I grew up in the North-Eastern Industrial town of Hartlepool, I was a child of the 50s, just about at the end of food rationing after the War.
The early years were tumultuous, suffering three near-death experiences by the time I was Eight years of age. I think because of this I was very reclusive. I hated school, but loved the Summer Holidays, when I’d hide away and read Secret Seven books. I had a couple of friends who I’d see intermittently during the holidays, but really it was my own company that I desired.
In those early years, my Dad would tell me stories about his Army days, during WW2. When I look back, I see his influence on me now, as a writer. (He was in the 6th Airborne Division, 1st Battalion, The Royal Ulster Rifles and at aged Eighteen, he was catapulted into the War in March 1945, for Operation Varsity).
In my early teens I attended Confirmation Classes and was Confirmed into the Anglican Church, I think at the age of 14. I remember the Bishop praying for me and my body shaking. From this came a prayer, that if god existed and wasn’t just an inanimate object, but one I may be able to connect with and have a relationship with, then I was in!
Yes, desperately naïve, but I was in search of something deeper and more intimate. It’s interesting that ‘intimacy’ has always been my lodestar.
And then it came to pass, that at aged 17, my sister nagged me to go to church and ‘hear the gospel’. I resisted for a while, but then relented, hoping it would get her off my back. Yes, my second naivety!
I became a Christian and went to a Mission Hall church, which was very fundamentalist. It wasn’t long before I came into conflict with the church leadership and not because of any theological disagreement or sexual impropriety with the young girls at the church, but because I wanted to go to Greenbelt.
Let’s simplify this next bit otherwise I will give Tolstoy a run for his money, as far as number of words go.
I went to Greenbelt. Loved it. It sparked a love of the Arts in me and it was from that point on that my life’s direction was set. However, when I got back to my fundamentalist brothers and sisters, I was the target of their shenanigans. Secretly they had set up a church business meeting and when I got there, I found that I was the only item on the agenda.
Geoff was informed that he would be watched, to see if his life exhibited any signs of ‘satanic influences’. Eventually, I left, but it was very traumatic.
I moved on to various churches, unperturbed and feeling I was actually finding out more about god through the trouble and strife of it all and was determined to continue this journey.
I then, whilst still in Hartlepool, came across a Curate who was new to the town. I was just amazed that someone of this calibre was in my home town and was a Reformational Philosopher. (Funny how these things work, isn’t it?!)
And so, it’s here that the next shift occurs and I leave behind the barbs of fundamentalism, finding the fences way too narrowly placed and embraced what I perceived to be a more expansive worldview.
Richard Russell was his name. He started giving me books to read. No not American stuff like The Late Great Planet Earth, but Kant and Hegel. I would read this stuff and then ask a thousand questions about them. He then gave me a copy of Calvin Seerveld’s ‘Rainbows for the Fallen World’, HR Rookmaaker’s ‘Modern Art and the Death of a Culture’ along with a book by Herman Dooyeweerd called ‘Roots of Western Culture’.
Richard said to me, “You have a brain. Why don’t you use it?” It was a little after this that I left Hartlepool, with my wife Jeanette and a little bundle of joy, aged 15 months old, called Mark. I had applied to attend Bristol Polytechnic and was successful, I think due to a great reference from Richard.
I studied Art History, toured lots of Galleries in Europe and my heart was set on fire for the arts.
In Bristol we attended an Anglican Church with a very strong missionary outlook, save for, you guessed it, the Arts. When I spoke to the leaders about my calling, I was met with both doubt and suspicion, as well as the usual ‘give it up and find a proper job’, ‘if god was truly in it, you’d have been successful by now’ and lastly ‘it’s unbiblical for a man not to be the leader of his family and the main wage-earner’.
Gradually it wore me down, but not before I had started an Arts Mentoring Group in the City. This occurred after the leadership approached me as ‘the arts guy’, to help with an art student who was having problems at UWE, (Bower Ashton) who had been told that her ‘faith was inappropriate for a student at that college’. Yeah, Liberal Arts!
Through all of this, I had learnt the value of resilience and would not give up my work in the Arts. And so, after speaking at the Christian Union, the Mentoring Group started in earnest. In the end we had about 70 artists on the mailing list, of which 40 would turn up for a quarterly meeting we called the ‘Tree House’. Here, artists presented their work, including performance poetry, dance, live music and film.
It was during this period that I wrote four books about the arts and mentoring, along with three short films, one of which saw me and my DP go to Glendale, California, for a film festival.
The Mentoring lasted for 15 years. In the latter stages I was also an Arts Coordinator at another City Centre Church, but was sacked for not bringing enough money into the coffers. There’s that money thing again!
This led me to working as a writer full-time, thanks to Jeanette’s kindness and support. But I left the Anglican Church, pretty sick of having to defend myself against all sorts of negativity. I am now happy and churchless.
It was then that I began, what for me was another conversion into a more mystical faith, urged on by the likes of Rob Bell, Alexander Shaia, Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault. My worldview expanded again and this time I’m happy to say that I now have a greater sense of intimacy with the Divine and feel content in that, as I launch my first novel into the world, “0w1:believe”.
It turns out that politically I am now an Anarchist, for which thanks also goes to my study of Daoism and my understanding of Apocalyptic literature. I don’t see this as in opposition to the Scriptures, whatever that now means, but more of a complimentary development, which is probably the focus for another time.
I’m of course open to your questions and have to say that I have found resilience and persistence to be the best gifts for an artist to have. Anyway, this is only half of the story…
– Geoff Hall