My ‘To Do’ list is a monster today but I feel more like telling a story than cracking on with what I should be doing. Follow your instincts. It’s usually the best thing to do isn’t it. My story is one of how fantastic the combination of instincts and luck can be.
Audio books. Are any of you guys fans of them? I must admit that when I was encouraged to make my first book ‘Into Africa’ into an audio book I really wasn’t sure about it. I’ve since become a convert!
Back when I made Into Africa into an audio book, things were rather different. Then the likes of Audible and i-Tunes wouldn’t accept a recording unless it was submitted by a publisher with multiple titles. That meant the likes of me were never going to have a chance.
But by chance I was drawn to a company called Open Book Audio. They had recognised the gap and worked hard to fill it. They were very difficult to get in with though. Unless you had top rate equipment and a home studio, and loads of recording and editing knowledge, you weren’t going to be accepted.
With a tentative thumbs up from them having seen the reviews of Into Africa, I set out to find a recording studio. A new adventure began. I hunted for nearly two years. The studios who specialised in recording books all said, ‘No’. Some didn’t bother to reply but that was no surprise. Cold calling is always hard to do and I accepted that the studios must get approaches from complete strangers with no track record all the time.
‘No’? I wasn’t an actor and I wasn’t a trained narrator. But I didn’t want anyone else to narrate my book. Stubborn? Perhaps, but I’ve always tried my best to make something as real as I could. I knew the moments of joy, I knew the stages of fear, I well-remembered the moments when challenges were overcome and I still smiled at the laughter along the way. Cynically perhaps, I didn’t think anyone else would be able to capture the sensations. I wanted to narrate Into Africa myself. Stubborn? Probably too much so. There was a part of me that was saying, ‘You’d no idea about riding motorcycles when you started to ride through Africa. If you can do that, you should have a go at this. Give it your best shot!’
Of course there was the slight matter of how on earth could I afford to pay a studio for all the recording time, editing time, and a narrator. That was a big mountain of cost. But that voice in the back of my mind kept saying that it wouldn’t be real if I didn’t read it.
For a while I felt that I wasn’t going to succeed. This was a trail that was just too hard to ride. Then I had a stroke of luck. Adventures are full of those moments aren’t they; those times when something completely unexpected pops up out of the dust.I was in the Ace Café in London. As I was passing, I’d popped in for one of their famous breakfasts. If you haven’t been able to get there yet then let me describe the scene. The café is one big room; long and thin. A counter runs along about two thirds of one side and this is topped with all the things you’d expect to find in a ‘retro’ bar. I’ll leave your imagination to work on that. Tucked to one side is a small shop where you can but Ace Café memorabilia and it really is worth taking a look at. The top end of the café has a stage upon which bands play of a night-time and during the day gleaming classic bikes sit proudly reflecting the Ace Café Logo and the expressions of curiosity from whoever has stopped to take them in.
One side of the café is floor to ceiling glass, so the café itself is always full of light during the days and the sparkle of the head and tail lights of the bikes and classic cars coming and going of a night time. In front of those are long trestle tables and it was on one of these that I had my totally unexpected stroke of luck.
While the stage area is dotted with four seater tables, the real motorcycling camaraderie happens on these trestle tables. Strangers sit next to strangers, but all have the love of motorcycling in common. It never takes long before conversations spark up between those strangers, and new friends are made. Good food always helps the making of new friends doesn’t it.
One my own and feeling a bit introspective that morning I wasn’t nattering to my neighbours. But the mood in the café is infectious. After a while my neighbour and I started to chat. Bikes of course. About 10 minutes into the conversation, the guy I was talking to leant back from me and gave me a long stare. “You are Sam aren’t you?”
“I read your book Into Africa and loved it” he said. “Have you ever thought about making it into an audio book?”
I could have said words to the effect of “What a great idea, thanks very much,” but the chap, who by this time had introduced himself to me as Roger, seemed very genuine, so I told him a bit of the road I’d been exploring for the last couple of years.
“Well”, Roger said, I own a recording studio. We are in Cambridge. Why don’t you come up and record the first chapter. Give it a try. It is hard, but maybe you can. At least you’ll know.”
You will all know those tingle moments when you know something special has just happened. This was absolutely one of those. The trail had just opened up. Now to see if I could ride it.The day came and I nervously turned up at the studio. I’d read and re-read the manuscript so many times in practice, I couldn’t have been more ready. The darkened studio was full of hi tech recording equipment, music history and humour. I instantly felt at home. Tucked into one corner was a cubicle not much bigger in floor space than motorcycle delivery crate. Inside was a tall chair with a comfortable looking top, a lectern and one of the biggest microphones I’d ever seen. Large black and silver headphones hung from that lectern. The only light came from a lamp which shone down onto the lectern that was going to be my focal point for the next hours. In front of the chair was a small window through into the studio area itself. It felt as if I was stepping into a very different world. Even with the door still open and Roger explained the ins and outs of recording, sounds from outside were deadened. Even the rustling of me fidgeting on the chair sounded loud! I worried about the challenge of sitting still! I’m not very good at that.
