Talk With Me

I’m very close to completing another milestone: sending the book off to the printers. This is a significant point in what I regard as the second stage of the Diagonal Walking project i.e. getting published. The first stage was the planning and execution, but that seems like a long time ago now, back when the sun was warm. Given the relentless momentum of the whole exercise, this naturally means my attention is now turning to the third stage: marketing. One important part of my marketing plans is giving talks and, through this blog, I’m keen to gauge the potential demand for my services as a public speaker.

 

Togetherness

From the outset of the project, I was always keen on involving others, something covered in an earlier blog. Part of this was the concept of ‘Talk With Me’, inviting people to involve me in talks and interviews. I had some success with this during the walk, including press and radio interviews, but I see this becoming much more important next year.

 

Targets

One of the greatest challenges facing the independent writer is attracting attention to their work. After all, there’s little point in going to all the trouble of writing if no one reads what you write. Equally, I have realistic expectations of how many books I expect to sell. I have set an initial target of 1,000 copies, a figure I have achieved before. Multiples of a thousand would constitute a bonus, but at the same time, not completely crazy. As I’m about to actually place an order for copies, something which involves real folding stuff, it would be good to gauge just how realistic these expectations are.

 

Talks

One of the ways I see of getting my message out is through talks. I’ve been struck by the success of talking tours given by travel-based TV stars such as Levinson Wood and Simon Reeve . Clearly, I appreciate I’m nowhere near their league, but the success of these tours does suggest an appetite amongst the public to listen to entertaining talks about travel.

I’m quite used to being public speaker, and it’s my intention to put together a presentation and questions package for audiences who want to hear about Diagonal Walking. These may be to groups such as WI meetings, Probus, U3A, Breakfast Clubs, or whatever. All I ask is the opportunity to sign and sell my books after a talk, and maybe a little something to cover travel.

Other opportunities may lie in literary or walking festivals. Equally, written interviews (for example Q&As) in either traditional media, radio or TV would be welcome.

 

Talk to Me

Are you looking for a speaker? Do you know of anyone who organises such events? Maybe you are such an organiser? Do you think you’d like to book me? What do you normally expect? Maybe you run a local magazine or website? A short Q&A on the project should be of particular interest to counties and places along the route*. Maybe something like this which I did for The Great Outdoors magazine. I hope the walk would be of interest to everyone though, given its wider ‘taking the temperature of the country’ angle, so I don’t want to be confined just to these.

What I’m looking for is an idea of when and where, and how many people you normally get to an event. The book will be out next May (at the current count), and I am fairly flexible on availability.

Get in touch if you want to talk, or think you can make an introduction. Use the box on the Connect page to give me some more details. Meanwhile, there’s much more information about the whole Diagonal Walking project on this website – please feel free to share it around.

*I walked through the following counties during the summer:

Merseyside
Cheshire
Staffordshire
Leicestershire
Warwickshire
Leicestershire
Northamptonshire
Bedfordshire
Hertfordshire
Kent

As well as the following London Boroughs:

Enfield
Waltham Forest
Redbridge
Barking and Dagenham
Havering

And the following Unitary Authorities:

Liverpool
Stoke
Milton Keynes
Luton

 

Meanwhile, keep walking – diagonally, of course!

If you would like to be kept up to date with future blogs from this site, why not use the RSS feed on the main menu. For more information, click here.

 

 

 

black comic novel

The Bond or Last Man Standing

Can’t wait for Diagonal Walking to come out? Why not get hold of a copy of Nick’s new novel The Bond or Last Man Standing while you’re waiting?

The Bond or Last Man Standing is a black comic murder mystery brandishing a report card for a generation. It’s for anyone who’s had to grow up (or thinks they have) over the last forty years.

They thought their school year was unique, and it was – just not how they imagined.

The Bond or Last Man Standing

On leaving school, the Class of ’77 instigate annual dinners to keep their perceived sense of uniqueness alive. After the shock death of their talisman they take things a step further – they create The Bond.

Regular subs paid into a pot will ensure that eventually, when there’s only one of them left, that person will have the means to keep their flame alive forever. Death may be inevitable, but for now, it can be sidestepped.

Except it can’t. A series of freak accidents starts chipping away at their number. They are all flawed, but one of them fatally so: there’s a murderer in their midst. Suddenly, becoming the last man standing becomes an awful yet realistic possibility; but for now, there’s the business of life to get on with, and a sense of denial is all too easy.

It takes the return of a lost sheep with fresh eyes to spot what’s happening … but has he arrived too late, and is he too feckless to prevent the final reckoning being planned for them all?

If you have a Kindle, you can download The Bond or Last Man Standing from Amazon for the measly sum of £2.99 by clicking here. If you’re a Prime member, you can even read it for free!

But why make Amazon even richer?, You can pre-order a signed paperback of the book (let me know if you want a customised dedication) for £9.99, incl. P&P to UK addresses (usual price £11.99) – by clicking the PayPal button below:




Any problems, get in touch.

