PHUKET: Movie star Ewan McGregor and his friend Charley Booring rode big BMW motorcycles from London to New York, chronicled in the book and TV documentary The Long Way Around.
Nathan Braund has published a book called The Wrong Way Round to Ewan McGregor (FeedARead Publishing, funded by the British Arts Council, UK, 2013, 220pp).
This slim volume is based on a slender premise. While Ewan McGregor was making a 2011 movie about the Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand, “The Impossible”, Nathan Braund was living with his family in Ao Chalong, Phuket, and conceived the idea of presenting a movie script to the film star.
Will he succeed? This is the question that hooks the reader for the next 203 pages. The remaining 19 pages present the first chapter of his novel The Broken Boots Guide to Astlavonia, upon which his movie script is based. This, in turn, is based on his experiences of teaching English in Eastern Europe.
Braund and his long-suffering wife Kirsten have taught English in Greece, Estonia, Japan and Oman. Their earnings from an eight-year sojourn in Oman fund an eight-month residency in Phuket to devote to their writing careers. Braund is adept in describing his life with Kirsten and their children, Dylan, aged two and a half, and Isabella, aged four. Star-struck, Braund searches out McGregor in four trips to Khao Lak and Takuapa. For two nights, he works as an extra at the Phuket Bus Station where McGregor films a crucial scene in the movie.
Can he stretch his quest out into a book? He can, with a lot of filler. He laboriously sketches out McGregor’s film career from “Trainspotting” through second the Star Wars trilogy to “Blackhawk Down” and “Moulin Rouge”. Interspaced with his narrative are McGregor Trivia Quiz sections entitled “T.R.A.I.N.S.P.O.T (Tenuous, Rambling, Abstract, Irrelevant, Nonsense, So, Pointless and Obscure as To be fun”) QUIZ. Braund even compares their astrological signs. He also exhibits some annoying grammatical tics. Proper nouns like God and Sino-Portuguese are not capitalized. Nor are the first letters of direct quotes if they form the back end of a sentence – for example: “Kirsten managed to retrieve the glass from Dylan and said, ‘there’s nothing we can do about it.'” And for some reason, he insists on writing: “Ewan was sat” or “Ewan was stood” instead of “Ewan was sitting” or “Ewan was standing”.
But Braund can be funny about his 40-year-old mid-life crisis:
“Call me mad but I felt as if I needed to get close to someone like [McGregor] within this eight month break. I was starting to feel old and insignificant. I could fake modesty and say it didn’t bother me but twenty years of trying and flopping was only amusing in a sitcom. Failing again and failing better was fine as long as it actually meant you were as successful as Samuel-fecking-Beckett. After all, there was witty, interesting bungling and then there was dull, pedestrian crappiness.”
He pins high hopes on how his meeting with the movie star will change his life, yet cautions himself: “If it didn’t work out, I wouldn’t be knocked back and penniless because I was already knocked back and penniless. Yes, I’d be embarrassed but the betroot face would fade after a year of two.”
Betroot? This is just one of a good number of verbal stumbles in the book, like “numskull”.
But give the author credit for his comic descriptions of the idiosyncrasies of shooting a film. At the Phuket Bus Station, he gazes upon Ewan McGregor like a love-struck schoolgirl but again and again fails to screw up the courage to approach him with his movie script. “Quit faffing about!” the reader wants to scream at him.
I won’t give away the ending, because that’s the whole reason for reading the book. Braund has certainly gained my sympathy. He observes:
“John Cleese once said that ‘an Englishman’s greatest achievement’ was ‘to go from cradle to grave without ever making a fool of himself.’ It was time for me to shake off this Britishness and risk making a primetime arse of myself. I needed to be a potential buffoon . . .”
In this, he succeeds brilliantly.
Nathan Braund’s “the wrong way round to Ewan McGregor”, priced at US$5.99 for the kindle, is available online from Amazon.
— James Eckardt
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