Archive for the ‘Mullet hunting’ Category
I realised, on my way back from Luxembourg in November, that I’d been lucky enough to tick off eight foreign countries this year.
First up was a work trip to Romania, swiftly followed by our wonderful five-country overland trip through Europe that took in France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia and Germany. Then our weekend in Luxembourg also saw a couple of hours in Belgium.
It’s the most countries I’ve been to in a year since 2001, when Niall and I did our big four month journey from Frankfurt to Cairo. That trip took in sixteen countries (I think), and I’ve not come anywhere near that total since.
2012′s eight countries is halfway to that record, which isn’t bad for stuff done mostly in leave from work. It proves that with a bit of saving and planning you don’t need to quit your job in order to travel lots.
That said, I’m less chuffed that this year’s countries were all repeat visits. In thinking about it, I haven’t actually visited a new country since Spain (and, briefly, Portugal) in 2010. A trip which, incidentally, I still hope to explore in blog form one day.
Now I’m not one for travelling with a checklist, and arguably it’s better to visit one country in depth than five superficially. After all, I’m saying I visited Belgium this year on the back of about three hours, and my claim that I visited Portugal is based on a mere thirty minute hop over the border from Spain in 2010. So it’s always an inexact and misleading indicator of one’s travels.
It’s also nice (and, on the whole, cheap) to do things more domestically, such this year’s hillwalking (1|2) or the trip to Edinburgh for The Next Stop. Scotland’s a great place that I am sure I’ll never bore of exploring. That said, as someone so keen on travel I sometimes find it rather tempting to keep a running total of countries.
I think that total is somewhere in the mid- to late-thirties, which means I’m now lagging seriously behind Niall, with whom I’ve had an informal “country total” competition for some years now. Of course, it’s been a few years since he began working on oil rigs around the world and then commenced his wonder hunting, so it’s fair to concede that it’s been dead and buried as a meaningful contest for some time.
I’ve no idea where my next travels are. Earlier this year I seriously considered the idea of going to the world Esperanto congress in Rejkjavik in August 2013. Iceland is a country I’ve long wanted to visit, and indeed it’s probably at the top of my wishlist. For cost reasons, though, I had to rule it out. I would have wanted to not just participate in the congress and see a bit of Rejkjavik but would also have done a tour of the country as a whole while I was there. Even with cost-cutting measures such as camping or Couchsurfing, research suggested that it would still have been a prohibitively expensive trip. Another time, then.
There’s also the as yet unvisited half of the list of 28 mullet places, mostly in the USA. They, however, are firmly on the back burner until I get my second book out and perhaps earn a bit of money from it that could fuel another mullet trip. And frankly I really ought to be focussing more on both my forthcoming books rather than indulging in new large-scale trips I can’t yet afford.
That said, there’s talk of a more modest adventure in 2013 – another wonder hunt with Niall to pick off more French candidates. That should, if it goes ahead, be reassuringly close by, easy and enjoyable.
So apart from that, then, I think I need to focus on the writing. 2012′s travels have been fun, but there are books to get done. Major new travels can wait.
I feel that you, dear reader, are long overdue an update on the progress of my second mullet book. This will be the sequel to Up The Creek Without a Mullet and will bring the account of my mullet-hunting adventures more or less up to the present day, charting my trips to England, Canada, New Zealand and the USA. There’s much to update on, so this is a bit of a long post.
Delays have been plentiful, primarily due to my own lack of progress with finishing, that that in turn has been a result of busyness and not a little writers’ block. It’s been a hard slog in the past year or two, and I am sure had I been better organised and motivated I could have finished the book much sooner. However, it’s now just about ready, and will be titled Return of the Mullet Hunter.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the publishers of Up The Creek Without a Mullet, Sandstone Press, have declined to take the sequel. There were some concerns about the quality of the book (more on which in a moment), but to be honest sales of the first book haven’t been what either I or Sandstone would have hoped, and if a gamble on one book by an unknown author fails, then a publisher has every right to be cautious about a second gamble. Also, and much more excitingly for Sandstone, they’ve been very successful in their rapidly growing contemporary fiction output, with many titles by well-known and respected authors, and some releases having won longlists, shortlists and even prizes in very prestigious competitions. It’s exciting times for Sandstone on the fiction front, so is entirely understandable with that growth in fiction that they conclude that there’s no room for another whimsical travel title such as my continuing mullet adventures.