100% Proof?

Another milestone for Diagonal Walking this week. After three weeks of slog, sorry, I mean finessing, I’ve incorporated the changes suggested by my editor. As such, I’ve been able to pass the book onto its next stage: proofing. Again, this is something I’ve sub-contracted to the professionals, and I expect the proofed version back within a couple of weeks. I know it’s been a while since my last blog, but hopefully this one will go some way to explaining why. So, in line with one of the larger aims of this project – to share the triumphs and travails of the writing process – it’s time to bring you up to date.

 

Letting Go

Re-reading that opening paragraph makes that process sound very logical and sequential. Scratch the surface though, and it’s anything but. As any writer will tell you, the hardest part of the process is probably letting go. Incorporating the edits has been a mix of correcting obvious errors on things like sentence construction, grammar, facts and spelling. So far, so mechanical. Then there have been the moments when I’ve read a sentence or paragraph and thought … ‘You know what?’, and the process of re-crafting has begun.This is the bit that slows you down. Judging the line between making the text better and over-complicating it is a fine one. If I think there’s a change is worth attempting, it’s a case of make it, read it, read it again, and test it against the original. Is it shorter? Pithier? Clearer? If not, revert to the original.

Then there’s the issue of when do you let go? It’s never really finished, is it? My solution to this problem was to set a deadline. I lined up the proofer beforehand. Getting a slot in his schedule meant not only a smooth transition between phases of the book, but also an incentive to finish, sign off and get my life back.

 

Timing and Proofing

As you’ve probably guessed, all this isn’t a fast process. I can safely say that wasn’t a single page of the original manuscript I sent to the editor that didn’t have some kind of change (necessary or optional) on it. The next time an interviewer asks me the question they always seem to ask: ‘How long did it take you to write the book?’, I may mention this.

I’ve probably spent around ten days making these changes. This is something it’s easy to underestimate. I fully expect to go through the whole thing again when the proofs come through, although hopefully these won’t be quite so fulsome. In between times, I have also created a map of the route for the book. The dilemma here was whether to go down the hand-drawn or digital route. I tried both, but in the end went for the latter. It looked crisper and more professional, as well as easier to read!

My next job is to set myself another deadline to replicate the transition next time I have to let the manuscript go. I fully expect it will be harder next time though. The version on that occasion will be the final one – the one I send to the publisher. Blimey!

 

Publishing

My last blog spoke of how I still had one more traditional publisher interested in the book, and how she needed a ‘few weeks’ before she came back to me. To be fair, she came back in a couple of weeks. The opening sentence of her email was encouraging (I quote) ‘there is so much to admire about the project and the writing.’ But, in the end, she was still worried about sales.

I wasn’t too disappointed. Sure, part of me would have relished the affirmation of a professional publisher, but the longer the process of securing one went on, the more I became convinced it wasn’t the route for this project.

My main reason for this is timing. As I’ve mentioned before, I need this book to come out while it’s still relevant, and ideally I think this is probably around the time we exit the EU i.e. the end of March 2019. Assuming we do of course. The events of recent days have highlighted once again, the importance of staying relevant. One of the selling points of the book is going to be a view on where we were during the crazy summer before. This isn’t going to be very interesting if publication is delayed until 2020, which would have been the case if I’d gone down the traditional publisher route. Self publishing it is then.

 

Selecting a Publisher

My next job then is to select a publisher. This is what will give me the next deadline. The self publishing option gives me control, now is the time to exercise it. I’ve done it before and know where to go, so while the book is away at the proofer I’m going to get some quotes and, hopefully, make a choice. The power, the power. I feel I’ve given the traditional publishing route my best shot, but ultimately I’m back to where my initial instincts were taking me.

Self publishing has come on leaps and bounds in recent years. ‘Package’ suppliers offer not just printing but also marketing and distribution amongst other services. For example, getting a book on Amazon. Most operate a pick and mix system, so it’s a case of selecting the best deal.

Ultimately, time will tell if I get this right. But then again, there’s no 100% proof that any option is the best.

 

Wish me luck, and stay tuned for further updates. Meanwhile, don’t forget you can download my latest novel for Kindle off Amazon for only 99p – for a limited period only.

 

Meanwhile, keep walking – diagonally, of course!

 

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walking

Parallel Paths

In my last blog I talked about the Diagonal Walking project moving onto a fresh phase: getting published. This is now well underway and on schedule (for schedule there is). It’s fun but terribly time consuming. It might come as some surprise therefore, to learn that Diagonal Walking isn’t the only book I have on the go. I also have a novel ready and this has been in the background, a few steps ahead, all summer. Lessons learned from bringing that book to life have helped in the planning for this one. As such, I thought it would be interesting to compare the two processes. Also, I have a proposition for you …. but more on that later.

