Thursday, 19 May 2011


Once I had done all the research at home and in Poland (as detailed in the entries below) I was ready to start writing. I surrounded myself with maps and photos, giving my writing room over entirely to the world I was trying to describe.

I quickly decided on THE ROAD FROM HOME as the title for the book and I saw that there would be two parts - HOME and THE ROAD.

I soon became wrapped up in the world of HOME, building up a detailed picture of Leo's family and their life of struggle and poverty. Even as I was writing I knew that I was going into far too much detail and that a lot of it would eventually be cut because the real meat of the book would have to be the adventures of THE ROAD. That cutting process, though, is often necessary but I console myself with the thought that if the material has been intensely imagined a kind of ghostly memory of what has been cut will still be there, giving greater depth and resonance to what remains. And on a more mundane level, the details that I have built up in the long version about the people and the places will help me concentrate the dialogue and descriptions as I go through doing the cutting and revisions.

When I finished the HOME section it was over ninety pages long and I cut it down to just over forty, omitting characters and various incidents that I had created. It often hurts at the time, to lose something that you have worked long and hard on, but there is also something very satisfying about reducing the material to essential heart of what is needed. Cut, cut, cut to the bare bones of the story.

Then it was on to the second section - THE ROAD. The same process took place: piling on the detail and the incident and then going through, perhaps as many as seven or eight times, cutting. Chopping away at the words until the story is there, told as directly and as simply as possible. I think that we're all influenced by the writers we read when we're young and the two authors who marked me when I was a young teenager were John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway. I loved the way that they never indulged emotions but allowed the power of the moment to hit the reader with a few brief but telling details.

When the book was finally finished after nearly fourteen months of writing, re-writing and cutting, I gave it to my agent who quickly found an editor at Sourcebooks who loved the story. He made some excellent suggestions and there was another round of cutting and a bit more fleshing out a couple of moments that he felt needed expansion. The book was still called THE ROAD FROM HOME and he eventually sent me a proposal for the cover:

I liked the idea very much - I particularly liked the starkness of the black and white photo. But I was worried about the rather modern shoes and socks and the shorts, and an overall feeling that this was a twentieth century image rather than nineteenth century one.

Back to the drawing board. And quickly the design department came back with an image that I loved. It seemed mysterious as well as beautiful and I gave it a big thumbs up.

Then four months later I got an email saying that they were abandoning the cover and that they wanted me to find another title for the book. They had shown the cover to marketing people and others in the book trade and they had all said that, pretty as the cover might be, it felt too 'vague' and that it didn't give a strong enough feeling of adventure and excitement to attract the target audience. As soon as they said it, I realised they were right. As for the title that I loved, my editor had found that there was another book called THE ROAD FROM HOME and that fatally, it, too, told the story of a young person leaving their native country.

For almost two months I batted ideas around for a new title, never quite being able to forget the original. I emailed suggestions to my editor on a regular basis then, one day he emailed back and said, "That's the one!". It was WALK THE WILD ROAD.

Within a month the design department had come up with the cover and as soon as I saw it, I realised that the people who had rejected the previous cover had been absolutely right. This new one was so much bolder and more exciting. It gave a feeling of movement and adventure and hope. And I loved the lettering and the details that hinted at the story - the dog, the stork, and the clever and subtle use of the American flag in the background.  It was perfect.