Gethin Hughes . . . Welsh Rugby’s Huge And Entirely Fictional Household Name

Autumn is the season of mellow fruitfulness, rugby internationals, and sporting biographies. But there is one book currently on the market with a difference. Gethin Hughes is a player you may never have heard of, but author Luke Upton has created a character that feels so real you may find yourself looking out for him at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.

Gethin Hughes – the hero Welsh rugby deserves?

Max Boyce… Grand Slam… Gren’s cartoons… big leeks… headbands… whilst Welsh rugby has changed hugely in the past fifteen years, the imagery around it is still largely rooted in the 1970s.

I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. That decade was a fantastic one for the sport in Wales and the national team were amazing. If the World Cup had existed we probably would have won it. Twice.

But in writing Absolutely Huge (Y Lolfa), I wanted to shake up a couple of those familiar views of Welsh rugby and inject more of what influences it now – acceleration through the academy, twitter, crazy media coverage, endorsements and celebrity girlfriends.

All in a slightly exaggerated fictional Wales – where the regions are the Sailors, Capitols and Borderers, along with Y Gorau and Criccieth RFC, where a pop singer who combines the Mabinogion with R&B rules the charts, and an eccentric IT billionaire (normally) gets exactly what he wants.

I’ve been one half of the Twitter rugby humour account @NotGavHenson since 2011, and through this time have seen the peaks and troughs of various players, moving from untouchables to the butt of jokes and even anger.

Absolutely Huge

Leigh Halfpenny springs to mind, the golden boy for so many years. Then, around 2016, he began being viewed, by some at least, as “boring” and there were calls across social media for him to be dropped.

He doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone after what’s he’s achieved, but some thought he did. The slight shift in the tactics of the national team, plus his return home seems now to have dampened down these calls and he’s back being a “proper legend”. Not that Leigh cares too much about Twitter opinion, I’m sure.

Another example, from a pre-social media time of 2003, still remains fresh in the memory – Colin Charvis, being voted second most hated man in Wales after being photographed smiling ruefully during a Six Nations defeat to Italy. The most hated man? Osama Bin Laden.

A similar zig-zag in the nation’s affections happens to Gethin Hughes, the hero of Absolutely Huge.

After a stunning international debut and glory for club and country, 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.

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Things don’t improve after early retirement at 23, when he gets entangled with both reality TV and a political scandal in Cardiff Bay.

The book ends with him tentatively beginning a playing come-back but a long way (professionally, if not figuratively) from where he began.

I’ve always enjoyed reading sport biographies and autobiographies, and like the familiar tropes usually found within them quite comforting; ‘I wasn’t very good at school…’, ‘It was at this moment I realised I could be a professional….’ , ‘Me and Stacey had been together since we were 15…’ and so forth.

And I had long thought there was a possibility to skewer this format a little with a book around a fictional Welsh rugby player and his mis-adventures.

From this sprang Gethin ‘Huge’ Hughes. My original plan was to make him far more brash and unlikeable. But there’s still shades of this, in one chapter he puts his hand up during a half time team talk and asks his team mates to give him the ball more (SPOILER ALERT – they do, and they win) and he certainly makes his share of unwise decisions.

But I think like many writers who spend a long time with a character, they soften. The Gethin of the book, is a well meaning, ultimately simple character, who basically just wants to play rugby.

He steps onto a conveyor belt when he turns professional and doesn’t have a huge amount of say in what happens to him when it starts moving. That said, the reality TV was pretty stupid…

Writing it was a lot of fun, the exaggerated version of Wales and its rugby teams is more exciting and fun than the real one. The moments of glory on the pitch tug at the outer reaches of credibility.

And some of his escapades are just plain silly. But that’s okay, it’s a work of fiction and meant to be a bit of a laugh in a time when they are in short supply. I hope you enjoy it!

 

Luke Upton (@MrLukeUpton)

 

Absolutely Huge is now published and available in bookshops across Wales, direct from Y Lolfa, and on Amazon and other online retailers.

 

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Y Lolfa

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