Talk With Me

I’m very close to completing another milestone: sending the book off to the publishers. 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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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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The Sense of an Ending

Welcome back to another ‘eve of walk’ themed blog, written as I wind up the planning for the fourth leg of Diagonal Walking. As with the last ‘Progress’ blog, I’m going to use this one to bring you up to speed with the walk itself and also some of the work going on behind the scenes regarding the Diagonal Walking travelogue. As has now also become the norm, I’ll also give an update on some numbers.

 

 

Where Now?

The last leg left me in Newport Pagnell, although I added a day on to the end of that stage to visit Milton Keynes. There, caught up with both the town itself, and the people living in the house I helped build there over thirty years ago. There’s more on this in this podcast which is also available on the Diagonal Walking feed on iTunes. Just so it didn’t feel left out, I also wrote a separate blog on Newport Pagnell.

From the delights on the north of Buckinghamshire, on this fourth stage I’ll be heading into Bedfordshire. For much of the way I’ll be following the line of the MI, well, at least as far as Luton. I’m staying the night in Luton and hope to have a little bit of time to explore why it has such a reputation for extremism. That’s of both the far-right and Jihadist varieties. Wish me luck. Luton also presents one of the route’s main physical obstacles. The diagonal line passes directly through the main runway of the town’s airport! Luckily, there’s a way around it, following the Upper Lea Valley Walk, but things could get a bit noisy for a while.

There’s a fair bit of urban walking on this leg, especially towards the end, when I pass through East London. Before then though I have the delights of another new town to explore (Welwyn Garden City). The diagonal also passes a house I used to live in (it’s literally within yards of the line). As such, I’ve written to the current occupiers to see if a visit is possible. I’ll keep you posted.

From there, I pass through Enfield, Chingford and Walthamstow. So, if you’ve got used to pretty pictures of fields on the Instagram and Facebook accounts, get ready for something different in the coming days. As I write, the exact end point of this leg is open to events, but put it this way, I won’t be far from the River Thames, which I have a cunning plan to cross.

 

 

Route Planning

Planning for each stage requires a fair bit of work. Not only do I have to calculate a route and prepare copies of it onto A4 sheets, but I also have to find places to stay along it. Taking lessons from earlier in the walk, I try to find places as close to the route itself as possible. I’ll even manipulate the route to make this possible. While still keeping to my three mile corridor of the diagonal of course.

As such, once I’ve sketched out a route I then have to find potential places to stay. These may be budget hotels (all I need is a clean room, a bathroom and wifi), and ideally near somewhere I can eat. Airbnbs or kindly friends and family who can put me up also feature. Naturally, when planning, I start at the beginning of the route and then work my way down. You don’t want to fix up the back end of the trip and find the front end is impossible. All this takes time and needs to be done in advance. I’ve found that the sorts of places I’m looking to stay in are often in demand from contract workers during the week, something I hadn’t anticipated.

This, in turn, means needing to commit in advance. Whilst medium term weather forecasts can help in allowing me to know what I’m in for, they tend to be as reliable as a politician. However, the heatwave we’ve been having recently seems to have provided a more reliable indicator from Mother Nature. As such, I’ve decided on this leg to commit to shorter legs. At least that way I won’t over-do it, something to take into account when on my own and have somewhere I have to get to.

Once the practicalities are sorted, the research begins. I try to find out what I can about the places I’m passing through in advance. This helps to direct me towards places of interest and to make sure I don’t miss anything. Results from the research might be tangible – a specific thing to see – or intangible, a sense of a place, or an interesting fact or statistic.

 

 

Reassessment

My previous planning had suggested that Newport Pagnell would represent the half way point of my walk. I’ve reassessed this and reckon I’m probably now nearer to 60% of the way through. Indeed, by the end of this fourth leg I’ll be getting close to the end. This seems incredible, even though there’s still a way to go yet.

There’s no getting away from it though, there’s the sense of an ending to the project, or at least the actual walking side of it. I feel a bit conflicted about this. On the one hand there’s a sense of challenge met, on the other, there will be some grieving. The whole exercise has been fantastic fun, as well as stimulating.

The walking and the people I have met along the way has gone better than I’d anticipated. That said, when I set out I had hoped for a little more connection with third parties, for example people ‘finding me’ on the internet or through my publicity efforts. While there’s been a bit of this, it would have been nice to have more. It’s possible that I should have left more time for momentum to gather, but countering this has been a need within me to keep the momentum going on the walk itself, and to get it completed within the summer. This, in turn, is driven by the demands of the book and when I want it to be ready by. More on this in a moment.

 

Diagonal Walking – The Book

A key part of the Diagonal Walking project has been the writing and publishing of a book – a travelogue. I want this to be available around the proposed Brexit date of the end of March 2019. Diagonal Walking is not about Brexit, but there is a link to it. It’s my guess that it will act as a spur to contemplation about where we as a nation, and I hope my book will contribute to this.

As anyone who’s ever had contact with the publishing world will tell you, it isn’t exactly dynamic. It can take a year from signing a contract to seeing a book in print. Before then, you have to get the contract, which these days invariably means getting the attention of an agent. Neither agents nor publishers can be engaged without a completed manuscript, unless you’re a celebrity or established author, so you can see the dilemma.

Following the ‘traditional’ publishing route would involve a journey at least twice as long as the project itself, with no guarantee of success and the near certainty of the book now being available until 2020 at the very earliest. It’s not encouraging. For this reason, going down the self-publishing route is becoming more and more attractive. I also happen to think that from a marketing point of view, the book’s premise has enough of a sense of intrigue to be attractive to the organisers of talks, journalists and other media. I am confident enough in my own abilities in this field – to ‘sell myself’ – that my current mindset is this is the way I’ll go. I will approach more traditional publishers (there are three or four obvious candidates), but more in hope than expectation.

 

The Numbers

Instagram Page

An integral part of Diagonal Walking was to get others to ‘Walk With Me’ virtually. I’ve had some success here. The most notable areas are in podcasting, where I’ve had about 500 downloads so far, and with Instagram, where I have around 800 followers at the time of writing. There’s a fair bit of coming and going here too, but I’m monitoring it and the general trajectory is upwards – I want genuinely interested followers, not people playing games. Reaching 1,000 followers here now seems very achievable, and I’d have taken this at the beginning. Twitter is interesting, with a steady flow of new followers, but these tend to be replacing my ‘temporary friends’ I gained through the competition I did with ‘Stay in a Pub’.

In terms of the walk itself, as I say on my ‘How I am Doing’ page, I reckon I’ve completed just under 250 miles and over half a million steps. I might not make a million steps, but it’s a good marketing angle! For those interested in the book, which I’ve been writing as I go, I’m now up to around 50,000 words, which is probably more than half.

There’s much more to come, so stay tuned and keep diagonal!

 

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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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Aiming For Middle England

I’m back after a short break away from Diagonal Walking, busy planning the next stage. As promised in my last blog, I’m going to use this opportunity to allow you to ‘get inside my head’ a bit. At the moment my main preoccupation is around planning the next stage, which is a long one, rather than the actual writing. I’ll explain why there’s not so much on this later. By way of compensation for those interested in the writing process, I’ve included some initial thoughts on publishing. Also, for those who want to know, an update on progress of the various social media channels.

 

The Route

The next stretch of the walk takes me out of Staffordshire. This is a big deal, see the Surviving Staffordshire video if you don’t understand why. Yes, within a day I’ll be walking into Warwickshire. After that I’ll be more or less following the Warwicks/Leicestershire border. Incidentally, this or more or less congruent with the A5, of the Roman Watling Street. It’s curiously pleasingly that the Romans built their road on a diagonal line passing through the centre of the country!

From there, my route dives into the centre of Northamptonshire, and the county town, and then into the top of Buckinghamshire. Technically, it passes into the unitary authority of Milton Keynes, but I’ll ignore that for now. Places people might recognise include Atherstone, Hinckley and Watford – but not that one. The Watford I’ll be going through is the one better known through its service station Watford Gap. When people talk of ‘north of Watford’ it’s here they’re referring to, rather than Watford, Herts. Not a lot of people know that.

 

 

Landmarks

There are three significant landmarks on this leg, one geographical and the other two more personal. The geographical one is that I’ll be passing through the centre of England. As such, I will truly be in Middle England. As an earlier blog has outlined, this is on private land outside Fenny Drayton, near Atherstone. This is a big deal, as you can imagine. I’ve tried to get in touch with the farmer who owns the field it’s in, but no luck yet. I haven’t given up though. I’ve also tried to whip up some interest from the body responsible for tourism in Leicestershire, but also nothing so far. Disappointing.

The first personal milestone is that, all being well, I’ll also reach my own half way point by the end of the walk. Due to the shape of the country there’s more walking after Fenny Drayton than there is before the centre. As the How I’m Doing page shows, I’ve currently done nearly 300,000 steps, and I reckon I’ll be on more or less half a million by the end of this stretch, having walked around 250 miles.

