Today, I’m thrilled to share a Q&A with author Jack Barrow to help promote his new book. In SatNav We Trust – A search for meaning through the Historic Counties of England. Before we dive into the Q&A, let’s find out more about the book.
In SatNav We Trust – a search for meaning through the Historic Counties of England. A journey through ideas of science and belief, all the while searching for meaning and a bed for the night. Or was that the other way around?
On May 1st 2013 I set off from Oxford on the trip of a lifetime. It wasn’t a trip around the world or up the Himalayas. I set off to visit every one of England’s 39 historic counties. These are the counties that used to exist before all the boundary changes that chopped Yorkshire into bits. Got rid of evocative sounding names such as Westmorland, and designated the big cities as metropolitan boroughs. I wanted to visit England as it used to be, although that’s not quite how it turned out.
In SatNav We Trust started out as a travelogue. Exploring all the usual suspects, spectacular landscapes, architectural or engineering wonders, historic towns with their cathedrals and castles. However, it soon developed into a journey through ideas and beliefs. An exploration of how the rational and the apparently irrational jostle for position in human experience.
The book discusses our fundamental scientific understanding of the universe. When, deep inside us, we might be as irrational as a box of frogs. This context, the exploration of England—the places stumbled across with no day to day plan, created the backdrop for these ideas.
Q & A with Author Jack Barrow
Firstly, why did you decide to write a travelogue?
I’m a bit of a fan of Bill Bryson. I was driving home for the weekend around the M25 and it occurred to me that I could have a go. His Notes From A Small Island was a few years old and I just fancied it. From there I came up with the idea of visiting one county a day. By the time I got home the concept was pretty much fully formed. I went back to work on Monday and told my boss. He just sat there with his head in his hands; strangely, his boss was a great deal more accommodating.
How much planning did you do before taking the trip?
I think it was about March when I had the idea. May Day seemed like a good time to leave so perhaps six weeks planning. I’d have to camp to keep the costs down but I deliberately didn’t want to plan too much. I suppose my planning was more in terms of the logistics of the journey. Getting the Truck in good shape by visiting the Frontera Owners Group and giving them lots of beer in return for an overhaul.
Early on I decided that I wasn’t going to book anywhere in advance. I wanted the journey to unfold as I travelled. I had a rough plan to make an anti-clockwise track around the coasts, popping inland where necessary. More than that I didn’t know from day to where I was going.
I suppose that made the planning easier but the journey more challenging. Hopefully that will have made the story of the journey more exciting. There was a certain matter of getting used to the uncertainty in the first few weeks. That uncertainty, though, did feed in nicely to some of the ideas of state of mind that I wanted to explore.
What did you learn about yourself that surprised you during your travels?
That’s a really difficult question. I’ve always been very introspective, sometimes too much so for my own good. Self-knowledge can be a bit of a double-edged sword if it leads to over thinking. I think I just threw myself into the journey. Apart from the point a couple of days in when I realised the sheer magnitude of setting up each night and packing up each morning.
Ultimately, I think I just had to accept that it had to be done and get on with it. There might be a parallel there to being an Open University student twenty years before. I learned that you just have keep going, putting one foot in front of another and eventually you get there.
What was your most memorable moment during your tour? One thing you’ll never forget.
I know this is going to sound like a cliché but there really were so many. Discovering the Tees Transporter Bridge was a great moment. Meditating in Ely Cathedral with people walking past me staring. (Not that my eyes were open so perhaps I imagined that).
Each day had its moment often guided by serendipity. England is so full of wonders and, without planning in advance, they were all happy accidents. If I really had to pick anything it might be the moment I found myself driving a powerful speedboat with two massive outboard motors and two drunk blokes in charge. It turned out they had no idea how they were going to get me ashore as the tide went out. That was memorable and more than a little anxiety inducing.
Did anything make you laugh out loud during your trip?
I talk to myself a lot, I always have done. So I would have been ranting about the frustrations and there would have been many. In the same way there would have been many moments of joy expressed to myself, and, of course, to my navigator Kathy.
Finally, if you were to write another In SatNav We Trust, which country would you base it in, and why?
I’ve thought about this a lot. I’m not sure I’m ready to write another travelogue as I really want to get back to writing fiction. I’ve had further stories for my heroes (non-heroes) inside me for years. In SatNav We Trust was only meant to be an interlude.
I really thought I could spend six weeks on the trip and come back with a manuscript that I could hand over to an editor and get back to the fiction. It hasn’t worked out that way. However, if a big publisher—or someone like Bill Bryson’s agent were to approach me with large cheque, I’d have to do it.
