Hello and welcome to an auto-blah-blah-blah by Stephen Llewelyn – 1972 to [still not dead].
Whilst ever keen to jabber on endlessly about things which interest me, I’m rather reticent to speak about myself and really had no idea what to write about for this page. So when my publisher suggested listing ‘ten interesting things about Stephen’, I was unsure if I could even come up with three. I’m a fairly 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…
1) Ten things of interest about me
I love to ponder on deep thoughts and tend to ramble on about all kinds of nonsense while doing so. I’m sure that this can be very frustrating for anyone who has to put up with or work with me. 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 occasionally begin to realise what it is that I’m talking about.
2) Stephen: a brief history
Whereas Obelix fell into a cauldron of magic potion, I fell into construction at an early age and have been trying to climb back out ever since – although I did have a nine-year fling with IT and marketing at one stage. Working in construction may sound dull, but it’s actually nowhere near that exciting. My loves include music, history/archaeology and natural history/palaeontology. I usually read history or palaeontology (fact and fiction).
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 and fell into the trap of waiting for the right time before beginning to write. Of course, there is no such thing as the ‘right time’, so eventually I just decided to crack on with it. My previous work often took me all over the country and so, whilst undertaking a large project in the Midlands a few years ago, I decided to take the laptop and just get on with it.
The first draft of DINOSAUR 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 looked forward to each evening. As Terry Pratchett once 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 became 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 DINOSAUR and the New World Series as they like it, rather than having to commit to it.
As I mostly read historic material, you may well ask, where’s the sci-fi? I do love sci-fi and have dozens, probably hundreds of books in that genre but usually prefer to read history nowadays. You could be forgiven for also asking, “So why write and epic sci-fi series then, you numpty?” And that’s a good question – and probably a fair cop! While writing this banal piece about me, I asked myself, why did I? I hadn’t honestly considered it before. I think the answer is that I thought I could approach sci-fi from a different angle and that it would be interesting, given my other influences, to see where this led. The power of sci-fi is limitless – it can explore anywhere or anywhen. The New World Series may appear to be about dinosaurs superficially, but really the books are about creating a new society from scratch and people failing to get along, whilst also dealing with a lunatic fringe who want to reboot the human race and don’t care if this erases most of it! The idea of fighting over a dark, dystopian future, which is terrifyingly close, from a hundred million years in the past felt about as extreme as it could get. However, I always endeavour to make the stories as believable as possible, while hopefully providing some entertainment value. Time will tell.
I was taught at school that it was bad manners, not to mention self-serving, to start paragraphs with I.
Ah 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. I hope this goes some way towards offsetting my short temper and impatience! That’s a lot of I, I’m spent! 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 used to get back from some horrible, damp, flooded building site or other, and they always gave 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 The New World Series.
It’s not only creatures alive today which interest me, though. I’ve been fascinated by the story of life on Earth over the last 3.8 billion years (give or take an hour or two), ever since I was a small boy. My passion, for such it undoubtedly is, for dinosaurs started very young – thankfully I fell into that long before construction! 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 seven 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 and its name was Styracosaurus. Related to the much more famous Triceratops, this animal 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 dinosaurs!
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, seven 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 deep past. This may be fairly unusual for someone who came from the building industry, but I see buildings as one of the most important endeavours of man (or woman). However, the idea of uncovering something that no one else has seen for hundreds or thousands or even millions of years is very alluring to me. The sort of digging I used to get involved with typically involved the installation of a sump, pump and drainage system to someone’s basement. However, on occasion even that could be interesting, especially when working on a really old property. I remember one project where we followed the Georgian hand-made bricks down the cellar stairs, past the narrower Tudor bricks underneath and all the way to the bedrock below. On that occasion the bedrock had actually been removed to provide the material for one of the first stone-built Norman castles in Britain. As stated, the people I’ve worked with have suffered much listening to my exuberance about such things.
7) Rebel without a clue
It’s been said that 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 came across words and concepts that would make even Stephen Fry scratch his head, those writers and musicians forced me to think. I’m extraordinarily glad to have had this influence in my life and it’s as important to me now as it was when I was fourteen. 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 was more about realising 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. They probably still do! But as I’m the better part of fifty now, and can still sit on my hair, I’m wise enough to wonder whether jealousy may have played a part – [Soap box alert] I rarely see it, but do 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].
Talking about music, I had an sudden and strange realisation recently. I have always been a huge fan of the BBC comedy RED DWARF and am immensely proud to be working with Mr Chris Barrie on the unabridged audio books for the New World Series. I was told just the other day that the pretend band ‘Smeg and the Heads’ in the background during the episode ‘Time Slides’ were actually two rather excellent musicians from the band Carcass – although they were only messing about on the show! What is strange about this is that one of their songs ‘Death Certificate’ contained the word ‘contabescent’. The reason that word stuck with me was because one of my friends’ father was a school teacher, back then. He had no understanding of their music, but was so impressed by the band’s word use that he decided to include the word contabescent in some poor lad’s school report to describe his overall grasp of the subject! I wrote a homage to that incident in Dinosaur, during Woodsey’s school leaving conversation with his father. Now, it struck me that while filming that episode of Red Dwarf, Chris Barrie was standing very close to Jeff Walker – he probably had no idea who he was – but Jeff would very soon right that word into a song to influence me so that I would write it into Dinosaur, decades later, for Chris Barrie to read out to the world! Small world, innit?
8) Pedantry in me
Guilty – please see point 7 – I dislike that about myself and do try and bite my tongue wherever possible. It often leads me to waste endless time correcting things that would probably never have been noticed in the first place. I call this my CDO (it’s very much like OCD, but I like to 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 really a positive person deep down, 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, sometimes even in the face of good sense. 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 gives me the zeal to keep trying! It’s great to meet people who know more than me, and this happens with depressing regularity; it’s a glorious torment that I hope will never end. I love to see people succeed, especially when they have worked so hard for something, even when I’m personally on the downs. It gives me the inspiration to get back up and put foot to ass once more to get going again. This perspective may show through in my writing – I hope it does. Despite the nightmares I sometimes put my characters through, I’m really rooting for them to win in the end. I love positive endings, especially when they’re not the ending you expect. The lesser, daily disasters which plague our lives can actually yield some of the funniest and most anecdotal 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 – better yet, after close on two decades, she still appears to show a complete blind spot to my vast array of faults and shortcomings – not to mention those of my crazy pack of hounds.
So there you have it, everything you never wished to know about Stephen, who lived between 1972 and [still not dead]. I doubt whether any of it was very interesting, but I will strive to fill it with at least some cool stuff before the square brackets above are filled with a number. Thank you for reading.