Thursday 21 January 2021

Interview with Gregory (Greg) Stewart

It has been quite a while since I have posted any author interviews, so I thought it was about time that I resurrected the format. It is with great pleasure that I welcome to the blog, author, screenwriter, playwright and fellow producer on The Serpent Sword TV series, Gregory (Greg) Stewart.

You have written screenplays, plays and novels. Which do you consider your true calling, or do you just think writing is writing? What do you most like and dislike about each art form?

I started out thinking I would write novels only. That was my childhood ambition. And yet I had a late start after spending most of my twenties going in a different direction and trying to get into the music biz. Around the time I finished my first novel (which wasn’t any good), a friend came to me with an idea for a film. I love film and thought why not try that too. So, while I was writing my first novels – essentially learning how to write fiction properly – I was also writing screenplays and learning how to do that as well. Writing for TV was a natural progression from film. I only wrote my first play last year, so that’s been more of a recent challenge. So yes, for me it’s all became part of one calling, to write. But fiction and film/TV are quite different disciplines and even though they share some common ground, I always saw them as separate ambitions.

In terms of what I like and dislike – for fiction, my favourite part is planning the story then later seeing or feeling the characters come to life as you work through the draft. The writing part can be the hardest, because of the time it takes and there’s always going to be a point where you feel lost, or that it’s not working. When you have a first draft there’s a certain euphoria, and as you read it it's fantastic to find the parts that come together, but also disheartening when other parts don’t work to the extent that there are going to be big rewrites. For screenwriting, the story part is trickier, because there are so many more limits, but once the story is locked in, the process is faster, and I don’t dislike any part of it. After writing fiction, screenwriting often seems like a bit of a break. My favourite part of screenwriting is the dialogue. I love trying to find the most interesting and effective words for the characters to deliver.

Your newest novel is called Astatara. Please tell us a bit about it.

Astatara has a classic fantasy set-up - two teenage children fall into a mysterious orb of light and find themselves trapped in an unknown and hostile world. Gradually they discover a strange culture with a terrifying prophecy and some very nasty villains. Yet as they work through this, trying to understand where they are and how they might get back home, the story also follows a man who in our world, is trying to unravel the mystery of the orb. This journey becomes a terrible obsession for him with dreadful consequences for lots of people around him. Eventually, the two stories connect, and the mystery of the orb is finally revealed. On the one hand it’s hopefully an exciting and gripping fantasy adventure – I had in mind a lot of Victorian era adventure stories by writers, such as Jules Verne or Conan Doyle – but on the other hand it’s also a darker story about obsession, rivalry, Communist Russia, familial disintegration and reunion. The scope of it is quite ambitious! Whether, I’ve completely succeeded or not, I don’t know.

How many novels are there going to be in each of your series?

Astatara is a standalone book. Wolf Head and its sequel, The Strange Case of Sarah Wynter are part of the Trasis series. A novella, FerrisWheel is also part of that series as a side story. I have outlines that take me up to book six and expect there’ll be a seventh after that. I have another series on the starting blocks – The Devil’s Fairytale – which will be five books. Most of that series is already written and I’m planning to publish the first two of those books later this year.

Your novels don’t seem to conform to genres. Is that a conscious decision?

Everything needs a label! Yes, its tricky for me to write in clear cut genres. It’s definitely all speculative fiction – fantasy, horror, sci fi – but there’s often some crime element to it as well. And I love exploring history so if I can coincide the story with some past event that’s always an attraction. If labels are needed – and I know they are – then I would say both the Trasis and the Devil’s Fairytale series are fantasy horror. Astatara is sci fi fantasy. Red Bunker – my giveaway novella for subscribers – is sci fi horror.

What are you working on at the moment?

The Strange Case of Sarah Wynter is due to be published on 5th March, so I’m doing final edits on that. Then obviously, there’s all the work ongoing for The Serpent Sword adaptation too and hopefully we’ll be pitching that to some power players soon. I’ve got another TV project that I’m in the process of finding somebody to partner up with, and a film project that I’m working on with an actor and producer which we’re hoping to get some development funding for. Soon I’ll have to start planning the first Devil’s Fairytale release and perhaps start work on the next Trasis novel – which is going to be called The Vampire States of America.

