World traveller and first-time author Paige Parker tells us how the book came to life and shares an exclusive excerpt of how her adventure began
You finished your Guinness World Record-breaking trip in 2002. Why did you decide to write the book only now?
Paige Parker (PP) The true catalyst for this project was my daughter Happy. When I became pregnant with her, I realised that I had to write my own version of the story. This is actually the second version of the book. I first wrote about the trip when I was still in New York, and I had an offer to publish before I left but then life took over. I got pregnant, I moved to Singapore, I became a gemologist.
Three years ago, I was talking about the book to a writer friend of mine who suggested that I should at least bind what I’ve written. I was about to bring it to Bynd Artisan to do a beautiful binding then I read it again and thought it wasn’t bad. That was how this current version took shape.
Tell us a little more about the making of your book and how it evolved from the first iteration:
PP When you look at Out of Africa, the author was away from it for a very long time before she was able to write about it. As it was dormant for some time, I chose to change the perspective. I decided to write it from present day in Singapore looking back to the person I was then—the small-town Southerner who met Jim, was educated by the world, and became the person I want to be.
I completely rewrote the book. It went from 402 pages to about 226, and I had to cut a lot, some very good parts, as well as incorporate things that have happened since then. This is essentially about two journeys: one is the actual 3-year long journey around the world (the travelogue part); the other is my personal journey, about someone who has been truly impacted and shaped by the world.
What is the best and worst thing about being an author?
PP After it sat dormant for a while, there was a sense of sadness that hung over me. That was probably the worst part of it. There was also the fear of opening up. I was very honest in the book, I didn’t dumb things down. Putting yourself out there can be quite scary.
And the best thing so far is the reaction of my daughter, Happy. She's the reason why I wrote the book in the first place. Her feedback, given that she is a prolific reader, is important to me. After she read my book she said, “Mommy, yours is the best! It's my favourite book of all time”. Of course, she’s very biased but knowing that I wrote it for her, it means a lot. I hope it will also resonate with more young women around the world. My wish is for them to take a chance, to roll the dice, and when given the opportunity to travel, to just do it.
After travelling to 6 continents and 116 countries in 1,101 days, what is the most crucial thing you’ve learned?
PP I realise that we all carry so much mental baggage, learned and societal, as we go through life. If we can travel and live without these biases, then our weight on the journey and in life will be far lighter. After three years on the road, I came home optimistic on mankind. That is the ultimate reward from such an epic trip—to know that people are good, want the best for their children and desire quality lives. You don’t always get that feeling when you read or watch the news.
Tell us, how and why did you come up with the title?
PP Well, I had to call it something right? (laughs). Epigram told me I had five days to finalise the title. I was going through the choices and a friend of mine suggested this. There was something about it that felt right. One aspect is the underlying theme that women don’t have to be defined by men. When I married Jim, I knew what an extraordinary character he is, but I decided to keep my own name. After we were married, he said something like, “You’re home, Mrs. Rogers”. To which I replied, “Don’t call me Mrs. Rogers”. When I asked him what he thought of this as the title, he said "Why not? It's as sassy as you are."
Read an exclusive excerpt of Don’t Call Me Mrs Rogers: Love, Loathing and Our Epic Drive Around the World shared by author Paige Parker:
The beginning (Iceland) — Page 11-12
I peppered him relentlessly with questions about the trip, and what I should expect. Unlike Jim, my travel experience had been somewhat limited, with only a few college weeks spent in London and a short backpacking trip through Austria and Germany under my belt. “So where’s the itinerary?” was my first and most obvious request. “What’s the plan? I want to share it with my parents.”
“Plan?” he replied. “Here’s the plan. We’re gonna do our best to avoid wars, plagues and impassable roads whenever possible. And we will also avoid Siberia in the winter.” His repeated warnings about other likely scenarios—lack of food, monsoons, questionable or nonexistent lodgings, corrupt officials, endless border delays, bandits—made me wonder if he was perhaps trying to talk me out of going. It was hard for me to actually picture any of that happening. Instead, my imagination wandered to visions of Shinto shrines, ancient mosques, cliff-side monasteries, the mysteries of King Tut’s tomb, the treasures of the Sistine Chapel, the snowy peaks of Mount Fuji, the shifting sands of the Sahara.
“But where we will start?” I asked seriously, knowing my daydreaming would lead us nowhere.
“Iceland, I think.”
“We have to start somewhere,” Jim replied smugly before describing the North American and European tectonic plates meeting there, allowing us on Day One to drive from one continent to another.
When I wasn’t working, I pored over maps of Europe and Scandinavia, dreaming of a stop at every tourist spot. But it wasn’t until we picked up the canary yellow coupe and matching trailer in California on my thirtieth birthday, 10 November 1998, that our epic trip became real.
Upon seeing the car, my home for the next three years, I almost cried.
“It’s so small!” I grumbled. “We’ll kill each other!”
Jim laughed. I was serious.
Sure, I knew it wouldn’t be easy—that much closeness for all that time—but I wanted to see the world. I wanted to be with Jim. I was in love. And he was going to leave with or without me.
So that is how I found myself in Reykjavik after New Year’s, stumbling out of a half-buried Mercedes into a two-metre snowdrift on the side of an isolated road in the middle of the worst storm in the history of Iceland, and shouting at my fiancé over a biting wind as a tear slid halfway down my cheek, and then froze.