Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Foundation For Jimmy: Ben Nevis & 21 Bridges

Dear all,

I would like to talk to you about two recent charity events I participated in. I am very conscious of the fact that as this is a personal blog on writing, I use it to express how things in my life inform and influence the themes I am interested in writing about, but this post is also a very personal issue as the charity is not a subject I want to use lightly or selfishly.

I wanted to share a lot of photos with you from the two events so please scroll all the way down for text. The paragraphs can be separated by lots of photos. The first set of images are from the Ben Nevis walk and the second set from the 21 Bridges walk. 

It is a fairly common sentiment to hear when learning about a writer, perhaps in an autobiography or watching a documentary, that they will say something along the lines of, “everything you experience influences your writing,” as most people consider that no matter what subject you write about, or in what style, you are really writing about yourself. I am not a ‘writer’ yet in the proper sense of the word but I can certainly relate to that sentiment and the more I learn, grow and develop my writing (if I am at all…) the more I can sense that when I write, what I am really doing, is exploring and dissecting my view of the world around me.

Sometimes that can be hilarious (for me, not the reader) as you feel free to pick people, events and ideas to pieces and mock them and scorn them and say all manner of terrible things about them; or it can be inspirational, when you have the freedom to express your love and admiration and dreams and wishes… however, it can also be very uncomfortable.

You are aware of the feeling you are stealing other people’s knowledge and experience, and using them for your own gain, most likely without their permisson and it can feel exploitative and abusive. Even though you may not be using real names, real places and real events, you know that you are using other people’s lives. That inevitably is part of what it is to make art, but in today’s post I feel quite uncomfortable because I am using a tragic incident in a friend’s life to explore my own views.

However, as much as my stomach has that nearly-at-the-top-of-a-rollercoaster-ride-before-the-drop feeling I know that part of what I want to do, through my writing, is to educate and influence people and to do that you have to talk about the hard subjects, and what the charity I am about to tell you about do is to educate others through the pain they have gone through. So as much as I do feel awkward using this for my own purposes I hope you can see that I am also doing it for them and to spread the word about their charity.

In short, I would like to share with you my friend’s family charity and show you how I have learnt through them a lot about the human character and how, unavoidably, it will influence my writing but in a positive way that will do justice to the legacy of the charity and what their aims are.

Foundation For Jimmy

My connection with this charity starts back at school. As part of making new friends when you make the adjustment from primary to secondary school you meet new people and Billy was one of the new friends I made. Being a local school the vast majority of my primary school friends moved to the same secondary so it was not as big a shock as it can be for some, I was surrounded by the people I knew and had grown up with. Luckily, and I know for sure that it is not always the case, our school year was very good at getting along and over the course of the five years our school year mixed very well and I would say pretty much the whole year was on friendly terms, of course there were groups of people that were closer than others, but I remember more or less getting on with everyone. One of the features of my secondary school, which can be common in smaller local schools, is that older and younger siblings went to the same school and whether they had been taught by the same teachers ten or fifteen years prior, or whether they were a couple of years below you, it was common to get to know other people’s brothers and sisters. Having teachers and friends who know who your family are is one of the elements that contribute to a community feeling and I can see how important that is looking back twenty years on, even if I didn’t recognize it, or appreciate it at the time. Billy, like many others had siblings at the school but unlike most others, he had six brothers and two sisters! I don’t think I knew many people with families that large. When you learn about their story it makes you understand why that large family is so special. 

Billy became, like many others, a close friend and although we hadn’t attended the same primary school, we all became part of the same group of close friends that endured… sorry, enjoyed… school and with it all the elations and despairing moments of growing up.

There are many moments of my friends’ shared histories that I could, and probably will at some point blog about or use in my stories, that were positive or negative, joyful or traumatizing yet instrumental in developing our characters, some in a way that we will be forever grateful for happening, and others, forever wishing had never happened. That as people say, is life. Some moments are trivial, some are life altering and sometimes regardless of how small and insignificant they may have been, never the less still have a powerful impact on our character. Other moments are so life changing that we have no choice as to whether they impact us or not, they hit us with both barrels and rip a hole in our lives that can never be stitched back together.

The reason I took part in the charity walks and the reason the charity exists at all is because Billy’s younger brother Jimmy was murdered, aged just 16.

There are no better words to use to explain their story than his parent’s (Margaret and Barry):

There is also Margaret Mizen’s book, which I highly recommend:

It is an incredibly moving account of their individual lives, their family, their faith, the consequences of that terrible event and the birth and growth of the charity they set up to honour Jimmy. I found it a compelling read not just because I knew Billy but because it is an investigation into how human’s react to tragedy. It is impossible not to ask yourself how you would deal with what they went through. I asked myself countless questions, would I have wanted revenge? Would I have been able to heal? Would I have been able to forgive? Would I have been able to carry on without hatred? Would I have had the strength to continue at all? Would I have had the strength to create something positive out of it and form a charity and do even a fraction of what they have undertaken?

That is why I wanted to share their charity with you and why you can now understand I was nervous about posting it in case it looked like I was using their tragedy as some kind of fuel for my writing. I want to take a moment to explain this.

