The Age of Loneliness

age of loneliness

When I was first asked if I would consent to being featured in a documentary about loneliness, I was pretty nonplussed.

Although my wife and I had just split up and I was spending at least part of the week living on my own, I still hadn’t come to terms with my own feelings, let alone being ready to talk about them on camera.

Could I really go on the telly and tell people how bereft I felt?

Who would want to hear my tales of woe anyway?

What would my kids say?

What would my mates think?

Come to think of it, I knew the answer to that last question.

Eventually, after some back and forth with the producer about how my story would be handled, I agreed to mull their suggestion over.

That night, I talked to my boys about the documentary.

‘Are you really lonely?’ Joe asked.

‘Will I be on the telly?’ William wanted to know.

I explained to the boys that, since their mum and I separated, I hadn’t had anyone to share life’s trials and tribulations with, to snuggle up with on the sofa, to cook for.

‘I don’t know about the snuggle bit, but you can cook for us any time you want,’ William reassured me.

‘And you can share life’s trials and tribuwotsits with us too if you like,’ Joe chipped in.

Ah, bless.

The truth is, I needed to talk to someone about my loneliness. I’m not one of those men that find it hard to talk about their emotions. In my case, I am quite prepared to open up when I feel it would help.

My problem was that I didn’t have anyone to open up to. The kids are great but when all’s said and done, they’re teenagers. Their capacity for listening is pretty minimal at the best of times, but it’s non-existent when what they are being asked to absorb is an outpouring of their father’s innermost feelings.

My wife was now my ex so I wasn’t about to confide in her. My mates would have been embarrassed to be forced into having such a conversation and my mother would have told me a few home truths that I wasn’t ready to hear.

So that left me with two options. Either talk to myself or confide in a cool Scottish woman with a camera.

Thinking what the hell. I made the call.

me interview

And I haven’t regretted my decision for one second since.

Sue Bourne is a fantastic documentary-maker. Known for programmes such as Fabulous Fashionistas, My Street and Wink, Meet, Delete, Sue handled the subject matter sensitively.

We had a fantastic time filming my story – a process this blog describes.

celebrity chef

The process even helped me come to terms with my loneliness. Sue got me to open up about how hard I had found the whole break-up thing. She made me realise how much my life had changed over the previous few months.

‘I don’t want to come across as a sad sap,’ I told her.

‘What are you doing about addressing your loneliness?’ She asked me.

Er, good question.

In truth, the answer at that point was not a lot.

Instead of going out, making new connections and meeting new people, I had been hiding away in my study for the previous few months writing Six Months to Get a Life, my not autobiographical at all novel about a man learning to live again after his divorce, and Six Lies, my second rom-com with a twist.

Bennewdoubleposter

Sue’s question made me realise that I would indeed look like a wet blanket if I hadn’t started enacting a plan to rebuild my life by the time the camera crew turned up on my doorstep.

Gradually, over the summer, I forced myself to start thinking more positively. Because I had been able to talk about my recent past, I began to stop blaming myself for my marriage ‘failing’. I learnt to look myself in the mirror without cringing. I grew to like myself again.

Once I felt ready, I signed up with an internet dating site. ‘Half-blind sad lonely middle-aged man with two teenage boys seeks Swedish super model,’ my profile read. Or something like that…

Remarkably enough, by the time Sue and her fantastic entourage turned up armed with expensive recording equipment and almost as expensive sandwiches, I had recovered somewhat from the low point I was at when I agreed to be featured in the documentary. I had met someone new. Sue, you may yet turn out to be my Cilla.

dating couple

Looking back on that difficult time in my life, talking about my loneliness, even to a film crew, certainly helped me in my recovery. As did writing novels that did their best to give people hope that a mid-life crisis is sometimes no bad thing in the long run.

Being in the documentary has raised my awareness of loneliness in its different forms. 19-year-old Isabel who is spending her first year at university, and Emily, a stay-at-home mum in her thirties, will, like me, hopefully find that their loneliness is temporary.

But Bob, a 93-year-old widower, and Olive, who will have received her telegram from the Queen by now, expect to have to live with their loneliness for the rest of their lives.

