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!

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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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multiple footpath signs

In Praise of Pathwatch

This blog is to draw your attention to the Pathwatch initiative from The Ramblers. Those of you who’ve been following my progress will know I’ve had a spot of bother or two with footpaths. Specifically, step forward Staffordshire and take a bow, but mind that electric fence. Ouch! Too late.

I blogged about this and also put a video up on YouTube which this garnered quite a lot of interest. Not least, I managed to get the walking magazine The Great Outdoors to write a piece about it. One of the suggestions that came out of this was that I should download the Ramblers app Pathwatch, and it’s been a lifesaver.

Pathwatch is part of a wider initiative from the Ramblers to get all the rights of way in England and Wales well maintained by 2020. Quite a lofty ambition, but surely a worthwhile one at a time when we’re all being encouraged to exercise more?

So, I’m here to praise Pathwatch, and to tell you why it’s worth getting. Just so you know, this is an entirely independent review, no one’s paying me. I just love it and want to share it.

Know Where You Are

The app is super easy to use and one of its best features is the knowledge that you never need be lost again when out on a walk. It starts with this three option screen. The three choices are whether to download some maps. This is useful if you think you may have dodgy signal. These don’t need to be where you are at that moment, you just search from this home screen:

Home Screen

The second, and to my mind most useful, option is to locate yourself, using this handy button.

Locate me!

Not only does this tell you where you are, it also overlays your position on a map of public footpaths! So, if you think you have gone wrong, you can check, like this:

Whoops! Field edge, but not the path.

Equally, I find it useful to reassure myself that I’ve taken the right path, like this:

On track again. Phew!

 

Report Naughty Landowners

One of the biggest issues I had with my walking in Staffordshire was unmaintained footpaths. Okay, it isn’t just Staffordshire, but they have it bad. Well, one thing this app lets you do is report bad practice. Not only report it, but send a picture, if it’s something bad like this:

rotton stile

Electric fence barring a stile

Or just let the Ramblers know, so they can see if they can do anything about it. The reporting procedure lets you record positive and negative experiences.

So far I’ve only used the negative option! This takes you through two stages. First, what the nature of the problem is/was.

Then, some more detail. This is the screen under ‘Obstructions’ for example.

But, Isn’t It cheating?

Yes, that was my initial reaction. I set out on this walk not wanting to use any electronic gizmos unless in extremis. I wanted to be a heroic map-only kind of a person. The problem is, in extremis is what I experienced. So, I say: embrace the technology! As such, I offer this sort of mini-review up for nothing. Think of it as a little gift from Diagonal Walking.

 

There’ll be more on how I managed to find my way around the country in the book. Register your interest here.

 

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multiple footpath signs

Playing Hunt the Footpath

There are nearly 3,000 miles of footpaths in Staffordshire, but those East Staffs are in a terrible state. That, at least, was the finding of this writer. I spent four days walking through the footpaths of this part of the county and found a story of what seemed almost wilful neglect. It seems footpaths and their maintenance, have become the walkers’ equivalent of motorists’ potholes.

 

Ignoring the Footpath

 

Issues faced along this stretch of the Diagonal Walk included footpaths being ignored, hidden and obstructed. Crops were regularly planted in the path of the public right of way, making access impossible. They were also planted right up to the edge of fields, making it very difficult to negotiate boundaries. In these cases, the walker is left with little choice but to plough on through crops. This cannot make sense to either the walker or the farmer.

 

The nominal width of a public right of way is a metre. So why did this farmer think it was okay to leave what was effectively a tyre track for walkers?

footpaths walking

 

‘Losing’ the Footpath

 

Another common feature was ‘losing’ the footpath. This involved having a sign for the footpath where it was most public – by the side of a road for example – and then ‘losing’ it. No further signs. Time to play ‘hunt the footpath’. This was seen in various guises, from absent signs to broken fingerposts, like this one.

wilful neglect of footpath

 

 

Making Walking Difficult and Dangerous

 

Broken stiles were another issue. Often, a stile that looked vaguely dodgy when approached, turned out to be downright dangerous. Rotten wood and rusty nails were all too common. This one for example, would have required a tightrope walkers balance to use:

broken stile on a country footpath

 

Then there were stiles wilfully obscured. In what world does it make sense to put an electric fence either side of a stile, as was the case here?:

rotton stile

 

Electric fences were a problem in general. During a single day, I had to duck under three of them, like a prisoner escaping from Colditz.

electric fence

 

Mud and ‘Don’t Ask’

 

As if all this wasn’t enough, there was the mud – or worse. On numerous occasions, I had to wade through ankle deep mud or manure at a footpath junction. On one occasion, me and my companions were yelled at by a farmer for not going the right way – a path made inaccessible by liquid manure. We were only trying to find a way through!

mud manure

 

A Question of Money or of Attitude?

