So here it is then: I can reveal both the title and the synopsis of my fourth fell running book, to be published by Sandstone Press later this year.
This was my original synopsis, as pitched to the publisher back in early 2018:
The book will tell the story of Borrowdale man Billy Bland, and of his extended family, many of whom competed in fell running, and one of whom is considered to have been one of the best in the sport for a period (his nephew, Gavin Bland). Billy and Gavin achieved greatness whilst still working full time in traditional Lake District jobs (as quarryman/stonewaller and shepherd respectively), being a million miles away from the professionalism of other branches of athletics. Billy set records in the ‘80s and ‘90s that have not been beaten since. This, then, is the story of the Blands of Borrowdale.
The book will give the background to Billy’s life; including his parents, his upbringing, introduction to the sport, training, working life, later cycling achievements, legacy and community involvement, plus his records and achievements. The scope will be extended to include details of the other related fell running Blands – see family tree diagram. His family know Borrowdale. Billy worked at quarrying/stonewalling, brother Stuart in tourism, and nephews Jonathon and Gavin farming. They are all in a position to reflect on changes in the Borrowdale valley in their lifetimes, a topic dealt with in a separate chapter.
The book’s treatment will be thematic rather than chronological, to avoid being a listing of races and times. The highlights of his achievements will be included in the sub-sections dealing with Billy’s: life choices, physical ability, training, rivals, mental aspects, injuries/setbacks, and relationships. It will also explore why the Blands have stayed so local, and never came off the fells to perform in other branches of athletics.
Taken at face value Billy Bland seems to be a straightforward man, who happened to be exceptionally good at running up and down hills (he was also a county level footballer when young, had no coach, was fell running champion, and formed Borrowdale Fellrunners). But look closer and there are a series of tensions and conflicts that moulded his character and affected his life over the years.
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.
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.
I was very pleased to be asked to speak at the EDINA Geoforum 2019 event last week. The blurb said: ‘GeoForum is a free all day event aimed at lecturers, researchers and support staff who promote and support the use of geospatial data and services at their institution. Throughout the day we there will be talks and demonstrations to showcase recent geospatial developments at EDINA and opportunity to offer your feedback on the services we provide and discuss geospatial issues with the EDINA team.’
I was presenting on OpenStreetMap data, which has recently been added to the ‘Global’ layer of the Digimap portal. I gave it the full picture; OSM project history, my involvement, the data, and how it might be useful to university students in many disciplines. The presentation seemed to go well, generated a pleasing number of questions, and I didn’t fall off stage (as per the recent SoC/BCS conference disaster).
There were two outcomes for me from the day. Firstly, in one of the networking sessions I was told by the Getmapping representative that as well as releasing their aerial imagery via EDINA they would also consider releasing it to OpenStreetMap – I had mentioned that Bing, DigitalGlobe, Esri and Mapbox had done so with theirs. So, if anyone from the OSM core/foundation reads this get in touch with me and we can pursue it (I will also put a post on the OSM forum sometime soon).
Secondly, in the discussion session at the end of the day I made a rash statement that I would ‘offer to speak with university students about OpenStreetMap’, at a research forum or another appropriate occasion. I would like to think that like-minded people in the project will join me in this outreach idea, especially if the call comes the North, Midlands or far South-West, so as to reduce my travel. It would be good to get more students involved and meantime also increase the amount of detailed mapping coverage right across the country.
The event was held at the Lancaster House Hotel, which is attached to Lancaster University, and is a fine establishment. The suite I was provided with was top class, and not exceeded in my experience in recent times, probably since Alex Kent obtained a First Class upgrade for us both at the Windsor Atlantica for the International Cartographic Conference in 2015. This included the full treatment, champagne on arrival and a separate dining room!
Heads-up on what looks like a great night at the upcoming Keswick Mountain Festival in May. There is a talk and panel session on the Saturday night of the festival, with a great list of contributors (from top left in image: Steve Birkinshaw, Martin Stone, myself, Jasmin Paris and Billy Bland). Plus a showing of the film of Kilian Jornet recent BGR record. Tickets are likely to be snapped up, and are available at: https://www.keswickmountainfestival.co.uk/speakers-2019/
I am pleased to have been asked by Due North Events to introduce (and MC the Q&A session) Damian Hall at an event in Penrith on Thursday 10 January. Judging by what I know of ‘Ultra Damo’ and by the title of his talk – ‘A Midlife Crisis, a Toilet and the Power Sob: what running long distances in lumpy places has taught me about life, the universe and everything’ – this should be a fascinating evening. Tickets are available from this link, or just rock up on the night and pay.
I am planning some more talking events for the rest of 2019 as well, so if you would like me to present my thoughts on fell running, and its characters, at your festival, running club, race, book club, social event, or wedding, then please contact me. The topic could be linked to any of my three books.