December 2015


Black Inc. Books to publish Ubuntu: one woman's motorcycle odyssey across Africa

That special, generally perceived unobtainable, moment arrived recently. I opened my email and there it was: an email from a publisher with reputation. Black Inc Books, Australia’s small publisher of the year 2015. The first line read: ‘Straight up, I am hooked’. They liked my travel memoir Ubuntu: one woman's motorcycle odyssey across Africa.

I was stunned. And a little afraid as my mind tried rushing back to the way things were.There was a sort of comfort in the perpetual struggle to write, re-write and always live in the hope I would land a publisher.

I first pitched my manuscript to publishers back in 1996. It was very much a first draft back then and hardly ready to unleash onto the world. It also needed the passage of time. Then there was my fear of stigma. The driving force to write this book was to share its message, share that amazing experience before I was to die. That came about when I was diagnosed with HIV in September 1995. When I failed to get a publisher, I packed my motorcycle and headed home for one last adventure. But I didn't die and then fear caused me to shelve the manuscript until 2013 when I said enough was enough. I would no longer live under the dark cloud of HIV/AIDS stigma. While my book is not about HIV, it is part of me and given the opportunity to speak widely and publicly, how could I not also talk about HIV. How could I not use such an opportunity to fight stigma and raise awareness about HIV. Doing so would not be living in the spirit of ubuntu.

But reaching the point of published author did not happen by magic alone. While part of me lived in fear there was also a huge part of me that held on to the dream over the past 20 years. My story never left me until two years ago when I opened the file, dusted off the proverbial cobwebs, rolled up my sleeves and sat down to hours of writing and re-writing all the time getting better at this craft. I joined writing groups, attended writing workshops, linked with other writers and read many memoirs (Wild by best-selling author Cheryl Strayed resonated strongly for me).

When I wrote the first draft of Ubuntu back in 1996. It was a regurgitation of everything that happened and how I felt on that motorcycle ride through Africa. It was a blow-by-blow account of ‘what, when, where, how and why’ with a bit of colour thrown in. The final draft wrapped this into an engaging personal story of high adventure that is also emotionally revealing and raises questions about our evolution and our very survival.

I engaged a professional editor to do the manuscript assessment and copy-edit. Nadine Davidoff is a former senior editor at Random House.

It took a little over two weeks for Black Inc. to respond to my query back in August 2015. I emailed the first 50 pages (prologue, chapter 1, 2 and 7), to six publishers with a recommendation from Nadine. This direct contact allowed me to leap to the top of the slush pile.

With the offer to publish, I was about to enter a completly unknown world. I quickly searched online for what I should do. I joined the Australian Society of Authors. I read their contracts handbook, which details the the industry standard followed by Australian publishers.

After Ubuntu, I quickly moved on to the sequel, which I aim to finish in 2017. It details my motorcycle ride back to Australia along the Silk Road through Central Asia and China following my HIV diagnosis in London in 1995. This was at a time when death from AIDS was inevitable. I explore issues of stigma, denial and why I did this ride knowing I would soon die.

Ubuntu: one woman's motorcycle odyssey across Africa was launched in Melbourne on 17 April 2016.




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