 

Chip, Chip, Chipping Away

It’s now nearly three weeks since my last blog. At that time, I’d finished a first draft of the book. Since then, it’s been a case of chip, chip, chipping away, refining, revising and generally tinkering with the manuscript. Part of this has been about tightening the narrative. This meant being ruthless with discarding bits of it that I like, but aren’t really quite working. Another part is about ‘voice’: getting a consistency through the text, after all it was written in stages.

 

Timing

In all, I’ve now gone through the text three times and it’s time to show it to someone else. This is an emotional moment. Up until now, the manuscript has been my ‘baby’, now I have to show it to someone else and get their reaction. I’ve been here before, as I describe below, but it’s never easy. The Brexit angle to the book also makes it difficult to state categorically that its finished. This is a moving target, with fresh developments almost daily. As such, it’s tempting to stay with the story to see how it pans out. The recent party conferences and the planned big Peoples Vote March serve to reinforce this, but my book has to be a record of the summer, not the summer, autumn and winter, otherwise it would never get finished.

 

Editing and Proofing

That someone else is an editor. Their job is to go through the text and highlight areas where it is and isn’t working, where it may be confusing or inconsistent, and to pick up on mistakes in syntax, sentence structure and spelling. As I mentioned last time around, I identified a couple of potential candidates from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. One quoted me on a straight day rate, the other offered to edit a chapter to show what he could do and to give him an idea of how much work was involved. This was good marketing, as I have now commissioned him and sent him the complete manuscript. Once I have implemented any suggested changes here, ideally by the end of the month, the book then needs to be proofed, which is the real fine toothcomb stuff, and will probably cost much the same (around £500).

 

Publishers

The saga of securing a publisher continues. There are two runners and riders left in this field. One I have worked for before and, following encouraging noises, I am still waiting to hear back from. The other I chased, and she came back saying she liked the idea and style and been, in her words, prevaricating on whether to offer a contract. In the end, she said no, mainly because she was concerned she couldn’t achieve the necessary sales. I didn’t take no for an answer however and went back to open a discussion about what a good level of sales might be. To cut a long story short, she has now agreed to look at the full manuscript, but it’ll take her a ‘few weeks’ before she can come back to me. Frustrating. There’s progress, but boy, is it slow.

 

A Parallel Project

Dark comedy

Which brings me onto my other project, the novel. You see, I’ve been here before, and know what it’s like. The novel is called The Bond, or Last Man Standing. It’s a coming of age tale for a generation, but I also describe it as a black comic murder mystery. I’ve been writing this for a while now, but set myself the target of getting it finished before I started to walk diagonally, using that time for it to go through the publishing mill.

Here, I went through the same process of using a freelance editor and proofer (the same people), although in this case, the book went through three stages: the copy edit and proof, plus a development edit. This came first and was more about plot and characters. As there isn’t really any of this in Diagonal Walking I’ve decided against one of these here.

 

An Agent Mr Bond?

The Bond or Last Man Standing was less time sensitive, so I decided to try to see if I could get a traditional publisher interested. The only viable way of doing that these days is to get an agent. These are listed in the Writers and Artists Yearbook, and I dutifully sent the book away to a selection of these, topping up with a fresh approach every time I got a rejection.

None of them seemed to be taking the bait, so in the end I decided to opt for self-publishing on this one. There was some good learning here. Firstly, I think the novel was too hard to define, it didn’t have a strong ‘sound bite’. Also, it wasn’t part of a series. This is definitely the fad now, ideally a detective with a troubled back story. Yes, I know. I suppose the agent and/or publisher wants to know you represent an income stream into the future, rather than a one-off. Also, the book was probably a bit too long, at 137,000 words (Diagonal Walking is around 97,000). That represents at least 400 pages – too many for a first timer it seems.

 

Making It Happen

Having made the decision to go it alone, there were a number of things to be done and decided. The first was how ‘large’ I wanted to go. Here, I decided to release the book as an e-book, using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform in the first instance. This also has the facility for printing one-off (or more!) copies on a print on demand basis. My plan is to use this for a handful of copies in order to test the price, quality and to produce some review copies. If the price and quality if okay, then fine, I’ll make paperbacks available on Amazon that way. If not, I’ll get them done externally, probably using these guys who offer a range of services to the self-publisher. Their prices seem fairly reasonable too – around £3.60 a copy if I print 100, or £2.91 each for a run of 250).

 

Bits and Pieces

Before then though, there’s some other things. First, a cover. I scouted the internet and ended up using these guys. I was pleased with their creativity, willingness to keep tinkering with the design (they say they offer three revisions, but I ended up doing a bit more, although they were relatively minor) and price – around £260. This included a front cover, a 3D version, social media banners and a full front, spine and back version.

