Ham & High, Thursday 14th August 2014.

“Gladiator who became a sage inspired writer”

A first-time author tells Harry Kemble how a chance meeting helped spark his novel.

It is not hard to see the reasons why first-time author John Steinberg loves the story of Talmudic figure Shimon ben Lakish’s journey from gladiator to sage. The former trainee accountant, left unfulfilled by his family’s property business, desperately searched for direction within the literary world until 2007.

As with the Shimon – better known as Resh Lakish, a renowned Hebrew scholar of the third century – a chance meeting brought about that much-needed impetus.

While Shimon’s meeting came about on the banks of the River Jordan, Steinberg met Ray Kilby at Bafta in the West End. Kilby, a TV director and writer, saw something which encouraged him to collaborate with Steinberg, with the pair going on to write three plays together.

Though the pair failed to hit the heights they had initially hoped for; they did successfully produce two plays – In The Balance and W for Banker – which just came short, Steinberg says, of making the West End.

“I was totally reliant on Ray – at that stage he was much more of a writer than I ever was,” says Steinberg, who had Shimon, his first novel, published earlier this year. But Kilby, whose credits include Never Play With The Dead and The Haven, two feature films, and EastEnders, parted on amicable terms with Steinberg after a third play failed to see the light of day. “We decided that we had tried hard enough, maybe we needed to work on something else,” says Steinberg. “I am absolutely indebted to him but I needed to find out if I could write on my own.”

A further chance meeting, this time with two friends from business school, got Steinberg on the road to turning Shimon from a “spiritual figure into a physical one.”

He adds: “One said he could introduce me to a publisher but I had never written anything that required a publisher – I did not have anything.”

It was then Steinberg expanded the story of Shimon into his debut novel. “I love the idea of the gladiator who became a sage and I thought that is what I am going to try to turn into a novel.”

*Shimon by John Steinberg is published by 2QT Limited priced £9.99 (paperback).

Source: H & H Series, Thursday August 14, 2014