Here’s a true story for you:

In November 2010 I turned back on a mountain called Ama Dablam in Nepal. Afterwards, back in Kathmandu, I was in a secondhand bookshop and I bought Matthew a mountain expedition book as consolation for him not having been able to come to the Himalaya with me. It has only just occurred to me to look out of interest at what that book was. And … it was the story of the first ascent of Nanda Devi.

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Update: I mentioned in passing at the bottom of my previous post that I’ve declared victory over the first draft of the memoir I’m writing about grief, collapse, recovery and big mountains.

Not only did I mention it here in passing, I also realised it in passing, and, as is my wont, I then moved straight on to the next task. It’s a big task, the next one, substantial revision. But actually I’m not going to move straight onto it. Instead I’m going to pause for a moment, and celebrate. Finishing this first draft is a really big deal. Here’s why.

(I’m going to be honest.)

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I’m looking at my diary from April last year. I was preparing to go to India and was nervous as well as excited. It seems a wise friend said this to me: ‘You’re going to go and have the experience of a lifetime and you’re going to come back and tell the tale, whatever it is.’

After a year of disaster and grief, and now with fear of what the future might bring, there are worse approaches to 2020 than a simple commitment to telling the tale ‘whatever it is’.

(Picture is of Changuch, first climbed by Martin Moran in 2009, viewed from just below Longstaff’s Col on Nanda Devi East.)

Who wants to be a writer?


Did I want to be a writer? I don’t remember.

Until I was eighteen I didn’t know anyone who’d written anything beyond what they’d had to at school. Writing essays was certainly easy for me, which was reason enough for me to be content to do it. But school essays were a superficial intellectual exercise. That is not what writing is; not as I understand it now. So I suppose I’m talking about creative writing, wanting to be a creative writer.

At school we had to write fiction as well. When I did that my hand moved over the paper and I went into a trance. I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t enjoy anything. But when I did it something different happened in my brain. I went deeply into myself. Writing fiction, even while sitting in the classroom with my peers, wasn’t about the cleverness of an essay, wasn’t about how to get the top marks. It was something that came from inside. I had no idea what inside was. Often I didn’t hear the bell go at the end of the lesson.

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How personal is too personal?

My most recent blog on this page was my most popular yet by a factor of four. The words went far beyond my usual networks and they went there fast.

The blog worked because it was honest, because it was personal, and because I am not alone in thinking what it said.

So there was a payback to my honesty, not just in reach but in connection. But I was still left with the unease that maybe I had been too personal, maybe I had revealed more than I was comfortable having out in a public space.

So how much is too much? Continue reading “How personal is too personal?”

Should we all be writing short stories?

There are so many people who want to be published writers, and who believe that to do so one must start with short stories, that short story competitions have sprung up as plentifully as the literary festivals to which they are often attached. If you’re a writer primarily of short stories, this is a good world to be in. You write the stories you would write anyway, and there’s an increased chance of recognition. If you’re a writer of novels I reckon it’s better to keep well away. Here’s why.

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Writing a novel is all about reading

This week ‘The Storyteller’ will be out in the world. Not only is it my first book, but it is also almost the first piece I have ever published. There were a couple of academic articles ten years ago (in my maiden name, so good luck finding those). There’s this blog, and my Facebook page. But that’s it. This week will be the first time my name will be out there in proper print. Here are five (big) things I’ve learned along the way: Continue reading “Writing a novel is all about reading”

Four weeks to go…

It is just less than a month until ‘The Storyteller’ is published. Four weeks from today I will be relaxing with friends post-launch. (If you haven’t had an invitation and you’re in London and you want one, then let me know. The more the merrier: Daunt, 31st May, 6.30pm.)

There’s still a chance of some reviews in major publications; we sent the book in; it’s on the piles on their desks. I’m still oddly hopeful and excited that this will happen. ‘Oddly’ because the probability is low. Once the new books by major authors, and the major books from big publishing houses have been reviewed, there remains little space for the debut literary novelist at an independent press.

In this context small personal activities matter, and my head is swimming with things I should do.

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