A Book Review
From A Wonky Path to an Open Road
Written by JANEY de NORDWALL
I had wanted to start reading the memoir when I first received it in February but then some urgent work emerged and I had to leave it for several weeks before I could finally relish it. From a Wonky Path to an Open Road is an absolutely delightful and heartwarming read as the author not only shares tales of her solo road trip, she muses about her career choice and how she weathered through all the highs and lows in her production path.
Janey de Nordwall is a British film producer who had won a BAFTA and also several short film awards. At fifty-two years of age, when she left a well-paid job after three near work-related breakdowns, she was at a crossroad. She then decided to take a solo road trip, got out of her comfort zone, throwing caution to the wind and embarked on a journey from London to Scotland. She spent six weeks driving through single track roads, journeying winding roads, boarding ferries and leaving ports in her blue 1970s VW T2 campervan named Charlie and throughout her trip, she only had her Cheshire cat Kenny as her travelling companion. Kenny is an eighteen-month-old British silver Tabby who lives with her at her London flat.
Before Janey set out on her solo road trip, she did some careful planning on the essential items that she would need while she was on the road. In her words,
‘As a producer, I knew that a successful event needed great planning and every great producer knows that you need a spreadsheet to plan’.
As a film producer who loves spreadsheet, for the first time Janey was ‘going to go off grid with no plan, no spreadsheet.’
To begin with, she first had to get a crash course from her mechanic to learn about changing tyres and all the basics about the maintenance of a motor vehicle. She videoed her mechanic as he talked her through the parts of the engine that she should keep her eye on.
They had to ‘comb through the engine paying extra attention to the fuel pipe, oil, the coil, spark plugs, and so on’
‘“So, Janey, if the van ever breaks down then it’s going to be down to two things: fuel or electrics,” he explained.’
The mechanic also lent her some tools including his breaker bar and ended their session with
saying, “If you ever get into trouble then call me. Anytime… anywhere!”
Next it would be about packing light so as to allow her and her tabby enough space to live in a small van for six weeks.
‘ I’ve never been one for travelling light as I believe it to be prudent to have options for all occasions, but I knew that space would be of the essence and therefore essential items only would make it into the van. ‘
She managed to pack all her essentials and methodically arranged them into six categories, including food for Kenny, her snacks and she had dedicated one drawer to Lycra for her cycling trips. She muses,
‘For some reason I had imagined myself looking rather glamorous whilst on the road so I packed some lovely floaty, pretty things. The kind of things I would have worn in Cannes. Obviously, none of these items were even unpacked as I pretty much wore the same four pieces of clothing which were washed, dried and worn on repeat. Cut-off jeans, full length jeans, t-shirt, fleece. ‘
Janey had also downloaded some mega Spotify playlists for different moods and occasions. It was a 2,471-mile drive, so it was certainly no easy feat. Her words could fly off the pages as you read about her enthusiasm and joy when she found herself meeting many kind souls along the journey. She also made it to the HebCelt music festival in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis.
Janey had done something most people will never get the chance to do. When she first had her heart and mind set on working in production company, she had aspired to change the face of the British film industry. She is unconventional and follows her instincts when pursuing her creative ambitions.
In her words,
‘I now knew I was courageous, I was tenacious, I was a free spirit and a survivor. I even succumbed to the fact that I might even be a little bit brave! I had let my demons go and let true beauty in. But most of all, I was a loner and proud of it.
This journey had started as a midlife crisis. But after spending 40 days and 40 nights in my van, with my favourite stripy four-legged friend in my little blue house on wheels, I knew that I had undoubtedly had a midlife-affirming, midlife-changing adventure that had changed me for ever.’
She tells us about how she came to coin her parents as Max and Pax and how she had started off with only three O levels. She was not daunted even though the nuns at the Convent school that she attended in Manchester told her that she was: “thick and lazy and would never amount to anything.” She had dyslexia and that was not recognized in the 80s then.
In her narrations,
‘I’ve tended to make choices that nestle between my comfort zone and panic zone. It’s only there that real excitement, nerves and fear collide and it’s only there that magic can happen. Having said that though, nothing dramatically ‘magical’ has happened in my life and I haven’t ‘made it’ in the traditional sense, but, for me, I’ve pushed some boundaries and I’m proud to say that I’ve achieved more than I ever imagined and have no regrets. I reckon that’s magical enough.
Anyway, the idea of ‘making it’ is totally subjective and you don’t need to have climbed to the pinnacle of your career ladder, banked millions or brushed with fame to have made it, though social media would disagree. Nor do you need to have sailed the oceans solo or walked around the world barefooted raising money for charity to feel a sense of achievement. Most of us are pretty normal and fight our own fight for happiness and contentment in our own courageous way. ‘
Janey de Nordwall is a free spirit and her resolve is awesome and inspiring. The writing is splendid for its narrations contain her introspective reflections about her beloved parents, experiences and ventures that are peppered with self-deprecating humour and most of all embraced for the author’s adventurous spirit.
I remember my failed attempt at spending a night at campsite somewhere in New South Wales. I had not been able to withstand the cold sleeping inside a tent and also the discomfort of spending a night in the outback even in my twenties.
I have received an advance copy of the book and enjoyed reading it. The review is entirely my own.
Nordwall ’s travelogue brings back memories of the whiskey trail to the highlands in Inverness that I made with my husband, a friend and his son several years ago. It was around second week of April 2012. Here are some photos that were taken then.