Interview With Gary Bonn… YA author, Palaeoquest madman and artist extraordinaire…
Well, so today on my blog I have a guest again, the fantastic and multi-talented Mr. Gary Bonn. His novels are extraordinary works of visual, visceral, intelligent storytelling, his art work (featured throughout) is magnificent, his entrepreneurial spirit and heart for humanity makes him one of my very favourite people.
He’s been good enough to answer some of my typically mental questions (one of these days I’ll get the hang of this journalistic flim-flam) and his answers are, as I expected them to be, fabulous. Without further ado, let’s begin!
GB: Palaeoquest gives me limitless opportunities to trip over my own spear and make a fool of myself. (RW: And sniff spear polish…)
Civilisation happened faster than we could evolve, so we’re never quite at ease with our world, never quite sure what we are. Take an animal, in this case human, and drop it into a world for which is not adapted and you have a ‘fish out of water’ situation. Palaeoquest puts people back into an environment in which they lose the barriers between them and the world around. Everywhere is your home and you become part of the wildlife.
How does this benefit people apart from above? One of the things I adore seeing is the sheer relief on people’s faces when they learn that we are naturally caring, open, honest, trusting and peaceful. Without these adaptive behaviours humans would not have survived. Almost every hunter-gatherer interaction is based in social problem solving and conflict-resolution and these are all systems transferrable to our modern way of life. Indeed, if you put people in the right situation, these behaviours restore naturally. (RW: Wow, I can see how it’d be incredible to witness the change in people!)
Palaeoquest has worked with an enormous range of disadvantaged people – in this sense we all are in one way or another. I’ve seen growing self-awareness and subsequent determination to tackle personal problems in young offenders as well as successful professionals.
More than anything else, Palaeoquest is hilarious fun – hunter-gatherers don’t work very hard and take every opportunity to enjoy themselves.
GB: That really is very kind of you. (RW: Now, now, Gary, you know I’m as far as it gets from kind :P) I’m the worst judge of my own work, so I must rely on feedback such as you just gave. I should point out that there are some people who would rather eat live hedgehogs in barbed wire sauce than read my work. (RW: Oh, snap!)
The marriage of my passion for creating art and utter hatred of modern gods of wealth and status is akin to mixing sodium and water. Bright and dynamic, it often burns me. Through writing I can help people see things from a number of alternative angles, help them challenge all the things they’ve been told to think and believe.
Obviously, the crystal-clear minds and evolved behaviours of hunter-gatherers and their way of life give me a platform from which I can draw strength for strong images, unusual experiences and stories. If I’m actually creating something captivating, beautiful and entertaining then I’m overjoyed. (RW: Beautiful words, Gary)
GB: 1: No
1: The word “Compulsory” has me reaching for weapons, mind you, so do lots of other words, like: …actually, it’s best that I stop there, I just found an axe in my hand, and that plays hell with typing. “Compulsory” is a chain round your neck, a boundary, a limit: we have more than enough. Added to that, it’s one person forcing their will upon another… ah, I’m typing with two axes now. (RW: Did I mention you’re one of my favourite people? Well, you are and this is precisely why)
2: Anyone can take something valuable from anything. It’s not the “thing” that gives you what you are looking for, but how you look at it. Palaeoquest is a unique experience, so it may give an individual new perceptions they wouldn’t find otherwise.
RW: Primarily, from the works I’ve read written by your good self, you’re a SF/ specfic author, though I know you’re delving into fantasy lately. What notions/philosophies/ideas do you explore thematically in your work?
GB: So many, but they fall into three main camps. Years ago I worked as a family therapist in an adolescent psychiatric residential unit. Working so intimately with the thoughts, emotions and relationships of a wide variety of people gave me an understanding of people and myself I’d spent my life trying to find. Recently I’ve drawn on them for two books, one about a young man with such astonishing spatial awareness he is unable to operate in our culture and yet society can’t cope without him. The other is the story of a young woman with severe and difficult to control paranoid psychosis. Again, the story shows this can be a strength too.
The second, as I have said, is to help people get into their own heads with a bolt cutter and systematically free themselves from chains they didn’t even know were there and are doing damage.
The last is drawn from unique people whose unusual ways of perceiving their surroundings showed me how little I saw, heard, felt, etc, of my world. These people are described as having severe learning difficulties, and yet it is our own learning difficulties blind us to the wealth that they can give us.