The 39 Historic Counties on England took six weeks at one county a day. I might have done better to do one county every two days. To have more time in each area but that would have been a three month trip. I think my boss would never have recovered.
Because of those limitations I didn’t consider Wales or Scotland. Although I did a touring holiday of Scotland a couple of years ago having never, previously, been north of the border towns around Hawick. To tour Wales and Scotland and write about it would be great but I’d have to find another angle.
The other idea would be to visit the islands. I was disappointed not to make it to the Isle of Wight. I’ve wondered about a tour of every island around Britain’s coast. I’d have to define what counts as an island. Perhaps every populated island might work although I can’t imagine doing that without planning.
More About The Author
Jack Barrow is a writer of books and blogs about ideas based on popular philosophy in modern life. He is a critical thinker but not a pedant. He has an interest in spiritual perspectives having been brought up as both a Mormon and a Jehovah’s Witness. He’s not sure, but he believes this particular ecclesifringical upbringing makes him a member of a pretty exclusive club.
He is also fascinated by science. At the same age as his parents were taking him to church services, he was also watching Horizon documentaries and Tomorrow’s World, becoming fascinated about science and technology. Perhaps around the time of the moon landings, when he was six or seven, he came to the conclusion that, sooner or later, people would realise that the sky was full of planets and stars, science explained the universe, and that there was no God looking down.
He now has a particular interest in the way people are creating their own spiritual perspectives (whatever spiritual means) from the bottom up using ideas sourced from history, folkloric sources and imagination.
He has also written a novel; The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil is a story of a group of magicians who discover a plot to build casinos in Blackpool and so turn the resort into a seedy, tacky, and depraved town. During this hard-drinking occult adventure, with gambling and frivolous trousers, Nigel, Wayne and Clint travel north on Friday night but they need to save the world by Sunday evening because they have to be back at work on Monday morning.
Jack lives in Hertfordshire, England, where he earns a living writing about things in engineering; this usually means photocopiers and bits of aeroplanes. He shares his home with R2D2 and C3PO, occasionally mentioned in his blog posts. People used to say he should get out more. At the time of writing he is currently shielding from the apocalypse, having been of a sickly disposition as a child, and wondering if he will be able to go to a live music pub ever again.
My thoughts on the book
This is a road trip with a difference. The only plan was to visit a different county in England every day for six weeks. With Kathy his SatNav as a companion, Jack experiences what it’s like to camp and tour in England.
In SatNav We Trust is a unique and enjoyable read. It includes plenty of humour as Jack experiences the challenges of camping, including;
- the lovely english weather
- strange and wonderful people
- a relentless quest to find the next charging point for all the tech gadgets!
I read this book whilst on holiday in our motorhome. I was soon being reminded why we chose van life over tent life 🙂
There were some really interesting observations, for example – camping itself is a meaningful experience, getting away from it all, back to nature and all that. I also picked up the sense of a community.
Kathy the trusted SatNav certainly took Jack on a mystery tour. If like us, you regular tour in a van then you will enjoy this book. We can all relate to the ‘delights’ of putting your faith in ‘Kathy’ to navigate you around new places.
I chuckled each time Kathy and Jack disagreed on the route to take. Jack wanting to avoid big roads and explore the countryside with its pretty lanes and villages. Whilst Kathy demanded he take the straightest/quickest route.
At least on this trip Kathy was navigating a 4×4 truck rather than a 7m + motorhome. Jack didn’t have too many tight squeezes to deal with. No panic reversing up a lane with a tractor driving at you and ending up in a hedge 🙂
This book won’t appeal to those who like to read about road trips with a planned itinerary, with maps, towns listings, best car parks, campsites, eateries etc. Although there are some great places mentioned, this book is a different sort of travelogue.
It’s more about the experiences of camping as a solo traveller. With six weeks on the road, Jack had plenty of time to explore his thoughts on a wide range of topics and beliefs. I wasn’t expecting the book to take me on such a thought provoking journey. Exploring subjects using historical stories, english heritage, science, religion, architecture and engineering.
In SatNav we Trust is a refreshing and unique read. Recommended to those with an open and inquisitive mind.
(Oh and check out his website, there’s some lovely photography, including from this trip)
Published by: Cosmic Jellyfish (17 Sept. 2020) Paperback
Where to Buy – Amazon UK
Book Blog Tour hosted by Random Things Tours
I hope you have enjoyed my book review of In Satnav We trust.
I would love to hear from publishers or authors with books that may interest our readers. Whether paperback or e-books (mobi preferred format). As long as they relate to travel, places, camping or animals they would fit well. I like to find new authors to follow and support.
Please feel free to contact me with review requests.
Miche @TouringTales x
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