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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Actually walking

First Leg Over

There comes a time when you have to break your duck, lose your virginity, get the first one over with. So it was with the first leg of my diagonal walk. In this blog I aim to share some of the emotions and practicalities involved with finally getting on the road. Of actually walking at last, as well as its aftermath.

 

 

Actually Walking

 

Let’s start with how it felt to be actually walking. I’d planned for ten plus miles a day, with the first day slightly shorter. Best laid plans and all that. Around three miles were added to the first day to find the start point! On other days there was the disappointment of finding my bed for the night was still a couple of miles off. Take it from me, that’s not something you need after a dozen or so miles. Still, it was all learning for next time. I only count actual miles and steps on the walk in the ‘How Am I Doing’ section by the way. I’m usually doing much more than that in total over the day.

 

Another learning was what may appear to be ten miles on the map was rarely ten miles in reality. Hills and diversions all add to the total. Equally, I learned that the rucksack was heavy, although goodness knew why. I thought I’d packed light. On the other hand, it didn’t really trouble me once it was on my back, it was more the getting it on and off. I think it’ll be alright.

 

There’s no doubt my feet took a battering. I’d employed a two pairs of socks strategy, which I find usually does the trick, but not this time. Blister city. In the end I bought some special two layered socks in Liverpool, and these seem to act as a shock absorber, making the rest of the walk do-able. I was also expecting to feel more creaky the day after a long stretch and it was a surprise this wasn’t the case. Sure, the first mile or two required an extra push, as did the last mile or two, but I soon got into a rhythm. Maybe all the training actually paid off?

 

 

Time

 

I usually tried to get on the road by nine or half nine. In theory, ten to twelve miles walking at three plus mph would mean, with a couple of stops, getting to my destination early afternoon. Again, so much for the theory. In reality, time tended to get gobbled up in the taking of notes, and in meeting my (self-imposed) social media obligations. Taking pictures, posting them with hashtags, thinking of and noting podcast ideas, and filming sequences (these often need more than one take, believe it or not), all take time. I now plan on around two mph.

 

In reality, I tended to get to my room for the night by late afternoon – around five. It was then that the fun began. Updating the social media, sorting out clothes, showering and tending to the feet, all took time. Then I had to find somewhere to eat. All this before readying myself for the next day, checking the route, making sure I had the right maps, ready for that none am start. Time, time, time.

 

 

Partnering Up

 

From the start, I’ve wanted to make the Diagonal Walking project a collaborative exercise. I also wanted to get the first leg done so I had something to show to potential partners. I understand that for many there’s a huge gap between theory and practice. Of ‘getting Diagonal Walking. This has seen some success. I have received some press coverage (a couple of local newspapers and a national Waterways Magazine). I’ve also had an invitation to work with the StayInAPub initiative, funded by Cask Marque and Visit England, including a piece on their News page. This is a £1.2million initiative to promote walking trails and getting people to stay in pubs. Watch this space for updates on this, but I’m excited by it.

 

Having completed the first leg, I also felt more confident approaching national media, including newspapers and walking and outdoors magazines. This has already born fruit with the magazine TGO (The Great Outdoors) wanting to do a piece and an interview.

 

 

Walk With Me

 

I have also had my first Walk With Me companion, albeit only for a few yards as he is wheelchair bound. However, the next leg will see more of this. As for the virtual side of things, there is movement here too.

 

The Twitter account has seen around a 40% increase in followers since the start of the first leg and I’m starting to attract Facebook followers from outside the immediate friends and family circle, which is satisfying. The number of podcast downloads in April was double that in March, and I’m now well past the 100 mark here. It would be good to get into the high hundreds and maybe even thousands on at least one of the accounts.

 

Instagram looks like the favourite. This has seen a 50% increase in followers since the start of the first leg, but I did suffer a brief setback here. In an effort to ‘cull’ people I’d followed and hadn’t followed back, plus the various obviously non-sincere accounts (I’ll just say the word ‘actresses’), I blew a fuse in Instagram’s algorithm. It wouldn’t let me follow people back, or add fresh follows. Having Goggled the problem, it seems too much following and unfollowing makes you look like a bot, so they’d frozen the account. I felt like a child who’d been put on the naughty step. In the end it resolved itself overnight, thank goodness!

 

 

Actually Writing

 

I started this blog with ‘Actually Walking’, and will now turn to ‘Actually Writing’. One of the main drivers for the project, other than doing it for its own sake, is to write a book about my experiences. Writing up my notes and creating a voice for the book has taken a good three to four days of my time since ending the first leg. But boy, what notes! The value of writing things down as I go, of having ready-baked finely parsed sentences, has proved to be essential. I’ve written around 15,000 words so far, which considering I reckon I’ve done 15-20% of the walk is probably about right, especially considering this is only a first draft.

 

 

Planning the Next Leg

 

The first leg has also shown the importance of good planning. So, nothing for it but to invest the same time in the next stage so it can be as successful as the first. This involves not only planning the route, but also researching places I should go and interesting details about where I will be walking.

 

The next leg is largely rural, and away from water, in contrast to the first. This will mean a lot more countryside walking and a lot less ‘civilisation’. As I’ve mentioned, I will have more partners walking with me on this leg, plus I am employing some back up in the form of my wife. She will have a car to get me to and from a central location, a cottage we’ve rented for four nights. This will give me more freedom to get as far as I can each day, rather than having a specific target. The route on the next leg will take me from Alsager, through Stoke and points south east, through Meir Health and Yoxall, with an ambitious target of reaching the National Arboretum at Alrewas, or as near to there as possible.

 

 

I hope you’ve found this update on progress blog interesting. There will be more to come! In the meantime, keep diagonal!

 

 

 

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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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walking, boots, exercise,

Walking With Me

Walking with me in person is an important part of Diagonal Walking, and I actively welcome requests to walk part of the route with me. This may be for a short stretch, or longer, or maybe just to meet up and share a flask of coffee (I don’t do tea).

 

Where and When

 

The map on the How I Am Doing page will show you where I have already been, and an idea of the direction I’m heading in and how far I’ve got. If you follow the updates, blogs and podcasts, you will have a good idea of when I expect to be walking. Broadly speaking though, the route follows a line that starts just above Liverpool, goes through Stoke, Milton Keynes, Luton, the east of London and Maidstone, before ending up at Dungeness. The walk started in April 2018, with the first leg ending in Alsager in Staffs, where I expect to pick up the route in early May. The aim is to end around the end of September.

 

Next Steps

 

See what I did there? The best way to organise things is to contact me either via the Connect tab on the menu, or direct by email.

 

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