15 minute read
This is a long blog, it’s going to take you at least 15 minutes to read it properly, and it’s taken me 3 weeks to compose. Now I know you like reading or you wouldn’t have subscribed to a writer’s newsletter, so treat this like a short story. Go get yourself a drink and give the text the time it deserves, I think you’ll find it’s worth your while. When have I ever bombarded you with pure sales shite? I’m a subscriber too, my intention with this email, as with my books, is to entertain, not bore you and lose you.
So, where have I been, what have I been doing?
Well let’s just focus on the last 2 months of silence (there are 8 books that document the previous 25 years).
I’ll start with an honest insight, remember the launch of ‘I Could Have Been a Dreamer’ in November? Well, it was a bloody nightmare on all levels, and continues to be. I won’t drone on, but basically UPS ‘Losing’ 75% of the shipment of the books thus making them unavailable for the majority of the 9-day Motorcycle Live Show launch, was the first big cock up. I had to send out the ones I did get to those who had pre-ordered, it was only fair. How would you feel if you hadn’t received the book you had paid for in advance only to see it for sale at a bike show?
As the books made their way from Poland at some point UPS decided I was the shipper, not the receiver, and the books started a return trip back to the printers. Incidentally they are still billing me for shipment, and late fees, despite acknowledging that I am the receiver, not the shipper. Long story – but I won’t be writing a book about it, well not after I’ve vented about it here. I know it’s a travel book but it didn’t need to go back and forth across Europe before arriving too late for the launch.
The QR code I got printed on 600 flyers and a pop-up banner specifically for the show to hand out to the overstimulated punters and passersby, for them to instantly download a free audio book, came from a scam agency and stopped scanning. So more wasted money.
Well I’ve got to give something away I thought, and so, not wanting to repack, reload and restack unsold stock, I decided to give books away. I reasoned, I’ve been saying the same spiel about ‘In Search of Greener Grass’ at shows for 13 years, and with no QR code come-on, no bait to entice and hook a potential customer I was just handing out the book. Well only to people who looked like they could read.
‘Here, free book.’
‘See me as a dealer, the first one is free, I believe you’ll like it, I hope you’ll want more and you’ll have to pay for the other 7.’
‘Well, what’s it about?’
‘Read it, you’ll find out.’ Honestly, I’m sick of telling people what it’s about, read the blurb, read the 300+ Amazon reviews, it’s my cash cow with a camel on the cover.
‘Where did you go?’
‘Mongolia, on a £750 bike off of eBay, solo, unsupported, unsponsored.’ Arrhhh shit, now I’m telling ‘em about it. ‘Look just take it. I’ll tell you about the new ones gladly, enthusiastically, passionately, I’ll happily try and sell you one of those but this is free. Now take it and be gone.’
I accept this is not the best sales pitch, not one my neighbour on his stand is adopting, but then Sam Manicom has a more congenial nature. Me, I just wanted to go home and work on the next one.
I also understand it’s the nature of the show, any show, any exhibitor who has something to sell, involves a sales pitch which inevitably, is repeated endlessly like a loop tape. But equally, the whole ethos of my books is travel and new experiences and that conflicts with repetition and routine. It’s a conundrum to sell, to giveaway, to promote when all I really want to do is write. Hence the length of this newsletter to you.
I also realise that all jobs to some degrees are repetitious. As a truck driver the M25 was a daily part of my life. For 17 years round and round I went and at the weekend too – off to some bike show. As a kitchen and bathroom fitter the flat packs and tiling only offered variety in colour and location, although that job was far more challenging and rewarding. Well, than driving, not book selling.
So while I’m giving away one book, another disappears: ‘Whiskey’
Whiskey always does that when it’s in the vicinity, never there the next morning. What I mean in this case is: the audio version of the first book from the ‘Rambling On’ trilogy has been taken down from Audible. Again, another long story and I don’t want to sound like a victim but ‘it wasn’t my fault’. And so the fight continues with the inept, indifferent and unaccountable to try and get this problem rectified and the audio book reinstated.
So the book launch had all the impact of a polystyrene packing peanut falling into a puddle and the reach was equal to the ripple effect said peanut would produce.
