Tim Cooke is a teacher, writer and creative writing PhD student. In the 2022 Award Ceremony, New Welsh Review announced Tim as winner of the New Welsh Writing Awards 2022: Rheidol Prize for Prose with a Welsh Theme or Setting. He won the award with his blended nonfiction book, River.
River uses the River Ogmore in Bridgend to shape the narrative. By presenting a series of real events, memories and fictions connected in some way to the flow of the river, Tim explores, predominantly, the small, private tragedies of any given childhood. He draws more widely on infamous examples of violence committed by children — and what has been written about these incidents — and touches on theories of ‘dark play’. Integral to this essay are issues of ethics, memory, reflexivity and narrative.
1) What inspired you to get into writing as a career?
I’ve been a big reader since childhood and have always wanted to create things that I’m proud of. I wrote songs and poetry as a teenager, studied literature at university and then trained as a journalist. I wrote lots of articles about film, books and education, but I wanted to do something more creative. I started writing short stories and essays, which I had some good luck placing, and I’ve continued from there. I’m currently in my fifth year of a part-time PhD, teaching four days a week, but writing more for pleasure than anything else — I just want to produce work that I think is good. The inspiration really is reading so many great books and thinking that I’d love to be able to write like that.
2) Whose work has most influenced your own?
I’ve been influenced by lots of writers in different ways going back a long time. Some whose work I return to regularly in my research include: Annie Ernaux, Edouard Louis, Carmen Maria Machado, Jenn Ashworth, Gordon Burn, Maggie Nelson, Andrew O’Hagan, Niall Griffiths, Rob Doyle, Gary Budden, Ron Berry, Janet Malcolm, Jeff Young, Arthur Machen, WG Sebald, Iain Sinclair, Joel Lane, Claire-Louise Bennett, David Wojnarowicz, Sarah Moss. There are loads to be honest.
3) In River, why did you choose the River Ogmore to shape the narrative?
I chose to write about the river as part of my research because I’m trying to let the landscapes that were significant to me as a child and teenager shape the project. I’m interested in how as writers we sometimes force narrative onto a series of events. It occurred to me that I’ve had so many experiences along the river — which runs behind my childhood home — I could simply follow it on a map and let the course direct my writing, responding to impulse and looking for common threads along the way. I’m trying to remain very open to deviation and digression, writing more freely than I’m used to.
4) How much of an influence was Wales on the memoir?
Because the locations I’m concerned with are in Wales, and I grew up there, it’s certainly significant, but I’m not trying to write specifically about a uniquely Welsh experience or about Welsh identity — not consciously anyway. (I have been reading quite a lot about Wales recently, though, and I find it extremely interesting.) I’m writing more about childhood and how we engage with place, so I’m hoping that aspects of it are in some way universal.
5) And finally, are you currently working on anything that you wish to share with your readers?
River will be part of a small collection of essays with similar themes — I’m thrilled to be working on that with Gwen Davies at the New Welsh Review. I’m also hoping to develop a short, fairly weird travelogue based on memories of a trip around South America ten years ago. I have a huge album of photographs I took and I’d like to use those to piece together a strange hybrid work of some sort.
Thank you for taking part in the #MeetTheContributor series, Tim. We enjoyed finding out more about who influences your work, River, and what you’re working on currently.