Author On Pause

The gorgeous beach and warm sea in Negril, the isolation and dramatic fells of Boot, Cumbria, the rugged coast path back drop around a log fire in Cadgwith, Cornwall. What do they all have in common? Well Nicky and I have enjoyed fabulous retreats at each of these on more than one occasion. Days of hiking and running and evenings of reading and, of course, WRITING!

Cape Town. Vibrant and colourful, diverse and immense. Days packed, and I mean PACKED, with sightseeing, tourist attractions, trips and, of course a rather special running event. Yes, this was a first for us, we were proper tourists for 8 days and we loved every single exhilarating, exhausting minute of it.

Reading? About half a book between us.

Writing? One tiny blog post and nearly a whole page of the novel.

There’s plenty to come though…..

For tales of the trip please check out http://www.kevinrunsblog.wordpress.com

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I’ve found my baddie

“So, Kevin, how’s the novel going?”

(Asked nobody. Ever)

Well……

As the writing of my first draft stumbles along, the research has really gathered momentum. I’ve been (metaphorically of course) to most continents and nervously used some suspicious search keywords in order to get as much accurate historical facts to back up my imaginary story. Hopefully rendering it seemingly non imaginary. If you see what I mean.

Rightly or wrongly, I’m looking to everything around me for inspiration, little details which all form part of personalities and their stories.

Watching a really sweet film, Our Souls At Night – huddled around the laptop (the television has long since been relegated to the loft) with my beautiful wife – I started to really focus on how the script, directing and the incredible acting (Robert Redford) hand us the characters with subtle moments and gestures.

At one point, Redford’s character (Louis) crosses the road. Such a simple piece of action yet full of little gems. He initially is distracted, his mind elsewhere, he catches movement in his peripheral vision and momentarily pauses. The car driver slows and indicates being happy to wait. Louis then flicks a smile and slightly raised hand before carrying on his way.

It made for an engaging moment, with so much more than just a man crossing the road.

I’m determined that my book will be full of such detail. The image of the moment providing a window into the past (and indeed futures) of my characters.

A new addition is (without spoiling the plot too much) a ‘baddie’, who’s actions from the past forever haunt the present for **** and will soon become an obsession of *** too. I’m delving deep into the history of ***** ****** and giving him a journey too.

Anyway.

Back to it.

In answer to the question: It’s going slowly, but I’m loving every moment of it.

Write. Read, naturally. But, mostly, WRITE.

Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners.

So, I have a working title for my book. Oh yes, it’s fairly rolling along now. To be fair (to me), in a lot of ways, it is. About three pages of story plus another four pages of writing, most of it simply recording my two main protagonists as they reveal themselves to me.

Nobody can ‘teach’ me to write, but my characters journey from their own private worlds, gradually infiltrating my cotton wool head and then into the lap top, was definitely encouraged, nay prompted, cajoled even, by an author I rather admire.

I reviewed On Writing by A.L. Kennedy (HERE) back in November, I’ve devoured the book twice and am seduced by its bleak reality and gallows humour, as well as by the seeds the pages plant within my own brain’s writing section.

The lesson, although their are no ‘lessons’, I am most employing the learnings of is having the ability and openness to let characters show themselves to me. Let them tease me, whisper to me, shout at me. But let them do it in their time. Since I stopped trying to push imaginary clothes, ages, parents, musical tastes, muddy finger nails and an unlimited number of other tiny details these characters need, through my fingers into a forced biography, they really have come alive.

On telling me, for example, that she was Jewish, of Brazilian descent and brought up in Belgium, **** ****** has set me off on a voyage of discovery. I speak to her regularly, asking her for more little nuggets which will help define her path through my tale. As for *** *********, well he’s a character……

Which brings me to one of the other skills Kennedy has unwittingly discovered in me. Never mind ‘write what you know’, more importantly, and more interestingly, ‘know what you write’. Now, whilst a trip to Brazil, to find the obscure town where my friend, ****, was born, is probably not within the household budget, the internet is a great resource. As are books, newspapers, the radio, podcasts and any other well of knowledge I can find.

It may be true that I only have about three pages of ACTUAL WRITING, I am building up quite a library of knowledge to endeavour to tell the story **** and *** are revealing to me in as much detail as I possibly can.

So when you see a hairy arsed builder breaking up concrete, seemingly lost in his or her thoughts, don’t assume they’re thinking about football, page three or Stella Artois, they might just be in the process of creating a wonderful piece of art.

Keep on keeping on…..