 

I understand that budgets are being squeezed. However, I wonder if this problem is more one of attitude than money? Like many places, East Staffs has a rich asset in its footpaths. Indeed, English footpaths are an underappreciated asset for the country. So why, when we are all being urged to do more exercise, do these practices still go on?

 

I wonder if it’s more a question of attitude and approach? A footpath allowed to return to nature takes a lot of effort to recover. Why waste such an asset? When farmers get so irate at people not sticking to footpaths, why do they allow them to get that way in the first place? It’s not in their interest, and it’s not in the walkers’ interests to walk through crops. Leaving a gap on the edge of fields costs virtually nothing.

 

Is this a classic case of passing the buck? The County Council is responsible for working with landowners to keep public rights of way open, safe and welcoming. Footpaths seem to get caught in the middle – with no one having clear responsibility. Even when ramblers and other groups help out by installing stiles and gates, it remains the landowner’s responsibility to maintain them. But if no one’s looking ….?

 

East Staffs now proposes to designate three levels of footpath in East Staffs. Proactive maintenance will only take place on the best of these – the A footpaths. Routes B and C will be left to their own devices.

 

On the evidence of what this walker encountered, I wish them the best of luck.

Ever Wondered What’s Involved In Writing A Book?

There’s nothing I like better than writing a book, or reading one for that matter. Over the last twenty years I’ve written over twenty books and enjoyed some modest success. It’s true that none of my books have troubled the Sunday Times Bestsellers, but I have occasionally hit the upper echelons of different Amazon categories. Over that time, I’ve made a modest income, dabbled in traditional publishing with different publishers, done some self-publishing and got involved in e-publishing. So, while I may be a journeyman, I hope I have something to say to anyone who’s ever wondered what’s involved in writing a book.

 

 

If It Ain’t Broke …

 

If I’ve learned one thing about the publishing world it is that it likes its traditions. Its approach to how it goes about things can be summed up as ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. The biggest hurdle any aspiring author will have to face is breaking into that fixed world. If you’re an unknown, you are very likely to stay an unknown.

 

Put simply, and it’s not an unreasonable position, why should a publisher take a chance on you? The publishing world isn’t alone in protecting its corner. However, as similar industries have found, they are vulnerable to attack from the democratising power of the internet.

 

 

Diagonal Walking: A 21stCentury approach to writing a book

 

That’s why, when considering my next writing project, I decided to take a 21stcentury approach. The project is a travel book, documenting a long distance walk following a diagonal line drawn NW to SE through the centre of England. I could have just done the walk, written the book and then pitched it to publishers. In fact, not to publishers, but to literary agents. Publishers very rarely respond to direct approaches, even if you have written twenty books.

 

Instead, I’ve decided to get the general public involved. If you’ve browsed this site you will have got it by now. I want to be a sort of authorial pied piper, gathering a virtual cloud of followers. These can be on social media, or through podcasts, blogs and videos. I want to harness the power of the internet to build a potential audience for my book. The aim is to rebalance some of the power of decision making towards the author. When the walk is finished and the book is written I want to have a say in how it reaches its market.

 

 

Follow and Learn

 

With Diagonal Walking experiment I’m going to open up the processes of planning, generating material, writing, editing, proofing and publishing. Using the various outlets I have created, I am inviting people to follow every step, and learn from my experience. I will share the ups and the downs of the process in real time. At the same time, I will ask for ideas and help. I want to make this book a communal effort.

 

 

I’m Learning Already

 

I’ve learned a lot already, and the project’s only been going three months! I’ve learned technical skills such as how to build a website and optimise its search engine attractiveness. I’ve learned how to make a video and get it on YouTube. I’ve learned how to record and publish podcasts. But I’ve learned more than that. I’ve learned patience, especially when you delegate tasks to others. After all, this is your baby not theirs, you can’t expect them to share your urgency.

 

Perhaps most significantly, I’ve learned to follow an idea. Truth time. When I started with Diagonal Walking I was only thinking about getting others to follow the walk. As time has gone on, I’ve appreciated the potential the project offers to shine some light upon what, for most, certainly for anyone thinking about writing a book, is a place of very dark secrets.

 

 

Follow Me!

 

So, follow me along the journey. Not just the physical journey but the whole journey of writing the book. I will keep on posting regular updates even when the walk is finished, sharing the pleasures and agonies of the whole writing process. Planning and executing the walk is the easy bit. The real slog starts with the rising, editing, proofing and publishing.  There’s still a long way to go, I haven’t even started the walk yet!

 

Happy writing! Diagonal or otherwise.

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Packing Your Pack

Packing your pack is something every long distance walker has to consider. As the reality of having to put one foot in front of the other looms, I’ve been turning my thoughts to my own packing. How much stuff will I need to take on my walk? After all, it’s not as if I’m going to have a back-up van travelling in my wake.  What I take, I will need to carry, and I will have to keep it to the essentials.

 

Turning to the internet, there are a number of good sources of advice for packing your pack. A blog on the Ramblers website for example provides a useful photo. It complements this with a long list which it’s possible to get a bit lost in. Equally, other sites provide long lists of things to take, with this one taking the prize by offering 36 (count them) great tips for keeping packing simple.

 

Whilst not disagreeing with any of the items these sites suggest, I thought it would be helpful to categorise them and put them into the context of my walk. Although experience may prove otherwise, I’m working on a number of assumptions. I’m not going abroad (by definition), so no passport, plug converters, or indeed plugs. I’m also never going to be that far from civilisation, so if I run out of anything I should be able to pick some up on the way. Also, no need for distress flares. Finally, no camping, so that means a lot of stuff can stay in the garage. On this trip, I’m strictly an AirBnB or hotel man.

 

I’ve grouped my conclusions under five headings, so here goes …

 

Packing Clothing

 

Going with layers seems to be the consensus here. After that, it’s a matter of whether you’re prepared to wash things out as you go and how smelly you’re prepared to get. A classic baselayer T-shirt (possibly with long sleeves), followed by a fleece or equivalent and a waterproof coat looks like a winning combo. The coat can be foldable (a pack-a-mac if you’re being optimistic about the weather) or, if you’re feeling nifty, something like a padded jacket whose sleeves come off to, hey presto, form a gilet (if you want to look a complete prat).

 

As for trousers, on the same two-for-the-price-of-one basis, I’m strictly a zip-off legs man. These need to be light and quick drying, because whatever I may wish, I’m going to get wet at some point. If feeling pessimistic about the weather and little option but to complete a stage, waterproof over-trousers might be an option too.

 

Socks are the smallest, but probably most import item of clothing on the trip. The trick here is to balance comfort with sweat. Cushioned soles are great, or wearing two pairs at once and swapping them around can work too. There are advocates for merino wool out there too, which are great on the old anti-bacterial front and a good idea if you’re not travelling solo. Besides, you might be outside all day, but at some point you’ll be sharing a room with your socks, which will mean clothes washing will suddenly stop becoming a mere option.

 

Then there’s footwear. Everyone will have their favourite boots, and pointers here would probably be its own blog. What is necessary, is a change of footwear for the end of the day. Give your feet a break. They’ve earned it.

 

Finally, I favour a hat. The top of my bald pate has enough scar tissue on it already and I favour a baseball hat (it’s my ears that are the problem), but each to their own. I even have any own customised, logoised hat. Gloves might also be a good idea. Finally, no jeans. They’re a nightmare to get dry. Oh! And don’t forget nightwear (and evening wear) – something to put on after a shower!

 

 

Packing Technology

 

Maps are a good idea. I’m an OS guy, but they can be a bugger in the wind. For this reason I photocopy my route and have handy A4 pages to work from. The main map stays in my pack. It’s useful for getting an overview at the start of the day and to stare at zombie-like at the end. When I get lost (and I will, trust me), I rely on instinct and Google Maps on my phone. Sure, there are fancy GPS trackers for walkers, but personally I don’t see the need.

 

In fact, iPhones (other clever little mini-computers are available) also have a compass and can be used to take notes and/or voice memos too. I will also be using mine for recording podcasts and YouTube videos. I’ve heard you can even make telephone calls on them. Amazing. On this subject, pack a powerpack for a power punch if needed. And don’t forget the charger.

 

Back on phones, they also have amazing cameras of course, but this is definitely an area where personal preference rules. An DSLR is perfect, but can be clumbersome and heavy. It depends if you see it as a burden or a necessity. I veer towards the latter camp. A middle ground is a bridge camera, which give better photos than an iPhone, but can sometimes fit into a pocket. It’s worth considering.

 

Given my sleeping arrangements, I’m assuming I’ll have wifi at least twice a day. Besides, I’ll need it to keep this website updated, and I refuse to take out a new data contract on my phone. For this reason (the website one, not my meanness), I’ll probably take an iPad too, but forgo taking a notebook computer. I also have a nifty gizmo for plugging the memory card into the iPad too, so that means better Instagram pics. Cheaper options are available, but I’ve been stung in the past by the allure of cheap imports from the East, if you catch my drift.

 

 

Old School Packing

 

I’ll have a lot to do once I get to my room, but a book to switch my mind off will be a necessity for me. If nothing else, it stops mindless internet wandering. Of course, I could read via a Kindle app, but that’s cheating isn’t it? I’m a writer, and I still favour the smell and feel of a book.

 

I’m a big fan of dry bags which come in various sizes and colours. For a borderline obsessive-compulsive like me, they make packing easier (no air taking up space) and provide reassurance that my technology is protected. Most of all, they provide the opportunity to compartmentalise. Knowing T-shirts and socks are in the red bag and toiletries are in the blue bag saves a lot of scrabbling around in the rucksack. You can also use them for dirty washing (or washing you can’t face), although a supply of plastic bags is an alternative. Handy for all sorts of stuff, and they take no weight.

 

I like the tip on this website to take a small Thermos. Most rooms have a kettle and sachets of coffee and teabags and even milk. You’ve paid for them, use them. Thanks too to this website for this simple but effective idea: a packing list. Use this as a checklist at the start of the day and also at the end, to make sure you didn’t get it wrong at the start. There’s nothing worse than panicking you didn’t pack something (my borderline obsessive-compulsive again).

 

If you are going to wash clothes out, don’t forget the travel wash. Take some anyway (decant it first into something handy), nothing wrong with good intentions. Going back to hotels and their giveaways though … ever wondered what that bodywash stuff is for?

 

 

Health and Safety – and sanity

 

The most basic item here, and number one on the packing list, is a water bottle. As the plastic police get more powerful, it’s becoming harder for places like coffee shops to refuse to fill a bottle. There are also handy taps dotted along towpaths. You can use a bladder, but who wants to drink out of a bladder. If you do, then good for you.

 

Accompanying water is snacks. Walking takes energy, and if you’re lacking it, each step will feel twice as heavy. Pack some energy bars and whatever else takes your fancy. Me, I’m a sucker for these.

 

Years of staying in hotel rooms for work have taught me that ear plugs and an eye mask take no weight or space but can be a lifesaver. I’ll probably sleep like a sloth on my walk, but why take any chances? A travel clock might be an idea if you want to charge your phone overnight.

 

Then there’s the obvious, but worth mentioning. A first aid kit, including medications (for the runs, for headaches, for hayfever and so on), but critically plasters, especially blister plasters. Antiseptic gels or wipes may also help prevent the need for at least one of those medications. A few packs of travel tissues secreted around your bag are also a good idea – you never know when you might get caught short.

 

Enough of the toilet, and on to toiletries. Keep it simple. Check out the travel section of your local Boots or Superdrug. A good deodorant is a necessity, maybe one of those ones offering 48 hour protection, although why anyone should need 48 hours of protection is beyond me. A small camping towel is probably also worth taking. Again, they’re light, and useful if you didn’t fancy the one in that dodgy café you went into to use the loo (back to bodily functions, sorry!).

 

Other old school items probably worth having might include a penknife (good for slicing apples as well as getting things out of horse’s hooves) and a torch or headlamp (if you don’t mind looking like an apprentice miner). A padlock probably makes sense, but go for a combination one. A repair kit with some sewing stuff and safety pins is also recommended.

 

One final thought. Something about your person that says who you are and an emergency contact number is a good idea if you’re on your own. There’s nothing worse than lying slumped against a tree in the middle of nowhere, when someone finds you and doesn’t know what to do next.

 

 

And finally …

 

Well, we haven’t discussed the rucksack itself. Like the boots though, that’s probably worth a blog on its own. For now this recent article may help. As might this one too from Go Outdoors: Finally, this guide from Which? gives some basic ground rules.

 

This website offers the obvious thought of checking what you don’t use when you get back from a trip and to ask yourself what might have been useful. Obvious, but I hadn’t thought of it.

 

And finally … this website suggests taking the following five things, and seems to be a good note to end this blog on:

  • Patience
  • Curiosity
  • Open-mindedness
  • Open heart
  • Humour

 

Keep it diagonal!

 

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SEO walking

Seven SEO Secrets

Famously, in space no one can hear you scream, but in cyberspace, if you’re not careful, they’ll never even know you exist. One of the things I wanted to achieve when I started out on the Diagonal Walking journey was to learn new things. Not just when walking, but behind the scenes, in the planning. In particular, I was keen to get a handle on involving new people and reaching a fresh audience. Making social media work for me was part of this, but so was attracting people to this website. It was time to understand the sorcery of SEO.

 

The Big ‘O’ in SEO

 

If you know what SEO stands for, it’s likely that this post may only be of passing interest. If you’ve looked it up on Wikipedia, but don’t know what to do next, then this blog is probably for you. Finally, if you don’t know what SEO stand for, maybe hang around a bit (it stands for Search Engine Optimisation by the way).

 

SEO is the umbrella acronym used for the dark arts of getting people to actually visit your website. You may recognise it from spam emails – there’s a lot of experts happy to let you in the secrets for a fee. In reality though, it’s the ‘O’ in SEO that’s key. No one outside Google really knows the rules search engines run by, so it’s all about optimising your chances of getting noticed. So, here’s a recent amateur’s top seven tips on how to optimise your performance, in no particular order. These are the results of a couple of days tinkering, using Yoast on a WordPress website.

 

1. Know Your Audience

 

Before you even start it’s critical to understand your audience and ask yourself what they might be searching for when they may come across your site. This is different from telling them all about the wonderful things in your site.

 

2. Keywords

 

Once you have this in mind, list all the keywords you think they may enter into the search engine. These are your keywords, which can be included on each page and tagged onto images. They are the tendrils you are putting out to catch eyeballs. Don’t over do keywords though. You don’t want to sound like a broken record (kids, ask your parents). Be subtle.

 

3. Metadata

 

Think also about how your site may appear when found. This is known as the SEO title, and the bit underneath it. On each page, these need to link to the keywords for that page, this acts as a multiplier effect.

 

4.Links

 

If at all possible (don’t force it) have both internal and external links on your site. These provide an additional dimension and make your site more search-worthy.

 

5. Be Pithy

 

Your website isn’t a PhD dissertation (hopefully!). Keep sentences short, sharp, and to the point. If a sentence has more than twenty words shorten it if possible.

 

6. Have Calls to Action

 

You want people to get beyond your wonderful SEO description and to be tempted in. What do they get in return? Information? A giveaway? Hints and tips? It’s all very well shouting at people asking them to GET IN TOUCH! or FOLLOW ME!, but what’s in it for them?

 

7. Refresh Regularly

 

Blogs, fresh pictures, news feeds, all these tell a potential visitor it might be worth logging your site as a favourite. Looking at it isn’t a one hit thing. Blogs in particular, offer the opportunity to slip some fresh key words in. Sub-headings in a blog, especially

 

There you have it. A rookie sharing what he’s discovered, but hopefully of interest to fellow rookies. It’s a tricky business this diagonal walking lark. The walk’s going to be the easy bit.

 

Keep it diagonal!

 

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partners collaboration working together

Partners Wanted For Diagonal Walking

A keystone of Diagonal Walking is the concept of ‘Walk With Me’, both physically and digitally. If it helps, think of it as me kicking up a cloud of both dust and digital code as I follow my line down from Crosby down to Dungeness. I’m on the lookout for more partners. As my previous blog has shown, it’s already been rewarding working with others, but there’s potential for more.

 

Calling Potential Partners

As part of this, I am keen to find partners who might be interested in my walk. Or in walking, or just exercise in general. They may be active in promoting their local area, a breakfast club for example, a tourist body or a radio station. Or they may have a more tangential interest, perhaps as a manufacturer of walking clothing or equipment, or a small hotel chain (I’ll be staying in a lot of hotels and Air BnBs). Local businesses might also want to get into the act. A local drone photographer, a pub or a shop for example. Or maybe they’ll just be interested in something they regard as, well …. interesting!

 

Swapping Not Selling

The point is, I want to be able to connect with as wide a variety of people and organisations as possible – that’s why the website has a ‘Connect’ rather than a ‘Contact Us’ tab.

So, am I looking for sponsorship? No, it is my intention, certainly as I write this at the outset to the whole project, to keep things ‘pure’ if you will. I see Diagonal Walking as more of a collaborative rather than a commercial venture. The sorts of partners I’m looking for will be happy to operate on a ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ level. Think of it more as swapping than selling.

