The Twenty-Five Deeds of Hanson Drake

INTRODUCTION

Nearly three years have passed since I wrote The Twenty-Five Deeds of Hanson Drake. Three years marked by more than a million letters and emails sent from people around the world asking questions about Hanson Drake’s life.

What can I tell them? Tell you?

BLURB

Hanson Drake has five hundred million in the bank and a house on the beach overlooking the ocean. As the writer of the world’s favourite song, he hasn’t had to do a day’s work in his life.

Stung into action by a derisive article in a national newspaper, Hanson Drake decides to change his life by becoming a volunteer at a country house.

He vows to do at least one good deed every day in the twenty-four days leading up to Christmas, hoping to secure salvation and redemption for his wasteful life.

In helping others—and learning to celebrate the ordinariness and eccentricities of the people he meets—he finally understands his place in the universe.

But what does fate have planned for Hanson Drake?

BACKGROUND

In 2004, the singer and actor David Bowie suffered a minor, but not trivial, heart attack while on stage at the Hurricane Festival in Germany: he completed the performance, but subsequently underwent emergency surgery in Hamburg to treat an acutely blocked coronary artery. In the following years, he made very few public appearances, and most fans and commentators assumed that the then seemingly semi-reclusive music chameleon had all but retired. On 30 November 2012, I learned more about Bowie’s health issues, unwillingly coming face-to-face with the knowledge that the sands of his personal hourglass were running out. I also became aware that he was writing a valedictory body of songs—beyond the album The Next Day, which was to be released on 8 January 2013, his sixty-sixth birthday—but it was unclear if the farewell work would ever be completed.

I put on the song ‘Blood’ by The Middle East, which resonated then and still resonates now, and started to pen a novel about a prodigious starman poet, called Hanson Drake, who, having fallen out of the public’s consciousness—much as Bowie had at the time—is trying to come to terms with the ordinary life that he has never experienced and the decreasing number of days that he has left to him. I was drawn—obviously enough for anyone who knows it—to Bowie’s apocalyptic song ‘Five Years’, from his seminal album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and decided to use that euphoric and defiant, doom-laden paean as the basis for the ‘Prologue’, filling it with clues about Hanson’s ill-timed fate, but without making anything expressly clear: sentiment and intent aren’t narrative and diegesis. I thought about giving the eponymous off-centre anti-hero a name inspired by the Ziggy album, but immediately realised that such a derivation would cause a conflict between poetic determinism and prosaic freewill: Ziggy walks away from the glare of the footlights once in the ‘Prologue’, and you don’t want an aged and cocooned Ziggy to leave the stage a second time in the closing lines—he simply has to have moved on, or time, tide, and character would have reached atypical stasis. Bowie’s beautiful and liturgical album Hunky Dory offered both far greater pathos and a suitable interlinear time shift, so Hunky Dory morphed into the-fish-out-of-water Hanson Drake (geddit?), and I took Bowie back to “a pub on the bank of the Thames”—a reference to the Hammersmith Odeon (my doorstep concert venue until my mid-twenties), where, years before my gig-going days, Bowie gave his final performance as Ziggy Stardust on 3 July 1973—and Ziggy’s sideways shuffle out of the limelight, into mourned and eulogised obscurity, became the seed for Hanson Drake’s personal history and the kernel for one trope in The Twenty-Five Deeds of Hanson Drake.

I gave starman Hanson a semi-remote home overlooking the ocean (sited on the sandbanks of Studland in Dorset) and an other-worldly and somewhat detached presence—both fragmentarily inspired by the character of Thomas Jerome Newton, portrayed by Bowie in the film The Man Who Fell to Earth—and sent him off to work as a volunteer at a country-house estate called Queenston Lacefield (based on the National Trust property of Kingston Lacy in Dorset), which is run under the auspices of the fictional charity Public Treasures. The property’s name, history, and location are plangent on a number of levels, while the organisation’s epithet nods, in part, to Bowie’s much-admired standing as an artist, and it allows the story to have several figurative threads around the themes of zeniths and nadirs, preservation, obsolescence, decay, and the yearning to recapture former glories—both the house and Hanson are in search of one last hurrah: theirs coming symbolically in the last chapter of the book, before the ‘Warning’ and the ‘Epilogue’; and Bowie’s coming, as it turned out, with his final flourish of work, Blackstar, being released on his sixty-ninth birthday, just two days before his death on 10 January 2016.

