This is the first blog post of a series that will reveal information about my fourth book, to be published by Sandstone Press in 2020. Initially this is just to update on progress, but will explore some of the content as we go along.
The first email in my folder for Book IV is dated 20 February 2018, and I submitted the manuscript to the publisher on 7 October 2019. So, approximately 1 year and 7 months of the researching and writing. Although to be fair, I see from other correspondence that I had the initial idea almost a year earlier. But things didn’t go too well at first. I contacted the main subject (it is biographical) and got this delaying reply on 8 March 2017:
He’s considering your proposal about writing your next book about him and will get back to you when he decides.
I followed this up at the end of May and got his reply on 31 May 2017:
He won’t say yes or he won’t say no till he’s had a chat with you.
I set about arranging a one-to-one conversation, but things overtook me (including booking and doing some talks for Book III) and that conversation didn’t happen until the end of January 2018. The chat was friendly and instructive – and nearly put me off the project completely! Some of the aspects of the story that was already unfolding began to worry me and I took a timeout to think about, and to discuss it with a fellow author.
Receiving encouraging comments on the synopsis from my friend, I was now determined to forge ahead, thinking I would deal with any ‘issues’ as I went along. A slightly revised synopsis was sent to my publisher on 3 July 2018, by which time I had done a good 4 months of research. The synopsis was well received and I was away at full speed now.
The next blog will give a feel for the researching and writing process that I have been through – including finding sources, contacting interviewees, collecting facts and opinions, sorting themes, scheduling chapter breaks, and starting to write.
I will leave you with a snapshot of a recent conversation with my editor: He may have just likened my manuscript to a symphony. Or he may have been referring to all books. Anyway, if I have got this right, he was making a point about similarities between the two, with the movements in symphonies being mirrored by themes in books. His point in my case was that the author of a book such as mine should be more like the conductor, rather than a player (as in an orchestra). Positive suggestions for achieving that followed.
A week or so ago the World Masters Mountain Running Champs were held in Puglia, Italy. There was a UK winner in one of the age group events that subsequently has got very little publicity. This is not unusual, as he is a runner that often goes under the radar, yet is an outstanding example of someone running at the very highest level throughout his long career. I am talking about Colin Donnelly, who won the v60 category at those WMRA Masters Champs [image above].
Donnelly won by just over a minute in a time of 33-10 on a course described (by the organisers) as one that was, ‘a tough technical track and made a true test of mountain running ability’. [There were two other UK winners: Adam Osborne in the M40 category, and Geoffrey Howard in the M70s, plus there should be an honorable mention for Ben Mounsey, who was second v35]
Colin Donnelly has been winning races since he was 20 years old. At that tender age he won the Ben Nevis race, at his first attempt. So, he has had a winning career spanning 40 years (as he has just moved into the v60 category). Is that unusual for fell runners?
I was prompted to look back at some of the other top fell runners that I have written about and to see how long they were winners for, and also at what sort of age they retired (or stopped being competitive at). Taking Billy Bland first, he won his first race at 17 years old and his last when he was 50, giving him 33 years of winning. His career had been winding down actually from the age of 45. His nephew Gavin Bland also won his first race when he was 17/18 and his last (at a Champs race in Northern Ireland) when he was 42, giving him 24 years of being a winner. Again though, he had some fallow years in there where he certainly didn’t win any races.
Kenny Stuart and John Wild are another two of the very best fell runners that I have looked at the careers of. But they are both slightly different as the fells were not their surface of choice for their full careers. Nevertheless, it is intriguing to see that they both had relatively short careers, compared to Colin, Billy and Gavin.
John Wild won his first serious race when he was just starting his RAF career, a services cross country when he was 17. His last win was also an RAF race when he was just 31 years old, a span of 14 years. As to the fells he won races from 1977 (Worcestershire Beacon) to 1985 (the Offas Dyke race), a mere 8 years. After the amazing tussle with Kenny Stuart in the 1983 season, John Wild came off the fells, tried for a good marathon and his running career never really hit the heights again.
Kenny Stuart’s first win on the fells was as a 17 year old, in a pro race in 1974. His last fell race win was probably Butter Crag at the end of the 1985 season, as he abruptly came off the fells to go marathoning in 1986. His last significant win was the Houston marathon in 1989, giving him a 15 year winning career. His fell winning span was 11 years, including his time racing in the pros.
This random selection of athletes is chosen just to offer a base line for assessing Donnelly’s achievement.
What it highlights is that Colin has kept his enthusiasm, and fitness, over a remarkably long time. When I interviewed him recently he explained the background to that continued enthusiasm:
Running is about the experience, the wind in your hair and the different seasons. A few years ago, I had a serious cartilage injury and I thought that was the end of running. I got it operated on and I have now come back. Doing mountain biking while injured kept me about 80% fit. I have gone back to cycling a lot now. I live in a town and don’t like running tarmac, so I cycle out a few miles and go for a run and cycle back. I probably cycle every day and run every day. Someone asked if I HAD to run every day. I don’t have to, but I like to.