But this is not a moaning newsletter or at least I’ll stop now.
And anyway judging by the favourable reviews it’s a damn good book book. It was Amazon Number 1 new release.
The third book of the trilogy is nearly done, on the advice of my copyeditor I added another 17,000 words bringing the word count close to 100,000 making it the longest of the three. These additional words were mostly dialogue, to add to the travelogue: a bad romance at loggerheads as I travelled mostly by train round India and into Nepal with an unwilling girlfriend. The inner dialogue, the retreat into defensive and comforting thoughts as the relationship goes off the rails got funnier with every rewrite.
I had so many potential titles and narrowed it down to about 5. Then when Amanda Zito came back with her draft of the cover based on my brief description of the subject matter, both the title and the subtitle became obvious. I can’t wait to tell you the title and show you more of the cover but we will both have to.
The other big production news is that the files for audio version of ‘Dreamer’ are now back from the engineer and have been uploaded to all audio book platforms, Spotify, iTunes, Audible (hopefully) and about 40 others that also exist, Everand being quite a good one as it’s already available there
So that’s the work side of things. When I haven’t been in the recording booth or in front of the laptop. I’ve been building a new shed. Yes another one, a garden shed 4x3m to accommodate all the things that are not motorcycles and have migrated into the bike shed to scratch motorcycles. Like mowers, strimmers, log splitters, ladders, summer loungers, parasols, spades, wheelbarrows, power washers, snow shovels and all the tools and shit I need to build a shed with… and then build a shed for.
The entire grounds of my author’s estate are on a slope, going downhill like a bad book launch, or if you’re at the bottom then it’s all uphill like the struggle for success. Either way there is a lot of levelling to be done before any building starts.
I’m hoping this will be a bit like that fable where the old woman goes to the wise old sage complaining her house is too small. He tells her to bring her cow into the house, surprisingly this doesn’t improve the situation so she goes back to him to complain. He tells her to bring the pig inside. This continues until all her farm stock has overrun the house. At her wits end, fuming she stomps back to him saying the situation is unworkable and critical. He says ‘Then remove all the animals’ and watta ya know, the house seems so big now. That, I am hoping, is what will happen with the bike shed. Who knows, there may even be room for another bike in there once the garden shed is done.
Then it snowed and work stopped.
In other news, I signed up for a premium Spotify account, possibly the last person on the planet to have one. Man, it’s brilliant, you probably know this, everyone I tell is already well aware. So wearing my headphones of quality and clarity that are usually reserved for audio book production, I laid back in the bath and listened, had a little drink and I went into a dream.
So typically when one drinks, judgement is impaired, which is not all bad, certainly for me as my judgement is not always right. I mean, I wouldn’t ride a bike at 100mph when I am pissed but my gut feeling is that the voice inside is sometimes best ignored. So to be without judgement could mean to be without preconceptions, constraints and control. How beneficial is control? Depends if ya riding a bike at 100mph or if ya trying to think outside the box beyond your current predicament, then control is something best left on the side of conformity and complacency. So sitting stationary in the bath my train of thought departed…
The 7000 songs on my 20-year-old iPod still reveal, as it plays on permeant shuffle, songs my fading mind thinks it hasn’t heard before. And that same reasoning has me thinking myself to be stimulating company, when in actual fact, I’m little more than a loop tape, repeating the same old stories, that eventually bore even me:
However with Spotify came a horrific realisation that… the wealth of variety in contributors, artists, and variation of compositions is absolutely beyond my life expectancy. Like deciding to watch Coronation Street from the start, I just don’t have enough time. I have to prioritise and that’s when the Pamir Highway loomed with a shadow that made me see the light. I gotta start, actually continue, to live like there is no tomorrow. I always did, then for a complacent while I was struck with some irredeemable guarantee that there was an undisputed future. And to some degree perhaps there is within the safety of 4 walls of familiarity, but regardless of pictures on those walls and memories on the mantel piece, the carriage clock carries away time with every tick and I want to speed things up a bit, change the time zone back to uncertainty and move fast forward into the future.
