Today we travel to Faversham in the South East of England to talk with Stephen Gillatt about how country walks, mental health, escapism, writing in the maternity ward, sea lions, climbing fences, and Denise the Menace come together as part of Stephen’s past and current life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Stephen Gillatt, I live in a town, my hometown, called Faversham. It’s in Kent, in the South East of England. I live here with my wife and two young daughters. I refer to them affectionately as ‘my three beautiful ladies’. I write anywhere, as long as my phone has battery! But for self-care, I like going on country walks and going fishing. As well as reading autobiographies – I like reading about the challenges, successes, complexities, struggles and beauty of life. People are staggering.
In which genre do you write?
At the moment I write non-fiction (memoirs). I’m writing what I know!
How many published books do you have?
I was lucky enough to publish my first book in July 2019. It’s about fatherhood and mental health. But also explores addiction, self-harm, therapy, relationships and suicide. I talk and write about things a lot of people won’t or can’t. My friends describe my writing as uncomfortable but important. Being a parent is such a wonderful privilege, but for so many there can be a darker side, which is felt, but rarely talked about. I try to write in a way people can identify with; that might help someone who’s struggling, and hopefully provide their partners’ with a window in the lives of the people they love and worry about.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?
When I was very unwell, I started writing as a form of escapism. A lot of people say it’s cathartic, but for me, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes facing how you really feel and are, is painful and uncomfortable. But then I began to realise I might be able to use my experiences to help others.
What is an interesting writing quirk you have, that we wouldn’t know by reading your biography?
I write at any time, any place, anywhere. I’m only bound by my phone battery! And I do very little editing. Most of my writing is ‘one-take’ so to speak. It’s literally just like putting thoughts and memories on to paper. I also wrote an entry for my first book in the maternity ward, after the birth of my second daughter. But I’m not sure whether this is quirkiness or madness …. That’s for other people to decide! If you see me on my phone, I’m more likely to be writing than texting or using social media!
What would you choose as your mascot, spirit animal, or avatar and why?
I’m a fanatical Liverpool Football Club fan! I’ve supported them for as long as I can remember. So it would have to be the (mythical) Liver Bird. Which is on the club badge.
What does your ideal writing space look like?
I wrote my first book on my phone. On buses, trains, at work, before and after therapy. In bars, hospitals, everywhere. The world is my writing space! If I had the time to have a writing place; it would be sitting by the lakes near my house. The only background noise being birdsong and the lapping of the water against the bank.
What are you currently reading?
I have a ridiculously short attention span, so I have a few! Happyslapped by a Jellyfish (Karl Pilkington), The Rum Diary (Hunter.S.Thompson) Being Gazza (Paul Gascoigne) and A season on the Brink (Guillem Balague).
List 3 interesting facts about yourself.
I went to a full moon party in the world’s highest city – La Paz, Bolivia
I once had to eat my Christmas dinner through a straw
I swam out half a mile to swim with wild sea lions in Iquique, Chile. It was totally unsupervised. Five of them surrounded me. I felt totally safe. I was amazing.
Where did the idea for your most recent book come from?
My second book, which I am currently trying to place, is the culmination of years of people continually saying I should write a book about my life. My friends say you couldn’t make it up. So I started writing it. And the few people who’ve read the manuscript, love it. Now I just need to find an agent or publisher who loves it! But you know what? I absolutely love it. So I might even self-publish. I want my daughters to be able to read about the ridiculous and fun-filled life I have had. And not just my first book; about my challenges and pain. People are so much more than their mental and physical illnesses.
What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
I work full time! I work in social housing, with organisations who provide support and housing to vulnerable people in society. I also have two young children… So time is at a premium! If I do get spare time, or time for self-care, I like walking, fishing, sport and reading.
If you could have a fantasy tea or coffee date with a famous person from the past or present, who would it be and what would you ask them?
Paul Gascoigne. I was lucky enough to see his greatest goal against Scotland in 1996. I want to ask him, (after the way he was treated by the press beforehand) how scoring that goal really felt; what the rush was like. He watched his best friend die when he was ten. I’d like to ask him, today, if he has forgiven himself. Or if he still blames himself. I’d like to ask him if he thinks there is enough support for men in society today. I’d like to ask him if he lived his life again, would he change anything? Would he swap being free of addiction and mental illness for not being a professional footballer? And I’d like to ask him what he would say to men who are struggling in their lives, in order to try and help them not go through what he has. What I have.
