Gary Raymond is a Cardiff-based novelist and one of the founding editors of Wales Arts Review. His latest novel, The Golden Orphans was released earlier this year. He currently presents The Review Show, a monthly review of the Welsh arts scene on BBC Radio Wales. Gary will be at Cardiff Book Festival on Sunday, 9 September at 5pm.

Can you tell us what you do?

I am a novelist, an editor, and a broadcaster. It’s been a busy 2018 for me so far, as I have a new novel out, The Golden Orphans (Parthian Books), a thriller set in Cyprus, which has spent a bit of time in the WH Smith’s UK fiction chart, was a pick of the month in The Bookseller, and was a choice in the best new crime fiction section in The Spectator. So that has kept me very busy since it was released in June. But as well as that I am the editor of Wales Arts Review. And I also now present The Review Show on BBC Radio Wales, which is a new monthly slot that looks at what’s going on in the arts in Wales.

Why have you chosen to work in Cardiff?

It is, whether the rest of Wales likes it or not, the centre for culture and media in Wales, and as that’s my business, it makes sense for me to be here. I’m from Newport, so it’s not necessarily the easiest thing to up and leave to the big rival city. But I am close to all the things that make my work just that little bit easier.

What inspires you about being here?

Cardiff is a very open, multicultural city, and I also find it very positive in its attitude. It also feels quite youthful, which I’m not really anymore, so it’s nice to have that around. It gets a bit of stick, as capital cities always do, but being in it every day now, I feel the positive energy of people on the ground wanting to make things work, wanting to be a part of a progressive, inclusive society. People don’t always bang on about it, but it feels like there’s a real cultural leadership coming out of Cardiff, and not from politicians who are still a bit glassy eyed even when making the right noises – but from artists. There is a lot of creativity here, which personally makes me feel like I’m in the right place. Even though as a writer I obviously physically work in isolation a lot of the time, it’s also important to me the environment that is just beyond the door.

What challenges have you found in working in Cardiff?

The challenges of working in Cardiff have been personal rather than anything to do with Cardiff. Being from Newport, I have always carried with me a protective sense of loyalty to my hometown, and anybody from Newport will tell you that loyalty comes with a suspicion of Cardiff. But you have to just suck that stuff up and do what’s best for your own work. So being a Newportonian living in Cardiff makes me an outsider – when I was a teenager this would have been regarded as being behind enemy lines. But of course as a writer, that’s where I should be, an outsider in the court of a rival king.

How successful do you think Cardiff has been at making itself a creative capital, particularly in your area of work?

I think Cardiff has been as successful, all things considered, as any European city in making the most of its creative capital. Everything is relative, but when you enter Cardiff it feels like a positive, creative city. It has a vibe. It hosts major international events in the arts – Artes Mundi, BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, Festival of Voice, to name just a few – but also has a grass roots, underground movement that is not pushed back against as far as I can see. It’s to the credit of the people and artists of Cardiff – and they are not all Cardiffians, but they come from all over the world to live and work here – that Cardiff has that vibe I talked about.

In your opinion, which three things need to happen to make Cardiff a more creative city?

It’s not always about money, but it seems to me in the business world there is always talk of incentives to make sure business leaders stay in the country. Whatever happens, don’t let bankers go abroad. Whatever it takes. I think there should be a similar approach to the creative industries. What can Cardiff do to attract the best in the world? Maybe huge tax breaks for artists. Why not? Few artists make enough money to pay much tax anyway so why not let them off entirely. See how quickly the greatest artists in the world move in when they have huge Bono-style tax incentives.

I don’t know if I have three ideas for making Cardiff more creative, especially when outside of Cardiff communities are struggling to keep libraries open and have literature taught in schools. So it seems a bit vulgar to talk about squeezing more for Cardiff under those circumstances. Maybe Cardiff would find inspiration in going out into those communities a bit more often. Cardiff wants to lead Wales, then the next time a library is being shut down in the Rhondda or wherever, get marching up there.

What do you think Creative Cardiff should try to achieve?

I think hubs and communities are really important. One thing we’ve tried to do at Wales Arts Review is bring writers and artists together and give them a place where they can discuss ideas, even if it’s just on the platform of the website, but also we do it around the table. I think CC has that potential, if it’s not there already. Obviously, helping young people find a place in the creative industries is important, but I am dead set against the conquering mentality that creativity needs to have the goal of contributing to the nation’s economy. If everyone signs up to that ethos we are done for. No great art was ever created because one eye was on the desires of the Treasury. So Creative Cardiff should give a space, should encourage artists to explore and go on their own journey – I know from personal experience this can take time and have many unexpected pit stops. But who knows, one day some of those artists can get to a place where they can take advantage of those tax breaks I mentioned.

Describe your favourite creative place to work in Cardiff.

Ah, well that’s in the study in my house. Me and my partner picked the house because we liked the room we envisaged as a study, where we could both work. I’m not very precious about things like that, and I can work anywhere really – the only real creative space is my head – but we happened upon this space and it is nice to work in. But if I had to work on a park bench, or swinging from a bus stop, I’d find a way to get the work done.

I would also say though, that I do get very concerned about my time management (not in a very productive way, I must admit) but it’s very reassuring to me living very near to Cowbridge Road East, that no necessary distraction would take very long, as that road has everything anybody would ever need for any occasion. I’m sure, god forbid, that even if I had some medical emergency, you could Google “open heart surgery” and you’d find there’s a 24-hour service a few doors down from Tesco Express.

Can you pick one creative person in Cardiff who we should go and find out more about?

There are honestly too many to mention – barely a day goes by when I’m not finding myself in awe of someone. And this is not just artists, but producers, facilitators, educators, enablers. I couldn’t possibly pick one. But maybe I could be cheeky and say that we try and get as many of these amazing people into the pages of Wales Arts Review as often as we can. So check them out there.

What’s next for you? What projects are on the horizon? What new ideas are you working on?

Wales Arts Review is always racing along, often pulling me along with it rather the other way around. But we as a team have some amazing projects in the offing for 2019. Can’t say too much about any of them at the moment, but we’re very excited that The Review may be taking a slightly new direction.

Personally, I’m now working on my next novel, trying to ride the wave of the unexpected success The Golden Orphans is having. So I’m hoping I can push ahead with that and have a follow up out before too long.

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