After the walk / The blog / The book / The film

Behind the scenes… is a secret quagmire

Stuck_in_the_Mud,’s been grim few months. Four, five, six months. Maybe a year really, since I passed the self-imposed deadline for finishing this project. I set it arbitrarily during the Kickstarter campaign, thinking I’ve never had six months to do one project before – what luxury! – there’s surely nothing I can’t achieve in a clear six-month stretch. Plus I thought people wouldn’t want to pay for something they couldn’t have until the distant year 2015. And moreover, that’s how long I could afford it to take.

The long, slow slide

By last October the book was written and being edited, but the film was yet to be begun. The worry was already omnipresent. I was sure it could all be done by Christmas. By Christmas the second draft of the book was finished and the film was well underway, but there were still hundreds of things to be done – the proofreading, the maps, the typesetting, the ebook, the cover design, the photo sections… On the film side we filmed extra bits of footage for the intro, bought a drone and took Chico to the coast for the aerials, listened to hundreds of bits of library music, and Skyped the editor in the small hours every few days (that’s how he rolls).

I’d found a well-paid, part-time, from-home ski website content writing job that saved the budget and calmed the money anxiety, but to do it well I had to shelve Seaside Donkey for weeks at a time. I was constantly torn and feeling a bit haunted.

Mud_buffaloIn January and February I calculated and recalculated how all these remaining jobs would fit into a fortnight – I thought I was that close. I bought the ISBN and told the book registration agency that it would be available to buy from March. Even then it didn’t feel daringly soon, but embarrassingly late. And meanwhile the film had got to the point where I needed to be involved, and it was far more intensive than I’d expected. I recorded voiceovers, drew and animated maps, watched the film dozens of times, made changes, held a preview and pored over the feedback. For two months the manuscript gathered e-dust, and the film – in response to the feedback and our perfectionism – was being unravelled again. The mud congealed.

Sinking feeling

I stopped blogging. Partly because it felt like I had no time – I was too busy each day pushing the many marbles up the hill. If I took my eye off any of them they rolled back down or fell into a crevice. Everything was the most important thing. Dozens of different bits of progress happened every day. I was feeling very shy and ashamed. In my few blogs I mustered enthusiastic apologies, and responses were kind and sympathetic, but I didn’t want to be that perennially remorseful person, I felt boring (I still do), and I just wanted to be able to come up with the sparkling good news. And there was only one news story that would do: It’s FINISHED!

But it wasn’t. Each huge milestone and victory along the way felt briefly bright and beautiful, but faded fast as it the next problems swamped in.

3845648532_c5b8938c3c_bSince March the big jobs have been finished. The bright, beautiful wins were all over, now it was the scraggy tail ends, fiddly and incomprehensibly out of my grasp, and demoralising in that they were all so completely unexpected. I stopped making any suggestion of how long it would take – I’d finally lost faith in myself. Now there was only one problem at a time to sort out, with long hold-ups as I waited for proofs to come back from the printer, or waited for the film grader to have time, or tried to work out why the cover looked like an apocalyptic donkey dystopia instead of a beautiful sunset when the designer said it was the printer’s fault and the printer said it was the designer’s fault. But secretly I thought there was no way it wouldn’t be finished by May. By June. By July.

Good god, it’s September

“No one is waking up every day thinking, ‘where’s my book?’” said people who knew how low I was getting. Possibly they are right, although I have nothing like that sort of healthy perspective from my self-obsessed mud-pit. But even if no-one was waiting for this I’d still feel this way – rather than succeeding every day in making progress, I am failing every day to be finished. It’s eroding my idea of myself as a productive, effective person. As a writer.

272080926_620d9b7f51_oFor an example of how my days are spent, I will post the saga of the book cover next, with lots of pictures. And meanwhile we’d also gone back to the beginning with the entire soundtrack of the film, keen to change it from the relatively soulless but very cheap and user-friendly library music to a rich, meaningful, significant soundtrack almost entirely by Welsh artists. But music is deeply knitted into the fabric of a film. It emphasises or smooths over, or adds significance or humour. It permeates everything you see with feeling, and every second has to conjugate perfectly or it jars. The pace of shot changes, the specific moment that a footfall lands or Chico glances at me, sunlight brightens or hope turns wistful, every single thing has to sit right. And after months of tiny tweaks, you know it finally works because all of a sudden you cease to notice the music at all.

So months passed.