I have huge respect for Roger for letting me have a go, and for his willing ness to help me get it right. His calm patience was both incredible and soothing. Hours later, Roger looked up at me and the word “Enough” came through the headphones.
I nervously stepped outside to receive the verdict. “That’s not bad at all. You can do this.” He said. “Come back and we will have a go at recording the whole book. But that’s when it gets difficult. It’ll take us at least a week, and maintaining your voice, pace, tone and the way you describe things will be a challenge. You may well not manage this.”The rest of this story is wonderful history. We recorded. I didn’t fail and actually enjoyed sitting in that small darkened box. For hours each day I was back riding and exploring Africa. Smiling as I read at the times I’d been an idiot and fallen off. My nerves when faced with my first river crossing. Arm hair rising again as I read about being thrown in jail in Tanzania and all the awful circumstances which had led to that. It was hard not to laugh as the chief’s wife poked me in my testicles. And I know that the awe was naturally there in my voice as I took in the fantastic scenery that this continent has in incredible abundance.
The next stage was whether Open Book Audio would accept the recording. An immediate yes from them. As with anything that has been created; be it a carving, a painting, a motorbike or a cup of coffee, the next step rests on whether anybody likes what you have made. In this case, the weeks ticked on by… The hardest thing for anyone creating something new is not making it happen, but getting the word out about it. For solo authors it’s incredibly difficult. We don’t have the access to mainstream media that having a recognised publishing house’s name behind you gives. As with anything in life, if it’s worth achieving its worth working at. I plugged away at trying to get the word out…Suddenly the first reviews started to pop up! To my absolute delight there are now 302 ratings and they give the audiobook 4.6 of of 5 ratings. I’m blown away.
And can I make a point of thanking everyone who has downloaded a copy. Thank you. And double thanks to everyone who has taken a moment to post a star rating and even a comment. I can’t tell you how grateful I am.
There’s more information on Into Africa and in fact all of my books on this link.
A few of the reviews and thank you again:
‘It makes you feel like you’re riding along with Sam. You get every detail without feeling like the author is rambling on. I think it’s the perfect audio book for a motorcyclist, a traveler or anyone who loves a great story.’
‘When I bought this audiobook, I was hoping for thrilling tales of motorcycle adventures in amazing places, and I was not disappointed in the least- Into Africa has that in spades. What captivated me the most, what made me want to quit my day job immediately and head out on the road, was Sam’s account of his relationships with the people he met along the way- from the incredible kindness and honesty of good samaritans, to time spent with remote villagers that have never had outside visitors, to forming the foundations of what would become life-long friendships.’
‘Really enjoyable. Excellent narration. Please can we have more audible books from Sam Manicom’
‘Sam’s voice is perfect for the audio book , if he needs another job he could make a good living out of telling other peoples stories.’
‘Having spent over 5 years in Africa working at various U. S. Embassies, this audio book stuck a heart felt cord with me. Sam’s descriptive abilities puts you right into the adventure and I can vouch for his accuracy. This story is not about motorcycles, but shows what the real Africa is like, which can only be experienced by motorcycle. Read or hear this book. You will be enlightened.’
‘A mad choice leads to a brilliant adventure!’
‘Reading a book can be rather abstract, you never know whether the author is stretching the truth. By reading the book himself, feel a real connection to his experiences on the road.’
‘At first I was apprehensive to say the least, this was the first audio book of this type i had listened to and wasn’t sure I’d make it though the day by day run through of ‘ here i am, here’s what I’m seeing’ but boy was i wrong!. Sam’s stories are so engaging and well written that you’re so quickly drawn into the story it’s hard not to start thinking you’re along for the ride with him. So much more than just a motorbike story, this is very much a story about people and experiences with the human spirit. The fact that Sam tells the story in his own words and voice just adds to the experience. Well work a listen and highly recommended.’
‘Into Africa is a brilliant tale told by the author himself. The sense of adventure is sharpened by hearing it told by the same individual who experienced it. You can sense how the trip affected him on a personal level, as I’m sure it would have effected virtually all of us. The crackling sound of a campfire would have made you believe you were there, with him, hearing the stories first hand. Exceptional descriptions paint a picture of these strange and exotic locations. The listener feels themselves being transformed by the adventure, and comes away with a new perspective on this remarkable continent. I truly enjoyed the audio format of this great book. For those who have not been able to travel far and wide, sit back and enjoy taking part in a fantastic adventure to another world.’
And here’s a sample from Into Africa. A taste of why people are saying such wonderful things. Thank you. I hope you enjoy it too.