The gestation period of a rhino is around 16 months, which happens to be the same time it took for my first guidebook, Outer Hebrides, The Western Isles from Lewis to Barra, to be ‘born’. I was given the green light in January 2016 by Bradt to write their first guide to the Outer Hebrides (and the first guide solely dedicated to the islands by a major publisher). ‘They always take longer than you think,’ warned my commissioning editor Rachel. OK, so maybe it might take five rather than four months I told myself as I celebrated my commission wildly with a cup of coffee. I think I could actually hear Rachel arching an eyebrow all the way down the M4 from Bradt’s offices in Buckinghamshire.
In reality, the book took long enough to research and write that it became an additional member of our family and was named ‘Bob’ by my youngest son Oscar. ‘How’s Bob today?’ ‘What news from Bob?’ became part of the daily Q&A in our house. ‘Oh look, daddy’s gone off with Bob again,’ my wife would sigh.
Writing a guidebook is a demanding experience but I’m not complaining. It sure beats being a coal miner in China. It was a labour of love and I imagine every guidebook writer (or most of them) would say the same. Days when I woke up on Luskentyre to a view like this made it all worthwhile:
Three long research trips later (during one of which I was hospitalised with cellulitis caught from a scratch I picked up before departure), every spare work minute of every day, and last autumn, 3 months of 6am-10pm writing stints, a lengthy self-taught stint of learning the ropes of high-resolution map annotation and we were nearly there. That was 10 months. After a brief interlude over Christmas we had another final, final proof check. Then, off it went to printers. The advances came back last week.
I’ll be writing a series of blogs on bits and pieces related to the guidebook here. I hope they may shed a little light on what is involved in writing a guidebook and some of them elaborate on paces and themes I write about in the guide. Maybe think of these blogs as those 10-minutes ‘behind the scenes’ features that wildlife programmes love to include at the end of their documentaries.
One reason the book proved time-consuming was that I had to keep the day job up – writing for newspapers and magazines, from Geographical to Nat Geo Traveller, Countryfile magazine, Walk, and Green Traveller.
For a change of scene – and for something from climes that are generally warmer than the Outer Hebrides – read my recent article on Sarawak for Nat Geo Traveller. You’ll find more of my work by clicking the page headers at the top of my website.
Mark Rowe is the author of Outer Hebrides, The Western Isles of Scotland, from Lewis to Barra; Price £14.99 Published by Bradt (ISBN 978178477 036 5).