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May 21, 2017

“In Trouble Again”

I was talking with an old colleague last week. Colin is the creative director at an agency that I used to do some work for. He was helping me sort out a proof copy of my latest book, and confessed to having had a quick read as he was converting the file. He told me that the first chapter, In Trouble Again, was so funny that he nearly soiled himself when he read it. I had to point out that I nearly soiled myself too, out of fear during the experience I was describing rather than amusement. Here is a short extract –

“Although the temperature outside is now well below zero, I am lying in the snug and sweaty darkness of a seriously overheated Chinese train compartment. After about half an hour tossing and turning I have a bit of a moment and finally lose my self-control in a high-temperature-induced panic. I feel an urgent and desperate need for fresh air. I need to do something, anything, so I grab my tool kit, get out some pliers and begin to remove the bolts around the frame that obviously keeps the window closed. There are eight bolts, and I remove them one by one and put them each carefully on my table like I’m working on an unexploded bomb. My compartment door is locked, so as long as we don’t stop at a station I can continue my work unobserved by Li and Chen, my minders. The bolts are now all out, but the window still won’t open. I push, shove and try and slide it in all directions. Nothing happens. Taking a break, and sitting on my berth I scratch my head and wish that I were a qualified engineer. Why won’t the window open? I realise that I’m going to have to admit defeat to living in a sauna. But then in a horrible single moment of mechanical deduction, the reason it’s not opening finally dawns on me. This window is fixed shut and, unlike the windows in the corri­dor, has no opening part. What I have actually done is to unbolt the entire window and its frame from the carriage. At this moment there is nothing other than ice and grime holding the window onto the rattling and bumping carriage as we sway down the line towards Irkutsk.”

It would of course have been highly amusing to imagine me trying to explain to the Chinese officials why the window in my compartment was absent from the train in the heart of the Siberian winter. But the two viewpoints of fear and hilarity also made me think about the richness of adventure. When I first started out as a long range rail traveller I tried to plan everything so carefully. The smallest problem stood out as a personal crisis, and I was always worrying about something trivial. It is only over time and with some miles under my belt that I now see most problems as actually generally good things. Not only do they give me something interesting to write about, but they seem to make me a better traveller. So as I have raised my game as a rail adventurer, and now an author, I have actually learned to embrace the odd crisis. I’m also a bit more chilled out now too. By accepting that these things will happen and I will overcome them, I seem to become a more open minded, confident, and a more flexible person.

My first book is about my rediscovery of the joy of long distance train travel. After a longer gestation period than I had planned, it was finally published this week. Trans-Siberian Adventures is based on my first ever journey across Siberia – from Edinburgh to Shanghai.

My original blog has proved to be a useful journal, but the book has allowed me to take my writing to a new place – one that perhaps only two years ago I would not have imagined. I have been able to write about my experiences in much more detail and to provide what I feel is a more real insight into life on the rails. Blogging on the move has become a daily ritual of my travel, but like an artist, this is really just an initial sketch, rather than the full painting.

I had originally planned to include all my Siberian escapades in just one book, but after I started writing I realised that there was so much material that I should try and put each journey into its own book. I’m now writing the second adventure, and hoping that it will take less time to complete than the first one did. The story is actually longer, but I have learned so much about publishing that things should be simpler now – as long as I don’t get too distracted in planning my next adventure!

I feel I should point out that the photo at the top of this post might imply my impending custody in a Korean jail. I have to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. I found Korean policemen to be the nicest law enforcement agency that I have ever encountered. This gives me a closing thought, one that I also mention in the book. It doesn’t matter if you don’t speak a word of the same
language; nearly all people in this world are innately kind and generous to
strangers. Don’t be put off travel by what you read in the newspapers.

I really hope you enjoy my book and that it might inspire you to give long range rail adventure a try. You can read more about Trans-Siberian Adventures on my book page. Please let me know what you think.

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