A for Attitude was initially self-published in 1998 and the first print run of 3500 books sold easily within a short space of time. It was time to think on a grander scale and get the book published overseas, and to do that, I decided to pass it over to a larger company who could promote it at the international book fairs.
In 1999 Random House licensed the international rights to A for Attitude and produced 10,000 copies for distribution in Australia and New Zealand.
Shona Martyn and her team were planning to put the book in 'counter packs' in bookstores. During our negotiations, Random House bought out Transworld and chose not to invest in the counter pack strategy.
The new publishers took the book to Bologna Bookfair and five publishers from various countries showed interest but none of these offered contracts.
Random House continued to sell A for Attitude for the next two years but with many more new books coming through, by 2001 they chose to offload the last of their A for Attitude stock.
I couldn’t bear to see my book being thrown out on ‘sale’ tables at discount bookstores, as I knew it had greater potential, so I purchased all remaining copies...Then came the challenge for how to sell the 3000 books.
I had easily sold the first lot, but as bookstore sales had slowed, I needed to think laterally. One day, I jokingly said to a friend, “I should just buy a caravan, paint A FOR ATTITUDE along the side and drive around Australia!”
We both laughed at the idea.
A few weeks later, whilst having coffee with another friend she announced out of the blue that she really needed a lifestyle change and said, “I feel like getting a caravan and driving around Australia!”
Without batting an eye, I said “I’ll come with you!”
And so began the proposed A for Attitude Around Australia in Seven Months tour, which due to several hitches with our vehicle, quickly turned into the three month ‘A for Attitude on the East Coast’ tour. But it nearly ended even way before that.
As I couldn’t really afford to take the trip without assured income, I sold my 2year old house to buy the caravan and a sturdy Landrover Discovery to pull it. The car was converted to run on ‘duel fuel’, meaning we could use LPG gas or petrol.
What we didn’t realise at the time was that the main petrol tank was removed to make way for the gas tank, so we only really had a small reserve tank for petrol, which would run the car for just 100kms (60 miles). It wasn’t until we were on the road, between country towns and out of gas, that we discovered this important fact.
So Judy and I, with three poodles between us, set out one fine May morning after a grand send off at a cafe attended by about 100 family and friends, with the local primary school choir singing us happily on our way.
Just as we were about to leave, a dear old friend who was inspecting the caravan, asked me, “Where are your stabiliser bars, Jule?”
“Huh?” I said. “What are stabiliser bars?”
John proceeded to share some very valuable advice, which proved to literally save our necks the following week. He instructed, “Until you’re able to get the bars fitted, be very careful around big trucks, and if one is overtaking you, apply a little power to the accelerator, rather than slowing down.” He assured us this would help keep the van steady. Grateful for this vital information we set off amid much fanfare.
The news that stabilizers would cost around $1000 came as a nasty surprise as this would surely cut a big hole in my budget. Once on the road, Judy and I discussed it and thought that perhaps we would be ok without the bars seeing that we now knew how to ‘handle’ the trucks.
Just a few days later as we were going up a steep hill on a section of single lane highway, a truck pulled out to pass us. There was another car coming up ahead and my instinct told me to slow and allow the truck to pass to save them from a head-on collision, but John’s words rang loud and clear in my head as soon as our car and caravan started to wobble. It felt like we were being sucked in towards the truck.
I gently accelerated to control the rig and hoped the truckie would realise that he had to slow down and pull in behind me. He finally gave in. Despite the financial burden, I had stabilizer bars fitted the next day. “Better to damage the budget than us”, I conceded.
Early the following Sunday morning as we rounded a long bend on the highway leaving Bermagui, the purchase was surely vindicated. Approaching us sideways at break-neck speed, was a Holden sedan screeching wildly, with smoke billowing from its tyres. I swerved to the right to avoid it and was faced with a solid cliff-face, so turned again, but only briefly, because the road dropped off dramatically on the other side.
The caravan fish-tailed behind us as we twisted and turned down the road trying to stop and at one point there came a loud ‘bang’ and a thud from behind the car. I assumed that to be the other car smacking into the side of our van. We eventually came to rest nosing up to, but thankfully not touching, the cliff face. On the verge directly beneath my window was a white cross with flowers strapped to it. Someone had recently died right where we landed.
I quietly gestured to Judy, “Look someone else has just died here too,” so sure that when I stepped out of our car, I would find the Holden and its driver wedged into the side of my caravan. He was no-where to be found. Our car and van were seemingly unscathed. “But what caused the bang and thud?” I wondered. On closer inspection, it seemed that the stabilizers had done their job. They had stopped the caravan from jack-knifing, and the only telltale was a long scratch on the caravan’s tow bar! We regained our composure and headed off to get a good strong coffee.
Judy then became very nervous about sharing the driving and because we couldn’t rely on getting LPG gas as easily as petrol in the desert areas, and didn’t want to carry jerry cans of petrol, we decided that perhaps we were best to just stick to the East Coast and then save the rest of Australia for another time.
I’m so very grateful to John for his advice on how to handle a wobbly caravan, and as odd as it sounds, thankful for the scary experience with the truck! Had that not happened, I probably wouldn’t have bought the stabilizer bars and been unwittingly prepared for what was to come down the track.
When I remember to remember this experience, it makes me think differently about things that at first glance may seem like ‘bad luck’.
Instead of getting cross about something uncomfortable that has occurred, I look for the good, or the ‘learning’ in each situation. Is this experience teaching me something that will indeed be helpful?
Of course I find the trick is to ‘remember’ this story at the very moment I most need to.