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Interview: Dunc Wilson talks about The Big Loop

Dunc Wilson was born in Greenwich, London. He grew up riding bikes, on a diet of summer camping holidays. He moved to New Zealand in 2008, working as Chief Online Editor for RadioLIVE. More than half a decade in Auckland only intensified his desire to get outdoors and discover the rest of the country. He is now a producer for The AM Show on Three and Magic Talk, but can often be found out tramping New Zealand's bush or sleeping in a bivvy bag in a field somewhere.


Tell us a little about your book.

This is the story of a bit of a silly bike ride. Instead of just sticking to roads, this ride took me off road, through native bush, across sandy beaches, over farms and down paths and tracks. There was one rule: follow the coastline as closely as possible. Travelling from place to place, I visited some amazing locations and met some equally incredible people. This is the story of that one 240-day, almost-11,000km adventure.


What inspired you to write The Big Loop?

When I set off on this journey, I thought I’d learn a few things about the country, make a few memories and raise some cash for St John. However, after several months on the bike, meeting generous and sometimes unusual people, all against the background of Aotearoa’s most stunning scenery I realised the adventure unfolding had enough yarns for a book. I began furiously taking notes of each day’s events and even wrote notes of past events, so I wouldn’t forget details by the time I finished.


What research was involved?

The biggest research task undertaken for the purposes of writing this book was to cycle the closest available route to the New Zealand coastline. Once I had that knowledge, plus my notes and photo, I just had to sit down and condense all those moments, feelings, characters, divine locations, troubles, emotions and sights into a small(ish!) book.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

A pinch of trial and error, plus lots of early-2000s trance. I had a false start, which was essentially me excitedly brain-dumping everything into words, in the most incoherent manner possible. I sent this version to a friend for advice, but soon retracted it as I read it! After some advice from him, I calmed the farm and started writing this thing properly. Writing is like drumming (to quote The Commitments) “it takes control and skill”. Much like some days on the ride, I found lengthy electronic trance mixes, played at a low volume, inspirational and a handy metronome for pacing the writing. Two-and-a-half years later, I had a book.


If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

CRW, featuring Veronica ‘Like A Cat’ is just one of the many doof-doof tunes that emanated from the mp3 player on my left should as I cycled through wild, unbeaten tracks; Bon Iver’s ‘Beth/Rest’ will forever remind me of the time spent recovering from my Queen Charlotte Track crash at my cousin’s place in Wellington; And, for some reason, The Pretenders ‘Back On The Chain Gang’ would always kick off in my head each time I started riding, following a stop or break. It would just happen, involuntarily.


If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead character?

I think Adam Driver could pull off a pretty impressive Dunc.


What did you enjoy the most about writing The Big Loop?

Reliving all the special, hilarious and memorable moments from this adventure was the most enjoyable part of the writing process. I also loved creating the maps that accompany every chapter. Bringing the adventure to life with a series of labelled route plans was a satisfying finale to the production process. Also, handing it in! I dropped a 200+ A4 page manuscript with Adrian, the editor at Bateman, and flew to the South Island for a break in Ōkārito. Have you been? It’s got thousands of kiwi roaming the bush and a huge, untouched wetland. Three Mile Beach, just to the south, used to have a settlement and main street during the gold rush, but today nothing remains. I love the West Coast, I could talk for hours about it.


What experience in your working life was most helpful to you in the writing?

I’m a TV and radio producer and I was a digital content creator in my previous life, so I was at a slight advantage when it came to writing a book. However, writing web articles, radio scripts and books are all very different! I’ve learnt so much about the book writing process from this experience and know exactly what I’d do differently next time. Lesson 1: have a deadline!


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

As part of the editing process, I’ve read The Big Loop twice already this year. As for others’ books I’ve dipped into, we have: ‘Volcanoes Of Auckland – The Essential Guide’, by Bruce W. Hayward, Graeme Murdoch and Gordon Maitland. It features everything you need to know about the big city’s volcanic cones. A mate and I are hoping to cycling to the summits of all of them, in a giant spiral, so doing some research feels right; ‘The Railway Adventures’ by Vicki Pipe and Geoff Marshall. In a similarly obsessive quest to mine, these two visited or passed through every single railway station in the UK. Their book follows their epic journey around Britain by train, noting all the quirky bits; and ‘A Field Guide to the Native Edible Plants of New Zealand’ by Andrew Crowe. This book tell you how to skin and eat a ponga tree, if ever you find the need to.


What’s your next project?

I have at least two other large adventures to complete in this lifetime on these islands. They’re currently works in progress, but I’m nearing a decision on what is next. I also have another adventure-related book in mind, that will be more of a guide, to encourage fellow Kiwis and tourists to NZ to get out and enjoy this land. In the meantime, I’m trying to get fit enough to run up Ninety Mile Beach, barefoot. I’ve never run a marathon, but then again, I’d never been on a cycle tour, before riding the entire coast of New Zealand, so I don’t think “starting small” is in my genes.


The Big Loop is published by Bateman Books.

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