What gives a writer the right to use other people’s lives in their work? Does it matter that we may not use exact names, etc? I am interested in contemporary life and as I mature as a writer (cross fingers) I want to be able to examine with a greater and greater clarity the world around me and that means writing about the bad as well as the good. In fact, it probably means writing more about the bad. I don’t know why I want to write about modern life and the emotions we have to survive, I just do. I can’t shy away from the issues that are more complex and I can’t think of anything more complex than the journey a person goes on when their child is murdered.

I am not talking about writing a story of their lives. I am not talking about writing a story based around the events of Jimmy’s murder. I am not talking about using their specific details at all, however, the incredibly important themes of love, forgiveness, justice, law and survival are part of all of our lives in smaller degrees and I almost feel like it is a duty of mine to explore those in my writing, otherwise I don’t know why I am writing at all.

I am also not talking about writing anything now. I don’t know if what I have learnt through witnessing the Mizen's work will be something that comes out in the next story or in fifty stories time, six months from now, or six years. I really don’t know, but what I do know is that I have been confronted by serious and complicated emotions and there is no way it cannot influence me.

Writing is a test of honesty. I feel myself trying all sorts of things when experimenting with characters and situations but somehow prose always looks fake when it is overworked, overwrought and unskillfully constructed. I have a long way to go before I make inroads into correcting my language and improving as a writer but part of the journey is not just improving your technical skill but the way you approach a story. The more honest I am, the more I write without compromise and adjustment. I am talking about the freedom to attack a subject and wring everything you want out of it, I am not talking about me as a person. I am open and honest in my life and with you, the reader of this post; for instance, I do not hide the fact I am not religious. I went to a Catholic primary and secondary school and have religious friends but I describe myself as an atheist and I do not feel worried about what people think of me because I am ready to discuss and debate and defend my view. You may feel that it is odd of me to promote a charity that has a Catholic basis but that is to see me as a person and me as a writer as inseparable, when they are different. If I want to write about the world in which I live in, and to be more precise, the London I live in then there are going to be all sorts of subjects that I have no connection with on a personal level that I will need to learn about and utilize for my writing. That is where the nerves kick in, because just using that word ‘utilize’ makes me squirm. Is that all I am doing with my friend’s life? Utilising it to improve my writing? No. I do not think it is although just by the fact I am writing this blog post you can see how nervous I am about perceptions. I'd be a pretty boring writer if I only ever wrote about what I know and what I like and my single viewpoint on life. The adventure comes when probing the life I see around me whether I am part of it or not, especially in a city like London which is so diverse, so busy, so eclectic with a million different stories just waiting to be told. 

Ben Nevis and 21 Bridges

The images you have been seeing throughout this post are of the two events I took part in. The first was to climb the tallest mountain in the UK, named Ben Nevis and situated a few hours drive from Glasgow. The second was to walk approximately 23 miles from Richmond to Tower Bridge, crossing 21 bridges along the way. This is only a small part of the work the charity does, to host large fundraising events that anyone can be involved with. These events are great ways of bringing people together to try challenging and difficult tasks that really do justify the fundraising (you can bet on that, the blisters, pulled muscles, aching feet and sun stroke are all testament to the efforts required on seven or eight or even eleven and twelve hour walks!)   

But that aside, their day to day work involves reaching out to children, teenagers and young adults all across London and the UK to raise awareness of the dangers of violence and to work towards ways of preventing violence in the first place (they are dedicated to promoting peace). To help people with the pressures they face that can possibly lead them down the wrong path, whether it be their home life, their schooling, their local environments and gangs. They have helped to educate young people and find outlets for their energy, setting up work experience schemes, safe haven schemes, young citizens scheme and a whole range of in-school or in the community projects. 

Support Foundation For Jimmy

If you would like to learn more about Foundation For Jimmy please go to their website and follow them on social media. Read Margaret’s book and take part or sponsor their events if you can. They do amazing work for young people and it is a privilege to see their charity work grow and grow.

If you know of any organization, school, youth centre, community project, etc. that you feel would benefit from the work the charity does then please get in touch with them and see if you can help promote peace.

He may be my friend from school but Billy is now the CEO of the charity and although I wish he wasn’t, because I wish there was no need for the charity to exist, I am proud of the work he is doing with all his siblings who are all involved in the charity too and with the great team of staff they have.

If I have become a better person, a more insightful, emotionally educated person through their story, then that means I have a chance of being a better writer and I hope from reading this you can see why it is more tricky than me just saying something bland and general such as, ‘I want to explore poverty in my writing’, we can all give headlines to the subjects that effect us but when mentioning a very specific event it can seem cold and selfish; when of course, that is not the case, nor intention... they are inspirational people and I am grateful for the work they do to make London a better place,  and all I can hope for is that my small contribution, my writing, can one day go a little way to educating and helping people too. 

Hope you enjoyed the photos, sorry I was lazy and didn't annotate them but maybe you can use them as a little test to see which parts of London you can recognise :)

Take care all,

R.G Rankine.

Follow me on Social Media:

Google+: (Personal Channel)
Google+: (Company Channel)
Blog 2:   

And Author Profile Pages to keep informed of the latest releases:

Amazon UK:  (Click 'Add to Favourites’ under profile photo)
Amazon US: (Click 'Add to Favourites’ under profile photo)
Apple:             Author page not available yet - search R.G Rankine
Kobo:              Author page not available yet - search R.G Rankine