I have pre-ordered a copy of this book and I am eagerly awaiting delivery in the next week or two. It’s a book about the life of a cycle courier in London and you might think it a strange choice because I am not really interested in cycle couriering and I don’t particularly like London. I am only excited because of who wrote the book. Emily Chappell, the author, has been writing an excellent blog for over five years now and I always look forward to her posts. I have met her a few times and she is a lovely engaging person who endlessly plays down her prodigious cycling achievements and award winning writing talent. On one level she is just another cyclist who is good company, easy to talk to and somebody I admire because she can cycle further and faster than I ever will. But she is also, that rare example of a writer who is able to engage me in her subject matter whatever that subject matter might be.
I admit to being biased because some of Emily’s writing has involved epic cycling adventures and the sheer audacity of her journeys would be worth reading about even if the writing was only average, which it isn’t. Cycling across deserts at break neck speed to beat visa deadlines or riding through Alaska in temperatures so low that even a simple puncture can lead to a life threatening situation are the kind of material that any writer ought to thrive on, and she does. What is remarkable about Emily’s writing though is that I wait eagerly for her next blog post and I really don’t mind whether it’s about riding through the night on a transcontinental bicycle race or a stripped bare account of how she dealt with depression after returning from the first stage of her round the world ride. It’s the writing that comes first and it brings the subject along with it kicking and screaming. When she is writing about solo cycle touring it also becomes clear very quickly that the subject isn’t cycling at all. Like all the best writers the apparent topic is merely a courier for something deeper and more meaningful and as such it really doesn’t matter whether you are a cyclist or not. You are a human being and the engagement comes from how a fellow human being opens up and exposes our basic motivations and desires. She has a way of drilling down into the core of what makes us tick and that is what appeals to me.
I am looking forward to finding out what it’s like to be a cycle courier and learning something about life in London but I am looking forward much more to the writing and to what lies beneath the surface subject. I’ll let you know what I think in due course. In the meantime, this is what it’s like to ride up a mountain in the dark.