And always there is the painful contrast with the heady days of the Kickstarter, back in January 2014. The heady memory of being up at 5am because I couldn’t sleep through the adrenaline, working harder than I’ve worked before, being utterly naked and exposed as my daily progress was measured in hard figures on the screen. Refresh, refresh, refresh! It was mindbogglingly tough, but I was on fire. I was really, really alive, and I won – we won, we made it.

3850188131_64cc98ac6cIn comparison this is like being buried in clay. In those days I’d have written the blurb for the back of the book in half an hour, while giving an interview on the radio and eating lunch out of the fridge with a fork because there was no time for crockery. Now each word is dull and blunt, my arms are soggy, and if I’m this far in debt and out of the deadline, this deep in disrespecting all my promises, well – I might as well just do it tomorrow instead. In any case, I can’t describe for the back blurb, concisely and wittily, why anyone should read this book because I can’t remember what it’s about. And I don’t believe it will ever be done – it’s all like a pretend school exercise by now, dumb in its aimlessness.

Open up the process, even when it feels shameful?

And now it’s September. Yesterday’s bright win (the book cover proof finally printed out right!) has given me the energy to write this post, and I’m sorry it’s not more fun and meaningful, but I’ve started to remember that this novel back-to-front creative process is supposed to be about being open. I guess I felt like all the lovely people who funded this certainly didn’t deserve to get some tale of misery in return – I owed it to them to be very happy about my privileged position, all the time. And I’m supposed to be building a profile too, so I need to look polished, chipper, successful and enviable, a total pro. But that’s not actually as interesting, or potentially comforting, or just plain real-life as the fragile truth. In the last few weeks I’ve given a (possibly slightly too honest) talk about crowdfunding and advised two people on writing books, and remembered that the whole point is to let you know what it’s like from over here, not to hide until the news is good.

So, it’s mostly woe this time. Sorry about that.

2841482_9ac466dfAnd yet, with this book cover relief comes the sniff of the feeling that it will end one day, and when it ends, and is wrapped up in brown paper and posted all over the earth, underneath the sellotape and spreadsheets and debris will be a new stage of life. This isn’t where I live and writhe forever. And that stage of life will be exciting, I’ll break out of the clogged quagmire and have belief in myself again, and – terrifying though this prospect is – I might forget what this has been like and try to write another book. Or even (I saw an inspiring film last night and thought, ooh, filmmaking, what fun!) make another film. Like the faces of friends in their just-given-birth photos, surprised and renewed and exhausted and themselves reborn, I might stand in Aberystwyth post office when the 831 parcels are on the other side of the glass partition, and feel…

And feel!




Tags: , , , , ,


  1. Chin up, nearly there. Doing a book and a film use such a lot of creativity and that is not as easily come by as water from a tap.

    I hope you will continue to post your progress. Bad times allow us to sympathize and understand; good times allow us to cheer you on.

  2. Hannah you are human. Good things take time. I’m ok with the waiting. Keep your chin up.

  3. As someone who wrote a book years ago and has yet to find an agent, nor actively seeking one, I have nothing but admiration for you reaching this point (regardless of the time it’s taken). The best projects are late, and I’d rather an engaging, interesting and charming book over some dodgy ebook that’s never been edited. I suspect many others would agree. As they say in France, “T’enquete”.

  4. I have found your blogs and updates rather inspiring actually. Too often we read / hear about how quickly a thirteen year old “made it big” with a new hit single on some reality show, Your tenacity, combined with your honest reflections, is refreshing. When I’m stuck in my own mud pit of writing, it can be hard to feel successful with a small victory (sometimes in the form of a poorly constructed, disjointed sentence). And yet, that little victory sometimes leads to the next important moment in a character’s journey. Those small steps lead to giant leaps toward the “It’s ready” line. Until that moment, every so often, when the daily drudgery cakes to your esteem – bathe in the waterfall of your dedication. A new day brings new discoveries about you as a writer and person. That’s what it’s all about, after all. Ya know… that whole “life” thing we’re doing here… it’s not about deadlines. It’s the journey.

  5. Hannah
    My backing of your project is driven partly by the fact that I have two donkeys, but mostly by the feeling that you are doing something real, different, challenging and that really means something to you. Even in your darkest blog post that all still shines through.
    When I check in on my two every day, suddenly everything is on their time, which as you know is much slower than 21st Century Western time. Quality and integrity takes time.
    A rush job wouldn’t fit with the subject material. I love that you’re brave enough to go back to the start with huge parts of the project such as the sound track.
    Keep it up, it will all be worth it, even if it’s just for the experience, in the end.


