The Return of the Mullet Hunter comes out on Monday 2 December, as I announced the other day. But if you’ve read my first book or followed the mullet mission over the years, you’d be entitled to ask a number of questions – like why it’s only out as an ebook, why it took so long, and what on earth have I been doing since February 2010 when the first book was launched.
The best answer is to give you a very condensed version of the very long and protracted story of the mullet mission and its journey to print.
2003 – 2005 – Following my conception of the mullet mission, I do trips to Albania, Ireland and Australia. Towards the end of this period of time, enough people have said to me that it would make a good book for me to think that I should try to write it up.
2005-2007 (ish) – I write up my notes from the journeys, juggling writing with my busy day job and various other big life events like moving to Glasgow (and then back to Inverness eighteen months later). I pitch the book to countless publishers and literary agents, and although there is occasionally some interesting feedback the answer (if I’m lucky enough to get one) is consistently “no”. I give up, and put the idea of getting published on the back burner.
2006-2008 – Undeterred by this, and rather trapped in my own folly, I undertake the England, Canada, New Zealand and USA legs of the mission. Along the way I keep writing notes, but have no particular plan or intention to publish. Neither do I have the time, money or motivation to undertake another mullet-hunting trip after that.
2009 – Purely by chance, I connect with Dingwall-based publisher Sandstone Press. They’re interested in the mullet mission, and after several weeks of discussion and hard work, they agree to publish the first three missions under the title “Up The Creek Without a Mullet”.
2010 – Up The Creek Without a Mullet comes out. Further writing or travels become harder to do given all the publicity and events the book launch involves and the self-promotion I rather uncomfortably commit myself to doing to help the book sell. Minor details like getting married and moving house also somewhat pre-occupy me.
2011 – Slowly and eventually, I get the story written up to the present day, getting the next four adventures in a presentable form for what I plan to be the second book.
2012 – Sandstone Press turn down the second book. Fair enough, as I reflected on my blog at the time. I have a sniff around other agents and publishers, but very quickly come to the conclusion that the huge amount of time and energy that goes into pitching is not worth it given the scant chance of success. In any case, even if I was snapped up by a new publisher or agent, there is still a huge number of creative and practical hoops to jump through that could take a year or more, and I’m concerned about the now chasmic delay between the first and second books. So I decide to self publish. I also get distracted by conceiving, undertaking and beginning to write up the adventure that will become The Next Stop. I don’t, however, forget about my prospective second mullet book, and I try to improve it by doing two things. The first is get my friend Simon to have a look at the book. His feedback is incredibly helpful and gives me a lot of action points to get stuck into. I also submit the book to the critical review scheme of Hi-Arts, the Highland and Islands arts development agency.
2013 – Hi-Arts has its funding withdrawn and is wound up. Some months later, though, the writing part of the agency re-emerges as a new entity called Emergents. To my surprise and delight, their critical review scheme carries on as part of this re-invention and still has my book on file. I finally get feedback and a short, intense mentoring arrangement out of it, and further changes are made to the book. It’s a welcome development but a time-consuming one as the weeks tick by, and my intention to get The Return of the Mullet Hunter self-published by the end of the year begins to look a bit shaky.
December 2013 – The Return of the Mullet Hunter is published. Phew. In the nick of time.
So that’s an overview of the past few years’ milestones and delays. It’s been a frustrating process, but that’s life and one can’t complain unduly when there are bigger stresses and strains being felt by others in the world. In any case, I’m there now – The Return of the Mullet Hunter book is out, and the next big phase of work (promoting it) begins.
Many great writers churn out a book or two a year. They often tend to be fiction, where a lot of research can be desk-based or merely fuelled by the imagination. Travel writing is different: costly, time-consuming and often logistically complex. Also, many prolific writers are usually full-time. But for me, there are the constraints of a demanding full-time job and just a few weeks’ leave a year to do the travels. This means it’s an extremely slow process to undertake trips while using what spare time I have to do all the preparation beforehand and the writing up afterwards.
Could I have produced the second book faster if I’d been writing and travelling full-time? Of course I could. But I don’t have the resources to do that, and part of the story I tell in The Return of the Mullet Hunter is about the stress and strain of trying to undertake a silly mission while also trying to live a normal life and do a normal job.
Key to this has been the question I face about whether I should carry on or give up – my curiosity, wanderlust and fear of failure have exhorted me to carry on with the mission, while my finances and common sense have screamed at me to quit. Rather than see that dilemma as a distraction from writing the books and pursuing publication, I’ve been honest with myself and included it as a key part of the story. So if the second book’s taken a long time, at least when you read it you’ll get a sense of precisely why.
And this post will have hopefully explained it a little more deeply.