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Author Spotlight with Kenny Boyle

Interview with Kenny Boyle- Actor/Author

Kenny Boyle is a writer and actor born on the Isle of Lewis. Kenny trained at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and holds a masters in classical and contemporary text, as well as an honours degree in English literature and theatre studies from the University of Strathclyde. He is the star, alongside Natalie Clark, of the multi-award winning short film Perfect Strangers (2015) and of the feature-film follow-up Lost At Christmas (2020). His plays include Playthrough and An Isolated Incident and in 2021 her received a New Playwrights' Studio, Scotland. Having grown up equally in both the bustling city of Glasgow and the tiny crofting village of Cromore. He likes to write about mental health, isolation, identity and most of all- hope. He said he spends way too much time reading comics and playing video games.

Kenny Boyle's debut Novel 'The Tick And The Tock Of The Crocodile Clock' is due to be released in Paperback on the 3rd of May 2022.

Hi Kenny! I hope you're doing ok! Thank you so much for the ARC copy of your book. I must say it was one of the most unique books I think I've read, and it will be extremely memorable. Where did the inspiration come for writing this book? Hello Aimee, thanks for having me. Gosh, well, the inspiration came from a lot of places I suppose! It started as play almost a decade ago and was quite different at that point. The run of the play at the Edinburgh Fringe ended and then I set it aside, but I always knew there was more to Wendy and Cat I wanted to explore, I just wasn’t sure how!

So the play sat in a drawer for years and years.

Then, at the end of 2019, I got diagnosed with anxiety and depression. It was actually sort of a relief because I’d known for a long time that something about me was different from other people and it was good to have a name for it. I was about to go into therapy in early 2020 and then – well – we all know what happened then. So, during taking hour long walks as, I’m sure you recall, was all we were permitted at the start of the pandemic, I started to think about finding a creative outlet for all the feelings I was having about my diagnosis, and my past, and the play popped into my head. I thought “I don’t just know that I have anxiety and depression now, I know the Wendy the main character, does too. And now that I know that about both of us I can finally get that play out of the drawer and make it a book that really does the character of Wendy justice.”

For those who don't know much about it yet, and are yet to pre-order, can you tell my readers of the blog what it's all about? Yes! I’d love to! On it’s surface it’s about a girl called Wendy who, fresh out of University, gets fired from her job in a call centre at the same time as another girl she’s never met, called Cat. Cat and Wendy hit it off and go on a spree of mischief which ultimately results in Wendy on the run from the law with a stolen work of art and wondering how she got herself into this mess!

But deeper down it’s about friendship, loss, discovering who you are, and the intense pressures on people in their 20s in a world that only cares about them fitting into society.

It's been called a cross between The Catcher in the Rye and Thelma and Louise, but set in Scotland. I think that’s a pretty fair assessment! As an Actor, playwright, and previously studied English Literature at University, you have a lot of knowledge under your belt! Have you always wanted to publish a book?

Yes! I’ve always wanted to publish a book, literally since I was in primary school, but I never ever thought I was good enough. I thought: “who am I to write a novel, who’s going to care what I have to say?” I probably never would have if my incredibly supportive wife hadn’t shown so much belief in me. She basically told me, when I was saying I could never write a book, that she thought I could, and she thought it would be good. Then she put up with being a writing widow for months while I disappeared away to write chapters in the spare room! When I started writing it I was writing just for me. I still didn’t believe in myself you see, but I thought I could at least write a novel to show to my friends and prove to myself I could do it, even if it wasn’t good enough to actually be published. Then my wife suggested I send it out to some publishers, just to see what happened, and miraculously Eye/Lightning books got back to me almost immediately. It was an absolute dream come true. My favourite element of your book is the friendship between Wendy and Cat, it was intense, emotional but immensely loyal. Are Wendy and Cat's characters based on anyone you know?

I don’t think either of them are based on any one person, but are amalgamations of wonderful people I have known throughout the course of my life. The kind of people who are amazing friends, even though they might be fighting their own private battles on a day to day basis. The whole book was written with such wit and such humour, especially the sarcasm and banter both Wendy and Cat as they completely bounced off each other, would you say this mimics your personality that we see so much of in the novel?

