To celebrate the release of his new book Survive, author Stephen Llewelyn has written up 10 interesting facts all about him he'd like readers to know. Find out what he had to reveal below:
1. Pondering on my thoughts: Whilst ever keen to jabber on endlessly about things which interest me, I am always rather reticent to speak about myself. When asked to think of ‘ten interesting things about me’, my first thought was, “Can I even manage three?” I’m quite a private person in many ways, so being introspective and then sharing that introspection is somewhat outside my comfort zone, but I’ll do my best…
I love to ponder on deep thoughts and I tend to ramble on about all kinds of nonsense whilst doing so. I’m sure that this can be very frustrating for anyone having to put up with me; especially if they are waiting for me to mix a bucket of plaster for them. However, on the plus side it does help me to get my thoughts in order and if I listen to what I’m saying closely enough, I eventually begin to realise what it is that I’m talking about!
2. A brief history: Being the only person in my family to be self-employed has naturally led me to make a lot of mistakes and miss opportunities which I really should have spotted. I studied construction and building surveying at college and university. After uni I took a few jobs, mostly in the construction industry until I flew the coop to go self employed in ’99. I started a small web development and search engine optimisation company without even knowing how to switch on a PC. Yes, you read correctly, imagination has often been my forte, wisdom, not so much. After about three years I’d managed to find my way around a computer and employed a small extended team of about nine people. With many blue chip customers on our books, it was an interesting time. Nine years on, I’d had enough of shirts and ties and ‘insert company name here’ offices and so decided to go back into construction. After retraining in various skills, nine years is a long time, I decided to focus my efforts on damp proofing and structural waterproofing. People told me that starting a construction related business in the depths of the worst recession in living memory out in the back and beyond of Snowdonia, a place where I’d just moved to, was not from and where I knew no one, was idiotic! They were of course 100% right, but somehow we’re still here. If asked to choose one thing about myself that I’m actually proud of, I would say that I’m not afraid to push myself well outside my comfort zone when I have to. When I think back on some of the crazy things I’ve tried to do over the years, almost always with the worst timing possible, I sometimes wonder if I’m all there! I always like to be working or moving towards something. Making decisions, with many of them not going well, is par for the course but I’d rather live with them than with the regret of not having tried.
3. How I got around to writing: Writing has been on my mind for well over twenty years now, which is why I said ‘around to’ rather than ‘into’. I love to read but I’d never started anything because I was waiting for the ‘right time’. Eventually, I realised that there is never a right time for anything, so I’d better just crack on! We work all over the country with the structural waterproofing and renovation work and so, whilst undertaking a large basement conversion in the midlands over about a three month period in ’17, I decided to take the laptop and just get on with it. ‘Survive’ was mostly written during this period between 7pm and 1am in this hotel room or that. It was pretty tiring getting up and off again at 6am every morning but I really started to love it and even look forward to each evening. As Terry Pratchett said, “Writing is about the most fun you can have on your own.” I found that throwing horrible situations at my characters and seeing how they would deal with them the next evening after work, made it feel like a serial to look forward to. Also, giving my characters an even worse day than I’d had was surprisingly cathartic! I think the ‘short bites’ style of writing came originally from the way in which my time was devoted to the work, but after a while I just found that I liked it. Many of us are absurdly busy these days and a book constructed in bite sized pieces provides a practical companion, rather than a mission to be faced. For all the busy people out there, I hope that they will enjoy ‘Survive’ as they like it, rather than having to commit to it.
4. I... I was always taught that it’s a little self-serving to start sentences with I… oh.
Well never mind, I may as well get as many I’s as possible into this one – I always try to be kind, maybe not always in words (rarely actually, I find that sort of thing rather embarrassing) but in actions at least. I really do prefer to give than to receive and if I won a huge sum of money I genuinely would give most of it away after I’d had what little I needed from it. That’s a lot of I, suppose I’d better get on with talking about me…
5. All creatures great and small: Animals are very important to me; especially dogs. I’m definitely an animal lover and wouldn’t want a home without them. I have four border collies and they are such an important part of my life, despite bringing further chaos into my world. After a terrible day of things going any which way but right, I can get back from some horrible, damp, flooded building site or other, and they will always give me a ‘rock star’ welcome home; whether I’ve earned it or not. One of them is my inspiration for the canine character ‘Reiver’ in ‘Survive’. It’s not just living creatures which interest me, though; ever since I was a small boy I have been fascinated by the story of life on Earth right back to the beginning, over 3 billion years ago. My passion, for such it undoubtedly is, for dinosaurs started as a very small boy. In my first year of school another little boy in my class, named Daniel, was playing with what appeared to be a toy monster. Like any five year old lad I thought this was pretty awesome, covered in giant spikes as it was. He then began to explain that this wasn’t just a many horned monster, this creature was once a real animal… and my world changed forever. It was the first dinosaur that I ever saw or knew about, it was related to the much more famous Triceratops, lived millions of years ago in the late Cretaceous Period and, although not huge by dinosaur standards, it would have filled the classroom we were in – hello Styracosaurus! My fascination with Roman remains, Saxon relics and medieval castles borders on reverential, but when I see a dinosaur I am, and will always be, five years old.