I have seen the final cut of the film, which is being broadcast tonight at 10.35 on BBC1. It features people of all ages, from a variety of backgrounds. It is beautifully shot and expertly edited, with the various vignettes woven into a moving account of loneliness in twenty-first century Britain.

Although I admit to feeling a bit sheepish about how my friends are going to react to The Age of Loneliness, one thing is for sure. I don’t regret being involved in the project. Loneliness is something that will affect most if not all of us at some point in our lives.

Being lonely is nothing to be ashamed of.

Ben

My fifteen minutes of fame… as a TV Chef

celebrity chef

As the burgers browned, the film crew filmed. As the sausages sizzled, the sound man dribbled. He played with his fluffy thing too.

When I posted this picture on Facebook, someone had the audacity to ask me why I had a film crew videoing my burgers. ‘Isn’t it obvious,’ I replied, ‘they’re bloody good burgers.’

And they were too. My mate Kev turned up trumps with the recipe – lamb mince, onion, mango chutney, chopped green chilli and a sprinkling of bread crumbs. I forgot the coriander but no one seemed to notice.

Had they been there, John Torrode and Gregg Wallace would have been salivating appreciatively as the burgers were removed from the BBQ bang on time. They were actually removed about five times so Dan the cameraman could get shots of them from every angle.

John and Gregg would have loved the presentation too, with the perfectly roundish patties, together with a fistful of coloured detritus more commonly known as salad placed jauntily into supermarket economy buns.

‘These are the best burgers you’ve ever made, Dad,’ my eldest son pronounced on camera. He’s a clever boy, I only made him rehearse those lines for three days.

I’m now waiting for a call from Saturday Kitchen. But just in case that call doesn’t come, I thought I would try my hand at cycling. How hard can it be? After fifty seven different angles, lenses, planes flying overhead and someone banging next door, I had probably ridden the entire Tour de France distance before they would let me get off my bike.

cycling

And then there was the international ‘hang your washing on the line’ world championships. In all my life I have never put so much washing out as I did the other day. They really hung  me out to dry. I wonder what Gogglebox will have to say about how well hung my underwear is. For obvious reasons, I’m not sharing that photo.

The South West London dog show was a classic too. Albus didn’t show any respect for the media luvvies, causing them to change their plans and film him in the park with a long lens rather than in my back garden at close quarters.

‘Why are they filming you doing all that stuff, Dad,’ my youngest asked me, ‘aren’t you a writer?’

Good point, well-made son.

writing through blinds

They had me write in Graham Hope’s voice, as per my debut novel, Six months to Get a Life. ‘Day 36 of being divorced. I joined a dating site today and wrote my profile. Forty-two year old bloke with two kids, a big nose and an even bigger… Etc.’ They got me reading it to camera too.

To cut to the chase, I have had a film crew invading my house this week, filming for a documentary to go out on the BBC. They are coming back next week too, with a drone of all things, hopefully not the sort that takes out international terrorists.

The documentary’s working title is ‘Up and Coming Superstar Authors Called Ben’. Oh no, they scrapped that title. ‘Good looking eligible middle-aged bachelors’. Sorry, that was last month’s.

‘A Life Less Lonely’ is the actual working title for the programme. They were talking to me about what it is like to be a single dad after being a husband in a nuclear family; about what it is like to be a writer, working from home all day as opposed to co-existing with others in a busy office environment, and about dating once your hair has started going grey.

The programme will feature a variety of people, of all ages, and from different walks of life. It was fun to be part of it, and I can’t wait to peek at it from behind the sofa. If you want to follow developments, look up #alifelesslonely on Twitter.

I’m not going to tell my Mum about it though. I noticed after they had filmed me typing my second novel, which I sent off to my editor this week, that I had ink under my thumbnail.

More about my second novel next time…

Ben

The book club

bus ad

My ears were burning last Tuesday evening. By all accounts, a bunch of women were sitting in someone’s front room, eating cheese carrot sticks, drinking wine and talking about me.

More specifically, they were talking about my book, Six Months to Get a Life. My baby was the book of the month at the Chelsea Court book club.

