It has taken a while coming but the summer issue of The Fellrunner has a good review of ‘It’s a hill, get over it’ in it by Graham Breeze. Because of earlier ‘issues’ I had thought it might not be reviewed or that it was too late [see my thoughts on 'Being reviewed and being NOT reviewed'], but it is a balanced review. After a comparison with Richard Askwith’s book, he notes that ‘Hill is a worthy and useful addition to the fell running literature and, with its record of detail, an excellent reference book‘.
A few days later the June issue of Compass Sport (Britain’s National Orienteering Magazine) arrived, which has a great review by editor (and sometime fellrunner) Nick Barrable in it. After noting it ‘should probably adorn all fell runners’ bookshelves‘, he concludes the review with the comment: ‘Overall, a fine choice for any runners’ library‘. [Click the image for the full review]
That second quote looks like making it on to the cover of the paperback when it comes out. I am working with Sandstone Press on choosing which quotes are best. Is it really the best quotes, or the ‘most famous’ that should be used? Which neatly leads me to a link to a piece in The Guardian yesterday by Nathan Filer (winner of the 2013 Costa Book of the Year). In an article entitled ‘Why you should ignore the superlatives on book jackets‘ he reveals how they often happen through friends doing each other ‘favours’. [Disclaimer: I know Nick B a little]
I had a brilliant day attending the 2014 Lakeland Book of the Year Awards yesterday. It was held in a huge marquee in the beautiful grounds of the Inn on the Lake in Glenridding. Mike and I drove over from Staveley on a glorious sunny day. Bucks Fizz in the Orangery started proceedings before we had a fabulous luncheon, and for me a ‘calming’ pint of Marston’s EPA. Then came the real action. The mainman Hunter Davies said a few humorous words of background, and introduced fellow judges Fiona Armstrong and Eric Robson. The awards were in 5 categories, with 15 shortlisted altogether. What the authors didn’t know was what category they were in, but it turned out that it was neatly arranged that there a shortlist of three books per category. One couldn’t help thinking that the odds on a category win were shortening, but that was dangerous thinking, and could lead to unnecessary disappointment. The table I was on had 3 shortlisted authors on it, all in different categories. Weirdly, we had spotted a pile of books on the judges’ table, and thought ‘surely the winners aren’t there on show’. Initial excitement as I squinted, then disappointment as I couldn’t see a distinctly thick green-wrapped tome. OK, relax and be ready to applaud others.
Then, the judges went through each category in turn. The three ‘contender’ books were introduced with some apt summaries (and/or were quoted from) to set the scene, and then one of the event sponsors was called forward to open the envelope and announce the category winner. The first category was The Striding Edge Prize for Guides and Places, which went to Stuart Miller’s Canoe & Kayak Guide to North West England – who was on our table. Then came the Zeffirellis Prize for People and Business category, which was won by Undressed For Dinner, which charts how Simon Temple-Bennett and his wife turned their home into an internationally-renowned hotel. They were also sitting at my table, so expectations were becoming low indeed – what chance, etc. My category was last [I think, the day became a blur around here] and was the Bill Rollinson Prize for Landscape and Tradition. By now it was obvious that the judges actually had seperate piles for each category, so hope was not all lost. Fiona Armstrong started the category off by saying some very nice things about my book, how she wasn’t especially interested in running [she is actually a fisherperson, if there is such a word] but had been captivated as she read through the book. She extracted the story of Malcolm ‘Bighead’ Canmore choosing his messengers on the basis of their performance in a specially arranged fell race (this was in 1064, see p27) as her ‘sample’. Then the reasons why the other two books had been shortlisted, and a few honourable mentions for near misses.
The pause before the sponsor revealed the name after opening the envelope seem interminable, but he said ‘Steve ….’ and I felt a bit like the crowd must have felt when McWhirter said ‘3 minutes …’ when announcing the result of Roger Bannister’s sub-4 mile [OK, that is stretching it a bit, but you get my drift]. I think I might have hugged Mike as I went up to be presented, and certainly thrust my mobile phone into his hand with the implied suggestion that he might record the moment.