6. How? Why? What? Wow! Having a ‘wide-eyed-wonder’ about how things work and where things come from, keeps me going, it really does. It often leads to distraction, I admit, but we do live in a fascinating corner of a wonderful universe. I’m especially keen on human history and archaeology, as well as the palaeontology of the distant past. This may be fairly unusual for a builder, but I see buildings as one of the most important endeavours of man (or woman). Currently, I’m all steamed-up about a dig for Saxon remains on Lindisfarne in Northumberland which I will be attending later in the month with Time Team! The idea of uncovering something that no one else has seen for twelve or fourteen centuries is very alluring to me. The sort of digging I usually get involved with typically involves the installation of a sump, pump and drainage system to someone’s basement. However, on occasion even this can be interesting, especially when we are working on a really old property and you can follow the Georgian hand-made bricks down the cellar stairs to the narrower Tudor bricks all the way to the bedrock below. On one occasion the bedrock removed had even been used to build one of the first, stone-built Norman castles in Britain. The lads I work with have suffered much, listening to my exuberance about such things.
7. Rebel without a clue: I have a rather rebellious nature which has followed me through from my early teens when I discovered a love of extreme music and became a musician myself. When I read some of the lyric sheets and come across words and concepts that would make even Stephen Fry scratch his head, I’m glad to have this influence in my life. This education got me far more interested in words and writing than school ever did. Rebelling was never about trouble or crime or anything like that for me, it just made me realise that I didn’t have much patience with societal attitudes or taboos. When I was younger, it used to amaze me just how much people really hated that I had long hair. I’m 46 now, and can still sit on my hair! But now I’m old and wise enough to question whether they’re just jealous :o) – [Soap box alert] I believe in absolute equality of sex, race and social order, and disapprove of censorship in media, music, art, et cetera, unless release of such a work would constitute an act of treason. If it simply offends someone, I tend to take the line that they probably needed to be offended. When people profess equality and then do the opposite, I can be more argumentative than Voltaire! [Pedant alert: actually Voltaire’s attributed statement: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” seems to have been a later writing about him by an English lady and writer named Beatrice Evelyn Hall, rather than his actual words].
8. Pedantry in me: Guilty – please see number 7 – I hate that about myself and do try and bite my tongue wherever possible. I often waste time correcting things that would probably never have been noticed and call this my CDO (it’s very much akin to OCD but I like to the get the letters in the right order!)
9. Energy derives from both the positive and negative: Many of us can be negative sometimes. I’m certainly guilty of this too, but when I go to bed feeling this way, I always get up the next morning ready to fight anew. I suppose this suggests that I’m a positive person, but that sounds just a bit too laudable for me. I think it would be more honest to say that I simply refuse to give up, even in the face of good sense sometimes. Success can often be in the lap of the gods but I will never stop trying and I enjoy meeting people who are at the top of their game, whatever that may be. It’s great to meet people who know more than me! This happens with depressing regularity and is a glorious torment that I hope will never end. I love to see people succeed, especially when they have worked so hard for something and I think this perspective comes through in my writing. Despite the nightmare I put my characters through, I really am rooting for them to win in the end. At the risk of printing spoilers, I don’t feel that there is any harm in saying that the ‘New World Trilogy’, of which ‘Survive’ is book one, will have a positive ending; but I doubt it will be the ending that anyone expects…
The lesser, daily disasters which plague our lives can yield some of the funniest memories for the future… I try and keep that in mind, but it’s not always easy to treasure these little moments whilst they’re happening!
10. Saving the best for last: The traits I appreciate most in others are: integrity, intelligence and drive. I am incredibly lucky to share my life with a woman who has far more of these qualities than I ever will; and better yet, after more than fifteen years, she still has a complete blind spot with regards to all of my faults and those of my crazy pack of hounds.
Stephen Llewelyn's new book Survive is available now.
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