Friday 3 August 2018


Over a glass of wine (or two) at the recent magical Charney retreat, Steve Gladwin and I thought it might be an interesting idea to swap interviews for our next ABBA post. Here are the results...

Steve is a performer, storyteller, teacher, director, writer and ran theatre and storytelling companies. He is an honorary bard of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. So question number one has to be...

Q. Your spiritual life obviously has a strong influence on your writing. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

A. I'm happy to talk about my spiritual path which in essence can be summed up with one name: Taliesin. He was a Welsh Bard who wrote in the sixth century - a mythical figure who wrote visionary poems of astonishing depth and power. He was said to be King Arthur's Bard.

My Bardic life can be summed up in the three encounters with Taliesin and the branches that interconnected with other parts of my path. The first was hearing the storyteller Hugh Lupton tell the story of Taliesan at the Brewhouse in Taunton. That had an impact, but the version I heard Philip Carr-Gomm tell on the magical bardic retreat on the island of Iona in 1995, had even more. Not only did we hear the story, but we worked through longer visualisations in a house called Grianon which once belonged to the psychic Lucy Bruce. We took silent walks in the landscape and made twice daily pilgrimages from the hotel to Grianon and back. On the Friday, like little Gwion in the story, we were "reborn" from the cauldron after the last visualisation. For me, it happened unexpectedly a week later when I was giving a storytelling with a friend for Beltane (May Day Eve) and I was granted the awen of story - a Welsh word meaning flowing spirit, or inspiration. It has been with me in some way ever since.

The final and probably most important Taliesan was reading a copy of John Mathews beautifully lyrical and powerful collection of stories called "The Song of Taliesan" while attending a week long psychosynthesis course in Glastonbury. This book and another of Johns had such a profound effect that I later adapted it both for the stage in 2000 and as a double CD in 2009. Somewhere in the middle of all that I also read Philip Carr Gomm's book "The Druid Way"and signed up for their correspondence course. I attended many of their camps where I directed the plays at summer camp for five years in the nineties. My love of storytelling and Welsh myth came from Taiesan and in twenty years of druidery the relationship and the awen has continued.

Storytelling at Dolforyn Woods for Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust

Q. Describe the route to your first novel being published...

A. The actual route was a bit of luck. It was Rosie, my partner, who found the submissions for Gomer Press and Pont Books. It was almost Viv, my editor's, last job before she left to train for the priesthood. I still have a copy of the email which ends by saying "I hope you're not too shocked!"

The idea for 'The Seven" came from two things. The first was a series of books I was writing for adults called "The Lies of the Summerland" which followed the death of my wife, Celia, and our discovery of the Grove of Seven near our home in Meifid. These stories were reborn as a single book about a boy called Tony who loses his artist mother who has left him seven mysterious paintings which are actually keys to unlock the mysteries of the Grove of Seven.

The second comes from my absolute fascination with the Mabinogi stories which are so full of things that simply don't make sense. Perhaps the biggest of these is in the story of Branwen, where Gwern, the little prince is thrown into the fire by his mad uncle Efuisien. I never bought that, so I decided to write a book to redress it.

Gateway to the Grove of Seven

Q. Why do you write?

A. That's a great question, Sharon. It's lifeblood to me, possibly further fuelled by my awen and my need for answers. I consider that really I know next to nothing and the moment I start believing otherwise I may as well pack-up.

But the other answer, I suppose, is I've done it and loved it right from picture-story at Nunsthorpe Juniors in Grimsby. It's all degrees isn't it. And for much of the second part of my life (I've only been writing seriously since 2012)  it's been combined with storytelling and performance. I'm as happy on a stage as I am anywhere and love it even more than writing.

Q. Which novelists do you admire?

A. Blimey, it will have to be a list. Sometimes it's one book from that author, like Rose Tremain's wonderful "Music and Silence" which I happily re-read. Also "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell" by Susannah Clarke, "Gentlemen and Players" by Joanne Harris, Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity" and a whole lot more.

But writer's include: David Almond, Catherine Fisher and Kevin Crossley-Holland in the field of children's books and Nick Hornby, Milan Kundera, Andrea Camilleri and Colin Dexter and anything by Phil Rickman. There's also James Lee Burke's wonderful series of books about detective Dave Robicheaux, set in Louisiana. He's simply a great writer who happens to use detective fiction as a genre.

Q. What do you enjoy most about your work?

A. There's nothing to beat that moment when something clicks when you've had a heck of  a time getting nowhere and bashing your head against the proverbial brick wall and then, just like that, you don't just see the light, but the entire illuminated ballroom. 

I'd also say that there's also nothing quite like the experience, of what I'd call, peopling your own universe.

'Who will raise the Tall Ship that will bring them back again?'

Q. Can you describe your typical working day?

A. Is there such a thing? For me it's changed recently as well because I've been sort of retraining myself as a screenwriter and apart from all the sometimes irritating pedantry of the 12 beat verses 14 beat structures, one of the main things you have to do is read examples of other writer's screenplays - particularly pilots, and keep up to date with new series and find what makes old favourites. How tough is that!

I generally work from 10:00 until 5:00 or 6:00 and never in the evenings unless there's a deadline. I do yoga and take walks, with my partner Rosie, and alone and I must remember to do more of both. I always work to music  and Vaughan Williams in particular. "The Seven" was nearly all written to the background of his third and fifth symphonies.

Q. What's coming up next for you?

A. There is a book called "Bess o' Bedlam" about a straight-laced young Victorian lady who moonlights as a professional Mad Girl. I'd though it complete, but I want to go back to it, as it's very much a book with my heart in it.

Most of the rest of my concentration however will be following the hopeful journey of my as yet unpublished book for "grown ups" "The Enchanting Mr Williams" to the small screen. My lovely friend and co-writer, Kelly McKain and I submitted our pilot for the series and the "bible" that goes with it at the end of June. We await various possibilities on both sides of the Atlantic. I've also finished what has turned out to be the very long "Mr Williams" book, but it will probably have to change now after the pilot. I describe it as 'a story of English Faerie' and it concerns the consequences, in the 21st century, of the gift of a lady of Faerie to the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Q. And finally for a bit of light relief, let's do...

Favourite Book? It's a series of three called "The Fionavar Tapestry" by Canadian writer Guy Gavvriel Kay who worked for a year with Christopher Tolkien on "The Silmarillion"and then produced those powerful, wonderful books.

Favourite Film? Lots of them but it has to be Powell and Pressburger's "A Matter of Life and Death" - it's a wonderful, visionary and moving fantasy made long before its time. David Niven is wonderful and it uses both colour and black and white.  Small screen would probably be "The West Wing" but at the moment I'm riveted by John Logan's writing and the performance in Penny Dreadful.

Favourite Place? I love and yearn for the sea and especially when its close enough to splash you. My favourite sea place is Glebe Cliffs near Tintagel in Cornwall just above Merlin's Cave.

Merlin's Cave

Favourite Food? If I could go there it would be haddock and chips from the Pea Bung in my home town of Grimsby. Failing that spaghetti and sea food. Then there's cheese, but don't get me started on that, Sharon.

Thank you, Steve that was a full and interesting interview. I really enjoyed reading it.  

1 comment:

Linda Strachan said...

Great interview.
Also a fan of Guy Gavriel Kay, absolutely loved his Under Heaven, and Tigana