This week for our ‘Author of the Week’ series we feel very privileged to introduce you to Ian, a Traveller and Adventurer who last year (2013) was crowned runner-up in the National Geographic Traveller (UK)’s Travel Writing Competition. Go on his website and you will see that he inspires many people to travel and try something new. Word is spreading about his amazing travel achievements leading to big names like Bill Bryson and Michael Palin leaving comments on his website also.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
A scientist, and adventurer, writer, and speaker, I’ve written for a range of outlets including Adventure Travel magazine and Bradt’s Bus-Pass Britain Rides Again. I was a runner-up in National Geographic Traveller (UK)’s travel writing competition in 2013.
Before Encircle Africa, a quest for challenge took me to the summit of Mount Kenya, and, by way of a PhD in Biomedical Sciences, the length of Hadrian’s Wall, in addition to an appearance on the BBC’s hardest quiz show, Mastermind.
If you could describe the storyline of your latest novel to someone in just a few sentences how would you entice someone to want to read it?
Encircle Africa: Around Africa by Public Transport is the account my attempt to complete the first solo and unassisted circumnavigation of Africa by publically available transport. It meant I was crossing the continent in battered minibuses and bush taxis, on the backs of flatbed trucks, over rivers in dugout canoes, and along the coast of South Africa in a van delivering freshly-made meat pies.
Travelling 25,000 miles (40,000 km), encircling Africa was equivalent to circumnavigating the Earth at the equator. With no communications but an old mobile phone, and all my kit on my back, I was as reliant on some of the one billion people that call Africa home as I was on my own wits.
Over the 13 month expedition I crossed 31 nations, discovering for myself the daily struggle of living in and travelling through Africa, experiencing the world’s poorest continent at its most raw and real. I am particularly proud of the fact that while in Sudan I became perhaps the only person ever tear-gassed trying to visit a museum.
When and why did you begin writing?
I suppose looking back I’ve always enjoyed writing and the possibilities of escape it offers. I started writing more seriously as a result of my Encircle Africa expedition, when others in the industry told me I had a decent voice and a good story to tell. The narrative account of the book developed from a daily diary I kept during the 396 day journey as a personal record of the experiences and interactions I was having.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Getting positive reviews about my work whether the book, a magazine article, or a talk, is always an immensely satisfying feeling, but there is also always a sense of achievement when a piece I’m writing flows naturally without struggle. In these instances the last draft remains very close to the first, and if nothing else means I have the time to go off for a run or a cycle ride.
What is the hardest thing about being a writer?
It can be a very lonely existence: living alone and completely absorbed at my desk I can end up not seeing or speaking to anyone for days.
It can also be a career loaded with rejection, which if you care about your work doesn’t stop being hard to take. The writing might be great, but if an editor can’t fit it in their magazine that’s the end of it.
What inspires you to write?
As a travel (and sometime food) writer, its first hand experiences which inspire me: the short conversation I might have with someone where I learn something I wouldn’t otherwise find out which triggers a small spark of interest. I have an interest in history, which tends to creep in too, almost subconsciously. The truth is very important to my writing even if it’s unpalatable (which doesn’t always go down well with editors).
When working on a new novel, what is the first thing you do?
Having my diaries as a backbone is a great help and aide memoire, but I don’t really have any special tricks to starting a new piece of writing. I’m quite inefficient in that I just start writing. It can take a while for the focus of a piece to come to the fore, but once I’ve found that point of interest the rest of it seems to flow from that.
Which Writers do you admire and can you name a favourite book?
I like to read as varied a selection of works as I can, and Graham Greene is one of the only writers I consistently and actively seek out. His characters – often based on real people – leap off the page, the conversations flow so naturally, and the plots go by without me even noticing. For me one of his best is The Heart of the Matter, set in Sierra Leone and based partly on his own experiences there. Reading it in Sierra Leone was like looking in a mirror.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Like anything, it’s all about practice. So write as much as you can. I think a diary is a great way to start that. Have the discipline to write something in it every day, even if nothing appears to have happened, and you’ll soon find your writing improving, your descriptions becoming more detailed, your record of conversations improving, and you’ll find plenty of inspiration too.
What are your plans for the future?
My aim is to keep improving and continue to challenge myself. I’ll be heading to Sri Lanka for my follow up adventure to Encircle Africa in a few months, and I’m also hoping to find the time in between travel writing and speaking to start work on some fiction, the idea for which developed during my time in Africa.
To find out more about Ian check out the following:
Website: www.encircleafrica.org, for signed copies of my book, background information, my blog, and future plans
Encircle Africa: Around Africa by Public Transport is also available in paperback and kindle formats globally from amazon: Buy Now
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Ian for taking part in our ‘Author of the Week’ series and for stepping under our spotlight.
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