I think that both Cat and Wendy are funnier and wittier than I am, which is terribly unfair given I’m the one writing their material! It was quite easy to get into Wendy’s frame of mind as the narrator though given that she’s seeing the world through the prism of undiagnosed anxiety and depression, which I know very well! She’s always joking around and making funny observations because she’s trying to hide the worry and sadness she’s feeling, not only from the outside world, but from herself. The banter they have comes from how easy they are in each other’s company. Wendy might not be so outgoing with characters like, for example, Kevin. But in Cat’s company she shines. They both do. One of the ways this novel was impeccably unique was the narrative you used. It was engaging and thought-provoking and absolutely hilarious at some jaw-dropping chapters for you to say "None of that last chapter was true". When I realised this was the style you chose to use, it created an addiction to not be able to put the book down! What made you use this style of narrative? I LOVE an unreliable narrator! I just adore the concept of reading a book where the person guiding you through the whole story can’t really be trusted. She’s totally biased but she’s trying so hard to be honest… except when she isn’t, then she just lies for whole chapters and tells you later. It really gets tricky when she absolutely believes what she’s saying is true, but you’re still not certain it really is. I wanted to keep the reader on their toes. I wanted them thinking “God, Wendy, you’re such a liar, but I still like you.”

The stuff she makes up shows who she is just as much as the stuff that really happens and I love that. Although your debut novel was very light-hearted and humorous, I feel as though you portrayed some pretty heavy themes carefully, such as suicide, depression and anxiety. Was it your aim to achieve some sort of awareness for these mental health conditions that so many of us in the world suffer from? Absolutely. It was very much a mission of mine to portray how it feels when you’re trapped in the miasma of depression, or struck with the panic of anxiety. I thought if I could capture how those things felt for me on paper then other people reading them might relate to them and know that they aren’t alone. I wanted to tell a story that might help people talk about what they’re going through and, if they need it, look for some help. But it was also very important to me that the story was entertaining, real, and engaging. About depression, but not depressing. Even though Wendy and Cat were "Adults". The book to me conveyed a longing for childhood, a confusion of what they wanted from the world, and the desperation to look for it, do you think we all have some sort of longing for something else as we grow up? One ofmy favourite books is The Ocean At the End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman. There’s a bit in that book that goes: “I'm going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”

Sorry, that was a bit of a long quote! But I totally agree with it! We’re all still trying to figure out what on earth is going on around us and none of us have all the answers and we’re all still a little bit confused and maybe a little bit scared. I think we’re always longing for something or looking for something, and I think in a lot of ways that’s a good thing. If we were completely content and had no needs or aspirations then we’d probably become a little bored, right?

We all want to fit in, but we also all want to be ourselves. I think that contradiction drives Cat and Wendy a lot. Many people who leave University struggle with finding their feet, and often follow paths that seem "Socially and financially acceptable" and not necessarily embarking on their real dreams. What advice would you give to your readers to help push their ambition and not to settle? Firstly, I’d say that even though Cat and Wendy don’t want to work in a corporate environment and their dreams are to create art, that doesn’t mean corporate jobs can’t be aspirational! If your deepest, purest dream is to be a lawyer then that is just as valid! The important thing is striving for what makes YOU feel complete. But I can only really give advice on how to be an actor or a writer because that’s what I am, so I’ll fire out some of that very quickly.

Listen to useful feedback, and always be willing to grow and learn, but don’t be dissuaded by criticism or bad reviews. All of your heroes have had bad reviews and yet they still became your heroes.

Remember to take the time to love what you’re doing. The stress of getting it just right can sap away at the joy you get from your work which is the reason you started doing it in the first place.

Value yourself! There are plenty of people out there who will try to get you to do what you’re good at for “experience,” but loving your job doesn’t mean people should get it for free! Don’t be exploited.

And, much like the Hippocratic oath that doctors take, do no harm. We have the potential to reach a wide audience when we write a novel, and because we have that power we should use it responsibly and write things that don’t harm or attack marginalised people, or present unchallenged problematic views in a positive light.

Out of the entire novel, which scene would you say was the hardest for you to write? The two chapters right after the last “not true” Chapter were the hardest for me to write for reasons I can’t really fully go into, (spoilers), but that you’ll understand having read the book. It’s hard not to feel what your characters are feeling when you write something like that and it was a tough time putting myself through those weighty emotions repeatedly! There are also a few chapters that feature Wendy having a panic attack or suffering the effects of depression, those were tough as well for the same reasons. Chapters like Wendy and Cat hanging out in the car, running through Glasgow, or yelling at the top of their lungs were the easy fun ones. Those and Wendy’s action movie flights of fancy. How long did it take you to plan this book, and what was the time scale between that and publishing it? So in a way I’ve been writing this book since 2013/2014 because that’s when I wrote the play. I suppose then I thought about it on and off for about five years, and when I started actually writing it I didn’t really actively plan it at all, it was more that it had existed in my head for so long that I just knew how the story would go. I sat down and wrote it without any real plan other than to transfer all those scenes and conversations that had been persistently haunting me from my head onto paper. After I’d finished writing it Eye/Lightning picked it up in a matter of months which I know makes me very fortunate and saved me from a lot of the rejections and heart aches that many go through with a debut novel and that I seem to have avoided by sheer good luck. Is writing novels something you'd wish to continue with in the future? Would you stick to the same genre or would you branch out to something new? Ah Aimee I have so many ideas! I definitely want to write more books! If I’m honest I didn’t even know what genre Crocodile Clock was until someone else told me, so writing to a specific genre isn’t my forte. I just write stories that I would enjoy to read and hope that other people would like to as well and worry about the genre later. What is something none of us know about you? That’s too easy, lets do two truths and a lie and your readers can figure out which is a lie and which two are true.

