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On The Table Read, “The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK“, Deb Bunt shares the experiences with her friend Peter Berry and his life with dementia that inspired her to write new book, Slow Puncture.

JJ Barnes editor of The Table Read online creativity, arts and entertainment magazine

Written by JJ Barnes

www.jjbarnes.co.uk

I interviewed author Deb Bunt about her life, her friendship with Peter Berry, and why she felt inspired to write her new book, Slow Puncture.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

I’m a 60-year-old cycling-obsessed, football-loving, piano- playing, grandmother and now, it seems, a writer!  I have lived, worked (and given birth) overseas and am now retired, living in the beautiful Suffolk coastal area.

When did you first WANT to write a book?

When I was eleven, my parents bought me a typewriter and I remember tapping out my “thriller” about a spy from South America who infiltrated an all-girls’ school but it turned out he wasn’t a spy after all. The devil in me (from which I’ve never really broken free) had him killed off anyway.  

Deb Bunt, author of Slow Puncture, on The Table Read
Deb Bunt

My parents sat on the stairs and read my manuscript, page by painstaking page and told me how wonderful it was but I might want to change the name of my protagonist from Havabana to something more authentic and less fruit-like. Well, that piece of literary criticism certainly stayed with me!

When did you take a step to start writing?

I dabbled in writing articles for a football fanzine and had a couple of short stories published in minor publications but only started writing properly when I lived in New York – I was 30. 

I had a tedious job and was on my own in an office for much of the day and so began to write about my bus trip to Kathmandu…yes, I did travel overland to Kathmandu.  I even found an agent for the manuscript but nothing came of it apart from the process of writing being comfortingly cathartic (again I killed off one of the characters just because he’d annoyed me.  Turns out he was my ex-partner). 

But the process of writing and editing this book and then a second one a few years later (also roundly rejected) was beneficial in honing my writing skills, developing the stamina just to sit and write for hours and in learning how to deal with rejection.

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

I had been keeping blogs and information about Peter on his social media accounts.  I was so amazed at his achievements and when I looked at all the blogs I thought: there’s a book here.  So, the actual writing process only took a few months as all I had to do with stitch the existing pieces together and add my own perspectives on it. 

Peter rides a penny farthing bike, he is often the centre of attention; during one such ride, a lady approached us to ask if she could take photos and they were so good that we used them in our book which, not only saved a lot of time, but a lot of money too.

How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?

My latest book is my poetry book, “Walk with Me: Musings Through the Dementia Fog.” Over the last couple of years, Peter has been texting me his poetry and thoughts about living with dementia.  I knew that as soon as he had texted them over, he would forget all about them.  I decided to keep all of these and then I thought these were so beautiful and profound, raw and real, that I put them together in a book. 

Peter Berry, Slow Puncture, dementia and Alzheimer's, The Table Read
Peter Berry

I wrote an introduction, enlisted a local photographer to provide some photos of Suffolk and, because we self-published on Amazon, the project only took a few months until the book was released.  Every time Peter sees one of his poems, he is amazed that he wrote it! And every time I see Peter’s reaction, I’m delighted that I captured his thoughts.

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Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Slow Puncture?

Peter often says that his “words are written in sand and lost to the tides of dementia”.  He had asked me to “carve his words in stone” so they were not lost.  That was the motivation behind his poetry book. 

What were your biggest challenges with writing Slow Puncture?

Because Peter’s words reached me via text and often had spelling errors (due to his dementia and fatigue) and were without punctuation, the biggest challenge was to portray his words without becoming too editorial.  I decided to correct the spelling and add a few commas and full stops but I was very keen to keep the words as Peter-like as possible to reflect what it was like for him, living with a progressive and terminal condition. 

What was your research process for Slow Puncture?

Peter and I cycle hundreds of miles a month together.  So, my research process was, quite simply, spending chunks of time with him and listening to his stories as we cycled.  I then became more involved with other dementia sources so my knowledge of dementia grew. This helped me to write with more empathy, understanding and tact than I might have done but, again, the research process was minimal: my source was right there – cycling alongside me!

How did you plan the structure of Slow Puncture?

When I decided to make “Slow Puncture” a “year in the life of…” book, it became more straightforward.  The book starts with a few details of Peter’s life pre-diagnosis, then moves on to the diagnosis process and the fall-out from that.  

I told the story from Peter’s perspective, using his voice as much as I could and, I think, being quite accurate in my portrayal of him as many people thought Peter had written this section of the book himself.  I then switched to my voice and my perspective, picking up the narrative from Peter.  Once I had made the decision to write the book in alternating voices and to see the same events through different lenses, the structure followed quite easily.

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Slow Puncture need?

Two friends read it through and made grammatical and stylistic suggestions whilst they corrected the typing errors.  One friend suggested a major deletion when I had gone into a bit of a rant about the futility of my previous job.  He felt I might have received a summons to Court for libel had those few pages been left in! 

Slow Puncture by Deb Bunt and Peter Berry
Slow Puncture

After that, I sat every afternoon just tweaking, changing, moving passages around to improve the flow.  I don’t think it needed too much editing but inevitably you are always going to miss errors.  The publishers also copy edited the book to keep its layout consistent with other published books and this was helpful as it was all information about which I had no knowledge.

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What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?

Just practice and just write.  Even if you write any old rubbish, that’s fine.  After all, it might not be rubbish.  You can’t edit words until they’re on the page.  You wouldn’t cycle a hundred miles without building up stamina with a few miles first.  Just take that analogy and run with it – or pedal with it.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

At the moment….no!

And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

When I think what I achieved with this book, I feel little frissons of pleasure and pride.  All I wanted to do was to be a published author.  One of the biggest boosts to every writer’s fragile ego is for someone to want to buy your book and when an organization in the US (AlzAuthors, https://alzauthors.com/ – who curate and promote the best books and resources on dementia and Alzheimer’s) wanted my book to be on their virtual shelves, my pride levels shot up another few notches! 

I know my book has its niche market but I occasionally dip into it and think, wow, that’s not bad. Equally I sometimes think…ooh overused the metaphor there but you can’t edit forever: at some point you have to let go of the manuscript. 

Finding an agent, surfing on the excitement of that, realising that she couldn’t place the book, feeling the gut-wrenching disappointment of starting again, sending the manuscript off, being rejected and then being published: you just have to take the blows to the chin and get up and try again.  It was definitely worth the effort.

Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:

On-line retailers of the books can be found by clicking the book covers on the following page:

https://peterberrylwa.wixsite.com/peterberry/the-book

Peter’s website can be found at (and this also contains links to my other social media sites):

https://peterberrylwa.wixsite.com/peterberry

My author Facebook page at

https://www.facebook.com/DebBuntAuthor

Twitter

@debbunt

@PeterBe1130

Instagram

https://www.instagram.com/deb.bunt/

LinkedIn

https://www.linkedin.com/in/deb-bunt-ab247524

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