He also added that it is about deeper things than just running. It is for his mental health as much as anything else. ‘Thinking time’, as he puts it. He also added his thoughts on still being competitive through the age groups, which turned out to prescient:
Going for the v40 or v50, they are new challenges mind. You must accept you were right up there, but that is finished. I am eligible for the v60 category at the World Mountain Running Trophy, so I think I will have a wee crack at that and see if I can do something here.
If you want to read more about this very interesting character I have written a longish piece on him, which is being published in two parts in The Fellrunner magazine. The first part appeared in the Spring 2019 issue [extract to right], and the second part is in the issue that is just about to come out. When that has been published I will post the full article [as a download] on this blog, as the editor had to cut quite a bit out due to its length.
Meanwhile, marvel at Colin Donnelly’s achievement in being a World Champion in his sport. If you want to share any examples of similar longevity in running performance then feel free to do so via the comments for this blog post.
If you want to read more about John Wild and Kenny Stuart then I can do no more than point you to my book Running Hard: the story of a rivalry, which covers their parallel careers in depth. The book was described by Steve Birkinshaw (author of There is No Map in Hell): ‘This meticulously researched book is a compelling and fascinating account of their lives, and their rivalry and friendship.’
[Maybe I’ll write a book about Billy Bland next, or Colin Donnelly.]
I have published three books on Fell Running now. Firstly, in Aug 2013, there was ‘It’s a hill, get over it’ (a history of fell running and its many characters); secondly, in Sept 2015, came ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’ (the story of the Bob Graham Round); and more recently, in Feb 2017, ‘Running Hard: the story of a rivalry’ (the parallel lives and running careers of Kenny Stuart and John Wild).
Over the life of the three books ‘It’s a Hill, get over it’ has been the best seller. In part, of course, this is because it was the first out and had such a marvellously catchy title. Counting the sales of all three, the percentage of the total number of books sold that each accounts for are: 53% It’s a Hill, 29% The Round, and 18% Running Hard.
In the last 6 months (the frequency I get the stats from my publisher) however It’s a Hill has not been the biggest seller. In that period the figures are: 40% The Round, 35% It’s a Hill, and 25% Running Hard.
One other (possibly) interesting statistic is the split between books and ebooks. All three have always been available in both formats. For all sales the figures are: 15% ebooks and 85% books. The individual figures (for ebooks) are: 21% For Running Hard, 14% for The Round, and 14% for It’s a Hill.
By the terms of my contract I get a percentage of the net profit on each book. This amounts to something under £1 per book, with a slightly higher margin on ebooks (due to there being no print costs to cover).
REQUEST: if you have enjoyed any of them and have a moment please drop a short review on Good Reads, Amazon, my blog, your blog, or wherever. It helps authors tremendously to have readers sharing their thoughts on what they have read (and hopefully enjoyed).
Joss Naylor was once quoted as saying, “I am a man for doing, not saying“. Well, on Saturday evening at Charlotte Mason, Ambleside, he said a lot, and as ever was thoroughly entertaining as he said it. The evening with Joss was part of the Ultra Running Weekend, which was being organised to celebrate 60 years of the Climbers Shop, in Ambleside. It was brilliant to share a stage again with Joss Naylor at this event, and to introduce him, and also interview him and m/c the Q&A session that followed.
Actually Joss fooled me by not following the script, and just bypassing the introductions and going straight into recounting the story of his 1971 International Three Peaks record. But I guess no-one present really needed me to be saying: “He won 10 Lake District Mountain Trials in all. In 1974 he decided to run the Pennine Way and finished in 3 days. Having already done 63 Lakeland peaks in 24 hrs, in 1975 he did 72. Then in 1986 (aged 50) there was all 214 Wainwrights in 7 days.” That would have been part of my intro.
The Three Peaks effort was setup by Frank Davies, who had founded the Climbers Shop (in Ambleside), and just happened to be an experienced rally driver. It involved ascending (ie running up and down) Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon, and starting off from sea level in Fort William to finish at sea level at Caernarvon, having driven at speed between the feet of each mountain. The year before Davies had driven Peter Hall, who did the running, and they managed just over 12 hours. Frank Davies thought it could be done faster. Joss was 36 years old and they had a souped-up Ford Capri for the trip.
A few things I recall from the story Joss wove. Three fast trial runs through Glasgow to get the best route (noticed by a policeman on third, so called it a day). A drunk ferryman at Ballachulish. Filthy weather on the Ben, still up in 1 hour and down in under 30 mins. All achieved in a frankly astonishing 11 hours 52 minutes.
When he paused for breath I was able to ask some of my carefully crafted questions, most of which points he had already covered. How did you stop blisters: “Sheep’s wool wrapped round my toes.” What did you do the next day: “Supported someone on a Bob Graham Round.”
