Whenever I start a new writing project, especially nonfiction, I always imagine it's going to be a work of colossal, maybe infinite, length; a thousand-page giant opus that would contain every thought, every feeling, every amazing story and startling fact (in this case) on the subject of walking.
This, of course, fills editors and publishers (and possibly readers) with horror, and in fact at some point it becomes that way for the author, too. In the age of online research, when so much information is so easily available to everybody, what you leave out is as important as what you cram in.
Inevitably some of my favorite bits and pieces about walking finished up on the editing room floor, and of course I can live with that. But since we live in the age of the blog, I can take this opportunity to share one or two omissions.
It was very hard to leave out Samuel Beckett, for instance. In 1938 he was walking at night in Paris with a group of friends when he was approached by a pimp, who offered his services. Beckett declined — with some force, I guess — and the pimp was so insulted that he stabbed Beckett in the chest, perforating his lung and very nearly killing him. The pimp, called Prudent, went briefly to jail, but Beckett didn't press charges, and later in his life he would recount the event as a comic anecdote.
James Knowlson tells us that well over 30 years later, he and Beckett were walking in the street near the old people's home where Beckett was then living, when a man with a camera leapt out and took a couple of photographs of him. Beckett reacted as though he'd been stabbed.
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Geoff Nicholson is the author of twenty books, including Sex Collectors, Hunters and Gatherers, The Food Chain, and Bleeding London, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize. His latest book is The Lost Art of Walking, from Riverhead Books.
Books mentioned in this post
Geoff Nicholson is the author of The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, Philosophy, and Literature of Pedestrianism