On Writing & Publishing – Adrian Sturrock

Last week, we met Adrian Sturrock, the man who wrote one of the funniest road trip memoirs I have ever read!

According to his bio, Adrian Sturrock is a writer, occasional musician, teacher, and ethnic minority (except, he claims, when in Wales). Adrian recently quit his job to follow his dreams, and last week, I asked him a few questions about how and why.

This time, he shares his wisdom on writing and self-publishing. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Adrian – or diolch yn fawr – since by your own and your wife’s admission, you’re ‘A Welsh’!

On Writing

I think I’ve always been a writer. I just didn’t always write stories or articles. I did, however, write my first book when I was around five years of age. It was absolute rubbish. I should have had it thrown right back at me and told to get a grip. Grown-ups can be so patronising and … nice!

By my teens, I’d become the archetypal Sixth Form poetry-writing student. This comprised mostly of much shoe-gazing and social commentary. All I can say in my defence is that it was the 80s. I was an avid reader of the NME music press, drenched as it was in pretention and affectation.

I loved it. It suited my hairstyle and pseudo-Goth clothing. I was caught between the socio-political lyrics of Billy Bragg and the esoteric musings of Bowie. Bowie won out in the end and had me writing such things as:

And the gratefully dead, holding flowers we pressed

Could not have foretold of the myths we undressed

Out of ignorance bathed in the light that once shone

On the truths that we made up and the lies that went wrong.

Yes, I know!

Even though I was studying literature, it was creative writing that I was most fascinated with. My favourite assignment during my three years at uni was where I was given free range to re-write the ending to Elizabeth Gaskill’s North and South. This pleased me because I had been so annoyed by the main character’s insipid demeanour and wanted to give the woman a stronger voice during her final stand-off. I was delighted to have my lecturer tell me that I had managed to achieve the equivalent of ‘forging the author’s signature’ regarding staying true to writing style while not straying too far from what her character quite possibly had the capacity for. I took that as the greatest compliment he could have given me.

The next bunch of years was taken up whoring for cash and so writing in any extended way was put aside, being replaced by lyric writing as I got more and more into song writing and performance. Three minute pop songs were easier to find the time to write than complete books!

It was a chance meeting with a documentary maker up a mountain in St Moritz, Switzerland (road trip one) that got me writing my first professional book. They were from Texas and were filming a documentary on European attitudes to America. “How honest would you like me to be?” I asked. “Speak freely,” said the presenter. What she meant was, “We’ll edit you later.” And she did. But I did end up writing articles for them; some travel-related, some political. After a while, it occurred to me that if I stopped calling my travel pieces articles and started calling them chapters, I might find that I was already writing a book. So, I was actually three chapters into The Sat Nav Diaries before I realised I was writing it.

What are you working on at the moment?

While waiting to get travelling again, I’ve been working on my first novel, a political thriller that I’m considering publishing under an alias in order not to muddy up my writing brand. Though writing a novel is much more challenging than anything I’ve written before, I’m really enjoying the process. Also, political thrillers are currently much more in keeping with publishers’ favoured genres, it seems.

What has your experience been like as an Indie Author? Bruises? Highlights? Lessons?

What has been the hardest thing, and what has been the most surprising?

It was a surprise meet with my old English teacher via social media that introduced me to the world of indie (independent) publishing. She has been quite a prolific writer/publisher across a range of genres, and had already picked up a number of awards for her work.  She mentored me through the process, originally, and continues to be lovely to this day. I owe her an awful lot.

Initially, my literary ambition was to have somebody who wasn’t my mum buy my book.

Initially, my literary ambition was to have somebody who wasn’t my mum buy my book. The reality has been much kinder to me. I’ve had a lot of praise for my books from many areas. (I’ve sold in nine countries, which is ridiculous when you think of it.) The highlights have been the many wonderful reviews and the number of friends I’ve made amongst other writers and readers.

I don’t think I’ve experienced any specific downsides, if I’m honest. I’ve had a couple of reviews complaining that I didn’t offer enough detail on the ‘amazing continental cuisine’ consumed during Sat Nav Diaries 1 and 2.0 but, to be fair, that wasn’t really the focus for the books. (I also think that had that person shared in the sandwiches occasionally bought at Croatian trucker stops, they might have agreed that the cuisine wasn’t really worth writing home about.) I also got a 1-star review for the original Sat Nav Diaries but that was an act of defiant revenge by a student of mine who I told off in class in front of his friends, so I’m not sure that counts either.