All winners were asked if they wanted to say a few words, and I did – no surprise there. I must admit to having thought about whether to have a little speech ready but forced myself not to. So I mumbled something about being a writer and feeling that I should be able to say something appropriate as it came to me. As Keith Richardson was in the audience I told a short anecdote about how I really wanted to write a biog of Joss, but that he got there first and so I had to move to a wider subject. Then I think it was thanks for the recognition for the book, and encouragement to others to go down the interesting path of writing about whatever they were passionate about. I sat down and shook hands round the table. I believe I may have called out ‘top table’ across to the other 2 winners in our group. Then Hunter Davies went through the overall winner shortlist (of 4), before announcing that Simon’s Undressed for Dinner had won.
The formal bit over we posed for pictures with the judges and relaxed. I had a great chat with Rebecca Robinson, who was on our table. She runs for Kendal AC and is an excellent fell runner, with marathon ambitions. Impressively she had just run up and down Helvellyn whilst waiting for the event to start. The picture shows me having a chat with her, and also with Keith Richardson with whom I discussed writery/Naylory stuff.
But the best of all was being introduced to one of my heroes. Himalayan (and big wall) climber Doug Scott was there as a paying guest and he was highly amused by the story (which appears in the book) I told him of being asked if I was him in a pub once and saying ‘yes’ for some strange reason (I may have already had a drink) – and then being plied with more drinks all night as a result by someone thinking I was famous.
A fabulous event, and for me a fantastic feeling of achievement and pleasure at being an ‘award winning author’.
Two new projects have just got off the ground (hopefully). First, the latest edition of Trail Running Magazine came out, and it carried a note about a new Splashmap for the Bob Graham Round. This is a project that has been mooted between myself and David Overton at splash-maps.com, that I sincerely hope will come to fruition. Need to get on with costing, designing and working on the artwork. The same edition of the magazine carried a series of pieces on Billy Bland and the Bob Graham Round, which included some data from me on the timeline for the BGR and comparisons with the other big rounds – the Ramsay, Buckley, Baxter and Wicklow rounds.
Secondly, I have been researching ideas, data, and sources for a second book. Having recorded in-depth interviews with the two most significant individuals (and setup a whole series more interviews), I have just started the task of writing the manuscript. At one point I thought I would approach this manuscript differently to my first one. I actually thought I might collect all my thoughts and then write the text in the order of the proposed chapters. Well, that has gone by the by – partly through impatience, and partly because an intangible muse ‘made me’ start writing. I had one almost sleepless night, mulling over: how to best structure the narrative, how to lead in, some half-formed chapter run-ins, and backgrounders to the interviews. I just HAD to get some of it out of my system. A productive 2,000 word Sunday was the result. And no, it wasn’t the Chapter 1 that I worked on.
Meanwhile, there is still some unfinished business with ‘It’s a hill, get over it’. There is preparation to do for the eventual move to paperback. Yesterday I was sent the draft of a review that will be out in Compass Sport (‘Britain’s National Orienteering Magazine’) in the next 10 days or so. I had known it was a possibility ages ago, but had almost given up hope. But it is worth it, as I hope the summary “….. a fine choice for any runners’ library“ will lead a few more to make a purchase. So, that just leaves the Fellrunner (‘Magazine of the Fell Runners Association’) as the one important outlet not to carry information about the book or a review. On past form I wonder if they ever will. There is one due soon, so I live in hope.
Finally, there is the excitement next week of the Lakeland Book of the Year awards ‘do’ to attend, as a short-listed author.
It has been nice to be able to provide copies of ‘It’s a hill, get over it’ as ‘rewards’ recently. This weekend the winners of the Chew Valley 10k both received a signed copy of the book along with their other goodies. This came about for two reasons. One was because one of the main organisers is Denise Mellersh, who was one of the first athletes I coached at the club. The other was because the Chew course is notoriously NOT flat, as it includes Coley Hill. Despite the tough course the winners both had what Denise described as ‘none-too-shabby’ times: Nathan Young finishing in 33-05, and Lucy Macallister doing 37-28.
