John Chick recounts a tale of long days in the saddle followed by even longer days at the PC writing his book about cycling to Istanbul and back…
“Writing a book about my adventures rolling around Europe‘s less travelled roads was never on the cards at the inception of the 10,000k challenge. The ‘challenge’ of the title was supposed to reflect the difficulties of a solo bike ride from Cardiff to Istanbul and back. That, as it transpired, was the easy part; the cycling turned out to be an extended holiday with me sauntering across the continent, getting lost, getting sunburnt and getting drunk with friendly locals (repeat to fade).
It would be more accurate however to say that the challenge actually refers to two other things: raising £1 for every kilometre that I cycled for local charities; and finally putting pen to paper – or rather finger to keyboard – and capturing the adventure for posterity.
I always anticipated that the fundraising was going to be a difficult slog, the real challenge where my mental fortitude and resilience were to be tested. In the year before I set off, I spent countless hours on a variety of cunning plans to try and persuade, bribe, cajole, or emotionally blackmail people into parting with their cash. In return, all I could offer was that they could avoid having a guilty conscience for a short while. And maybe a raffle ticket. Selling emotional salvation, however, isn’t an easy gig but luckily there are some energetic, optimistic, creative people out there who, unlike me, are fantastic at this kind of thing. Even more fortunately, I managed to round up a gang of them to support me. The result was that we eased past the £10,000 target not long after I set off and finally raised over £15,000 by the time I sauntered back. Every penny I should point out, as was our mantra, went to charity.
A decidedly short while after returning however, when the pain of the fundraising and the joy of the cycling had diminished, I decided to submit to underwhelming public demand and ‘publish my memoirs’. This, it has to be said, sounds rather grand and was also very optimistic on my part. Up until that point, the sum of my written body of work extended to signing birthday cards and scribbling notes around the house telling the kids to tidy up while I was at work. I immediately wondered if I actually knew enough words to fill a book (personal research revealed that you need at least 60,000, but fortunately you can use the same word more than once). Apparently everyone has a good book inside them and so maybe the story of cycling to Istanbul and back would be mine. The motivation of course would be to share my experiences with the world, leave a permanent record of my adventures and demonstrate my literary credentials. And become rich.
I had kept brief notes on my smart phone during the trip which could possibly form the basis of a book but converting the excited ramblings of an endorphin-fuelled and occasionally drunken cyclist into any sort of coherent order was another matter. Most cycle-touring books are written by cyclists who write, as opposed to writers who have cycled. Unfortunately, I am neither cyclist nor writer, but that wasn’t going to stop me. I envisaged knocking off the novel in a month or two, then kicking back and watching the royalties flow in. When you’re a kid, you dream of being a racing driver or a ballet dancer, maybe an astronaut. As an adult, in my experience, people dream of opening a coffee shop somewhere exotic or maybe writing a best seller. In this technological age however, the opportunity to actually be a real live novelist is open to any of us who have access to a PC and a modicum of imagination – it’s like the new punk, anyone can do it! Although again like punk, there is no quality control and for every Clash, there are many thousands of Crispy Ambulances and Stinky Toys.
As I write, I have just finished the long ordeal of having my work re-written, deconstructed and rebuilt, and then battled my way past the Amazon survey process which bizarrely included a check that I am paying the correct amount of income tax. Amazon being in charge of income tax checks is akin to putting McDonalds in charge of a healthy eating initiative. After Amazon had conscientiously ensured that I wasn’t avoiding my tax obligations, my crack IT team (daughter and her boyfriend) then suffered endless formatting problems as we converted a Word document into the correct format for web publication. The book has finally just been published and its already been read hundreds of time! Unfortunately each time by me as I corrected and re-corrected things I had earlier missed, ad nauseum. After two days sales, my son proudly informed me that it was at number 503,114 in the worldwide eBooks best sellers list. ‘Never mind’ encouraged my wife, it’ll be different tomorrow. She was right. I was at 613, 438. It may be a while before I can add writing a resignation note to my oeuvre.”
You can download John’s book by following this link.
I cycled from Worcester to Istanbul. It was only one way but I did it 1¾ times (I ran out of time half way across Macedonia on my 1st attempt). It was a fantastic experience but I don’t have the literary ability nor the IT skills to write a book. I have considered setting up a website rather like this one and putting it out online as a retrospective blog but “got up – cycled – called at supermarket – got lost – cycled – slept” would be a good summation of a great many of the days. You really had to be there to appreciate the trip.
Crispy Ambulance…….that name takes me back a bit!