Well something had to give… I got back to Bulgaria on 1st March after the launch of ‘Whiskey’ with a new project in mind: the time had come to build ‘The Shed’. I’d spent the whole winter pacing the garden and considering location and structure. It wasn’t just the weather that delayed the start of construction, I knew the biggest costs would be at the beginning, money was going to be poured into the foundation like wet concrete. I would have to employ a digger man to level the land.
Then a cement mixer truck with a pump to fill the base from the other side of the wall as my castle in the sky will stand on a massive 50 square meter pedestal.
In order to visualise its vastness, I removed the turf and looked out the window for a week imagining my new build there.
However, my imagination was bigger than that so I went out and removed more.
The uprooted grass wasn’t wasted, it was relocated to a balding and muddy patch like a hair transplant.
I’m using old materials, very old, twisted, drill bit breaking – bolt shearing – oak, harder than concrete but easier to procure. It was available for free: the wood and cob bricks came from a dying barn from another time, which through neglect had deteriorated beyond a safe or useful structure.
I wanted to save the craftsmanship from that era and my shed would be a memorial to the time and effort that had originally crafted the wood with hand tools and long held old tricks from lost trades. I would preserve the beauty and uniqueness of a build that was constructed by local maestros from homegrown materials, quite different from post fabrication after a trip to the DIY shop.
The design for the shed was in my head, it was planned in the small hours when the mind was too active to sleep.
This was not screwing some 2×4’s together with an ‘L-bracket’. That wouldn’t work as a Bulgarian ‘L’ looks like this ‘Л’. The progress was slow as it required a lot of thinking and positioning so I couldn’t employ much help, even if I could afford to. Like hired labour, it soon became evident I should not engage a spirit level in the construction, it was all about aesthetics and best built by eye.
There was a lot of standing around looking at the base, working out where internal walls would be, and then my gaze rose to the sky and I considered how to position the joists to take the pressure of the 900 tiles they would be supporting.
. I didn’t want to play foreman with the pressure of paid labour waiting around for instruction while I rushed to make bad decisions.
On top of that book 2 of the Rambling On trilogy ‘I Could Have Been a Dreamer’ had come back from the copyeditor, had to be reworked and then proofread. The audio book files for ‘I should Have Left the Whiskey’ also needed some finishing touches. Then it would be time for the final going over of ‘Dreamer’ which involves more time in the recording booth, as nothing finds the last sneaky typo better than reading the manuscript aloud before it goes for typeset and print.
I also needed to coordinate the cover design, blurb and get the bloody ISBN barcode to scan, along with getting flyers, bookmarks, T-shirts and other promotional stuff lined up for my June UK club presentation tour. A tour that would be climaxing with an appearance at the Adventure Bike Festival where I would speak and launch the new book. Oh and I needed to get the camper van on the road for the journey to the UK from Bulgaria and fill it with obsolete bike bits to put on eBay in hope of paying for the trip.
Spring, my favourite time of year, was passing me by, and as for riding, well it was a commute to the DIY shop at best.
You know those busy weeks when you wake on Monday morning and feel Friday is too close, you are not going to get done all that needs to be? Well that is how 2023 feels. Already 2024 is looming, too close, too fast and there are two books I want to produce in that year.
I came off social media to free up some time but that was not enough. Now mid-May, something had to give, changes had to be made, this was getting ridiculous. Getting up at 5am and rushing through lists was taking its toll: nothing was getting done as well as it could be, nor was there the element of fun, appreciation or focus. From an outside perspective my lifestyle is often viewed as enviable and it should be, used to be, but it wasn’t now. Everything was getting half done in a half-arsed manner. The shed needs a roof, so I have a place to store bikes, to work, to record; the book needs completion so I have something to sell in the UK; the camper needs to be recommissioned so I have transport and a place to sleep.
This week it was clear something was going to break. Something had to give, so I left the list and went for a long walk. I spent an hour or so sitting by the river. I saw 3 kingfishers, or maybe the same one went past 3 times but must have doubled back behind me. I watched cormorants fly above the ravine, even a big fish came up to the bank. I watched the flow and the reflection in it.
