gray’s WPL Critique group) and Lac du Bonnet, with ex-pats from Donna Besel’s former group. I enjoy his readings and his succinct critiques.

Here’s the interview:

How, when, and why did you start writing?

I stole a typewriter out of a garage at a vacant house when I was twelve and I mark the start of my moral descent from there. The stories from that time have a certain naively tentative eroticism and an undercurrent of self-pity. I never showed them to anyone. When I was fifteen and a little drunk I declared that I wanted to be a seminal genius. I was mocked unmercifully for that and I’ve been hesitant to proclaim my ambitions ever since. I started writing stories with a view to public consumption when I was in my early twenties. There are stories from that time that I’m not ashamed of now.

Can you speak both broadly and specifically about influences?

I was passionate about movies and novels from early on. I read 1984 and tried to read Joyce’s Ulysses at thirteen and read Lolita at fifteen. I would take a novelist I found resonant and try to read all their works, including Nabokov, Joyce Cary, V.S. Naipaul, L.P. Hartley, Margaret Laurence and Joseph Conrad.

I’ve been reading a lot of short stories recently. William Maxwell, William Trevor, Alice Munro, V.S. Pritchett and others.

Cinema 3 in Winnipeg showed a lot of new wave movies, in my teens I was addicted to them. Nous Doux, Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, The 400 Blows, Shoot the Piano Player, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Alfie, Satyricon, 8 1/2, and The Go-Between all stand out in my memory.

Lately, I’m becoming addicted to Netflix. I find the works of the Coen brothers and Vince Gilligan really resonates and their storytelling techniques seem to keep showing up in my writing.

What drives you to write?

One of my favourite quotes is from The Simpsons’ Krusty the Clown – “Do you have a hole in your self-esteem that can only be filled with applause?” – that is part of it and also striving for importance and immortality; to have built a platform that others will stand on to build theirs.

In what other ways do you create?

I studied drawing, painting, printmaking and sculpture. I still try to keep my hand in it.

I’ve taken to building furniture. I’ve always had a strong desire to be self-reliant and I like to take a tree, mill the wood and build a table.

What kinds of writing do you focus on and why?

I seek resonance more than anything else. It can’t be defined but I know when it’s there.

What artistic challenges do you face?

Other people, which is to be expected if you think that others should come to you instead of you reaching out to them. It’s like Greek tragedy; hubris leads to downfall. Ultimately it is my own delusions that I fight with.

Brian Hughes was born in South Africa and came to Canada with his family as a young child. He has lived in Manitoba ever since.

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