Luke Upton is a Welsh author who has just published his first book – ‘Absolutely Huge‘ – a brilliant satirical biography of a fictional Welsh rugby superstar, Gethin ‘Huge’ Hughes (published by Y Lolfa).
The book mimics the standard sports biography that many of us have read, but with a very unique twist thanks to the interesting situations that Gethin gets himself into throughout his career!
Many of us may have met similar characters at our rugby club, or seen similar antics played out in the tabloid media in previous years. Luke captures these brilliantly in his entertaining take on this world.
I sat down with Luke to find out a bit more about him, including his background, his thoughts on Welsh rugby, and how Absolutely Huge was written.
Thanks for your time today Luke, tell us about your new book Absolutely Huge
No worries, thanks for taking the time to speak to me! Well, I guess the origins are in my love of rugby and a lifetime of reading sports autobiographies. I wanted to send up Welsh rugby, and the media hype that surrounds it in a satirical if affectionate way.
There isn’t anything like it for Welsh rugby, which still falls a little on the likes of Max Boyce and Gren for its humour.
In short, Absolutely Huge spoofs the standard tell-all sports autobiography format, charting the highs and lows of Gethin ‘Huge’ Hughes remarkable and meteoric rise from youth player in the Swansea Valley to worldwide superstar, and revealing the truth behind his often controversial career both on and off the pitch.
Gethin ‘Huge’ Hughes sounds like a real character to say the least, can we get a little sneak preview about of some of his exploits in the book?
Well, his life is a bit of a roller-coaster to say the least! He scores a stunning try on his international debut and by the age of 20 Huge is the biggest star in Welsh rugby. He’s dating pop star Heledd Harte, the ‘nation’s sweetheart’, and after one particularly heroic moment at Twickenham is voted Second Best Welshman Ever.
But the good times don’t last.
He causes a diplomatic row on a Lions tour makes some calamitous product endorsements, suffers World Cup embarrassment and injury heartbreak and is voted the Second Worst Welshman Ever. And that’s only the half of it!
The book has received some great reviews (including The Guardian describing it as “an Odyssey for our times. Hilarious take on the chemistry between huge talent and the 21st century.”), tell us about some of the reactions you have received to the book
I’ve been really delighted with the reaction. It was quite a moment to go into Waterstones and see the book on a shelf alongside far more illustrious titles! I’ve had some lovely messages on social media from people telling me they’ve enjoyed it, I know it was in quite a few people’s Christmas stockings!
Doing some book signings, some with actual rugby player Matthew Rees was a lot of fun too. It’s also been nice to get comments from people within rugby, players and media who’ve enjoyed it.
One high-profile pundit asked me if I had an ‘insider’ telling me some of the stories. I don’t. Honest!
This is your first book, tell us about how you first got into writing and where that has taken you in your current career
Since I was a kid growing up in Swansea I always loved reading and used to be coming up for ideas for stories. And I’ve been fortunate to work for several media organisations in London since graduation and I am now the Editor and a co-founder of a business news site and magazine focusing on the bio-based industry.
So a long way from Welsh rugby but before that I worked for five years at a sports industry publisher so learnt about sponsorship and media – some of which comes through in the book… albeit badly executed!
I edited two books on best practice in sports sponsorship, but Gethin’s agent didn’t read either!
How long did it take you to complete Absolutely Huge (balancing family and work life), and tell us about the publishing process
It took about two and a half years from first speaking to the team at Y Lolfa and publication, they were aiming for a Christmas 2018 and I had to do it around my work, a lengthy commute and the birth of my daughter. So a fair few ideas were come up with whilst pushing a pram around southeast London!
Lefi, Carolyn and the team at Y Lolfa were fantastic, and it’s great to have been published by a company that have done some brilliant real biographies recently, in particular those on Carywn James and Lee Byrne.
Did your love of rugby help with the ideas within the book? I hear a rumour you were once a matchday lottery ticket salesman at Swansea RFC!
Ha! Yes, that’s true. Back between around 1998 and 2000 in the last gasp of Welsh club rugby before the regions took over. It was a great time to be down the Whites – Scott Gibbs, Mark Taylor, Arwel Thomas, Darren Morris and of course the main man himself Gavin Henson coming through.
I sold £1 Whites Winner tickets and got 10p a sale, plus a free match ticket. Best job I’ve ever had! And yes, I’ve been a rugby fan all my life, and I’ve also been one half of the @NotGavHenson twitter rugby humour account since 2010 which has given me a new perspective on the sport and the media that swirls around it!
Welsh rugby is going through some change with Wayne Pivac to take charge shortly, how do you think he will do, and what are your thoughts on Gatland’s legacy?
I think we are going to miss him more than we think! He’s made Wales fitter than ever and consistently hard to beat. For many years I remember playing the big three (plus England and France) and coming nowhere near them. We’d perform for a half perhaps then collapse. This is no longer the case! The Autumn of 2018 proved that.
Whilst I think it went a little stale after the 2015 World Cup, he’s turned it around and the squad now is probably the strongest he’s ever had. I think his legacy will be very positive, perhaps more depending on how the World Cup goes.
His work has given Wayne Pivac a great platform, but they sure are big shoes to fill and his challenging last season at Parc Y Scarlets will only add to the pressure.
The Regional set up in Welsh rugby is still a contentious issue, what are your thoughts on it as we see many smaller clubs struggling to survive?
It’s very sad to see smaller clubs folding or struggling to put teams out. They are part of a community, most have been for generations and can’t be replaced once they’ve gone. It feels sometimes that the WRU has focused too much on international and regional rugby and ignored the grassroots of the game.
But in taking a pragmatic view, economic and societal pressures beyond the WRU’s control have eroded the club structure, particularly in the Valleys and rural areas. And whilst the regions have made little impact in the European Cup, there’s no doubt that the national team has improved greatly since their creation. It’s all about balance!
Back to the book, what are your plans now that the book has been published, do you have any other works in the pipeline?
Well, I will still be promoting Absolutely Huge, particularly in a World Cup year! But there are some other potential ideas out there, something in non-fiction and a book for kids – both in rugby. Nothing confirmed yet but watch this space.
And Huge himself? Well, he’s only 26 when the book concludes, so plenty more chapters ahead if there’s interest…