Interview with Graeme K Talboys
What authors/ books influenced you in your early days of being a Pagan/following your spiritual path?
The book that really started me on the path was T H White's Once and Future King. When I was 12, my English teacher read The Sword in the Stone to my class. I already knew the Arthurian tales from books, comics and television, but this made me stop and think beyond the usual derring-do of knights in armour. Merlin was so wonderfully depicted, and his education of the young Arthur so completely unlike anything I had encountered that I had to find out more. As a precocious reader, I had had an adult library ticket for a number of years by this time and began to read about Merlin and Dark Age Britain, about Druids, about Celtic transformation tales. And every so often I go back to T H White's cycle of books and read them all again.
What drew you to your path?
Even before I knew it was a path and long before I encountered Merlin (and as I later discovered, his twin sister), I had an encounter in a beech grove in the woodland behind my paternal grandparents house. As a child I would play there with my siblings and cousins, chasing up and down the wooded hillsides, swinging from trees, exploring the darker parts of the forest. One day, I found myself alone. I knew the woods well enough not to be worried by this and I have always been of a fairly solitary mien. Whilst exploring I climbed a small ridge and found myself in the centre of a small grove of beech trees. The light there was golden and a misty form danced in the air, becoming still as I entered. I was scared, but not in a run-away-screaming way. It took my breath away and I knew I was in the presence of something or someone wholly other. It was, literally, awesome. And although I felt that frisson of fear, I also felt like I did with my mother – loved and safe. It did not last long, but that image is still bright in my mind and I left that grove knowing there was more to the world than the things we normally sensed. I could not help but carry on exploring.
Where do you find inspiration for your books?
Non-fiction is simple. I write about things I have an expertise in and wish to share with others. That’s how my book of Drama games got written, the books on museum education, and my books on being Druid. That is all to do with the impulse to teach (I taught in schools and museums for many years). When it comes to fiction, the issue is much more complex. I am a firm believer that fiction is a way of conveying truths about the world. Instead of the instructive and logical approach that suits non-fiction, there are some truths that require emotional engagement in order for them to be fully explored. These are mostly truths about the human condition. The scope of that condition depends very much on the author. For some it involves nothing but urban dwelling human beings who have no awareness of anything beyond their own petty concerns. For others, the human condition exists only as part of a much larger matrix – the natural environment, the world of matter, the world of spirit, inner and outer space. In that respect, there is no lack of inspiration. Look out the window, pick up a newspaper, and there are stories by thousand. The real problem is not finding a story to tell, it is picking one that has maximum impact in terms of how it can convey the truths that concern me as well producing a quality reading experience for whoever picks up the finished book.
How did you become an author? Was it something you intended to do or was it by accident?
As far back as I can remember I have been interested in the structure of things. And that included books. Not just narrative structure (or its subversion), but how they go from scribbles on paper to a printed book on the shelf. Along the way, of course is the process of writing. As a child with siblings who were seven years older than me I came to the written word young, but was always slightly isolated from familial playmates and had few friends outside the family. Books were my playground (when not charging about the woods on holiday or the streets back home). Because I read a lot, it seemed only natural that I write as well. Which I did all the time. It was a habit that started at the age of about seven and has become so deeply ingrained that I cannot now not write. I get withdrawal symptoms.
What do you feel makes a book worth reading?
For me it is a book that takes me somewhere I have not been before, or takes me to familiar places and shows them to me afresh. There are countless examples. Edgar Rice Burroughs took me to Mars. William Burroughs took me inside my head. Ballard helped me explore there. le Guin and Russ have drawn fantasy worlds of sublime beauty. Peake showed me what weird really is. Moorcock proved you could be popular and profound. And as I’m interested in the underlying art of writing, I tend to read everything by an author I like, even those things that are not so good. The process and the attempts at exploring the medium are just as illuminating as the content.
Are you working on a new book right now and if so what is it?
When am I not? My current fantasy series has three final books that I’m drafting as a single text (so that’s about 300,000 words to be written by the end of the year). I’m also jotting down notes for other works in the same universe. There is an old screenplay I’m turning into a novel. And all the time I write down notes and ideas for non-fiction. How those will evolve is anyone’s guess.
Do you write part or full time?
Full time as circumstance allows (we are currently redecorating our flat so that is taking priority just now).
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
All those people who live in my computer. They weren’t there when I started and they keep distracting me. And Angry Birds. Back in the old days when I began to get really serious about writing, the most sophisticated equipment I had was a portable manual typewriter. It was easier to focus on a project. You borrowed books from a library. Made notes. Hand drafted. And then typed. Cut and paste was really that. Scissors and sellotape. My first Amstrad was a joy because it took all the hard work out of it. But it was also the first step on the slippery slope. The internet is wonderful. Magical. But it takes me longer to find the zone these days, so I tend to fiercely protective of it once I’m there.
How can other readers discover more about you (website/facebook links etc)?
My website is at: http://www.graemektalboys.me.uk/ and I have an author’s page on Facebook at:https://www.facebook.com/Graeme-K-Talboys-76319682240 where you can Like me if you like me.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
It’s hard work so don’t go into it with unrealistic expectations. You will not be lounging on a couch sipping bubbly, dictating your latest work to a secretary whilst wondering whether to spend your latest royalty cheque on a second yacht. The vast majority of writers earn well below the poverty line, even when they have a lot of books in print. If you are not afraid of hard work then you need to devote all your spare time to learning how to write well and appropriately. You do that by reading and by writing. And reading lots more. And writing. Write every day. Read every day. Learn how it works. And don’t be discouraged when the rejection notices start coming in. The first book I had published found a home after more than 100 rejections. It’s gone through several editions and is still in print.
There are tons of pagan books on the market, what do you think makes you stand out from the crowd?
With the introductory texts that I have written and co-written about the Druid Way, I have always tried to keep things practical and cover areas that are often neglected. Although the world view behind any spiritual path is complex they are all, ultimately quite simple. But you have to understand one to attain the other. I hope I have always managed to convey the complexities without losing sight of the goal. I have also made forays into more complex aspects of the Celtic metaphysic and will doubtless write more about this when the time is right.
Which one of your books are you most proud of?
Ooh. Difficult one. In non-fiction it would have to be the pair of books I wrote with Julie White – the Path through the Forest and Arianrhod’s Dance. Working with another author was an incredible experience as we not only had a shared vision but between us covered a much wider field of experience. It was also brilliant because we were able to discuss everything in great depth and that was illuminating and fun. When it comes to fiction, I’ll go with Stealing into Winter. It is a fantasy. I wrote it for fun, but it did so much else, allowing me to put all the things I had learned (up to that point) into a brand new story. And it ultimately led me to an agent and a big time fiction publisher who wanted more.