The book also needed an International Standard Book Number (ISBN). This is the unique thirteen-digit number ascribed to your work. You don’t technically need one of these for an e-book (or Amazon can assign you one), but you do for a printed book. You can buy these in singles or in bulk, but I ended up buying one from these guys, for around £50.

The book also needed a ‘blurb’ – the description on its Amazon page and on the back of the book which encourages people to buy. Finally, all these come together. I used Amazon’s Kindle Create to format the book. This is a fairly easy to use system, once you get the hang of it. Taken together, this is enough to get the book live, which is what I wanted. Once the book is physically published, there are other things that have to be done, such as registering on the Nielsen database, which makes it easier for book stores to locate the book, and sending off Legal Deposit copies, but this is for the future.

 

The Offer

The Bond or Last Man Standing is now live on Amazon, and I am looking this as a sort of Beta version. I’m not actively marketing it at the moment, but what I am doing is making it available – for a limited time period – to followers for the minimum I can, a mere 99p. All I ask is you buy it (less than half the price of a latte), read it, and if you like it, review and rate it. Also, if you spot any errors, let me know through this email: nick@nickcorble.co.uk – not on the review, and I will make the changes. One of the big advantages of Amazon’s system is it’s possible to refresh the version on their system.

 

So what’s stopping you? You get a great book for 99p, and I get some momentum!

Now, back to Diagonal Walking ….

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lost hat

Not Walking, But Writing

I’ve just spent a couple of hours working on the website, focusing mainly on tenses. Every ‘I plan to…’ or ‘I will be …’ has now become a ‘I have.’ This wasn’t too bad (I’ve become something of a content wizard – I wish!), but it was poignant. As I reported in my last blog, the walk is now well and truly complete. The challenge now is to turn that intangible ‘asset’ into something real. To get writing. In other words, the whole Diagonal Walking project has moved onto a fresh stage. I haven’t hung up my cap, it’s just resting!

 

Stay tuned for the journey, it’s likely to have as many ups and downs as the walk itself!

 

So, Head Down and Writing Now Is It?

Sort of, but it’s more complicated than that. As it happens, I already have a first draft of the book. As regular readers of this blog will know, I’ve taken extensive notes along the way, and have devoted time in between legs of the walk to writing them up. This, along with the planning, research, booking of accommodation and actual walking, has pretty much dominated my summer. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been worth it, in spades; just that it’s been all-encompassing. Especially when other life stuff gets in the way, but you don’t want to know about that.

 

After the completion of the walk, I put a real shift in before a short break away and this brought me to the completed first draft. This included the tricky bit of writing a conclusion. One of the purposes of the walk was to take the temperature of the country as it stood on the brink of Brexit, and as such it was incumbent upon me to come up with some conclusions. I’d made notes on this as well, and as it happened, writing the conclusion flowed quite well. However, while the rest of the book almost writes itself, this bit is more subjective. The temptation to go back time and time again and tweak it is irresistible.

 

Discipline and Deadlines

The solution lies in deadlines. I like to think I’m fairly disciplined in my writing, well in most things actually, otherwise I doubt the project would have got so far, so fast. That said, there’s nothing quite like a deadline to focus the mind. So, I’ve created an artificial one.

 

Past experience has taught me the benefits of having an external pair of eyes cast over my work. No matter how much you go over a passage or proof a page, your mind plays tricks on you. You see what you think should be there, not what is there. An external perspective is essential. As it happens, there’s no shortage of people with editing and proofing skills. A shakeup in the publishing industry means many of these work as freelancers, and there’s a useful directory of them through their trade body, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders .

 

Understandably, these need to be booked ahead. So, I’ve been searching for likely candidates and am on the brink of appointing one. I have another break coming up in October (I know, I know, but it’s my birthday), so I’m trying to line them up to work on the book while I’m away, which means it has to be ready before I go.

 

This will mean some more long shifts, but that’s how things get done. Plus, I’m really driving the momentum on this project, as it really has to be out as soon as possible next year in order to remain relevant to the Brexit angle.

 

Publishing Options

In my blog The Sense of an Ending published back in July, I was very much of a mindset to go down the self-publishing route. My thinking at that time was that the traditional publishing industry just takes too long to get stuff done (you’ll have gathered I not a patient man). In a subsequent blog, The End of the Beginning I reassessed this thinking and approached some publishers. Four in fact, all smallish players who are likely to be more fleet of foot, two of whom I’d worked with before, two I hadn’t. Two (one of each) have come back saying no, one seems keen and another I’m about to chase. I still haven’t ruled out the self-publishing option as it allows me to retain more control, but it does require a cash injection. Hopefully, I’ll have made a decision by the time of my next blog.

 

A Fresh Direction

No, not north east to south west (although, never say never), but a fresh direction for the project. As this blog attests, the focus now is on sharing the publishing and promotion story, rather than the actual walk. I will continue to post on the various social media from the walk, but Diagonal Walking now moves into a different phase.

