If you want a flavour of the book, the Amazon site now has the ‘LOOK INSIDE!‘ option activated. It is available to pre-order from there, and will be available in Waterstones and other good book shops from 19 Sept. An e-book version will be available shortly too. Details of the book launch will be available soon, as will be details of a few speaking dates and book signings. If you would like to do a review feel free to contact me.
I am not sure who first said “Everyone has a book inside them”, but I do like the take by Christopher Hitchins on the quote which he feels should be completed by “ ……. but in most cases that is where it should stay”. So with that in mind I will attempt to unfurl the reasoning behind me starting to write a book. The actual moment of having such an idea is lost in the mists of time, even though it wasn’t so very long ago. I do remember thinking that some sports have considerably more books written by, or about, their performers than others. Just look at football, for instance, where mere journeyman players often bring out a (ghosted) autobiography. It must have been in early 2009, and I do remember specifically thinking that not only is athletics poorly served by good books, but also that fell running was almost completed missing from the book shelves. At this time there were really only two widely available books that covered the sport. These were Bill Smith’s Stud marks on the summits (published in 1985), and Richard Askwith’s Feet in the Clouds (published in 2004). Stud marks is a detailed history of the sport up to the early 1980s – some would say too detailed – written by a true aficionado of the fells. Feet records the year in the life of a novice fellrunner, who takes on some of the top races, meets some of the main players, and climaxes with the author completing the Bob Graham Round. The book, and author, received some criticism from the diehards from within the sport because it was a journalist who was seen to be popularising this predominantly inward-looking sport to the masses. Just now the book has been updated and re-issued (10 years on) and the review in the current issue of Fellrunner (the organ of the FRA, the sport’s governing body) includes the sentiment that ‘some of the 7000 members of the FRA still feel the same … that it had no business to be written because it exposed our sport to the wider world’.
What has all this to do with me deciding to write a book? Well, I have always loved fell running and Joss Naylor has always been a real hero to me. He is in many people’s minds the greatest fell runner ever, perhaps the greatest endurance runner of all time. So, I was thinking why has no-one written a book about him and his exploits. The germ of an idea formed and I suddenly decided that I would be the one to right/write this wrong. I have no idea what made me think I could achieve this, or how I would go about it, but there we are. I was just beginning to give the thought some space in my brain, when lo and behold I heard a biography of Joss was coming out. Keith Richardson’s Joss: The Life and Times of the Legendary Lake District Fell Runner and Shepherd Joss Naylor came out in October 2009. I was in the Lakes when I heard, so pre-ordered a signed copy of the book from Fred Holdsworth Books and read it with interest when it arrived. Good though the book is, I concluded I would have told his story in a somewhat different way, and dealt with some things that are glossed over in it. This made me think that maybe there WAS a book in me, and so I looked for a different subject to apply myself to.
I soon decided that another angle on fell running was my main interest, and that I should think about that. I had long admired the exploits of Billy and Gavin Bland and decided that the story of these two superb fell runners, and their extended families, might prove to be a rich subject. So, The Blands of Borrowdale was germinated. With no previous in the area, and no real idea how to progress the idea, I did some research and compiled a synopsis, with a view to pitching to some publishers. I then looked for publishers who published in what I thought of as this niche genre and compiled a list with details of contacts, and also their terms for submission of manuscripts. You might be surprised how many actually ask for ea ‘reading’ fee if you wish to submit a manuscript to them. As I actually had no manuscript I chose what looked an interesting option, whose website suggested: “An introductory email should outline the type of book being proposed and give a brief biography of the author, including their publishing history.” What happened? Was I rejected by this publisher, and subsequently by many others? A further blog post will cover this, and also the ‘how’ of the writing of It’s a hill, get over it.
Watching the Steel Fell race this week re-affirmed my feelings for the beauty of the sport of fell running. The race was on a Wednesday evening and reminded me of some of the traditional fell races I did way back. There was no fee, no pre-entry, no prizes, no facilities and a ragbag of numbers recycled from other races. It was held from a farm at the south end of Thirlmere. We pulled in to the farmers field and were directed where to park by the farmer (none other than fell running legend Gavin Bland). He shortly got on his quadbike and set off to flag the course. Runners warmed-up, often by going halfway up the fell, and 57 of them assembled on the start line at 7-15pm. A few words from the organiser and what looked like the farmer’s son started the race. Phil Davies (Borrowdale) was immediately into the lead as they set off out of the farm on to the open fell and up the northern ridge of Steel Fell (photo). After 2.5k and 1312ft of height gain they set off back down again.
Phil Davies won convincingly in 22-00, nearly 2 minutes off the course record. The ladies winner was Pippa Maddams (Keswick), who come in 15th – just 13 secs shy of the record in 25-40. After leafletting all the cars I had a chat to a Highgate runner whose vest I noticed. He had just run his first fell race, and said he was training for the Bob Graham Round. Apparently sticky labels with runners names on were stuck on a board for all to see the results, and you could have a wash down from a barrel of water in the yard. To get a good impression of what this race is like (it is given a category AS in the FRA calendar) have a look at this interesting little video of the race, which I saw linked on the FRA forum.
I am reading My Time by Bradley Wiggins, which is a most excellent telling of the last couple of years of his life. I notice on the back cover it is ‘shortlisted for the British Sports Book Award for best autobiography’. But is it an autobiography? It clearly states in the publicity and inside the book ‘with William Fotheringham’ and credits him in acknowledgements ‘for help with the book’. Given that he is such an accomplished author himself I began to wonder how much each had contributed. A little doodling on the web ensued. The ever (un)reliable wikipedia page for Fotheringham shows it in his list of books written, although to be fair his profile on Amazon and at Vintage Books doesn’t. So, did Fotheringham ghost-write the book from interviews with Wiggins, maybe? An extensive book review at podiumcafe reveals that the book ‘sees the side-burned one dump former ghost-writer Brendan Gallagher (Daily Telegraph) in favour of William Fotheringham (The Guardian) as he jumps from the publishing house of Hachette to Random House’s Yellow Jersey imprint’.
Not directly connected, but by coincidence I was looking something up in John and Anne Nuttall’s ‘The Tarns of Lakeland’ and came across this in the section on Alcock Tarn (which is just above the Wordsworth home) ‘the creativity of William’s seems to merge with hers’ [Dorothy’s]. Dorothy’s diary records ‘… he wrote the Poem to a Butterfly! ….. I told him I used to chase them a little, but that I was afraid of brushing the dust off their wings’. The subsequent poem includes ‘But she, God love her! feared to bush – The dust from off his wings‘. The Nuttalls conclude ‘The way in which Dorothy sees, sometimes her very words, are transcribed by William into poetry. But is the creativity his or hers? She had the vision, he turned it into verse, and when her flame died then his died too’. In later years William Wordsworth wrote nothing of note.
Other extremes are the fact that best selling author Tom Clancy has also branded several lines of books with his name that are written by other authors, and there is also the ‘who wrote Shakespeare’s works’ saga (read Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare on that subject). So, did I write every word in It’s a hill? Obviously not, as it is primarily a history, and includes content directly quoted from other sources. I also freely admit to being guided by my two critical friends at the writing stage and by my editor at Sandstone. Their advice was mostly on structure and writing style, and they are duly credited in the acknowledgements. The words and creative input are all mine. At the end of the day it is the quality of output that should be remembered really.
Currently on holiday in the Lakes and composing this next post – which will be an attempt to explain why I wrote the book. Just out for a walk in Kentmere Valley to get inspiration and get my juices going.