Muhammed Ali – I’d like to ask him about the stand he took against the Vietnam War. How he found the courage, to, at the height of his career (March 9, 1966) give up everything. And if he ever regretted the way he sometimes ridiculed opponents in the build-up to big fights.
I’d also love to sit with Lance Armstrong and just ask him ‘why?’
I generally only read non-fiction to my daughters at bedtime!
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself through writing?
That I can write poetry. I now write a lot of micro poetry, so a poem the length of one tweet. I’m not even sure how it started, but I publish quite a bit on Twitter. And some people seem to like it, although it can be very dark. But I like them, and am proud of them. Writing should make us happy.
What is the most enjoyable thing you’ve found through writing?
That I’ve found a creative avenue that helps me process my struggles, while helping people with the struggles in their own lives.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve done or experienced to help create a scene or plot or to help you remember something if writing a memoir?
I’ll be honest. Despite having a short attention span; the memories I’ve used in my books are vivid. Like dreams I’ve captured and stored in my head. When I write, it’s often because I have a surge of memories (or creativity). I write them down. Then see how they fit into the manuscript I am working on. And then some random things when I reminisce with friends!
Do you journal write or keep a personal diary? Has this helped with your published writings? If so, how?
My first book is a diary! It was written over eighteen months. One year of daily entries, including from a set of therapy sessions. I was given permission to use exit and exit questionnaires, it’s real life. Then six months after I stopped, I experienced a very severe bought of paternal post-partum depression (PPPD). Research says about ten percent of men experience this. So it spans eighteen months in total. Which was my wife’s full labour, the birth of our second daughter, and then a very difficult time afterwards. Now my Twitter account is my (interactive) diary.
What is the most amusing, crazy or inspiring thing that has ever happened to you?
I was knocked over by a bus in the early hours of the morning in the car park of The Ataturk Stadium, Istanbul, after the 2005 Champions League (football) final. I traveled on my own, via Bulgaria, and it was an epic trip. I’ve written a sport travel memoir called ‘4000 miles of mayhem – An imbecile in Istanbul, and other countries’. Oh, and I’m the imbecile!
You are about to speak publicly to a group and read from your latest book. What song do you listen to before speaking? Or, what do you do to prepare yourself?
Well, I am lucky enough to have been invited to speak about my book at a Literary Festival on February 22nd, In Faversham, Kent. Where I live. I think I’ll have a cup of tea. Chill out, speak to a few of the people who have paid to come and see me (I’m donating all ticket proceeds to the mental health community garden where I’m speaking). As for a song? There are so many, Maybe ‘Mummy’s Boy’ by Wretch 32, or ‘Porcelain’ by Moby. I love travelling and The Beach is a favourite film of mine.
How do you prepare yourself to discuss your book?
I’ve been fortunate to have been asked to do telephone, podcast and broadcast interviews in the last year. The first time I was nervous, but as I got used to the way things work, the nerves ebbed away. I also absolutely believe in what I am trying to do. And I really enjoy it, and remember how lucky I am to be able to talk about things that are so important to me, and that people relate to. Mental health and mental Illness (I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Depression in October 2019) has, and always will be, a big part of my life. I’m now trying to do things in my professional and personal life to help people who are living, and especially struggling with mental health problems and mental illness.
What do you miss about being a kid?
How free I felt. The excitement of waking up on a Saturday morning. Meeting my friends. Climbing over a fence, so we could play football on a crisp, immaculate, school football pitch. The crunch of the frost underfoot. Falling over, laughing at ourselves. How the sun warmed us up, and we slowly stopped seeing our breath. Imagining being a professional footballer. And during those times, sharing our dreams, and on those mornings, the three of us, making them our reality. Walking home, just feeling warm. Not because of the sun, but because of the unconditional friendships we had back then. And the laughs we had, the stories we could tell, and the memories we were creating.
At this stage in your life, what advice would your young self give to your more mature self?
Don’t regret what you have done, your choices, and where your life it as. Be grateful for the friends you have and the memories you’ve made. Nobody is perfect, but you are trying your best to make a difference. And you still have time. But above all, do not feel like a failure.
If you were trapped in a cartoon world from your childhood, which one would you choose and why?
Definitely Dennis The Menace! I wasn’t exactly well-behaved as a kid, so his antics would be right up my street!
If you could turn into one of your characters for a day, which one would it be and why, what would you do? If you write non-fiction or memories, what fictional character would you invite into your story and why?
As I (currently) write memoirs, all of my characters are real.