 

On the social media front. Twitter continues to creep upwards, and I’ve had some success boosting my Facebook followers, mainly by sponsoring a post boost. This cost £10 and got me and extra 20 followers, but over 1,000 engagements, whatever they are. Worth it? You judge. Instagram is still the hit, with followers now in excess of 1,100, which I’m pleased with.

 

I’ll leave it there for now, more to come shortly.

 

So stay tuned and keep diagonal!

 

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Last Steps and Next Steps of the Walk

I left you hanging a bit at the end of my last blog, written all of three weeks ago. A lot’s happened since then, not least the fact that I’ve taken my last steps of the walk. There’s more on the last two days of the walk on the podcast or why not watch my video ‘A Million Steps Later’, available on YouTube here?

 

So, The Walk Is Over?

Yes. I’ve managed to complete my own personal coast to coast walk through the very centre of England. It’s taken me 39 days walking, covering around 410 miles and 930,000 steps. Not quite the million, but impressive all the same, even if I say so myself. Confession time. I posted on social media that I’d done over a million steps, but I did some double counting. Ouch! It’ll be right in the book. Still, when you add in all the wandering around I think it’s okay to talk of a million step challenge, its a good hook. To answer the question I’m asked most frequently, I did not do it for charity. I did it for myself – to prove that it was possible to follow a randomly drawn line following just footpaths and rights of way, and to give myself a challenge.

 

Royal Military Canal

Old pillbox on the Royal Military Canal

The last two days saw me through the flatlands of Romney Marsh, along part of the Royal Military Canal and down to the coast. The scenery may have been predictable, but there were still challenges. Not least of these was negotiating the ‘sewers’, as they call the drainage ditches in these parts. I also bumped into a lot of people. It seems the locals have a penchant for wandering around marshes. Could explain a lot. The weather was okay, sunny even on the last day, which was great. I stayed with my wife Annette in a bed and breakfast for a couple of days, with Annette ferrying me to and from my start and end points. This is the second time we’ve had to do this, largely due to a paucity of conveniently located B&Bs, or even Airbnbs. Still, it wasn’t exactly a hardship.

 

Wasn’t There Something To Do With Brexit?

 

Union Jack

We’ll always have the flag

Again, yes. Part of the purpose of the walk was to see if I could reconnect with the English, to see if I could find out why they were so disenchanted and were blaming it all on the poor old EU. Did I come up with an answer I hear you ask? Well, partially, yes. I’m still processing my thoughts, but I think it’s fair to say that I have come to some kind of, well, reconciliation with things as they are. That’s not to say I’m happy about where we are as a country, In fact I’d go so far to say the opposite – but I never said the purpose of the walk was to make me happy. Not on that level anyway.

On another level though, it has delivered joy. Joy in finding new things, in meeting interesting people, in finding out more about my country. It’s been a truly worthwhile exercise. My advice is, if you have a project and have the means to carry it out, stop finding reasons to not do it.

Anyway, back to Brexit. As I say, I’m currently ordering my thoughts, and you’ll have to wait until the book comes out to find out what they are. That said, I may just drop a few hints here in later blogs. I’m not quite sure how these blogs will develop, but develop they will, trust me.

 

How’s The Writing Going?

 

Brilliantly thanks. I have recently written the last sentence of the first draft, excluding that all important concluding chapter with, well, my conclusions. So far, with notes for the concluding chapter, I’m on 86,000 words, so I reckon I’m on target for the 90,000 target. It depends how brutal or effusive I get in the re-drafts.

One thing I have discovered however, is that unlike writing a novel, there’s less room for amendments. What I’ve written so far has been driven by what happened on the walk, not a made up plot. As such, there’s little room for embellishment (well, not too much anyway) – it is what it is. I hope and expect that the next phase of the writing won’t involve too much re-drafting, editing and proofing, focussing more on trying to keep ‘the voice’ consistent.

 

Publishers?

As I mentioned in the last blog, I spotted a similar book to mine issued by a publisher I’ve worked with before, and I subsequently approached them. There seems to be interest, but as with anything in the publishing world, the wheels turn slowly. We’ll see. In the meantime, I approached another publisher I’ve worked with before, but they turned me down fairly quickly. It was a long shot, they mainly publish walking routes, but I thought it might be a good venture for them. Ah well, they probably know their business better than I do. In the meantime, I also have approaches out to two other medium sized publishers, so we’ll see what comes of all these. The self-publish option remains as a very credible back up (it’s quicker and could yield greater income, but requires an up-front investment).

 

How’s The ‘Whole Walk With Me’ Thing?

