From Floor Sweeper To Film Maker. ↓
So who is Geoff to give you advice on success? Well he went from sweeping floors in a factory to the brawling nightclub doors, to standing on stage winning a BAFTA in front of the worlds glitterati. And more importantly, he did it with fewer resources than you have at your fingertips right now. As well as award winning script’s, he’s the author of over thirty popular books and was polled the number one self-defense instructor in the world.
Geoff, What inspired you to become a writer?
Geoff: I had lots of depression when I was younger. I had this particular bad depression and it kept visiting me. I think it was because I was root bound. I had all this creative energy and I wasn’t placing it anywhere. Every time I tried doing something with it people would say “Who do you think you are! That’s not for the likes of us. Just be grateful for what you’ve got”.
I had a lot of fear and I didn’t know why. I read a lot to figure it out and none of the books told me what I wanted to know. They were written by people who seemed to be frightened to actually say why they were scared. I thought if I ever discover what this is, I’m going write it down and tell people.
So you didn’t find the answer in the books, how did you combat your fears?
Geoff: I thought I’m sick of this, I’m going do something about it. I decided if I can overcome all my fears, I won’t be frightened anymore. So I wrote all my fears down on a pyramid and systematically confronted them one by one. My final challenge was to face my fear of violent confrontation. I became a nightclub doorman and that’s where everything started.
Before we go into your experience on the doors, lets back track a little. You say you had a lot of depression when you were younger. Tell me about the things you used to do as a child? What were you interested in?
Geoff: I was one of those strange kids who would go off on my own and dare myself to do challenges. What I was really into as a kid was climbing trees. I had to climb every tree on the estate and they were huge oak trees. I would climb right to the top. I didn’t want to hammer nails in and give myself foot holes. I wanted to find my own way up, a different way, so it’s always been in me to do that.
I used to go scrumping on my own, climbing over garden walls and pinching people’s apples. Sometimes I would be terrified that I’d get caught. I’d be overwhelmed and panic, but I would still go and do it all over again.
Geoff: I was one of those people that enjoyed going off and breaking the boundaries. Hanging around miles and miles from where I lived. I was never comfortable just staying where I was. I always thought there was more. I wanted to break out of that cast and experience all sorts of different things and meet different people. I was overwhelmed at times and I was completely out of my depth, but that excited me.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Geoff: I wanted to be a world class goal keeper. When I got to senior school I changed my mind and got into martial arts and put all my energy into that.
What initially sparked your interest in martial arts?
Geoff: Bruce Lee, I watched him and that changed my life. I’m still grateful for that now. He liberated me. It gave me an outlet for my energy and I heavily immersed myself in it. In fact it was like an obsession. It ended up becoming my career. It even took me to the world stage and I arranged to give up my day job, just so I could train and tour.
What job did you have at the time?
Geoff: Oh god, loads, everything from selling carpets to laying roads and making pizzas. I also worked at a chemical factory, hod carrying, brick laying and floor cleaner at a factory. And then working on the doors.
You mentioned earlier that things really started when you worked on the nightclub doors. Why was that?
Geoff: Doing it changed my whole life. That lovely saying by Nietzsche, “You have to be careful that when you hunt the dragon you don’t become the dragon”. I went from being a scared kid and hating bullies to becoming hugely violent and using violence as a problem solving tool. I had become the dragon and I was justifying that. And it was only when I started to write about it that I realized I was in the wrong place. Well, I was in the right place originally, but I’d stayed there too long.
It was very perceptive of you to realize what was happening. What was your next move?
Geoff: I left the doors and that’s when I started teaching. But it was that experience of mastering myself, facing my fears straight on, that’s what completely changed my life. That experience has been my reference point ever since. I remember occasions when guys were attacking me and trying to kill me. I then think, “doing an interview on national TV might be scary, but it’s not as bad as someone trying to kill me. What’s the worst thing that can happen? I’m not going to get stabbed, my life isn’t at risk” and it puts everything into perspective.
Talk me through the process of writing your first book?
Geoff: When I was working the doors, I was still sweeping floors and would sit in the canteen and tell the lads what happened the night before. It was either very funny or extremely violent or shocking. One of my friends said, “This is great stuff, these stories are amazing, you should write them down”. Of course I’d wanted to be a writer since I was a kid.
Geoff: I would get my work done and then go into the factory toilet and just sit there and write. Interestingly my other friend, who also worked at the club, was going to write a book about the doors too. He had masses of experience and was going to call it “Watch my back”. I said, “that’s a great title”. So I used it as a temporary title. Then when I went to get the book published, I had to ring him and ask for his permission. He said “Yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever write mine” and he never did!
