Writer Feature: Jon Gower

Jon Gower

Jon Gower – not to be confused with the 14th century poet John Gower – is a writer of prodigious ability, and not just literary ability. Writer, naturalist, presenter, reporter, editor – Gower has his pick of titles.

From 2000 to 2006 he acted as BBC Wales’ Arts and media Correspondent. During this time he also presented First Hand, BBC Radio Wales’ arts programme. He has held both the position of public affairs officer for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and that of a current affairs journalist for HTV, and worked as a producer for Boomerang – one of Wales’ most dynamic TV and radio companies.

The fact that he studied English at Cambridge seems a relatively minor boast in comparison to his successive career.

Hailing from Llanelli, Jon has spent much of his life and writing in pursuit of Wales, and Welsh history – even pursuing it outside the boundaries of Wales itself. An Island Called Smith – which won the John Morgan Travel Award in 2000 – is Gower’s account of Smith Island in Chesapeake Bay, USA, whose inhabitants are nearly entirely descended from Welsh and Cornish immigrants of the 17th century. His recent novel Uncharted similarly interweaves Wales with a wider international network, winding the narrative through Buenos Aires, Oakland, and Cardiff.

Uncharted is Gower’s 2010 novel of ‘tango, albatrosses and unfathomable mysteries’ and the author’s professed favourite of his many published works. First penned in Welsh as Dala’r Llanw (Catching the Tide) it is also a text which Gower himself translated into English – a process which allowed him to make some edits and shuffle around the ending to his greater satisfaction.

Gower is an example of the natural advantages afforded to those writers who are bilingual and willing to not only undergo the translation process, but whose understanding is nuanced enough to comprehend the complexities of it. ‘I usually try to write prose that has a melody and found writing the English translation difficult at first as I was trying to impose the Welsh “music” on the English version’ Gower commented in relation to the process of translating/writing Uncharted; ‘that is until I decided to go with the English music.’

Delving back to his roots, Gower also recently penned an intimate non-fictional account of his hometown, entitled Real Llanelli (Seren, 2010). Yet despite his clear success with longer narrative forms Gower claims his preferred mode is still the short story, a collection of which – Big Fish – he produced in 2000. Whatever his personal preferences, there is no doubt that Gower offers his readers variety aplenty.

Considering Gower is currently working on a critical biography of the American actor Steve Buscemi, some might even go as far as to name his range ‘eclectic’. But we have every confidence in affirming Gower’s hopes and expectations of his work to be true: ‘I still treasure that sense of companionship, the beautiful idea that someone, a stranger maybe, will spend a few hours in my company through the medium of a book. I always hope I’ll entertain them.’

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