Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Mountain writing: The future is written

I was contacted by the deputy editor of the Alpinist magazine to offer some thoughts concerning the future of outdoor writing, in my capacity as someone who puts out an online blogazine-Footless Crow. I’d written some book reviews bemoaning the fact that outdoor writing has become all too conservative and predictable with our leading mountaineering awards  like the Boardman Tasker and Banff, continually bestowing its glittering prizes on works concerned with  ‘sub-zero suffering and  derring do’. It’s a type of mountain writing that I’ve grown increasingly bored and irritated with, and I mentioned this is the last blog piece on Simon Armitage, in relation to his book ‘The Way Home’.

In a way, this type of mountain writing is like contemporary music. Just about everything we saw at last weeks’ Glastonbury festival was basically a reinterpretation of  the distinct musical genres which exploded into popular music culture in the sixties. Just like a rock act wears the clothes of a musical forebear of 40 and 5o years ago, modern mountain writers ransack of the creative legacy of Mallory, Hertzog and Whymper. However, there is more to mountain writing than just the creative process.

At the moment, we are going through a revolution where in the words of Marshall McLuhan ‘The medium is the message’. The printed page will never die, but it is increasingly becoming superseded by digital publishing. More and more people are reading their newspapers on line and as they disappear one by one behind a pay wall, readers will turn to new free sources of news information and use sites like the Huffington Post.  A senior editor at the Guardian told me that the newspaper will be completely digital within ten years. Where does that leave mountain periodicals and books?

It’s pretty clear that in the UK at least, our last remaining magazines are not exactly in a strong position. As with newspapers, readers just aren’t willing anymore to pay £4 for a magazine which might have just one or two articles of interest. Ironically, the diversification of climbing into so many different specialties is the media’s Achilles heel. Few climbers embrace every discipline.

Another problem for the magazines and book publishers is the irresistible rise and rise of blogging platforms. From sites like Footless Crow- which uses a variety of writers- to an individual blog. These of course range from your everyday journeyman’s blog which might be read by a few friends and family members to the blogs of leading lights like Nick Bullock and AndyKirkpatrick, who probably pull in more readers than the print magazines. 

With regard to book publishing; ebooks are increasingly being used by writers to put out their work. Either in tandem with a hard copy or solely as a digital work. In a way, epublishing can be seen as the democratization of publishing. No longer are authors solely reliant on the traditional publishing outlets who, let’s face it, are hardly radical in their approach to publishing new writers. Again, as with music, the labels/publishers prefer to promote ‘names’ rather than take a chance on an unknown. 

Now, with epublishing, writers can cut out the publisher completely and get their work out as an ebook. Often with great success. Take a look at the Amazon mountaineering best sellers and you’ll see several new authors whose works might never have seen the light of day if they had been solely reliant on persuading a publisher to take on their work.

I still love books and will always buy and read them, although, like a lot of people I speak to, I stopped buying climbing magazines years ago. However, there is no doubt that the digital genie is out of the bottle and more and more people will in future choose to read books and journals in digital form. On tablets,phones,netbooks or ereaders.

In fact, just a few days ago I succumbed and ordered a little Kobo ereader. It’s about time I got to grips with the classics and with all the great works like Homers’ The Odyssey available as free ebooks and given the fact that the little device I’ve ordered stores 1000 books, then it will certainly save my bookshelves from disappearing completely under the weight of hardbacks and paperbacks. Also, it makes sense to take an ereader with you if you are travelling.Why take several books with you when you can take a device which can fit in a pocket?

The digital age of publishing can ultimately be seen as liberating us from the creative dead hand of the traditional publishers and the conservative awards committees who between them,have traditionally run scared of writing which falls outside of the norm. Furthermore, it will enable new writers exploring new areas to put their work out there where it will either sink or swim. That’s got to be better than letting the print media strangle it at birth.


  1. Great post.i like it very much.thanks you so much for sharing such a nice story.keep continue in future.thanks.article writing

  2. Great post and I free entirely (although I am also guilty of plundering the legacy of Whymper et al in my work!)