  6. I, personally, am happy to wait for the finished product that YOU are happy with and which truly reflects/depicts this amazing feat you have achieved. The wait only heightens the anticipation! I cannot imagine how difficult the book writing/publishing aspect is…probably even more harrowing than the journey itself. But, like the journey, this process will come to an end and I trust you will feel that same sense of achievement and excitement and success. Cheers.

  7. You are truly awesome Hannah.


  8. Great post Hannah.. these are the times when you dig deep and persevere blindly and courageously to the end. Even though you probably have a deep hatred for everything about the project at the moment… (as i have with my business from time to time) it only takes a small win to bring it back round. Hang in there… keep eating your greens and remember that you could have had an office 9-5 job instead of doing this… that’s what normally keeps me going. x

  9. Sounds like you need a holiday. Celebrate the small wins and don’t worry about your Kickstarter investors – personally I invested in the idea, not the final product. I’m also happy to wait – how about 2018? That sounds like a good deadline to me ☺ now go have a hot bath with a glass of wine, followed by 14 hours sleep.

  10. Thanks for your honesty Hannah and all the hard work. I believe I made a good investment and look forward to seeing your book, however long it takes.

  11. No worries, I’m sure it will be worth the wait.

  12. Hang on in there Hannah! I’m sure it’ll be worth the wait!



  13. I’d forgotten completely that I ever put anything in, given freely and good luck ! Great post, always entertaining, (believe it or not , it really is !) and it’s sure to be worth the wait ! Well done for keeping going and all the hard work ! Hope Chico is well and you get a bit of rest sometimes 1

  14. The above comment should be from Trish Young not Youg and the last character should be a ! not a 1.
    And I only had that little bit to get right !

  15. I will wait for this book and film because I know it is worth it. Look at all these muddy bits as the universe teaching you something that you will need to know later on as well. Nothing is ever just a one time lesson. Smiling at the knowing of your heart which is what lured me to this project to begin with. Cheers dear girl, you’re grand. Oma Linda

  16. Hannah
    its all part of the grim muddy reality of creativity..I wanted to finish my book in 2012, it ws 2014 and now hawking it to agents,,dispiriting. I asked my wife how long hers took, 8 years.
    It wsa refteshing to read of your progress so far and we will know this when we read the finished book. You’ve taken on a big brave task. Well done! Ye

  17. Kopf hoch, Hannah. Augen zu und durch! You came such a long way. And I am sure it will be great and well worth the effort.


  18. Thank you for the update. I am so excited about the book and film and honestly not concerned one bit about WHEN it comes. I wonder if it would be possible for you to just take a small break from it all and replenish yourself… You have been working at an amazing pace it sounds like for quite some time!! take care of you and we are your SUPPORTERS in all ways.. I have been reading the wonderful journey of man and donkey in France with many references to other human donkey journeys. I think of you and Chico much while enjoying this book…

  19. You know, I really want to ask for a refund. I feel let down that you took out money soooooo long ago without obviously having an idea of how much work was involved and how long it would take. I won’t lie, I am hugely disappointed.

    But then, I look at my life and the promises I make and the things I put off for months because its too hard and I know how other people feel now when I don’t finish something.

    This is a good lesson for me.

  20. Susan Taylor says:

    Oh, Hannah, thanks for the update. I love knowing what is going on. Long silences feel like disconnection and can cause a bit of worry. “Is she okay?” It does not worry me that this whole thing is taking the time it is taking because it is a great BIG whole thing!! So carry on, post regularly (even a little bit) so we can cheer you on. No shame allowed!!

  21. Hi Hannah,

    When you kindly offered us a bed for the night as we reached Aberystwyth on our round Britain bike ride last September one of the things you said to us really struck a chord. It was about being kind to ourselves and taking time to readjust to “real life” without too many expectations of ourselves, and expecting it to be difficult. Which it was and still is.

    I was dealing with the failure I was feeling because I didn’t do the whole trip by bike. Now I think “I cycled 3,500 miles round the coast of Britain”. That’s an amazing achievement for me. I hasten to add that the feeling of failure was all mine, nobody else felt that, especially not Tony who did the last 1,000 miles on his own. I gave him the gift of completing a 30 year old dream when it could have all come to a halt at the Lizard.

