James Bowen is a New York Times bestselling author who spent almost ten years living rough on the streets of London as a man suffering from mental illness and drug addiction. In the spring of 2007, while he was pulling his life back together by participating in a drug rehab program, he found a ginger cat in the hallway of the shelter building where he was living. The cat had a serious injury and James nursed it back to health. From that day forward the cat would not leave his side and the rest is history.
Bowen's story is one of the most inspirational and uplifting accounts of how one person can turn his life around and go from homeless to icon in only eight years. James Bowen has written seven books about his street cat named Bob and his first book, A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life, sold over one million copies in the UK, spent 76 weeks on the Sunday Times' bestseller list, was translated into 30 languages and debuted on the New York Times bestseller list at #7. In 2012, A Street Cat Named Bob was nominated for the UK's National Book Award and Bowen's output of seven books has sold over five million copies of worldwide. In addition, famed film director Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies) is directing a major motion picture about James and street cat Bob starring Luke Treadaway (Unbroken) that is currently in production in the UK.
Stay Thirsty Magazine was very pleased to visit with James Bowen and Bob in London for this Conversation.
STAY THIRSTY: In your newest book to come to America, A Gift From Bob, you have chosen the subtitle of: "How A Street Cat Helped One Man Learn The Meaning of Christmas." You have written six other books about your street cat, Bob, many of which have attained bestseller status. What prompted you to write this particular book?
JAMES BOWEN: I think a lot about our Christmas times together, and I remember the ones before Bob were so much harder. Now I have the chance to reach out with my life stories and how I coped. It made me determined to try and illustrate this in my Xmas book as best I could. If you are roughing it, or if you are on a minimum government income, it's incredibly hard to feel secure and enjoy the season of goodwill with so many costs mounting up and the weather becoming severe. I lost friends to TB on the streets and I am so lucky Bob rescued me. It is he who brought me to this chat today about the book!
STAY THIRSTY: Your personal story is one of true hardship and the remarkable reinvention of yourself. You give great credit to Bob for paving the path to your redemption. What is it about animals that can rehabilitate the human spirit and how did Bob work his magic on you?
JAMES BOWEN: I think Bob decided he was going to live with me and I didn't have much choice in the matter to be honest. He lovingly kind of forced himself into my heart and my life. After nursing him back to health it seemed he needed me and I felt a bond with him. His thanks were cuddles and purring, and after that he just didn't want to leave my side – to the point when one day he actually jumped on the bus with me. It gave me the shock of my life that he was devoted to me and that made me start on my own healing. If it wasn't for him and his incredible love and adoration – well.... do my best and he just knows he's my soul mate.
STAY THIRSTY: Through all the days of your homelessness and addiction to drugs, did you believe that somehow, someway you would overcome? What was the key incident that helped you turn your life around?
JAMES BOWEN: In a million years I don't think I could actually believe what has happened to me – but here we are and now I am able to give to those who need it. I remember when I came home one day to find an addict in my stairwell who was in a bad way. He got up…said a mumbled sorry…and then went into cardiac arrest. I tried to do everything the emergency operator told me to while I was waiting desperately for the ambulance. It is something I can never forget and I knew then I had to make sure I never went back to that state of not living, not caring, not existing in my own mind, let alone others. Now I had a purpose and I had my little buddy always with me!
STAY THIRSTY: In A Gift From Bob you take the reader through your life, day-by-day, leading up to Christmas in a way that communicates the trials and tribulations of people living on a very sharp economic edge. Did you ever feel that you would fail to press on and keep turning the corners to success or that you would inevitably slide back into homelessness and drugs?
JAMES BOWEN: That's a bit of a loaded question! I mean, when I was on the streets I only thought of moment-to-moment and day-to day-survival. Obviously when I had a habit it was "where was I going to score my next bit of gear," and when I was in my drug program and I was thinking straight, food, electricity and stuff became important. I would remember the amount of times I had been robbed by other users or dealers, being beaten by drunks when sleeping rough on a Friday or Saturday night near a club or just stabbed in the back by a person you thought you could trust. I never want to go back to those black times. Never did I think my good karma would lead me to where I am today. I thank the universe every day.
STAY THIRSTY: Your street cat Bob has become an international celebrity, as have you. With well over five million books sold and millions of YouTube fans, you and Bob have touched a very important and sensitive chord in people of all ages. In the quiet of the night, how do you feel about the distance you have traveled in your life and do you think Bob understands?
JAMES BOWEN: Haha...Yes! I remember when I was told recently that the current estimates for my whole set are over five million in many different languages that I thought...Hold on, surely I will wake up in a minute. Now they say the film is rolling and due out next year...I'm like WHAT!?! My little boy has helped me achieve so much and I can see it in his eyes that he knows he has done something incredible and he shows pride wherever we go together. He knows!
STAY THIRSTY: Your book gives insight into the plight of the homeless and the importance of the street newspaper in offering a vehicle to reenter commerce with dignity and respect. In your and Bob's case, you also busked for the public by singing and playing the guitar. What advice do you have for others who are homeless but still have faith that they can achieve a better life?
JAMES BOWEN: My only true advice for anyone going through tough times is don't be afraid to ask for help from family or friends. But there are many charities out there just waiting to help, so you can start to get yourself in a better place and take a better, healthier way forward.
STAY THIRSTY: Apart from writing and publishing so many successful books, you recently did a successful crowdfunding on Indiegogo that raised almost $250,000 to fund the establishment of Bob's World Cat Café. How are the plans for that project proceeding and whom do you hope to help?
JAMES BOWEN: Actually today we think we found our perfect shop for the café section. The café will not be a cat café as such but it will be linked to an education centre and animal shelter program where people will be able to come for courses in such things as animal health as well as literacy for people who need to brush up on their reading and writing skills. These things take time to come together and I want to get it right, so it is a step at a time.
STAY THIRSTY: A major motion picture is in the works entitled A Street Cat Named Bob, directed by the renowned film veteran Roger Spottiswoode and starring Luke Treadaway. How do you feel about your and Bob's story going to the big screen? Do you think that it will inspire others who are having a rough patch in their lives to turn things around?
JAMES BOWEN: I am honoured to have my humble little book turned into a Hollywood movie, as I never dreamed that I would have written a second book – let alone seven. I am a full time author and charity fundraiser with no fears of the unknown. It's strange having meetings to discuss music and shooting days for the film. I am even learning about cats from Canada who are trained to be Bob's doubles – but the most surreal thing is talking to Luke Treadaway about busking with him and Bob for the fans on the net!
STAY THIRSTY: Your books have appeared on the bestseller lists in the UK and in the United States and you have been celebrated not only for your writing, but also for your courage. Did you ever dream that you could have achieved such success?
JAMES BOWEN: Wow, have I really done all this! One thing is for certain. I didn't do it alone. I owe so so much to my large but incredibly close and loyal team and all our fans. But most of all its because of the love and bond I share with my boy BOB!!!