Respected radio scriptwriter Barry Pilton has just published his first novel, about life in the mountains of the Brecon Beacons. Aled Blake found out what drove him to bring the countryside to the page
RURAL LIFE is often a source of wonder and fascination for city dwellers. With the idiosyncrasies of close-knit communities it can sometimes feel a world away from modern urban living.
To outsiders the bickering, the friendships, the gossip and the characters that add to the fabric of country communities can seem a foreign concept.
For writer Barry Pilton, pictured below, living in rural Wales offered a wealth of material for his novel, The Valley.
It is set in a fictional remote valley where a disparate community of farmers and other rural people are tied together by the daily rounds of the local postman, Dafydd.
Pilton, 58, settled in the idyllic rural hamlet of Llandefailogfach near Brecon. And in The Valley he has attempted to humorously capture the ambience of country life.
Outsiders are treated with suspicion as they move in to the area, which looks idyllic, but hides its own assortment of secrets.
"The Valley is basically about all those people like me who moved from the city to a remote part of the countryside," Pilton explained.
"They are trying to get away from their troubles and problems, not realising the countryside has just as many as the town."
The author stresses that the book is not meant to focus on Welsh rural life; rather it is a reflection of rural communities across Britain.
It is about life in remote places rather than anything about national character.
He said, "The Valley imported things that happened in the area, things that happened around me were of use."
It took Pilton several years of tasting different life experiences until he settled upon turning himself into a prolific writer.
Pilton moved to Wales in 1984, and he stayed for 15 happy years before moving back to England and Bristol in 1999.
Earlier in his life, he had been a gardner, estate agent, removal man and van driver. He hitched lifts across the Sahara, lived on a kibbutz and spent time in Paris.
More than any other experience, though, living in rural Wales was something that led to the inspiration of his novel. And Pilton says he has enough material to keep him going for another two books.
"I found it far easier knowing nobody moving to the middle of nowhere."
The joys of rural living have remained with Pilton since he moved back to England. He keeps in touch with all the friends he made during his time in Wales, paying them visits and catching up on the latest gossip.
It was only when he began regaling stories to friends in London of his experiences in the country that he thought of writing about them.
He explained, "The trigger for the book was kind of odd.
"We had moved away from Wales, I was in London staying with friends and we stayed up talking into the early hours of the morning.
"I was swapping stories about Wales, the friend I was with was Welsh, and we didn't get to bed until about 4am. When I drove back to Bristol it suddenly dawned on me I thought that I know a lot of stuff and the amount of material I had acquired over the last 15 years.
"The only structure that encompasses that range of characters was a novel."
And so The Valley was born. It is the fruition of all those memories and stories stacked up over the years by an outsider trying to live the good life.
Despite the fact it has not been released yet, the early reviews have been good and The Valley promises to be one of the more popular humorous novels of the year.
It has even been described as "a bit like Little Britain, only it's funny".
The story begins with a man hanging himself and is set during the 1980s, a time of immense change for farmers and for country life.
After following Dafydd the postman on his rounds, the reader meets the outsiders hoping, even expecting, a better life in the country.
A flamboyant Frenchman buys a Jacobean mansion to live the rural idyll dream, while a bohemian couple move into the Nant Valley buying a tumbledown farmhouse and trying to sell their paintings to locals - when there is only an appetite for images of sheepdogs.
In theory the valley should be perfect for them, lots of fresh (rain) water and plenty of space (nearest farmhouse a good three hour walk away) and loads of potential (if they can get rid of the combine harvester parked in the living room).
Meanwhile, the nearest pub is a 20-minute walk and the one problem is that once you get there, the landlord just doesn't want to sell beer. Or anything else, in fact.
Satirising this countryside in crisis came easy for Pilton, who watched the changes with they eyes of an outsider.
Pilton said, "I moved my experiences into this mythical valley, it is very rural and is basically just sheep.
"It is a story about in-comers and the countryside itself, which is having quite a hard time with people being made redundant and not being able to make a living out of farming.
"The postman is the subject of more and more pressures and time and motion studies.
"There is a backdrop of a general rural malaise into which two separate people move in with idealistic notions of the countryside.
"The poor man is good and the rich man is at his castle. One is a wealthy foreigner who thinks he will be happier if he buries all his money by moving into the countryside.
"The other is an artist who thinks he will be happier moving there. It's a learning curve when people move to the country, they don't expect the countryside to have its own characteristics."
Pilton has a growing confidence that the book will be a hit. And he also hopes it will send even more stories his way from friends in Wales wanting to update him on the latest goings on.
"I am getting more and more optimistic it will be a success. You have to have a certain amount of optimism because it is such hard work writing a book.
"I found living in Wales lovely. Everyone was helpful and I never had any complaints with anyone and no trouble.
"There may be some characters in the book who don't come off too well but I still go back and only recently I was having tea with a farmer I lived next door to for 15 years. Nobody has refused to speak to me.
"In a sense, there are a lot of Welsh characters but it is about any rural area.
"It is about the madness that passes for normal in the back of beyond - it could be in Ireland or Outback Australia.
"If you live up a track and you don't have electricity or water, you are not subject to the normal conformist pressures of civilisation.
"These people develop their own idiosyncratic ways and it is about that, rather than Welsh people. What happens when you live in a rural area."
The Valley is published by Bloomsbury and costs £10. It goes on sale on February 21.