Book Review – Conclave by Robert Harris

A thriller. But not your conventional terrorism, cops and robbers, psychological mayhem style thriller. No, this is a gentle paced, gently building, teasing and prodding tale. The demographic of the gathering conclave gradually revealed as cardinals from around the world arrive in Rome. Charged with the responsibility of electing a new Pope from within their midst, they are removed from the outside world and its potential influence and guided through the process by the protagonist of the tale, Cardinal Lomeli.

Lomeli is a likeable and amiable chap, but his unspoken subtext nudges at your suspicions throughout the rather cleverly red trimmed pages. I do like a touchy feely, quirkily presented tome.

This is no less a thriller for its apparent easy pace. It builds and builds, like Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, constantly hinting at, then prolonging the wait for, the tensions to be unfurled. The delicate interplay between this collection of men, some fiercely ambitious, some deceptively quiet, others openly self promoting is treated with a tender touch by Harris. I found myself gradually having favourites and trying to guess ahead the colour of the smoke from each ballot result.

As a would-be-author (!) I was taken by the detail, the filling in of backgrounds, the canvas appearing in my head. The research undertaken in order to present such an unusual subject matter with careful and considered attention to the intricacies of the process is awe-inspiring.

For a thriller to contain little in the way of violence, and still be so gripping is testament to the clever delivery of seemingly gentile ugliness of some of the characters behaviour. The story unfolds in chronological order, neatly tying each unsuccessful ballot to the next.

I’ve always said I’m best entertained by songs written by songwriters and sung by singers. The same goes for books. This is definitely written by a writer. I rattled through it and enjoyed the cameo appearance of the ‘twist’ at the end, which I certainly hadn’t seen coming.

I’m not a man of religion and found the catholic rhetoric to be simply part of story, I would be intrigued to know how more committed catholic devotees felt about reading it.

I definitely recommend this.

Adults In The Room

A BOOK REVIEW

ADULTS IN THE ROOM by YANIS VAROUFAKIS

Whatever your political leaning, your views on the European Union, your stance on Brexit or your opinion of other European nationals and nations, THIS is an essential read.

It’s a shocking read too.

Now, as I’ve blogged before, I do tend towards (occasionally) a book of substance. I find a racy, thriller or crime mystery, or quirky, page turner irresistible,  but tend to alternate between those and something which thumps my brain into inquisition.

Adults In The Room, certainly managed to do that! Varoufakis was, very briefly, the finance minister for Greece. He attempted to oversee a re-financing of Greece’s debts and negotiate terms with the remainder of Europe for a fairer and more forward thinking solution to the apparently ‘bankrupt’ state of Greece at the time.

You have to stay with him on his explanations of both the financial arrangements in place at the time and those of his proposals. There was plenty of re-reading as I tried my absolute hardest to be fully informed, before judging how I felt about what I was reading.

He also, essentially in my opinion, broke down to a room by room, committee by committee, country by country description of the mechanics of the European Union and its associated financial institutions, councils and groups. Truly, it was a revelation. I believed myself to be fairly well informed and versed with the world, but the whole deep, dark and murky world revealed in Adults In The Room, was as enlightening to me as it was terrifying. And still is.

Varoufakis has a confidence about his words, a purposeful, relentlessly positive thrust to project his beliefs, desires and understanding. In fact, by half way through the book I was amazed he hadn’t already thrown the towel in!

Due to the (necessarily) technical nature of much of the book, it’s not a rolling, smooth ride through the pages (such as the last political memoir I read – John Bew’s extraordinary biography of Clement Attlee, Citizen Clem, reviewed on THIS BLOG POST). As I have said, there needs to be some re-reading if you’re trying to devour this as your eyes droop and your head drops on the pillow at night. BUT, it’s worth the effort.

I found Yanis’s explanations gave me an insight and understanding I would never have believed myself capable of achieving. Having this greater understanding then released my mind to enjoy the sociological and societal ideologies so thoughtfully delivered here.

Having set my stall out to only review books I enjoy, I can, without reservation, recommend this important and engaging modern political…… er, farce? thriller? mystery? dystopia? It’s hard to actually BELIEVE how ridiculous some of the exchanges between supposed ‘grown ups’ can be.

Varoufakis serves his confidently delivered prose with a healthy side of humility, a bright eyed belief in ‘people’. His enthusiasm for his socialist views is infectious. His realism prevents this becoming a dreamy ‘if only we all loved each other’ book aimed purely at those sharing his ideology. This is illustrated by the alliances he forms with politically unlikely bed fellows. Including some from the right of British politics.

Fascinating, terrifying yet heart warming, detailed yet not patronising, it truly is a fine thing.

For anybody with more than a passing interest in politics, or in Europe, or in Brexit, or in what those at the VERY top are really about. Or, indeed, WHO is at the very top……..

 

 

A Good Read

When I’m up to date with my podcasts, I tend to listen to BBC Radio 4 on my drive to (or from) work. A bit of news in the morning, sometimes punctuated by my shouting at a guest (normally a politician) who doesn’t share my point of view. Ridiculous really, when you consider the biggest lesson I have ever learned in life…. “don’t get stressed about, or waste energy on, the things you can’t change.” But sometimes it’s quite nice to shout that Iain Duncan Smith is a ***** ******* ****, or that Boris Johnson is a ************ ********** ******!!!!! even though I am fully aware that my angry expletives, echoing around the inside of my steamed up 2003 Nissan Micra, will not encourage millionaires born into families of millionaires start to reflect the viewpoints of us dreamy eyed masses.

ANYWAY

Driving home from work, tends to coincide with one of Radio 4’s magazine style programs. A particular favourite of mine being A Good Read. The simple program design requires a couple of guests, plus presenter Harriett Gilbert, to nominate a book each, then they collectively discuss their experience of reading the chosen volumes.

This week’s show (I started writing this on Tuesday, having just listened to it – it’s now Thursday – when WILL I get time to really REALLY write?) featured two public figures I enjoy the aural company of immensely. Stephen Fry chose the classic, A Brave New World by Aldus Huxley, Harriett introduced A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Sparks and Alan Davies definitely piqued my interest by championing JM Coetzee’s Boyhood.

Well, it’s now 9pm on Friday, and I’m hoping to squeeze another sentence in before falling asleep. This blog post is becoming a diary of compiling a blog post, when TIME is absent……..

Anyway, Boyhood, it would seem, is a work of fiction, although too coincidental to actually not be a memoir of Coetzee’s own childhood. This led to a discussion about how Davies has repeatedly tried to compile an autobiographical childhood tome. Which, in turn, got me to thinking…

How would I even start to write a memoir of my own childhood?

I suppose, to make it arty, I should write a tale of inner city depravation, of deprivation, of my parents’ swinging ’60s lifestyle and being abandoned to fend for myself on the feral Coventry streets in the ’70s…….

My life didn’t start like that, though, I was definitely born into (and because of) love. My late Granpop always told the tale that, in my first hour of life, I grabbed hold of the sides of the washing up bowl I’d been deposited into and hauled myself upright. Then again, he also swore blind, some years later, that he heard a voice from within our fire place, “hello, I’m the chimney pot man”!

Sure, my battles with, well, EVERYTHING, were already starting long before my teenage years, but it would be wrong to claim toddler misery, it simply didn’t happen like that.

ANYWAY.

Never mind some self-indulgent trawl through my selective childhood memories, I’ve already got TWO FECKIN’ BOOKS I’ve hardly put a word to in months……… In fact, despite briefly following the wonderful AL Kennedy’s advice, and having the main protagonist of the ‘novel’ (tentative working title – Dogs Who Look Nothing Like Their Owners) actually move into my head in order for them to tell me their WHOLE story, they have been silent for a long time. I think they got bored of waiting!!

I need them back.

So, if you spot them (they may be accompanied by dogs which don’t look like them), could you ask them to reappear in my subconscious at their earliest convenience, please?

TA.

 

 

BOOK REVIEW – Day by AL Kennedy

It was quite apt – Finishing Day by A.L. Kennedy during the week of Armistice Day.

I’ve been close to Alfred as his (second world) war has been gradually revealed to me.

The story of how one man, a rear gunner, repeatedly cradled in the belly of a Lancaster, came to be. How he came to be a man. A man as labelled by his peers, his family, his lover, his own mind. How a man fell out of the sky…….

Without telling the story (and, oh, to have a 100th of the writing prowess of Kennedy with which to do so!), a young man, with a painfully troubled upbringing, escapes the abuse of his parents’ world and is a willing and committed recruit to the war machine.

Based on a film set, where Alfred is tormented by his role as an extra in a war film (a mere 4 years after WWII had ended), the narrative bounces, initially, from past to present and beyond. Potentially confusingly, I did re-read the previous sittings’ last pages until I was in tune. From there, though, I sank into the uncomfortable, yet warm cradle of its pages’ embrace.

