Boff and Steve – on writing, lockdown and other stuff
The other day I had a long chat with Boff Whalley, as he is providing one of the stops on the Blog Tour next week to celebrate the launch of my book ‘All or nothing at all: the life of Billy Bland’. His blog post that results from the chat will cover, amongst other things, the Bob Graham Round (and having Billy Bland as a surprise pacer on his own). Here we cover some of Boff’s recent writing output – for book and stage. As he has much more interesting things to say than I have it is in a series of questions, which he answered willingly. So, here goes, (my words/links in italics):
Photo is a tease for Boff’s Book Blog Tour post – see above
Do you have a writing scheme/schedule/routine?
I do. For songwriting I have to know what it is for. I don’t just walk round with a notepad in my pocket and come up with inspiration. I have to have a subject or a reason to do it. But with writing writing (with books and that) I just find it really difficult to find the time.
Have you been trying to write in lockdown?
What happened is that I have been thinking of writing a book about Gary Devine. It has been on the cards for about two years. I had kind of shelved it as it wasn’t really going anywhere. But when lockdown happened I instantly thought – this is the time to do it. But I hadn’t taken into account home schooling. I have got a ten-year-old and it is just crazy trying to write a book whilst you are responsible for stopping a child from spending all day at a screen! You know, re-learning primary school maths and all that. And doing projects too. Once I am in that space, I presume it is the same for you, I love it. I could sit and write all day if I had the chance.
[STEVE] I find I have to have something to start me off – having talked to someone else, or read something. I hit the task in random patterns. I certainly don’t write logically through a manuscript.
Are you writing what might be seen as a standard biography or trying to write through Gary’s eyes?
A lot of it is quite novelistic, in the sense that I didn’t want it to be just a biography. I am not very good at writing those kind of things. I am not good at the journalism part of everything. I have had lots of discussions with Gary about this. Basically, I said, we will sit down and go through everything, and I can keep asking you lots of questions about facts here and there. Essentially, I want to write this so that it is an exciting story. Not just about running, I want it to be about punk rock, and about the 1980s, and squatting in Leeds and getting iced by the police.
Did you know him before running?
Yes. I knew him vaguely. I knew him from the punk scene and had seen him about. When I went to watch my first fell race, he won it. It clicked and I suddenly thought, yeh that is that guy. I have known him since then.
What band or music did he play?
He was in a band called Pagan Idols. They were absolutely awful. I am sure he would agree with me. They were lovely people and they had really good hearts. They really meant it, and were very loud and extreme.
At this point I checked: Is it OK to mention the book?
I am kinda assuming that no-one is else is gonna write on that subject.
Have you got a publisher?
Yeh. Great Northern Books are publishing it.
At this point we digressed somewhat, which led to an interesting story
I originally planned to write a book about Joss Naylor, but Keith Richardson got there first. Did you know Joss worked at BNFL for a while? An ambassador even, you might call it nowadays.
I think they [BNFL] were very good at keeping the local community happy. They employed loads of people who barely did any work. So, it kept people from complaining about things. It had a nickname, what was it? Something like a ghost job. It meant you turned up and didn’t do anything.
What do you think of the whole GPS tracker/Strava thing?
Steve Bottomley from Pudsey & Bramley was talking about Strava when it first started. He used to wait at the bottom of a hill on his bike and as soon as a lorry came along get in its slipstream and get a good time. Life is too short for that sort of antics. In the early days of GPS trackers for football clubs one manager found that he gave them to his players to show how much training they were doing on their own. He found some of them were attaching the trackers to their dogs.
You have been working on a project called ‘These hills are ours’. What is it?
An 85-mile run from Lancaster down to Kinder Scout was part of the backbone of the story we are telling. It is to do with land rights and land ownership. It is the history of land ownership as told from the standpoint of runners.
Is it a stage show?
It is a theatre thing but not playing characters. It is two of us presenting these ideas and with songs and discussion and things like that. Bits of film even. It gave me an excuse to write a set of 8 or 9 songs about fell running, which I have never done before. Well there was an album about sport on which there are two fell running songs. It was a delight to write these new ones. I really enjoyed it. We had 40-odd dates pencilled in for March to June and they all disappeared with lockdown.
The idea reminds me of Ewan McColl and the ‘Shoals of herring’ song series
Yeh – the radio ballads. They were brilliant. When I first discovered those I thought they were brilliant and I was inspired by them. This is similar. The songs I have written tell the story of different aspects of running and how you feel on certain things – races, and different aspects.
Is your co-creator (Daniel Bye) a songwriter or what?
He is a theatre maker and performance artist. He is a writer as well. But he is also an obsessive runner. Part of the reason we thought we might do a show about it all was because as we talked about it we realised that I have old-fashioned traditionalist attitude to a lot of things about running, whereas he is Mr Heartrate Monitor GPS Watch Strava Segment. He knows the whole thing and that is his world. I so like to wind him up. I bought a sundial watch which I wear when I meet him. The joke is I am playing Billy Bland and he is Kilian Jornet. Our two characters meet with running in the middle.
Link to Daniel’s blog about it: http://www.danielbye.co.uk/these-hills-are-ours.html
Finally, what is your fitness and commitment to running just now.
Just enjoying running at the moment. I am 60 next year so I need to get fit for that. Jack Maitland used to run his age in one go every year on his birthday. Once you get to about 60 it is getting hard. He used to do it over the weekend, so over the weekend when he was 30 he ran 30 miles and drank 30 pints on the Fri-Sun. Just madness.
PS: Just for the record, in lockdown I have been working (intermittently) on three books. One on the Ordnance Survey, one on photography, and one on fell running.