Unfortunately, the book group meeting clashed with my eldest son’s birthday. After studying my conscience, tossing a coin and even trying to convince my son that he was actually born in August, I eventually gave in to my paternal instincts and reluctantly sent my apologies to the book group organiser.

Instead of a trip to the south coast to talk about the book, my extended family and I toddled off to a lovely steakhouse in Wimbledon.

I spent the first part of the evening trying not to think about the book group meeting. The literary ramblings refused to be shut out altogether though. At one point, I literally closed my eyes and envisaged the conversation taking place somewhere on the south coast.

‘The standard of writing’s appalling,’ Hilda might have muttered as she bit into her fifteenth cheese straw.

‘Yes, and the language is so vulgar,’ Olive agreed as she topped her glass up.

‘It’s worse than Jeffrey Archer,’ chimed in Lucinda from the kitchen doorway. ‘Pass me an olive, Olive.’

An impromptu chorus of happy birthday brought me back to my immediate surroundings with a jolt. Judging by his face whilst he was being serenaded, it rapidly became the birthday boy’s turn to imagine he was somewhere else. Anywhere else rather than being embarrassed by his overly affectionate family.

eldest embarrassed

As our family celebration continued, I managed to banish thoughts of the book group from my mind. My extended family and, more importantly, my son, had a lovely evening.

It was only when I woke up the next morning that I once again remembered the book group.

The organiser had promised to let me know what her band of friends made of my book. I checked my emails and was pleased to discoverer that she had emailed me late the previous evening once the group had gone their separate ways.

As I read the email, I gradually began to relax. By the time I had got to her goodbyes, I was positively beaming. The feedback was really positive. Hilda, Olive, Lucinda and their friends had thoroughly enjoyed the book.

In particular, they had enjoyed reading about divorce from a man’s point of view. They found the relationship between Graham and his sons to be real and evolving. They enjoyed the banter between father and sons too. The group could all apparently imagine seeing the book adapted for television as a mini-series . Two of them apparently took it away on holiday with them (to Eastbourne, or am I prematurely ageing the Chelsea Court book group?) and said it was perfect holiday reading.

The book group did comment that it would have been useful if I’d have published a set of book club questions to accompany the book. I will certainly look into this, as another group will be discussing Six Months to Get a Life in the coming few weeks.

One of the girls in the group apparently thought it was a shame that I hadn’t gone into more detail about the sex (obviously more of a Benidorm girl). I am currently writing my second book, Six Lies. I might try being a bit more explicit in that one, but I’m not sure it’s me.

I love receiving feedback on my work. I have received some good coverage on other people’s blogs during the past week or two. There are more reviews scheduled to be released next week.

What next for the book? Six Months to get a Life isn’t exactly setting the bestseller lists alight yet. I am still looking for that spark of magic that will propel me onto the radar of readers across the land. It will be featured on a couple more blogs over the next few weeks. There are some other significant conversations taking place too that might help. More of that in the next few weeks.

Have a great week.

What have JK Rowling and I got in common?

We are both published authors.

As of today, I am as much an author as JK Rowling. ‘Six Months to Get a Life’ is now just as much of a book as War and Peace, Jane Eyre and No-one Ever has Sex on a Tuesday (yes, that is a real book – I haven’t read it yet but I want to).

How do I feel? In a word, proud. The months of plotting and re-plotting, of furious typing, of shunning social events and my children in favour of spending time with my leading characters and their shenanigans were all worth it, just to experience this feeling of pride. ‘Six Months to Get a Life’ is immortal. The e version will exist forever. That is quite a humbling thought.

I also feel hugely excited. Not at the prospect of the money pouring in as people queue up around the block to buy the book (!) but because they will be investing their precious time in my book. It might sound a bit conceited, but I know most of them will enjoy it. I am excited that I will be making people I have never met before smile and maybe even laugh out loud on their way to work, while they are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room or wherever they happen to be.

