Well folks, I have something rather special this week to help stimulate the senses while you are in coronavirus lockdown.
Fellow mountain writer John D Burns has featured an audio excerpt from Seven Steps from Snowdon to Everest on his weekly podcast, and it’s well worth a listen – a dramatic reading of the crux section of the book where I tackle the fearsome Second Step on Everest’s North-East Ridge. John’s narration really brings out the drama and humour; I’ve had fun listening to it and I hope you will too.
John is a multi-talented raconteur. In his long career, he has been performance poet, stand-up comic, playwright and actor, before settling into his comfortable position of bestselling outdoor author.
He originally recorded the extract a couple of years ago when we discussed the possibility of him narrating the whole of Seven Steps with a view to my publishing it as an audiobook. John has a fantastically mellifluous actooor’s baritone voice that would have been perfect for the book, but sadly for me John’s own writing career took off into the stratosphere shortly afterwards (which was great news for him, of course) and he hasn’t had time for the project.
The extract has been sitting on his cutting room floor ever since, but he tripped over it the other day when he was stumbling around looking for suitable material for his hilarious new podcast. What could be better than the following dramatic sequence by a fellow comic mountain writer (there aren’t that many of us about).
(And if you enjoyed listening to it, here is a list of places where you can buy the book.)
If you’re not familiar with John’s writing then he’s well worth checking out. We have certain similarities in style. It’s probably fair to say that the majority of mountaineering writers focus on the epic and dramatic. John and I both take a more light-hearted approach. Recognising that our abilities as top climbers and endurance athletes are not quite there yet, we derive quite a lot of the humour in our books from our various inadequacies.
But while my books have so far focused on my various adventures in the Himalayas and Andes, John’s books are very much rooted in his travels around the hills of Britain. His first book, The Last Hillwalker, is an entertaining autobiography about his 40 years as a UK hillwalker and mountain rescue volunteer, written at a time when (unbelievably) he was thinking of giving it up.
His second book, Bothy Tales, is a whimsical mix of short stories and humorous essays on the theme of bothies, the unmanned mountain huts that pepper the Highlands of Scotland. John moved from the north of England to Inverness in the north of Scotland when he was a young man, and has spent the rest of his life there. He has spent many a weekend hauling a sack of coal into the Scottish hills and spinning a yarn with total strangers around the bothy fire in an evening. Bothy Tales is the result of these campfire stories.
He has diversified even further for his third and fourth books. His third book Sky Dance is a humorous novel about environmental activists taking on Scottish landowners over the practice of burning moorland for the purpose of grouse shooting. This has become topical recently when emergency services were called out to tackle a blaze in Lancashire that had burned out of control. Burning of moorland has now been banned temporarily during the coronavirus emergency.
His forthcoming fourth book (try saying that after a wee dram of Highland whisky) takes yet another direction as he follows the wildlife through a wild Scottish winter. This may not sound like a burgeoning reservoir of humour but I’m sure John will find plenty of things to joke about too.
I know some of you have a bit more time on your hands, so why not take a leaf out of Ash Routen’s book by adding Bothy Tales to your list of hardcore adventure writing for the coronavirus lockdown. It’s a great antidote for troubled times (as is Seven Steps from Snowdon to Everest or, come to think of it, any of my other books if you still haven’t read them yet).
But I can’t finish this blog post without mentioning John’s own Everest magnum opus. In 2014, he wrote and performed his own one-man play about George Mallory for the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival. It was called Mallory: Beyond Everest. I missed it, but hopefully he won’t be too busy to resurrect it one day. In the meantime, here’s a little teaser: