Better late than never …

Where I explain why the time is right for my book about my big adventure around the equator to finally see the light of day.

Seven years before my first book was published I did a big trip around the equator. It was an incredible journey that took me through 16 countries and three civil wars and 40,075 kilometres around the midriff of the planet. I picked up a few a few dodgy stomach bugs along the way and enough stories to last a life time.

I had hoped those stories would become the subject of a book. My first book. But things didn’t quite work out that way.

Don’t get me wrong, I did write a book. This book. The trouble is, it was rejected by every publisher on the planet.

Travel doesn’t sell, I was told. 

It didn’t. Well, not until Bill Bryson came along.

Nobody knows you. 

Also true. 

You haven’t been on 60 Minutes

Again, true. But I couldn’t quite figure out the relevance.

Nobody wants to go on holidays to the equator. 

Somalia? Zaire? Colombia? OK, I kind of get that.

Fittingly, the book was called Going Around In Circles. It was a reflection of the journey itself, and as it turned out, of trying to get it published as well.

I did briefly get an agent to hawk the manuscript around publishing houses. She was regarded as one of the best in the business and to her credit, she was able to convince an editor at Random House read it. He thought it was too flippant. And not literary enough.

My agent said I should try to be like one of her other clients, a bright and breezy TV travel host with a dazzling smile. When I said I wasn’t sure that I could do that she promptly dropped me.

Not all was lost. A lot of the stories from the trip ended up in my first book, No Shitting In the Toilet. It was a book that took an even more circuitous route to the printing presses but at least succeed in seeing the light of day. That book was about the absurdity of travel. This trip had that in droves.

But the full story – this story – has been gathering digital dust on a number of different hard drives for close to thirty years.

After taking a decade off to concentrate on being a father – much harder than convincing an Afghani warlord I mean him no harm, as it turns out – I decided to get back into the ‘scene’. All these bearded chaps and floaty-dress wearing girls were becoming travel ‘influencers’. Perhaps I could become one too. Or maybe a micro-influencer. OK, how about a nano influencer?

Instagram seemed to be the easiest route back in. Post a picture. Write a caption. Add a few hashtags. And its obsession with glossy, unrealistic images of travel seemed to offer me an opportunity to carve out a niche revelling in, shall we say, less salubrious side of travel.

What was there to lose?

Straddling the Equator in Uganda

As my long time readers will know, I’ve already posted pictures from the trips that became books on the individual web pages for each of those books on my website. So in the quest for images about the kind of travel I love – the gritty, the random, the life affirming encounters – I naturally dug out the slides from my big trip around the equator. 

Well, what a trip down memory lane that turned out to be. For one thing, I’d forgotten how long and blonde my hair was and well, frankly, how much of it I had. I looked tanned and fit, but also a little bit wild-eyed and crazy. But more importantly I was reminded of the people I’d met and the adventures I’d had. 

I had every intention of taking the easy route of simply posting an image/caption/hashtag two or three times a week. But I soon found myself writing mini-stories for each picture. About the people. About the adventures. About the lessons learned. It had been my first big trip, so many of those lessons were fundamental.

Most of the stuff I could remember off the top of my head. Even after all these years, a quick glance and it was like I was back on the equator again. Sometimes a detail might allude me. Like the name of the boat my father and I caught from Belem to Manaus on the Amazon. So I dug out the old manuscript, well the digital version of it at least, and flicked through it in search of what I wanted to know.

And you know what? It wasn’t too bad. It was a little clunky in parts and a little too try-hard in others. And like the editor from Random House had said, it was flippant. And yes, it was little-hearted and not at all worthy. But it’s a hell of an adventure. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

So, as well as posting on Instagram, I have decided to give the manuscript a bit of spit and polish and publish each chapter on my web site as it is done.

Whether it comes to anything more than that, I’m not sure. But the process has sparked a passion for writing again and reminded me what it is that I loved about travel in the first place.

Random encounters with incredible humans on this crazy old planet of ours.

And the world in all its tarnished glory.

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