One girl, around whom I will fashion a story one day, had extreme physical deformity, had never moved or spoken, but taught me what absolute beauty in a human truly is. She died thirty years ago at the age of 21. I think about her often and with great affection. If I could resurrect a single person to spend a day with, it would be her. (RW: Yes. The supposedly ‘disadvantaged by handicap’ youngsters I worked with at the RDA (Riding for the Disabled) showed more purely beautiful spirit, pluck and determination to succeed than anyone I’ve met before or since. Humbling)
RW: Multi-talented as you are, it should be no surprise to any reader that you’re also an illustrator. Have you ever intended to use this skill to make your own illustrated books? Perhaps graphic novels or just as an extra dimension in your novels? Do you sketch out characters etc just for your own edification or for fun?
GB: I love drawing! I adore superb artwork, the skill, the inspiration and invention that I see in artist’s work. To an artist, someone else’s work is the doorway into their head that they have opened for you. Like writing or any other creative media, it’s an invitation into them, like welcoming you into their house, but more so.
From cartoons to portraits, I can’t help myself; I’ll include some samples. (RW: Which are included throughout this interview, along with photographs of Palaeoquest – glorious paintings, Gary!) Yes, there is a moment from a book I wrote a couple of years ago, (which I must revisit – it wants to be published) in which a line of women flee across a wide, dusty trench. I think I wrote that scene for me, it sums up everything I’m emotionally about. I drew it again and again – I’ll see if I can find a drawing for you. Ah, no I can’t. Sry.
But I have found copies of “Warriors” – make of it what you will, “The Northern Lights” (RW: My favourite, that… breathtaking) – ditto, some cartoons from “Widget Tump” that I ran in several papers, and the first quick sketch I did when I realised portraits should show the person and the face is merely the vehicle.
RW: Of course, you’re also one of the driving forces behind the collective of writers producing a platform together otherwise known as Writerlot. Has being part of such a dynamic collective caused you to up your game and focus harder on your publishing goals? What’ve been the major positives to your mind in the formation of this collective?
GB: The major force behind it came from knowing so many great writers overflowing with ideas, and the prospect that we could, between us, give people something short to read every day during a tea break or whatever. I hoped we would get our names out there as well. Just having worked with these writers, agonised over each other’s books, supported each other through the flat times, taught each other what we know, how we all became friends though many thousands of kilometres apart, upped my game.
They inspire me. I had no idea that what we set up would grow better and better. I’m stunned that this group of creative people have worked with such cooperative discipline and energy, and had so much fun in the process. So many projects I’ve set up with creative people have collapsed through chaos. Sometimes it’s about as easy as getting continents to line up and dance.
GB: Everyone, but my last two are aimed at the YA market, though enjoyed by a wide range of ages. Sadly however, I am not able to say to any prospective agent that my mother likes them. I can lie, but not to that extent. (RW: Huh, me neither… but then again, I’m not writing for my mother )
RW: Lastly, please share with us any details you can of current projects and anything else you’ve a burning passion to share that we haven’t thus far covered.
GB: I’ve recently finished chairing a local project that took 10 years and £1.5m fundraising that set up a local arts and cultural centre. (RW: *CHEERS* Now that’s something to be proud of!)
I’ve illustrated a couple of books on local folklore this year.
My latest book is a huge departure from previous work, more light-hearted and humorous. (RW: It’s bloody hilarious!) I take my hat off to people who can write good quality humour, not only do you have to make sure the plot, characters and all work – you have to make every word add lateral thinking. Honestly, some days I’ll spend four hours working on a thousand words, and I’m not sure it’s good quality yet.
Making all this creativity possible is the support I get from my wife and family whose tolerance, enthusiasm and encouragement are beyond belief.
Thank you, Gary! Fabulous answers, just as I knew they’d be! And there, by Jove, you have him… where else can you find this insanely clever and interesting fellow? Well, you can go and learn how to survive in the wild on one of his marvellous Palaeoquest courses: http://www.palaeoquest.com/ Or you can read his wonderful writing on Writerlot: http://www.writerlot.net/ Or if you’re feeling particularly brave and deranged, you can follow him on twitter: @GaryBonn
Thanks for reading, I’m sure you loved it as much as I did… terrific interviewee… please leave a comment and do look forward, later this week, to reading a piece of Gary’s fiction, which I’ll be showcasing right here on this very blog… WOOT!