Scott Bourne: An Act of Imagination

Scott Hobbs Bourne, Paris, 2019. Ph. Rodent

Before the black arms, before Strongest of the Strange, before moving to Paris and before becoming a novelist, Scott Bourne was a certified skate rat from North Carolina. My first memories of Scott were of this crazy dude in a Nissan van pulling up at Endless Grind blasting Bad Religion. His rearview mirror held about 25 yellow air-freshener trees and when he opened the van’s door your were immediately hit in the face with an intense smell of vanilla. Although we barely knew him he would pick up me an my 15-year-old friends and drive us to Durham, a nearby town we never got to skate as we were too young to drive. Needless to say it was pretty exciting for us…  Although Scott and I were from different towns, growing up in NC in the early nineties you pretty much met all the skaters in your state, there weren’t many of us… Scott was wild, loud and we all looked up to him. Not only was he an absolute ripper, but he was kind to us younger dudes at a time when skateboarding was full of vibing. Well three decades later we’ve both moved across the pond and have still stayed touch. I got to catch up with my old friend recently to learn about his new children’s book he’s done with Todd Bratrud. Have a read if you so fancy…

Interview By Will Harmon

I’ve read one of your novels, but I didn’t realise you wrote poetry as well. Has this been something you’ve always been into?
Scott Bourne: Yes, for sure. I think I have been playing with poems ever since I picked up a pen. This particular style of writing has no rules whatsoever. It’s just a really free place to start as a writer. There is no particular form. There are basic elements, maybe like an ollie. Kenny Reed might be loose on the back, whereas The Gonz is laid over the nose. See what I mean… there’s the poetry! No rules, just create and that’s the point of this book.

Can you tell us how you met Todd Bratrud? And when did you two first start collaborating?
Todd came to Consolidated skateboards back in ‘98 when I was still pro for them. We began collaborating on board graphics and in the end he came up with some of the most iconic boards of my career. He created the very first Heart in an Hourglass graphic. There have been several since then, but the one I use today for all my mail is also his work.

Whose idea was it to make this children’s book?
I was just writing all of this silly stuff based around my children and a stack of poems began to pile up on my desk. I asked Todd if he wanted to do a children’s book and he said, ‘sure, send over the poems!’ He liked them, I wrote out some basic art direction…and we began!

Have you seen Henry Jones and Karl Watson’s children’s book ‘My First Skateboard’? Was this an inspiration at all to make ‘An Act of Imagination’?
Nope, I haven’t actually seen it yet, but I am sure they did something wonderful. Karl has always been a huge source for positive action.

Is this book meant for a specific age group?
Not really. We say 1 to 100 because it’s all about reading to a child or a parent or a grandparent. It’s strange how as of recent children have begun to read with screens or have screens read to them. Reading is a giant part of our home and you just can’t curl up in bed with a screen like you can a child or a parent and a book can be a great glue between generations. We have read all the books we loved as kids, to our kids, some of which our grandparents read us. Books connect generations and we wanted to create a book that had that potential.

What are some of the books you read as a child that you’re now reading to your kids?
It’s the entire Dr. Seuss cannon, as well as Shel Silverstein, and Crockett Johnson. Those guys are the heart and soul of what I wanted to get to in our little book of poems. And, I wanted it to be a book. Not a flimsy little paper back with tons of flashy colors that end up in the trash. But something that would withstand time, be loved enough to be passed on from one generation to the next. I hate what the publishers have done to some of the books I love just to make money. This is a book… Let’s hope it gets loved enough to get passed down! This was a big incentive to spend the extra money to create a quality object.

The ‘WRITERS NEEDED’ passage is one of my particular favourites. Can you explain to us why you believe it’s better to read and hold a physical book over reading/viewing things on screens?
There is something endearing about an old photograph, because it shows its age. Digital formats don’t age. They lack the charm that makes us examine a picture at all and we easily dismiss them or delete them as we age and do not wish for others to see us as we were. Because the past is now so easily altered we have no real tie to it. Books have charm because they do age and things that do not age often fail to gain our trust. We cannot see their wear and tear, we cannot trust their wisdom.

This is one of the reasons we started Free Skate Mag. We wanted that physical form of a magazine that you can keep, hold onto and look back upon. It’s skateboarding history that can’t be deleted. Like you I still love print…
Of course, you now provide the medium so viewers can still tear a page out, hang it on their wall, and actually give it credit in a private way. No one has to know what heroes you have pinned to your wall, because they are YOUR heroes, YOUR reference! As a kid I had all my favourites on the wall and you did too… I remember your room!

