Jupiter’s Travels by Ted Simon chronicles a round the world motorcycle trip taken in the 1970s and is one of my favourite books. As a work of narrative non-fiction by an experienced journalist he avoided the many pitfalls of the travelogue genre and put an emphasis on his parallel inner journey. Aside from Jupiter’s Travels my other inspirations were the classic The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron published in 1937 (where the actual journey is layered in with so many reminisces and observations that other people on the expedition barely recognised the account) and The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard in 1922.
It was fairly obvious that I should create a book out of a long motorcycle trip from London to West Africa that I took along with a friend in 2005 and these were the models. My detailed diary was the obvious starting point for a chronological account. I expanded the many observations in the diary, added in some more general thoughts on motorcycling, incorporated some feedback from friends and then the manuscript sat there at around sixty thousand words for a decade. My idea of a book required one hundred thousand words but I was happy to let it lie as writing itself had been cathartic. In reality I was grieving for the close friend whose sudden death had prompted the journey but also for a chapter of my life that had now passed. My friend Craig Carey-Clinch published his book The Road to Mali covering our trip and like me he also included some of the backstory.
Life got in the way with countries, jobs and children. Ten years later I came back to the idea of finishing the book. The passage of time had softened some of the harsher sentiments in the original manuscript and I was also able to reorder incidents in the timeline to improve the flow and develop a few of the ideas more fully. By now I was at the hundred thousand word target and figured some professional copy editing would be helpful.
Richard Bradburn over at editorial.ie agreed to take a look over the manuscript. In many ways I was the potential nightmare client as I showed up with a fairly definite view that the thing was more or less complete and did not need structural edits. His copyediting was invaluable and his input on some structural items was very constructive and vastly improved the final product. At a technical level I had to transfer over to Microsoft Word because that’s what everyone in the area seems to use to provide comments and corrections.
Then more life stuff intervened and the manuscript sat for another year with occasional minor reworking and endless rereading until I attended a talk on writing (by Vanessa O’Loughlin) who then put me in touch with Ronan Colgan at Carrowmore.
All I actually wanted was to memorialise the time and get a printed book in my hand plus a few for friends and family. I had no illusions about making an income from it or spending time or money paying for any real marketing. Motorcycle travel literature is a niche field and the readership is mostly in the close-knit community of long distance motorcycle travellers. The idea of involving a publishing house and assuming they chose to go ahead, handing over rights and delaying at least another year did not fit. Self-publishing (previously often called vanity publishing) was the way forward for me.
Ronan took the manuscript and we went through the layout where again I had some ideas and a draft cover design. The big value here was Carrowmore providing and handling the contacts with the graphic designer for the cover, interior layout and typography and the setup with Amazon. On internal layout my main input was to show up with a book whose design and modern typography I liked (Lone Rider by Elspeth Beard) and present that as the default for font, spacing and other things. On cover design I had a selection of photos to work with as the genre practically requires a motorcycle on the cover.
I’d seen friends who’d also published books pay thousands to printers, suffer delivery of pallets of printed books which then needed to be stored and carted around to stalls at motorcyclist events. Print on demand solves this at a stroke and the reality is that a large fraction of readers want it on Kindle anyway. For friends and family I got a hundred printed hardbacks done and Kindle Direct Publishing at Amazon set up by Carrowmore took care of the rest. The cool aspect of this is that the book appears in Australia, the USA and a few other markets with no extra effort and a fairly even split between print on demand paperbacks and Kindle ebooks.
In terms of process I am more what the Americans call a “plotter” who plans and outlines rather than a “pantser” who just sits down and writes. For me getting quickly to a point where there is a solid body of around fifty thousand words representing the skeleton of the book and then using that as something to dive into and revise is satisfying and also allows early feedback. Expanding on a fairly rich travel diary and having numerous observations on long distance motorcycling meant I got to that point quickly. In retrospect the passage of a decade allowed me to incorporate other related events and give the story more depth.
Friends and family liked the final result and I sell a few copies on Amazon every month without any effort at all. This suits me fine and I am very happy with the book. I’m currently working on a very different non-fiction book which I expect to bring out in 2021.
If you have a manuscript lying around then it’s never too late to have at it.
(c) David French
About Mefloquine Dream:
Balancing pace and perception we sped along. Our slim tall bikes sliced through the desert.A new road waited to be explored. The first all-road motorcycle trip to West Africa. There were many more meaningful reasons to go but this one was enough. Two friends left the northern European winter and rode south. An ambitious plan called for passing through the empty desert, seeing the effects of development and aid on a remote corner of this fascinating continent from the saddle of a motorcycle and making one last rendezvous with the past.
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