The title character of my YA novel The Running Man was based on my childhood memories of a real man who used to scamper around the streets of Ashgrove.
This is how he is described in the book:
Joseph called him the Running Man because he did just that – he ran, and he ran all the time. But when he moved, it was not in any graceful athletic way, but rather with a lopsided canter, as if he were being pursued by some demon that only he could see.
To Joseph’s relief, their paths crossed only rarely, but when they did, his heart would race like the Running Man’s feet long after the frantic shuffling figure had disappeared from sight. And it was not just his desperate haste that made the Running Man unique. His clothes were old and worn and hung about his tall, thin frame like rags on a scarecrow, his long and wispy hair sprouting chaotically from under a crumpled short-brimmed hat. To add to his unnerving appearance, wide, bulging eyes shifted wildly above his sharp cheekbones. His overall manner was of someone who had been in hiding most of his life and had suddenly been thrust out into a strange and startling world.
Apart from my memories of his physical appearance and mannerisms, at the time of writing the book, I knew nothing about the real man who had inspired the title character. I didn’t know his name, where he lived, if he had any family or anything about his life and background. The Running Man’s story as revealed in the novel is purely fictional.
The real name of person who I labeled the Running Man, and who others knew as Speedy, was Lawrence. He passed away around 20 years ago but a lot of people still remember him.
A few days ago I met a man on one of my early morning walks who knew something else about Lawrence. He said his Aunt had told him that Lawrence had a passion for Steamrollers. In fact his Aunt said that once when they were doing roadworks in Ashgrove they would leave the steamroller parked on the street overnight and Lawrence would sneak out and sleep beside it.
For some reason this story made my day. Something about a man who everyone remembers mainly for his frantic, desperate haste loving something as predictable and slow-moving as a steamroller really appeals to me.
What’s that they say about opposites attracting and truth being stranger (and perhaps even more beautiful) than fiction?
Hi David! What are you doing to that bike of yours? I hope you didn’t mind me mentioning our encounter in the blog. I was a bit way laid last week but I’m hoping to hit the walking trail again from Monday. I’m sure it won’t be long before our paths cross again! Cheers Michael
…once again I had a flat over the past days, but my path did not cross that of the “walking man”.
Michael, when I first read The Running Man, and came to that section you’ve quoted, I broke out in goosebumps. I, too, knew a man who ran like that through the streets. I had forgotten about him, but your description brought the memory of him back to life in vivid colour. Maybe that is why I was drawn to your book – the first time I had come across you – in the first place. Amazing!
How ironic that you found this information after the book was written. The book was a beautiful tribute to the man Michael. You treated him with kindness not ridicule. I wonder if his family or friends (if he had any) know that the book was your memory of him. Perhaps they would like to know.