 

Working in Harmony

To me, partnerships need two willing partners working in harmony, meeting both joint and specific interests. I’ve just made that up, but I think it works.

For my part, a specific interest would include boosting the number of individuals walking with me in a digital sense. In other words, working with partners who can introduce me to people who want to follow me on one of the social media platforms. Or they may be partners who may be able to help in my wider mission of trying to understand what makes the country tick. Other specific interests may be more basic. Swapping a bed for the night in return for a talk to a local society for example.

Partners’ interests could vary from exposure of their business, filling a talking slot in the diary, promoting their town or region or simply being associated with an innovative project. I don’t want to limit peoples’ imaginations, but rather spark them.

If you think you’d like to partner up and be part of Diagonal Walking, simply use the Connect link to reach me, and let’s start a conversation.

 

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walking

Breathing Life Into Diagonal Walking

I first had the idea for Diagonal Walking as the basis of a walking book around ten years ago. I tried to pitch it to publishers, the logic being that it would describe a linear walk across a number of counties, thereby increasing the potential market. Most walking books tending to cover only one or two counties (your classic ‘Twenty Circular Walks in Anywhereshire’ book). Good though, but unfortunately, it wasn’t a great time for publishers. The so-called ‘Credit Crunch’ (remember that?) was hurting. Then there were pressures from printers as the shift to full colour from pure black and white took place. As such, it didn’t happen.

 

A Fresh Look

The idea was shelved, but towards the end of 2017, I reached up and blew the dust off it. Things had moved on. Not least the advent of social media. What had been a fairly analogue idea suddenly gained a fresh component. There was an opportunity to make this a three dimensional, more digital, project, involving both individuals and partners. ‘Walk With Me’ was born.

I dropped the idea into conversations with friends and family, and it began to spread like butter melting on a hot crumpet. The different elements of the idea, notably the route, ‘Walk With Me’, and the need to reconnect with what makes the country tick in a post-Brexit referendum world, all seemed to strike a chord. Suggestions were made and taken on board. It seemed I had a green light to take the idea to the next level.

 

Making It Real

Now, projects like this don’t just happen, but I was to be genuinely surprised by how quickly things did happen. Things got going in earnest in the new year, as I got a website designer on board, whose enthusiasm for the project was infectious (thanks Jigsaw Design). The next test was to see if the route was practicable, and if so how flexible I was going to have to be to make it work. I started with a trip to the library, where there was a full set of OS Explorer maps. Starting at the centre point of the walk in Fenny Drayton, I traced a finger along my proposed line. It worked. I opened the next map. It worked again.

A corridor of merely a mile or two either side of the line, miniscule in terms of the whole country, seemed to provide the necessary byways of footpaths, bridleways, towpaths and minor roads to move along the line. The next step was to work out which maps I needed to get to cover the whole route. There were eighteen of these and thanks be to eBay for reducing the cost here. With the exception of one or two obvious challenges (the runways of Luton airport being one of them), the same held for the entire route. It was do-able. How satisfying it was to draw a simple pencil line at forty-five degrees (arrived at using a protractor, an instrument I hadn’t touched for decades) down a number of OS maps.

 

Running, Not Walking

By now, I was almost waiting for the inevitable problem – things were surely going too swimmingly? But it didn’t come, I was running, not walking. I wanted the ‘Walk With Me’ element to cover podcasts and videos, so I contacted the local paragon of Higher Education, Bucks New University, and asked if the people on their Film and Broadcasting degrees were required to do practical exercises, and if so, could I please be one? It seemed they did, and I could. Within three weeks I had scripted and recorded the first three podcasts. I’d also scripted and filmed scenes for both the introductory website video and a longer one to start off a YouTube channel.

Within six weeks, the idea had taken on shape and begun to develop a momentum of its own. Things were getting real. Meanwhile, there was the small matter of fitness to consider. I regard myself as fairly fit – but ten miles a day fit? Um. Time to hit the treadmill, and get some advice courtesy of the good people at The Fitness Space.

 

The Next Steps (Quite Literally)

The next steps will involve setting an actual start date, probably in April, when the clocks change. Before the first step is taken however, I will need to research the first stages of the route and find people I can partner with. Also important will be the process of populating the social media with followers. Somehow just reaching out to family, friends and contacts isn’t going to cut it. I also need to learn how to create a podcast stream, and a YouTube channel. So far, it’s been terrific fun, and long may it continue, but I may need some help!

Keep checking these blogs to see how I get on, and of course, it you are a social media kind of person, please follow me on as many channels as you want.

Onwards and upwards!

 

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