I once ran into Alan Rickman and Kenneth Cranham in the Swan pun at the Globe theatre and had a drink with them.

My heartrate is genetically so slow that if I’m wearing a fitness band with a heartrate tracker it sometimes logs me as being asleep even if I’m actually just sitting still.

Sean Astin, Samwise from Lord of The Rings, came to see me in a show in Scotland, chatted to me for so long afterwards I almost missed my next performance, and then he tweeted about how much he enjoyed it. As well as a writer, and an actor, it's easy for people to judge someone, and not know the real you, what do you like to do in your spare time, and to help you relax? I’m lucky because Claire, my wife, is utterly hilarious and just being around her brings me so much joy.

I also spend a lot of time walking my wee dog.

Reading of course. Books, but more frequently Comics. I’ve had a life long obsession with Marvel Comics and now that you can get them on the app rather than buying physical copies of every one I read about 10 comics a week.

I love running, when I have the time between working and dog walks.

And video games are a really really good way for people with anxiety to relax in my experience because it totally engages my brain and I can’t constantly refresh my emails or check the socials because I need my thumbs to control the game! In the world of acting, if your book ever made it to a film (which I hope it does) who would you want to play Wendy, Cat and Kevin? It think it would make a nice film! Here’s hoping. It was daft of me to write a novel where I can’t play any of the parts though, I should have thought that one through, haha. So I know there are some pretty cool people that have shown an interest in voicing the characters if the book were adapted for radio. Karen Bartke from the TV show Scot Squad and from The Sandman audio books on Audible has her eye on Wendy and I think she’d be great at it, and Leah MacRae from Gary Tank Commander and River City felt a real affinity for Cat. I think they’d nail it.

I don’t think either of them would be upset with me for saying they aren’t in their early twenties though, so on screen I think it would be nice to see some brand new, never before seen, super talented young Scottish actors play Cat and Wendy.

Nobody has been rushing to say they identify with Kevin, but then Kevin isn’t exactly the most noble of guys…

As a reader, who was your favourite author as a child, and who is your favourite author now? When I was just getting into reading books for myself, that I didn’t have to read for school, I devoured the whole of Brain Jacques Redwall series, so I think it would probably be fair to say that he was my favourite author as child. As an adult it almost feels there are too many to choose from to say who is my absolute favourite but the two strongest contenders are definitely Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Do you ever google yourself? Have you ever found anything surprising? Haha, yes! I was in a feature film called Lost At Christmas that was on the BBC at Christmas in 2021 and it’s AMAZING the weird stuff that shows up when you google me because of it. People selling replicas of my coat (don’t buy them folks, I got it from Marks and Spencers, you don’t need to buy a replica) my net worth (WILDLY over estimated), my height based on estimates from pictures where I’m standing next to things (pretty close to correct!), the quality of my voice (“soft but energetic” apparently), interviews I did for someone’s youtube channel over a decade ago, all manner of weird and wonderful stuff! Thank you for writing such a fantastic book, that was engaging from the very beginning. I didn't want to finish the novel as I felt so connected to Wendy so much so, I wanted her to be my friend! What's the plans in terms of your future? What are we expecting? So I can only say so much, but I will say that in the immediate future I’ve been working on a new play having received the New Playwright’s award from Playwrights’ Studio, Scotland and I hope to have that finished soon. It’s about growing up in an island community, and moving to a city, and the personality dysmorphia that comes with not knowing who you are – the country boy or the city boy. I’ve also writing a radio drama for BBC radio 4 that we will begin recording next month. It’s a ghost story… so you can see what I mean about being bad at sticking to a genre!

Thank you Kenny for taking part in this interview, I wish you the best of luck with everything, and look forward to reading some more of your material in the future. Thanks Aimee!

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