Writing a book is like climbing a mountain…

Two weeks ago I climbed a couple of mountains. Which is kind of a new experience for me – a man who lives in Norfolk, one of the flattest parts of the UK. The aforesaid mountains were in Wales; Snowdonia to be precise.
We decided that people who live in mountainous regions of the world must be fitter and have better calf muscles than those who live on the flat.
The first mountain is called Cadair Idris (ninth highest mountain in Wales – 893 metres). This is a truly beautiful place, with stunning streams and waterfalls. ’Cadair’ means ’chair’ so this mountain is, according to myth and legend, the ’Chair of Idris’ – Idris being the name of a mysterious Welsh Giant. A mountain that sounds like it is screaming out to have stories written about it.
If you are ever lucky enough to go there I recommend two things. One, have bacon sandwich before you start the climb, and two, make sure that you go to the stunning lake, which is more than half way up. This is what we did, instead of climbing to the summit.
This lake looks like it is formed from the bowl of an extinct volcano, although geologists say that this isn’t the case. The lake has the clearest still water; water from distant cascading streams falling from the summits filling it incessantly. You can almost feel the slow march of geological time that has shaped the place. You feel small and humbled.
The short swim in the lake was an experience. It was incredibly cold (breathtakingly cold) and beyond a short ledge of submerged rock and scree it drops to an incredible 50 metres deep. The feeling of floating above such mysterious clear black depths in icy water was most disconcerting. Needless to say I didn’t swim for long.

The lake at Cadair Idris…

Would you dare swim?
Obviously if you are going to climb mountains in Snowdonia then you have to climb Snowdon itself, the second highest peak in the UK (1085 metres). It is also one of the most popular tourist mountains as it has a train that can take people to the summit. People tempted by the train are commonly known as ’Train Cheats’ by all those brave enough to climb one of the many routes under their own steam (as it were). Personally I couldn’t understand those who spent considerable sums to take the train on the day we climbed Snowdon. The summit was covered in cloud (as it often is) and taking the train just means you pay a lot of money to stand in a cloud and not see any of the stunning views.

The view just beneath the clouds near the summit of Snowdon…
My five tips for climbing Snowdon – one, eat properly! Two bits of toast for breakfast isn’t enough! (Can you tell I am not a seasoned climber?). Two, choose a sensible route for your fitness level (we walked the ’Rangers Route’, which I would describe as a medium route and is still a bit tricky in places, especially if your knees, like mine, are not so hot). Three, wear some layers; once you reach a certain height, even in summer, the winds can be pretty chilly. Four, if you find it hard going comfort yourself with the promise of the best hot chocolate in the world at the summit cafe. Five, don’t be a ’Train Cheat’ – challenge yourself!
So, what did I learn from my novice climbing experiences? As a writer any travel to new places can give you backdrops for stories that you never previously perhaps imagined. I can see Idris the giant in my mind’s eye, straddling his gargantuan chair.
And the climbing itself? Well, climbing a Mountain is actually a bit like writing a novel. The last hour of climbing Snowdon (which took 2 hours 35 minutes – not bad going for an old fart with dodgy knees) was really tough. It’s that thing where you continually think you are nearly there only to find around the next bend or over the next lip of rock there is yet another steep climb looming ahead of you. It can feel like the summit is forever beyond your reach. Writing a novel can feel like this, with the ending so far out of sight, locked away in the clouds. When you hit this wall the only choice you have is to dig in and keep going.
On a mountain you pretty much have no choice, once you have reached a certain point going back down would probably be as hard as keeping going. In other words you can’t actually give up (short of being helicoptered off the mountain by Prince William of all people!). So you simply keep going to the top, however hard it seems.
Of course with a novel you can give up. You can write a hundred thousand words and still feel that the summit is lost from view, out of reach. My suggestion here is that you treat the novel (or any challenging endeavour) as if it were a mountain, as if you actually have no choice but to finish it. There is no going back, you have to reach the summit. Finish what you started, if only to feel the amazing joy of tired satisfaction of a challenge overcome…
How is your climb going?

The novelist with cold tired knees near the summit of Snowdon…

© 2013 Simon Poore

Paperbacks or Ebooks?

Paperback or Ebook?

This seems to have been a debate for quite a while now. The question of whether an electronic book or a book made of real paper is best.
Of course printing and print books have been around for centuries. The earliest form of printing was probably ’block’ printing in Asian countries like China and Korea, where carved wooden blocks were used to print text as far back as the year 220. Although people were probably using stencils and printing with carved vegetables or something like it long before this (didn’t you just love doing Potato prints as a kid?). By about the 1040’s the Chinese had presses with moveable type. In Europe, printing was invented by Johannes Gutenburg and his famous press in 1450.
The first mass market ’paperbacks’ became popular in the early 19th century. They were cheap versions of more expensive hard-cover books. These were called ’Yellowbacks’ due to their yellow covers and were sold in Britain by W H Smith’s from shops on railway stations, to give passengers something to read on their journeys. Not much changes, you can’t go on a train now without seeing someone with a Kindle. You can still find W H Smith’s at railway stations throughout the UK and now they even sell ereaders (Kobo ereaders).
It is argued that the idea ‘electronic books’ dates back to the 1930’s where some were worried that films with sound, ’the talkies’, would replace reading and books, and by the 1940’s with the advent of the first giant clunking computers (like those used at Bletchley Park to decode Hitler’s ’Enigma’ machines) some attempted to use them to organise large catalogues or indexes of books.
The first patented electronic book came in 1949 – an Spanish teacher named Angela Ruiz invented the ’Mechanical Encyclopaedia’ to try and reduce the amount of books her students had to carry. This somehow ran on compressed air and allowed students to add content with ’spools’. Apparently you could move to any section you wanted mechanically and it supposedly even had a ’zoom’ function! From the picture this looks like a genius ‘Heath Robinson’ contraption, like something from a steampunk novel. I would love to have a play with one.


Angela Ruiz and the Mechanical Encyclopaedia

Nowadays lots of people love their Kindles and iPads and they are becoming a more and more familiar sight as we go about our everyday business. I feel that we sometimes forget how new these things are. The first Kindle only appeared in 2007 (although this was preceded by the Sony Ereader a year earlier and by things like the ’Rocket Ebook’ in 1998). The iPad only appeared in 2010. It’s funny to me sometimes how ubiquitous these things have become in such a short space of time (’YouTube’ for example has only been around since 2005).
So, in some senses the ebook is still very much in its early days.
Which do you prefer? There are many who say to me “I still like to hold a real book in my hands,” and others who say “I love that I can carry all my books on my Kindle, so much easier when you travel,”
Personally I think it is a kind of non-argument. Of course we all love to hold a real book. But more and more of us are reading on electronic devices. I don’t, for one minute, think that print books will disappear (they said that computers in the workplace would lead to a ’paperless’ society – how wrong was that?). I do, however, think that the devices we read on will improve and change beyond anything we can imagine.
Really, at the end of the day, the real point is that people love stories. Great stories. They always have and always will. Before ebooks people typed and printed books. Before printing people wrote stories with pens and pencils and brushes. Before writing people told stories and handed them down through the generations.
So it doesn’t really matter how the story is delivered people will always have an appetite to read a great story.
To that end I decided to make my novel available as a paperback book, with real paper-cut inducing pages, as well as an ebook.
You can get my novel, The Last Englishman and the Bubble, as a paperback – click here, or as an ebook, click here.
As ever any comments are thoughts are welcome…


© 2013 Simon Poore