Boots

These boots were made for walking

 ‘Walk With Me’ was seen as a way of building a following behind Diagonal Walking, and I think my conclusion is that it’s had some successes, but not quite taken off in the way I’d dreamed. Instagram has been one area of success. In my last blog I highlighted that I was tantalisingly close to reaching 1,000 followers. Well, I’m now into 1,100 plus, and I’m pleased with that. Twitter remains sluggish, whilst Facebook has experienced a recent uptick. The videos get a handful of views (I see these more as a resource for later use, to ‘hook in’ those late to the party), and the podcasts remain steady. I get comments from strangers that they’ve enjoyed the podcasts, so from that extent they’ve succeeded.

‘Walk With Me’ also included getting people to walk alongside me actually on the walk. In the end, just over a dozen did, some of whom where friends and family, others not (obvs). I feel I could have done more to build this side of things, but I got caught up in all the planning and actual walking, driven by the need to get the walk completed and the book written. This drive was provided impetus to get the book out next year while it was still fresh. On balance, I am happy with this compromise. More followers would have been nice, but keeping the book relevant was essential.

 

Next Steps?

I see the completion of the walk as the end of one phase of the project and the beginning of the next. The challenge now is to get the wordage into a readable shape and get them published. Then, there will be the challenge of getting the word out there and promoting the book. There’s still a fair way to go yet.

So stay tuned and keep diagonal!

 

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A Million Steps Later

I’ve added a new video to YouTube detailing the last day of the walk and a few reflections from the whole experience. It’s called ‘A Million Steps Later’ and can be viewed here:

FFS – Five Fantastic Stories about … Maidstone

Maidstone is Kent’s county town, so you’d think it would get some attention, but somehow it seems to slip under the radar. Google Maidstone and you’re more likely to get directed towards generic Kent websites and information about things round Maidstone than anything about the town itself. Attractions nearby include Leeds Castle (yes, Leeds), the picturesque countryside or its position in the heart of the ‘Garden of England’.

But is there anything to be said for the town itself? Ultimately, is it worth a visit? Well, here’s Five Fantastic Stories that may lure you in.

 

Maidstone, Maidstone or Maidstone Sir?

Maidstone East Station

Maidstone has got three railway stations. Greedy? Well, when the railways came to this part of the world, the locals weren’t too keen on noisy, smoky trains. It was felt that they would destroy the nice little business they had using the River Medway for the transport of goods. The first main line linking London to Dover went via Ashford, with a branch line to Maidstone. That was in the 1840s. Then, in 1905, the Headcorn and Maidstone Junction Light Railway linked the town to the Kent and Sussex Railway. These days, the town has Maidstone East (which is in fact the more northerly), on the secondary line from London to Ashford, and Maidstone West, on the Medway Valley Line. It also has Maidstone Barracks, also on the Medway Valley Line.

 

Muggles!

Muggleton

The Muggleton Inn

No, not Harry Potter, but Charles Dickens. Dickens was famously based in Kent and used to enjoy his strolls around the county. He also used his observations in his books, and Maidstone is referred to in Pickwick Papers as ‘Muggleton’, and its inhabitants as ‘Muggletons’. These days, there’s a pub in the centre of the town called ‘The Muggleton Inn’ – a JD Wetherspoons actually.

This building was in fact built in 1827 as the new offices of the Kent Fire Insurance Company. They used to store their horse-drawn fire engine around the back of the building. The Royal Insurance Company took the building over in 1901 and stayed there for 90 years. Without burning down.

 

Hazlitt?

William Hazlitt

The Hazlitt Theatre on Earl Street

No, not the stuff I always had in my sandwiches at school , a sort of meatloaf, but the writer and philosopher, William Hazlitt. A son of a Unitarian minister, Hazlitt was born in Maidstone, and there’s a plaque to commemorate the fact.

Eassyist and Critic

This states Hazlitt was an ‘Essayist and Critic’, which is doing him down somewhat. He was in fact something of a polymath. A writer, a drama and literary critic, a painter, social commentator and philosopher no less. In fact, some felt he was the finest art critic of his age. Not bad for a lad from Maidstone. One of his many quotes was ‘The more we do, the more we can do’, although given the times we live in, that could be taken either way.

 

A Fine CV

A Fine CV indeed

While we’re on famous sons of Maidstone, I give you Andrew Broughton. He also has a plaque in the town (it’s on the front of the Ask restaurant in Earl Street), and it carries one of the finest CVs I’ve ever seen. Brief, and to the point, it states Broughton was ‘Mayor and Regicide’.

He was indeed Mayor of Maidstone, in 1648. Two months after being appointed, he became Clerk of the Court at the High Court of Justice. It wasn’t great timing, as Clerk of the Court, it was his duty to read out the charge against King Charles I of England at his trial. He also had to ask the King how he pleaded and, at the end of the trial, declare the court’s sentence of death. That must have been a brown trouser moment.

At the Restoration, he was exempted from the general pardon under the Indemnity and Oblivion Act, so understandably he legged it. To Switzerland, where he spent the final 25 years of his life in exile.

