I have neglected “Now and Then”, most shamefully, and my only excuse is that a fairly hefty writing task came my way. It is now completed – well, 99% completed – so I can come up for air, apologise profusely to one and all, and explain what’s been happening.
For a long time now, a number of friends and colleagues have suggested that I should gather together a few of the “Traveller’s Tales” I have to tell. I have resisted, because I was quite content to incorporate some of them in the various presentations I am occasionally asked to make – after lunch and after dinner speeches, for the most part. I saw no reason to set them down in any other form.
But the pressure continued, and circumstances changed a little, so I began to assemble a few stories. When I thought I had done enough to whet someone’s appetite, I sent them (electronically) to a chum who knows a thing or two about the book-publishing business, hoping he might give me an honest opinion and steer me in the right direction.
The first thing he told me was that my 19,000 or so words were nowhere near enough, and that I should aim to write at least 50-55,000. Now this rather bowled me over, as I am unused to such numbers. Around 1,500 words is about average for a newspaper travel article, though one can spread one’s wings in the direction of 2,000 in a magazine. (This article, for example, is just over 700 words.)
Being given such a target made me feel like an ordinary weekend rambler, content to struggle up the slopes of the Lake District, suddenly being told he was expected to climb Everest – or, at any rate, Mont Blanc.
But I’ve done it. Well, I’ve passed the 50,000 mark, anyway. The plan to publish the book next summer has had to be amended (which miffed me slightly, as I thought it would be exactly the sort of book people would buy at airports to read on the plane). However, publication has been shifted towards the end of 2016, which is most gratifying.
All of which means I have a little time in hand and can set aside the project and go away to America, which is what I am just about to do. I have high hopes that the trip may provide more copy, but that is not its prime purpose.
Incidentally, it wasn’t until I hauled the suitcase out of the cupboard and started to pack that I realised I hadn’t been out of the country for well over a year. (This for a chap who used to dash off on fifteen or more trips between March and November as a matter of course.) Oddly, I hadn’t noticed, which worries me slightly, as I felt sure I ought to have some kind of withdrawal symptoms.
My destination is Colorado. I have no idea what I am going to do when I get there – which, again, is unusual, as all those working trips had tight schedules, with every day action-packed. I am looking forward to it immensely. And hope to tell you about it in due course.
But, before I go, I’d like to leave you with something that has come up as a result of my recent research. The stories in my book are all true, though often unbelievable – which an old friend once told me was the perfect definition of a “Traveller’s Tale”.
However, the traveller has always found it fairly easy to pull the wool over people’s eyes, from the earliest stories of encountering monsters and dragons and weird people who lived in faraway lands. Included in their rascally ranks is, it seems, the great Marco Polo.
He’s was something of a hero of mine, when I was a boy, but I couldn’t understand why “Travels”, his account of his journey to the far and mysterious East, and to the court of the Great Khan, was such a boring tome. I have ploughed through it, but it is really heavy going.
Which leads me to side with the expert historians who now reckon that he never made the journey at all, but remained in the Black Sea port of Constanta, writing down the stories told by returning sailors.
Now that’s cheating …