How to write a Classic Mountaineering Novel

Our story starts with a sentence that immediately grabs the readers attention. It’s short and punchy, designed to immediately make you prick up your ears, sit up and pay attention. Descriptive and compelling, often transporting the reader to some far off mountain climb in a far off mountainous situation from the very beginning; that’s right, this is a mountaineering story, and don’t you forget it. It’s almost reminiscent of M&S…

Before long, the cloud lifts from the small ledge you’ve chosen to visit your favourite climber/author, and the transcendent vista emerges from the overbearing hue of cloud around you. The vocabulary is chosen to be evocative, almost erotic some may suggest, describing the rock, snow and sky around you. It’s all done to plunge you deep into the scenario with a sudden thump, and in the same way that your vision may become clear again after a scary lead fall, you begin to look around and take in the scenery with jaw-dropping awe, one detail following another. You look, you take it in, you marvel at it’s beauty and thank god (if that’s your thing) for creating something so resplendant that it almost makes you weep into the very pages from which you are now embraced, and then you move on to the next feature in a similar way, the author thumbing the thesaurus in an attempt to conjure up new ways of create the same emotion from you, the reader.

This is the time for nouns and adjectives, verbs having no use here, as an undoubtedly emotional writer attempts to convey the images floating around his mind. He feels his life was on the line, his mortal being about to come in to question, and he tries to traject this to you, to make your breathing rate increase at the mere thought of what it must be like to be in such a deadly situation. And why not, i say, as authors from other genres (fantasy springing to mind, such as Tolkien with Lord of the Rings) must invent these sorts of descriptive places and events, creatures and scenarios to evoke the same feeling from you, conjured up to make mythical people experience out-of-this-worldly adventures. These men actually lived them.

Of course this isn’t the only way to write a great mountaineering book…

“I began writing this article in 1974. The other children at my school used to write about other sports, but i found i could never compete, and didn’t fit in. My teacher, Mr Mallory/Hillary/Scott/etc suggested i began writing about mountains and with him, we began to go away and write about mountains. There were some other boys there, (whose names depend almost entirely on the social class of the author) and i found my sport in the same way that some people eventually find spiritual enlightenment in religion. Climbing became my religion, i became older and better, and i will now take you on a tour of the world, to different places at different times, giving a chronological account of my life up to now, but only really the relevant bits, or the highlights.”

Again, this isn’t the worst way to write, and is (i imagine) how most autobiographies are written. Indeed, sometimes they aren’t autobiographical at all, sometimes not even being a biography of a person, as in the case of Harrer and his White Spider. And as above, there is nothing wrong with this: if people have led an extraordinary life and been to extraordinary places to do extraordinary things then by all means, let us hear of them. Let us know how you felt and tell us what inspired you to take such steps. It is in our nature to be curious, and passion itself draws us to focus on those whose interests lie close to our own.

I’m not being serious, blatantly, but does that mean that I don’t agree, admire and to some extent adore the heroes and heroines of expedition and adventure? Of course not, no, and I am fully aware to “beware the green eyed monster” that “doth mock the meat it feeds upon”. Would I not give my eye teeth to go to these places, especially on their first ascents, and experience what these men and women do and have done? I’d be there in a flash! However, whatever youthful exuberance I had slowly fades away, and the responsibilities and realities of my real life come flooding back: you can’t climb Scottish Winter ice VI, you can’t get the required time off work, and you can’t afford it. So reading about it will have to do. Give it another twenty years and I’ll be re-writing the same piece about about climbing films too.

But this is exactly why climbing, mountaineering or rock climbing, lend themselves so well to be classics. Of course, there are always the passages thrown in to try and explain to non-climbers the meaning of things. After three paragraphs talking of life on a porta-ledge, there will often be a sentence or two explaining briefly what a porta-ledge actually is but then the scribe’s fascination will take over, his desire to try and get you to understand that this is so heartfelt overtaking his conscious decision to speak to a wider audience.

In so many ways, these books are accessible to the widest audience. If people (and we’re talking about a hell of a lot of people) can become so engrossed with Hogwarts, horcruxes and Quidditch then why can’t they develop the same passion for bird-beaks, Deadmen and prussiks? But then i guess this comes down to the fact that these people aren’t necessarily writers; they are climbers who can (or sometimes just do) write. And again, fair play to them, and long may it continue as i sit down with The Hard Years once again. Still, it does make you wonder what would happen if you teamed up Pritchard and Pratchett…

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