 

From Brewing to Shopping

Fremlin Walk

Maidstone boasts a lovely new shopping centre called the Fremlin Walk. Its development is the perfect example of the way the town’s local economy has transitioned from making things to selling them. The centre is named after the town’s brewery, Fremlins, which brewed beer in the town until 1972. Fremlins was famous for focusing on bottled beer rather than supplying the licensed trade and was known for its elephant logo. Once the largest brewer in Kent, Fremlins was taken over in 1967 by Whitbread.

The old entrance into the brewery

Fremlin Walk is one of the most successful shopping centres in the south east apparently, with particularly high yields. It was very busy when I went there, and that was on a Sunday. That said, Sunday seems to be when most people do their shopping these days as far as I can see.

 

There will be more on how I experienced Maidstone in my book. Register your interest here.

 

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The End of the Beginning?

I’m feeling a bit guilty. It’s been a while since I posted an update on progress, but there is a good reason for that. I’ve been walking! Planning, walking, writing, marketing, reaching out to publishers. Reaching out to publishers? Didn’t I say in my last progress blog that I was minded to go down the self-publishing route? Well … yes, but I’ve been having a bit of a re-think. More of that later.  First, a bit on the wheres and wherefores …

 

How’s The Walking Going?

walking

It never rains but …

 

It’s going very well thanks. The weather has been a bit of an issue, with temperatures reaching into the thirties during the fourth stage of the walk. Still, it’s better than rain. The heatwave seemed to disappear between the fourth and fifth stages. It felt like we were back to a normal English summer. This meant, of course, I got to experience what it felt like to be a drowned rat while walking.

WGC

The Centre of Welwyn Garden City

 

The fourth leg saw me walking from Newport Pagnell, through Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire and into Epping Forest and the north-east London boroughs. Along the way, I walked along the River Lea for a fair bit – more on that here.

I also got to visit another new town and compare it with Milton Keynes. I’m talking about Welwyn Garden City, which is coming up to its centenary. As such, it probably doesn’t really qualify as a new town anymore. Anyway, more on Welwyn here.

Highams Park Lake

 

I also had the pleasure of being invited to look around a community project at Highams Park in Epping Forest. Here I met Gordon and Martin, and I recorded a podcast with the latter, which can be found here. Finally, I drifted into London, which was quite a different experience. There will be more on this, and how I nearly got mugged, in the book. In the meantime, here’s a picture of a tuk-tuk to illustrate the diversity I found there:

Yes, a tuk-tuk, parked up on a London drive.

 

Walking Through Kent

The fifth and final stage has been broken into two parts, and it’s the first of these I’ve just come back from. This stage involved crossing the Thames. As it happens, my diagonal line goes right through the Dartford Crossing. Alas, no pedestrians are allowed on the bridge, so I needed to have a think. Luckily, there’s a bus which runs from the Lakeside Shopping Complex to the north of the bridge to the Bluewater one on the south. Why anyone would want to use this route is beyond me – comparison shopping? Anyway, it suited my purposes, and for the princely sum of £3 I found deposited myself in Kent: my final county. I think I was unusual in wanting to get off in between the two shopping centres. The driver was asking me the way!

The weather on this leg was more suited to April than August – sunshine and showers. Still, I got to stay in places with wonderful names such as Bean and Snodland. I even went to Bluewater, because it was the nearest place to eat. The pub in Bean doesn’t do food on a Friday night. Why would it? Madness. I was there the day that it was announced that House of Fraser, one of the centre’s three anchor stores, was being taken over by Sports Direct. This gives me the chance to use the following picture to ask whether storm clouds are gathering over the retail trade:

Are the storms gathering over the retail business?

 

I was also joined on this leg for two days by my sister Sue. This is the first time I’ve had a diagonal walker with me for two consecutive days. We had a good catch up, and it was interesting to sees things (and places) through someone else’s eyes. My brother in law Tim was kind enough to ferry us around, as there was a dearth of places to stay when walking in the Weald of Kent, certainly on my route anyway. Anyway, you’ll have to wait for the book to find out what we saw and thought, and some of the encounters we had with people, and, in particular, with sheep. And fruit. A lot of fruit.

walking

Sister Susie holding shirt (not shoulders)

 

Publishing Rethink

 

Talking about the book, writing the last blog was cathartic, but it got me thinking. A mantra I’ve always followed in life is if you don’t ask, you don’t get. As a result, before setting off on this latest leg, I put together a pitch and synopsis and sent these to medium sized publishers who publish this sort of thing. I have avoided the big boys for the reasons stated in my earlier blog i.e. I’m not established enough. Plus, the book isn’t finished, although I have been writing it as I go.

At the same time, I’ve been looking at digital publishers for a novel, which is finished and ready to go. These are a newish kid on the block, specialising in e-publishing, with a sideline in physical books. These might offer a decent backstop position, or a comparator to the self-publishing option.