To ‘proud’ and ‘excited’. I must also add ‘grateful’. Without wishing to appear like I am rehearsing for my Man Booker prize-accepting speech, I do want to say a huge thank you to the many truly inspirational people I have met during the course of my ‘author journey’ (have I ever told you how much I hate that phrase. I just can’t think of a better one). Wendy Clarke and T.O.Weller have both offered me advice along the way, as well as providing me with some much needed exposure via their excellent blogs. Wendy, I am still smiling now after dropping in to your Facebook chat the other morning!

Yvonne, Nicki, Gareth and Dana are all people I have never met before but would now willingly buy lunch for if I ever did meet them. I am sure there have been others too who I will have just offended because I haven’t mentioned them by name.

My boys don’t read this blog (it doesn’t mention Fifa 15 enough for their liking) so I won’t bother droning on about them except to say that they have inspired me in the way they have coped with our real-life changing circumstances. They were a major influence behind the feel-good factor in ‘Six Months…’ Perhaps somewhat fittingly, my eldest is off school, ill, today. We all cope with these situations somehow, don’t we? Essentially, without getting too deep and meaningful, that’s what ‘Six Months…’ is about. Well, that and a bit of a love interest…

Proud, excited, grateful… And apprehensive. I am now the ‘star’ of a US podcast on dating. The word star is in inverted commas for a reason. Billed as a ‘podcast for men’, the ‘chick whisperer’ (oh my God, I can’t believe I am mentioning it by name) is, without doubt, the most ridiculous interview I have done to date. I am so British and reserved. Talking about dating to a raw steak-eating US podcast host isn’t something I do every day. That’ll teach me for writing a HuffPost blog. I just hope they are right when they say that no publicity is bad publicity. If you listen to it, please feel my pain…

Other book promotion I have undertaken has been much more satisfying. I think I will get a mention in the Sunday Express Magazine this coming Sunday. That one will be good for me, although it takes a more serious angle to the angles I normally use to promote my book.

You may also find me on a few more blogs over the next week or two. Get me, I’m banging on about myself again…

I am also having a party on Friday night. I am feeding and watering my friends, and then not letting them out of the house until they have bought at least fifteen copies of my book each, for their mother, their neighbours, their friend whose birthday is coming up in March, that woman over the road who is feeding their cats while they are on holiday etc. etc. I might even make them write reviews while they are there! Ah, reviews… Hopefully they will come flooding in over the next few days.

What’s next for me? Who knows? The book is on sale now. It hasn’t by any means jumped to Number 1 on Amazon. It did reach number 7 in some obscure sub-category for a while. There are a number of ways things could go from here. I am not going to do pessimism today. Being optimistic, people who read the book will love it, share it with their friends who, in turn, will love and share. Sales will go up gradually over a period of weeks and months and by the summer Six Months… will be selling nicely although not spectacularly.

Being even more optimistic, my publicist will find me some more significant exposure and, so long as I don’t mess it up, things might start happening at an accelerated rate. But please, no more American dating shows…

All I want for Christmas is…

A rest.

Actually, there are lots of things I want for Christmas, but ‘a rest’ is certainly near the top of the list.

‘More time’ would also be high up there. With five weeks until my book joins the millions of others on Amazon’s metaphorically creaking shelves, I have certainly been burning the candle at both ends. My internet usage of late has probably been on a par with that of the entire population of a small nation, as has my coffee consumption. After a day’s work, I come home, feed and vaguely interact with the kids (I talk, they grunt, I shout, they slam doors), and then I sit down for a few hours of hard slog with the aim of promoting my book.

I won’t bore you with the intricate details of this week’s admin, but it is all being done with the aim of shoving ‘Six Months to Get a Life’ under the noses of avid readers of that sort of thing on or as close to 21st January, the book’s launch date.

Other things I want for Christmas include bloggers agreeing to review the book, and opportunities to guest post or post author interviews in places frequented by discerning readers. Actually I might be a lot of things but I’m not a snob – the readers don’t have to be particularly discerning. I am having a good amount of success in this respect, but call me greedy if you like because I want more!