Throughout the process of publishing my books, I think the main lesson I’ve learned is to never try to anticipate the reactions of your readers. You will never see your work in the same way as someone outside of your own head sees it. I have come very close to pulling a couple of my books just days before publication only to find 5-star reviews appearing for them. I think all I can say about this is to write for yourself and leave it for others to judge you. Judgement is their job, not yours.

In the end, the hardest thing about writing is finding the space to sit down to do it. Quitting the day job should help me hugely with this. And on the subject of writers’ block: the only reason I’ve never suffered from this is because I refuse to believe it exists. I simply sit down and I write, even if I’m merely free-wheeling and end up erasing everything afterwards. Someone once told me that anyone writing will only endure a finite number of bad writing days in their lifetime, so a bad writing day means one less to endure in the future. I like this logic.

“…write for yourself and leave it for others to judge you. Judgement is their job, not yours.”

— Adrian Sturrock

What have you put most of your effort into regarding writing?

I admit that I’ve put far more effort into writing than promoting, and I’m painfully aware that this is not ideal. Much of this is, of course, because I’ve been working the day-job full time and so there are only small windows of time available. The paranoid writer inside me constantly worries that if I’m not actually writing then I’m failing myself. This is not good if you are an independent publisher.

The other issue here is that I have no real understanding of self-marketing. I feel that this doesn’t help. This is why I will be pursuing a literary agent and traditional publisher for future projects. The other reason for pursuing a traditional publisher is that they have far more reach in terms of marketing, budget and distribution channels. There is, of course, the argument that the larger publishing houses tend to exploit writers. My view on this is that in order to properly exploit me they would have to grow my brand. This is fine by me.

If you were running the 100-yard dash with a new writer, what writing or publishing wisdom would you bestow upon him/her before you reached the 100 yards?

100 yards isn’t very far so my advice would have to be snappy:

  1. While writing, only ever write for yourself. If you are fully engaged, you will do your best work
  2. When reading your work back / re-drafting, read it in character as your worst real-life critic. Redraft in such a way that you would not cringe if they were to read your final draft sat right in front of you.  
  3. Definitely use beta readers and a professional editor (regardless of whether you aim to independently publish or find a traditional publisher). Always make your work the best it can be.
  4. Never respond to a negative comment or review of your work – it’s unprofessional.
  5. Choose your genre carefully before committing to building your brand. If your writing is successful, your brand will define you and your fanbase will expect you to deliver this genre always.

(In case I can’t get all five points in one 100-yard dash, I am prepared to trip my new writer friend in order to shoe-horn the last one or two points in. They will, of course, thank me in the future. Probably.)

I’m sure they will thank you for tripping them up to finish sharing your wisdom, Adrian. They will know you have their best interests at heart! – Jackie

I am prepared to trip my new writer friend in order to shoe-horn the last one or two points in. They will, of course, thank me in the future. Probably.
Photo by Sander Sammy on Unsplash

What is the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

The toughest criticism I’ve had so far was from a reader who said they’d given up on Sat Nav Diaries 2.0 half way through because ‘nothing ever happened’ in it. In order to adhere to No. 4 above, I’d just like to say that people come to your work with a variety of expectations – I guess this book just didn’t fulfil that particular reader’s needs.

I think the best compliment I’ve received for my work, however, was as part of a review for Alyson Sheldrake’s travel anthology, ‘Wish You Were Here, for which I’d contributed a short travel story called Borrowed Earth. The reviewer described my work as

the most astonishing, moving and humbling short story of all … I loved the author’s style of travel writing … Jaw dropping honesty, eye opening and a heart-breaking story that has stayed with me well after reading.’

How could I possibly not be proud of instilling this kind of response in a reader?

Weighing these two responses up, I feel that all a writer can really do is keep writing. You can never be everybody’s cup of tea but if you can sometimes hit home for someone then you’re doing something right.

You can never be everybody’s cup of tea but if you can sometimes hit home for someone then you’re doing something right.

What do you read? Do you have a favourite author or a favourite book? How did it influence your life?

My reading habits flit around quite a bit between fiction and non-fiction. They also flit around from genre to genre and author to author. As far as favourite authors or favourite books are concerned, you’d probably get a different answer from me each time you asked the question. I can get totally captivated by a writer or a particular book and then instantly move on to a new ‘best thing ever’.

Perhaps the first writer who really grabbed my attention was Jeanette Winterson, (author of ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit‘), back in the late Eighties. Hers were the first books I read where a perfect phrase or sentence could reduce me to tears. Perhaps my favourite of hers at the time was ‘The Passion‘. I felt I was sometimes reading poetry in prose form. She is extremely good at weaving fairy tale qualities through her stories that still speak recognisable truths. I was totally in love with her style.

Amongst my other favourite authors are Elif Shafak (’10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in this Strange World’, ‘The Island of Missing Trees’), Mohsin Hamid (‘Exit West’, ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’) and Paulo Coelho (‘The Zahir’, ‘The Witch of Portobello’), all of whom also explore very human themes by sometimes infusing other-worldly elements into their work. If you can bring me to tears over a simple turn of phrase then you’ve got me forever.

As a travel writer, I suppose I should also mention my favourite writers in this genre. I love how Eric Newby can conjure the total essence of a place in books such as ‘A Small Place in Italy’ or ‘Love and War in the Apennines’. I have also enjoyed Nick Danziger’s ‘Beyond Forbidden Frontiers’ and Redmond O’Hanlon’s ‘Congo Journey’. These guys really know how to take you to a new place and make you breathe it.

Finally, from the point of view of a purely efficient style of perfect writing, Graham Greene is difficult to beat.

What is the key theme and message from your books? What do you hope readers take away?

Mostly,.. I’m encouraging readers to enjoy life, to not take the grown-up stuff too seriously. My books to date have been focussed mainly on pure fun.

This is not something I’m consciously thinking about when I write. I guess I try to portray things through fairly naïve eyes in order to get the reader to take a fresh look – and perhaps to find a little of themselves in the stories I tell. Mostly, however, I’m encouraging readers to enjoy life, to not take the grown-up stuff too seriously. My books to date have been focussed mainly on pure fun.

On the other hand, I have found a growing need to address some serious matters that have presented themselves along our travels. In Sat Nav Diaries 2.0, we found ourselves in ex-Soviet ruled countries like Poland and Lithuania where the frivolity of our road tripping sometimes clashed against the harrowing realities of the histories of these places. Here, I found myself at a crossroads in my writing, where I wasn’t sure if a book of humorous anecdotes should touch on serious matters such as genocide and racism. For example. As we travelled further, I was met with questions such as, How does one deal with Auschwitz sensitively within a book of humorous vignettes?

I might have decided simply not to include these issues but I felt that this would have been to short-change the reader. I decided it was important to stop and consider some of the more prominent political and social issues that make the countries we passed through what they are today. I also wanted to engage readers in a way that might encourage them to look again at the things they thought they already knew. Finally, as a book writer, I wanted to experiment with juxtaposing serious and humorous scenes and events in order that one might emphasise the significance of the other. I hope I’ve managed to balance the two voices sensitively in that book but, again, only readers can tell me this.  

Perhaps, overall, what I’m looking to put to readers is how much fun the world can be, but how important humanity is beyond (and sometimes despite) borders. I strongly believe we are all brothers and sisters in the world. On the surface this can seem like a glib statement but it’s also an important one. I don’t think it does us harm to be reminded of this from time to time, especially in the current climate when, for example, Ukrainian refugees are quite rightly being embraced across Europe while Syrian refugees are being deported to Rwanda by the British government. This makes me both angry and embarrassed. The more I travel, the more I see how much we all have in common. Perhaps this is part of my subconscious mission statement as a writer, though I don’t want these issues to get in the way of great scenery, great wine and, perhaps, cheese. The world can be a complicated place, and this is all the subject matter I need.

Adrian and his wife, Nat. I bumped into my wife in the kitchen one day, “I think I might quit my job today,” I said. “Would you mind?” “Not at all” she said.
Turns out I’ve been blessed with that kind of wife.

Now it’s time to give yourself a treat!

Find Adrian and his books online via the links below:

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Book Synopses

THE SAT NAV DIARIES

“I had an idea for a road trip; a sports car I shouldn’t have bought; and a wife to point out that what looks entirely feasible on a scaled map can actually be quite a long way away.”

This isn’t a travelogue; it’s much less than that. If you are looking for a font-of-all-knowledge encyclopaedic guru to help you plan your next European adventure, you’ll hate this book. However, if you’ve ever sat in a restaurant and wondered what the life of the couple opposite is like, then this might just be what you’ve been after. And the locations are quite nice too.

For AMAZON UK users, please click here
For AMAZON.COM users, please click here

“This book had me chuckling and choking on my coffee for page after page. The voice is incredible; the atmosphere is tangible.” – Amie McCracken, Designer, Literary Editor, Author

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THE SAT NAV DIARIES 2.0 (GOING EAST…ISH)

Concerned that his wife works too hard, Adrian decides to plan a surprise – something to help her relax. But, worried that she might not like what he has in mind, he phones her at work to ask what type of surprise she might fancy. Nat has no time for this – she’s busy … working hard! ‘Use your initiative,’ she says. So, he does.

For AMAZON UK users, please click here
For AMAZON.COM users, please click here

This is the story of a date night that became a trip that became a road trip. Perhaps it’s a cautionary tale for us all regarding how quickly “a meal and maybe a show” can turn into a five-week wander across eleven European countries. Well, it could happen to anyone …

This is not so much a travelogue as an account of the consequences of over-initiative-ising (his word, not mine!). It is also a note of warning to wives: Be careful what you ask for! Having said that, the locations are quite nice.

“This is a beautifully crafted and engaging tale of one couple’s adventures that will have you chuckling all the way through to the end. Highly recommended.” – Alyson Sheldrake, Author of the ‘Living the Dream’ travel series

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RANDOM

“This is my life. It’s not an outstanding one. It may be much like yours – except with me in it.”

After forty days and forty nights of wandering through Europe in their Mazda MX5 Miata, Adrian and his wife, Natalie, are back home – mostly because that’s where they live. RANDOM explores their everyday life, and continues from where THE SAT NAV DIARIES left off. Life must go on, it seems.

For AMAZON UK users, please click here
For AMAZON.COM users, please click here

‘Is it just me or do my feet look further away to you?’ This is Adrian’s first collection of articles, in which he fumbles his way through a number of vaguely irrelevant 21st Century issues, including:

  • How to pull off a social media romance
  • Why you shouldn’t cheat on your hair stylist
  • Why phishing no longer requires a rod
  • How come today’s DIY still means having to do it yourself

“A surprisingly fresh voice that redefines the genre”

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 RANDOM Too 

“This continues to be my life. It’s not an outstanding one; it’s probably much like yours – except with me in it.”

Time makes you wiser, say people who like to appear wise. Adrian Sturrock is not so sure. In his mind, all time does is introduce us to more stuff to be confused about. And this isn’t merely confined to the world out there; it applies equally to home life, where navigating relationships can sometimes seem as straightforward as a Hogwarts staircase – or that lithograph by Escher, if one wants to appear posh. Either way, life is confusing.

For AMAZON UK users, please click here
For AMAZON.COM users, please click here

‘Never date a woman whose ambition it is to kick a pigeon’ – Sound advice, indeed. This is Adrian Sturrock’s second collection of articles, in which he explores more irrelevant 21st Century issues, including:

  • How to get paid to fail a job interview
  • How best to achieve heatstroke at minus twenty degrees
  • Why time travellers should seriously consider using the Post Office
  • Why it’s perfectly fine to blame French sociologists for your own first world problems

“Sparkling with wit, razor sharp, and face-achingly funny”  Valerie Poore, Blogger and author of Africa Ways

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Along with myself and eighteen other authors, Adrian was also a contributor to Alyson Sheldrake’s travel anthology Itchy Feet.

As you will have read above, one reviewer described Adrian’s chapter, Borrowed Earth as “The most astonishing, moving and humbling short story of all … I loved the author’s style of travel writing … Jaw dropping honesty, eye opening and a heart-breaking story that has stayed with me well after reading.”

Alyson, Adrian and myself all met through the reader/author group We Love Memoirs, ‘The Friendliest Group on Facebook.’ I know I for one have found it a very supportive and welcoming group. Here is what WLM can do for authors:

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The best way to support Adrian in his new venture is to buy his books, but there are other ways to support authors that won’t cost you a penny! If you look at Adrian’s books on Amazon, please mark a good review as ‘Helpful’, or share the love in one of the following ways:

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…To Get Travel Stories, Tips & Book News Straight Into Your Inbox!

All Photographs copyright Adrian Sturrock.

Royalty-free images courtesy of Pixabay.

Published by WorldWideWalkies

AD (After Dogs) - We retired early to tour Europe in a caravan with four dogs. "To boldly go where no van has gone before" - & believe me, we have! BC (Before Canines) - we had adventures on every continent other than Antarctica!

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