Please accept my apologies for writing about myself. I generally try and avoid this as I feel I am nowhere near as important as the stories I tell (and those that we tell as far as the Celtic Myth Podshow is concerned). That having been said, let’s plunge on in!
When I moved from Primary School to Secondary school (after the now legendary 11+ examination), one of my favourite lessons was the English class. At 11 years old I was far too young to understand much about Grammar or story/poem analysis, but I loved the act of creation involved in summoning imagery and meaning from words. Plain and simple words that when strung together could create pictures in my mind and feelings in my chest.
One memory that sticks in my mind as significant because it told me, even at that tender age that I had an intense desire to write, was a class exercise that progressed over an entire term. We were each asked to write a single-page, short and concise story and then read it to the entire class. I was in heaven! I wrote an adventure story involving a dangerous trek in the jungle and eventual possible rescue. My story stretched the limits of our allotted time as I had filled well over a dozen pages of the small A5 exercise books that we used to be given at school. After I had finished – I don’t remember exactly what the teacher said – my fellow class-mates were asked to give their feedback to the teacher and they all asked for more detail about my story and for the tale to be completed. The teacher, perhaps bowing to popular pressure, asked me to complete the story and for the next couple of weeks I wrote continuing episodes and read each out in turn to the class. The joy I felt in entertaining my peers with my my writing is a joy that has never left me. To give pleasure with mere words is something that can never be underestimated.
As my relationships with my school-mates developed, I played many games and don’t remember writing much other that the allocated tasks that we were all set. Our play-ground games however were rapidly becoming increasingly complex. A small group of my intimate inmates decided to each take on the role of a particular leader/hero/ruler on a planet in some imaginary Science Fiction universe that we had decided upon. My own planet of bio-mechanical inhabitants acquired technical drawings of the transport system within its major cities, biological descriptions of the alien inhabitants (vaguely resembling cones on wheels as I recall!) and each city having its own history mapped out. Hours and hours of work. It never got used in our games of course, but for me the creation of back-story was as essential as the game itself.
Writing after Leaving School?
As my school-years were coming to an end, my close-knit circle of buddies discovered the very first 3 volume box-set of an imported game from America, ridiculously named “Dungeons & Dragons”. The game was what later came to be known as a ‘role-playing game’ with one person acting as a story-teller come referee come guide and the other players taking on a role of a character within a Fantasy-based universe.
The big difference between this and other traditional methods of story-telling was that the actions that the players decided to take determined the future course of events within the story. The Fantasy universe moulded itself around us as we played. We were living in the story! I had come home! What an amazing discovery.
It wasn’t long before I, myself, took on the part of the Dungeon Master (as the referee was called) and was creating my own interactive stories with a group of players. My own game had maps (based on hex-paper) that were filled in as the players explored the world I had created plastered all over one wall of my very small flat and the remaining space in my flat taken up with as many chairs as I could fill into the space. At one stage, our story had over ten people meeting weekly to continue their adventures and the whole story arc carried on for over a year.
That was something that required almost constant attention and a vast amount of time and energy to complete. Something that I would never advise anyone of even half-sane mind to contemplate doing!
Turning to Myths & Legends
Coming into my early 20’s, my daily reading consumption increased and although I didn’t put pen to parer at this time not only did my love of fiction grow and evolve but my love of mythological and religious stories also grew. My interests spread into a more academic and factual direction in order to find out where these stories came from and to seek answers as to why some versions of the same story were different and why there were similarities between stories from widely different cultures around the world. This was a long time before I discovered Joseph Campbell! My love of story, mythology and comparative religion eventually lead me to study ritual and magic – which, in my opinion, is yet another variety of living story. But that is really a different tale that I shall save for another day.
One of my greatest loves from my first days at Secondary schools was Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the whole Middle-Earth mythos. To be fair, it is a love that I carry with me to this day. Back in 1977, I found the Silmarillion to be hard reading at my first attempt, but I fast grew to love it. In particular, the Song of Creation found in the first part, Ainulindalë, tells of the creation of Eä, the “world that is” struck a deeply resonant chord within my soul.
What happened next is something that I look back on with great awe and wonder. Without realising it, my next actions were to act as a prelude to the type of story-telling that I was to take up again 30 years later! I recorded myself reading the Ainulindalë accompanied by music by Tangerine Dream (I think the album was Phaedra) and loved every minute.
It was only when I listened to the cassette recording that I was over-whelmed and the hairs on my arms stood up and my heart raced with some form of excitement that I had never felt before. Something magical had happened. When I was reading about the Horns of Ulmo, resounding in the Deep Waters, there were horn blasts in the music. So much synchronicity happened in this reading whose true significance I missed at the time. This was something unique and wonderful. But hey-ho! – I was 18 years old, and forgot all about it in the rush of rapidly expanding teenage hormones in the following months.
Time for a Quick Break
Let’s take a small break in the narrative here, while I grab a glass of water, you get to wonder what on earth you are doing wasting your time reading the drivel that I have written and I skip forward in time. As we go, we can jump over several failed attempts at both fiction and non-fiction writing, and arrive at the point in my life where my long-suffering wife (the gorgeous Ruthie) and I decide to start a podcast about Celtic Mythology. The Celtic Myth Podshow was born at Imbolc, 2008 – it seemed to us a suitable birthing time. Reading the complex Irish myths out aloud seemed to us an excellent way of learning them, understanding them and perhaps help other people out with the same tasks. It was only natural that eventually we would want to cover all the stories of the Celts that we could find.
