At what point does the telling of the story become the story itself? When does the story become more true than the journey?
A while ago I wondered what remains of a journey when all the memories have faded and gone. I have written also about how the telling of a story ought to belong to just one time and place. To change the story is to change the journey itself.
I have been mulling over thoughts like these whilst putting together the film of my expedition into the Empty Quarter desert last year. Like any journey, it was rich with sights and sounds. There are an almost countless number of moments and thoughts and meetings and memories. So how do you begin to condense this all down to a decent tale? For the worst thing any storyteller can do is to try to say everything. Boring books, boring blogs, boring people almost always err on the side of saying too much.
My favourite part of writing books is the edit. Cutting away the fat, paring the book down to the most distilled story I can manage. When editing my last book, There Are Other Rivers, I cut 60,000 words from my initial manuscript. What happens to those 60,000 words now? As my memories fade do all those events and encounters just disappear as though they never happened?
As we reach the end of the film edit I have to stop myself from thinking, “perhaps we should have told the story like this instead. Perhaps we should have included that event instead of this event.” It’s too late now. We have made our choices, done our best, and now we have to live with that.
This is all background to why I have really enjoyed reading two telling of the same tale. Tom Allen and Andy Welch set out together to try to cycle round the world. They have both written books about their experiences. I enjoyed the books and both of them make a useful addition to the canon of cycle touring literature. But the sum of the parts are greater than the individual parts. (A future idea for them, as both have self-published and thus retain all control, would be a print run of both books in one volume.) I am more familiar with Tom’s version of events as he created the film Janapar to tell his story. His book begins as mates heading off on an adventure and transforms into a love story. (It includes a very brief cameo by me, in which I have been portrayed as a woman!) Andy’s book begins as mates heading off on an adventure and transforms into personal reflection and philosophy. Both books end very differently.
As someone who has ridden long miles with good friends myself, I enjoyed the tales of larking around and silliness. And I chuckled at the petty resentments and incredibly pointless arguments that long trips inevitably produce.
But what particularly gripped me was the way two people not only see the same story differently, but also tell the story very differently.
To the point where it is no longer the same story at all.