Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in the pie,
Chico’s in his hayshed, eating bread and honey,
Hannah’s in her counting house, frightened by the money…
It’s been almost three weeks since the Kickstarter ended in a blaze of white-knuckle adrenaline and a wild last-minute surge. Still flying high, I downed tools and headed almost immediately to London town. It was a big shock of grime and passive aggression, hurry and escalators, sirens and hundreds of different advertising messages.
The old life
Before the walk I’d been living in London on-and-off for 15 years, long enough that I’d made a decent existence, fazing out grim commutes, cycling more, eventually buying a narrowboat and living a cheap life up close and personal with central London’s backcountry – ducks and coots as neighbours, outrageous, towering purple buddleia bushes sprouting from between Victorian bricks. There’s a sense of community with the other boaters, neighbours are a little more visible than when everyone’s shut away in flats, and in good weather the deck and roof and pontoon all double the limited living space. Boats themselves seem much less fortress-like than buildings – windows somehow always leak, security always feels a bit lax, the 6mm steel shell feels like a thin cocoon between in and out. Rain drums on the roof, wind rocks the boat, sun glints through the many grimy windows, the weather is never a doorstep surprise.
There’s also a close relationship with the ins and outs of the stuff of life – the resources going in: coal, gas, water, groceries, electricity, and the outs: the 25l toilet tank, the fire ash, the recycling, compost and rubbish, and the perennial charity-shop-bag. Boats aren’t sunk into the earth like committed buildings, they are whimsical and fairytale and grubby and hard work all at once.
Quite like camping.
So, I went back to London where there are friends keeping the boat warm on a long loan (tidier than I’ll ever be), to see people, get to know babies I hadn’t seen for a year, and do chores. I ate fancy food and discovered a LOT of people I adore, and drank plenty of wine with them. I cleared my mouldy worldly possessions out of a garage that had turned out to be very unwatertight. I had a powwow with a production company making an adventure/reality show for Channel 4 (thanks but no thanks, they emailed this morning), and I met a boat-dwelling walker and writer who is planning a donkey adventure, writes about kindness and climate change and appears to be my twin.
I gathered my tools for the next stage – my old laptop, which fought its achingly slow way through the thrill of the Kickstarter, got new innards; it’s now so zippy and bouncy that my fingers feel slow and my eyes hurt. We’re lined up to talk at two festivals so far, this one and this one. Chico’s invited too (or perhaps I should say I’m invited too…!), so I realised I’d have to buy my first vehicle. It’s a second-hand, well-loved people-carrier from a nice man called Colin – it can tow Chico in a horsebox, carry the Chico-walkers to the best walks, move around hay and later books (!) around, and it’ll be a cheap campervan. I’d still rather walk, but it will serve a whole load of purposes.
And now I am in Scotland, on the staggeringly beautiful Isle of Mull, visiting the inlaws I failed to see for ages thanks to being financially depleted and physically exhausted by the walk, and mentally monopolised by the Kickstarter campaign. And here, with my mum looking after Chico and Flo back in Wales, I can catch my breath and try to digest all that has happened.
That crazy Kickstarter
Back in November I worked out the budget, and it was ridiculous. I could hardly bear to ask for £28,000 – it seemed so ostentatious and, frankly, greedy. But on the other hand, it’s two big projects and any way I looked at it, that’s what we needed to do a good job, in a reasonable time. I trimmed and scrimped and ummed and ahhed, calculated and recalculated the cost of the projects and the price of rewards, called friends, made spreadsheets, phoned printers and editors, found the donkey poo paper man, and eventually pressed GO!
And then began the most amazing companion experience to the walk itself – a second wave of support and belief, often coming from the same people as the first wave, but also spreading all around the world. As the Kickstarter began to draw to a close, with several thousand pounds still to go, existing backers began to up their pledges in droves. People passed the word on, the Kickstarter page got shared over 2000 times on Facebook. I got messages from dozens of people who had the page open on their screens and were watching the total with breath as baited as my own. One friend texted: “This is better than any thriller!”
I found myself hoping after each ‘refresh’ that the list of new backers would be all names I didn’t recognise because I felt so much more needy when it was people I knew. I thought it was going to feel like a transaction, but it didn’t – it felt like charity. Asking people to buy something that is as yet all intentions and faith – well, it took some nerve, for me and for the backers!
I felt shy and ashamed, and jubilant and needy and elated and bare, and then begged some more. What a confusion of emotions. I said thank you a lot. And thank you again!
At one point, in the usual fumble of thanking and apologising for having asked, a friend said something like ‘I’m not giving you charity, I’m employing you!’
That was good to hear, and I imagine that as I start work on my side of the bargain the balance might begin to feel redressed. And I’ve been starting tomorrow for weeks…
The back-to-front new world order
This is the opposite way round from the established way of things. Usually an author with an idea would lock themselves away in a lonely garret, work for months on a tale with the shaky faith that a publisher might be interested. Then a publisher might be interested, taking it on with the hope that an audience might be interested. But for Seaside Donkey I have 831 publishers already. I already know what size spine I want the finished book to have, the cover artwork is being made, I know what the postage costs and the printer knows where to send the pallet. And I’ve not yet written the thing…
For all the mixed emotions of the campaign I feel wholehearted about crowd funding. It seems to me to be one part of a shift in the power relations of the world. There’s a challenge to the top-down, obfuscated, big-business, one-way models, where companies decide what we want, make it and sell it, and then next year make a new version and begin the money-harvesting merry-go-round again. Instead strength can come from flexibility, openness and adaptability. People are part of the processes, building on previous successes, taking existing things and ideas and adding to them to meet new needs. It’s exciting and empowering. (This is a diversion from donkeys and walking, but if you have a moment, this video is very exciting and worth a watch.)
So, the donkeys are cared for, the computer is beefed up, babies have been kissed, the funds are transferred, less 10% for Kickstarter and transaction fees, (did I say thank you?) the mouldy things are chucked/cleaned/in charity shops/on eBay, the fire is stoked, the kettle is on, and it seems that despite all of this subversion, excitement and new world order there is no substitute for the lonely garret.
I’m going in.