I saw time pass. At the pace of nature I could hear the rapids the river was heading for. If I’m going to build a shed of old and natural materials, if I’m going to publish a book about travelling at a slower speed and all the gifts that bestows, the benefits it offers, I’d better get the rhythm right, change the pace, feel the subtle beat of the sounds around me.
Right, here comes a revelation, an epiphany: fuck the book, the only deadlines are mine, I have no one telling me what to do, no boss, no one to fire me, I’m unemployable anyway and have been for some time. The ABR festival don’t give a shit. When they did finally reply to the emails I’d been sending since January they went back on their pre-Christmas employee’s suggestion of an article to coincide with, and compliment my ’10 Years After’ presentation. Ironically it’s about ‘why we travel’ and how the Iraq trip of 2013 and the ‘Eureka’ U-turn that followed at the edge of the Caspian Sea drove me to rediscover Bulgaria, where I have now lived for 8 years as told in ‘Near Varna’ and ‘Not Working’. A place to retire to, or at least slow the pace and that’s what I did. It worked but things sped up again. I need to drop it down a gear. To build a shed is one of the most enjoyable erections a man can have, it’s not as hard as writing but equally enjoyable. However, both things combined had lost their allure, and anyway it’s not even the creative writing process – that was the whole of last year, now it is the essential production. This is the process of turning those 220,000 words into the Rambling On trilogy. And a by-product of having to leave the screen was that those soft keyboard pounding hands and regressing muscles were hardening up … which meant they were aching too.
So with 2 weeks before I leave for the UK tour, I have seriously reduced the work load. I will see if I can at least get a roof on the shed before I head off.
I’ve got a presentation to compose, 6 months of notes have to be processed and put in order, that has to become priority as it’s the best kind of book promotion there is.
‘I Should have Left the Whisky’ has had very positive reviews. It is though, a little disappointing how some readers dropped away, because this one wasn’t ‘about motorbikes’. I’d assumed that after 5 books, it was the style of living, travelling and writing that appealed to my readers not the form of transport, ho humm it happens. I liken it to a club band who finally breaks through and is accused of losing their roots, forgetting their faithful first fans, selling out; but it’s important to reach a wider audience, and anyway this slower pace of travel is my roots. This is where, for me, independent travel started, the cycling in China and India, it’s the build up to taking a motorbike further than rallies and shows.
‘I Could have Been a Dreamer’ – book 2 has had a remarkable response from the few who have seen it. It’s been whispered that this more traditional travelogue could be the big one, the holiday book: start on the plane, continue on the beach and recounted in the bar the same evening. The production has to be as good as it can be. ‘Whiskey’ went down well, and I think part 2 will take the trilogy to the next level. It can wait, the shed interior can wait until my return. Spring won’t wait, I need to go out more, smell, listen, watch and take a breath, several in fact, watch that river flow and go with it.
So no book 2 until summer and book 3 for Christmas. The audio book is near completion and the shed can be put on pause or at least be pieced together at a slower pace.
So for a few days I revelled in the void of the removed obligation and then a bunch of other things flooded in to fill it.
Well at least I have time to do a mail out and give the publisher the metaphorical finger as I am the publisher. If I can’t take advantage of being independently published then what’s the point? No one can tell me what to do, I’m just updating you about what I’m doing. So, no pre-order yet. Just a predictable delay based on the fact that when every act is undertaken independently, even with the best of time management, there comes a point where quality control has to step in and say – you need to control the quality of your life, it’s not as good as it could be. You have all the ingredients and they don’t have a sell by day, not even a launch date. They will keep and I’ll take the time to make a meal of it, a slow cooked marination not a microwaved flavourless, recycled consistency of speed and ease. So I’m going to take a break, plod along and enjoy the journey not run into the wall or over the waterfall of destination. It feels good to have made this decision.
Of course I want the next book out, the shed built, the bikes accessible, and ready to ride, but it can’t all be done in one season. Anyway I’ll have a log burner in the shed so I can work there in the winter. I mean what would be the point if everything was done? I gotta back up my reasons for living here, after all I’m about to present the benefits of slow travel, the objectives and opportunities that present themselves when the pace is reduced to rambling, best make this lifestyle a reality again, as I don’t do fiction.