Haha yep! Ok as long as I’ve known you you’ve not been on social media, and last time I saw you in Paris a couple years ago you didn’t even have a smartphone. I know some people say ‘Technology will save us’ but I feel like you’d say the opposite; am I right?
I just find these sorts of things extraneous. And as a parent I have really started to see an entire generation being handicapped by them. When we were kids we always knew where to find each other. We had a secret kid world, a secret skate world… I always knew what spot you would be at, on what days, and what times and what weather. Nearly 30 years later I could still list those spots. That’s connectivity! We never had GPS; we had friendship.

If you were in Durham you were probably at Asbestos curbs, in Chapel Hill you were at the Sun Dial, in Raleigh it was the Brickyard at NC State…
Exactly….! And that’s my point. The language itself was our own. The names of those spots are a sort of code no one understood but us. We knew how to navigate our surroundings without phones, GPS, social media, or text messaging. We used a sort of internalised instinct, if I can call it that! By knowing one another, we knew where to find each other. A child that cannot navigate his own community, physically or socially, without the use of a gadget, has most certainly been handicapped by his technology. There are kids these days that will not leave the house without their phones. They will return home when their batteries are low opposed to going without, or asking someone if they can charge them.

Yeah you’re right. Speaking of North Carolina, you’re not the only skateboarder from there to put a book out this year… You’ve seen Pete’s book (’93 til) I’m sure. What did you think?
I have not seen the book yet but am eager to see what Pete put to the page. I have of course seen the photo of you and I with Protzman. Young as all hell, and ready to conquer the world. So long ago and yet a blink of the eye for me. I have seen the short documentary and I have to say that Pete really nailed down a number of beautiful ideas about that time, place and our development. He represents the historical transition of us before the industry fully matured, and that is certainly not something that I personally feel anyone has thus far done. Not that there have not been some fabulous images captured along the way. It’s just that most of what we see of our pasts plays on the downfall. Just watching the trailer, we see so many guys that are no longer with us, but he’s not playing on what they did not do, but reminding us of what they did. He is also very sincere about the learning process, the not knowing part of not only photography, but life: ‘…the freedom to create, make mistakes, and just sort of find your way.’ On top of becoming a great photographer we both know Pete as one hell of a skateboarder who certainly had his chance on the other side of the lens. He really appears to have captured the way I feel about those formative years. I’m excited to see the book and proud to have been included in it if even in a small way. There’re some great guys that came out of our little rat pack even if they never made the spotlight. Protzman is certainly one of those guys!

Alex Protzman, Scott Bourne and Will Harmon, somewhere in North Carolina, 1993. Ph. Pete Thompson

Yeah and Alex has a sick bowl in his backyard now at his place he shares in Pittsboro with his wife and two kids. He’s killing it! I know you have children yourself, I’m sure raising them has influenced the poems you wrote for this book. What do they think of ‘An Act of Imagination’?
Honestly most everything is theirs, so they are thrilled and after years, and years of musing over their mother… It’s nice to have a new muse that’s part of her as well.

How can people get a hold of this book?
Nick over at Palomino has it and Keen Distribution just picked it up as well, so it should be at your local skate shop by the time you read this. If you are not in the UK you could find it on the Paperweight Publishing site, better yet, get your local bookstore to order it or ask your skate shop to contact us.

Paperweight Publishing… Do you want to talk about that?
It’s a pretty simple concept. The power of print. There’s a whale beneath the words. Literature is large. Send out your sonar. Make waves. It’s my love for books, their characters, and the idea that these things are heavy. They contain the weight of change! The whale is a reference to Moby Dick, one of the most epic characters in book history. The whale is white! We are not just publishing children’s books, we will be doing literature, as well as some photo books. We are out to make waves and show the world the power of the written word, the printed object!

And finally what are some of the messages/lessons you’d like people to learn by reading this book and looking at the illustrations?
I am certainly no educator and if there is a message at all, I think it has to do with the idea that a child walked on the moon long before a man ever did, because he did it in his imagination. Apply that to the likes of skateboarding and you are going to come up with some pretty creative individuals that pioneered the art! I’d like to think that you and I were part of that.

Ah that’s nice of you to say… Thanks for doing this Scott. I know you guys are in a pretty strict lockdown there in Paris right now, but what’s next for you?
Yeah, it’s a bit crazy right now, but truth be told we are really trying hard to be a positive force in the world. Outside of this book and publishing house my wife and I are about to open a general store here in Paris, which will only carry artisanal goods. Anything from toys to tools, kitchen stuff, traditional workwear, etc. It’s actually my wife’s project but it exemplifies the values we are trying to pass on to our children. Basically, it’s about buying nicer things that last longer and giving your money to people that make quality goods, opposed to the landfill living mentality that promotes cheap goods that all end up in the trash. And you’ll like this, the address is 107 Parmentier… my inescapable, repeating number, 107. So, come check us out if you hit Paris. We will also carry the book there and be hosting workshops!