INTERVIEW: Ben Groundwater on ‘How to Carry a Goat’ (UQP)

In early 2009, Ben Groundwater posted a call-out on his blog asking if any overseas readers would let him crash on their couch for a night or two. Four months of sofa-hopping resulted in his new book, Five Ways to Carry a Goat. Andrew Wrathall spoke to the intrepid author.

How did you write the book? Were you constantly jotting down everything?

I was, but I tried not to be too obvious about it! I carried around a little notebook with me wherever I was, and tried to discreetly jot things down as they happened. Not to the point where I was locking myself in the toilets at the pub to transcribe entire conversations, but I would just jot down basic events to jog my memory later. People’s turns of phrase were a big one for me—I really wanted to capture people’s voices well, so I paid a lot of attention to things they said, and wrote down little notes about it when they’d gone somewhere else. Then whenever I had a block of spare time—say, on a train or plane—I’d get out my laptop and write out all of my notes, and the conversations I’d had, while they were still fresh in my mind.

Was it hard to find the local experience, rather than the tourist experience?

It was actually much more difficult than I’d expected. One of the reasons I’d decided to do this trip was I thought it would be a great way to see the local side of cities, given I was staying with people who lived there. So you can imagine my disappointment at the first few places I stayed when I was handed a copy of the Lonely Planet as my host walked out the door to go to work. Other places, though, the local aspect was impossible to avoid. I stayed with a guy who lived in a tiny village of about 50 people in north-eastern Thailand—he couldn’t have found me a Lonely Planet for there if he’d tried. Often, though, I found that Aussie expats don’t actually lead the exotic foreign lives I’d expected them to lead. In Seoul I ended up playing football for the local ex-pat team, then going back to the pub to watch cricket—not entirely dissimilar to what I’d do on a Sunday in Sydney.

Did your lawyer (and girlfriend) suggest you should cut anything from the book? Are you worried about negative reactions from people you’ve written about?

The lawyer didn’t actually read my drafts! She did, however, subtly suggest I choose not to stay with some of the girls who’d invited me to stay with them (by screwing up the pieces of paper and chucking them in the bin). I think we came to a consensus at the end though, and, aside from a little incident in China, I think she’s happy with how it all turned out. As for the negative reactions, it’s definitely something I’m worried about. I certainly didn’t set out to be necessarily mean about anyone, but I did try to be as honest as possible about my experiences, and they weren’t always good ones. I think the nature of the trip—going out to stay at the houses of complete strangers—was always going to mean I wasn’t going to get along like a house on fire with everyone I met. I stayed with people of all ages, occupations, cultures … and most I had an absolute ball with. The others I just hope they think I’ve been fair. Continue reading

BOOK REVIEW: 5 Ways to Carry a Goat: A Blogger’s World Tour (Ben Groundwater, UQP)

One day Ben Groundwater sends a call to Aussie expats on his Fairfax travel blog, asking if he can stay the night on their couch. The result is a hilarious memoir of three-and-a-half months of couch-to-couch travel and the random people he meets along the way. Groundwater says ‘bring on the nutters’ and plots his journey from the most compelling emails. He travels through China, Thailand, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Europe, Brazil and America, with some of the more exotic locations providing more interesting reading—including some dangerous places and some places where he is able to do things illegal back home. Groundwater’s goal is a uniquely local travel experience, but he is often thwarted when handed guidebooks and dragged to yet another temple. This story is about meeting interesting people, some slightly insane, others just trying to make a living far away from home. By the end of the book the travel has certainly taken its toll. Brian Thacker has taken a similar ‘couch surfing’ journey with Sleeping Around (A&U), but he doesn’t have the support of the blogging community that Groundwater does. 5 Ways to Carry a Goat is an incredibly funny book about an average guy’s journey into the unknown, recommended for gen-y readers who need a laugh.

Andrew Wrathall is publishing assistant at Bookseller+Publisher magazine. This review first appeared in the May/June 2010 issue. You can view the April 2010 issue online here.

The new issue has landed!

Ah, there’s the new-magazine smell again. Yes, the May/June combined issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine just arrived in the office.

This issue has a gazillion reviews of as-yet-unpublished books (okay, 75), including such highly anticipated titles as Rebecca James’ Beautiful Malice (A&U, May), Fiona McGregor’s Indelible Ink (Scribe, June), Peter Rose’s Roddy Parr (Fourth Estate, July), Leanne Hall’s Text YA prize-winning This is Shyness (August) and Benjamin Law’s debut The Family Law (Black Inc., June). (If you want to know what some of our reviewers’ top picks were you can read about them in this post.)

As well as all those reviews, the May/June issue includes Kalinda Ashton (The Danger Game, Sleepers) writing about how she got where she is today, Kabita Dhara on the publishing scene in India, author interviews with Susan Maushart, Ben Groundwater, Bill McKibben, Amanda Braxton-Smith and James Phelan and lots more besides.

Subscribers, it will be on its way to you very soon. Non-subscribers, you’ll find a list of places you can buy a copy here. (Or you could, you know, subscribe: $130 a year. Bargain.)