I have always sat on my own shoulder watching things go pear-shaped and thinking, “this will be funny one day,” so each time something went horribly wrong I’d be busier looking for the angle than actually trying to sort it out.
Carolyn Steele – 18 February 2013
The Back Flap
Almost Ice Road Truckers, except for the tulip bulbs…
“So here’s the plan. I’m going to train to drive a truck and go long-haul. I can get paid and maybe write a book at the same time. What do you reckon?”
“Go for it Mum, how bad can it be?”
This is the tale of what happens when a middle-aged mum from England decides to actually drive-18 wheelers across North America instead of just dreaming about it.
From early training, when it becomes apparent that negotiating 18 wheels and 13 gears involves slightly more than just learning how to climb in, this rookie overcomes self-doubt, infuriating companions and inconsiderate weather to become a real trucker.
She learns how to hit a moose correctly and how to be hijacked. She is almost arrested in Baltimore Docks and survives a terrifying winter tour of The Rockies.
Nothing goes well, but that’s why there’s a book.
Trucking in English began as a blog from the cab and became a popular podcast before taking book form. It will be the third in Carolyn’s Armchair Emigration series, as soon as Book Two is written.
About the book
What is the book about?
It’s the true story of a mad adventure. I took it into my head to get a commercial driving licence and drive 18-wheelers across North America. I blogged as I went and collected up enough stories for a book.
When did you start writing the book?
Whenever I start a daft enterprise (which is quite frequently) I begin writing immediately. In the days before blogging, I used to discipline myself to write 800 words a week for a mythical column (which eventually became a real column) so that the impressions would be fresh. This time I began to write on the day I walked into a local trucking school to find out what it took to qualify and kept on writing. I had no idea at the time whether I would make it or not, or get a job if I ever managed the licence, but the writing sort of painted me into a corner. I had to keep going to see what happened next.
How long did it take you to write it?
I wrote down everything that happened for the two years (ish) that I drove long-haul. With the book mostly written, editing it all together and giving it a story arc that worked for my betas took about three months.
Where did you get the idea from?
I ran a B&B a few years ago, it was a total disaster (and will be a book) but I met some interesting people. We had three truckers stay with us for a year, they’d been recruited from the UK by a Canadian trucking company, and they’d come back from Having Adventures and tell us the stories. It sounded fun and I decided then that it was something I wanted to do someday.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
I really struggled with the ending. I wanted this to be a book that proved that women are just as good as blokes at this stuff and to debunk the myth that they are only in trucks as the girlfriend and bottle-washer for a real driver. I planned to interview other women truckers for a final section about the industry generally but the only women who answered my call for interviewees were, um, girlfriends and bottle-washers for real drivers.
What came easily?
The tales of disaster and stupidity. I have always sat on my own shoulder watching things go pear-shaped and thinking, “this will be funny one day,” so each time something went horribly wrong I’d be busier looking for the angle than actually trying to sort it out.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
With non-fiction, my characters are real people who have to be caricatured slightly. They all helped to create the book and they deserve some generosity in return, but they also need to leap off the page. I try to be fair but they sometimes have to provide a cheap laugh to be memorable, since they’re mostly gone by the next chapter. I change a few names here and there, try to find a way to warm to them, and hope the ones who really pissed me off won’t read the book.
We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
I aspire to be the love child of Bill Bryon and Bridget Jones. If you are going to write about yourself all the time (and let’s face it, memoir is utterly self-indulgent) then in my view you have a duty to make yourself the butt of most of the jokes. I also love Bill Bryson’s fascination with the minutiae of someone else’s normal. His books aren’t so much travelogues as examinations of what it means to be someone else, lighthearted and whimsical existentialism. I learn about myself when I read his take on the British mentality and, as a Brit abroad, I try to create a similar sense of wonderment at the things other people take for granted.
Do you have a target reader?
I’m usually writing for the armchair traveller and the Sunday paper humour column addict (my big dream is a Sunday paper humour column but I’m running out of time, there won’t be any papers left soon) but with Trucking in English I wanted to widen the appeal a little from the travelogue reader. I hope it will interest anyone who has ever got into a wheeled vehicle as driver or passenger, anyone who has ever overtaken a truck on the highway. I learned so much more about road safety than I ever knew existed while writing this book and, without getting preachy, if any of that comes across I will be very happy.