For Christmas I want my publicist to produce the killer press release. You know, the one that persuades The Daily Mail, The New York Times and the Wimbledon Village Women’s Institute to shout about my book. I am talking to my publicist this afternoon. I have had a few thoughts about headlines. What about ‘Six Months to Get a Life’: the best work of fiction since The…’ (no, let’s not go there, I might lose half my readers!) Maybe I had better leave it to a professional.

I would actually like a physical copy of my book for Christmas too – my author services partners are still working on it, so I haven’t felt it in my sweaty palms yet. I have lots of marketing ideas to pursue once I have the book to play with.

Oh how I envy my sons. They wrote their Christmas lists last week. ‘Dear Santa,’ my eldest wrote, ‘I would love an X Box with the latest Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto games.’ He is fourteen – you can see we have brought him up well. He went on to list other things he would like, including a rainbow and a unicorn. I am not sure why he wants a unicorn but I reckon he was really after the pot of gold, not the rainbow itself.

Sure, the pot of gold would be nice, but it isn’t top of my Christmas list. If thousands of people read ‘Six Months…’ then I will make a few quid, but what I am really after is the knowledge that people like my writing and are prepared to give up the time in their busy lives to read it. I crave the feedback.

Although come to think of it, the pot of gold might enable me to devote more time to my writing, which would be a present as valuable to me as anything anyone could give me.

My youngest son has got his own youtube channel. He wants some video recording equipment for Christmas. I might actually stump up for that, on the condition that he makes me a video book trailer. I have shied away from making one myself but I would be more than happy if my son, or even Father Christmas, feels minded to produce one for Christmas.

Other things I could do with for Christmas are a tech-savvy brain (or a PA), a new wardrobe in preparation for all those TV appearances and book signings (I quite like the cut of Lewis Hamilton’s jib – I wonder who his tailor is) and/or a celebrity friend or two who could say nice things about ‘Six Months…’ to their millions of followers.

A nice bottle of Rioja would be good. Oh, and obviously world peace and an end to suffering.

I have been a good boy this year, more out of circumstances than choice, but the big man doesn’t need to know that bit, does he?

What do you want for Christmas? Whatever it is, I hope you get it.

Ben

Divorce, sex and Six Months to Get a Life

A year or so ago, my life, and the lives of others close to me, went through a period of upheaval and change. I went from being part of the typical family unit to living with my parents and having to reinvent family relationships, routines and dreams.

Put the violins away. Out of adversity comes opportunity (God that sounds corny!). I had to think positively, otherwise I might have crumbled, fallen apart or even sunk to the sordid depths of watching soap operas all night with a can of strong lager in my hand. Wait. Rewind. What was I doing last night?

Anyway, to cut a long and personal story short, I coped. I got through my change in life circumstances, as did those close to me.

The single most important thing that helped me through my challenging time was a decision I took one wet Sunday afternoon when the kids weren’t with me. I decided to pursue my dream.

No, not the dream that involves Madonna and Kylie Minogue, but the one that I have had since Kylie was in her dungarees as a teenager in that Australian classic, Neighbours. Sorry, I am back on soap operas again.

My dream, since my school years, has always been to write a book. No, that’s under-stating it. Not just to write any old book, but to write a best-selling novel that thrusts me overnight into the public eye, alongside Rowling, Grisham, EL James (er, maybe not her), Cornwell and the other members of the literary glitterati. Even as a teenager I knew that it wasn’t enough for me to produce a book. I had to produce one that people other than my mother would read.

So, back to that wet Sunday afternoon in March. I got my laptop out, plugged it in, made a cup of tea and sat down to write. I drank my tea, got up and made a sandwich, sat back down and ate it. I thought some more, did some head-scratching and maybe a bit of chin-stroking too. Eventually it was tea time.

What to write? I love crime fiction but I don’t know the first thing about police procedures, forensic science or how the criminal mind works. So that was that genre out of the window. I am not a big fan of horror or sci-fi. And I don’t even know what dystopian fiction and steampunk are, so that’s them ruled out too.

‘What do I know about’, I asked myself in a frustrated tone of voice. Can you have a tone of voice when you say things in your head?

Eventually, in a eureka moment to rival the day that Einstein bruised his apple, the idea came to me. I know about relationships, or at least how to mess them up. I know about family. I know about the impact of the break-up of a long-term relationship. I also believe I know how to make people laugh (and cry). Why not stick all of that into a pot and stir it up?  And that’s when ‘Six Months to Get a Life’ was conceived.

The act of conception was slightly different from other acts of conception you might be familiar with, but after a lot of sole-searching, a fair bit of fiddling around and a few false starts (actually maybe there is more in common than I first thought) the moment was just as sweet.

I wrote the book over the course of the Spring and Summer. It was good therapy for me. Inventing Graham Hope and his friends and writing about his escapades made me smile. I loved writing the dialogue. Being a writer is fantastic. Unlike real life, you get ages to think up the perfect put-down lines.

I signed up with a company who have held my hand, and sometimes dragged me kicking and screaming through the editing and production process. Until today when we now virtually have a physical book to waive around. We have that elusive publication date. The 21st January is getting closer. My excitement is mounting.

I wanted to recap my author journey here in this blog. I am not recommending that everyone going through a relationship break-up writes a book. I am not even recommending that everyone who has gone through such a life-changing event buys my book (although it would be nice). I am just telling you how much the whole process has helped me through a difficult time.

And my regular readers have stood side by side with me on this journey. Lots of people have commented on this blog. Virtually all of them are people I do not know personally. You should know that your contributions have meant a lot to me. The whole process of writing the book and this blog has reaffirmed my belief in my own writing. It has given me hope that, one day, I might achieve my dream. I am under no illusions, there is still a long way to go. It isn’t as if this blog gets millions of hits a day. Even thousands would be nice. But I am at least on the road.

Update on my marketing activity…

Since my last blog, I have continued with my quest to gain reviewers for my baby, with a good response from bloggers. I have entered a sort of mini-competition on Jo Michael’s excellent book blog, with the aim of gaining more reviews and maybe some sales too.

I have also received more positive feedback on the book from another reviewer I have never met before. Her email made me smile so much that I was tempted to order a frame for it and stick it on my wall next to my Madonna poster circa mid-1980s.

My book has been sent off to an indie site that issues quality badges for books it recognises to be of a high standard – a sort of kite mark for Indie books. There’s confidence for you!

And finally, my publicist is preparing the press release for ‘Six Months to Get a Life’, to be sent out in January ahead of the book’s launch. She asked me if there were any quotes in my book that I thought would fit into the press release. I am currently re-reading it for the fifty-seventh time to find some pithy one-liners. The ones that make me smile most, but aren’t probably suitable for inclusion on a press release, are:

‘It’s been a while, if you know what I mean’… Graham Hope on his sex-life.

‘Graham has a big ego and a small dick. I wish it was the other way round.’ (Graham’s ex on Graham).

‘I was in my comfort zone even if my erogenous zone wasn’t seeing much action.’ I am not telling you who said that. You will have to read the book to find out!

I would love to hear what you think of my ramblings. And if you would be interested in reviewing the book, let me know. I will be sending review copies out to those who have already volunteered before Christmas.

Ben

Introducing ‘Six Months to Get a Life’

I have always been a writer but recent life events have convinced me that the time is now right for me to become an author.

Meet Graham Hope, the principal character in my first book.  Graham is a newly divorced dad of two. On the day Graham’s divorce is confirmed, Graham sets himself six goals that can collectively be summarised as ‘getting a life’. ‘Six Months to Get a Life’ charts Graham’s progress in achieving his goals.  How does he come to terms with being a ‘part-time dad’? How will his kids cope? Can he get over his ex? Will he get back on the property ladder this side of the third millennium? Will he learn to trust another woman? Will he ever even meet another woman? Basically, will he ever have sex again?

Despite those who know me probably disagreeing, this book is not my autobiography. It does draw upon personal experiences, feelings and anxieties. But other than that, it is a work of fiction.

Over the coming months I will use this blog to test out some ideas. There will no doubt be some shameless self-promotion but I also really hope that others will read this, maybe empathise or even disagree with how the characters are developing or the emotions they are showing.  Silence is boring so please, if you are reading this, give me a shout.