Disappointing though that rejection was, I simply regarded the decision as an opportunity to try other avenues. The day I got the news from Sandstone, I was searching around online for other publishers and agencies who the second mullet book might suit, and over the coming weeks I will be pursuing those avenues, difficult though it will be to pitch a sequel to a brand new publisher.
So the alternative avenue I am also thinking of exploring is self-publishing, a route I’ve been hearing more and more about in the last couple of years. Largely due to the rise of the ebook, self-publishing has been seen as increasingly easy and viable, not to mention empowering in terms of giving authors full control over their text and the means and tone of publicity. Of course there are drawbacks, not least in terms of the numerous tasks from proofing to designing to marketing that instantly pass from publisher to author upon adoption of this route. Plus, sometimes – often – authors’ judgements are wrong and their skills are insufficient, which is precisely why there is a array of editors, proof-readers, type-setters, designers, marketers and so on working on any traditionally published title.
But there are certain things I have been able to do to at least try to mitigate some of that gap, and of course ready the text for submission to other agents and publishers. One thing is good editing.
As I say, UTCWAM didn’t make a huge number of sales, and neither did it particularly set the book world on fire as I saw disappointingly few reviews of it. However, there was one review that was my favourite. Not because it was the most glowing (it wasn’t), but because it was the most thoughtful and the only one to directly address perceived problems and weaknesses in both the wider genre and the book itself.
It was written by friend-of-a-friend Simon Bishop, and in subsequent correspondence Simon said he’d be very happy to take a look at any future manuscript I wrote. So, when the second book was rejected by Sandstone I asked Simon to read it and give me some general comments about what worked and what didn’t.
The feedback I got was pretty mindblowing. It was as if Simon had been inside my head and knew what I was trying to do better than I knew myself, combining as he did the dispassionately forensic eye of a scientist with the creatively empathetic eye of a keen traveller. He suggested moving certain bits around, leaving some parts out, and elaborating on others. With perfect accuracy he could tell the sections I’d most struggled to write. The action points I’ve taken from Simon’s feedback were hugely satisfying to get stuck into.
I mentioned earlier Sandstone’s concerns about quality when I submitted the manuscript to them, and now feel I’ve addressed them and improved the book to the best of my ability. I probably should have done all this before submitting it to Sandstone, but hey, you live and learn, and as one door closes, others will open. This just shows that you cannot put value on a good editor, and I’m grateful to Simon for putting in such a lot of work, not only into commenting on the manuscript as I described above but also taking a second look to provide a more detailed copy edit.
So, having just about finished addressing the points Simon recommended I look at, and being really happy with the end result, I am now ready to pitch once more. That will be the task for the coming weeks. I am not sure how confident I should be that someone will be interested in it, or whether I should conversely be realistic about having to resort to self-publishing.
Either way, there’s been delay enough, so I am determined to make progress soon down whichever route it works out to be. If the book is snapped up, then there will be further (though entirely welcome) delays. If not, then I’m determined to self-publish it by the end of 2012.
And with the bulk of the writing out of the way for the mullet sequel, I can really turn my attention to my other ongoing task: writing up The Next Stop.
As part of World Book Day today, I was privileged to be invited to a local secondary school, Millburn Academy, to do some readings and talks about my book. I was a little nervous, largely because I’d never spoken to an exclusively younger audience (and it was my first event through the Scottish Book Trust’s Live Literature Fund), and also because I hadn’t done a talk since August last year so I was a mite rusty.
However, I think it all went smoothly and I got some nice feedback, including from one of the janitors who caught me as I was leaving to tell me he was in the middle of the book and was really enjoying it. Which was nice.
I was delighted to be working alongside Peter Wright, author of Ribbons of Wildness, one of the first real explorations of Scotland’s watershed. I think we presented a good contrast in approaches to adventure – one silly and global, one more serious and local – and with any luck inspired people to get out themselves and follow the “what if” that lies inside us all.
So a big hello to any staff or pupils from Millburn who might have stumbled their way here after today’s events. I hope I didn’t bore you too much!
It’s a little scary to think, but my last mullet-related trip was in 2008: a road trip along the west coast of the USA with Justin. You’ll read all about it, of course, in my second book, news of which I hope to have for you soon.
One particular highlight of the trip, which I blogged about soon after returning, was Salvation Mountain. On a hill in the middle of the sorching, desolate Californian desert, one man brought life, colour and love through the creation of a quite incredible place. His name was Leonard Knight and Salvation Mountain was the result of years of work.
