Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mountain writing...falling off the creative edge?

Acid House:

A month or two back I reviewed Nick Bullock's Echoes and offered the following thought... "I'm sure the author and publisher can rest assured that Echoes will be a shoe in for the 2013 Boardman Tasker short list. The good folk at Boardman Tasker cannot,it seems, get enough of works like Echoes which fit into a tried and tested structure and follow a formula which undoubtedly appeals to readers and reviewers alike. '

Fast Forward to this week and Andy Kirkpatrick's 'Cold Wars' has lifted the 2012 Boardman-Tasker Prize. Both works are fine books within the genre but both could be described as 'Ripping Yarns'. True they are both underpinned by the day to day mundanity of the writers lives but it's the tales of high altitude sub zero suffering and derring-do which are designed to give the reader his fix.

'His' ?..Well yes. I imagine that most readers of these books are male. I can't imagine women constitute a very large proportion of readers of mountaineering books. I  also imagine that the readership is largely confined to a certain age group. I'm guessing the 30-50 age group mops up the majority of sales. After that, the climbing reader tends to look on mountaineering books with a weary detachment. ' 'Read one mountaineering book you've read them all'  seems to be the perspective of the older climbing reader.

I know one of our finest writers-Harold Drasdo who has just finished a historic piece on climbing on Cloggy in the 1950's- hasn't read a mountaineering book for years. Preferring to lose himself in some obscure 1000 page Russian novel ! This detachment from mountain literature seems to be reflected amongst a lot of seasoned campaigners.

Getting back to the Boardman Tasker award. I think only once in it's entire history have I been taken aback by the judges choice of winner. That was in 1989 when it chose M John Harrisons' gothic novel 'Climbers'. Before and after it has conservatively hopped about between worthy but dull biographies, the odd work of fiction and ripping yarns.

Talking of Harold Drasdo; I know a lot of people were shocked when his excellent autobiography 'The Ordinary Route' was not even short listed! A book which probably should have won the BT that year. I seem to remember some boring Alpine work took the prize. You can probably pick it up on Amazon for 1p now.

Of course  it could be said that mountaineering is a rather narrow field anyway and what do you expect from a limited genre? At the moment I'm reading Richard McHardy's excellent self published 'Echoes of a Dream- A crag rats tale'. Will it get a look in in 2013. Ditto John Redhead's 'Colonists Out'?? Definitely too left field for the climbing establishment! A betting man would be inclined to look no further than a climbing name writing about doing big stuff in big mountains.

Link...Boardman Tasker

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