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Accidental Pilgrim - Travels with a Celtic Saint  

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For The Accidental Pilgrim, I had to tell two stories - my own and Columbanus'. With our journeys driving the narrative, I didn't have to look too hard for a structure - tell my story in order, and hang the saint's story off mine when I get to appropriate places.

Of course, if you look closely, you'll see there's also a fair amount of digression, as I include earlier events and stories for entertainment or explanation.

I spent maybe four leisurely months on research - planning the route and reading up on Columbanus - two months doing the trip, and then perhaps eight months to come up with a completed manuscript.

By and large, I write pretty quickly. My journalism and web writing background has got me used to writing for a living, so I don't get so caught up in creating the perfect sentence before moving on the to the next. Get something down, and you can tidy it up later.

I had the luxury of working full-time on the first draft of the book, and would try to write around 1000 words a day, and review the previous day's effort. Some days I'd be on a roll, and could easily write double that, but I tried not to let myself away with doing less than around 750, even if I didn't feel like it.

I'd write at home some of the time (mornings better than afternoons), but would also take myself into town to break up the monotony and pretend I had a real job. The National Library and Trinity College Library provided space where I'd be less distracted, and I sometimes decamped to a cafe run by a friend when I wanted to keep things fresh.

The finished book is a little under 80,000 words, which sounds huge, but I found that if I just focussed on doing a little bit every day, I got there eventually, A little like doing the cycling.

Subsequent drafts
While the basic structure of the book remains from the first draft, there's scarcely a sentence that hasn't been changed in some way, and there are large chunks that have been added and removed. My publishers had excellent suggestions, which prompted some substantial rewrites as I expanded some areas and removed some of the duller narrative sections. Just because I'm interested in what I ate in each of the restaurants on my travels, doesn't mean the book benefits from including this.

Working as a hack has made me see writing as a collaborative process, so I wasn't too precious about my work being edited by others - friends made valuable contributions early on, so having an editor going over it wasn't too bad.

As well as adding and removing large chunks, I tried to polish each sentence as much as possible. Often this meant being simpler, rather than more verbose. I'm not a great florid stylist, but I hope that sweating the details makes the prose as clear and immediate as possible. My tone is pretty conversational (I sometimes imagined I was telling my story to a group of friends in a pub), so I had to be wary of sections when I wanted to get more purple.

The fifth draft was the version I finally delivered, but as any book is ultimately abandoned, I'm sure there are plenty more things I could have done to improve it. But sooner or later, you have to declare a truce with the text and leave it at that.



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ISBN: 0340832282
Trade Paperback - Hodder Headline
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