    Your dream is a lot younger than that and you are trying to make it perfect. We all appreciate that and are looking forward to the end result. It doesn’t matter if it has taken longer than you thought. It was always a piece of string estimation as it was a new adventure for you. Be kind to yourself as you were kind to us. We aren’t going anywhere and can wait as long as it takes.


  22. david annette says:

    I don’t know you but I follow your struggle. To take on such a task is awesome. Be proud.


  23. David Annette says:

    People like you are an inspiration.

  24. It was good to hear from you Hannah – loved the accompanying photos. Your project was never a sprint, it was a marathon from the beginning. Right now you do need to be kind to yourself and try to count what you have achieved already – not list out what is yet to be done. Remember, you DID walk round Wales – with a donkey. You have written a book and made a film – it’s like my project of refurbishing my Old School in Anglesey – so much done and yet finishing the details takes a frustratingly long time. You know you’ll arrive at your destination, again. Don’t beat yourself up about setting a deadline that, with the benefit of hindsight, was unrealistic. If any of us had hindsight well the world would be a different place. Stay proud of what you’ve achieved already and when you need a bit of reassurance, or a virtual ((hug)) – ask for one. You are a completer-finisher, you’ve already proved that!


  25. Hi Hannah, No problem at all with waiting; I’d long since forgotten when it was ‘supposed’ to be finished! Great blog; honesty is so much better than pretence. And I can identify all too well with some of your feelings; I’ve got loads of things I haven’t finished that I should have done, and people that I feel I’ve let down because of it. Summoning the mental energy to tackle even some of the backlog is hard, and yet these are individually small jobs, nothing like writing a whole book and producing a film! So yes, be kind to yourself. The project WILL be finished, whenever it is meant to be finished, and we will all enjoy it and rejoice with you. In the meantime, have that glass of wine!

  26. Hannah, you are the first (and so far, only) project I have supported through Kickstarter. I loved the way you wrote in your funding appeal and I love the way you write in your updates and blogs. Don’t worry about providing me with a book or film – I’ve just enjoyed watching the project unfold. My support was never for a finished “thing”; my support was for you and your journey.

  27. Less woe! As I sit here, having missed (as so often before), another writing deadline I know exactly how you feel. Writing is the most exhilarating, depressing, tedious, exciting, horrific activity. That’s it. Been doing it for years. But it WILL be over and it will have been worth it.
    Because I want to write about you and Chico for a lesson in some educational material I am missing deadlines for I have found myself reading through all your blog posts in the last few days and they are great. if the book and the film are half as good as that they will have been very well worth waiting for!

  28. Hannah

    Along with a load of people on here, you are the only person I have ever supported through Kickstarter, and I did it because what you and Chico did, and you are doing now, was such an inspiration for me. Dig deep, keep going and know that we will all still be following you on the other side of this journey!

    Sending you a virtual cheer!

  29. With so much sadness going on in the world, the anticipation of getting the finished book and watching the film, is a ray of light that something good is coming! And that makes me smile :)

    If your book involved how to get rich NOW, I would be knocking on your door wanting to know where my book is? But your book is about a journey, an adventure by foot and with a donkey, so your backers and readers are not likely to be Donald Trump, demanding its whereabouts! Im pretty sure we are all peaceful people, rushing nowhere (except Lidl, for its special offers!).
    So relax, you still have our support and we havent lost faith in you! X

  30. Your walk with Chico gave me the courage and determination to pursue my 30 yr old dream of trekking the globe with two donkeys. Your book an film will inspire many more to pursue their dreams. I hope to meet you when I am in Wales next month to get some donkey training.

    We are all more than content to wait for your book and film because we know the same heart and perseverance you put into your successful trip are making both of these worth the wait. Tell that negative critic sitting on your left shoulder to take a flying f@$/ so you can focus your energy in a positive manner. Cheers!!

  31. Awesome update Hannah. I appreciate the candour, and love the honesty. We are your supporters as well as your backers, and though some may be disappointed, I am pleased to see the process and the love going into this project. Good luck, Godspeed and love from across the pond.

  32. As a former resident of Aberystwyth (1973-74) and a happily retired person from a lifetime of writing and editing, I send hugs and energy across the many miles from Washington state to you. I’m in awe that you made the journey, and are producing both a book and a film! Take good care of yourself and know that you will be making many people of all ages very happy with your creative ventures.

Leave a Reply to Michael Cancel

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *