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Barclay Henderson’s Bungalow of Surprises

By Dave Fox
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

What do fluffy bunnies, universe-crushing black holes, Japanese tea ceremonies, jabbering monkeys, grease, Greece, apple strudel, John Wayne, sphincter muscles, faeries, judo, sperm cells, Uzbekistan, nursing homes, auto mechanics, ridiculous tourists, and a bat named Boris have in common?

They’re all featured prominently in Barclay Henderson’s new collection of humor essays, A Bungalow of Surprises.

Bungalow is Barclay’s first book. He published it last month at age 78 after enrolling in my online humor writing course.

After he completed the course, Barclay approached me for one-on-one writer coaching. He lives in the Boston area, so for the past year, we’ve had weekly phone conversations and e-mail critique sessions to polish his stories.

 

Sibling Rivalry

I asked Barclay what motivated him to write the book.

“A little bit was sibling rivalry,” he said.

Barclay comes from a family of authors. His father and his three sisters have all published books.

“When your younger sister writes ten books, you’re under a lot of pressure.”

In his book, he covers a freakishly broad range of topics. (I mean that in a good way).

In “Really Big Travel Requires Einstein,” he takes us back to the first time a human ate an artichoke, and wonders what the hell that guy was thinking.

In “Bunny and the Black Hole,” he reads a newspaper article about how violent nature can be, and he freaks out as a cute, fluffy rabbit bounces through his backyard.

He writes about how he discovered judo as a “directionless kid.” That discovery led him to Japan, where he met his wife and learned that the secret to a successful, 50-year marriage lies in chilling out about how your spouse drinks tea.

He weighs the merits of visiting spotless and sparkly BMW dealerships, versus hanging out with a grease-slathered mechanic named Koko.

And he travels. He seeks out a historical villain in Jamaica who has been banished from history books, concocts alternative Viking histories in Ireland, ponders the future of his native Boston on a journey through Turkey, hangs out with nomadic Bedouins in the “Moroccan Outback,” and learns from a disheveled and cranky dude in Uzbekistan how messed up the Romans were when it came to math.

Moving seamlessly from tale to tale, Barclay somehow manages to take us on a journey from the beginning of time to an obscure place in the future. He treats single-cell organisms and planet-crushing superpowers with an equal sense of awe.

He spans generational gaps and crosses lines between reality and wonder. And he instills that the key to happiness lies in finding the balance between listening to people we don’t get, and being unapologetically audacious.

 

Pencil and Paper

Barclay’s story ideas came from a stack of 30 or 40 journals that “go back decades.”

He followed a daily ritual of writing for a couple of hours in his basement office, writing all of his rough drafts with pencil and paper.

Barclay henderson, author of "A Bungalow of Surprises," gives his new book a hug.

Hot off the presses: Barclay gives his new baby a hug.

“I don’t find [working on a computer] a creative experience,” he said.

His daily writing routine is one of several activities he has pursued in retirement.

“You wake up, get out of bed, and say, ‘Now what? I can’t go back to bed,’” he joked. “There’s things inside you that … you have bubbling up inside your stomach, and one day, you just burp and they all come out.”

Once he had his stories polished, he self-published A Bungalow of Surprises in both paperback and e-book formats through Amazon.

He said he felt euphoric when he held a copy of the final product for the first time.

“It’s a tangible thing and it’s there forever,” he said.

There’s a reason why so many people say they want to write a book, and so many of them never get around to actually doing it. Writing a book is an arduous process. It’s not just the writing, but the rewriting, the editing, the deleting, the polishing, and those moments when you’ve read your own work so many times, you can’t tell if it’s done or not.

Barclay pushed through all of this and got the job done.

And what did he do once the project was finished? He held a book launch party and he began repurposing his stories and pitching them to other publications.

But wait! There’s more! Less than a week after receiving his first shipment of paperbacks, he scheduled another appointment with me … to begin work on his next volume of tales.


Need inspiration to make your own writing dreams happen? I’ve got lots of fun online writing courses. I also have a few time slots available for one-on-one writer coaching via phone, Skype, Facetime, or in person if you happen to be in Ho Chi Minh City.

Published on Sunday, October 22, 2017

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