Ten days or so earlier Trail Running magazine had setup a competition to win a copy of the book on their website. This was arranged with Claire Maxted, editor of the magazine, and has a pretty easy entry standard! Go to the Trail Running website to enter (closes on 10th July). Obviously these are both indirect adverts for the book, and one has no way of knowing if any sales result, but I did feel they were worth doing. I hope the race and competition winners enjoy the read.
But the really good news is that the book has been shortlisted for an award. It was nominated for the Lakeland Book of the Year award. The initial nomination list of 60 books has been whittled down to a shortlist of 20, of which mine is one. An announcement was made in the Westmorland Gazette, explaining that there are 5 seperate categories to the award. I hope to be able to attend the award luncheon, which is in Glenridding on 15 July (some smart work juggling permitting). Obviously I am super chuffed to be shortlisted, but am trying not to let the excitement detract from my work on the manuscript of a second book, which I have now started researching.
We travelled to Yorkshire in fine weather, had great weather while there, and returned in good weather. UNFORTUNATELY, the heavens opened whilst we travelled to the race, obscured the hills during the race, and put a serious damper on the Horton gala (and rather stuffing my plan to try to sell some books!). Perversely, it cleared up soon after and was bright sunshine again, and we had a fine sunny evening walk to the pub for a well earned meal.
Arriving at Horton we registered and tried to prepare for what was coming (not that any really knew) around the car in the parking field. Not much warming up took place, possibly to the detriment of subsequent performances, but it really was quite manky. Bumbags packed with standard FRA kit, the athletes assembled for a quick briefing from the race organiser. Pen y Ghent was completely clagged. Some worried faces showed the uncertainty in how the summit navigation was going to go. For some a basic compass lesson was required that morning, emphasising the line of first descending, but I was confident that the summit marshall ought to be keeping an eye on folk. I saw the field over the first bridge and then moved up to just under Whitber Hill to await the return from the gloom.
The leaders came through looking good, with M50 Craig Roberts taking victory (his 10th). Soon Derwent AC’s Rob Morris strode down the hill, having soundly beaten the club’s first athlete (his brother Will Morris, see photo above – at 3rd check point). Not long after our first lady came through, eventually sealing 3rd ladies position in her first fell race (Jo Kent, see photo – descending Whitber Hill). The winning time was 50-46. Our nine athletes came in with times ranging from 1-01-28.– to 1-24-41, which was none too shabby for first timers [results]. Comments afterwards varied from “Never again” to “I would do another one next week if I could”.
We were staying for the weekend in Bishopdale (at The Rookery), and had a great evening meal and a fine (pint of) Black Sheep in the Street Head Inn. The next day there were streams of club cyclists out reccying that part of Le Grand Tour route (a sprint finishes at the pub). Seven gallant athletes went out for their Sunday ritual run, of varying lengths over my recommended route – that I had not noticed having little black arrows on (yep, very steep rises!). Luckily we had Ontrackhysio on hand. Varying degrees of stiffness ensued in the next couple of days, but by Thursday I expect all will be back on track at the Midweek Road League race over the familiar training ground of Trent Park. Will we be back? I am sure some will, some won’t. But I am very sure that all will now have a healthy respect for fell runners/races.
Note: if we thought those conditions were tough, on the same day the Ennerdale Horseshoe race (a FRA champs counter) had to be shortened and brought off some of the tops because of lightning warnings, and the danger that posed. We also heard later that one athlete there had taken a bad fall and badly smashed up their knee.
[Credit: photos 1 & 3 Stuart Slavicky]
This coming weekend I will be at the Pen Y Ghent fell race, in company with several runners from my club. For some it will be their first ‘proper’ fell race and it will be intriguing to see how they fare. The race is an FRA category AS race, 5.9 miles long with 1850 feet of ascent. Last year’s times ranged from to 47-25 to 2-14-38. We have accommodation booked for the weekend, and have been through accumulating the necessary kit requirements (where some didn’t have it all), and all are now properly worried about the event – which I am sure will go fine, as they are all experienced distance and trail runners. I shan’t be running unfortunately, but will be there in full support mode, probably from a vantage point on the side of Whitber Hill. I will also have a few copies of the book with me at the race, so if you are there and want to buy a (signed) copy just look out for me. I will be in my white book advert top (see photo in right margin of this site), and hopefully findable in the finish/gala area afterwards.
