Strange times, etc.
I am trying not to be censorious. I am keeping my bike rides to just about an hour, within the time frame of what I view as ‘appropriate exercise’. I’m not too judgemental of others doing more, unless they stray into ‘taking the living piss’ territory and do a 310km tour of Norfolk, then I hoik my judging pants right up tight. I’m bit cagey about long rides, anything nudging above 50+ i tend to feel is a bit inconsiderate, but only because i think that whilst people would go for a walk, but they wouldn’t go for a 5 hour walk, because that is taking the piss, therefore we should probably recognise that there is a limit to this joyous thing we do in the circumstances. a bit of self-sacrifice goes a very long way.
Just to complicate things, people see what they want to see; I note chief nurse Ruth May was banging on about seeing cyclists in London, i suspect it was people trying to exercise or get to work, stuck at the lights. I’ve been out quite a lot and seen fuck all, people riding solo, the odd sunbather, families trying to maintain sanity whilst having no garden, people going to essential work or the shops.
So it goes. Anyway, wasn’t what I wanted to post about, it was this:
I finished the first draft of my manuscript about the End to End. It looks at some of the people over the years, from 1880 to the present day, who have succeeded in breaking the Land’s End to John o’ Groats record. This bit is part historical research (for the dead people) and part interview (for the living ones). I have gone for the stories I found the most compelling and not done a massive overview of everything.
There is a much bigger ‘in-between’ bit than I’ve had in previous books. I undertake the journey, not at record pace, but on most of the same roads and with some fairly big days in the saddle (210 miles from Land’s End to Bristol in 16 hours being one). I write about this in full and quite a personal way, reflecting on the nature of the journey and various other things which I was thinking and feeling at the time, some not linked to the journey or the record overtly, but in other ways that are more surprising – to me at least. I think the two narratives become symbiotic by the end.
I think if you imagine some of the writing about hill climbs, the dark and funny stuff about places (I think those bits are dark and funny) and then add in the bits at the end of the Alf book about time, people, happiness and meaning, then I think you’ll see these elements are bigger in this new book.
It is a lot more personal than previous books, which is something I was nervous about. I put a lot of me, my anxieties, thought processes and so on, into the narrative. I had more faith in my role as narrator, but there are some residual anxieties about what this means; it’s a thin line between writing about yourself and your experiences and being a narcissistic fuckwit. I think I manage, mostly, to stay on the right side of it. I really enjoyed writing about the different people I met, Eileen Sheridan, Andy Wilkinson, Janet Tebbutt, Mick Coupe, Michael Broadwith, Helen Simpson and many others. Their stories reduced me to tears of elation and melancholy.
I sent the manuscript in on deadline, which was a minor miracle, and it’s been read and annotated and is now back with me. There are a few suggestions, things to tweak, expand, narrow. There are a couple more steps to the process, it goes back and forth a bit, then has all the formal proof checks, there are some front cover decisions to take, all of that has to happen. I’m new to it many ways, having been published by Mousehold before, a brilliant independent publisher – basically Adrian Bell who specialises in cycling books. There are some gems on their roster; beautiful books, lyrical and true. Read ‘Tomorrow We Ride’ if nothing else. Or the Alf book, obvs.
The feedback from the chap at the publishers has been really positive. The editor likes it. I’m excited about the process and I’m at the point where I want people to read and enjoy it. Right now, I’m fairly sure it’s all going to happen and not some bizarre trick of the imagination. It’s quite hard to explain. I think the easiest way is to say; ‘remember when you were 16 and in band and you thought you might get signed by Alan McGee but it didn’t happen’. it’s like that, but I actually got signed by Alan McGee, or in this case, Little Brown. Nothing may come of it but that is ok. I’ll be like Arnold or Cosmic Rough Riders or any of a thousand other late 90s indie landfill bands.
I think I might do a post that explores the entire process from start to finish, i.e the idea, getting it moving, getting it published, writing it, pitfalls, the lot. I’m interested in demystifying it a bit, trying to explain how the process of writing and publication happens. It’s easy to see as some big masterstroke when it’s nothing of the sort, however, there is a logic to it. What I do know is I wanted to write, so wrote, and wrote some more, and took some chances, then some people took chances with the chances I had taken. But that’s not very helpful, so I will try and do a helpful blog.