It’s a shame that people have dreams and never take any action on them. What was your next step after writing the book?
Geoff: I had it typed and it must have sat on the shelf for a long time. I then met a friend of mine called Ian Mclaina, he was one of those guys who can spin twenty plates; he believed you could do anything. He said “We’ll get it out”, and although he didn’t get it published, he got my momentum going again. I sent it out to quite a few big publishers and didn’t get anything back.
I then took it to The Telegraph where Sue Lawry said “Before I read it, I want to tell you. There are fifteen reporters upstairs ALL of them want to write books. They don’t want to be journalists. But they haven’t taken any action. You’ve already gone and done it”.
After reading it she told me “There’s some really nice stuff here. You have an original voice, but it needs expanding, more description”. I went away and followed her advice. I then sent it to a small publisher. It turned out they were actually two lads working from their dad’s living room. They had just left University. But I was given the impression they were some big conglomerate. At that time they had only published one book. Now, they’re a multi-million pound business.
They told me “We don’t think it will make you lots of money and we’re only a small publisher. You’ll get royalties but we can’t give you an advance”. I didn’t care, I was just excited about being published.
They published it and suddenly my whole belief system changed. I was thinking, “right, so people like me can write and get published”. Everyone had told me I couldn’t do it. Then the floodgates opened. I wrote five books in a year. I’ve written over thirty since. I thought “I can do anything”. That’s when I went into writing plays and journalism, everything I fancied doing, I would go for it. It was really exciting.
How long did it take to publish your first book and how successful was it?
Geoff: They had it for about 18 months and it sold quite well. They ended up with five hundred left, which they were just going to sell over time. But I said “Look, I think I can do more with this, will you let me buy the copyright back?”. And they did, which I think they’ve regretted ever since, because it’s sold over a hundred thousand.
I reprinted it in hard back. I put it out and started doing courses and teaching and I started printing other books as well. I’d decided to self-publish my other books. I looked at what they were doing, and the unit cost of printing a book. I thought, “Well I could do this myself”. If I printed it myself and sell it, I can make much more money. I’ve self-published ever since.
You followed through on your dream of becoming a writer. Why do you think so many people, like the journalists at The Telegraph, don’t end up pursuing their dream job?
Geoff: I’ve seen lots of my friends who want to be screen writers who end up working other jobs because they have to cover their mortgage, and they lose their way. I discovered a lot of them have this idea only certain people can be successful. It’s not true. It’s just how much you want it.
My book “Elephant and The Twig” is an inspiring book about what you can achieve, and “Shapeshifter” is a serious book about how much do you want to achieve it. It’s good to cut through layers of consciousness with people in a nice way and say “look YOU can do it AND have it all”.
I think success asks everything. But it doesn’t tend to take everything. There are doors you have to go through, commitments you have to make and some sacrifices. So that book is saying “are you prepared to pay the price?”. Most people aren’t. But rather than say “I’m not prepared to pay the price” they’ll say “it’s a closed door and people like me can’t get in, or I didn’t get my lucky break”. It’s just weak excuses.
So you think they’re making up excuses to cover their fear?
Geoff: Exactly. I scare the shit out of them. One of my students on a scriptwriting course, came up to me and was trying to tell me how tough it is at University. Success doesn’t come on its own, you’ve got to keep at it and keep pushing. The common thing people always say is “I don’t have the time” and I say, “well actually you have. You just haven’t got the will!”
I tell all my students “you get the same 24 hours as the President of the United States or the Prime Minister, or Muhammad Ali. Whatever it is you’re doing, you get 24 hours. It’s what you do with it. Your 24 hours are filled with something, even if it’s filled with nothing. What you have to decide is what you want to fill it with”.
Geoff, previously we talked about fear, another common condition which tends to hinders people is stress. Why do you think so many people are stressed today?
Geoff: There weren’t as many neurological stresses years ago. Every time you look around now, there are things which trigger stress. Bright lights, loud noises, lots of traffic, pollution, aggression and violence on the news. We are surrounded by lots of stimulus. People are more infused with adrenalin, because it doesn’t find a behavioural release. The body innately knows it’s caustic. If it doesn’t find a behavioural release, cortisol attacks the internal smooth muscles, like the heart, lungs and intestines. It travels to the brain and kills your neurotransmitters.