I was told by a friend in Los Angeles, Jenny – who you’ll also meet in the sequel – that there was an article about Salvation Mountain in the LA Times the other day. It reports, sadly, that the now elderly Leonard Knight is no longer at the site and is living in a home some distance away. The mountain is, it seems, missing him as the paint is starting to wear. Thankfully friends and supporters are stepping in to do something about it.
I wish them well. It’s a special place that deserves to be protected. If you are ever in that corner of the USA, it’s well worth a significant detour to see it.
I was lucky enough to have a great audience who asked lots of interesting questions, and I hope my slideshow presentation tour of the mullet adventures (both those featured in Up The Creek Without a Mullet and those from later trips that I am nearly finished writing up) went down well.
However, many of the comments from Kit Fraser, who chaired the event and introduced me, and the questions from the audience, focussed on the fact that the adventures have often taken me to places where not a lot happens – quiet villages, remote and uninhabited backwaters and so on. This surprised me, but pleasantly so.
In amongst the admittedly oddball and madcap adventures of UTCWAM and the impending sequel, there lies, I hope, a quiet focus on the solitude, emptiness and downright unattractiveness of some of the non-entities that I visit. It got me thinking a lot about how some travel writing dwells on, even relishes, the idea of empty, uninteresting and rarely-visited destinations. This is something especially valuable in a world where all the most exciting and interesting places are so easy to get to and so regularly covered by travel writing and new or interesting angles on them are increasingly hard to find.
I made reference in one of my answers from the audience to Daniel Kalder, a Scottish travel writer who, I feel, magnificently captures how such empty and little-known places can be compelling precisely because of their emptiness and nothingness. His two books, Lost Cosmonaut and Strange Telescopes, are well worth a read if that side of travel appeals to you. I increasingly find that it does to me.
You may remember me speaking back in June at A Night of Adventure, a fundraising evening in Edinburgh for the great charity Hope and Homes for Children. It turned out to be a really fun evening, and very inspiring because I was rubbing shoulders with fellow speakers that included round the world cyclists, mountaineers, endurance runners and others who all told incredible tales of exploration, determination and adventure. Also, of course, it was a great opportunity to hear more about the charity’s work.
I was quite pleased with my own presentation in the end. I was the penultimate speaker out of twelve, so I was increasingly nervous as the evening went by, particularly as everyone’s thoroughly daring tales of pushing themselves to their physical limits made my mullet-hunting quest feel like a pathetic triviality.
That, however, worked in my favour because my presentation could come over as a refreshing alternative to the more hardcore end of the adventure spectrum, and in any case my fellow presenters were hugely entertaining and hilarious, so my flippant mission ended up not appearing quite so out of kilter as I feared it might.
The presentations were all recorded, and Al Humphreys, who organised the evening, has put them on his Vimeo page. Do go and check them out – there are some thoroughly inspiring and entertaining tales. Mine is right here and, of course, just above.
If you survived to the end of Up The Creek Without a Mullet, you might recall mention (on p206) of the Adelaide-based amateur touch rugby team The Mullets, whose member Natalie wrote to me when my 2005 trip to hunt Australian mullets made a few headlines. She told me about some of the fun quirks of the team including their annual award of The Golden Mullet.
Natalie emailed the other day to report that, sadly, The Mullets are no more, but she was excited to read that the team had been enshrined in history (or at least, mentioned in my book).
Sadly I’ll never be able to fulfil my invitation to go and see them play.
I wonder if this was how people felt when Third Lanark hit the dust?
Longtime readers will know that I am really not a fan of Facebook. I never really thought it did anything that other things (eg this blog, or email, or Flickr, or – gasp! – talking to people) didn’t do. However, I joined a few years ago to give it a try, and found it tolerable though a bit creepy. Eventually though I gave up on it and was quite happy being an exile.
But increasingly, and against my prediction that it would be a passing fad, my absence from it has been felt keenly on a couple of occasions. Most recently and importantly, much of the emerging details about Kieran’s kidnap happened within Facebook so I only got information second-hand with some delay, which was frustrating when a friend was in danger.
Also, with my book “Up The Creek Without a Mullet” approaching its first birthday and still going strong, I’ve been working with my publishers to explore ways of keeping the book’s profile high – and indeed raising it. One consequence of this is that I have realised that Facebook is a valuable tool for those with something to promote.
So it is with a heavy heart – not to mention a full recognition of my own hypocrisy in changing my mind yet again – I have returned to Facebook.
