Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Researching and writing

After a lot of research into travel books (good excuse to do lots of reading) I've come to the conclusion that most books have around 200 pages and 100,000 words. Give or take 10-20%. This is reassuring because this is what I'm aiming for with the book I'm trying to write at the moment. I'm not looking at bestselling travel writers as they tend to have much longer books, but more the sort of writers you only discover when researching books on a particular region or way of travelling.

At the moment I'm about a third of the way there with around 32,000 words. I've divided the writing of my first draft into three phases:

Phase one was typing up my diary notes. I kept quite a detailed diary as I was walking, but as I was hand-writing and, more importantly, not wanting to add a huge notebook to my load, it was in note form. My typing up in phase one involved writing it up into proper sentences and paragraphs rather than just copying up notes. As I'm a fairly fast typist this was completed quite quickly.

I'm now working on phase two, which is much slower going. Phase two involves the factual side of my walk and means lots of research. One of my USPs (unique selling points) is that the book will be useful for anyone planning, or thinking about, a walk along the Kungsleden. Although it's not intended as a guidebook, I do want to get quite a lot of solid information into it. One of the reasons I wanted to write this book is because so few people in the English speaking world are aware of this walk and there is very little written on it in English. The very reason I want to write the book is also the reason my research is going quite slowly - there's very little written on it in English.

I'm finding quite a lot on the internet, but it tends to be in Swedish. Although I picked up a few Swedish words, my language skills are definitely not of the proficiency needed for reading Swedish websites. I'm ploughing through, picking out the words I know and finding myself doing a complicated process of translating into English via Dutch. Yes, Dutch. When I was in Scandinavia in February I noticed how a lot of the words in both Danish and Swedish seemed to share a similar root to Dutch. I don't speak Dutch, but my Dutch vocabulary is far more extensive than my Swedish vocabulary and whilst I was travelling over the summer I found this came in very useful. I'm finding it just as useful now. When I've read through a page and got the gist of it in Dutch and English (Dutlish?), I'll put any relevant bits into Google translate to double-check. Although it comes up with a few strange translations and the word order is sometimes rather jumbled, I'm quite impressed with it. I wouldn't use it to translate anything of importance, say a legal document, but for my purpose it's fine.

Once I've done some research and made my own notes, I'm then inserting this into whichever part of my draft I think it'll best fit. This is all taking quite a long time. I'm aiming to have roughly 50,000 words by the end of the phase two. That'll be half the book dedicated to my first USP. Only 18,000 words to go then ...

Phase three will be dedicated to my second USP which is something along the lines of stressed, middle-aged woman/teacher gives up job and goes for a long walk in the Arctic wilderness. I think I'm going to enjoy writing this part. Not that I'm not enjoying what I'm doing at the moment, but I'm conscious of time and want to get as much done as possible before the need to pay bills means I have to go back to work. 

Of course, once it's all done, that's only really the start of it. My first draft will be a collection of disorganised ramblings and will be in need of some serious editing. But I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Why won't my balloon fly?

Three times a friend and I have booked a hot air balloon flight and each time it's been cancelled because of the weather. I knew when I first bought the voucher for this that balloons are dependent on the weather, but I didn't realise just how perfect the weather has be.

Wind, rain, storms, temperature and visibility all affect whether the balloon can be flown and some even affect whether or not it can be inflated.

  • The optimum speed for a balloon flight is 4-6 miles per hour.
  • The balloon is inflated with cold air using a fan. The fabric of the balloon is basically a giant sail and winds over 6 miles per hour can make it difficult to fill the balloon. The wind will cave the side of the balloon in and cause it to roll around and drag anything it may be attached to. This can damage the balloon and basket as well causing harm to participants.
  • The wind has to be blowing in the right direction - the balloon can't be steered in a particular direction and so the pilot has to be sure it won't be blown into an area that could be unsafe or where there aren't any suitable landing sites. Unsuitable areas include: built-up areas; wooded areas; large bodies of water; and restricted air space.
  • Once airborn, if the wind speed is less than 4 miles per hour, the balloon won't really go anywhere. If it is more than 6 miles per hour, it can be blown off course, over-reach the landing place, and will also need more space to land. The basket may bounce along the ground, eventually tipping over, before the balloon comes to a standstill. A balloon doesn't have brakes and relies on the friction caused between the basket and the ground to slow it down and bring it to a stop. The balloon will be travelling at whatever speed the wind is. The stronger the wind the more friction will need to be built to bring it to a standstill and the further the balloon will need to travel along the ground.
  • Just because the wind seems ideal at ground level, doesn't mean it's not blowing a lot faster higher up. The pilot will not only check the wind speeds at ground level and at the level you will be flying at, but also wind speeds much higher up as these could drop to the flying level during the flight, or cause other problems such as turbulance.
  • There must be no fronts in the area where the balloon is being launched and flown. Fronts usually come with a change in wind direction or increased wind speeds.
  • Balloons do not fly at night or in fog.
  • There needs to be at least 1-3 miles visibility depending on the area and the hazards and the terrain.

  • Rain can damage the balloon as well as decreasing visibility.
  • There must be no thunderstorms within 100 miles of the launch point.
  • Thunderstorms present hazards to any type of aircraft, but balloons are affected most of all. A plane can turn around and fly away from a storm; a balloon will get sucked in to it.
  • Not only is there the chance of lightning striking the balloon, but gusts of wind can occur up to 100 miles away from a storm.
  • Hot air is lighter than cold air and so rises. The air inside the balloon is heated and this causes the balloon to rise up through the colder outside air. If it is very warm outside it may not be possible to heat the inside of the balloon to a temperature that is sufficiently higher than the outside temperature.

So there you have it. With the weather needing to be SO perfect, it's a wonder anyone ever get to go on a balloon flight at all.