Finally, I’ve decided to approach publishers I’ve worked with before. You may wonder why I haven’t done this already, and it’s a good question. The main reason was because my other books have tended to be more of a niche interest and I didn’t think they’d be interested. But, as I say, don’t ask, don’t get. Plus, as luck would have it, I noticed a book on similar lines by one of my previous publishers on sale in a shop in a tiny village in Kent during the walk.

Karma.

 

The Numbers

Finally, an update on numbers. I’m now tantalisingly close to the four figure mark on Instagram followers. Also, I counted up the number of ‘likes’ my pictures have had for the publisher pitch. Over 16,000. Not bad.

Tantalisingly close to 1,000!

 

The Twitter numbers are creeping upwards, as are the Facebook followers, although for some reason the podcast downloads have stalled. In terms of miles and steps, I’m now on 821,000 steps and 380 miles. As such, I’m unlikely to break the million steps, in fact I definitely won’t unless I get hopelessly lost during the past two days.

SEO walking

Writing, writing

 

In terms of word count on the book, I’m now up to 70,000, aiming for somewhere in the region of 85-90,000 for the whole thing, which is a manageable number. I’ve been making a lot of notes for the conclusion, which are included in that 70,000, and indeed, a conclusion is beginning to form – but again, sorry, you’ll have to wait for that!

I might be nearly the end of the walk, but as a certain wartime leader might have said, this isn’t the beginning of the end, merely the end of the beginning. I will continue to post updates on the actual process of writing and publishing the book. As these last two blogs have shown, this can be an up and down business mentally, and I will be sharing the journey here.

So keep following, and stay diagonal!

 

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FFS – Five Fantastic Stories about … The River Lea

The River Lea is sometimes called London’s ‘Second River’, which is odd, seeing as it starts in Leagrave, just north of Luton in Bedfordshire. Even that is disputed though. There’s a drain nearby which is often taken for the source, but it isn’t, it’s a rainwater runoff. However, the fact that the trickle that starts from the bog is soon joined by a stream originating in Houghton Regis, two miles away, might give the latter a stronger claim to be the true source.

 

So Good They Named It Twice

 

The River Lee near Enfield Lock

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the river though, is its name. It is the Lea or the Lee – or even the Lee Navigation? The answer is, it’s all three, at different times. It’s generally agreed that the natural river is called the Lea, while the manmade channel is the Lee. It becomes the Lee navigation where it is suitable for boats. Generally, this is taken as after it reaches Hertford.

Limehouse Basin, where the Lea finds the Thames

The modern Navigation resulted from a 1766 Act of Parliament which authorised ‘canalisation’ of sections of the river. In other words, adding locks and new sections such as the Limehouse Cut. Further improvements followed with the Lea Conservancy Act of 1868, along with further improvements in the 1920s and ‘30s, often for flood relief. All this said though, the first Parliamentary action to improve the river for navigation stretches back to 1425. On top of that, the Vikings also plied their pillaging along the river, so it has a long history.

 

Britain’s First Regional Park

The Lea Valley Walk is well signposted

The Lea Valley Regional Park was Britain’s first regional park. It stretches for 26 miles from Ware in Hertfordshire to the East India Dock Basin of the River Thames. It includes a diverse mix of green spaces, heritage, nature reserves and, of course, water. It was established by Act of Parliament as recently as 1967 and was the brainchild of Sir Patrick Abercrombie, who set it out in his Greater London Plan of 1944.

 

Brocket Hall

Brocket Hall in Herts – now a golf course.

There’s a public footpath alongside the Lea that takes you through the grounds of Brocket Hall. If you think you’ve heard the name before it might be because it’s been the home of two Prime Ministers. These were the Lords Palmerston and Queen Victoria’s favourite, Melbourne. On the other hand it might be because of the antics of the current Lord Brocket. He rose to notoriety when he pretended some of his collection of Ferraris had been stolen (when they hadn’t). After paying his dues to society he went on to do rather well in the ITV series ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’. These days, the hall is a hotel and the grounds are a golf course.

 

Thirty Billion Litres

Flood Relief Channel near the King George Reservoir

Two huge reservoirs, the King George V and the William Girling, occupy three miles of the Lea Valley Walk. Together, they account for thirty billion litres of water, and are known collectively as the Chingford Reservoirs. That’s a lot of water. They were inaugurated in 1913 and 1951 respectively and are separated by the A110 trunk road and are both Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

 

And Beyond

The Olympic Stadium – now home to ‘The Hammers’

There was an oft-repeated line in the excellent BBC Comedy 2012 about preparations for London’s Olympics where one of the characters, played by …., would justify an initiative on the grounds that it would benefit the ‘whole of the Upper Lea Valley and beyond’. There can be little doubt that the Olympics did benefit the river, and it flows just beneath the main Olympic Stadium in Queen Elizabeth Park.

 

There will be more on how I experienced sections of the River Lea (or should that be Lee?) in my book. Register your interest here.

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