Stress is a killer. Even little things like a car horn or watching a violent film will trigger the adrenals. There’s lots and lots of ripe stuff out there. People are walking around in a predatory state most of the time. The body knows it needs to find a release for it. So it tries to find any kind of outlet. And the digestion system closes down temporarily. That’s why there’s so much irritable bowl or problems with digestion.
What can people do to combat stress in their daily lives?
Geoff: Meditation or yoga calms everything down, changing your physiology back to where it should be. Understanding how your body works is beneficial too. You have to recognize that you don’t need to be stressed. Start making a conscious effort to think about what you read, and what you watch on television. So you’re not triggering your body all the time.
Currently, most people’s physiology is stuck in fight or flight, and of course, that promotes all sorts of illnesses. Mainly because the immune system closes down during this process. If you think back to when we were living in caves. The body was designed to prepare you, for when you encountered a sabre tooth tiger. You had the option of stay and fight or run away, and it would have lasted for seconds. But today we’re marinating in it all day. So our immune system is on, then it’s off, and then on again. The door is open so lots of illnesses can get in.
It’s imperative you find a way to physically release that stress. The wrong food, or too much of one type of food, acts as a stressor and will trigger the adrenals. People are constantly wired, and they take it out on whoever is around at the time. It’s good to step outside of all that and think. “I’ll go do some exercise that will get rid of my stress. I’ll change my perception of the world, so it doesn’t have to be stressful. I’ll do some yoga and meditation to change my physiology back”.
What about diet. How important do you think it is to eat healthy food?
Geoff: It’s just about moderation. I’ve practiced different things from complete abstinence, right through to the other side, where I eat whatever I want. I think the best thing is abstaining from excess. Having discipline. You can indulge now and again, but don’t eat what you haven’t earned. I don’t have anything which is really bad for me. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink alcohol. I do like a cake sometimes, and a curry once a week. But I train every day and I keep myself in great shape.
Why do you think, even though people know what they should be doing, they often do the opposite?
Geoff: George Ivanovich Gurdjieff said that people have no self control. He talks about the fact that we think we’re free. However, we’re controlled by the opinions imposed on us by others. Someone says your work is good, you feel great. Someone says your work is terrible, you have a shit day. He talked about self sovereignty. Controlling the self, so you become immune to the slings and arrows, of internal and external phenomena. Only then can you call yourself a true individual.
How do you gain this control of yourself?
Geoff: Gandhi believed that if you could control the palate, all other senses fall into line. Once you govern your senses, you gain self control. You literally control the world. This is a man that changed the course of history on that simple philosophy.
People are out there looking for huge philosophies. But really there’s only one thing to do, and that’s to master yourself. For example: being in control of what you eat, drink, listen to, read and watch on television. We become what we allow to influence us. I’m very careful about what I take in, who I speak to, certainly what I read. I don’t read tabloids or porn magazines. It’s not a moral or ethical judgment, it’s just about what is good for me. It’s about controlling my senses.
You mention tabloids. Do you think people have become indifferent to the messages from the media? And the powerful effect it has over them?
Geoff: The fourth fuel of the brain is information. People have an idea about physical food, and may think, ‘this is good for me and that isn’t’. But that’s not the most important thing we ingest. What’s more essential, is the information we take in. Information feeds the brain literally. I think people are being force-fed junk everyday, almost every minute, and we don’t realize it.
When you have information it becomes a physical part of your brain. The brain takes it in. These neurons fire back and forth. If you receive the same information enough times, it leaves an indent. A groove in your brain. That’s how it works. So what you’re taking in every day, becomes your reality. It’s unconscious conditioning.
It’s about stepping aside from that and thinking “is this having the effect on me that I really want?” And then you start choosing your own information. There is a plethora of it out there. Library’s are full of great information and everyone has access to them.
What do you think are the main barriers to people believing they can be successful?
Geoff: You look at people like Leonardo Da Vinci. One of the reasons he was so successful, was because he didn’t know the concept of limitation. Most people have a formal education and they’re told ‘these are the possibilities’. Leonardo didn’t have this type of education. So he came out with all these amazing ideas – the parachute, the helicopter, submarine. He was a mathematician, sculptor, writer, gymnast, weight lifter. He had this amazing polarity of intellect and physicality. He was doing it because he wasn’t taught any restrictions.
Leonardo also recognized that most people were scuppered by uncertainty and ambiguity. No one really knows what’s going to happen, if they’re going to be successful or not. He recognized in order to be successful, he needed to develop a high tolerance to both. He became massively successful because he said, “life would be pretty plain and dull if there was no uncertainty”.
Credits: Interview A Greenham. Edit P Montreal. Illustrations Julian Kimmings.