Archive for June, 2014

Why Write a Book?

June 20th, 2014 by Ian

This was a question I considered long and hard before putting pen to paper. In January 2012 – somewhere between Mexico City and Oaxaca – I first started thinking seriously about turning my experiences into a story to share.

Writing a book had always been on my mind, but in one of those fleeting ‘wouldn’t that be nice’ kind of ways. It was never something to plan or focus on because the most important thing on my travels was enjoying what lay ahead.

However, when I started rolling back the layers of what it would be like to tell a story of the bike ride, I opened the door to many questions I imagine would-be first-time non-fiction authors come across.

First of all, I was found asking what would make my story interesting or different than any other similar tales of journey or adventure? I knew people had cycled from Alaska to Argentina before – quite a few in fact. Some had done it in big groups; others, alone like me (for the majority). People were doing it as part of round-the-world trips, such as Salva who I met in Baja California. He’d been on the road for 6 years when our paths crossed and had traversed much of Africa, Europe and Asia along the way. Others had even completed it through adversity, such as Cristi and Tauru from the US, who rode a tandem 26,000km even though they were legally blind.

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If I were to tell my story, would it need to have a unique angle and message? Would that even matter or did people just want to hear about what I saw, whom I met, and how I was feeling? I’m sure plenty of other travel books (and there are a lot) would have recounted similar experiences in a more successful and entertaining manner. So what could I possibly add to the growing pile?

Behind these thoughts existed a bigger question again – figuring out the reason to write in the first place. Would I do it to make money (there’s a pittance to be made in this genre unless you’re well-established or have done something truly unique like carry a refrigerator on your back while climbing Mt Everest)? Would it be for myself, to keep for the future with all my memories in one place? Or would it be for others?

In truth, it’s a mixture of the last two. I’ve always grasped things better once I talk them out with others (everything from politics to football tactics), so writing about the trip might help me work through 15 months of those memories and gain a better insight and appreciation of the people and places I encountered. I could distill daily events, chance meetings and time on my own in foreign, yet not so foreign places into something greater, giving them meaning. It would also be an A to Z project that I could put all my energy, heart and soul into – a chance to be creative and at the end hopefully validated for the attempt.

I also want it to be for others. For family, friends, followers of the 350South journey and those who I have never met. The latter group may in fact be the most important. It could be someone who, in not too distant future, picks up a copy and decides to go out and see some of the world. It could be Outer Mongolia or that trail walk in the local woods they’ve heard so much about. It might be the inspiration, the drive, the get up and go – whatever you want to call it – to see the world and advance a better understanding of it – socially, environmentally, or both.

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This might seem a little highfalutin, but I say it because it happened to me. When I put down that copy of Göran Kropp’s Ultimate High: My Everest Odyssey, something had stirred. And within 10 minutes I knew that cycling the length of the Americas was it.

Of course, for some it will be just a good story. I hope it will at least. In that, it’s worth trying to tell in a way that represents the truth within my experiences from the saddle which resonates with others. After all, I was just someone pedalling a bicycle for a very long time with a wish to see towns, mountains, countries, places with interesting names and peoples I had heard lots about, and plenty more that I didn’t.

So the actual answer to the question why write a book? is a multi-faceted one, but altogether simple in its aims. Asking what I could add the growing pile of travel books (whether it’s a lot or little at all) is itself answered with the thought that someone, somewhere, may take something positive and affirming from it.

And in the coming weeks and months, I’ll try to elaborate on everything else that comes after the decision is made to begin Chapter 1.

 

Telling the Story

June 6th, 2014 by Ian

After a rather lengthy hiatus from writing about my Pan-American bicycle trip – which ended in October 2012 – I’ve decided to resume the blog once more, but this time from an altogether different angle.

As many followers will be aware, I’ve been working on a book about what was an incredible and privileged 15 months of my life. After a few false starts (employment called; Ushuaia took my last pennies!) and a change of living environment (I’m residing in wonderful Laos, Southeast Asia), the wheels are firmly turning again.

I now hope to tell a story about another type of journey – the process of writing and publishing a travel book. It is in part for my own benefit, a self-serving palette to which I can paint and reflect upon the effort, considerations and overall growth of a story I wish to share. It is also aimed at those who are simply interested in understanding how this particular type of travel experience is absorbed by the mind and then extracted from it once again and inked on a page. And finally, it might be of some use to others in my position – at present or in the future.

The general plan (I’m pretty bad at sticking to them, however) is to lay down some thoughts on why I’m telling this story, how I’m learning to tell it, and what factors help or hinder its outcome. The latter might even elucidate upon why I can only seem to work in dimly lit coffee shops or hotel lounges with a little background noise and plenty of tea on tap. That’s a biggie, mind you.

Of course, the ultimate goal is to get the book published, and there are two ways to do it – the traditional route (manuscript submission to literary agents and publishing houses) or self-publishing. My experience so far in this realm has been a steep learning curve and could probably make an entire series of blogs, so I’ll make sure to concentrate on this throughout.

Without elaborating too much on what it’s all about, it’s probably best to just write and see where it goes – stick whatever comes to mind onto paper, or screen as it happens. I want it to be insightful, but over-thinking blogs about a creative process that has essentially been an exercise in spontaneity might overcook the entire thing.

I hope to post one blog per week, preferably on Fridays when I drop the pen and pick up a beer, but we’ll see how it goes.

And for those wondering how far along I am in the process, it could be explained as the ninth chapter, 82,154 words, or somewhere in the crumpled mountains of southern Colombia.

The above photo is of my Dad (John) and I after the Cycle Against Suicide 2014. Dad cycled 1,400km around Ireland with a couple of thousand others to raise awareness about the issue suicide on the island of Ireland. I took in 2 days with him along its course. Have a read about what it’s about at www.cycleagainstsuicide.com

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