Thursday, 7 July 2011

Born To Run

Timothy Malcolm Smith is creative whiz at London ad agency Cream. He's friendly, charitable, deeply spiritual, philosophical, good with the ladies, and keeps virtually no vices. He doesn't pray to Christ, he chats with Him, calling him "Jezza" or "Jez". Did I mention he's also his ad agency's creative genius?

There's this British coffee franchise, Common Grounds, which is older than penicillin, tea bags, even sliced bread. But the brand has gone stale. With his capable and charming assistant Cambria, Timmy swoops in with a plan and a slogan: "Common Grounds - Everybody's Cup of Tea". The campaign is paradigm-changing. The video ad goes viral. Common Grounds is rescued. One can almost visualise the headlines blaring, "Cream Saves Coffee".

More ad campaigns follow, including a poem for a charity organisation's ad that blows everyone away. Rival agencies come a-courting, including New York creative powerhouse Oddinary. But for the time being, he stays put.

And there's this other dream of his: training in secret since his childhood, Timmy wants to run and win the New York Marathon, taking the entire race by surprise as a dark horse of a champion. No small feat, considering that it means defeating the Ethiopian long-distance running champion, Haile Gebrselassie.

Oh, did I mention that Timmy's rich? Or his Balinese-style, 4-bedroom pad called Ankhura, atop a 18-floor luxury apartment building on the edge of London's Canary Wharf, with its own garden and fish-filled rock pools, and a sound system that plays ambient sounds of nature: forests, seaside, rivers and so on - which he designed himself? And the "elephantine mahogany bed", larger than king-size, with sheets of 1500-threadcount Egyptian cotton?

...I put down the book. If I could crook one eyebrow, I would. Can such a Mary Sue - whose ads everyone wants to copy, whose artistry can bend the fabric of reality so that Brits would start switching from tea to coffee - possibly exist? It is fiction, but still...

Character, charisma, career, creative chops, cojones, and cash. Timothy Malcolm Smith has it all. Then I read on, and find out that even as Superman has his kryptonite, the protagonist of Jeremy Chin's d├ębut novel has some flaws. For one, Timothy Malcolm Smith is unlucky in love. Funnily, "Jezza" is a nickname for people called Jeremy or Jerry.

...All that was the first 60-odd pages of Fuel, a dark horse of a Malaysian-authored novel if I ever saw one. Even before we enter the home of Timmy Smith, it passed the 50-page test with soaring colours.

What follows is perhaps among the most beautiful love stories ever told. Timmy would share his marathon dreams with Cambria, whom he eventually grows close to. They would train together, go to New York and exchange pleasantries with Gebrselassie. And they would, as the novel promises, do the unexpected. What drives Timmy - the "fuel" for his creativity and his dreams - is passion. Hence, the title.

Despite the reality-warping powers of Timmy Smith's creativity and charm, the initial contact, courtship and the clincher is well-scripted and believable, albeit a little rainbow-hued. If the atmosphere of a creative agency feels too true-to-life, it's because Chin himself worked in a similar industry in London for a number of years, and has brought his experience to bear in this book.

But it's not just the cover's simple but impactful design. Every phrase, every paragraph has purpose, is strung together well and polished to a showroom sheen. Timmy's big empty mahogany bed practically screams, "Lonely heart, space available, enquire within." No need to guess what the 1500-threadcount Egyptian cotton sheets imply.

The only minor bumps in Timmy's racetrack to glory are the first-person narratives and the prologue featuring lionesses hunting a gazelle. But wait a minute - isn't Gebrselassie's native Ethiopia home to a number of national parks?

That's why I feel the inclusion of Gebrselassie adds a touch of realism to the tale. Even before the conclusion of Fuel, you're already cheering for Timmy and Cambria. You'll want to believe that someone like Timmy can actually exist, that Timmy and Cambria's love story can be real, that Timmy can win, that he can actually move mountains. That you can move mountains, and the fairy-tale Timmy-Cambria romance can be yours.

Yichalal, as they say in Ethiopia's Amharic language. "It is possible". "It can be done." Especially when the word was associated with Gebrselassie’s fierce determination to run and win gold in the 10,000 metres at the 2000 Sydney Olympics despite an injury.

If there is one book you should read this year, or next year, or the year after that, it'll be this book.

Jeremy Chin
255 pages
ISBN: 978-967-10084-0-9

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