I have a story I’d like to tell you. It involves an adventure of a completely unexpected kind, people who have turned into great friends, and ‘part 2’ tells of a motorcycle dealership owner, a BBC Radio DJ, and the discovery of something of real value that was lost.This story really begins when Birgit and I returned from the big trip. At that time I had no intention to write a book. I was way more interested in showing Birgit some of the prettier parts of southern and central England.
Those plans of course were instantly confused by the fact that my map was 10 years out of date. I’d returned to find England veined with dual carriageways which wanted to take us flying past all the little towns and villages I was keen for Birgit to see.
Priorities were also finding somewhere to live, getting some money back in our pockets and working out what, after the 8 and a half years away, we were going to do next. We settled into house renovation work. This suited us perfectly as a sort of halfway house between the road, and life in a world of being in one place every day, and careers to follow.
During this time, Peter Henshaw, who was the editor of Motorcycle Sport and Leisure magazine, got in touch to do an interview – mostly about my bike (BMW R80GS) Libby. She had plenty of on the road modifications which Peter thought would be of interest to readers. It was brilliant to see him; he was the editor who took so many articles from me over the years on the road. I’d learnt stacks about writing from Peter during this time. Not long after that Peter got in touch to say that he was getting loads of letters and emails from readers saying that they liked my articles, and when was my book coming out? “What book?”This new adventure began with the well-honed travel thought, ‘If you don’t try, you’ll never find out if you can.’
But also, ‘Good grief, what a presumptuous thought’. I mean, I got an absolutely rotten grade in English at school, so what right did I have to think I could do something like this?
A slight additional problem was that I had no typewriter, nor a computer, and didn’t know how to use either anyway. Corrugated road ahead! I’d probably fall off quite a few times, but if there really was interest, well, it could be a learning curve worth having a go at. If all failed then, well, I’d have had some fun reliving the adventures while I was writing.
Birgit and I were putting in anything between 8 and 12 hours a day on the renovation project; work we loved. It was fantastic to see sad, unloved, cold and dank houses come back to life; to be turned into places that were warm, cosy and functional.
At the end of each day, we headed across the road to the garage we were living in, washed, cooked a hot meal and then, with Birgit teaching me how to use a computer, the words began to flow. I started to two finger my way through Africa. I’d been lucky enough to be gifted a very much second hand Toshiba laptop, which saved my text to floppy discs – remember those? Saved when Mr Novice here didn’t forget to press the ‘save’ button. I lost a whole chapter in the early days; a combination of idiocy and being far away in Africa with my thoughts.It took me 2 years to write the first main draft and that draft was huge! But the editing process was interesting. I’d literally written all the happenings of Africa that popped into my head. If it was powerful enough a story to come into my mind, then down the words went. I’d then used my journals to confirm dates, place and people’s names, and all of the other quirky observations I’d jotted down every day. After all, when you are travelling, you are on intake overload aren’t you. It’s so easy to forget the details as a result.
The key edit was done with this thought in mind. What may be interesting to me may well not be interesting to others. So the manuscript was whittled down by at least a third.
Manuscript done as best I could, it was time to send it to Peter who had very kindly offered to edit it for me. He was also on a promise to tell me if it was complete and utter rubbish. To my delight he liked it, honed it with me, and then I started the process of hunting for a publisher. I devoured a book on how to do this; who to approach and how to lay those approaches out. It was like stepping into a new world with all its own customs and cultures.Two years later and after scores of approaches, I had to accept that no one was prepared to take the risk on a story such as mine.
The final two refusal letters I had were from the two biggest travel book publishers of the time. Both said words to the effect of, ‘We like your book but you’re not a media personality so we don’t think it’ll sell’. I was honoured that they had replied, but…
Of course, at first, I couldn’t help but be horribly disappointed. I probably kicked a few stones over the next days. All that time, heart and soul that had gone into writing about the yearlong journey the length of what I am convinced is the most fascinating and challenging continent on earth.
Then I started to think about what they’d said. They liked my book. That was amazing. And they were right. I was not a media personality. I was just a guy who had set off to ride the length of Africa and had managed to stay out exploring the world for a while. I was not anyone special. But they liked my book…You fall off a motorcycle from time to time don’t you. I decided to treat this as one of those offs. It was time to pick myself up and find another way. If this trail wasn’t a direction I could ride in, then there would be another way. I just needed to look.
Shortly after this, overlanding friends Simon and Georgie got in touch and told me that they were in the process of publishing their excellent motorcycle travel book ‘Sore Bums Rattling Around Asia ’ with a print on demand company called Trafford. The new learning curve began, encouraged by the fact that Birgit, Peter and now Chris Scott of ‘Adventure Motorcycling Handbook’ fame liked my book.My brother in law Chris designed a cover for me and the print button was pressed. A couple of hundred copies were soon winging their way to me from British Colombia in Canada where Trafford was based.
What had I done? All that money. And how on earth was I going to sell the things!? A website? Me? How on earth do I do one of those? Birgit had the answer to that. She borrowed books from the library and taught herself to make one.
Next I needed some good luck. You’ll find that story in the next piece… ‘An Excellent Discovery’.
First though, thank you to Birgit, Peter, Chris, Chris and Chris, and to Simon and Georgie.