The fact behind the fiction – why sometimes your backup plans need their own backup plans

Three weeks to go until Evacuation Road comes out! I’m so excited, and I’m loving how many early reviewers are really connecting with Eva and her story!

This week I’ll be looking at one of the important foundations for the book. Resilience. Getting back up when you’ve been knocked down. Making new plans when your original plans die a terrible death. And then devising even more cunning plans when your back up plans fail as well.

And, sometimes, throwing all your plans in the proverbial bin and coming up with a entirely new aim that at least gets you out of there.

I did a lot of this sort of thing as I travelled around South America, and one of the best (and most enjoyable) examples involved a train called Death, somewhat monotonous food, and a few phantom buses. It was my first blockade (of many) and it went like this …

Firstly, follow your dreams. Always. No matter how hard.

And a dream I had? One that had grown and flourished for years? It was to take the so-called Death Train, which ran from Quijarro in the very east of Bolivia to Santa Cruz, kind of in the middle. It could take anything from sixteen hours to days and days, apparently. Traversing amazing countryside. I really wanted to experience it.

(And that wasn’t a death wish or anything. It wasn’t the Death Train because it was super dangerous to ride in. More because either lots of workers died laying the line, or because it had once been used to transport people sick with Yellow Fever and/or the bodies of those that died in the outbreak.)

Anyway I planned it out and I got there. Quijarro. Nice and early in the morning on a Friday. Went straight to the train station. Butterflies in the stomach. This was it.

Except it wasn’t.

I spent eight hours in that station and went nowhere. The train was leaving at 12:30, then 2:30, then 4:30, then 6pm. There was a blockade further along the line. Workers striking and blocking the track. It didn’t look positive. Luckily I had around me a fun group of travellers. Some I’d met across the border, and had known for a few days. So I wasn’t alone, and in fact my pretty poor Spanish was in high demand from those who couldn’t understand any of what was going on.

Eventually it became clear there was no train that day, so we all headed to a hostel together. The only thing on offer for dinner was beef and chips.

And then the beef ran out.

Don’t just let your dreams die with the train

Have you ever read a book and loved it so much you imagine being part of that world? Yeah, me too. And in this case, one of my favourite reads in my late teens was a travel guide to South America. I read it and I dreamed of myself in those places, and the cool thing was that I could actually do it. Go there. Experience it in real life.

And now I was right there. Where the train took off from. And I wasn’t giving up on my dream that easily.

Me in the beautiful Pantanal, just before I left for the Death Train

Except the train didn’t go on the Saturday either. The only thing on offer to eat now was chicken and chips. There was talk of a bus but it didn’t appear to exist, despite many searches and questions. Dead ends everywhere. (In an interesting side note, research by me for Evacuation Road indicated there was actually a second train called the Ferrobus. I think maybe I misinterpreted the name and was looking for something that was definitely not there. *facepalm*)

Sunday we were told it was on again. Excitement. Hope. There wasn’t much to do in Quijarro, especially if you have to wait around the train station all day. Each night at the hostel we hung out and laughed and chatted, but the days stretched. And I was kind of sick of chicken and chips. But the train didn’t leave.

So I was determined. If I couldn’t take a train through that amazing landscape to Santa Cruz, and I couldn’t find a bus, what about hiring a truck? Luckily I wasn’t alone thinking this. There were 28 people ready to leap on the tray of a truck and bump across the continent with me. We found a great truck for hire. We were there, side of the hot road, bags packed. It was happening!

And then it wasn’t.

The driver haggled over money, didn’t trust us, wanted it all up front. And that made some of us not trust him and almost half pulled out.

Okay then. New plan. 15 people. Bags packed. Still totally excited. Another, smaller and cheaper truck available.

Except that truck never appeared. Hours passed. The heat. The dust. Finally we gave in. Trudged back to the hostel. Ate more chicken and chips and the thought hit me … what happens when the town runs out of chickens and potatoes?

But also, don’t let yourself go down with your dream

One thing I learned in Quijarro is that sometimes dreams do die. And if that’s the case, and you’ve tried everything and it’s not working, it’s time to ditch the dream and make a new plan. Otherwise you’re going nowhere, stuck regretting something you can’t control.

I learned this on the Monday morning. The train still wasn’t going. I found another truck but by this time only three of us remained keen to take it, and that wasn’t enough. The rest wanted to fly out of there. So I changed my plan again. Gave up on the train, gave up on the chance to see that countryside I’d dreamed of seeing. And joined the rest at the airport.

Which was shut.

So we went to another airport. At 5pm we found a plane able to carry us all! They wanted cash. I raced to the border to get money out. Raced back to the airport.

And finally, finally, the plane took off. An hour later we were in Santa Cruz.

And I tell you, I did not have chicken and chips for dinner that night!

The moral? If at first you don’t succeed, hire a plane and get the heck out of there!

No, that’s not really it 🙂

It’s more about keeping the bigger picture in mind. Where do you want to go? What’s most important to you? And being flexible when obstacles pop up. Realising you can only control yourself. So get back up, pivot your plans, keep trying.

And that applies to writing as well. Keen readers may notice Evacuation Road starts midway between Sucre and Potosí, and never goes near the Death Train route at all. So sure, I did the research for the book starting right back in Brazil. But then I changed my plans, reworked my draft, and killed some literary darlings. Because that’s what I realised needed to happen.

Keep trying and adapting, peeps! And look out for Evacuation Road on the 30/08/2021!!

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