Following on from the last post I was really pleased to finally see a review in Athletics Weekly (click image to enlarge) last week. I particularly liked the comment about the book being “beautifully produced with great photographs and images” – which ought to also please Sandstone Press. But mostly it was the “must-buy” verdict that made it worth the wait, and hopefully will have got the book to the notice of a new audience. So, now I am hopeful that a Compass Sport review will follow shortly, and also that Fellrunner will finally give it some space.
Despite the “any publicity is good publicity” mantra, I have had a hot and cold relationship with the reviews of ‘It’s a hill, get over it’, and the reviews process. When the book was launched (in September 2013) I couldn’t wait to get some unbiased feedback. Encouraging words from friends who have the book are good, but hardly unbiased.
Looking back I am now wondering how much an author should be involved in that whole process. In my case I provided the publisher (Sandstone Press) with a list of possible review sources, from my knowledge of relevant magazines, websites, and newspapers – with contact details and addresses, etc. We agreed that they would offer a free copy of the book to any that replied that they would be prepared to do a review. Is that standard practice? I have no idea, but I was pleased that they prepared to make that effort. Nineteen copies went out to various sources and we waited with baited breath. I tried to track the reviews as they started appearing, and where possible obtained copies or links to digital versions. Predominantly, they were positive even though often quite short, therefore with no room for in-depth feedback. I wondered whether I should I forget/lose the not so good ones? I don’t think so, and have chosen to put them all on the Reviews page of this blog. I had to swallow my pride on reading comments like “writing style is not the best“, and “almost felt like an academic review” in a couple, but I reckon you shouldn’t even put work out there if you are too sensitive to take critical comments.
Some of the best reviews came from unexpected sources. The first of all was from a cycling blog, and a great one from later was by a German blogger. Scottish Memories published a good one, as did several of the regional Cumbrian newspapers. The one by Heather Dawe in TheOutdoorTimes, was interesting as it was from a fellow author in the field. One thing that is perhaps obvious (but not easily quantifiable) is that social media is brilliant at keeping the book in the public eye. If I mention all the reviews on this blog, surely Twitter and Facebook magnify the effect of any review appearing. (There are currently 881 Twitter followers and 72 Facebook followers.) But what is really required is getting the word out to new potential purchasers. It has been a huge frustration to me that, thus far, I have not been able to get any reviews in any of the big newspapers (the ‘heavies’ were all canvassed) or more importantly what I consider the most wide-reaching athletics/running magazines. Athletics Weekly and The Fellrunner have both been approached, both agreed to receive a free copy, and both have so far not printed a dickiebird about it. Now, maybe I should be thinking somewhat like Alan Titchmarsh here. On being dropped by the Chelsea Flower show last week as a presenter he commented “you have to be absolutely sure it is down to ageism rather than the fact that you’re not very good” [Guardian]. Just maybe those mags haven’t reviewed the book because they consider it not up to the mark. But in the same way that I felt the reaction from the FRA Committee to my request for access to The Fellrunner archive when researching the book was so very negative, I do feel that those two mags really should be reviewing books on the sport (there are few enough of them, particularly on fell running). So, have a word someone!
Back in a more positive frame, it was nice to have an email from the editor of Cumbria Magazine to say they had carried a review of It’s a hill in a recent issue (thanks Kev for taking the trouble to tell me and send a image from the proof). The review neatly introduces the current difficulties with safety requirements (referring to a posting in this blog). Then concludes that the book “covers the ground admirably, mixing the sport’s development over the last century and a half ….. and interviews and profiles of the big names … Certainly a book that’s pushing the leaders“.
So, just think Steve, you will probably be putting yourself through all this again in a year or so!