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
Creep up on it sideways! I am incapable of sitting in front of a blank screen and typing Chapter One, so I write bits here and there. If an idea happens I write it down, flesh it out and file it away, that way you’re never actually really writing, it’s all either jotting or editing. I do have a plan for a novel though, and that might require that I write properly…but I’ll still con myself if possible.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
I haven’t needed to with the travel writing, things just happen, but I am outlining the novel just now and it’s a learning experience. I don’t have chapter titles but I have an event flow and I pop ideas in as they occur to me. I plan to keep fleshing out the outline bit by bit but that may turn out to be a terrible idea. I have a feeling my house will be covered in sticky notes before it’s over and done with.
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
Until now I have edited each section for the obvious things as I go along, since each bit is destined for a standalone blog post before becoming part of the book. Then I have to go back to the beginning and edit all over again once I know how the story is going to develop. The next book won’t be blogged first and I plan to just get it all down and edit later. I am looking forward to finding out which system works best.
Did you hire a professional editor?
Yes and no. I have an old pal who edits for a living and we trade and barter for each other. She edits my books, I write her websites and we both gain.
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
I need silence to do any thinking at all, I can’t put together a shopping list unless it’s quiet.
Did you submit your work to Agents?
Yes I did, partly because when I was submitting my first book to agents and publishers I had positive responses along the lines of, ‘We like you, write us something else. Books about Canada won’t sell but we’d like to see something about the US’. I brought that book out myself and then dutifully wrote the one the industry said it wanted, but of course, the publishing world has changed since then.
What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
I did have a nibble from one agent but waited so long that I decided to take charge of the timing and go Indie again. I wanted Trucking in English out by Christmas 2012 so that I could get on with the next thing and the next. So, I sat down one day and worked out that if I went Indie I just had time to get it ready for people to buy the paperback as a festive gift, the decision then made itself.
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did it you do it yourself?
I worked with a young lady, Rebecca at dreams2media, who is just getting into the cover design business. She is very talented and I’m delighted with the result. I did the cover of my first book myself and it was kinda ok at the time but looks a bit naff now as an online thumbnail, so she’s done a lovely revamp of that one for me too.
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
I thought I had a marketing plan but I think that maybe all I had was a marketing muddle. So, I would appear to be winging it after all.
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
Just do it, don’t wait until your inspiration is all shriveled up, but make sure that your stuff is as good as it can be. Don’t let other Indies down, so get good honest feedback from people who aren’t biased in your favour.
Where did you grow up?
London, England, I’m almost a Cockney.
Where do you live now?
Kitchener, Ontario, which is about an hour west of Toronto. It’s where my son and I accidentally ended up the first time we came to Canada and we fell in love with the area. It’s the middle of Mennonite farming country so there are horses and buggies everywhere and terrific markets and people who ask you how you are all the time.
What would you like readers to know about you?
I’m easily bored. I’m too old to ‘settle down’ now so I might as well carry on doing mad things in case there’s a book to be written. I’m also always on the lookout for other mad adventurers to interview on my blog, where I podcast chats with interesting people on a very irregular basis.
What are you working on now?
I currently have two books which chronicle the journey from Londoner to Canadian. Right now I’m writing a third, which will fill the gap between my first book, A Year on Planet Alzheimer and Trucking in English. It is the oddly frightening tale of running that B&B…I wasn’t expecting prostitutes, drug dealers and murderers when I bought a sleepy little hospitality business to please Canadian Immigration but, as friends have observed, once you spend your life looking for weirdness it seems to come your way. Once the Armchair Emigration trilogy is complete the novel will begin, just now I’m immersed in the research. It’s a political satire set in the UK, called Queenie’s Teapot and I’m stupidly excited to have had a real idea. I’ve always said I don’t have the imagination for fiction but this one is fighting to get out of my head. I think I can safely reveal that it will feature a teapot at a pivotal moment.
End of Interview: