Into the wild: Sue Reid Sexton on writing, facing fear and how she turned her campervan into a mobile office

Posted: 29/03/2016 | ,

“The problem with buying a campervan is the romance,” writes author, Sue Reid Sexton.

“Similar to finding a life partner, it is easy to be deluded and unrealistic, to imagine a perfect future of endlessly unfolding delight and adventure, only to be brought down to earth with a great thud when you discover the object of your desire has feet of clay, or at least axles of rust.”

When she bought her first campervan, ten years ago, Sue intended to use it to escape to the wilderness from her busy day-to-day life in Glasgow.

But during the past ten years the author of gripping novels Mavis’s Shoe and Rue End Street has been using her camper as a mobile office, disappearing for days or weeks at a time to write in solitude, often avoiding the campsites in order to ‘wild camp’. 

Now Sue is hoping to encourage others to connect with nature and themselves through adventures in the wilderness by sharing the story of her love affair with campervans in a new book, Writing on the Road, Campervan Love and the Joy of Solitude. 

Available in print and Braille from April 7, the novel is part funny and sad stories of campervan trips, part guide to wild camping in Scotland and part advice on how to – or how not to – buy and maintain a campervan. Sue’s stories also touch on the breakdown of her marriage, about being a woman travelling alone and about overcoming fear.

Sue bought her first campervan – a Bedford with a Suzuki engine – with her former husband so they could escape their hectic household in Glasgow, taking holidays in Scotland and travelling through Europe together.

But soon she realised its potential as a peaceful mobile office.

“The van is where I am happiest," she said. "I always say I escape to writing in the van, rather than thinking of it as escaping from anything, although perhaps I was escaping. With six children in their teens and 20s between us we often had eight people in the house, so you can imagine.

“The first time I went off on my own to write I went to Kintyre and I was hold up for four days, working morning noon and night. I didn’t speak to anyone for all that time, and when I finally did I quite quickly realised I was a raving lunatic.

“When you come out of that bubble into the real world, it’s quite a shock and you can just talk and talk. But the quiet and solitude also allows you to get right down to a different part of yourself. It’s a wonderful experience and I’ve been trying to recreate it, with varying levels of success, ever since.”

Sue’s adventures have taken her to secluded spots across Scotland including Skye, Assynt, Kintyre, Cowal and Argyll. She has had four campervans in the past ten years including a Bedford, a Ducato and two Romahomes.

As well as writing about the practical difficulties of campervan life; coping with byelaws, negative attitudes towards campervans and dealing with being a solo female traveller, Sue also writes about the human experience of escaping into the wilderness on her own and dealing with the breakdown of her marriage.

She said: “Somehow it’s much more frightening to be camped out in the middle of nowhere when you’re on your own, even if your fears are all in your head, especially if you’re in the middle of something like a relationship breakdown.

“The book is in two halves, Outer and Inner. In the second part of the book I deal a lot more with that human aspect of wild camping.”

As for advice for aspiring wild campers? “Just do it,” says Sue.

“I would always tell people not to do anything that pushes them too far out of their comfort zone. Wild camping certainly isn’t for everyone, but if it’s something you’re interested in, do you research and go for it.”

In 2011 Sue’s novel, Mavis’s Shoe, became the first became the first piece of new Scottish writing to be released simultaneously in print and in Braille through the Scottish Braille Press, and its sequel Rue End Street was also released in both formats on the same date.

Writing on the Road in Braille will cost £8.99, the same as the print edition under the Right to Read scheme, and will consist of five volumes.

Sue added: “I think everybody should have access to literature in some way. When you read a book it is an intimate and private experience. I love audiobooks but an audiobook takes away some of that privacy for the listener, because it’s someone else’s voice, someone else’s interpretation of the words.

"I was honoured to work with the Scottish Braille Press to print Mavis’s Shoe and Rue End Street in Braille and I am excited that Writing in the Road will be released in Braille when the print edition is released too.”