The English Writer on the Algarve

I mentioned in a previous blog I would return to the story of an Englishman selling his book to the tourists on the Algarve.

Nearly every year my wife and I pass him standing on the same spot on a coastal path above the beach, near the hotel in Albufeira where we usually stay. Plainly dressed in a white shirt and grey trousers, unlike the holidaymakers around him in their swimming gear and T-shirts, he would stand by the wooden fence overlooking the beach, waving a copy of his little white book.

I was intrigued, because in the summer of 2009, as a would-be author, I couldn’t imagine doing anything similar to sell my own book. But there was this man selling his story to strangers, like one of the many hawkers on the beach selling sunglasses and jewellery, and he seemed to be having some success. I stopped for a few minutes, had a chat with him, and learned that he had been backpacking throughout South East Asia.

The book (approx. 90 pages) describes his experiences across Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, in a style that includes strong opinions and quite a few f****** expletives – he even ends the book with THE F****** END!

Without doubt he has a story to tell, but why, oh why, didn’t he engage someone to edit his work? It is so badly written, that after skimming through it, I put it aside for five years before rediscovering it amongst a pile of books destined for Action Cancer.

The author claims on the cover to have sold over 900 copies in the first ten weeks after publication, which, since I paid him ten euros for my copy, comes to a tidy sum for a self-published effort. Not bad, but how much better it might have been, if he had followed the dictum that ‘writing is about rewriting’.

I mention all this as it reminded me of a passage in Stephen King’s excellent book On Writing (a must for all budding authors), where he writes: ‘I can do better than this. Hell, I am doing better than this! What could be more encouraging to the struggling writer than to realize his/her work is unquestionably better than that of someone who actually got paid for his/her stuff?’

Our friend on the Algarve may still be selling his book to curious tourists; if so, I wish him well, if only for the effort he made in putting pen to paper.