The other personal milestone is I’ll be close to Milton Keynes. That may sound an odd thing to say, but Milton Keynes holds a pivotal part in my life story. It was here, over 30 years ago, that I helped build a house for an exhibition of energy efficient buildings. Ours was supposed to champion a self-build system, and we built the house over a series of weekends with architectural students providing the labour. The house is still standing, and I’ve tracked down the current owners and they’ve agreed to meet with me. This house is as old as my marriage – I had just met my wife to be when the project was, quite literally, getting off the ground. It will be interesting to see if it has lasted as well.

 

 

Practicalities

I’ve been spending some time planning the actual route, and it’s a bit tricky. Although it’s not as rural as the run through Staffordshire, places to stay remain few and far between. This has meant having to set quite long targets for each day. This decision has involved a trade-off between having somewhere to stay actually on the route, as tended to be the way on the first leg, and taking a wider brief and being prepared to travel, as was more the case on the second leg.

I’ve gone for the former. Even though I had the option on a car, the time wasted moving it around is time I’d rather spend walking. On average, I’ve ended up setting myself targets of around fourteen miles a day. This is more than I’d like, especially given the fact that having no car means carrying everything in a rucksack. This doesn’t daunt me too much – I have done these distances already, but the problem is I hadn’t planned for them. When I’ve done these sorts of distances earlier, it’s normally because something’s gone wrong. In other words, I’ve not left a lot of wriggle room. If the footpaths in the next counties are as bad as Staffordshire’s, I’m in trouble.

On the subject of the rucksack, I’m determined to make it lighter this time. As a large part of the avoidable weight is clothing, I’m going to pack light in that department. Don’t worry though, I’ve arranged to stay at an AirBnB half way round and to use their washing machine. For those that are wondering, I tend to use a combination of homestays, AirBnBs and cheap hotels. I am to spend no more than £50 a night on accommodation, sometimes its more, sometimes less.

 

 

Mixed Emotions

This leg is going to be as long as the first one, but with a vital difference. This time, there’s less of the excitement that came with the whole project starting off. As such, there’s more of a sense of the mundane, no, not mundane, but routine. I remember having this feeling when I undertook the canal trek for Walking on Water, and I suspect it’ll pass. That, plus the distances, plus the variations in the weather forecasts for the week ahead, all add up to a sense of challenge and some trepidation. Still, challenge was part of what I signed up for so here I go!

 

 

Walk With Me – Physically

As anyone reading these blogs will know, the concept of Walk With Meis integral to Diagonal Walking. Whilst I continue to have a great relationship with Stay In A Pub, we have yet to secure anything with one of their pubs. The idea was for me to give a talk on a weekday to boost trade, or to review their accommodation, but none have taken the bait so far. Hopefully, this will come in time. What will be, will be.

I have managed to secure two people to walk with me in person for one of the days, which is great. I have also got a good response from local community websites, and there’s still time for someone to come forward for other days. Response from more traditional media has been sluggish, although it’s not always possible to know you’ve been featured until you get a response from someone who’s read a piece. I did manage to get this piece in Waterways World, the leading canal magazine, which I was quite pleased with.

 

Walk With Me – Virtually

Stay In A Pub organised a competition which required people to follow Diagonal Walking on Twitter, and this resulted in a couple of hundred new followers. Most of these have stayed, and I’ve since built on this number to get to over 500. Instagram continues to be the best social media outlet for me. Even though I’ve had little new to post in the hiatus between legs, followers here are coming up to 600. In both cases, followers were half these total sat the start of the last leg. I sense some traction here now, especially with Instagram.

The podcasts are steady if unspectacular. I’ve had over 250 downloads so far, but the frustrating thing is not having any idea who these people are! Facebook remains much the same, gaining a fresh follower every now and then, and the YouTube videos are a useful backup. Out of interest, I’ve also asked my website designer to find out how many hits I’m getting on the website. I’ll amend this blog if I get this.

 

 

Writing

I mentioned the writing at the start. This is a frustrating area as I cannot do much actual tapping away at a keyboard without fresh material. Stuff keeps popping into my head – thoughts, reflections, ideas – and of course I capture these as notes, but I don’t want to ‘pre-write’ the book. I want it to be real, a true reflection of the experience. At the same time, once the antennae are active, it’s surprising how many things crop up that might be relevant to the book. The recent BBC exercise in defining ‘Englishness’ being a good example.

