Q1: Tell us a little about yourself, what are you up to at the moment?
Rhys: Officially, I’m in my first year of studying English and Classics at Trinity College Dublin. As a writer though, I’m seeking a publisher for my short story collection: ‘A Changeling Sextet’, a memoir of neurodivergent and genderqueer adolescence. As a poet, I’m working on a collection – a kind of coming-of-age story for the creative process against the backdrop of personal and political crises. As a Spoken Word Artist, I’m always looking for festivals to perform at and am eagerly awaiting the late-November release of a successor to “The New World”, an album I worked on with ConFAB in 2021. As a person, I’m an 18-year-old from South Scotland.
Q2: What matters most in the creative world - ambition, luck or talent?
Rhys: Definitely all three. The internet has made opportunities from all corners of the globe more accessible, but obviously that increases the amount of competition you face for each opportunity. I don’t think it’s necessarily the most talented person who comes out on top, either, but whoever happens to resonate with the relevant judge(s) most. It’s a numbers game ultimately – the more things you enter, the higher the chance of some kind of success. It definitely takes luck in that regard, but of course you’d never get anywhere without some talent, and it takes ambition not to give up after your dozenth rejection letter!
Q3: What made you enter the prize and how did you find out about it?
Rhys: These days the amount of things out there to enter can be overwhelming – as someone affected on a daily basis by how inclusivity is implemented, I felt I really had something to contribute to the conversation with the Perito Prize. The folks over at Creative Scotland have a brilliant Opportunities search tool that you can use to find what’s most relevant to you – I’m pretty sure I found out about the prize on there.
Q4: Some people may not have read your story yet. Tell us what ‘Blinkers’ is all about?
Rhys: Narratively, the story follows a bird born in the body of a fish and the struggles they face due to that predicament. Thematically, it’s a response to the ‘social model of disability’, the idea that we are only as disabled (or neurodivergent) as our society chooses to make us; that disability consists not of an inherent lack but of divergence from the assumed default. My use of allegory is intended to universalise that concept, aiming to find a unifying social model for all marginalised identities. We have to look wholistically at inclusivity to truly implement it; not by trying to compensate for that divergence retroactively but by making it so that it doesn’t arise in the first place - by deconstructing the default that is diverged from.
Q5: Tell us a little about who your creative inspiration or mentor is and why? This might be a favourite author or place to work.
Rhys: The allegory my story centres on is rooted in the genre of magical realism, a style that blurs the boundary between fantasy and reality, and often between the personal and political too. It’s a post-colonial tradition that’s naturally disposed to discussion of inclusivity – popularised by Latin American writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, it has often been used to invert dominant power structures and give a voice to the marginalised. I think allegory is also great for inclusivity – allegorical fables exist across every country in the world and can be understood by people of all intellects and ages.
Q6) Does the place you live or are from inspire you in your work or life and if so how?
Rhys: Probably what’s most impactful is that I find it hard to think of myself as ‘from’ a singular place – I’m of Welsh-American parentage but have lived in Scotland all my life. Of course, I’ve been impacted by my environment though, both positively and negatively. Scotland has made amazing strides towards inclusivity of every identity but there are still lapses, especially in rural areas and spaces outwith general oversight like private schools and certain workplaces. I’ve been very conscious of this and gladly seen it raised by others – the Equality Network’s ‘Further Out’ report is a very insightful read that validates the personal experience that inspired my story with wider-reaching statistics and data.
Q7) As you know the Perito Prize is dedicated to inclusion, access and inclusive environments. Did you find the topic difficult to write about?
Rhys: I think what I found most difficult is that the ‘social model of disability’ I mentioned earlier has to be handled with care. If you use it the wrong way, it can help to contribute to this idea that ‘disability’ is somehow a dirty word, that we should say ‘diffabilty’ or ‘differently abled’, even though these terms hide the reality that disabled people do sometimes need assistance. To my mind, ‘disabled’ is perfectly accurate, as long as we mean it as a participle rather than an adjective - not that a person inherently ‘is disabled’ but rather that they are being disabled by society.
Q8) What was most valuable about going through this writing process for you?
Rhys: The thing about having a deadline for submission is that it makes you have to actually finish your piece within the foreseeable future. Writing for a prize can be stressful, but I’ve always found I work best under pressure – my laptop is cluttered with writing projects I never finished because I never had the impetus on me to complete them, and that can get discouraging when it feels like you’ve spent all this time writing but don’t have a complete piece to show for it. Being forced to actually go all the way through the writing process is a valuable thing itself for an emerging writer.
Q9) Has this prize made you think differently about how inclusive and accessible the world we live in is?
Rhys: I don’t think it’s made me think differently about it, but it definitely made me think more. The point of my story was to get across how it feels to be in an uninclusive and inaccessible space, especially one that’s being made out to seem natural and inevitable when that’s actually not the case. It’s not a feeling that everyone has experienced, maybe not even most people, and to truly capture it in my story I had to reflect on my own life experiences and how best to distil and communicate them. Being voted third place indicates that I have been able to make that feeling resonate, and maybe that it’s more prevalent than I thought.
Q10) Are you planning on building the concepts you incorporated into your entry into more of your work? If so, how?
Rhys: The Parable of the Glass Horizon was originally conceived in miniature as part of a short story within my unpublished collection, which is informed by similar themes and intentions. My protagonists are marginalised figures, coming up against the manufactured limits of their world and questioning them even when no one else shares their perspective. My writing is often experimental – Glass Horizon being composed entirely in future tense to illustrate how a lack of inclusivity persists until we do something about it – and this disorientating divergence from the accepted norms of writing is intended to mimic how it feels to exist outside the default, yearning to be included as who you truly are.