Why I wrote ‘It’s a hill, get over it’

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.

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