I want to leave the middle ground and go back to find the edge I used to live on, push the boundaries, find my limitations because I’ve reached my limits of safety routine and dependency. I’ve found the peak of what I was supposedly climbing towards and the view is stifled, sterilised, stagnant. After a year of seasons the variety repeats, sunset shadows on snow turn to fresh greens and bright blossom, which turn to the parched, withered and final fruition, returning to dead and depleted autumn brown and back to white out winter and begin again.
My phone is full of 360 degree and 365-day images. Nothing much is new after a year in one place other than the now critical urge to see the next year occur from a different perspective.
There are more lines and less hair in the mirror, fuck reflection, it’s time for some new experiences. I’ll reflect in my diary and books, I want some new material in this material world, shed off the shackles of materialism, responsibility, commitment. I’m committed to continuing in a manner that got me to this point, a place of routine and roots. My side stand has sunk into a shed base only to be kicked up for the occasional supermarket run when the requirements are light and complement pannier capacity as opposed to pick-up truck consumption.
I’m not living the life of my books but the reviews they get, I can’t live vicariously through my memories, write on my laurels and settle down on my findings. I’m not looking over my shoulder, I’m seeking a future of uncertainty, a far-sighted focus, a place with no comparisons, new experiences. Where was I going with this? I just need to go. I think I should leave now.
With the cooling bath water my all-consuming train of thought derailed, I came back, to reality, what I need here is a congenial compromise.
The songs have remained the same on my iPod for many years, I never profess to having my finger on the pulse but I’m definitely a very late comer to this virtual platform. The new Peter Gabriel album is on constant repeat, I don’t recall an Album growing on me like that since ‘Momentary Lapse of Reason’ I saw him live last summer and the songs on the album resonate like they did the first time I heard them direct from the artist’s mouth. I’ve also discovered Ren, again I’m not the first. Much like discovering Bulgaria in 2013 it was all new to me, yes, but the country was inhabited and had been for some time. But Ren, well, ‘blown away.’ Now at 58 my usual reaction to most new music is ‘well that was clearly influenced by …’ or ‘sounds like … to me.’ With Ren I have no comparison, unique, powerful, disturbing, and overflowing with talent. It’s so refreshing to hear something stirring like the first time I heard ‘Appetite for Destruction’
So there I am building a new shed, listening to new music, producing a new book and audio book, fighting with the inept powers that be and you wonder why I’ve not been on social media or written a newsletter? Well, I hope this is an adequate explanation.
But wait I’m not finished. You know how you start a new year full of grand plans that fade by February? Well I made a stand, it’s now been 9 years since I was last in the US, a place where I have spent (all accumulated) 7 years of my life, and visited regularly, annually in fact from ’83 to 2015. Then I moved to Bulgaria, a country that for me, unlike the UK did not motivate me to constantly escape from. Anyway my KLR has been sitting in a goat shed in Colorado for 9 years and in April I’m going back, I’m expecting it to look like the clichéd barn find, so I’ll dust it off, pump up the tyres, maybe charge the battery and do a little bike tour.
I’m really looking forward to this, not just seeing some old friends, ride some of my favourite roads, and see some of the planet’s scenery that moves me the most. But also going back to a place once so familiar to me after nearly a decade absence. I expect it to be a kind of ‘well I couldn’t have described how that used to be but I can see it’s changed, been moved, replaced, upgraded, painted a different colour’ that kind of thing.
When I get back I’m going to ride from Bulgaria to the very bottom of Italy and back following the Nick Mason Saucer Full of Secrets tour and then as August is the time when everyone else travels I might sit in my cool shed and start work on Near Varna part 3.
But my bath time thoughts of riding the Pamir Highway wouldn’t go away, I mention to my girlfriend that I still want to ‘Do the ‘Stans’.
She said ‘Why don’t you do it for your 60th?’
‘No way, I’ll be too old then’ was my uncalculated reaction.
‘Well then you’d better do it this year or next.’ she replied.
‘Shittttt, thanks for that reality check.’
That’s next year accounted for then, ride the Pamir highway in 2025, have my 60th, write about that ride, then the fourth and final part of Near Varna in 2026 and then… well maybe then I’ll have time to do another newsletter.