For me—as an observer and writer, but not a fan—the novel, as completed on 22 December 2012, has seven core interpretations, and numerous derivational sub-interpretations, of which Bowie’s allegorically threaded tapestry is only one unequal part, commissioned and embroidered into a wider humanist work about the unerring triumphs of love, compassion, creativity, inventiveness, and meliorism. As sanctioned, the story has clearly brought new people and even another generation to Bowie’s work, although it is important to remember that the book isn’t actually about David Bowie, it’s about Hanson Drake and exegesis—each reader’s individual perceptions of a pyrrhic figure and a discursive narrative—which means that it is actually about every interpretation or thought or feeling that it invokes, irrespective of whether or not those interpretations or thoughts or feelings are or aren’t shared by anyone else, or by everyone. Certainly, it is possible to read the book without seeing a direct correlation between the fates of Hanson Drake and David Bowie—this is especially true of readers who read the novel before Bowie passed away in 2016, or those who cannot recognise the Bowie-referencing clews that pitch and yaw their way throughout each chapter—which is absolutely as it should be. Just as Dickens’s A Christmas Carol can be understood as being nothing more than the “ghostly little book” that Dickens mischievously described it as—even though at heart it is a critique of nineteenth-century social mores and political ills, Hanson Drake can also be read as being nothing more than a ghostly little book or a fairy story or a festive tale—even though at its core it is a philosophical ramble, an eschatological foray, and a multilayered hermeneutic roman-fleuve, let alone a haunting and prescient parable. Perceptions shift with what each reader can or cannot make connections between or understand, and as there is no absolute truth in literature (or life), only opinions, exposition is always about a reader’s psychological and cognitive compass, not about the conceits of the story’s dramatis personae or the ruminations of the work’s author—see the ‘Postscript’ for more on this. Simply read is simply read. Not simply written.

The story’s Advent setting, deliberately staged to be both ironic and juxtapositional, makes it possible to see Hanson as a benevolent festive spirit, and his tale as simply being a benign emblem of the season of goodwill in general. Or it is also possible, Major Tom, to read the book quite differently, if you only regard the secular stargazing starman Hanson as both what he is and as other than what he at first appears to be, and if you take the time to look for and then join up the morse-code dots, tones, lights, clicks, and diacritics—some loud and clear, some indistinct and obfuscated—that scatter throughout each chapter, thinking about the significance of their signals as they pulse, glint, and echo across an unremittingly temporal and profane Advent. The Twenty-Five Deeds of Hanson Drake is, after all, a treasure hunt, and like all treasure hunts, it is replete with clues. And soul-loved red and blackstar herrings.