But I’d like to invite Vito Corleone ‘The Godfather’ into my world for a day. I’d like to share authentic Italian food and fine wine with him. I’d love to hear his musings about health and family, mental health too. As well as his take on respect, values, success, failure, and leaving a legacy.
What’s the last movie you watched and why did you choose to watch it?
The Irishman (Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci). I love reading about the history of gangsters and the mafia. I love films made about it too. This history of the Bufalino crime family is really interesting. I watch the Godfather trilogy a few times a year. It’s a masterpiece.
A penguin knocks on your door and is wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he there?
He’s out of ice, and wants to go out for chilli!
Do you believe things happen for a reason? Do you have an example from your own life to share why you believe this?
Yes, I believe in fate… I was supposed to go fishing in Morocco for my 30th birthday. I missed my flight, so traveled to Leeds to party with some friends. Shortly after being back I met my second wife. We connected instantly. Now, we have been married eight years in April, and have two beautiful daughters. There is no way I would have met my wife if I had not missed my flight. I was planning to try to get a job in Morocco, and never return to England.
If you could ask your pet three questions, what would they be?
I have a cat. I’d ask what it would really like to eat? Why can’t you just sleep in the comfy bed we have bought, instead of the bloody sofa! Why do you wait until just before I want to go to bed before you want to do out! (we don’t have a cat-flap).
Which of your personality traits has been most useful and why?
Empathy. I have had a difficult life (who hasn’t) so I never judge anyone. You never really know what people are going through. You only ever know what they decide to tell you. Everyone leads a double life to some degree.
What’s your favorite place to visit in your country and why?
I live on the coast. So I’m lucky to have beautiful beaches a few miles away. I love water. I suppose this is why I like freshwater (catch and release) fishing. There is also a nature walk very near my house. I have been going there regularly for the last six years with my wife and daughters, and at the right time of year, we pick wild blackberries. It always makes me happy, even when the weather is bad… We just go puddle-jumping!
Describe the perfect solo date you’d take yourself on … where, time of day, weather, place, etc.
I’d take myself to a lake. Arrive under darkness and watch the sun rise. Cast my rods out and chill out on my bed-chair. Turn on the radio or a podcast, and maybe read a little. Even have a snooze. Then bask in the glory of the sunset. Enjoying a large hot chocolate (with a little splash of something as a treat) as I’m enveloped by dusk, eventually darkness, and a star-sprinkled sky.
What are you currently working on?
Finding a publisher for my second book, and writing my third book about mental health and social media. Its working title is ‘Making mental health social’ But most importantly, maintaining my (decent) mental health, and just enjoying every minute of family life as me and my wife watch our amazing daughters grow up.
It was wonderful learning more about you, your background, and writing style. Thanks much for being a part of MTA, Stephen! All the best to you and here’s to success with your writings! –Camilla
Where to find the book:
‘Mad, Sad, Dysfunctional Dad’ is available in paperback and kindle version:
The Conrad Press https://theconradpress.com/product/mad-sad-dysfunctional-dad/
Connect with Stephen:
A short television feature Stephen recently did for the BBC: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/stephen-gillatt-26383816b_mentalhealth-resilience-depression-ugcPost-6625164227432730624-HO53
Stephen is a customer service, public relations and housing practitioner with twenty years’ experience across three sectors. Most recently working in income recovery within social housing and local council community development.
Stephen has been living with mental health problems for twenty-five years and was diagnosed as living with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) in October 2019. In his teens and early twenties, Stephen battled a gambling addiction which resulted in him dropping out of University. Six years ago, Stephen had a nervous breakdown. And two years later began writing his fatherhood and mental health memoir ‘Mad, sad, dysfunctional dad’ (published July 2019) in which he opens-up about post-partum depression, self-harm and therapy. The joys, and struggles of being a dad, and the pressure to just keep going. And how this pressure broke him. But also, how great things can come from the darkest places.
Over the last eighteen months Stephen has featured in several local and national interviews, and in January of this year, featured in a special report aired on the BBC. During this time, he also started event speaking, his first, a Housing Quality Network (HQN) which focused on income recovery, rent arears and mental health. He is now confirmed at an additional six event in 2020.
In February 2020 Stephen will be speaking about his book at the Faversham Literary Festival; and is now writing his second and third book. As well as writing for HQN in his spare time.
Stephen is passionate about mental health (especially men’s), and mental health in the workplace; recently designing and writing a set of workshops for staff, managers, students and prisoners under the banner ‘My mental MOT’. He is currently exploring other ideas to improve mental health in business and society.
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