Those of you who arrived at this post via the front door will have noticed some wee icons on the bottom-right of the front page (which I found here). These are direct links to my Twitter, my Flickr and my brand new mullet adventures page on Facebook; not to mention the wopping big box on the right hand side of this post glaringly and shamefully directing you to it. You may also have noticed the “share” buttons at the bottom of each blog post too, allowing you to link easily via various social networking sites to anything I might have said in here that’s of interest (I know, hope springs eternal).
Further, you can even enter “Simon Varwell’s mullet adventures” as one of the Books that you like on your Facebook profile as well. If indeed you did like it. You might have hated it, but I don’t think there’s an option for that on Facebook. Yet.
Anyway, there are already plenty folk who have – in the parlance of Facebook with which I am slowly reacquainting myself – “liked” my mullet adventures page, and you’re welcome to “like” it too and tell your friends all about it.
I’ve really entered the world of social media now. And there’s no turning back.
The modest flurry of media coverage of “Up The Creek Without a Mullet” in Australia continues.
First up I was in the Brisbane Courier Mail on Tuesday of this week. Readers of UTCWAM may recall towards the end of the book me describing an interview with Rod Chester from the Courier Mail, and chatting about everything from the Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to fish factories. It was a fun chat because after a raft of nerve-wracking, time-pressed live radio interviews it was a pleasure to talk at length in a more relaxed way. We spoke at length for this recent article and it was nice to catch up with Rod again after five years and talk about how the mission had turned into a book. Incidentally, you can follow Rod on Twitter.
Secondly, I was in yesterday’s Illawarra Mercury (online and pdf). Again, readers of UTCWAM will know that I owe a lot to the Mercury - they did a couple of great articles about me in 2005, one before my arrival which led to me meeting some wonderful people, and then one upon my visit to Mullet Creek, Dapto, the headline of which inspired the book’s title.
Their article yesterday was at one point the fifth most-read article on the Mercury’s website. Frankly I struggle to believe what four stories could possibly have been more important to the people of the Illawarra region…
And finally, I have one forthcoming radio interview (I’m waiting for ABC Brisbane’s breakfast show to read the book), and my recent ABC Perth one to upload – I’ll share it with you once I’ve figured a way of doing so.
I had a busy day yesterday. I took the dreaded “red eye” 0647 train to Edinburgh for a day’s work, and then had a couple of interesting engagements in the evening.
First, due to a chance encounter at a recent Highland Literary Salon gathering, I was invited to the equivalent literary get-together in Edinburgh, which was an interesting experience. I’m not sure I suit “literary” circles, and feel slightly out of sync when people tell me about their highly intelligent literary pursuits and I respond in turn to the inevitable question by telling them about mullets. I also think I inadvertantly insulted a world-renowned author, so maybe it’s not for me.
Indeed, when I texted Niall, with whom I am staying down here, to say I’d be at a literary salon, he replied:
“A literary salon? You need to take a close look at the direction your life is heading.”
“I know,” I texted back. “I need to get into drugs or something.”
Following the salon I met Niall to get some food – The Last Drop, a nice and very typically Edinburgh pub on the Grassmarket with most eclectic music tastes (War of the Worlds to Nirvana via Gerry Rafferty & Bob Holness).
After that, I was on the phone to ABC radio in Perth, Australia, who recorded a short interview with me about Up The Creek Without a Mullet. It’s part of some recent publicity I’ve been doing now the book is available as an ebook, and if you happened to be listening to Wednesday’s breakfast show then you might have heard me.
It was quite a deja vu moment, though, because it was the same show – and indeed same presenter and producer – I spoke to five years ago when hunting mullets in Australia. If presenter Eoin Cameron is reading this, then apologies that he is rechristened Ian in my description of that 2005 interview towards the end of the book. Serves me right for making assumptions purely on what I hear: another for the typo list!
Another result of my efforts has been a short piece in the Sydney Morning Herald Diary today. That again was something I featured in five years ago when they picked up on the Bundaberg News-Mail’s front page from a day or so previously, and propelled me, very briefly, into a whirlwind of interviews and even a TV appearance – but of course you can read all about that in UTCWAM’s closing chapters.
I’ve tapped up quite a few contacts from five years ago, and so there are a few other radio and newspaper pieces “Down Under” in the pipeline. I’ll of course post details here as I know them. It’s nice but strange to be talking to the same individuals all these years later, suggesting I’m destined to feature in Aussie media precisely once every five years.
Stand by for 2015, I guess.
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