REVIEWS

Simply terrific.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
An instant classic.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
An astonishingly moving journey from start to finish.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
HANSON DRAKE tickles the soft underbelly of the British middle classes. There’s something reminiscent of Jerome K. Jerome or P. G. Wodehouse in Briar Kit Esme’s gently comic writing.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The loveliest and the best novel I’ve read, without question.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. And once more, wonderful.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Curiosity when I started reading, turned to wonderment after a few pages.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Brilliantly conceived and beautifully written.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
A triumph of modern English literature.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
A book you’ll treasure your whole life.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
A life-enhancing, life-changing masterpiece.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Everyone should read HANSON DRAKE.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Read it now. Share it with your family. Give it to all of your friends.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Was sceptical about all the five-star reviews before I read the book. Not sceptical any longer. Now a fully fledged evangelist. You took me into another world, and I just want to stay there.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I absolutely love HANSON DRAKE. I’ve learnt that I can’t always do everything, but I can always do everything I can.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This is a great book. Very well written and a wonderful story about the real spirit of giving. I will read it again and recommend it to my friends.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
An uplifting and beautiful story that makes the heart soar, the soul sing, and the world taste a whole lot sweeter.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Highly enjoyable and thought provoking. And highly, highly recommended.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
What a lovely book. Hanson is a sympathetic character and your heart warms to him. Well worth a read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Really enjoyed HANSON DRAKE. Recognisable, realistic characters. Interesting philosophical ideas. Loved the Bowie references.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
A fun-filled good book. Everyone will find something to enjoy. Read it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I thought I knew exactly how the book was going to end. I was so wrong.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I laughed and cried; sometimes on the same page.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I’m not sure if I just read an advent story or a craftily worded philosophic treatise. Either way, I’ll certainly be in line to buy Briar Kit’s next novel.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I sat down to read one chapter. Ended up reading the whole book. Who doesn’t want to meet a man like Hanson Drake?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Bought membership to ‘Public Treasures’ thanks to your book. A triumph.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Deceptively simple. It was only when I reached the final chapters that I realised just how deep and perceptive a novel HANSON DRAKE really is.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Please write a prequel to describe Hanson Drake’s earlier life.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I could see the BBC making HANSON DRAKE into one of those serialisations that they usually do for Dickens’ stories. Would be a festive hit.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The chapter about Talulah Bowles was so moving. The final scene reduced me to tears. I can’t believe I cried, but it seemed to be the least I could do.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Is HANSON DRAKE a book about faith or the rejection of faith?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
My three children and I really enjoyed the story of ‘Great Scott’. Any chance you’ll be publishing it as a separate picture book or series?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
We now frame the moral-imperative question as: What would Hanson do?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Can you settle an argument that has been raging in our family for the last six months and actually explain ‘The Riddle Of The Five North Poles’?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I have read HANSON DRAKE six times so far.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I really am anxious to know about Haladdin and his family.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I read to ‘The End’ of the book and then the ‘Warning’. I couldn’t bear to read the ‘Epilogue’ or the ‘Postscript’.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
As an archaeologist, you can imagine how much I enjoyed the chapter about Amelia Platelli. If only all archaeological digs had a pig like Ethel. The filthy car―well, that is accurate.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
There’s such an important message in the ’Fawn’, but I struggled to know if I should read it to my kids or not. In the end, I did, and then we discussed the issues it raises. Parents should read ahead and decide whether it is suitable for their children.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
HANSON DRAKE is both a great novel that is simple, and a simple novel that is great. A book that will still be read one hundred years from now.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The chapter about Noah Guilmard-Mistry reduced me to tears and gave me hope. Stunningly simple and simply stunning.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Christmas will never be the same again after reading HANSON DRAKE.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Three cheers for the acerbic Christopher Hitchingly. He’s the one who has got ‘quite a tongue’.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I can only think of two things that would improve curling up on the sofa on a cold winter’s evening with HANSON DRAKE: a hot water bottle and a mug of hot chocolate―topped off with marshmallows, of course.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I so want to attend a ‘Solstice Breakfast’.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I love ‘qwayle’―it will make playing Scrabble so much easier.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I hated Vincent Virgo at first sight, but grudgingly admired him by the end of the chapter. Very clever writing. Very, very clever.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
There are waiters in hotels all over the country who are now carefully studying the faces of their guests as they eat their breakfasts.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Huzzah for Hanson Drake. We finally have a Christmas character capable of knocking Scrooge off his festive perch.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Jon Kerking. The man’s a legend, Anson.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
A book that can be. Enjoyed by. All the family. Rare enough. These days. (I did. Love. Gordon.)
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Is there a family anywhere on the planet that doesn’t know someone exactly like Gwen? #OnMyMobileBabes
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Lady Lucia―she’s the key, isn’t she?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I read the book twice. Laughed and cried repeatedly. Was going to plead with you to rewrite the ‘Fawn’ because I found the chapter so distressing. But then I read it a third time and realised that what Jon Kerking says at the end is pivotal to understanding Hanson Drake and why, in turn, the ‘Fawn’ chapter itself is needed. A dark and terrifying beauty.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
One minute you’re chuckling at Gordon and Gwen and are immersed in a highly benevolent vision of Middle England, and the next you are thrown by the moving chapters about Talulah Bowles, River Becken, and the fawn―let alone by the drama, delight, and devastation of the closing pages.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Is Mako’s proverb a real Japanese saying? ‘The philosopher sees the world in the garden. The poet sees the garden in the world.’
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I laughed, cried, laughed, laughed, cried, and then understood my very existence in a whole new light. No other story has made me feel this good about myself, let alone about humanity as a whole.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
A beautiful, wonderful, wondrous novel.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Briar Kit’s delightful novel is a wonderful tale about generosity, doing the right thing, and passing on the blessings that have been given to us.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Beautiful. Brilliant. Moving. Joyful.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
A wonderful book about kindness. And the death of David Bowie?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Hanson Drake is a name that will live on in literature.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Someone has got to make HANSON DRAKE into a film.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Fantastic read. Fantastic characters. Fantastic book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Brilliant. Magical. Enthralling. My life, luck, and outlook have all changed for the better after reading HANSON DRAKE. The story moved me in ways I never imagined possible. Thank you, Briar Kit. Thank you.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
A clever and heartwarming story. I wasn’t sure, at first, when I came up against some of the clipped single-word sentences. But the style grew on me. Merged into the norm. And by the first few days of Advent, I was hooked. I loved it. It is one of those seemingly simple tales like ‘The Alchemist’ which makes you feel good. Great characters, lovely story, and it would make a perfect film, TV series, or radio drama, unless, like so many commissioners of our programmes, you like tales of woe. Nice one.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

READ

The Twenty-Five Deeds of Hanson Drake is available from bookshops around the world, including:
+ iTunes UK
+ iTunes USA
+ Barnes & Noble
+ Amazon UK
+ Amazon USA
+ Amazon Brazil
+ Amazon Canada
+ Amazon France
+ Amazon Germany
+ Amazon India
+ Amazon Italy
+ Amazon Japan
+ Amazon Spain

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

London-born author Briar Kit Esme is best known for the prescient and allegorical novel The Twenty-Five Deeds of Hanson Drake. Published in 2013, the story follows the enigmatic songwriting starman Hanson Drake—a fictionalised stand-in for the late David Bowie (1947–2016)—during the final weeks of his life. Through critical and popular acclaim, Hanson Drake has attracted favourable comparisons with a number of award-winning novels, including Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, for its simple feel-good narrative; Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, for its epigrammatic literary style; and Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World, for its wide-ranging philosophical ideas.

Briar Kit is also the author of the operatic plaria Hathaway—Eight Arias For A Bardic Life, written to mark the quatercentenary of William Shakespeare’s death in 1616. Commissioned as a co-production for Helios Collective, Buxton Opera, and Copenhagen Opera, Hathaway received its much-lauded world premiere at Buxton Festival in 2016.

Briar Kit now publishes under noms de plume, while also working as a scriptwriter and librettist for opera, music, theatre, film, and television companies, and as a ghostwriter, editor, and consultant for world-renowned authors.

CONTACT

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