In recognition of the 60 year theme, we then talked about his own effort a little later. This was in 1996 when he did his 60 at 60 Lakeland peaks round. It encompassed 60 summits, 110 miles and 34,000ft in 36 hours. Again a couple of remembered points: Nine months training and a week beforehand unloading a trailer and his back went. He went over Broad Stand with his dog Fly. Billy Bland was pacing him early on and he thought Joss ought to slow down. Two fabulous sunrises would be enough in themselves.
We then had fabulous refreshments provided by the Climbers Shop, before coming back for questions. I was busy compering and can’t remember all that was asked, but they were wide ranging topics: how he kept himself in shape [I think he said cider vinegar every morning]; what the shortest race he ever won was [a local show race]; why support the Brathay Trust [they do excellent work with disadvantaged kids]. Thinking of that statement at the beginning of this blog I finished by asking Joss, “what are you going to do next Joss?” The somewhat unexpected answer was, “behave myself, I guess.” That response has to be taken in the context of him having not been very well recently.
The weekend was rounded off by staying in a luxury lodge at Brathay Hall, and having a lovely walk with friends over Reston Scar earlier in the day. Plus squeezing in food at both Wilfs (café) and More? (the artisan bakery) in Staveley Mill Yard at various points. [Photos: Mike Cambray]
Thanks to Kim from Sam Read Books (in Grasmere) for coming to the event and selling a whole bunch of my three fell running books at the event.
I recently had a piece on my own running published in Like the Wind magazine, and you can now read it via this link : Memories [PDF].
I have been trying to write for different publications for a few years now, and this is the second article to be accepted for Like the Wind. For an feel for some of the other work, see Writing on running.
Other blog posts have my articles from The Fellrunner magazine for download, including most recently:
Short piece on professional fell running, starring Pete Bland;
Conversation with Billy Bland; and On the fells and marathons: Dave Cannon. Happy reading.
Join me in the Ambleside University Lecture Theatre on Saturday evening 7th September 2019, as I introduce and interview running legend Joss Naylor MBE. It is part of The Climbers Shop Ultra Running Weekend.
I was very chuffed to be asked to be compere for this event, for three main reasons. Firstly, Joss is great fun to work with, and we shared the stage at a brilliant evening at the Buxton Adventure Festival last year. Secondly, I really like helping the Brathay Trust with their work, especially as they do so much to help young people. I recently worked with them on publicising another Joss Naylor charity effort – on 20 July where he will be completing the route of the 1962 Mountain Trial which he had to drop out of through injury. There is still time to donate to that brilliant event, or go along with him on it.
Thirdly, Joss will be talking about his International Three Peaks Record and his 60 at 60 run. These are both incredible endurance events that not everyone will know about.
I have a special affinity with the Three Peaks – Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon – as I had one of the best days of my life running them back in the day. [Photo is at the finger stone on the descent to finish the Snowdon leg]
The funds from the evening event with Joss will support: Brathay Young Minds Matter appeal.
The number of young people struggling with mental health difficulties has more than doubled in recent years, which means providing targeted programmes to support them is a priority for Brathay.
Brathay are working to help reduce these numbers, but we need your help. Poor mental health is something that affects one in four of the population and it is increasing, especially among young people.
Nationally, the number of young people experiencing mental health problems is growing:
- One quarter of young people in the UK experience suicidal thoughts
- Rates of depression and anxiety in teenagers have increased by 70% in the past 25 years
- About 25% of young people self-harm on one occasion
Tickets for the event are selling fast, so get across to the website to purchase yours.
Following on from my post BGR completion rate is 42.2% a couple of people mooted the idea that the women’s completion percentage might be higher, giving reasons such as: ‘they’ve generally prepared better; they don’t sprint the first two legs and then run out of steam on leg 3; they are stronger’ (h/t Paul Wilson). The Bob Graham Club website has data for the last 7 years by gender, so I have graphed it for women only.
Comment: All three sets of data – percentages, registrations, and completions are all trending slightly upwards (the dotted lines). The completion percentage varies significantly for women from year to year, which might be partly explained by the small sample size – meaning that one person swinging from succeed to fail would change the resulting numbers a fair bit. The lowest % is 31.6 and the highest is 60.0 (for all completions in the same period it ranged from 39.6 to 53.6%). Although the percentage for 2018 is high, at 58.3%, only in three of the seven years is the women’s percentage higher than the overall percentage. To me that is inconclusive and doesn’t really prove the point.
[Yes I know I should compare women to men and not the overall completers, so here is the men’s data graphed]
Comment: not much to say, except that it almost exactly mirrors the original graphs for all completers regardless of gender. It does show that although registrations and completions for men are trending upwards, the percentage completions is slightly down-turned, and is consistently around the 50% mark (with a range of 40.8 to 52.5).