Ride and Write: Abergavenny Writing Festival with Emily Chappell and Jack Thurston

At the end of last year our friends from Abergavenny Road club told me of a ride being organised as part of the Abergavenny writing festival, taking place at the end of April. 'Ride and Write' was to be led by ultra endurance athlete and keen writer Emily Chappell along with Jack Thurston, author of the Lost Lanes books. I went along and became truly immersed in a thoughtful and engaging morning of exploring the lanes and churches around South Wales. Emily and Jack spoke about the art of using cycling as a tool for thought and how we might transfer those thoughts into the form of the written word, inspired by our experiences on and off the bike.

We meandered through the lanes and stopped off along the way in a series of secluded churches for Emily and Jack to share their experiences, notes, tips and advice on writing. The idea was for people to have a few minutes at each spot to write down whatever we felt like writing about on the day. In my case it was thinking about and noting down how I would write about the whole ride and noting down all the quotes I could while photographing others engaged in their own thoughts. There was something strangely compelling and engaging about talking about something so vibrant and creative and an activity that makes you feel so alive in a series of tranquil graveyards across South Wales.

We all have thoughts on the bike, some conscious, some unconscious. Some will use the time to work through a difficulty there’re having while others will be almost entirely clear of conscious thought and use it as a meditative time. "Emptying your mind can be fruitful in a way that isn’t immediately obvious" - Emily Chappell. As we rolled out of Abergavenny, Emily asked me what it was about racing a bike that I enjoy so much, I found it almost impossible to explain and still struggle to fully recognise and put into words what exactly it is that that makes it so luring and slightly addictive. I ask her the same question, why and what pushes her to ride thousands of kilometres? Her response takes me by surprise in that it’s not the racing that inspires her, It’s the pursuit of distance and the isolation. The scenery, that’s what pushes her on. It just highlighted to me how very diverse the sport of cycling is and how different factors can motivate different riders in completely disparate ways.

Emily told me that sometimes when she is hundreds of miles into a long ride, thoughts that had seemingly long been forgotten, like a specific tea shop she had visited, come flooding back. While Jack told us that he believes you can differ between at times being completely consciously immersed with your surroundings and experience while five minutes later you might be in a different place where you couldn't recall what you rode past in that time.

More and more people are writing personal blogs to share with friends or just as a diary and way of recording their experiences to look back and reflect upon, as a way of recording their progress in a personal pursuit.

I have included many of Emily and Jacks words of wisdom below along with the photo journal from the day.

"Who are you writing for? Think of a particular person, real or imaginary."

"You don’t have to have a fascinating subject to create an engaging piece."

Sometimes Emily will have the same sentence going round and round in her head or an argument with someone I don’t know who I’ve read about on the internet. These words bubbling around can be part of the drafting process. It is also useful as a filtration process - race after certain elements, catch them and run with it. Let other things slip through. Writing is a process of drafting a re-drafting.

While riding across America, she had a piece that she was really struggling with, but by the end of the journey, it launched and the second draft came to life. Sometimes she’ll dislike something, walk away, come back and like it. The eloquent flowing writing style that we sometimes read with such admiration that someone can be so naturally talented to produce something so freely is surprisingly rare. Writers go back over and over again, it is a long process but Emily is keen to stress that none of this time is wasted.

"The first sentence has to capture you. Expose something about you and what it is that your about to tell the reader"

"Thinking about how something is affecting me enables me to understand that thing in more detail and clarity"

"Cycling is active experience but you're not necessarily responding to stimuli."

"Modern writers main concern is now 'clickablibility' - what makes something clickable? Remember that people can always click off and onto another article."

Notes, maps, audio, social media, photographs. All contribute to how Emily writes about her trips.

"Read out loud. The tone and pace of reading and spoken English. You take on a persona. Reading out loud brings it to life and you hear back your own words the way that others will hear them."

"We gather varying information from both peoples words and their actions."

"What I’m working on becomes something that it wasn’t before. You change what is ultimately the point. How you lure the reader in."

Triangle of writers success (two of the three and your onto a winner)

  1. Interesting subject that anyone will find interesting

  2. Formidable skill as a writer

  3. Passion as a writer about a particular subject.

Some of the little churches we stopped off at were magnificent and so too was the texture of the bark on this tree.

"Reading is an option for everyone. Stare at a blank page and establish who you are as a writer, your written word is very different to the words you speak"

"People read to discover what happened. A quest or pursuit with tension. How will they be resolved. Rising tension and a resolution is applied to a lot of writing."

"Focusing in on a small thing with a bit of drama to it then zoom out to give wider context then dive back into the detail again"

Many thanks Jack and Emily for hosting the ride, Gateway Cycles for offering their shop as a meeting place, Owen Davies of the Abergavenny Road Club and to Lucy Parkin the organiser of the Abergavenny Writing Festival.

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