There is a fine line between freedom and pitiless hard work. And we must have been focused on the freedom side of that line when we decided to run the Research Den from a campervan while touring Australia to promote the Essay Planner.
“Great idea!” came the cheers of support from our friends and family, “A good way to combine work and leisure", they gushed. "You’re at a great age to travel, too. In your thirties you’re old enough to know better but still young enough to have fun. Most people don’t get to do what you’re doing until they’re in their seventies”.
A few weeks on the road and we quickly realise the only other people touring Australia are indeed in their seventies, with their lives (and life savings) married to the road, or eighteen-year-old British backpackers with their lives thrown into Wicked campers. Falling somewhere between these groups, we just don’t seem to fit in.
It’s week three, 6am, and I'm behind the wheel after a fitful night’s sleep in the Bells Beach car park. The Wicked Camper in front of us, a message plastered on its back that reads: “I’m no gynaecologist, but I’ll have a look” is forcing me to take in most of the scenery through the revision mirrors. A large high-top van dominates that scene with BRITZ tattooed across its forehead, and two milky-skinned-well-to-do-thirty-somethings sit silently behind the wheel. Just before the turn off to Bland Swamp, our convoy is overtaken by a Freewind Winnebago with a bumper sticker announcing that these Nomads are seeking “adventure before dementia”. I look across at Bert, asleep, contorted against the window. God, what are we all doing?
My dominant sales strategy so far has been to cold call universities and suggest (to long established academics, to experts) that they may like to teach their students how to write essays using my book. Needless to say that my offer is not always received with open arms and more than once academics have kindly pointed out to me that they themselves write such books and that I am, in fact, their competition. Awkward.
We arrive in Albury and I head straight for the local bookshop. It smells of dusty carpet and aqueous ink. The manager, a tall man with a leathery face you’d be forgiven for thinking belonged to a dairy farmer, not a bookworm, extends his large warm hand: “Your book is a little ripper!” I smile – it’s not easy on the road and comments like that keep me going. Unfortunately, they also keep Bert waiting in the campervan outside.
Bert’s business role has quickly devolved from executive editor / web designer to chauffeur, driving me from event to promotional opportunity where I pitch the book to anyone who will listen.
In a desperate attempt to make his days as productive as mine, we are signing up for everything and anything to make our mobile office more functional: wireless internet, a portable printer, an inverter, a hand-held coffee grinder. But none of these gadgets seem to be improving our productivity.
The central issue is that I need to drive around each day promoting the book and Bert needs to stay put, at a desk, so he can edit and update the website. Realistically, the only gadgets that will improve our situation are a house and a car.
Damn it! Why didn’t we set off on this journey a few years earlier when we’d have thrown caution to the wind, ditched the business altogether and relaxed, completely contented, into a boozy, cruisy existence. What’s happened to us? I swear turning 30 ruins your life. It’s as if everything is sweet until you wake up at 31 and suddenly, shockingly, realise you are closer in age to 40 than 20.
The tour began with dreams of writing every day, posting regular blogs and hilarious You Tube videos that would be watched by millions and lead to overwhelming international media attention. This frenzy would secure massive book sales and we’d spend the trip debating whether to sail the Whitsundays for the month of July, or just buy them.
But now, in -1 ̊C Ballarat with the rain falling, legs knotted under the table of our lounge/bed/dining area, we are beginning to question our brilliant plan.
In fact, in what we might later understand as a clear message to go home and rent an office, it has rained on us the entire trip. We even heard a few drops in the drought-stricken Riverina, as if God was laughing at us so hard she started to cry.
Battered, but not yet defeated, we retreat from the miserable south and soldier-on to our next frontier: Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Surely things will look up on the Sunshine Coast.
Sitting with my toes in the warm sand watching dusk embrace the summer sky, I should be feeling great. But as the bladder in our cask of goon shrivels into a tight ball, so does the knot in my stomach. Something is very wrong with this scene. We are trying to start a successful business, not kick around the East Coast. We are in our 30s, not our 20s. We are, indeed, getting older.
After dinner, our loyal friend, the rain, finds us here too and falls gently as I slowly navigate my way through the dim, soggy caravan park to the amenities block. I catch the eye of a woman smoking a ciggie outside under a leaking, frayed tarp, ockie strapped to her rig. We regard one another with a knowing smile, the kind of smile people use at funerals when someone has died too young. It’s a smile that has less to do with your mouth and more to do with your eyes. It says “I know, I know, it’s not right. Life’s not always fair, but we’re in this together”. Of course, ours was a grieving for sun, not a life lost. But it did make me realise that part of my smile, at least, was expressing a kind of deeper loss. When I first imagined us on the road travelling around Australia, we were going to be slim and tanned with sea salt matted hair; we’d feel young and be free.
The following morning I wake to find Bert packing the van. It’s time to rent an office.
We would like to sincerely thank the business partners and supporters of the National Interactive Book Tour – without you we wouldn’t have even made it to Wollongong.