 

 

Planning for Publishing

I’ve begun to think about possible publishers. I recently completed a novel and have been trying to get agents interested in it, as this seems to be the only route into fiction publishers. The experience hasn’t been heartening, it’s a very tough world to break in to. That said, there’s a lot less publishers focussed on travel, so it should be possible to approach them direct. I have put together a list of likely suspects from the Writers and Artist’s Yearbook, but don’t want to start approaching them until the book is in a more complete state.

So, in conclusion, I’m beginning to consider my options here, but am not quite ready to act. I’d welcome any thoughts or advice people may be able to give. The one thing I can say for certain however, is the book will be published. Self-publishing is a common route for this kind of book, or I may focus on a combination of e-publishing and print on demand. This would reduce upfront cost, whilst still making it possible to satisfy both those happy with their Kindles and those who like a physical book. More on all this as it happens.

 

That’s about all for this update. I hope you’ve found it interesting getting inside my head and not too scary!

There’s much more to come, 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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Centre Middle of England

The Search for the Middle of England

There’s something special about being at the centre of things. You are the bullseye, the focus of attention, the heart of the matter. It comes as no surprise therefore that the field of contenders vying for the title of being the very middle of England is a crowded one.

It’s easy to see why there are so many claimants to the crown. After all, how do you define the middle of what is, indisputably, an irregular shape? The question is not dissimilar to other equally contested titles, like the country’s oldest pub or school. These all have more than one candidate – it all depends on which rules you use.

 

Runners and Riders in the Middle of England Chase

Following British legal tradition, the twin pillars of patronage and precedence tend to carry considerable weight. One claim in particular stands out to be the centre of England, that of Weedon Bec in Northamptonshire. This was chosen in the time of the Napoleonic Wars as the dead centre of the country. It was argued (not unreasonably) that this position would take the longest for an invading army to reach. It was even designated as a safe haven for the royal family should old Boney ever cross the Channel.

This claim had the additional benefit of being supported by armed force. It was decreed that if there was to be a last stand then it would be a spectacular one. A huge barracks and arsenal was built that, at its height, covered 150 acres and employed 500 men. The stronghold even had its own spur off the Grand Union Canal to speed the royal family there, although whether it’s possible to speed anywhere by canal is open to question.

The power of precedence over patronage is demonstrated by the strength of the claim from Meriden, near Coventry. Meriden nestles in a small section of green belt half way between Birmingham and Coventry in the parish of Solihull. Like the early explorers, Meriden has taken the route of planting something physical in an attempt to cement its case. Not a flag, but a sandstone pillar on the village green, which some say is over five hundred years old. Like Weedon, Meriden’s claim is based on a calculation that it lies at the furthest point from the sea of anywhere in the country.

When it comes to tangible symbols, Lillington just outside Leamington Spa out-trumps Meriden with its Midland Oak. Locals insist this marks the absolute, no doubt about it, dead centre of the country; although the exact provenance of this claim is unknown. As a precaution perhaps, in 1988 Lillington got the Duke of Gloucester to unveil a plaque recording the oak’s importance. Isn’t the current oak standing at the spot much too young though? Don’t worry, they’ve got that covered. It was grown from an acorn from a tree grown from an acorn from the original. Apparently.

 

An Answer?

Just as the business of claim and counter claim seems to be building up into an impenetrable fog the distant sound of hooves can be heard from the Ordnance Survey, who rode to the rescue in 2002 with an arbitration. Showing a truly English sense of fair play they decided to ignore all the competing claims and came up with their own definitive, unarguable,  candidate.

Their calculations homed in on a modest farm in Leicestershire. The good men and women of the Ordnance Survey decided that if you wanted to stand in the very centre of England then you should head for a spot in the grounds of Lindley Hall Farm just outside Fenny Drayton, a mile or two north west of Hinckley.

The OS grid reference is 362964. Or if you want to be really precise its position is 52° 33’ 51.52” North and 1° 27’ 54.57” West. This is a degree of precision which seems to brook no argument. The method by which the Ordnance Survey arrived at this point follows a similar force of undeniable logic. Borrowing from the science of geometry they decided to arrive at the centroid or barycentre of the country. Stay with me on this. The centroid is the intersection of all the hyperplanes that divide an object X into two parts of equal moment about the hyperplane. In other words, it is the average of all points of X.

Brilliant! Most of us can understand a bit of geography. However, make the basis of your argument mathematics and you are unlikely to meet too many challengers. In an age where science rules, notions of romance and precedent are promptly swept aside and the title of being the centre of England is given incontrovertibly and without prejudice, to humble little Fenny Drayton in Leicestershire.

Just to make things plain, in 2013, a six foot high monument made out of a railway sleeper was installed to mark the spot – just to make sure.

 

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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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