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Thursday, 3 January 2013

Travels in seventeen trans-Mississippi states? Sounds like a book.

New Year? Plans? Of course I have. Who hasn’t?

This year, more than any other, I have a renewed determination to make the most of my precious time here. I have been reminded over the past few weeks that none of us can count on being around forever. Of course, there’s the day-to-day business of making a living, and for me that includes more Mike Pannett work, more manuscript reading, and a possible ghosting job which I don’t want but cannot afford to ignore. Beyond that, however, I am brewing up a new idea, and one that’s got my pulse racing.

After I put that old story ‘Sky City’ on the blog the other day (
I received a couple of very warm responses suggesting I’d done a decent job of evoking the spirit of the place. And that got me thinking. I have a great stack of journals from my western road trips - of which there have been fifteen or more dating back to the mid-1980s.

I’ve often felt frustrated that I’ve rarely found a way to exploit that material. I’m talking about journeys that probably add up to 50,000 road miles. Toad’s Road-Kill CafĂ© was one answer. That’s the story of my journey up, and down, the Hundredth Meridian - and of course I’ve recently put it up as an e-book (

There’s also a manuscript based on my bicycle ride across Nebraska - so far unpublished and artfully entitled Mountaineering in the Sierra Nebraska. (I think you have to be a bit of a western history buff to get that**.. and maybe that’s one reason I never sold it. Teach me to be a smart-ass….)

Beyond that I’ve only really used the accumulated material to feed into an unpublished novel (Son of a Gun) and a clutch of travel articles for British newspapers, as well as the Wyoming-based American Cowboy.

It occurred to me as we drove down to South Wales towards the end of last week, that inasmuch as I was able to use my visit to Acoma to come up with a short story like ‘Sky City’,  I ought to be able to compose a dozen more to make a sort of ‘short stories of the American West’ collection. After further consideration, I came up with the possibility that I might set each one in a different western state. I have travelled in all seventeen at various times, and a sort of ‘trans-Mississippi’ collection might be easier to market; it would also give me a firm plan to work to. 

So there it is, my new year’s idea. Ridiculously simple, but I am hoping it will focus my mind as I do what I so often do: browse the atlas, flip though my tattered journals and wonder how best to write about the places I’ve known, the people I’ve met and the stories I’ve heard. I suppose I’m looking for an excuse to re-live the one thing we will always possess: our past.

** The title was, of course, an echo of Clarence King’s travel classic, Mountaineering In The Sierra Nevada.

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