I'm a writer and performer who makes shows, books and other things about my various obsessions. Some of those obsessions include Choose Your Own Adventure books, Uri Geller, darts and Richard Brautigan.
Please have a look around, if you have any questions just ask.
Last week I was unfortunate enough to be featured in the vile monstrosity of a paper known as the Daily Mail. The feature purported to be a review of The Boy in the Book, albeit one full of factual inaccuracies and lumbered with the clunky headline ‘Never trust anyone that collects psychic teddies’. The title, although having nothing to do with the book, refers to my obsession with the 70’s psychic superstar Uri Geller and his merchandise.
Although his psychic ability may be in question, Uri’s uncanny talent to expand his range of merchandise is incredible. While writing Uri & Me I turned my ruthless business mind to creating a range of Inspired by Uri collectables. My best sellers were undoubtedly the psychically straightened forks and bent spoon brooches, followed closely by the packets of portable orange dots and hand decorated plastic plates. In honour of Uri’s psychically energised teddy bears I also created a limited edition (of three) IBU bears. Here is the catalogue description I wrote at the time.
In 1989 Uri Geller energised his son’s teddy bear with psychic energy to send to American Vice President Al Gore’s son who had been hospitalised after an accident. Six year old Albert Gore had suffered a broken thigh and ribs, and a ruptured spleen after being hit by a car. Uri said:
“For a while, they thought he would die. I knew I could help, so I sent him a psychically energised teddy bear. It worked! After Albert began hugging his new teddy, he improved fast”(1).
Uri’s special psychic relationship with teddy bears began when he was just a baby. His first memory dates from when he was six months old, and recalls the third floor, one room apartment in Palestine, and the tiny bed his mother had made underneath the window.
“I’ll never know why but a British soldier shot two bullets into our window…I remember the two shots, and I remember glass falling almost in slow motion. My mother had put a little teddy bear next to me in the pram, and somehow it rolled over my face and it saved me. Maybe I would have been cut up, perhaps even killed”.(2)
If it wasn’t for that teddy bear the world would certainly have suffered a tragic loss.
“Ever since then, I’ve felt something special towards bears, I always had them as a child and they were the first gifts I bought for both my children when they were born”, Uri told The Teddy Bear Magazine in September 1997 in an article to help publicise his new range of Uri Bears. Each Uri Bear was hand made by the specialist bear shop Asquith’s, and energised by Uri himself. But the making of teddy bears to help the sick was not just a profitable, or selfless, scheme for Uri, as he told The Teddy Bear Magazine he really does believe in the healing power of bears:
“I believe that everything has life in it. I am a religious man and I feel there is no end under God, just infinite space. Just as there is no end to outer space, there’s no end to inner space either. When I pick up a bear, I feel that in just one strand of its mohair, there could be an infinite world, planets, galaxies, universes. I feel life there, bears are not just objects”.
#011 The INSPIRED BY URI™ Bear
It is with Uri’s love for teddy bears in mind, and the twenty-year anniversary of Uri’s gift to Albert Gore, that the INSPIRED BY URI™ collection has produced a very special limited edition INSPIRED BY URI™ Bear.
The INSPIRED BY URI™ Bear is the ultimate symbol of positivity, combining no fewer than five symbols that relate directly to Uri, and is the perfect gift for healthy or unwell(3)children of all ages, from 3 to 103 (4) .
The INSPIRED BY URI™ Bear measures 13cm in height, and is made from a soft golden-brown plush, with a machine stitched nose and plastic eye detailing. Each bear wears a bright orange felt t-shirt bearing a bold white number eleven, hand stitched by Nathan Penlington. In his left paw the INSPIRED BY URI™ Bear holds a stunning and exquisitely detailed miniature bent spoon made from Tibetan silver, and around his neck is a replica Turquoise birthstone necklace.
Each bear comes complete with a Passport to Positivity certificate of authenticity, which outlines the symbolic nature of the bear, and a genuine INSPIRED BY URI™ button sewn into the left ear.
The INSPIRED BY URI™ Bear also comes with a FREE MUG that depicts the bear, and gives the meaning behind the birthstone for December, Uri’s month of birth.
All of these details combine to make the INSPIRED BY URI™ Bear the ideal gift for yourself or others. It has been produced in a strictly limited edition and once they have been sold there will be no more. The price is for this investment piece is only £13.31. Remember, once they have sold out, there will be no more.
Despite the cheap price and the convincing description I still have all three bears. So, I’m hoping, after the publicity afforded by the Daily Mail article, to give away one of the bears FREE to a good home. All you have to do to win one of these beautiful collectables is to email me with a short reason why you deserve an Inspired By Uri bear. Last date for entries is 11:11pm on 22nd July.
You have eleven days from the date of this post to write your convincing heartfelt plea and send it to: info <at> nathanpenlington <dot> com - the winner will be selected from the best entries.
1) Quoted in the National Enquirer, June 25, 1996.
2) ‘Uri Geller – Magician or Mystic?’, by Jonathan Margolis. 1998. Orion Books. p19. The same incident is recounted in Uri’s 1975 autobiography ‘My Story’, except there is no mention of a teddy bear, just a miracle: “I didn’t have a single scratch, even though there was broken glass all over me”. I prefer to read this omission as the younger Uri’s bravado, rather than the later inclusion to back up his merchandising.
3) No claims are made for the positive effect of any of the symbols of positivity, nor for any health benefits. Uri’s standard disclaimer also applies to the INSPIRED BY URI™ Bear: ‘Not intended for the treatment, cure, diagnosis or mitigation of a disease or condition. If you have a medical condition or are taking any prescription or non-prescription medications, see your physician before altering or discontinuing the use of medications. Persons with potentially serious medical conditions should seek professional care. No therapeutic or medical claims have been made’.
4) Please note the INSPIRED BY URI™ Bear contains small parts and is not a toy. It has been designed as a collector’s piece only.
Last year we won The Scotsman Fringe First Award for new writing and innovation. This year we are hoping to give everyone who might have missed the show during the past year an opportunity to experience it.
Tickets are on sale now. We’re only at the festival for two weeks, so get in quick.
There is an interesting baton currently being passed around writers I know, a series of questions aimed at opening up about the writing process. I’ve been tagged by Mark Blayney - you can find out who I’m passing the tag along to at the bottom of this post.
So, here are my answers…
What am I working on?
For the last 18 months I’ve been working on my first non fiction book The Boy in the Book which was published by Headline at the end of May. It is based on a live interactive spoken word/film documentary hybrid which I made in collaboration with three film makers called Choose Your Own Documentary.
The book and the show chronicles my quest to discover the truth behind four pages of a heartbreaking diary I found tucked inside an old Choose Your Own Adventure book. The diary, written twenty years ago, belonged to a boy called Terence Prendergast - its essence resonated with me in ways deeper than the need to just find out the story, and it became a personal quest too. In effect the diary has been my entire focus for the past few years.
I’m just about to start work on a new project. This is the scariest/most exciting point to be at - where anything is possible, but you have to fight against the inertia that can be created from that abundance of choice. I’d hate to limit the possible by outlining anything until I’m on firmer ground, so for now, that’s all I can say.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My work over the past few years falls between genres - theatre, film, documentary, spoken word, comedy, memoir, magic, experimental. It’s important to push at the easy to tick boxes of neat categorization. Although unique ideas are important, its the edges of things where the most exciting work is found.
Why do I write what I do?
I’m interested in where the real life of the writer/performer intersects with the necessarily fictional elements of the creative process. I tend to treat life as an experiment, challenging myself to do things I wouldn’t ordinarily be inclined to do, or to do things that shouldn’t work. It’s a precarious line between risk and the creation of something unachievable by taking a surer route. I also believe that you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously, but that doesn’t exclude rigorousness. Non-fiction can and should be both honest and riddled with non truths.
I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t be constrained by genre or form, and that your work should take to the stage if it demands a live audience, a book if it benefits from longer form, or film if you need to capture a certain moment in time or place. The unusual, forgotten, discarded and excluded and all huge draws for me, and real life stories are ultimately more inspiring. I’m definitely going to be exploring this area further in future work.
How does my writing process work?
I’m a gatherer, an obsessive collector, both of things and ideas. Those traits have incorporated themselves into my creative process. I spend a long time researching and wallowing in information, allowing myself to follow each path organically along ripples of references.
When writing I tend to write the first draft directly into my laptop, and then print everything out so I can scribble my terrible handwriting all over it. There is something important in the process that only comes from creating distance from your words and from treating your writing as an object to be remade.
Next up on the writing process tour is Tim Wells, poet and man about town, who is currently researching a huge project about the history of ranting Stand up and spit.
On the 23rd May 1982, exactly thirty-two years ago today, two brave adventurers set out on a quest unlike any other. It was a mission that embraces a way of being close to my heart - the desire to find adventure in the ordinary. And if, no matter how hard you search, adventure doesn’t exist, the ability to transform the everyday so that it does, making life literally extra-ordinary
Autonauts of the Cosmoroute chronicles the expedition of writers Julio Cortázar* and Carol Dunlop to explore the Paris-Marseilles freeway.
It is a journey that should ordinarily have taken ten hours. Driving a camper-van packed with essential and non-essential provisions – typewriters, cameras, wine, cheese, coffee, canned spaghetti – they set out on a thirty-five day voyage. The rules of the adventure were simple:
They could never leave the motorway.
They would visit each rest stop, at the rate of two per day, staying overnight in the camper-van or roadside hotel.
The result is a travelogue written in the manner of the accounts of great explorers, cataloguing the scientific and topological explorations of each rest stop, recording moments of clarity, persecution, and calamity, encounters with wild animals and their owners. It is an absurd adventure taken seriously.
My friend Pete once said to me, “You treat life as a continual experiment”. My work has always reincorporated my personal history, and over the last few years my work has also become my way of living. It’s a subtle shift of perspective that pushes at the confines of habit and routine. My last three projects Choose Your Own Documentary, Uri & Me, and Brautigan Salad have subverted reality through a obsessive re-appropriation of the everyday into imagination fuelled, but genuine quests.
For me, a successful everyday adventure must observe three important elements:
Objective – a target, a goal, an end point.
Rules – without constraint there can be no transgression, no creativity. Rules can be quantifiable (ie two rest stops per day) or moral (I will not let my quest put others in danger).
Observation – photographs, film, documentation, and writing are all permissible. As are fictional accounts of factual occurrences, or vice versa.
A good literary example of these three elements can be found in a short work by the French writer Georges Perec An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris.
Perec was a member of the experimental writing group called the Oulipo, whose work is characterised by hidden objectives and labyrinthine rules. One weekend in October 1974 Perec set himself the challenge of recording “what happens when nothing happens”, writing an account of everything that passes through his field of vision.
His objective was simply to record everything, the rules were also incredibly simple – his attention would be focused on one square in an unimpressive corner of Paris, over a period of three days, rotating between cafes located at the corners of the square. The resulting observations are incredibly melancholic, poetic, an intensely normal account of events, that suddenly given importance, renders the world strange.
It is the world made strange that is the destination of all successful adventure.
Can you think of other examples of Everyday Adventures? If so, please let me know - comment, tweet or find me on facebook.
*I came across Cortázar’s work about ten years ago through his novel Hopsotch, published in 1966, which could be considered an earlier precursor to the Choose Your Own Adventure format. The book has two sequences, one the conventional front to back, the other a literal hopscotch to numbered chapters as the end of each section indicates.
It’s such a strange feeling knowing the story is out of my hands and in the hands, eyes and minds of readers everywhere. I just hope they (and you reading this are included) take to it - the real-life characters, nerve-wracking situations, and above all the genuinely human sharing in all its humour and heartbreak.
Like a birthday, there is no great Ta-Da, just the lovely congratulations from friends, agent and editor, that makes the day feel special. So to celebrate, this morning I took myself for a cut-throat shave on Lower Clapton Road. I’d never been before, I wanted to push against my habits in honour of adventure.
The huge array of ancient rusty razor blades fastened to the wall doing nothing to ease my nerves. It felt right, like a Choose Your Own Adventure style death could be just around the corner, having a well built Turkish man with huge hands pressing an incredibly sharp blade to my throat. The only comfort were the two old copies of The Guinness Book of Records I could see out of the corner of my eye in the waiting area. As the barber wrapped my face in a steaming hot towel I couldn’t help but wonder ‘what is the record is for the world’s fastest shave?’*.
And before I had time to guess at the answer I was out in the street, smooth faced, celebration complete.
The Boy in the Book is available from all good bookshops, and online from Amazon.
* For those of you who also might be wondering I checked in my old copy of the Book of Records from 1983. At that point it history the record was held by Gerry Harley of Gillingham, who shaved 845 men in an hour. Which is a frightening 4.25 seconds per face. Like everything else, since then the cut throat business of fast shaving as been taken over by commerce. Even the great book itself is not what it once was - but that is another story.
Happy birthday to the Rubik’s Cube
In honour of the Rubik’s Cube’s 40th birthday, I finally feel brave enough to make public one of my most pointless abilities.
Are those bowling shoes you wear in your documentary? I saw your show at TriBeCa
Ha. Yes, they are. I’ve been wearing them for about 15 years or so, not only are they really comfortable but bowling shoes are the most renewable shoe resource on the planet.
I’ll be performing at a new night in London, on March 27th at the Ace Hotel in London called Shindig. Here is the official blurb.
Bourgeois & Maurice present
A night of performance for weirdos and their friends.
Held on the last Thursday of the month, Shindig brings together B&M’s favourite humans from the worlds of comedy, music and performance-artism for a mixed bill fuelled by a thirst for experimentation, fun and vodka cocktails.
Hosted by wünderfreaks Maurice Maurice and George Bourgeois, with post show DJs and an ever-changing line up of talent.
Doors: 8pm Show: 8.30-10.30 DJs: 10.30-1am
At Ace Hotel Shoreditch London E1 6JQ Tickets £10
MARCH 27 LINE UP
Scottee Nathan Penlington The Chalkwell Ladies Drum N Bass League Rachel Porter Octavio