For two years, I scripted the ideas we came up with and along with friends and family we recorded and released shows every fortnight. There was no way in this or any other universe that we could maintain this pace and were it not for my becoming seriously ill and requiring major surgery due to Cancer at the end of 2009, I think I/we would have burned out and never carried on making any shows or telling any more stories.
Health is something that when you are healthy you can often take for granted. I certainly did. Without it, each physical movement initially and later any focus or concentration became something that rapidly drained my energy. I learned about Spoon Theory very quickly indeed. Google it – it’s worth it.
Life events (family, career, housing, finances etc.) began to overtake us in 2015-2016, and the rate at which we could produce shows dwindled as more and more of our focus and attention had to be placed on far more immediate concerns. I think we only managed to get out one show in 2016 and another in 2017. Early in 2017, I discovered that I had Leukemia and we were again forced to focus on health and the need to rapidly find a new home.
Patience, Pacing and Priorities
It is strange that no matter how important your writing is to you, or how much you value your creative work and no matter how much pleasure you get from seeing or hearing the joy that other people have from hearing or reading your work, there is no way that the inspiration will flow when your life’s basics are under threat. I thought that writing and creating would be a great distraction form the more serious problems in our lives. I was, however, totally wrong. It just wouldn’t happen. It took time – a long time – for me to even begin to accept this. Starting a new podcast, Celtic Tomes, was my refusal to accept that I could do nothing creative during this time. Eventually this podcast too had to come to a halt as life’s needs escalated. This was a frustrating time that I am glad we seem to have passed through. It is over and I hope I have learned some very important lessons about patience, pacing and the priorities in our lives.
At the height of the Summer heatwave in this year (2018), we moved and began to unpack and settle. I could feel the relaxation beginning to seep into my bones. Despite the mountains of boxes around me, the presence of inspiration began to make itself felt.
For me, inspiration works in a very strange and yet defined way. It seems I have to make space in my life and my head, start the process off by moving a little way towards an idea and then whatever it is that comes from outside of myself, from the wider universe, from the Realms of the Fae or the Gods or whatever (be it Awen or Imbas or just plain Inspiration), I begin to feel its breath rushing into me towards a new creation. They say the word ‘inspiration’ comes from from the Proto-Indo-European root *en “in” + spirare “to breathe”. Breathing in the Spirit of creation from the cosmos perhaps? It is interesting that the word ‘spirit’ also has the same roots….
Flexing My Muscles (as if!)
I felt I needed to flex my writing muscles again. “If you don’t use it, you lose it” is a common expression, but I am not sure it means you forget how to write, but I think it may mean you lose contact with that flow of “spirit” or whatever that brings a creation into life and full being. I had been listening to podcasts about the Craft of Writing for some time and as October was approaching, I began to hear more and more about NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo stands for the “National Novel Writing Month” and it always takes place during the 30 days of November. In this time you do your best to write 50,000 words to create a novel (novella perhaps?). Success or failure is not strictly the main goal. The main goal of #NaNoWriMo is to get you writing.
So I made a decision to write a novel. Research and preparation of that novel has been one of the most enjoyable and rewarding pastimes that I have encountered in the last few years and I am incredibly excited to start writing on November 1st. My novel is going to be a ghost story set in the middle of a disaster zone at a place I know well in Hastings – the town where I was born.
It’s only 10 days away now and I find myself ‘itchy’ to start writing. As I can’t start on my novel until November, I found my mind drifting to other projects. Perhaps I could start thinking about the next book for the Celtic Tomes? So, I totaled the votes cast for the next book and started some preparation. Fantastic!
And yet, still the Universe had not finished with me.
Last week, I woke up wondering where my work period that day could be directed, opened my laptop and found myself opening up the Script for the Branwen story! The Second Branch of the Mabinogion is the next story to be told in our main podcast, the Celtic Myth Podshow, and the script is about half-way completed and stands at about 22,000 words. I found myself re-reading and editing what I had already written, suddenly aware that I was mentally preparing myself to finish the script. I sent my prayers of thanks up to the Gods or whoever was helping me with the inspiration and went to bed a very happy Gary.
A few days later, the realities of the situation began to sink into my dense, Neanderthal brow and I realised that if I were to avoid the same burn-out problems that I had hit before then I would have to heed the lessons of Pacing that I had tried to learn previously. I would have to take things very slowly indeed. I would have to work in tune with Life and not separate from it.
November is, for me, fully booked with NaNoWriMo and Life events, but after that I can turn my attention back to the Branwen story and do some editing of my novel, some recording for Celtic Tomes and any other project that leaps into my mind. The important thing I have to remember, and I really must drive this home into my thickest of heads, is that I can only focus fully on one major project at a time. To do otherwise would be to tread, stagger and eventually fall on the stony path to a barren plain where nothing gets written.
Thank you for listening to the story so far.