In May last year Adrian Besly set out to cycle around the world. It was nine months before he returned to England, his two-wheeled adventures ranging from the comical to the hair-raising. He kept a diary along the way, and when he came back he wrote a book about his epic journey. It was at that point that Adrian contacted me to edit his manuscript. The result is Do It – Cycling Around The World For A Laugh, now available in print through Amazon and as a Kindle ebook. Here I talk to Adrian about his travels, writing and his experience of working with me to transform his manuscript into the finished, published book. (Note: in 2021 the book was updated and ‘Do It’ dropped from the title for a new edition.)
Gary Dalkin: The most obvious question that comes to mind is, why? I mean, why cycle around the world? It’s not something most people would think about, or if they did, they wouldn’t seriously set out to do it. So why did you, as the title of your book puts it, Do It?
Adrian Besly: Why? I suppose in my character I have noticed I like to push things to the limit. For example I don’t just take up jogging, I enter a marathon. I don’t just take up nursing, but go to work in A&E. I don’t just take up judo for a bit of fitness, but get a black belt. I don’t just cycle around lovely Essex, but around the lovely world. I don’t just scribble a cycle diary but write an international bestseller! I hope!
That aside, to be honest, I genuinely think almost anyone could do what I did, which is why I called the book Do it. When you walk down any street in England you can see cars worth £30,000, and I cycled around the world, and had the adventure of a lifetime, for half that amount.
Gary Dalkin: The subtitle, Cycling Around The World For A Laugh, suggests something almost impulsive, but presumably once you had decided you were really going to cycle around the world there was a lot of planning involved. You didn’t just hop on your bike one day?
Adrian Besly: Yes I have deliberately underplayed the amount of preparation I put into the trip in order not to bore the reader. In reality I prepared for my own death, because I estimated there was about a fifty percent chance of that. Meeting other cyclists along the way, I discovered my ignorance about what great bikes and equipment was available. Despite that I am quite proud of cycling around the world on a bike that anybody could buy at their local shop.
Gary Dalkin: That’s inspiring, though I’m not sure almost anyone really could ‘do it’! The journey did push you to the limit, and I’m sure most people would have broken sooner or later. As you say, there was a serious chance of dying. Did you ever consider giving up, and what kept you going when things got really tough? What would you say was the worst moment or part of the journey?
Adrian Besly: I never once considered giving up of my own volition, but I was under severe pressure from my family to come home to resolve certain problems. I was getting texts almost daily saying how bad things were and that I was being selfish and irresponsible. It got so bad that in Chile I gave in and went to a travel agent to book a flight home. When I came to pay they could not accept my credit card because it was a weekend. By the following Monday the immediate crisis at home had waned in importance so I carried on. You will have noticed working on the book that I had a few scary moments in most countries, although Palestine was probably the nearest I came to dying.
Gary Dalkin: Yes, you certainly got into some dangerous situations. For someone like me, who suffers from mild vertigo, crossing on the outside of a bridge while carrying your bike was pretty terrifying. But what were about some of the highlights? Clearly, overall you had an incredible experience and are obviously thrilled to have done it.
Adrian Besly: It is a wonderful thing to arrange to meet the person you love at a distant exotic location. Sharon came to meet me in Gibraltar, and later Sydney. It had the romance and excitement of Celia Johnson meeting Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter. Aside from that there is a lovely pleasure in just cycling along on smooth roads, under blue skies, with a warm sun and not a care in the world. On days like I never wanted it to end.
At the risk of sounding like an alcoholic, the other consistently funny times were in bars and pubs across the world. I am quite a quiet person normally, but after a few beers I’ll happily get chatting to anyone. Needless to say I managed to find a nearby bar on ninety percent of the evenings!
As for the places that I enjoyed most, the list would include Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Uruguay, Chile, Hong Kong and all of Europe. Easter Island was especially memorable and the closest I’ve been to paradise.
Gary Dalkin: You kept a diary of your travels. How did you go about doing that? At the time where you writing just for yourself, or did you always plan to write a book about your journey?
Adrian Besly: I have an appalling short term memory. So for any funny little incident that happened, I had to scribble it immediately onto a scrap of paper that I kept in my pocket.
I greatly admire Bill Bryson’s writing – who doesn’t? – and hoped from the beginning I could write a book as enjoyable and informative as one of his. He has the talent and command of language to extract maximum comedic value from the smallest and most innocuous things, such as just the expression on someone’s face. Cycling around the world I always felt I had a huge head start on Bill Bryson, to compensate for my deficiencies in talent, for two reasons. First the story structure is already written in the sense that cycling around the world has a natural start, middle and end. Secondly Bill Bryson travels around in fairly comfortable and safe conditions. Cycling around the world was very often positively hair-raising, which I knew provided some decent meat to put on the skeleton of my journal.
I feel my style of writing improved as I went along and I became better at spotting funny or curious things. I sometimes wish the book could be read from back to front!
Gary Dalkin: Well, there’s nothing to stop anyone reading the chapters in reverse order, Memento style! But back to the writing. You didn’t just write everything on scraps of paper. You used internet cafes and other places along the way. But then when you came home what was your process of turning all your notes and fragments into a book?
Adrian Besly: The challenge was of course to marshal all the information into something readable. I am not an experienced author so I wrote like I speak. Consequently, as my sister pointed out, I tended to repeatedly use particular words, especially brilliant, great and nice! After that I went right through the text trying to improve it with more descriptive language. This proved to be one of the most enjoyable times of writing the whole book; it gives great satisfaction choosing exactly the right word for the job.
Gary Dalkin: When you decided to self-publish the book, what did you do then? Clearly you realised you needed an editor to work on the manuscript with you, but of all the options available why did you chose me, and how did you find the process of working together?
Adrian Besly: My sister pointed out your advert in Writing Magazine. What I discovered while working with you was how little I knew about the process of getting a manuscript print-ready. I expected some spelling and grammar corrections, but was delighted that you did fact-checking and steered me around the libel and copyright minefields. I realise I leaned on you more than most people would regarding my shocking incompetence using computers. I enjoyed the cycling and enjoyed writing about it even more with pen and paper, but I seem to have a mental block and get monumentally frustrated trying to make sense of IT.
Gary Dalkin: Is there anything you’d do differently now, either in terms of the journey, or writing the book? And what advise do you have for other first time authors and self-publishers? It’s been quite an adventure.
Adrian Besly: I have really enjoyed writing the book and it is hugely satisfying to create a funny or profound sentence or paragraph. Of course have not always succeeded, but plenty of people told me they have laughed out loud, which is encouraging.
From other people who I know who have read it the silence has been deafening, so I presume they did not enjoy it or were offended by my forthright opinions on politics and religion.
Initially I acted too hastily and sent off a first draft to 21 literary agents, thinking they would be dazzled by my magnum opus, and of course they weren’t, replying with 21 rejection letters. I would still like a literary agent to promote the book, but feel I have burnt my bridges with the ones I originally approached.
I subsequently got your professional input to knock the book into shape and am delighted how it has turned out. Surely it will now be an international bestseller and I’ll be a millionaire by Christmas? But I won’t jack in my job yet, just in case.
I learnt to try to be more imaginative and descriptive than I would use in normal everyday speech, which was how the first draft was written. This was the first time I’ve ever used a thesaurus. On the technical aspects of cycling around the world there is loads of advice I could give on bikes, equipment, routes, communication and survival.
Adrian Besly is planning to cycle around the Baltic for a laugh in 2018. Meanwhile you can buy Do It – Cycling Around the World For A Laugh from Amazon.