One of the many benefits of working with Homebound Publications is that this small press really lives its motto: “More than a company, we’re a community.” That belief is reinforced every time I meet a new Homebound author.
I felt it again when I interviewed Stephen Drew about his new book, Into the Thin—A Pilgrimage Walk Across Southern Spain. This memoir of Steve’s 500-mile walk on the Camino de Santiago is an intimate, beautifully-written self-reflection. It’s rightly described on the back cover as: “In parts a travelogue, a love letter to Spain, and a chronicle of change under the influence of grace, this is a story told in the language of the soul. Suffused with resilience, it is a dialogue between humanity and its spirit. It calls.”
It was an honor to talk with Steve about his journey on the road and on the page.
Iris: Steve, congratulations on the publication of your stunning book.
In the book’s introduction, you describe the walk you took this way: “The Camino de Santiago is a Catholic pilgrimage of about 500 miles (or 800 kilometers) and is usually accomplished in five to six weeks. People have been walking the ancient road to Santiago de Compostela in the northeast of Spain for over a thousand years in search of redemption, release from burdens, forgiveness, and meaning.” Let’s begin even before you started the pilgrimage. How did you prepare—physically and emotionally?
Steve: I took up daily walking when I moved to a rural area. I did some training walks with a full pack—13, 14 miles. It makes good sense to do some preparation. It’s the repetition one has to consider with the Camino; you get up and do it again and again. One must respect what’s before you.
That said, pilgrims come in all shapes and sizes. There’s a saying – “the Camino provides.” There’s an intelligence that drew us there. The energy of the Camino does come into play. The first day on the French route is brutal. You’re in the mountains, so weather can change on the dime. The following day is flat as a table. I didn’t take a rest day until I’d walked for 11 days. But this is trekking, not backpacking.
As far as emotional prep, that falls to the reason we’re called. There’s always a sense of purpose to going. What we’re doing is acting out the inner pilgrimage. You’re likely to find some surprises.
Iris: What was one of the hardest aspects of the walk?
Steve: There’s an expectation most pilgrims on the French route have. You bring a stone to the Cruz de Ferro, the Iron Cross, to symbolize burden, regret, remorse. You set the stone on the pile and walk away free and clear. Well, that’s not how it went for me. Issues with my siblings came out. This thing I thought I had tied up nicely with a pretty bow came completely unraveled. I showed up at the cross with a pretty big bunch of baggage.
Iris: What’s one of your fondest memories of the walk?
Steve: Of course, it’s a beautiful place. The scenery, for the most part, is breathtaking. I met some lovely and interesting people. The pilgrimage doesn’t end at the cathedral, though. It’s not over until it’s over. Afterwards, I went to Finisterre, putting my feet in the ocean and asking myself, “Now what? How do I go back?” That’s what Finisterre was all about. Life will never be the same; you can’t unsee or unhear things after a mystical experience. I talked early on about going back to real life. But after a few days walking, I realized, that’s not real. THIS is real life. When the idea of forgiveness rounded out, experiences of the Camino appeared as a rounded-out reality.
Iris: You write about “the thin place” and titled the book with this concept. I believe physical spaces, like old cathedrals, take on the energy of all the prayers, confessions, griefs, and celebrations that take place there. I’ve imagined that’s true, as well, for the Camino, walked for a thousand years by so many people on some kind of spiritual pilgrimage. Did you experience that, and if so, how would you describe it?
Steve: I probably went into it thinking of thin places, more place-oriented, with that idea. But for me, the thin place is here, [pointing to his chest], and we carry that through our walk in the world.
Iris: In the book’s third chapter, you wrote, “thin places is a 5th Century Celtic term to describe locations in the world where the layers between matter and spirit are only paper thin, where conditions encourage the cultivation of inspired thoughts and mystical experiences, and where the veil is lifted ever so slightly in a timeless wisp of a moment.”
Steve: Yes. The pilgrimage is about movement over ground and experience. It’s not about the place, it’s how I look at it. The thin place is more a matter of awareness.
Iris: What was it like when you returned home?
Steve: It was an interesting time, I’ve got to tell you. I write about it in the book’s last chapter. One thing I wondered was if I was being called back to Catholicism.
Iris: Had you planned to write a book about the pilgrimage? How did you record or recall your experiences?
Steve: The book was the big surprise at the time. On the Camino, I wrote a blog—first person, words and photos, people I met, scenes. It wasn’t finely crafted—I’d just walked 12 or 15 miles! Then one, two, three people started asking not if, but when I’d write a book. I got home in June and started writing in September. At around 4,000 words, I thought there was something there.
The blog was very helpful. I kept it alive well into the revisions in 2018. But now I’ve taken it down; it served its purpose. I also found my guide book helpful, because I’d written notes in it.
Iris: Thank you, Steve, for taking time to talk with me today. I thoroughly enjoyed your book, have given it as a gift, and I expect I’ll return to it many times. I feel I’ve found a kindred spirit.
Steve: You’re welcome, Iris. It was my pleasure, and I feel the same about your friendship.
Steve and I could have continued talking for hours, and he shared much more than I was able to transcribe. You can listen to him discuss his experience in this recorded book talk.
I also encourage you to order a copy of Into the Thin from your favorite indie bookseller or directly from the Homebound online store. Use the code WARM&COZY to save 30%. While you’re on the website, explore the press’s growing library of books—fiction, nonfiction, and poetry—Little Bound Books, and “The Wayfarer Magazine.”