Intro from Jay Allison: This piece was produced as part of the Transom Story Workshop Spring 2015 session. Listen to more pieces from this Story Workshop class here.
About “An Ocean Away”
My piece is about adventurer Sarah Outen’s journey around the world by bike, kayak, and rowboat. She was just preparing to leave for the final leg of her journey — rowing from Cape Cod to London. Her story is intense. Reading about her travels online, it seemed like the story would practically write itself. However, while Sarah is a wonderful person, she’s also very prim-and-proper British. During our interview, Sarah seemed to play down events, moments I expected to be the energy of the story. When asked to describe the experience of being in a typhoon, she declined, as the memories can bring back trauma. This was totally reasonable on her part, but I didn’t have lively tape for the moments that I thought would be pivotal in my story.
To fix this, I tried using sound to create these vivid scenes; the sound and sensation of rowing to make you feel like you’re on the ocean with her, the overwhelming sounds and stress of a typhoon. I was also able to use a phone recording Sarah had made immediately after the typhoon to pull that scene together. This wasn’t to use sound design as a crutch, but rather to make these moments come alive — to put you in the boat with Sarah as much as possible.
But what was more surprising to me was the love story angle. I knew I wanted to ask her about falling in love, but I didn’t think it would be that important in the piece. But when I asked her about meeting Lucy and proposing, Sarah just lit up. She’s been on her journey for over four years now, and has talked about it to press in pretty much any town she stops in. She’s had a lot of time to think about how to describe the feeling of being in the boat, or about food, or why she’s on her journey. But talking about Lucy, I felt like I was getting more real and emotional responses. This was far and away my strongest tape, and I worked to reframe the story around this. It wasn’t the story I planned to make, but it’s better than what I had originally envisioned.
And, as for omissions, I struggled over whether to include the question that everyone seemed to have: how does she go to the bathroom? (She uses a bucket. It’s not that interesting.) People really wanted to know about this, but the answer is probably your first guess, and it doesn’t really fit smoothly into the narrative. Ultimately, this detail felt like it detracted more than added to the story, so I cut it. I wish I had included information on Sarah’s funding of her trip through corporate sponsors, though. There were lot of fun stories about her time biking and kayaking, but in the end you have to kill your darlings.
Mark’s Sonic ID
I was doing man on the street interviews when I met Joe, asking people what their biggest regrets in life were. Joe didn’t want to stop walking to answer my question — so I walked with him. And he kept talking while I walked with him for over half a mile. Sometimes it’s worth chasing an interview!