What are your ambitions for your writing? What would signify success for you?

The self-publishing is only just getting off the ground. I’ve had some success with Wolf Head which has gone down well with readers, which is very encouraging. But I need to build on that now. Try to get my head above that parapet. There are so many writers out there and it’s a longer game that I’ll have to keep working on. Ideally, I’d like to get picked up by a publisher.

For the film and TV work, it would be getting something on screen. I’ve had some false starts – a feature film I wrote in 2017 is stuck in the final stages of post-production due to money problems and another feature I was commissioned to write in 2018 was cancelled just a few weeks before filming. That’s quite hard to take when you put a lot into something that should have significantly raised your profile. But it’s not uncommon in the industry, so I can only hope I’ve paid my dues and that The Serpent Sword will be the one to get out of the gate.

What writers, books and movies have had the biggest influence on your work?

Growing up it was a lot of fantasy. Tolkien, CS Lewis, The Belgariad by David Eddings, the Dragonlance books, Gemmell, Moorcock – particularly Elric. Later, Stephen King became quite an influence, particularly The Stand. Also, Tad Williams' Otherland series had a huge impact. It’s such a great mash-up of sci-fi, fantasy, crime etc. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was also a key book for me, and Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. The scope and power of that story is astonishing. Later again it was Paul Auster, Cormac McCarthy – The Road particularly I think is one of the best novels ever written – and James Ellroy. More recently I’ve become obsessed with William Trevor. I think his books are perfect.

With films, I’ve seen so many that it’s difficult to separate the influences from the escapism. In terms of early film experiences that jolted me, it was the original Star Wars trilogy, Jaws and Alien. Beyond that it’s an eclectic mix. I always loved the Hammer horror films and lots of Hitchcock, Rear Window particularly. American Werewolf. The Good the Bad and the Ugly. And perhaps less obviously, Olivier’s Richard III. But I suppose if there was one that changed the way I looked at film it was Taxi Driver. I think I was 21 when I saw it on VHS on a small TV in my bedroom, but it was such an intense experience and it made me aware of screenwriting and directing and acting combining to create this art form in a way that I’d never grasped before.

What are the best and worst things about being a writer?

The creative side is all good, really. Storytelling is so much fun and then having people enjoy and appreciate what you do is unbeatable. The worst part is how difficult it is to break through.

What is the best book you've read in the last twelve months?

Probably a tie between William Trevor’s Fools of Fortune and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. As I said before, I think William Trevor’s books are flawless. Fools of Fortune is a about a family caught up in the Irish war of independence and tells how that affects them and how they come to terms with it in later years. Hill House was a book which I felt I’d read before because it’s been adapted for the screen so many times, but I hadn’t, and it’s a great psychological horror. Jackson really gets into the splintering mindset of the lead character. Such elegant and effective writing. I’ll definitely be reading more of her books.

What is the best film or TV you've seen in the last twelve months?

In between lockdowns I managed to go and see Mank at a local cinema, which I thought was great. I love that kind of filmmaking, such precision, detail and nuance. On TV I’ve started watching Steve McQueen’s Small Axe film series and thought ‘Education’ was terrific. Also, I love Better Call Saul and that most recent series was electric. I also very much enjoyed the second season of the Mandolorian.

And now for the quick-fire questions:

Tea or coffee?

Herbal tea or water please.

Burger or hot dog?


Villain or hero?

Every good story needs both.

Beer or wine?

Wine at home. Beer when out.

Movie or TV series?

Movie usually.

Happy ending or tragedy?

I seem to write happy endings for my novels and tragic ones for my screenplays.

In the car, audio book or music?

Audio book. Currently listening to The Lord of the Rings.

Thanks so much for answering my questions, Greg. Good luck with all the projects (especially The Serpent Sword!). ;-)

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