I don’t imagine there are many ‘happy’ endings in genuine war tales, and the depth of detail on show here of the horrors of, well, life, is extraordinary. The story evolves, centred on an anguished internal dialogue. Without resorting to shock tactics, genuine terror is sketched across the canvas of the readers’ imaginations.

If, like me, you enjoy being challenged, informed, cajoled and bowled over by new (to me anyway) writing, you’ll cherish this tale. As I said, reading it at such a poignant time of year only added to the delicate, historical pleasure.

For me, the masterstroke is the gentle touch of the author’s quill on the fragile soul that is Alfred. Some of his relationships are never quite expanded upon, giving the reader scope to build the characters in their mind. The cameo of his relationship with Ivor (they run a bookshop together), provides an almost light flavour to a beautiful but truly dark mix.

Good stuff.

On-Writing-A-L-KennedyWhilst attempting to develop my writing skills, I stumbled across On Writing, also by A.L. Kennedy. I really believe we all need to delve into (a process made so much easier in the digital era) subjects which interest us in order to discover inspiration and (in this case) wander beyond the ‘Buy One Get One Half Price’ table in Waterstones……..

 

 

 

Film Review – 100 Metro

I WAS ASKED TO REVIEW A FILM (ANY FILM) AS PART OF A TEST PROCESS FOR A COPYWRITING BROKERAGE AGENCY. LUCKILY, NICKY AND MYSELF HAD RECENTLY WATCHED THIS EXTRAORDINARY FILM……

A STRICT BRIEF AND WORD COUNT WERE REQUIRED AND THIS IS THE PIECE I SUBMITTED.

 

100 Metros
Thrown into a life controlled by Multiple Sclerosis, Ramon finds himself tempted by the unlikely challenge of an Ironman triathlon. With his heavily pregnant wife, a young son and his finances being challenged, an equally unlikely training partnership, alongside his eccentric and foul-mouthed father-in-law, is formed.
Based on a true story, Ramon’s journey, and that of his family, from a devastating, life changing diagnosis, and terrifying prognosis, to attempting such an extreme feat of endurance is one of epic proportions.
Having been goaded that he would never complete 100 meters, Ramon sets out to prove that he can swim 3.8 kilometers, cycle 180 and run 42.2, all within a 17 hour time limit.

The Spanish passion – it oozes through every scene, most vocally through Manola

The character of Manola, Ramon’s father in law provides chuckle worthy relief to the heart-breaking tenderness in the darkness of living with the uncertainty, and indeed, certainty of the disease.
Delightfully rugged, unkempt and with his own hinted at sadness and desperation, Manola is the link joining the circle of characters. He exudes bitterness and resentment yet can be gentle and poignant all in one scene. His request to ‘buy’ Facebook is hilarious and yet it signifies a true line in the sand moment in his own grieving process.
Being told in the native tongue of the film, with English subtitles, the passion and commitment of Manola is preserved as his increasingly unorthodox (but effective) coaching of Ramon develops.
The sometimes painfully strained relationships between the members of this family are stretched to near breaking point and the light touch approach in the directing allows the viewer to absorb the subtleties of these interactions.
From the limits of despair to the heart stopping highs of triumph, and everywhere in between, the countdown to race day is irresistible.

 

The Soul Survivors

Tears cascade, the cask rolls through the curtains. Good souls escape the fire though. They drift casually, silently, unseen, across the moors. The oldest oak calls, its whisper carries easily though the valleys and tors. “Forever, forever, forever,” the rustling of vibrant green leaves calls, “forever on the wind”. Autumn comes but the leaves don’t fall. Yet, only those whose lost loved ones bore good souls notice the ever green oak. The souls on the wind follow the call, “forever, forever” and a faint vapour wisps up the ancient trunk, through the knot of the soul survivors.

 

(PHOTO PROMPT © Sandra Crook)

A QUEUE FOR A RUCKSACK

A poem by Kevin Bonfield
A QUEUE FOR A RUCKSACK

Maybe a confusion here for
A tiny frail elderly man who
Needs pockets and to lock it
And to keep his life safe.

A Brazilian office worker rushing to work.
A salad, maybe sweet chilli sauce
And fruit and a rare treat
Wrong colour wrong timing.

A mid-life crisis in full flow
More a waistcoat but, hey
Rucksack sounds more rugged
Run a mile or plenty away

A hiker, a traveller, a primary school
Kid who might fit in theirs
Young Mum, baby milk and wipes
Or mine with a scribble and a pen