Well, I’ve made it safe from Staffordshire. As anyone who’s been following my other blogs, or indeed the YouTube Channel (see the video Surviving Staffordshire), or my Facebook page, might have gathered, the second stage of diagonal walking wasn’t exactly a breeze.
As with previous blogs, I’m going to use this blog to keep you up to date with progress on the walk. However, from now on I’ve decided to differentiate the various platforms I’m using in order to sharpen things up. This follows a discussion my son Ed, who ‘walked with me’ over the bank holiday weekend and provided some feedback, for which I’m grateful.
The following therefore is for clarification. In future the blogs will be more for giving an insight into the process of writing a book. In doing so, I intend to be very honest, perhaps disarmingly so. These are in addition to the FFS occasional series giving Five Fascinating Facts about places I pass through. Instagram and Twitter will be used more to provide pictorial updates on progress. YouTube will provide occasional videos for a bit of variety. As much as possible, I’ll be using interviews with people who ‘walk with me’, or who I encounter on the walk, on the podcasts. And finally, Facebook will act as a bit of everything and as a signpost to the other media.
I hope that all makes sense. Anyway, on with the show.
The second leg took place from the Thursday before the Mayday bank holiday to the Tuesday after it. All the walking was in rural Staffordshire, pretty much all of it in East Staffordshire. This is not a particularly easy place to find convenient accommodation, so we took the decision to book a cottage for four nights and use that as a base. When I say we, I mean me and my wife Annette, who acted both as chauffeur and fellow walker for two of the days. This meant we could settle in somewhere and also have room for two other walkers, my son Ed and his partner Lydia join us for a couple of the days.
As most readers will know, it was a hot one. This was good, in as much as it meant we only got rained on once. However, it also meant taking extra care not to dehydrate or do anything heroic for the sake of it.
It also meant shorter days, as there tended to be a fair bit of driving to and from places. Typically, we got on the footpaths anything from 10 to 11 each morning and ended around 4 or 5. This was less than I’d got used to in the first leg, but as I say, it was hot, so this wasn’t a bad thing.
A Different Dynamic
As well as having Annette walking with me one day, and Annette with Ed and Lydia on another, I also had my cousin Simon and his wife Judy walking with me one day. On the first leg I’d done all the walking alone, and this meant a different dynamic. Walking with others means you tend to do more talking and less thinking. Or at least I do. This also means less notes, which makes the writing harder later.
On the other hand, having others’ perspectives helps add to the thinking process afterwards. Plus, their insights invariably add to the mix, making it richer. I think the challenge for the future will be getting this balance right. On this leg I did have the final day on my own, but this was only half a day. Still, I found it invaluable to get my thoughts in order. I hope the book, when it’s finished, will show this.
Writing is what I promised I’d talk about in this blog, so here I go. As I mentioned in my previous blog having good notes makes a tremendous difference when it comes to writing the passages up. What I tend to do is think of a unifying ‘message’ or theme for each chapter and write to that, weaving the actual experiences into it. Sometimes this emerges from the experiences, other times it is more deterministic.
To give an example, on this leg we visited our old university at Keele. This allowed for some ruminations on education and how it’s changed and is changing in England. Certainly in the last twenty years, which is my horizon for this book. Throughout, I am keen to keep the book as a mix between a travelogue and something a bit grittier, hopefully providing some insight into the state of the nation.
At the same time, I want to keep the book highly readable. This means injecting some humour, or letting it flow. I don’t want the humour to be forced, and I do want the book to have ‘a voice’. Luckily, this seems to come fairly naturally, especially as I have the template of my first book, Walking on Water, to go by. I am also not just writing notes up, but trying to write straight into a first draft. Sure, there’ll be some polishing, but I hope what I’m writing is 80-90% of the way there by the time I’ve finished. Again, another objective is to have the book reading asap after the walk is finished. This is so it’s fresh as we approach the actual ‘exit’ part of ‘Brexit’ (assuming we do – controversial), and also so it’s still fresh and relevant.
The only exception to this is the conclusion – for conclusion there will be. I want to bring the various strands of the book together in the end, and here I have been typing in notes, or streams of consciousness. I see these as helping to refresh my memory when it comes to writing those pages.
As for progress, I’ve now written about 25,000 words. That’s the equivalent to around 50 to 60 pages of a paperback. They fit into five chapters, two of which cover the last leg, which required around 9,000 words. Of course, all this may change in the editing, but it gives an idea. This seems about right. I’ve completed around 25-30% of the walk (it’s difficult to know) and somewhere around 100,000 words is a good target.
The Staffordshire Experience
Interestingly, as I’ve said, the entire walk this time round was in Staffordshire. In fact my diagonal also cut a diagonal through the county, which is a big one geographically. This was both good and bad, Good in as much as it allowed me to get under the skin of a distinct area. Bad in that the footpaths in the county are pretty poor. Not only are they poorly maintained, but there seems to be a semi-deliberate policy to deter walkers. This said, at least it gave me an angle for the book – a chapter theme! There’s more on my experience in Staffordshire in the above mentioned video and on this blog, which I called ‘Playing Hunt the Footpath’
And Finally …
I know some people like to be kept up to date with the progress on social media, so here goes. Remember, the reason I want numbers here is to make the book more of a compelling proposition for potential publishers, not vanity. I am even beginning to wonder whether to start to approach potential publishers sooner rather than later, rather than waiting until its finished. More on this in the future.
I now have approaching 400 followers on Instagram, and again following the advice of my son Ed, have installed an app caller ‘Followers’ which allows me to monitor who is following me to get their own numbers up and then dumping me. Twitter had been lagging behind, but has received a boost through a competition run by the Stay In A Pub initiative I have been working with. The prize is a signed copy of Walking on Water, and to date this has seen at least 50 new followers on Twitter. Okay, they are not of the highest quality, but hopefully it will kick start things. The total here now is around 350. This article was the second from Stay In A Pub, the first came out in the 26thApril.
I was initially disappointed by these totals, but have to keep reminding myself that the accounts are only a few weeks old. Actually, they’re doing quite well considering, and I think there may be a snowball effect. Certainly the Instagram account seems to be gaining momentum. This may be due in part to some of the publicity I’ve been getting, both locally and nationally. One coup I was pleased with was this article on The Great Outdoors website.
Facebook is still stuck in the friends and family plus odds and sods zone. I’m okay with this, but it would be nice to ‘break out’ a bit. As I’ve said above, I’m changing direction on the podcasts, but these are accumulating a following. I’ve regularly been in the top 5 in the Travel section of the PodOMatic chart, where I host the pods. In March I had 40 downloads, and I doubled that in April. So far, I’ve already reached the 40 mark in May and I’ve two more podcasts to come out. The YouTube channel is there as an adjunct really, but I enjoy doing them.
That’s it for now I think. I hope you’ve found this update on progress blog interesting. There’s much more to come, so stay tuned and keep diagonal!
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